1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Southey

Anonymous, "To Robert Southey, Esq. on his projected Poem of Philip of Mount Hope" New-England Galaxy 3 (25 August 1820) 184.



No doubt, you wonder, Sir, as well you may,
At what a native of a humble nation,
And deemed so unpoetic, has to say
To one of your poetic reputuation—
A wonder that will suffer no depression,
I apprehend, from what is in succession.

It's plain to me, from all that I have seen
In sundry ways, as well as from your letter,
Published in eighteen hundred seventeen,
That you esteem us fools, or little better;
A cast off branch, our fathers saved with toil,
And doomed to dwindle in a churlish soil.

And not a limb a living and free,
Saved from a trunk that's crumbling every day;
By better sons transplanted o'er the sea,
To live and flourish after its decay;
Soar in a kinder sky — with room to grow,
And bear its honors, when that sinks below—

A brat, that with Columbus on her board,
Put out for Liberty and Europe's wreck;
With all the caskets in her bottom stored,
And wandering on the waves without a check,
No hope left behind and hardly hope before,
The world, the world and "Freedom for a shore!"

On the third day, a firm and foreign land
Broke with its shores on their reviving view:
On the third day, Columbia found a stand,
(Of Noah or Freedom) on a footing new;
With hurried flight and palpitating breast,
Sought refuge in the mountains of the west.

Now on my soul, I really do believe,
Little as it may with your humour go;
And much as may your honest bosom grieve,
To hear this said of him who lashed you so,
That I should think more of you, had your back,
Been shown more sensible to this attack.

Really had all this lashing been to me,
And put so justly too upon my hide;
With all the world to look on and agree
That it was justice, and to laugh beside;
I never, never would have shown my nose,
In shape again of poetry or prose.

Stripped to the skin as bare as you were born,
And sent without your plumes among your jays,
And from a lark, the herald of the morn,
Turn'd out upon a common, to — to graze:
Where in the devil, Sir, could be your feeling,
To live and write too after such a dealing.

But now — my friend, I would not be too bitter,
Upon a man that was not born to write;
My mother used to say, as it was fitter,
"She would no doubt be handsome, if she might,
God made her — had she made herself, my dear,
She had not fail'd to please you, eye and ear."

This therefore, Sir, I make as my excuse,
For stopping in my panegyric as I do,
And if this should by some be called abuse;
It's owing to your friends, Sir, or to you;
Had you not put yourself above your sphere,
I had not pulled you so far in the rear.

Of your abilities; as some may say,
And to doubt it will not be so rude;
If I had met you in a common way,
I might have found you sensible and shrewd;
Ready to wrap, instead of write for cooks,
And fit for any manufacture but of books.

But to speak truths my spirit is enraged,
As might be many passions that are cooler,
To see a man whose genius can't be caged
By the most potent blasting ridiculer;—
It must be soaring, that could burst asunder
A prison many a better had sunk under.

A poet laureat too — O could not that
Suffice a diffidence that should be great;
Those thousand pounds of yours came very pat,
To pay a merit that had starved by fate;
If I'd been you, I'd pocketed the pelf,
And said no more about it or myself.

But as I was proceeding to observe,
Had I not lost my track by deviation;
Just as those do, but more unjustly swerve,
Who raise a friend above his situation;
And out of fear extol him to the skies,
Merely to give the pleasure of surprise—

A species of surprise that much I guess
He thanks them for, when he shall come to fall;
But they — as cool as at a game of chess,
Have to compunction, not the least at all;
'Tis true indeed, they do forbear to scoff,
For when the game is aver, they are off.

Those that are highest placed on Fortune's wheel,
Have furthest to descend when on the turn;
Is this original with me? — or did I steal
The idea front a book, I fair would learn;
If that, all will be silent out of spite,
If this, there'll be enough to set me right.

But to the subject matter to return,—
Were I the ruler of this little nation;
Not to appear too taciturnly stern,
Upon the policy of this invasion;
Which we have reason great to apprehend—
To tell at once my project — I would send

To Mr. SOUTHEY, deputies to doff
Their hats to him and in the best position,
Report our prayers, that he would keeps hands off
Of things of ours, without more admonition;
Being a humble people, do not comprehend
The honor Mr. SOUTHEY may intend—

That mountains, lakes, and rivers it is true
Are yours, indeed Sir, in one kind of light;
That we can hinder none no more than you,
To sing about them at his ease or write;
That it is true, your notes are all your own;
(St. George, they are,) but pray let us alone.

That you're the stronger nation of the two;
And can do with us any thing you please;
This is the creed of every Review,
A standing dish to play with at their ease;
All we can do, we know is to intreat;
If that will not suffice, — why — we are beat.

That to go down to immortality
With you, in such as even flows
In Thalaba, was never in our eye;—
That we are plain and much afraid to close
With any bargain, tho' it may be cheap;
We always say — let's look before we leap.

That tho' the bait be specious, there 's a hook
In which we 're very much afraid of hitching;
That nothing we suspect more than a book,
And nothing suffer more from than the itching
To write us down — so now we stand stock still,
And dare another one to wag a quill.

But notwithstanding, they will never stop,
Tho' one sees how his predecessor fares;
They still make preparations for a crop,
And ever ready are to lay out shares;
Tho' as for praise, they see, we've none to give,
And as for cash, we don't see how they live.

There was a ranting fellow that mistook
Some spirits that he knew not how to steer;
A small imagination on the crook,
For something that he might exchange for gear;
But somehow or another the opinion,
Was not to have him for the publick minion.

His was the "madness," as a writer says,
"Of poetry without the inspiration,"
And this upon the whole is rather praise,
Than otherwise for his poetic station;
"Drink deep," and so forth, he has hardly read;
For he drank just enough to turn his head.

———*———*———*———*———

But one speech, Sir, of yours, I recollect,
"You could be too poetical at times;"
This is enough to designate your sect,
If any more were wanting of your rhymes;
And proves without more contest or ado,
That Helicon's a mystery for you.

Next was a fellow who became acquainted
With books by being with them in his youth;
That's it's a certainty they have attainted
Him with the bibliomania is a truth;
That every one I think will be agreed,
If they will take the trouble but to read.

His churchyard and elegy in Scituate,
Is taken, I suppose, from that of Gray;
I do not think that it is quite as great,
There seems to he a great deal in the way;
In the first place the using "thou" and "you,"
In the lame verse, — is what I never do.

But for the "ris vivida," as for that,
From Joel Barlow's big Columbiad,
To those who know not what they would be at,
And who as Barlow are not quite so bad,
Because not quite so long — there is not one
To whom it is not "new beneath the sun."

That thus considering how we've been abused,
And tortured how to hush our own empirics;
We think we ought by right to be excused
From Mr. SOUTHEY'S epics or his lyrics;
Our bards have been the ruin of our zest
For poetry — even Mr. SOUTHEY'S best.

That as the Indians whom we are accused
Of much resembling — whom we now succeed;
Were shy when fire arms were first introduced,
And thought them instruments they should not need;
So in our case, though you may think it hard,
We can't help being always on our guard.

That as you have the world for years enchanted
With spells, without remission or remorse!
That having once received you, one is haunted
In shapes, for which you're never at a loss;
We must premise, we're much afraid of charms;
"Philip of Mount Hope" — wants none of your arms.