1801
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy. Written in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.

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


Spenser's name is not mentioned in Leigh Hunt's youthful imitation of Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard, though perhaps his presence is implied in the Poet's "fairy hand." In his Autobiography Hunt considers his Juvenilia "for the most part as mere trash," though they were much better than that, winning uniformly glowing reviews and going quickly through four editions — a remarkable accomplishment, especially when one recalls what became of the volume of juvenilia published by Hunt's protege, John Keats.

Leigh Hunt: "For some time after I left school, I did nothing but visit my school-fellows, haunt the bookstalls, and write verses. My father collected my verses, and published them with a large list of subscribers, numbers of whom belonged to his old congregations. I was as proud perhaps of the book at that time, as I am ashamed of it now" Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries (1828) 380.

Anti-Jacobin Review: "We do not wish this young gentleman to believe that he is the most correct, the most elegant, or the most sublime poet, who has ever written; nor do we wish him to suppose that he has yet attained his meridian height of excellence; but he is, indeed, 'no vulgar boy;' and we shall wait with pleasure for the future expansion and maturity of his poetic powers" 10 (1801) 313. Note the phrase from Beattie's The Minstrel (1771) applied to young Leigh Hunt: "And yet poor Edwin was no vulgar boy."



In this cold solitude, this awful shade,
Where sleeps the lyre of many a tuneful breath,
The ghastly shroud, and dust-disturbing spade,
Invite the shudd'ring thought to Gloom and Death.

Yet, while my careful feet slow pace along
O'er the dumb tales of learning and of fame,
Remembrance fond recalls the Poet's song,
And Admiration points the chisell'd name.

To boast the wonder of attentive crouds,
And wrap the soul in ecstasied applause,
To reach Futurity, that spurns the clouds,
And unlock Harmony's enchanting laws;

For this the Poet rolls his phrenzied eye,
And wakens Rapture with his fairy hand;
For this he warbles Transport to the sky,
And pours Enchantment o'er a thrilling land!

Live not, where Shakespeare lays his awful dust,
The marble records of immortal fame?
Weeps not the Muse o'er Rowe's beloved bust?
And speaks not Truth in Gay's untitled name!

Who boasts of Kings when bending o'er the shade,
Where lies the harp sublime of free-born Gray?
Who talks of pomp, or who of proud parade,
Where modest Thompson drops his spotless lay?

If courts are nobler than the Muse divine,
Princes and lords had long usurp'd the praise;
Some laurell'd Wilmot wanton'd but to shine,
Some Henry hoarded for immortal bays.

Yet them no more shall Admiration high
Lift from the turf that triumphs o'er their clay;
For them no tear stand quiv'ring in the eye,
For them no bosom sigh its plaintive lay!

Unwept, unpitied, drooping to their doom,
They creep to death, nor leave a trace behind;
No plaintive breath lamenting o'er the tomb,
But yon cold grass that whistles to the wind!

Ye georgeous worms, that glitter in in the sun,
Ye worms of wealth, and vanity, and sway;
Say, have ye ought of praise, of glory won,
That thus ye flaunt along your gaudy way?

'Tis not the splendor of the cherish'd hoard,
Pomp's carv'd achievements, or the robe of pow'r;
'Tis not the purple of a nation's lord
Can claim Futurity's emblazon'd hour!

Foul Av'rice watches but to gain a grave,
And haughty Pride must bow to shrinking age;
Pow'r has not learnt the storms of death to brave,
And Grandeur crumbles from her gorgeous stage!

The heart that loves, that is the friend of all,
And meek Humility's unlordly breast,
These are the beams that glitter o'er the pall,
And sink resplendent, like the Sun, to rest!

And, ah! if e'er on them the Muse's eye
Shed the bright influence of her heav'nly fire;
Applause shall live for ever where they lie,
And one eternal Triumph be their lyre!

[Second edition; pp. 99-102]