1765 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Charles Churchill

James Beattie, Verses occasioned by the Death of the Revd. Mr. Charles Churchill (1765) 1-15.



CHURCHILL begone! with thee may discord's fire,
That hatch'd thy salamander-fame, expire!
Fame, dirty idol of the brainless crowd,
What half-made mooncalf can mistake for good?
Since shar'd by knaves of high and low degree,
Cromwel and Catiline, Guido Fawkes and thee.
By nature uninspir'd, untaught by art,
With not one thought that breathes the feeling heart,
With not one offering vow'd to Virtue's shrine,
With not one pure unprostituted line;
The hireling slave of faction and of spite,
His country's nuisance, and a Wilkes' delight;
Alike debauch'd in body, soul, and lays;—
—For pension'd censure, and for pension'd praise;
For ribaldry, for libels, lewdness, lies,
For blasphemy of all the good and wise;
Coarse virulence in coarser dogrel writ,
Which bawling blackguards spell'd, and took for wit;
For conscience, honour, slighted, spurn'd, o'erthrown;—
Lo, Churchill shines the minion of renown!

Is this the land that boasts a MILTON'S fire,
And magic SPENSER'S wildly-warbling lyre?
The land that owns th' omnipotence of song,
When SHAKESPEAR whirls the throbbing heart along?
The land, where POPE, with energy divine,
In one strong blaze bade wit and fancy shine;
Whose verse, by truth, in virtue's triumph born,
Gives knaves to infamy, and fools to scorn;
Yet pure in manners, and in thought refin'd,
Whose life and lays adorn'd and bless'd mankind?

Is this the land, where GRAY'S unlabour'd art
Soothes, melts, alarms, and ravishes the heart;
While the lone wanderer's sweet complainings flow
In simple majesty of manly woe;
Or while, sublime, on eagle pinion driven,
He soars Pindaric heights, and sails the waste of heaven?
Is this the land o'er SHENSTONE'S recent urn,
Where all the loves and gentler graces mourn?
And where, t' adorn the hoary Bard of night,
The muses and the virtues all unite?
Is this the land, where AKENSIDE displays
The bold, yet temp'rate flame of antient days?
Like the rapt Sage in genius, as in theme,
Whose hallow'd strain renown'd Ilissus' stream:
Or him, th' indignant Bard, whose patriot ire,
Sublime in vengeance, smote the dreadful lyre;
For truth, for liberty, for virtue warm,
Whose mighty song unnerv'd a tyrant's arm,
Hush'd the rude roar of discord, rage, and lust,
And spurn'd licentious demagogues to dust.

Is this the Queen of realms! the glorious isle,
BRITANNIA, bless'd in heav'n's indulgent smile!
Guardian of truth, and patroness of art,
Nurse of th' undaunted soul, and generous heart!
Where, from a base degenerate world exil'd,
FREEDOM exults to roam the careless wild;
Where taste to science every charm supplies,
And genius soars unbounded to the skies!

And shall a Churchill's most polluted name
Stain her bright tablet of untainted fame?
Shall his disgraceful name with their's be join'd,
Who wish'd and wrought the welfare of their kind?
His name accurs'd, who leagued with Wilkes and hell,
Labour'd to rouse, with rude and murderous yell,
Discord the fiend, to toss rebellion's brand,
In rage and ruin whelm a guiltless land;
To frustate virtue's wisdom's noblest plan,
And triumph in the miseries of man.
Driveling and dull when crawls the reptile-muse,
Swoln from the sty, and rankling from the stews,
With poison, spleen, and pestilence replete,
Gorg'd with the dust she lick'd from treason's feet,
Who once, like Satan, rais'd to heaven her sight,
But turn'd abhorrent from the hated light;—
O'er such a muse shall wreathes of glory bloom?
No — Shame and execration be her doom.

Hard-fated Churchill! Could not dullness save
Thy soul from sin, from infamy thy grave!
Blackmore and Quarles, those blockheads of renown,
Lavish'd their ink, but never harm'd the town;
Though this, thy rival in discordant song,
Harass'd the ear, and cramp'd the labouring tongue;
And that, like thee, taught staggering prose to stand,
And limp on stilts of rhyme around the land;
Harmless they doz'd a scribbling life away,
And yawning nations own'd th' innoxious lay.
But from thy graceless, rude, and beastly brain,
What fury breath'd th' incendiary strain!

Did hate to vice exasperate thy style?
No — Churchill match'd the vilest of the vile.
Yet blazon'd was his verse with Virtue's name—
Thus prudes look down to hide their want of shame;
Thus hypocrites to truth, and fools to sense,
And fops to taste, have sometimes made pretence;
Thus thieves and gamesters swear by honour's laws;
Thus pension-hunters bawl their country's cause;
Thus Teague for moderation furious rav'd,
And own'd his soul to liberty enslav'd.
Nor yet, tho' thousand Cits admire thy rage,
Tho' less of fool than felon marks thy page;
Nor yet, tho' here and there one lonely spark
Of wit half-brightens thro' th' involving dark,
To show the gloom more hideous for the foil,
But not repay the drudging reader's toil,
(For who for one poor pearl of clouded ray
Thro' Alpine dunghills delves his desperate way?)
Did genius to thy verse such bane impart.
No. 'Twas the demon of thy venom'd heart,
(Thy heart with rancour's quintessence endow'd)
And the blind zeal of a misjudging crowd.

Thus from rank soil a poison'd mushroom sprung,
Nurseling obscene of mildew and of dung;
By heaven designed on its own native spot
Harmless t' enlarge its bloated bulk, and rot:
But Gluttony the abortive nuisance saw;
It rous'd his ravenous undiscerning maw;
Gulp'd down the tasteless throat, the mess abhor'd,
Shot fiery influence round the maddening board.

O! had thy verse been impotent, as dull,
Nor spoke thy rage of heart, but weight of scull:
Had mobs distinguish'd, while they howl'd thy fame,
The icicle from the pure diamond's flame,
From fancy's soul thy gross imbruted sense,
From dauntless truth thy shameless insolence,
From elegance, confusion's monstrous mass,
And from the lyon's spoils the sculking ass,
From rapture's strain the drawling dogrel line,
From warbling seraphim the grunting swine:—
With gluttons, dunces, rakes, thy name had slept,
Nor o'er her sullied fame BRITANNIA wept;
Nor had the muse, with honest zeal possess'd,
T' avenge her country by thy name disgrac'd,
Rais'd this bold strain for virtue, truth, mankind;
And thy fell shade to infamy resign'd.

When frailty leads astray the soul sincere,
Let mercy shed the soft and manly tear.
When to the grave descends the sensual sot,
Unnam'd, unnotic'd let his carrion rot.
When paltry rogues, by stealth, deceit, or force,
Hazard their necks, ambitious of your purse;
For these the hangman wreathes his trusty gin,
And let the gallows expiate their sin.
But when a ruffian, whose portentous crimes,
Like plagues and earthquakes, terrify the times,
Triumphs thro' life, from legal judgment free,
For hell may hatch what law could ne'er foresee:
Sacred from vengeance shall his memory rest?—
Judas, tho' dead, tho' damn'd, we still detest.