1801
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christ's Hospital.

Juvenilia; or a Collection of Poems: Written between the Ages of Twelve and Sixteen. By J. H. L. Hunt, late of the Grammar School of Christ's Hospital.

Leigh Hunt


A Miltonic on in which young Leigh Hunt celebrates Christ's Hospital in an exercise in academic blank verse. While only intermittently burlesque, this poem seems to belong to the series of imitations of Philips's The Splendid Shilling concerned with schoolboys and education. Hunt mentions George Dyer and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, both blue-shirt students who went on to Cambridge and, perhaps more to the point, recently published volumes of poems: "for what, indeed, | Could she not sing, beneath whose skilful hand | Bold Dyer and the plaintive Coleridge grew, | Children of poesy?" The "patriotic zeal" displayed in this poem would perhaps prove as embarrassing to Leigh Hunt as would Robert Southey's Jacobin sympathies to the later Laureate.

From an undated memorandum published in Hunt's correspondence we learn that his earliest reading included Paradise Lost, Seven Champions of Christendom, Pilgrim's Progress, Samuel Jackson Pratt's "Progress of Benevolence," a volume of fairy tales, and Hamlet. He continues: "I do not remember Spenser so early as these; but at twelve years of age I wrote several hundred lines of a poem entitled the Fairy Ring, which was fully intended as a rival of the Fairy Queen" (1862) 1:2. About the same time and at about the same age young Robert Southey began work on a completion of the Faerie Queene.

Leigh Hunt: "Mr. Coleridge, I believe, helped to give a new stimulus to the literary ambitions of his school-fellows. We cannot boast of many great names; but of such as we have, we are fond in proportion to their fewness. It was here that the celebrated Camden received the rudiments of his learning; and I recollect, it used to be a proud enjoyment to us to witness the grateful inscriptions in gold letters with which Joshua Barnes had adorned the books that he presented to the library. As to college honours, at least in the Belles Lettres, it may be truly said that the school has of late years grown familiar with them" note to Feast of the Poets (1814) 85-86n.

John Britton: "From boyhood (for he was a precocious poet) up to the present time (1853), his whole time and mental energies appear to have been employed in literature; and the amount, variety, and merits of his numerous published writings are at once manifestations of industry, talent, enthusiasm, zeal, an ardent love of liberty, and of the better productions of zeal and talent. His first volume, intituled Juvenilia, was a series of poems written between the ages of twelve and sixteen. It appeared in the year 1801, when, I believe, he was in 'The Blue-Coat School,' and a contemporary with the two brilliant planets in the hemisphere of that, Coleridge and Lamb. The times when his first volume made its public appearance, when its author sought the approval of critics and patrons, were rife with political excitement and contention. Party spirit was violent and rancorous; and every person who possessed warm feelings and thinking powers became imperceptibly a jacobin, or an anti-jacobin: i.e. a Reformer, or a Tory opposed to all changes. Mr. Leigh Hunt and his brother John avowed themselves of the former class, and started their Examiner, as a medium to promulgate their sentiments, and oppose both the opinions and principles of the other party. The consequence was, State prosecutions and consequent heavy fines, as well as cruel imprisonment. Unintimidated and unflinching, they continued to publish the Examiner, and also continued to occupy its weekly columns with severe and caustic writings on the malpractices of ministers, and on the vices and follies of those princes, nobles, and commoners, who lived and luxuriated on the revenues of the State" Autobiography (1850) 1:249.

Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "Leigh Hunt was educated at Christ's Hospital, London. The dress of the school-boys there consists of no cap, (the head is always uncovered, and a small wolllen covering, such as would be too small for a four hours-old baby, is worn on the girdle), a long blue frock, festooned round the waist by a leathern belt, a girdle, yellow breeches and stockings, and thick shoes" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 1:348n.

Henry Augustus Beers: "Like his friend Keats, on whose Eve of St. Agnes he wrote an enthusiastic commentary, Hunt was eclectic in his choice of material, drawing inspiration impartially from the classics and romantics; but, like Keats, he became early a declared rebel against the eighteenth-century traditions and asserted impulse against rule. 'In antiquarian corners,' he says, in writing of the influences of his childish days, 'Percy's Reliques were preparing a noble age both in poetry and prose.' At school he fell passionately in love with Collins and Gray, composed a 'Winter' in imitation of Thomson, one hundred stanzas of a 'Fairy King' in emulation of Spenser, and a long poem in Latin inspired by Gray's odes and Malet's Northern Antiquities. In 1802 [aetate 18] he published a volume of these juvenilia — odes after Collins and Gray, blank verse after Thomson and Akenside, and a Palace of Pleasure after Spenser's Bower of Bliss" Romanticism in the Nineteenth Century (1901) 107.



Ye moss clad turrets, whose unshaken brows,
In antique pride o'erhang the chearful scene!
Of Windsor's flow'ry plains, where father Thame,
With many a silver winding, loves to deck
The gay expanse that round his reedy bed
Luxuriant smiles, when Summer, glowing maid,
Throws o'er the verdant earth her robings green;
Ye groves of fair Oxonia, chequer'd bright
With Isis' mazy stream, where science lays
Her varied stores, and emulation high
Points to the bright'ning prospects, fair disclos'd,
Of wealth's full horn, and honour's gorgeous robe;
Ye marshy dells, where sedgy Camus, crown'd
With the sad willow's melancholy shade,
Directs his dim-discover'd wave, or now,
Bursting in silver beauty from beneath
His leafy covert, views with sacred awe
The holy tow'rs arise, that long have bow'd
In rev'rend beauty o'er the wa'try glade;
A long farewel I give you: other lays,
That tell not of your praise, yet better far
To tune my humble pipe, since mem'ry fond,
And duteous gratitude, command the song,
Well pleas'd I chant; such lays as Thyrsis oft,
And rustic Corydon, with airy reed
Told to the list'ning cottagers, that round
The spreading beech, or storm-defying oak,
Hung on the pleasing numbers, wond'ring whence
Their hands ungentle could so deftly bring
The floating sounds; for Collins, bard sublime,
Hyblaean Pope, or Dryden's stately verse,
They, simple sons of nature, never heard
Among their native woodlands: poet sweet,
And eke immortal, call'd they him, who erst
Was hight the gentle Gay, trim sonnetteer!
Ne'er other like him had they seen, nor thought
One, who could sing so merrily, to view
In after-times. — Farewel, ye moss-clad towr's,
Ye shady groves, ye dells begirt with sedge!
The cloister solemn, and its pensive shades,
Command my humble song; shades, than whose gloom
No light have I lov'd better, and to tread
Whose solemn walks my gayest hours I'd give.

Blest, honour'd guardian of my youthful days,
Sweet spot of innocence and joy, thy seats
Absence still happier pictures to my mind,
And, like a painter skill'd, Raphael divine,
Correct ey'd Vinci, Angelo sublime,
Or Britain's boasted West, each pleasing form
Her pencil raises, tints with brighter colours,
And throws each dark and gloomy thought behind
Into concealing shade. Delighted once,
As oft myself would mix within the rear,
I view'd thy happy youth, with eager lips,
Quaff from its fount the pure Pierian spring,
(Which he whom fair Apollo, wisely kind,
Gave to unlock, and from the deep recess
Pour forth the magic stream) with lib'ral hand
Shed round the busy throng, that each, as will
Or emulation urg'd, or burning shame
For deeds before inglorious, might receive
The store, divided, as it flow'd along.
Theirs was the classic wealth, and rich it was,
Of long antiquity, that to the world
Many a dying age had wise bequeath'd.
Witness, ye shady seats, where wond'rous Thame
Shakes from his rev'rend form the manly beard
And nerve-strung arm, and leg of stately walk,
And gliding soft along, with flowing air,
And eyes of tender light, soft swelling breast,
And waxen arm, and thigh of taper grace,
Calls himself Isis, Naiad of the wave;
And, ye, where lagging Cam draws weary on
His sluggish stream, in reedy liv'ry dress'd:
For oft has learning, at her hallow'd shrine,
Beneath your venerable roofs bestow'd
The victor laurel on the youthful heads
That once adorn'd the sacred cloister'd walks,
That saw my early days pass quiet on,
Bless'd with pure innocence and meekest peace.
Nor would the Muse, pleas'd with its mild retreats,
Scorn in thy school to prune her drooping wing:
For she, long time, has lov'd the vaulted arch,
The gothic window, and the ruin'd pile
Antique; there, favour'd, has her quiet haunt
Stood undisturb'd, save by the youthful bards
That with such praise maintain the Grecian name
And eke Graeculian, when in humble guise,
They ask a song; nor has she e'er refus'd
To grant the small request: for what, indeed,
Could she not sing, beneath whose skilful hand
Bold Dyer and the plaintive Coleridge grew,
Children of poesy? — Nay, oft she strikes
To higher notes her varying lyre, until
She sinks, tho' glorious. So the setting sun,
When evening calls him to her western couch,
Drops in his purpl'd bed of waves, yet dress'd
More rich and glowing than when first he rears
His "unshorn head" from op'ning streams of light.

Britannia, hail! Great in its power and strength,
Its naval bulwarks, that so proudly stand
The many iron tempests pour'd around
By the fierce Gaul, stern with his liberty:
Thy favour'd isle shall flourish in the page
Of never-dying fame, while earth looks gay
With garment green, or hoary ocean heaves
The bellying waters of the main. Nor least
Of all thy sons that brave the stormy sea,
A well-fought field, dos't thou in duty owe
Thanks to the noble youth, the sons of courage,
Of this fam'd school, who early learnt to glow,
With patriot zeal, to see Britannia's hand
Planting on distant shores her flag, unfurl'd
To the fresh gale of brisk prosperity,
Or wreathing for herself a brighter crown
Than has been worn long time, the easy cap
Of ancient freedom, that, which early Greece,
Imperial Rome, and Gallia's strech'd out arm,
Have try'd to grasp, the richest prize on earth!
Saw thou not, Neptune, when thy watr'y reign
Echo'd with British thunder, and the fire
Of gaping cannon flam'd along the shore
Of frighted Nile, when Nelson, fearful name,
Bore on the wings of victory and death
Old Albion's purple standard; saw thou not,
Where eager Troubridge, curs'd relentless fate
That from the glorious path of sought renown
Push'd him aside! O, saw thou not the fire
Flash from his ardent eyes, when fierce he knew
For him the thunder of the battle hot
Roar'd not in proud sublimity; nor death
Hung on the purpl'd splendor of the sword?
Turn from thy roaring empire, and thine eye
Fix on Augusta's spiry seats: 'twas there,
In cloisters dreary, and the winding aisle
He cherish'd dauntless brav'ry; there his heart,
Manly in youth, survey'd with eager soul
The glorious prospects of immortal fame,
When daring conflict should usurp the main,
And Heav'n and Troubridge win the wat'ry field!

Nor yet, fair child of Industry, sweet Commerce,
Forget to think how many of the sons
Of these belov'd and unreproved seats
Here first, tho' far from all thy busy scenes,
Have vow'd to live for thee, and to forsake
Their native home, to seek thy lively form
In distant climates; southward, where the sun
With scorching beam direct, the sultry air
Strikes thro', till, darting on the scorch'd domain,
It leaves the wither'd herb and drooping flow'r
Not one sad dew-drop for a tear to mourn
Its dying beauty, once so gaily green:
Or, higher northward, where with garment white
Of everlasting frost cold Nature clads
Her hidden form, and melancholy Morn
Views in a thousand icicles of glass
(That fancy, ever gay, delights to hang,
In many an uncouth form, upon the cot
Of the rude Russian or Carinthian boor)
Her sadden'd face; and soon, as tir'd to see
Her mournful looks, sinks down again to rest,
And gives the gloomy hours to night and darkness.

Such are thy youth, sweet spot! Thy children such
That tread thy walks, now silent, when the hour
Demands the tribute of attention, due
To all the rare-felt intellectual sweets
Of various learning; now again, when Sport
With hasty hand unlocks the yielding door,
Clam'rous with shouts of joy, and playful innocence!

Let Italy's soft sons their science boast,
Soul charming music, or the buskin'd muse,
Unequall'd pencil, raising life and thought,
And animated Sculpture; Love itself,
That seems to breathe, tho' with a marble breast
Silent and cold as Death: yet still, perhaps,
When Italy shall be no more, now torn
From Superstition's sway to Gallia's hand,
Which with the scythe of War has mow'd to earth
Nations and states at once, a bloody harvest!
Like the strong pois'nous wind that boisterous sweeps
O'er the lorn sands of Araby, and brings
Death, clad in his most hideous shape, his front
O'erspread with whirlwinds black, who murd'rous spares
Nor the fierce beast, nor man's diviner form:
Yes; when that Italy shall be no more,
Thy fame, sweet mansion, still shall flourish wide
Like the strong oak, whose vassal trees fall round,
Torn up by warring elements; still see
Whole realms fall off, and empires die away;
And yet shall live to see thy noble sons
Increase in honour when alive, and fame
Still nobler after life. So the sweet rose,
Od'rous in death, breathes fragrance to the air,
And wafts its incense on the wings of Eve.

Farewel, ye happy seats of peace and joy,
Where ruddy health glows on each blooming cheek,
And innocence looks modest in each eye!
Farewel! And may the dews of Heaven distil
Their richest drops upon thy honour'd roofs;
To whose gay tops once more my straining eyes
Seem as compell'd to turn to bid the youth,
Who with the soothing voice of friendship cheer'd
The morning of my life, adieu! Yet short,
Swift Time, be all our absence! Quick again
I turn my doubtful footsteps, and this pray'r,
Fervent, I breathe to Heav'n: — "All pow'rful God,
O Give those walks for ever to be trod
By those who love thy name; nor throw between
The cup of pleasure and the eager lips
Of the gay youths that learnt with me to bow
Before thy throne, as yet unseen, one ill
To taint with bitterness the pleasing draught
That peace holds out; and hallow'd be thy Name!"

[Second edition; pp. 22-30]