1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Julius Mickle

William Taylor of Norwich, Review of Mickle, Poems, and a Tragedy; The Monthly Review NS 17 (June 1795) 173-78.



Poems, and a Tragedy. By William Julius Mickle, Translator of the Lusiad, &c. 4to. pp. 380. 18s. Boards. Richardson. 1794.

To these poems are prefixed many anecdotes relative to the justly celebrated translator of the Lusiad, which will be valuable to a future biographer, although the selection is by no means made with taste, nor likely to impress the most advantageous idea of the person to whom they relate. The trifling correspondence with Lord Littleton occupies too considerable a portion of the narrative. The circumstances which led to Mr. Mickle's being employed in Oxford, as corrector to the Clarendon press, might surely, with a little industry, have been sifted out. The virulent prejudices against infidelity, which induced the poet to plan his Cave of Deism, ought not to have rendered him insensible to the value of two such men as David Hume and Adam Smith, so far as to circulate among his acquaintance the Heroic Epistle in ridicule of these ornaments of philosophy. To have threatened Garrick with a Dunciad, if he refused to get up a very moderate tragedy written by the author, would seem inexcusable, were not the "genus irritabile votum" almost proverbial. The efficient patronage of Governor Johnstone will be remembered to his honour.

Of the principle poems we have already had occasion to speak with applause. Sir Martyn is a happy imitation of Spenser's manner; and from "Almada-hill," the truly picturesque description of the prospect, (p. 178) and the sublime description of the earthquake, (p. 190) have been often pointed out. We are here also presented with "Polio, an Ode," but which is more properly an elegy, — with Mary Queen of Scots, another Elegy, — both of them beautiful and bold; with two elegant ballads, Hengist and the Sorceress; and with other small poems, — of which the epitaph on Mr. Mortimer is the most successful: yet it should have consisted of the last six lines only.

We give THE SORCERERS; or Wolfwood and Ulla.

"Oh, low he lies; his cold pale cheek
Lies lifeless on the clay;
Yet struggling hope — O day spring break
And lead me on my way.

"On Denmark's cruel bands, O heaven!
Thy red-wing'd vengeance pour;
Before my Wolfwold's spear be driven—
O rise bright morning hour!"

Thus Ulla wail'd, the fairest maid,
Of all the Saxon race;
Thus Ulla wail'd, in nightly shade,
While tears bedew'd her face.

When sudden o'er the fir-crown'd hill,
The full orb'd moon arose;
And o'er the winding dale so still,
Her silver radiance flows.

No more could Ulla's fearful breast,
Her anxious care delay;
But deep with hope and fear imprest,
She holds the moonshine way.

She left the bower, and all alone
She traced the dale so still;
And sought the cave with rue o'ergrown,
Beneath the fir-crown'd hill.

Black knares of blasted oak, embound
With hemlock, fenc'd the cell:
The dreary mouth, half under ground
Yawn'd like the gate of hell.

Soon as the gloomy den she spy'd,
Cold horror shook her knee;
And hear, O Prophetess, she cry'd,
A Princess sue to thee.

Aghast she stood! athwart the air,
The dismal screech-owl flew;
The fillet round her auburn hair
Asunder burst in two.

Her robe of softest yellow, glow'd
Beneath the moon's pale beam;
And o'er the ground with yew-boughs strew'd,
Effus'd a golden gleam.

The golden gleam the Sorceress spy'd,
As in her deepest cell,
At midnights magic hour she try'd
A tomb o'erpowering spell.

When from the cavern's dreary womb,
Her groaning voice arose,
"O come, my daughter, fearless come,
And fearless tell thy woes."

As shakes the bough of trembling leaf,
When whirlwinds sudden rise:
As stands aghast the warrior chief,
When his base army flies.

So shook, so stood, the beauteous maid,
When from the dreary den,
A wrinkled hag came forth, array'd
In matted rags obscene.

Around her brows, with hemlock bound,
Loose hung her ash grey hair;
As from two dreary caves profound
Her blue flamed eye-balls glare.

Her skin, of earthy red, appear'd
Clung round her shoulder bones;
Like wither'd bark, by light'ning sear'd
When loud the tempest groans.

A robe of squalid green and blue,
Her ghostly length array'd,
A gaping rent, full to the view
Her furrow'd ribs betray'd.

"And tell my daughter, fearless tell,
What sorrow brought thee here?
So may my power thy cares expel,
And give thee sweetest cheer.

"O Mistress of the powerful spell,
King Edric's daughter see,
Northumbria to my father fell,
And sorrow fell to me.

"My virgin heart Lord Wolfwold won;
My father on him smil'd
Soon as he gain'd Northumbria's throne,
His pride the youth exil'd.

"Stern Denmark's ravens o'er the seas
Their gloomy black wings spread,
And o'er Northumbria's hills and leas,
Their dreadful squadrons sped.

"Return brave Wolfwold, Edric cried,
O generous warrior hear,
My daughter's hand, thy willing bride,
Awaits thy conquering spear.

"The banish'd youth in Scotland's court,
Had past the weary year;
And soon he heard the glad report,
And soon he grasp'd his spear.

"He left the Scottish dames to weep,
And wing'd with true love speed;
Nor day, nor night, he stopt to sleep,
And soon he cross'd the Tweed.

"With joyful voice, and raptur'd eyes,
He press'd my willing hand;
I go my Fair, my Love, he cries,
To guard thy father's land.

"By Edon's shore in deathful fray,
The daring foe we meet,
Ere three short days I trust to lay
My trophies at thy feet.

"Alas, alas, that time is o'er,
And three long days beside,
Yet not a word from Edon's shore,
Has cheer'd his fearful bride.

"O Mistress of the powerful spell,
His doubtful fate decide;"—
"And cease my child for all is well,"
The grizly witch replied.

"Approach my cave, and where I place
The magic circle, stand
And fear not ought of ghastly face,
That glides beneath my wand."

The grizly witches powerful charms,
Then reach'd the labouring moon,
And cloudless at the dire alarms,
She shed her brightest noon.

The pale beam struggled thro' the shade,
That black'd the caverns womb,
And in the deepest nook betray'd
An altar and a tomb.

Around the tomb in mystic lore,
Were forms of various mien,
And efts, and foul wing'd serpents, bore
The altars base obscene.

Eyeless, a huge and starv'd toad sat
In corner murk aloof,
And many a snake and famish'd bat
Clung to the crevic'd roof.

A fox and vultures skeletons,
A yawning rift betray'd;
And grappling still each others bones,
The strife of death display'd.

"And now my child, the Sorceress said,
Lord Wolfwold's father's grave,
To me shall render up the dead,
And send him to my cave.

"His skeleton shall hear my spell,
And to the figur'd walls
His hand of bone shall point and tell,
What fate his Son befalls."

O cold down Ulla's snow like face,
The trembling sweat drops fell,
And borne by sprights of gliding pace,
The corse approach' d the cell.

And thrice the Witch her magic wand
Wav'd o'er the skeleton;
And slowly at the dread command,
Up rose the arm of bone.

A cloven shield and broken spear,
The finger wander'd o'er,
Then rested on a sable bier
Distain'd with drops of gore.

In ghastly writhes, her mouth so wide,
And black the Sorceress throws,
"And be those signs, my child," she cries,
Fulfill'd on Wolfwold's foes.

"A happier spell I now shall try;
Attend, my child, attend,
And mark what flames from altar high,
And lowly floor ascend.

"If of the roses softest red,
The blaze shines forth to view,
Then Wolfwold lives — but Hell forbid
The glimmering flame of blue!"

The Witch then rais'd her haggard arm,
And wav'd her wand on high;
And while she spoke the mutter'd charm,
Dark lightning fill'd her eye.

Fair Ulla's knee swift smote the ground;
Her hands aloft were spread,
And every joint as marble bound,
Felt horrors darkest dread.

Her lips ere while so like the rose,
Were now as vi'let pale,
And tumbling in convulsive throes,
Exprest o'erwhelming ail.

Her eyes, ere while so starry bright,
Where living lustre shone,
Were now transform'd to sightless white,
Like eyes of lifeless stone.

And soon the dreadful spell was o'er,
And glimmering to the view,
The quivering flame rose thro' the floor
A flame of ghastly blue.

Behind the altar's livid fire,
Low from the inmost cave,
Young Wolfwold rose in pale attire,
The vestments of the grave.

His eye to Ulla's eye he rear'd,
His cheek was wan as clay,
And half cut thro' his hand appear'd
That beckon'd her away.

Fair Ulla saw the woeful shade
Her heart struck at her side
And burst — low bow'd her listless head,
And down she sunk and died.

The Siege of Marseilles, a tragedy of unusual length, terminates the collection. The character of Raymond has energy: but the concluding scene, in which, from motives of jealous honour, he is on the point of stabbing his wife, by no means corresponds in pathos with the crisis of the situation.

This volume will certainly be welcomed by all the readers of the English Lusiad, to whom no effusion from the pen of William Julius Mickle can be indifferent. His great command of words, and the sweet harmony and various construction of his lines, have seldom been equalled: but he appears to have excelled more in the mechanical than in the inventive part of his art, and, like a true disciple of Spenser, is continually lounging in description, without discriminating between the places in which it agreeable or tedious to loiter with him. It would often have been wiser to select fewer circumstances. Had he transposed more, and composed less, still higher capabilities would probable have been ascribed to his genius.