1788 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Merry

Veritas, "To Della Crusca and Arley" The World (16 July 1788).



Say, tuneful Poets, why your Magic Strains
To false Morality such charms impart?
The Grave of STERNE, or WERTER'S cold Remains,
Urge weaker claims on the uplifted Heart.

Why ARLEY, such contemptuous tauntings throw,
When the nice judgment slights the motely line?
Where Ribaldry and Pathos strangely flow,
And frothy Jests with Scenes of Woe combine!

Think not that gentle Pity, blue-ey'd Fair,
Welcomes the crew of Comus to her Train;
Such Handmaids must not deck her Auburn Hair—
She flies, abhorrent, from their touch profane.

In vain loose Moralists would teach our Youth,
That Vice with Virtue ever can ally;
The piercing Beams of Heaven-descended Truth,
Instant shall sever the unnatural Tie.

But peace to Error's ting'd with lighter Hue!
Peace to the Turf where STERNE reclines his head!
'Tis WERTER'S Sable Page attracts my view,
And chills me with involuntary dread.

I know that POETRY resounds his Fame!
That PAINTING strives to catch his frantic Air!
That Virgins, lur'd by Love's insidious Name!
Sigh o'er the progress of his fell Despair!

Be dumb, vain Lyre! officious Pencil, rest!
And cease ye Virgins, cease your friendly Sighs!
Such love as WERTER'S could not make you blest,
At Frenzy's wild approach soft Passion flies!

That gentler God who pairs two kindred Souls,
Although he shuns gay Folly's wanton dance,
Hates the bleak deserts where Distraction howls,
And Horror darts around his savage glance.

The restless WERTER ne'er had known Content,
Even had he clasp'd his CHARLOTTE'S Virgin Charms;
FALSE SENTIMENT would still new cares invent,
Or JEALOUSY had scar'd him from her Arms.

As the fond Boy torments some darling Bird,
And all-unknowing stops its vital Breath,
WERTER, perplex'd with doubts and fears absurd,
Had torn his CHARLOTTE with the Pangs of Death.

Cease DELLA CRUSCA, to applaud the Page
Where steady Prudence wears a hateful Mien,
Where lawless Passions all our Hearts engage,
Now guilty Love — and now more guilty Spleen!

Shuddering we read, and learn that heart-felt woe
Is the sole lot to injur'd Virtue given,
That Death and Misery reign o'er all below,
And this vast Globe is curs'd by angry Heaven.

Tir'd by the struggles of sad WERTER'S Mind,
We almost doubt that Power whose Guardian Care
Still like a Parent watches o'er Mankind,
And still preserves his Suppliants from despair.

Then FLY! each yielding Heart, each ardent Head,
Fly this dark Form, which ERRING GENIUS rear'd
To every Fiend that haunts th' Infernal Shade,
Each Fury on Cocytus' Banks rever'd.

Circled with blasted Heaths, this Mansion drear,
Lies in a Vale o'erhung with mournful Yew,
And Willows (to forsaken Lovers dear)
Scatter from every Branch pernicious Dew.

See DESPERATION on the Threshold stand,
With Bloody Robes, fix'd Eyes, and matted Hair,
Whilst SUICIDE — convuls'd — with clenching hand,
Grasps the sharp Steel, and lays his Bosom bare.

Within, beneath a hundred veils conceal'd,
ATHEISM with Giant-form is dimly seen:
The stoutest Heart by sudden fear congeal'd,
Feels Life's warm current freeze in every vein.

While bursts of Thunder this dire Sentence roar,
(Like that which, gazing on the Realms of Woe,
DANTE once read on Hell's tremendous door)
"Ye rash Intruders, every hope forego."

HARMONIOUS BARD, resume a safer strain;
Nor lure the thoughtless to this horrid Shrine;
Oh! rather lead them to the tranquil plain
Where the mild beams of FAITH and PATIENCE shine.

Teach them each sensual Folly to withstand,
Thus, let thy Virtue in purer numbers glide;
"MAN still has STRENGTH his Passions to command,"
Strength, given by NATURE, or by HEAVEN SUPPLY'D."

To the black Demons of Despair and Rage,
Never shall HUMBLE VIRTUE fall betray'd;
If her soft Heart such conflict fears to wage,
Know, "HEAVEN ITSELF WILL STOOP TO VIRTUE'S AID!"