1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Cunningham

Robert Southey, "Epistle to Allan Cunningham" 1828; Poetical Works (1844) 209-12.



Well, Heaven be thank'd! friend Allan, here I am,
Once more to that dear dwelling place return'd,
Where I have past the whole mid stage of life,
Not idly, certes; not unworthily, . .
So let me hope: where Time upon my head
Hath laid his frore and monitory hand;
And when this poor frail earthly tabernacle
Shall be dissolved, . . it matters not how soon
Or late, in God's good time, . . where I would fain
Be gathered to my children, earth to earth.

Needless it were to say how willingly
I bade the huge metropolis farewell,
Its din, and dust, and dirt, and smoke, and smut,
Thames' water, paviours' ground, and London sky;
Weary of hurried days and restless nights,
Watchmen, whose office is to murder sleep
When sleep might else have weigh'd one's eyelids down,
Rattle of carriages, and roll of carts,
And tramp of iron hoofs; and worse then all, . .
Confusion being worse confounded then,
With coachmen's quarrels and with footmen's shouts,
My next-door neighbours, in a street not yet
Macadamized, (me miserable!) at home;
For then had we from midnight until morn
House-quakes, street-thunders, and door-batteries.
O Government! in thy wisdom and thy want,
Tax knockers; . . in compassion to the sick,
And those whose sober habits are not yet
Inverted, topsy-turvying night and day,
Tax them more heavily than thou hast charged
Armorial bearings and bepowder'd pates.
And thou, O Michael, ever to be praised,
Angelic among Taylors! for thy laws
Antifuliginous, extend those laws
Till every chimney its own smoke consume,
And give thenceforth thy dinners unlampoon'd.
Escaping from all this, the very whirl
Of mail-coach wheels bound outward from Lad-lane,
Was peace and quietness. Three hundred miles
Of homeward way seem'd to the body rest,
And to the mind repose.

Donne did not hate
More perfectly that city. Not for all
Its social, all its intellectual joys, . .
Which having touch'd, I may not condescend
To name aught else the Demon of the place
Might for his lure hold forth; . . not even for these
Would I forego gardens and green-field walks,
And hedge-row trees, and stiles, and shady lanes,
And orchards, were such ordinary scenes
Alone to me accessible as those
Wherein I learnt in infancy to love
The sights and sounds of Nature; . . wholesome sights
Gladdening the eye that they refresh; and sounds
Which, when from life and happiness they spring,
Bear with them to the yet unharden'd heart
A sense that thrills its cords of sympathy;
Or, when proceeding from insensate things,
Give to tranquillity a voice wherewith
To woo the ear and win the soul attuned; . . .
Oh not for all that London might bestow,
Would I renounce the genial influences
And thoughts and feelings to be found where'er
We breathe beneath the open sky, and see
Earth's liberal bosom. Judge then by thyself,
Allan, true child of Scotland, . . thou who art
So oft in spirit on thy native hills,
And yonder Solway shores, . . a poet thou,
Judge by thyself how strong the ties which bind
A poet to his home; when, . . making thus
Large recompense for all that haply else
Might seem perversely or unkindly done, . .
Fortune hath set his happy habitacle
Among the ancient hills, near mountain streams
And lakes pellucid, in a land sublime
And lovely as those regions of Romance
Where his young fancy in its day-dreams roam'd,
Expatiating in forests wild and wide,
Loegrian, or of dearest Faery-land.

Yet, Allan, of the cup of social joy
No man drinks freelier, nor with heartier thirst,
Nor keener relish, where I see around
Faces which I have known and loved so long,
That when he prints a dream upon my brain
Dan Morpheus takes them for his readiest types.
And therefore in that loathed metropolis
Time measured out to me some golden hours.
They were not leaden-footed while the clay
Beneath the patient touch of Chantrey's hand
Grew to the semblance of my lineaments.
Lit up in memory's landscape, like green spots
Of sunshine, are the mornings, when in talk
With him, and thee, and Bedford (my true friend
Of forty years,) I saw the work proceed,
Subject the while myself to no restraint,
But pleasureably in frank discourse engaged:
Pleased too, and with no unbecoming pride
To think this countenance, such as it is,
So oft by rascally mislikeness wrong'd,
Should faithfully to those who in his works
Have seen the inner man portray'd, be shown,
And in enduring marble should partake
Of our great sculptor's immortality.

I have been libell'd, Allan, as thou knowest,
Through all degrees of calumny; but they
Who fix one's name for public sale beneath
A set of features slanderously unlike,
Are the worst libellers. Against the wrong
Which they inflict Time hath no remedy.
Injuries there are which Time redresseth best,
Being more sure in judgment, though perhaps
Slower in process even than the court
Where justice, tortoise-footed and mole-eyed,
Sleeps undisturb'd, fann'd by the lulling wings
Of harpies at their prey. We soon live down
Evil or good report, if undeserved.
Let then the dogs of Faction bark and bay,
Its bloodhounds, savaged by a cross of wolf,
Its full-bred kennel from the Blatant-beast;
And from my lady's gay varanda, let
Her pamper'd lap-dog with his fetid breath
In bold bravado join, and snap and growl,
With petulant consequentialness elate,
There in his imbecility at once
Ridiculous and safe; though all give cry,
Whiggery's sleek spaniels, and its lurchers lean,
Its poodles by unlucky training marr'd,
Mongrel and cur and bob-tail, let them yelp
Till weariness and hoarseness shall at length
Silence the noisy pack; meantime be sure
I will not stoop for stones to cast among them.
The foumarts and the skunks may be secure
In their own scent; and for that viler swarm,
The vermin of the press, both those that skip,
And those that creep and crawl, I do not catch
And pin them for exposure on the page,
Their filth is their defence.

But I appeal
Against the limner's and the graver's wrong;
Their evil works survive them. Bilderdijk,
Whom I am privileged to call my friend,
Suffering by graphic libels in likewise,
Gave his wrath vent in verse. Would I could give
The life and spirit of his vigorous Dutch,
As his dear consort hath transfused my strains
Into her native speech; and made them known
On Rhine and Yssel, and rich Amstel's banks;
And wheresoe'er the voice of Vondel still
Is heard, and still Antonides and Hooft
Are living agencies; and Father Cats,
The household poet, teacheth in his songs
The love of all things lovely, all things pure:
Best poet, who delights the cheerful mind
Of childhood, stores with moral strength the heart
Of youth, with wisdom maketh mid-life rich,
And fills with quiet tears the eyes of age.

Hear then in English rhyme how Bilderdijk
Describes his wicked portraits, one by one.

"A madman who from Bedlam hath broke loose;
And honest fellow of the numskull race;
And pappyer-headed still, a very goose
Staring with eyes aghast and vacant face;
A Frenchman who would mirthfully display
On some poor idiot his malicious wit;
And lastly, one who, train'd up in the way
Of worldly craft, hath not forsaken it,
But hath served Mammon with his whole intent,
A thing of Nature's worst materials made,
Low-minded, stupid, base and insolent.
I, . . I, . . a Poet, . . have been thus portray'd.
Can ye believe that my true effigy
Among these vile varieties is found?
What thought, or line, or word, hath fallen from me
In all my numerous works whereon to ground
The opprobrious notion? Safely I may smile
At these, acknowledging no likeness here.
But worse is yet to come; so, soft awhile!
For now in potter's earth must I appear,
And in such workmanship, that, sooth to say,
Humanity disowns the imitation,
And the dolt image is not worth its clay.
Then comes there one who will to admiration
In plastic wax my perfect face present;
And what of his performance comes at last?
Folly itself in every lineament!
Its consequential features overcast
With the coxcombical and shallow laugh
Of one who would, for condescension, hide,
Yet in his best behaviour, can but half
Suppress the scornfulness of empty pride."

"And who is Bilderdijk?" methinks thou sayest,
A ready question; yet which, trust me, Allan,
Would not be ask'd, had not the curse that came
From Babel, clipt the wings of Poetry.
Napoleon ask'd him once with cold fix'd look,
"Art thou then in the world of letters known?"
"I have deserved to be," the Hollander
Replied, meeting that proud imperial look
With calm and proper confidence, and eye
As little wont to turn away abash'd
Before a mortal presence. He is one
Who hath received upon his constant breast
The sharpest arrows of adversity;
Whom not the clamours of the multitude,
Demanding in their madness and their might
Iniquitous things, could shake in his firm mind;
Nor the strong hand of instant tyranny,
From the straight path of duty turn aside.
But who in public troubles, in the wreck
Of his own fortunes, in proscription, exile,
Want, obloquy, ingratitude, neglect,
And what severer trials Providence
Sometimes inflicteth, chastening whom it loves,
In all, thro' all, and over all, hath borne
An equal heart, as resolute toward
The world, as humbly and religiously
Beneath his heavenly Father's rod resign'd.
Right-minded, happy-minded, righteous man,
True lover of his country and his kind;
In knowledge, and in inexhaustive stores
Of native genius rich; philosopher,
Poet, and sage. The language of a State
Inferior in illustrious deeds to none,
But circumscribed by narrow bounds, and now
Sinking in irrecoverable decline,
Hath pent within its sphere a name wherewith
Europe should else have rung from side to side.

Such, Allan, is the Hollander to whom
Esteem and admiration have attach'd
My soul, not less than pre-consent of mind,
And gratitude for benefits, when being
A stranger, sick, and in a foreign land,
He took me like a brother to his house,
And ministered to me, and made a time
Which had been wearisome and careful else,
So pleasurable, that in my kalendar
There are no whiter days. 'Twill be a joy
For us to meet in Heaven, tho' we should look
Upon each other's earthly face no more.
. . This is this world's complexion! "cheerful thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind," and these again
Give place to calm content, and steadfast hope,
And happy faith assured. . . Return we now,
With such transition as our daily life
Imposes in its wholesome discipline,
To a lighter strain; and from the gallery
Of the Dutch Poet's mis-resemblances
Pass into mine; where I shall show thee, Allan,
Such an array of villainous visages,
That if among them all there were but one
Which as a likeness could be proved upon me,
It were enough to make me in mere shame
Take up an alias, and forswear myself.

Whom have we first? A dainty gentleman,
His sleepy eyes half-closed, and countenance
To no expression stronger than might suit
A simper, capable of being moved:
Sawney and sentimental; with an air
So lack-thought and so lackadaisycal,
You might suppose the volume in his hand
Must needs be Zimmermann on Solitude.

Then comes a jovial landlord, who hath made it
Part of his trade to be the shoeing horn
For his commercial customers. God Bacchus
Hath not a thirstier votary. Many a pipe
Of Porto's vintage hath contributed
To give his cheeks that deep carmine engrain'd,
And many a runlet of right Nantes, I ween,
Hath suffered percolation thro' that trunk,
Leaving behind it in the boozey eyes
A swoln and red suffusion, glazed and dim.

Our next is in the evangelical line,
A leaden-visaged specimen; demure,
Because he hath put on his Sunday's face;
Dull by formation, by complexion sad,
By bile, opinions, and dyspepsy sour.
One of the sons of Jack, . . I know not which,
For Jack hath a most numerous progeny, . .
Made up for Mr. Colburn's Magazine
This pleasant composite; a bust supplied
The features; look, expression, character
Are of the artist's fancy and free grace.
Such was that fellow's birth and parentage.
The rascal proved prolific; one of his breed,
By Docteur Pichot introduced in France,
Passes for Monsieur Soote; and another, . .
An uglier miscreant too, . . the brothers Schumann
And their most cruel copper-scratcher Zschoch,
From Zwickau sent abroad through Germany.
I wish the Schumen and the copper-scratcher
No worse misfortune for their recompence,
Than to encounter such a cut-throat face
In the Black Forest or the Odenwald.

And now is there a third derivative
From Mr. Colburn's composite, which late
The Arch-Pirate Galignani hath prefix'd,
A spurious portrait to a faithless life,
And bearing lyingly the libell'd name
Of Lawrence, impudently there insculpt.

The bust that was the innocent forefather
To all this base, abominable brood,
I blame not, Allan. 'Twas the work of Smith,
A modest, mild, ingenious man, and errs,
Where erring, only because over-true,
Too close a likeness for similitude;
Fixing to every part and lineament
Its separate character, and missing thus
That which results from all.

Sir Smug comes next;
Allan, I own Sir Smug! I recognise
That visage with its dull sobriety;
I see it duly as the day returns,
When at the looking-glass with lather'd chin
And razor-weapon'd hand I sit, the face
Composed and apprehensively intent
Upon the necessary operation
About to be perform'd, with touch, alas,
Not always confident of hair-breadth skill.
Even in such sober sadness and constrain'd
Composure cold, the faithful Painter's eye
Had fix'd me like a spell, and I could feel
My features stiffen as he glanced upon them.
And yet he was a man whom I loved dearly,
My fellow-traveller, my familiar friend,
My household guest. But when he look'd upon me,
Anxious to exercise his excellent art,
The countenance he knew so thoroughly
Was gone, and in its stead there sate Sir Smug.

Under the graver's hand, Sir Smug became
Sir Smouch, . . a son of Abraham. Now albeit,
Far rather would I trace my lineage thence
Than with the oldest line of Peers or Kings
Claim consanguinity, that cast of features
Would ill accord with me, who in all forms
Of pork, baked, roasted, toasted, boil'd or broil'd,
Fresh, salted, pickled, seasoned, moist or dry,
Whether ham, bacon, sausage, souse or brawn,
Leg, bladebone, baldrib, griskin, chine, or chop,
Profess myself a genuine Philopig.

It was, however, as a Jew whose portion
Had fallen unto him in a goodly land
Of loans, of omnium, and of three per cents,
That Messrs. Percy of the Anecdote-firm
Presented me unto their customers.
Poor Smouch endured a worse judaization
Under another hand. In this next stage
He is on trial at the Old Bailey, charged
With dealing in base coin. That he is guilty
No Judge or Jury could have half a doubt
When they saw the culprit's face; and he himself,
As you may plainly see, is comforted
By thinking he has just contrived to keep
Out of rope's reach, and will come off this time
For transportation.

Stand thou forth for trial,
Now, William Darton, of the Society
Of Friends called Quakers; thou who in 4th month
Of the year , on Holborn Hill,
At No. 58., didst wilfully,
Falsely, and knowing it was falsely done,
Publish upon a card, as Robert Southey's,
A face which might be just as like Tom Fool's,
Or John, or Richard Any-body-else's!
What had I done to thee, thou William Darton,
That thou shouldst for the lucre of base gain,
Yea, for the sake of filthy fourpences,
Palm on my countrymen that face for mine?
O William Darton, let the Yearly Meeting
Deal with thee for that falseness! All the rest
Are traceable; Smug's Hebrew family;
The German who might properly adorn
A gibbet or a wheel, and Monsieur Soote,
Sons of Fitzbust the Evangelical; . .
I recognize all these unlikenesses,
Spurious abominations tho' they be,
Each filiated on some original;
But thou, Friend Darton, and . . observe me, man,
Only in courtesy, and quasi Quaker,
I call thee Friend! . . hadst no original;
No likeness, or unlikeness, silhouette,
Outline, or plaister, representing me,
Whereon to form thy misrepresentation.
If I guess rightly at the pedigree
Of thy bad groatsworth, thou didst get a barber
To personate my injured Laureateship;
An advertising barber, . . one who keeps
A bear, and when he puts to death poor Bruin
Sells his grease, fresh as from the carcase cut,
Pro bono publico, the price per pound
Twelve shillings and no more. From such a barber,
O unfriend Darton! was that portrait made
I think, or peradventure from his block.

Next comes a minion worthy to be set
In a wooden frame; and here I might invoke
Avenging Nemesis, if I did not feel
Just now God Cynthius pluck me by the ear.
But, Allan, in what shape God Cynthius comes,
And wherefore he admonisheth me thus,
Nor thou nor I will tell the world; hereafter
The commentators, my Malones and Reids,
May if they can. For in my gallery
Though there remaineth undescribed good store,
Yet "of enough enough, and now no more,"
(As honest old George Gascoigne said of yore,)
Save only a last couplet to express
That I am always truly yours,
R.S.
Keswick, August, 1828.