1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Francis Fawkes

John Holland, "Francis Fawkes" Poets of Yorkshire; comprising Sketches of the Lives, and Specimens of the Writings of those Children of Song (1845) 76-78.



Mr. Hunter, in his History of the Deanery of Doncaster, when describing the very pleasant village of Warmsworth, near that town, says, "In the Cemetery is, not indeed a poet's grave, but the grave of the parents of one, Francis Fawkes, the translator of Anacreon, and of the other Greek poets, with an inscription from his own pen." I find, however, and the fact is now recorded for the first time, that the poet himself, whom all his biographers content themselves with telling us was born in Yorkshire, was a native of Warmsworth, where his father, the Rev. Jeremiah Fawkes, who died in 1744, had been rector 28 years. The present incumbent, the Rev. Alex. Cooke, has favoured me with the following entry from the Register of Baptisms, at Warmsworth: "1720. April, the 4th, Francis, the son of Jeremiah Fawkes, rector." He received his earliest education in a school at Leeds; and from thence went to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he took his degree in arts. On entering into orders he settled at Bramham, near Tadcaster, in his native county. He was afterwards curate of Croyden, in Surrey; and it is said that whilst there he obtained the friendship of Archbishop Herring, who collated him to the vicarage of Orpington, in Kent. By the favour of Dr. Plumptre, he exchanged this vicarage for the rectory of Hayes, and he was afterwards made Chaplain to the Princess of Wales. He died at Hayes, in 1777. His poems consist of "Bramham Park," written in 1745, while he was curate of Bramham, several odes, and sets of verses addressed to individuals, scriptural paraphrases, and translations. It is in connection with the latter, in his versions of the Greek poets Anacreon, Sappho, Bion, and Moschus, Musaeus, Theocritus and Appolonius, that Fawkes is perhaps best known; and, indeed, he ranks deservedly higher as a translator than as an original poet. This version of the Argonautics of Appollonius, was published in 1780. He also lent his name to an edition of the Bible, with notes, and modernized the description of May and Winter, from Gawin, or Gaven Douglas, a Scotch poet, and Bishop of Dunkeld.

A sociability of disposition, in the sense in which the phrase was too often used of some of the clerical as well as other versifiers of the eighteenth century, seems to have characterized Fawkes, who nevertheless was highly esteemed by his respectable contemporaries, and was on terms of close friendship with Dr. Sam. Johnson, and Thos. Warton, the poet laureate, himself a descendant from a Yorkshire family, the Wartons of Beverley. The following extract from his poem on "Bramham Park," the seat of George Lane Fox, was not only his earliest experiment in rhyme, but contains it must be confessed, little, if anything, of scenic identity in the description, beyond the distant glimpse of York Minster:—

If through the glades I turn my raptur'd eyes,
What various scenes, what lovely landscapes rise?
Here a once hospitable mansion stands
'Midst fruitful plains, and cultivated lands;
There russet heaths, with fields of corn between,
And peaceful cots and hamlets intervene;
There far-stretch'd views direct me to admire
A tower dismantled or a lofty spire,
Or farm imbosomed in some aged wood,
Or lowing herds that crop the flowery food;
Through these, irriguous vales, and lawns appear,
And fleecy flocks, and nimble-footed deer:
Sun-glittering villas, and bright streams are seen,
Gay meads, rough rocks, hoar hills, and forests green:
As when Belinda works, with art divine,
In the rich screen, some curious gay design;
Quick as the fair the nimble needle plies,
Cots, churches, towers, or villages arise;
A varied group of flocks, and herds, and swains,
Groves, fountains, fields, and daisy-painted plains;
At Bramham thus, with ravish'd eyes we see
How order strives with sweet variety:
Nature, kind goddess, joins with aid of art,
To plan, to form, to finish every part....

O! what descriptive eloquence can tell
The woods, and winding walks of Boscobel?
The various vistas and the grassy glades,
The bowery coverts in sequester'd shades?
Or where the wondering eye with pleasure sees
A spacious ampitheatre of trees?
Or where the differing avenues unite,
Conducting to more pompous scenes, the sight?
Lo! what high mounds immense, divide the moor,
Stretch'd from the southern to the northern shore!
These are but relics of the Roman way,
Where the firm legions marched in dread array,
And big with vengeance, roll'd the mighty war:
Here oft the curious, coins and arms explore,
Which future Meads and Pembrokes shall adore;
To me more pleasing far, yon tranquil dell,
Where Labour, Health, and sweet Contentment dwell;
More pleasing far beside yon aged oaks,
Grotesque and wild the cottage chimney smokes,
Fair to the view old Ebor's temple stands,
The work of ages raised by holy hands;
How firm the venerable pile appears!
Reverend with age, but not impaired by years.
O! could I build the heaven-directed rhyme,
Strong as thy fabric, as thy towers sublime,
Then would the Muse on bolder pinions rise,
And make thy turrets emulate the skies.