1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Gifford

John Gwilliam, "To W****** G*******, a celebrated Critic of the Nineteenth Century" Bower of Bliss (1814) 238-47.



Poor, luckless drone, — the muse's veriest sot,—
How soon thy musty satire was forgot!
Fram'd on false concords, many a sentence ran,
Whose meaning ended, where the line began,—
Gross taste, low figures, dull and vulgar tropes
Buoy'd up the poem, and destroy'd our hopes;
We aim'd, in vain, to analyze each thought,
And still pursued; and still arriv'd at nought;
Huge words and figures glitter'd thro' the strain,
The fertile product of a sickly brain,
And all the vast conceptions of thy head,
Touch'd by the pen, were modell'd into lead,
Nor could thy own encomiums chase the gloom
That hung around thy miserable plume.

Man seldom looks ridiculous, 'tis clear,
But when he launches from his proper sphere,
Those, nature meant to humble and submit,
Mistake their talents in attempting wit:
These pompous nothings, gender'd in a bog,
Full of their native element, — the fog,
Puff'd with conceits, contemptible and vain,
Would grasp the prize they never can attain,—
While cautious merit, silent and alone,
Marks the ephemeral progress of the drone,
And laughs within her sleeve, as well she may,
To think how soon the bauble must decay,
And like the daring Phaeton of yore,
Fall from its eminence, to rise no more.

Sots will be poets, poets will be sots,
And shoals of rhymers miserable Scotts,
While Scott himself (if such, indeed, could be,)
Would reign the sovereign lord of poesy:
Some aim at Dryden's line, and some at Pope's,
Lost in a world of metaphors and tropes,—
E'en liveried hirelings, grammarless, will try
To whine and simper in an elegy;
Whilst others, soaring to the Gods' abode,
Like Cottle, spin an epic or an ode,
And, pleas'd with their extravagancies, print,
Altho' in reason there be nothing in't.

But, mighty Bard! before thy wond'rous lay,
Byron must shrink, and Churchill fade away,
Perseus and Horace, Juvenal and Pope,
And even Gifford, must no longer hope
To please the town with their exalted rhymes,
Or curb the blazing vices of the times.
Their puny verse and unavailing sense,
Must yield, at length, to thy omnipotence,
Since thou art foremost of the attic throng,
For giant thoughts, and melody of song,—
And future, ages, growing dull, in vain
Shall strive to reach the meaning of thy strain,
And, in their gloomy, ignorance, admit,
Thou wert a most inimitable wit!

It is not beating, nor the noblest school,
Can make a genius of a native fool,—
Who e'er extracted honey from a rock,
Or thought of wisdom in a barber's block?
Yet thou shalt murder literature and write
In spite of learning, and in nature's spite,
Tho' every line conspicuously tells
How very badly our grammarian spells,
How much he needs (and yet 'tis very odd)
His grandam's golden primer, or the rod,
But Willie's not the first, if Fame be true,
That wrote, ere yet his accidence he knew.

Hail, bright Stupidity, to thee belong
Full many a drowsy poet and his song,
Amidst thy train the monthly minstrels crowd,
Here C—e laments, there L—y bawls aloud;
One tunes his mellow pipe to praise the star
That decks pale evening's melancholy car,
While, wrapt in gloom, and destitute of brains,
To Fanny's ear the other fool complains,—
Lauding each other for their various parts,
Their learning, wisdom, sympathetic hearts,
And, still to second their sublime designs,
The peerless beauties of their tender lines.

But, hark! from yonder fane what notes arise,
Soft as the melting music of the skies?
Who strikes the moaning harp to notes of woe,
And bids the tears of innocence to flow?
It is the warm Alphonso by his gait,
His awful eye, and shallowness of pate,—
He tunes a pompous air, exclaims, and sighs,
Now bends to heav'n, and now to earth his eyes;
His ev'ry look's the model of a saint,
But like a harlot, stript of borrow'd paint,
His horrid blemishes at once appear,
As her's the eye, so his affect the ear:
But, hark! the W****g's piously combine,
O'er scripture topics plaintively to whine,
While Tommy W*ls*n, arbiter of rhyme,
Screams out an ode deliciously sublime,
And murdering Horace, to indulge the spleen,
O'erwhelms the pages of his magazine.

O! if there be one soul whom genius fires,
One whom the world still honours and admires,
Who, feeling for the wrongs of learning, dare
Support her cause, — her injuries declare,
Drive from the pages of each magazine,
The simpering odes, and elegies obscene,
And to the muse's coronet restore,
The honour'd laurel it possess'd before,
Sure, my belov'd Leanthe! we may hope
To see, once more, the energies of Pope,
Hear the soft measure echo to the sense,
Not at some other genius's expense,
But the pure offspring of a healthy mind,
By reading strengthen'd, and by taste refin'd,—
Behold the glooms of Ignorance subside,
And Reason flourish in her wonted pride,
And, 'neath the influence of serener skies,
Augustan bards and orators arise,
Such as the Thracian walls might leap to hear,
(Since Orpheus slumbers in another sphere)
Such as wou'd drown my own unworthy shell,
And drive the maudlin sonnetteers to h—ll!

Then, Campbell! wake thee from thy trance, nor call
That task unworthy, which is worthy all!
Where is there one amidst the chosen band,
That sweeps the lyre with chaster hand?
That feels like him, or can so well portray
The various passions and their separate sway,
Wake in the bosom such heroic fire,
Or teach the drooping spirit to aspire,—
And, least attempting, can with greater ease,
Produce the song to interest and please?

But, gentle lyre! I must bid farewell
To him, who scribbles ere he learns to spell,
Who through the realms of metaphysic gloom,
Soars, like Munchausen, on an eagle's plume,
To some stupendous promontory, whence
He chaunts a measure that defies all sense,
The rules of Dilworth, Sheridan, and Tooke,
And Murray's plain, imperishable book,
Who, puff'd with self-significance and pride,
With leaden dulness ever at his side,
Enters on themes so wonderful and vast,
That all his logic glitters in bombast,
Unmeaning figures — thoughts devoid of rule,
Excepting such as designate a fool,
And all the modern flummery that's fit
To load the stomach of a monthly wit.

Yet, ere I bid my antagonist farewell,
I recommend him that he learn to spell,
To ponder oft ere he presume to write,
And view his subject in its natural light,
Give every thought its appellation just,
Nor take another's meaning upon trust,—
Let every word its proper station keep,
Or o'er the finest poem we may sleep:
These once attain'd, e'en Willie may produce
An epic worthy of the critic's use,
And gain at least the Publisher's applause,
For he's the winner in a losing cause.

But when we hear him threatening with blows
To crush another, and assail his nose,
How truly insignificant and vain—
How much more worthy pity than disdain,
Appears the weak and miserable man,
Who, marring nature, and her stable plan,
Roams from the bounds her judgment had allow'd,
(Pleas'd with himself, unprofitably proud)
To climb the heights of science, and aspire
To all th' immortal honors of the lyre,—
Whose barren, wild, and incoherent strain,
Baffled our hopes, and led us on in vain,
Which all his own encomiums defied,
Crept, fainted, crawl'd, and lingeringly died,
And now, in some dark, miserable spot,
Lies like a corse, neglected and forgot,
Till revelation (should the fates be civil)
Produce it, but to send it to the devil!

Deluded man! thy station would'st thou learn,
Back to thy sad obscurity return,
Prompt at the call of a superior pow'r,
Thy drowsy genius to its height may tow'r;
But while an atom of existence rule
Thy sickly brain, thou memorable fool!
Roam not the paths of learning, nor presume
To wield the fist, the scissars, or the plume,
But, gaining wisdom, those recesses tread,
Congenial to the powers of thy head,
And hence, perchance, prosperity and fame
May fill thy pockets, and record thy name!