1813 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Henry Ireland

Lord Byron, Review of Ireland, Neglected Genius; The Monthly Review 70 (February 1813) 203-05.



This volume, professing in a moderately long title-page to be "illustrative of the untimely and unfortunate fate of many British Poets," might with great propriety include the author among the number; for if his "imitations of their different styles" resemble the originals, the consequent starvation of "many British poets" is a doom which is calculated to excite pity rather than surprize. The book opens with a dedication to the present, and a Monody on the late Duke of Devonshire, (one of the neglected bards, we presume, on whom the author holds his inquest,) in which it were difficult to say whether the "enlightened understanding" of the living or the "intellect" of the deceased nobleman is more justly appreciated or more elegantly eulogized. Lest the Monody should be mistaken for any thing but itself, of which there was little danger, it is dressed in marginal mourning, like a dying speech, or an American Gazette after a defeat. The following is a specimen: — the Poet is addressing the Duchess:

Chaste widow'd Mourner, still with tears bedew
That sacred Urn, which can imbue
Thy worldly thoughts, thus kindling mem'ry's glow:
Each retrospective virtue, fadeless beam,
Embalms thy "Truth" in heavenly dream,
To soothe the bosom's agonizing woe.

Yet soft — more poignantly to wake the soul,
And ev'ry pensive thought controul,
Truth shall with energy his worth proclaim;
Here I'll record his "philanthropic mind,"
Eager to bless all human kind,
Yet "modest shrinking" from the voice of "Fame."

As "Patriot" view him shun the courtly crew,
And dauntless ever keep in view
That bright palladium, England's dear renown,
The people's Freedom and the Monarch's good,
Purchas'd with Patriotic blood,
The surest safeguard of the state and crown.

Or now behold his glowing soul extend,
To shine the polish'd "social friend;"
His country's "matchless Prince" his worth rever'd;
"Gigantic Fox", true Freedom's darling child,
By kindred excellence beguil'd,
To lasting "amity" the temple rear'd.

As "Critic" chaste, his judgment could explore
The beauties of poetic lore,
Or classic strains mellifluent infuse;
Yet glowing genius and expanded sense
Were crown'd with "innate diffidence,"
The sure attendant of a genuine muse.

Page nine contains, forsooth, a very correct imitation of Milton:

To thee, gigantic genius, next I'll sound;
The clarion string, and fill fame's vasty round;
'Tis Milton beams upon the wond'ring sight,
Rob'd in the splendour of Apollo's light;
As when from ocean bursting on the view,
His orb disperses ev'ry brilliant hue,
Crowns with resplendant gold th' horizon wide,
And cloathes with countless gems the buoyant tide;
While through the boundless realms of aether blaze,
On spotless azure, streamy saffron rays:—
So o'er the world of genius Milton shone,
Profound in science — as the bard — alone.

We must not pass over the imitative specimen of "Nahum Tate," because in this the author approximates nearest to the style of his original:

Friend of great Dryden, though of humble fame,
The Laureate Tate, shall here record his name;
Whose sorrowing numbers breath'd a nation's pain,
When death from mortal to immortal reign
Translated royal Anne, our island's boast,
Victorious sov'reign, dread of Gallia's host;
Whose arms by land and sea with fame were crown'd,
Whose statesmen grave for wisdom were renown'd,
Whose reign with science dignifies the page;
Bright noon of genius — great Augustan age.
Such was thy Queen, and such th' illustrious time
That nurs'd thy muse, and tun'd thy soul to rhyme;
Yet wast thou fated sorrow's shaft to bear,
Augmenting still this catalogue of care;
The gripe of penury thy bosom knew,
A gloomy jail obscur'd bright freedom's view:
So life's gay visions faded to thy sight,
Thy brilliant hopes enscarf'd in sorrow's night.

Where did Mr. Ireland learn that "hold fast" and "ballast," — "stir" and "hunger," — "forget" and "pilot," "sail on" and "Deucalon!" (Lempriere would have saved him a scourging at school by telling him that there was an "I" in the word) were legitimate Hudibrastic rhymes? see pages 116, &c. Chatterton is a great favourite of this imitative gentleman; and Bristol, where he appears to have been held in no greater estimation than Mr. Ireland himself deserves, is much vituperated in some sad couplets, seemingly for this reason, "all for love, and a little for the bottle," as Bannister's song runs, — "all for Chatterton, and a little for myself," thinks Mr. Ireland.

The notes communicate, among other novelties, the new title of "Sir Horace" to the Honourable H. Walpole: surely a perusal of the life of the unfortunate boy, whose fate Mr. I. deplores, might have prevented this piece of ignorance, twice repeated in the same page; and we wonder at the malicious fun of the printer's devil in permitting it to stand, for he certainly knew better. We must be excused from a more detailed notice of Mr. Ireland for the present; and indeed we hope to hear no more of his lamentations, very sure that none but reviewers will ever peruse them: unless, perhaps, the unfortunate persons of quality whom he may henceforth single out as proper victims of future dedication. Though his dedications are enough to kill the living, his anticipated monodies, on the other hand, must add considerably to the natural dread of death in such of his patrons as may be liable to common sense or to chronic diseases.