1794 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Josiah Relph

Thomas Sanderson, in "Ode to the Genius of Cumberland" 1794; Original Poems (1800) 84-85, 229-31n.



Careless beside a fountain laid,
At Ev'ning's dewy hour,
'Mid sylvan airs that warbled round,
Where, wildly o'er th' embosom'd bow'r,
The hawthorn flings its trembling shade,
The past'ral Bard of CAUDA'S vale was found:
From dell to dell his sweet lute rang,
Responsive to the Zephyr's gale,
Breathing the fragrance that the flow'rs impart:
Of simple life the guiltless loves he sang,
Its homely manners, ere deprav'd by art,
And village-virtues, ere they left the vale.


JOSIAH RELPH, a sweet pastoral Poet, was born, in 1719, at Sebergham Church-Town, a beautiful village, near Carlisle, on the banks of the river CAUDA. He received a part of his education at the School of Appleby, under RICHARD YATES, M.A. one of the best Schoolmasters of the age; who was also the Tutor of PATTISON, a man remarkable for his talents and his misfortunes, who, about the year 1730, published a Miscellany of Poems, and not long after died, in the prime of life, literally of hunger; a circumstance transiently mentioned by RICHARD SAVAGE in his Author to be Let.
At the age of 15, RELPH removed from Appleby School to Glasgow University, where education is cheap, and where as much learning may, with common abilities and common application, be acquired as is sufficient, for the common purposes of life. At the canonical age he entered into orders, and was presented, by the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle, with the living of Sebergham, at that time worth no more than 30 a year, which, with the salary of the village School that he taught, made him as happy as, and somewhat richer than, the contented Country Clergyman described in GOLDSMITH'S Deserted Village. He never once expressed a wish to rise to greater opulence or more distinction: his great concern was to improve, by good precepts and an exemplary life, the piety and virtue of his parishioners. He died, of a hectic complaint, in 1743. A neat mural monument, with a Latin inscription, was, in 1794, erected to his memory, by the Rev. JONATHAN BOUCHER, from his veneration to genius, virtue, and piety. His poems were, shortly after his death, revised and published by the Rev. THOMAS DENTON, M.A. a gentleman of fine poetical taste and judgment; and in 1797 a new edition was published, to which the writer of this note contributed memoirs of the Author's life, and a Pastoral Elegy on his Death.
The poems of this pious Clergyman, though they have always ease and nature, and sometimes strength and elegance, have hitherto attracted but little notice from the public; and the reason is obvious: His pastorals, and indeed all his best pieces, being written in the Cumberland dialect (which few are able to read, and still fewer to understand), the pleasure they afford can be but local and circumscribed, and confined to such readers as are previously acquainted with the force and peculiarities of provincial phraseology. Even the poems of ROBERT BURNS, in which we find much picturesque beauty, fancy, and simplicity of sentiment, would have been more popular, if they had not been debased by the low, Scottish dialect in which too many of them are written. That beautiful pastoral comedy, The Gentle Shepherd, has, from the same cause, never given satisfaction on the English stage; for who can be contented to hear, any length of time, a number of strange, unideal sounds? OVID, when he was banished to Geta, now Moldavia, seems to have composed, in order to amuse the solitary hours of his exile, some poems in the Moldavian dialect:

—Getico scripsi sermione libellum
Structasque sunt nostris barbara verba modis.
OVIDII EPIST.

But these verses, written in a barbarous tongue, have long ago been swept away by the tide of time; and we only know that this sweet Poet was the Author of such from the poems which, in the immortal language of Rome, acquaints us with his genius and his misfortunes.
An indifferent Poet has little or no reputation to lose from adopting a coarse and vulgar phraseology: he uses such images and words as are familiar to him; and, beneath a rude, uncouth dress, conceals penury of sentiment, and sometimes gains credit for genius which he does not possess. But he who can think, as well as rhime, ought not to descend, if he wishes his works to be generally read, to the "barbara verba" — to a vulgar and impure diction.