1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Seward

D. C., "On Hayley's Observation of Anna Seward, in his Essay on Epic Poetry" Town and Country Magazine 17 (August 1785) 437-38.



Warm'd by the harmony of Hayley's muse,
Shall my weak lay its grateful thanks refuse,
And pass in silence o'er his epic strain,
Which sings not Seward's talent weak or vain,
But has, congenial with sincerest thought,
To emulative estimation brought
Sweet Anna's muse, the diction of whose rhymes
Will justify these tolerating times
In spite of Prejudice, which heretofore,
In days long vanish'd, and in times of yore,
Forbade the maid t' attempt poetic toil,
Or either aim at its melodious style!
Yet, hark thee, Prejudice, thy reign is o'er,
And thy stern tenet interrupts no more!
There's freedom now for ev'ry maid to seize
On Poesy, and in that theme to please:
And please they not, when Hayley's lays rehearse,
His love, and envy, of blest Seward's verse?
And when his epic poetry contains,
A due regard of her inchanting strains;
His sanction far exalts her favourite Muse,
And gives that fame which envious tongues refuse,
For which to him ingenuous praise belongs,
From each admirer of her plaintive songs.

Blame not, dear maid, these weak unletter'd lays,
Which feebly greet thee with approving praise:
Thy comprehensive emblems bright and strong
Aptly adorn the elegiac song:
Thy lays afford mankind a mental feast,
Th' historic tale of warrior chiefs deceas'd:
If Cooke and Andre fill th' untimely urn,
Still, in thy page, their patriot worth we learn;
For Monody's the treasury of death's gloom,
Which can retain anecdotes from the tomb:
Then, then, when heroes dead adorn the page,
The luckless victims of war's ruthless rage,
What pitying pangs responsive hearts engage?
Then surely selfishness resigns her reign,
And quits the soul, surcharg'd with others pain;
O! Sympathy, thou mine of soft distress,
Thro' sorrows, and thro' joys, thy pow'rs can bless:
And Elegy's a source of roseate breath,
Whose charms are ravish'd from the jaws of death.

Do not such records bless the British isle?
Won't emulation kindle at their toil?
It surely will: their virtues wear that gloss,
Which best retrieves their real intrinsic loss:
Thy lays reveal mild Cooke immers'd in toils,
To plant humanity through savage soils!
For, lo! apparent, in thy pleasing rhymes,
Benevolence directs to distant climes,
Where meek amid the savage herd he goes,
Yet scorns to injure his unletter'd foes.
And Andre's worth may boast a deathless date,
May p'r'aps prove useful to a dwindling state,
May rouse afresh a military band,
Might re-enliven a lethargic land:
Yes, that it might, for, lo! th' anecdotes shine,
Magic incentives to the martial line!
Prompt the bold venture, when his pattern plain,
Throbs on the pulse, and thrills in glory's vein!
As he, by chance of war, with dauntless breath,
Taught men to meet unmov'd the darts of death;
And seal'd his end with fortitude sublime,
A felon fate, without the felon's crime!
Such was the ill, attendant on his close,
A death administer'd by brutal foes;
Yet thro' e'en this he sprung to be admir'd,
Himself ere death th' undaunted youth expir'd!
And, all in all, methinks, he liv'd and dy'd,
His army's glory, and his nation's pride:
'Tis thus to me these patriot chieftains glow,
In records which redeem from loss, absolve from woe.

And when the critics, with envenom'd fire,
Unjustly wound the maid with envious ire,
Arise ye champions, of the priesthood sphere,
Invert the venom of their baleful sneer,
And, in your sacerdotal robes array'd,
Soothe ye th' admir'd Muses favour'd maid!
Come reverend sages, rise with pow'rful might,
And bid the fair one disregard their spite:
Bid her discover, from th' intended wrongs,
The prompting spleen of some sarcastic tongues,
Deserved laurels, which the verse displays
In ridiculing gloomy Envy's ways,
In op'ning there a disingenuous plan,
The works of some sly discontented man,
From which each sees within the grateful flame,
Seward exalted in the critics shame:
Still be it so, whene'er their pois'nous reed,
Attempts t' atchieve a disrespectful deed;
Still guarded thus, may thy ennobling lay,
Remain uninjur'd by the critic's bray;
Still countenanc'd, may thy inchanting verse,
Be thus preserv'd from each malicious curse;
So patroniz'd, may thy expressive rhyme,
Defeat th' o'ershadowing hand of future time;
And here, on earth, may'st thou securely reign,
Th' applauded nymph upon the British plain.

Long may'st thou live, the boast of Litchfield town;
Long wreathe Britannia's heroes with renown;
Long mould thy mental pow'rs in music here;
Long fling receding sons in glory's sphere;
Long meet thy merit's due in Hayley's lays;
Long epic trumpets sound forth Seward's praise.
Kendal.