1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Millhouse

Anonymous, Review of Millhouse, Song of the Patriot; Gentleman's Magazine 97 (January 1827) 47-49.



We have aforetime noticed the performances of this singularly-pleasing Minstrel. The small work that preceded the present one, was entitled "Blossoms:" and never was the promise, which that title implied, more amply realized. We now behold fruits of Genius, with which our readers, like ourselves, cannot but be gratified. From the rich profusion before us, a mere dessert only will be selected, without any particular care: yet such a dessert as will tempt them, if we mistake not, to possess the whole store. What taste so fastidious as not to relish such productions as these?

Ye Britons! who have other states survey'd,
Intent new forms of government to try,
Say, have you found, where'er your search was made,
That distant realm where you would live and die!
Nor give one lingering voluntary sigh,
To see, once more, the land where you were born?
Methinks even now, beneath another sky,
Wide o'er the Atlantic, many a breast forlorn
Heaves for that Peerless Isle they late beheld with scorn....

A beacon, lighted on a giant hill;
A sea-girt watch-tower to each neighbouring state;
A barrier, to control the Despots will;
An instrument of all-directing Fate
Is Britain; for whate'er in man is great,
Or pace, unawed, the field of mystery.
With heaven-rapt Milton, passing Nature try,
On swift Imagination's eagle wings
View the extremest boundaries of the sky,
And join the hosts that sing the King of kings,
Melting in lays divine from pure etherial springs....

Full to that greatness have her sons attain'd;
Dreadful in War to hurl the Battle's weight;
Supreme in Arts, in Commerce unrestrain'd;
Peerless in magic Song, to hold the soul enchain'd
In wealth and power stupendous is our Isle!
Obtain'd by Labour's persevering hand:
And heaven-born Liberty extends her smile
To the remotest corners of our land:
The meanest subject feels her potent wand;
Peasant and Peer are by one law control'd;
And this it is, that keeps us great and grand:
This is the impulse makes our warriors bold,
And knits more close the bond our fathers seal'd of old.
Plenty, from out her never-failing horn,
Showers down profusion on our hills and dales;
Fair climb our uplands to salute the morn;
No meads like ours, when fann'd with spring-tide gales;
Lovely our groves, where the fleet stock-dove sails;
And in our forests grows that sacred tree,
The British oak; a charm, that never fails,
Springs, in this darling plant, ordain'd to be
A safeguard to our shores by watchful Destiny....

Philosophers, immers'd in thought sublime,
Reverting back, thy Sages shall explore;
And following Bacon, Locke and Newton, climb
To heights, the human mind ne'er tried before:
The youthful Bard shall traverse Fancy's shore
With Spenser, Minstrel to the Fairy throng;
Pondering his wild romantic visions o'er,
Told in the sweetest harmony of song,
While knights and gentle virgins sweep in pomp along.
Or with thy Shakspeare, pride of humankind!
Magician-like, with talisman, untie
Those secret strings the hidden heart which bind....

Land of my Fathers! may thy rocky coast
Long be the bulwark of thy free-born race;
Long may thy patriot's have just cause to boast
That Mighty Albion is their native place;
Still be thy sons unequall'd in the chase
Of glory, be it Science, Arts, or Arms;
And first o'erweening Conquerors to disgrace;
Yet happier far, when Peace in all her charms,
Drives out from every land the din of War's alarms....

Well I remember, in my youthful hours,
Ere yet in numbers I essay'd to sing,
At that glad season, when fresh opening flowers
And hawthorn buds proclaim'd the birth of Spring;
Joyous I've found the glossy crocus, blowing
Fair in its bed of green; and onward stray'd
To sunny dells, where April's hand was throwing
Violets of virgin sweetness, and survey'd
The pale-eyed Primrose, glinting in the glade:
Daisies, vermilion-ting'd, were deem'd a prize,
And pluck'd in triumph; while the sloe-bloom made
Garlands for mating birds, and thence would rise
Vouchings of purest love in anthems to the skies....

Dearly, I love you! native fields, and groves,
And hills, and dales, and mends of fairest bloom;
Where Spring's first flowers enjoy their nuptial loves,
And June's bright children Summer winds perfume:
In some still nook of yours, be this my doom,
When life's frail energies shall make a stand,
To find a rural solitary tomb,
Where waving trees their branching arms expand,
To screen my sunless house, and deck the matchless land....

Be every hill and dale, where childhood wanders,
And every grove, and nook, the lover knows,
And every stream, and runlet that meanders,
And every plain that covers freedom's foes
The dwelling-place of Song, — and where repose
The great immortal worthies of our isle
Be hallow'd ground — and when the pilgrim goes
To hail the sacred dust, and muse awhile,
Be heard the free-born strain to blanch the tyrant's smile.

These extracts are from "The Song of. the Patriot:" a performance that evinces its author not only to be a true Patriot himself, but so capable of "waking to ecstacy the living lyre," as to merit the fostering protection of all who love their country. From the additional Sonnets we must be sparing in our selection, — not from want of choice; but for want of room in our limited parterre for such poetical flowers. The first will plead, "angel-tongued," for its own humble parent:

To CHARITY.
Thou meek-eyed matron! that dost ne'er expose
To public scoff the objects of thy care,
But secret keep'st thy bounty — Being fair!
Where art thou now assuaging human woes?
Unostentatious thou — thy deeds are free—
Emblem right fit of that Great God above;
Who, from astonishing eternity,
For ever was, and ever will be, Love!
When the Redeemer, fraught with heavenly fire,
Knowing man's pride, bade hide the giving hand,
With him didst thou sojourn, and o'er the land,
Made boasting Pharisees in shame retire;—
And taught, that alms, the most in secret given,
Are deem'd most worthy in the Eye of Heaven.

The vivid personal and mental portrait of a beautiful and amiable Fair one, translated to a purer world, in p. 58, will endure when marble moulders. Her cheek, — her eye, — her breath, assimilated with imagery of the most appropriate kind, are delicately represented. But, for "her hair, the spacious earth supplied no semblance"—

—'Twas the golden dye
Of evening clouds, when sweetest sunbeams lie
On their bright fleeces, — mingling into gloom.

With the following devout address "To Omnipotence," our extracts must close:

Oh! Thou Almighty ever-gracious One!
And can the grov'ling Sceptic surely doubt?
And search in vain to find Thy being out?
Lo! in the midnight sky Thy starry throne;
And in Thy sun, exhaustless orb of light;
Earth, with its seas and forests, hills and dales,
Rude wintry tempests, and mild summer gales,
I see thy love, beneficence, and might.
The smallest insect, and the meanest flower—
The very moss and knot-grass, and the wing
Of the poor moth that glitters in the spring
Declare aloud the wonders of Thy power.—
Nor would I have the Sceptic's gloomy mind
For all the wealth and sway of humankind.

At the commencement of this critical notice, we denominated Robert Millhouse a singularly-pleasing Minstrel; and singular will he seem to those who have read but the extracts here given, when they are told "that the greatest portion of the work was composed in the loom, and written at such brief intervals as a close application to his employment would allow."

With the present depressed state of his branch of trade, the public are well acquainted; yet, in that branch, he has to support himself, his wife, and children. By encouraging his poetical pleasures we are not likely to abridge the labours of the plain weaver, as diligence in his calling and dictations of his Muse can go on together; therefore strongly do we deprecate that cold-hearted criticism which would shed over his glowing mind the deadly mildews of discouragement; as it did over that of his amiable townsman, Kirke White; which well nigh wrought his ruin. Fortunately, however, for the depressed candidate for fame, and for the cause of literature, the wounds occasioned by the clumsy strictures of critical ignorance were so far healed by the soothing balm of wisdom, as to enable the sensitive youth to resume those pursuits in which he not more pleased himself than he delighted others. Though not boasting White's acquirements. Millhouse is perhaps equally favoured with the inspirations of Nature. "The Song of the Patriot" will confirm every real patriot in honest English principles, and tend to correct the wrong bias of radicalism and disaffection; while the Sonnets (thirty-seven in number) will hereafter be regarded as models of that species of composition. A few poetic blemishes, and one prosaic word ("actuates," p. 21) were marked for observation; but

Ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis
Offendar maculis.
HOR.