1790 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hamilton Reid

J. D***g, "Lines addressed to W. Hamilton Reid, on seeing his Commendations on L. Deformeaux's Poetry" New Lady's Magazine 5 (November 1790) 577.



Mankind, from error never free,
Are fallible we daily see;
Some, to no prejudice the minion,
Have trusted to their own opinion;
On their own judgment plac'd reliance,
And gen'ral truths set at defiance.
When laws and customs are laid down,
A taste establish'd through the town,
Have rashly dar'd these laws to break,
And wilful err'd, not by mistake.
O Reid! I little thought that you
Would prove that this remark is true;
Unlike the whole poetic tribe,
You to another do ascribe
That merit, in another shewn,
Which you should swear was all your own;
For 'tis a law I recollect,
That rising merit should be check'd.
If to write well one dares attempt,
He should be treated with contempt:
Tell him, to serve him you'd be glad,
But his rhymes are so very bad,
His language poor, his muse decrepid,
And his productions so insipid.
Take care to point out his defects,
Until at length chagrin'd and vex'd,
Neglects, forsakes the muse's call,
And you rise the higher by his fall.
In D—x, whom you celebrated,
The account must surely be misstated,
For many things combine to shew it,
That he can never be a poet.
Riches can never praise procure,
Poets, you know, are always poor,
The pockets and the belly full,
The muse is languid, faint, and dull;
The belly empty, pockets light,
The muse burns vig'rous, clear, and bright;
For many a piece, in subject, diction,
Has been compos'd when in affliction;
Done honour to the heart and head,
Has been wrote when in want of bread:
But when the author he has been
From trouble free, how chang'd the scene!
Forgets what he suffer'd before,
Grown indolent, and wrote no more,
Till hunger, want, disease, or pain,
Compell'd him for to write again.
Another thing in which you've err'd,
Praise, while alive, should be deferr'd,
For it's a rule, that modest worth
Should ne'er be acknowledged on earth;
But in the grave the poet laid,
The tribute then how eager paid,
To which his merits may lay claim,
And death perpetuates his name.
Next, your youth of a house is master,
This is a very sad disaster;
A poet ne'er has but one room,
The garret always is his doom;
For it's been prov'd in garret heights,
The muse has made such rapid flights,
With such transcendent splendor shone,
As below stairs was never known.
A poet once a house did take,
But nothing of it he could make;
Sits down, gets up, sits down again,
Attempts to write, but all in vain:
At length for debt put to the rout—
Poets are apt to shift about—
And now he gets in a first floor,
A little better than before,
The muse still lagg'd, the saucy jade,
When she won't go, she can't be made.
Again in debt he chanc'd to prove,
Again he is oblig'd to move.
Two pair of stairs he now ascends,
The more she smiles, his writing mends;
Yet still he finds his ardour damp'd,
His thoughts confin'd, his genius cramp'd,
Till, from the same cause as before,
Oblig'd he is to move once more.
At last a garret is his lot,
Invokes the muse, nor is forgot.
From the care of housekeeping freed,
He now was excellent indeed.
No general rule without exception,
We see one, by thy just selection,
Which does present unto our view
A poet, fortune's favourite too;
This my surprize does much increase,
But wonders they will never cease.
Thrice happy he who does possess
The means to alleviate distress.
To whom the muses do impart
An open, generous, liberal heart;
Poetry all his deeds control,
Extends his hand, expands his soul;
To misery causes him to lend
A willing ear, and be it's friend;
No difference knows by ties or blood,
But his wealth proves a general good.
To speak the truth, the poet dares,
Flattery in this no part she bears;
For well the same applause, I know,
The most impartial would bestow.
Poetry hail, in which, O Reid,
Thou all thy rivals dost exceed;
Whose pen no character defames,
Whose friendship kindred merit claims;
Who dares in truth and nature for to trust,
Thy style so pleasing, and thy thoughts so just;
When diffidence prompts thee to give the praise
Unto another, and resign the bays,
That kindness which to others merit shewn,
Reflects redoubled lustre on your own.
Whitechapel.