1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bernard Barton

Anonymous, "Bernard Barton" La Belle Assemblee NS 28 (November 1823) 203-04.



The brief celebrity of this gentleman is a proof how much public attention is caught by extrinsic circumstances. A quaker poet was something new, and novelty is the most delightful of all things. Curiosity was immediately awakened to see how a member of that passionless sect, that grave and reserved people, could touch the many chorded lyre of the muses. This avidity was allayed as soon as it was raised: every body has read, and praised, and laid aside his poems; and, whatever may be the ambition of Mr. Barton's breast — and though a quaker we have reason to believe it not inconsiderable — he must be content to fall into the ranks with many pleasing versifiers of the period, since, unless his genius catches a higher tone, he will never occupy a leading or commanding post.

When we first heard of him as a poet, we were afraid of next hearing he had been read out of the meeting; but this idea was immediately dissipated by the vein of sweet and unaffected morality that runs through his poetry; and at a time when the highest orders of genius are degraded and prophaned by a gross vein of libertinism and impiety, we were not a little pleased at meeting with a volume of poetry that we might fearlessly leave on the sofa in the drawing room, or request a fair friend to read a few pages of for our amusement. Poetry is never heard to greater advantage than under the circumstance we have last mentioned; and it was to that cause probably, that we were particularly pleased with the following lines.

Then, then how beautiful, across the deep,
The lustre of thy orient path of light!
Onward, still onward, — o'er the waves that leap
So lovelily, and show their crests of white,
The eye, unsated, in its own despite,
Still up that vista gazes; till thy way
Over the waters, seems a pathway bright
For holiest thoughts to travel, there to pay
Man's homage unto Him who bade thee "RULE THE DAY."

O! then it is delightful to behold
Thy calm departure; soothing to survey
Through opening clouds, by thee all edged with gold,
The milder pomp of thy declining sway:
How beautiful, on church-tower old and grey,
Is shed thy parting smile; how brightly glow
Thy last beams on some tall tree's loftiest spray,
While silvery mists half hide its stem below,
Ascending from the stream which at its foot doth flow.

Yes — as in this, in other worlds the same,
The seasons do thee homage — each in turn:
Spring, with a smile, exults to hear thy name;
Then summer woos thy bright, but brief sojourn,
To bless her bowers; while deeper ardours burn
On autumn's glowing cheek when thou art nigh;
And even winter half forgoes his stern
And frigid aspect, as thy bright'ning eye
Falls on his features pale, nor can thy power deny.

In his metre Mr. Barton appears to have too often chosen that which was difficult and abounding with rhymes, which sometimes makes his verses appear laboured. We feel this in the little poem of the Day in Autumn, from which we make the following extract:—

O Poesy! thou dear delightful art!
Of sciences — by far the most sublime;
Who, acting rightly thy immortal part,
Art virtue's handmaid, censor stern of crime;
Nature's high-priest and chronicle of time;
The nurse of feeling; the interpreter
Of purest passion: — who, in manhood's prime,
In age and infancy, alike canst stir
The heart's most secret thoughts: to thee I now prefer

My aspirations — unto thee I owe
Nor wealth, nor fame, yet hast thou given to me
Some secret joys the world can ill bestow;
Delights which ope not to its golden key,
And wait not on its pride and pageantry:
For thou hast nourished in those lonely hours
That have been spent in intercourse with thee,
Kind feelings, chasten'd passions, mental powers,
And hopes which look through time. These are not worldly dowers.

The Drab Bonnet is a sweet little effort; and the poem of Playford is almost unexceptionably excellent. To speak generally of Mr. Barton's productions, we must say in their favour, that they evince strong evidences of a pure mind, an elegant taste, and a feeling heart; but, on the other hand, they are often puerile and common-place. The maturing influence of time and labour may effect much, and we shall be happy to hail the succeeding efforts of a muse of such modest pretensions and unerring principles. Let it never attempt the bolder flight of a more energetic genius, or hazard its fragile fame in attempts at originality; but, keeping onward the meek path it has already chosen, cull the fairest and the sweetest flowers which that path affords, and study to arrange and blend their beauties with exquisite and delicate taste. His future judgment will teach him to reject such composition as the following, which, though it flows with tolerable smoothness, is any thing but poetry.

We know all we see in this beauteous creation,
However enchanting its beauties may seem,
Is doom'd to dissolve, like some bright exhalation,
That dazzles and fades in the morning's first beam.
The gloom of dark forests, the grandeur of mountains,
The verdure of meads, and the beauty of flowers;
The seclusion of valleys, the freshness of fountains,
The sequestered delights of the loveliest bowers,
Nay, more than all these, that the might of old ocean,
Which seems as it was on the day of its birth.
Must meet the last hour of convulsive commotion,
Which sooner or later must uncreate earth.
Yet, acknowledging this, it may be that the feelings
Which these have awaken'd, the glimpse they've give;
Combin'd with those inward and holy revealings
That illumine the soul with the brightness of heaven,
May still be immortal, and destined to lead us
Hereafter to that which shall not pass away;
To the loftier destiny God has decreed us,
The glorious dawn of an unending day.
And thus, like the steps of the ladder ascended,
By angels (beheld be the patriarch's eye)
With the perishing beauties of earth may be blended
Sensations too pure and too holy to die.