1816
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Laureate laid double.

The Examiner (4 August 1816) 489-90.

Leigh Hunt


"BOTTOM, thou art translated" is Leigh Hunt's epigraph to his unsigned parody of the Proem to Robert Southey's Lay of the Laureate (1816) — printed in parallel columns. The Examiner had been engaging in a running attack on the laureate throughout the year; for Southey to invoke "That wreath ... | My master dear, divinest Spenser wore" must have grated hard. Southey's pride is the focus of this rather personal satire, as it would be a few years later in Lord Byron's better-known (and much better) parody, The Vision of Judgment (1822).

Two notes are appended, the first alluding to the catalogue of laureates in Southey's Proem: "This is the plain state of the case respecting Mr. SOUTHEY's list of laureatships. They are all imaginary, but one. But he was for shewing us that Laureats had been great men in past times as well as present; and chose to turn his back on the actual ones, — SKELTON, COLLEY CIBBER, WHITEHEAD, EUSDEN, and others.

The second note refers to William Hazlitt's swipe at Southey in "On the Character of Milton's Eve": "Let the reader however call to mind the observation on this great poet that in Sunday week's Examiner. In fact, SPENSER was not 'pure,' in the sense that Mr. SOUTHEY means; though he was pure enough for all the proper purposes of his class of poetry. But Mr. SOUTHEY would no doubt have discovered this, had he not wished to enlist SPENSER among his predecessors" p. 490.

George Kitchin: "Leigh Hunt's Examiner was in the forefront of the popular agitation. Like the Tory periodicals, it occasionally indulged in political parody, but its reply in this kind to their broadsides is feeble. That is in parody only, for no one can now read over the polemics of the age without awarding Hunt the palm" Survey of Burlesque and Parody in English (1931) 197-98.



There was a time when all my youthful thought
Besides the Muse, was Jacobinic fame,
How fair it flourisheth and changeth not,
Alone enduring, when the Monarch's name,
And Conqueror's too, depend upon one's quill;
And 'twixt ourselves, perhaps I think so still.

How best to build the imperishable lay
(Not such as this) I pondered, day and night;
And early in adventurous essay,
Treated said Monarchs with an awful slight.
Friends would have had me keep the Court in view;
"But lord," said I, and smiled, — "that path pursue."

"For what," said I unto myself, "car'st thou
For Courts, — whom Nature at thy happy birth
Did with the largest share, I think, endow
Of vanity that ever was on earth,—
Then when the old women, o'er the christening stone
Held thee, good souls, and blest thee for their own.

They promised them, that mumbling thou shouldst chew
All ends half-thinking, — foods for vanities:
That thou shouldst still, whatever thou mightst do,
Every one else except thyself despise;
And in obedience to the impulse given
Talk, in despite of self-refuting even.

Along the world's high-way let others croud,
A pack of knaves, who do not think like thee;
Far from such vain, such vicious, and such proud,
Sit thou content and care not what they be:—
To hackney ends devote thy prosing art,
And nurse, as we do thee, thy drivelling rhyming part.

Thanks to the dames, who from my earliest days
Thus taught me what to do, — as I have done;
Who turned my foot-steps from those sad high-ways,
In none of which have I been found, save ONE:
And that, whate'er the fools may say ('od rot 'em)
Leaves me quite easy, — fettered not an atom.

For therefore have I bowed and smirked with joy,
And all my paths are paths of pleasant knees;
And head and all, I'm just as when a boy,
And never know a moment's want of ease;—
Time, which makes some for others' misery smart,
Has grizzled me perhaps, but left untouch'd my heart.

Sometimes I'm sore indeed, — but let that rest,
Verses I write, — high flyers, — sure to please ye;—
But what I mostly do, and think my best,
Is writing history, which is far from easy.
Thus in past ages (I may say) I live,
And future (all agree) my sure reward will give.

Yea, in this now, is foretaste given my lips
Of that fine meed, (spite of malicious joker);
Here I enjoy, amidst my haws and hips,
The friendship of wise Grosvenor and good Croker:—
The battles of the Kings and Priests I fought ye 'em,
And so at last they've crowned my caput mortuum.

That wreath which Spenser, my dear master, wore,
(At least I chuse to say it, — so am right),
Which Drayton, just about as much too, bore,
And Jonson, really did, and Daniel might,—
(That fellow's laugh there isn't to be borne!)
By glorious hand 'twas given, by glorious head 'tis worn.

Proudly therewith, for rightful victory
I rais'd my head, now owned to be the best,—
Which, and not vainly, I had thought would be,—
As one, who with a saving knowledge blest,
In history and the heart of man could find,
That one cause left will make the other kind.

Proudly (a way of mine) the royal ear
I twitched, and sung to, seeing Peace advance;
When like myself improved, the Allied ones dear
Broke their wrong vows, and forced a throne to France,
Exulting, as became me, in such joy,
I patronized the Prince, and said "Well done, my boy!"

And when, as if whatever might turn out
Were but to tipsify his jolly reign,
Princes and Potentate, and Chieftains stout,
Came o'er, and fell into my Lord Mayor's train,
And dined for joy, — then, for abstain I couldn't,
I made their names to live, which otherwise they wouldn't.

And when that last great hour, big with event,
('Twas rather perilous, I must confess)
Completed Europe's and my argument,
I sung of Wellesley, and myself no less,
Paying the tribute to a pen o'erjoyed
To find it had not been most awkwardly employed.

Such strains beseemed me well, — especially
As I had once done wrong to Blenheim's plain,
And shut my ears unto the trumpet's glee,
And swore 'twas infamous that kings should reign;
But then I well may ask, how shall this suit
With royal weddings and a courtly lute?

Fitter for me the lofty strain severe,
That calls for law on those who change despise;
Fitter the songs, that when a change is clear,
In side at least, deny it with with strange eyes;—
Fitter for me, in short, and my new spirit,
To reverence, as I should, departed merit.

But then my Master dear arose to mind;
He, on whose song, since I've become so noted,
(No doubt, attracted to it's obvious kind)
I find, while yet I was a boy, I doated:—
He on whose tomb these eyes were wont to dwell,
Though wherefore, I, nor no one else may tell.

He whose green laurel shall be young for ever,
And who was pure in every thing he wrote,
Never indulging in the lest thing — never—
That any puritan would not have thought;
Sweet too as pure, and not more pure than wise—
In short, as like myself, as eyes to eyes.

I called to mind that mighty Master, how
He sung when he brought home his beauteous bride,
And Mulla join'd, as the Canal shall now,
And Mole, like proud St. James's top, replied;
Never was strain so lovely and divine,
And never would be, but for this of mine.

His cup of joy was mantling to the brim,
Yet solemn thoughts enhanced his deep delight;
And one there may be, full, I trust, like him,
As sweet, consistent, and divine a wight;
For art thou not, Bob Southey, of his class?
I said, and dreamt that I was not an ass.

[pp. 489-90]