1781 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hayley

S., "An Epistle to William Hayley, Esq." Town and Country Magazine 12 (May 1781) 271-72.



On high Parnassus' highest summit plac'd,
With ev'ry Muse's brightest dowry grac'd,
Dost thou, O Hayley! hear the voice of Fame,
Spread through thy land the honours of thy name?
While, with applauding voice, the learned throng,
Rehearse the beauties of thy various song:
The nation hails thee as its last great hope,
As strong as Milton, and as soft as Pope:
Even snarling critics join the friendly train,
And praise the beauty of thy noble strain.

Tho' still we envy Anna's golden reign,
When Pope, and Thomson, rul'd the num'rous train
Of noble bards; who tun'd the Muses lyre
To strains that none but Phoebus could inspire;
Yet many a bard, with radiant lustre bright,
Has chear'd our darkness with a beam of light;
In Classic pride bold Akenside may claim
A place distinguish'd on the roll of fame;
And long the gentle breast shall own the sway
Of sweetest numbers, in a Goldsmith's lay;
As nature warbles in the linnet's song,
So pours his stream of harmony along:
Pindar is heard in Gray's high sounding lyre;
And Collins glows with true poetic fire;
The various passions own his master hand,
And freedom hails him of her noble band.
Mason's chaste Muse shows the unthankful age
Such scenes as once adorn'd th' Athenian stage:
With pleasure we to Shenstone's lays attend;
And praise good Lyttleton each Muses friend:
Satire with triumph boasts her Churchill's page,
But mourns his candour sunk in party rage;
Poets and peers his random arrows hit,
While truth lies bleeding by the shaft of wit:
What breast devoted to the tuneful train,
But feels with rapture learned Beattie's strain;
Sweet as the notes that Philomela pours,
To soothe the lover in the midnight hours.

O deign, sweet bard, again to strike the lyre,
And bless the world with true poetic fire:
O let the Muses still engage thy mind,
And with their noble thoughts enrich mankind.
The British Muse has rais'd to Warton's name
A small neat monument of lasting fame;
Due to the man, who in his learned page
Has traced her beauties through each darker age.

Tho' cold neglect eclipses Glover's lays,
Candor must own he well deserves our praise;
No common Muse inspires the Classic strain,
That paints the Spartan and the patriot train;
Who the proud tyrant's numerous host withstood,
And seal'd their country's freedom with their blood:
Nor let our age, with cold neglect, refuse
Her share of praise to Whitehead's laureat Muse;
Tho' unfair satirists, with partial rage,
Have, with their gall, defaced his blameless page;
Yet still with pleasure shall his verse be read,
When —'s poems with his name are dead.

A wreath unfading Carter's head shall bind,
The pride and pleasure of the beauteous kind;
Even lordly man shall praise her lovely strain,
And place her high among the learned train:
Near her's shall gentle Seward's name appear,
Who deck'd with lasting verse brave Andre's bier;
Who trac'd bold Cook the southern isles among,
And to his memory rais'd the noble song;
The Muses shall a lasting wreath bestow,
A crown of fame, to grace fair Barbauld's brow;
Listen ye fair-ones, and approve the song,
That sweetly falls like honey from her tongue:
In Fame's eternal roll your names shall stand;
You three chaste Saphoes of the British land!
A share of fame to these bold bards belong,
Who bring from foreign shores the noble song;
To Hoole who brought from gay Italia's plain,
To British ears, great Tasso's Epic strain;
With the wild story of Orlando's rage,
And tuneful Metastasio's pleasing page.

He too, who bore from Lusitania's clime
The splendid beauties of Camoen's rhime,
Shall gain a seat among the sons of fame,
And with his favourite poet's join his name.

The English Statius claims a share of praise,
And he who gave us Apollonius' lays.

Around thy brows a radiant wreath shall shine,
O learned Potter! fav'rite of the Nine!
Thine is the pleasing praise t' enrich our tongue
With the bold beauties of the Grecian song;
In thee stern Eschylus revives again,
And bids Britannia praise his lofty strain;
And soon Euripides we hope to see,
Dress'd in each garb of elegance by thee.

'Tis thine, O Muse! eternal life to give!
Tho' dead, 'tis thine to bid the poet live!—
When kings and princes in oblivion rest,
He reigns the monarch of each feeling breast;
The warrior's name, the statesman's praise may die,
The poet's meed is immortality:
Two thousand years have past since Homer sung,
Yet still we hear the music of his tongue;
And Virgil's strain, that charm'd majestic Rome,
Shall live the praise of ages yet to come:
Thousands unborn shall feel our Shakespear's fire,
And the strong harmony of Milton's lyre;
And, Hayley, if aright my Muse divine,
Our eager sons shall banquet on thy song.

In these late days how arduous to explore
Paths, by poetic feet, untried before;
The wilds of wit, and ev'ry bower of love,
Each field of battle, and each fairy grove,
Have oft been ransack'd by the Muse's throng,
And made the theme of many a noble song;
But thy keen eye paths unexplor'd has found,
And round thy brows the freshest bays are bound;
A crown, of all thy toils the bright reward,
Claim'd by no ancient, by no modern bard,
To fill the honours of these later days,
Thy noble Muse aspires to ancient praise;
On eagle wings she soars above the throng,
And leaves below the sons of modern song:
O may she still on all thy labours smile!
And deathless fame reward thy pleasing toil;
May peace and love thy graver hours unbend,
And Health's gay train thy happy steps attend!

Accept, O Hayley, from a youth unknown,
The verse that seats thee on the poet's throne:
No flatt'rer he, no prostitute of praise,
But as he loves, so he commends thy lays:
As the fond lover can no faults espy
In the fair form that captivates his eye;
So if all beauty shines not in thy song,
The lover's eye hath led his judgment wrong.
Friday-street, May 20.