1801
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Progress of Painting.

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


An irregular Pindaric ode, contributing to the series on the arts imitating Collins's Ode on the Passions. The imitation breaks off after a few stanzas, and the poem continues as a more conventional "progress poem" tracing the progress of the arts from Greece, to Rome, to Britain. Young Leigh Hunt takes to heart the idea that Pindaric odes ought to be obscure and irregular.

Port Folio [Philadelphia]: "The Muse of Collins has warmed the heart, and inspired the invention of our author. In his Ode to Painting, he has successfully imitated the Passions of his model. I feel chagrined that the narrow limits of an Essay suffer me to copy only a section of the Exordium. A reader of taste and fancy will find his attention amply requited by a perusal of this charming Poem entire" 3 (28 May 1803) 169.

The progress begins in Greece, with the birth of Taste: "From him full oft in airy bow'r | They snatch'd the emblem of his pow'r, | And bade upon the canvas start | The tender Passions of their heart; | While lively Youth the Wantons taught | Each Fancy of the Poet's thought" pp. 127-28. Having ascended the scale of genres, Taste departs for Rome, where he is quickly damped by "the Vandal's hand." The next stop is Italy, illustrated with a verse character of Raphael. The next stop is Britain: "Whate'er Parnassus boasts her own, | Thy sons display around thy throne: | There Fancy in the sunshine flings | A thousand colours from her wings" p. 134. There follows a catalogue of painters, Barry, Fuseli, T. Kirk ("Yon youthful Form"), and R. K. Porter ("the Youth who charm'd a Britain's eyes"). The poem concludes with an invocation: "Pour, Goddess, on this tasteful age | Thy breathing Soul's divinest rage, | Each beam that sparkles in thine eye, | Where rang'd the colour'd Splendors lie" p. 138.

The conclusion contains a somewhat lurid allusion to Michelangelo ("thy tyrant Son"), explained in a note: "An anecdote, as cruel as it was ungenerous, here alluded to, is related of this Artist: — That in order to paint the agonies of Death with greater force in the face of a crucified Saviour, he stabbed a man at his feet, and copied the tortured and frightful lineaments of his visage as he lay expiring" 138n.



When Youth in Greece's polish'd groves
Was fav'rite of the laughing Loves,
The little Genii to surprise
He bade the glowing Pencil rise,
And form'd a fairy Sprite that kept
The sacred wonder while he slept:
Up sprung the Urchin into air,
Polite, persuasive, free and fair;
Such manners got a name in haste,
And lovely Cupid call'd him Taste.
From him full oft in airy bow'r
They snatch'd the emblem of his pow'r,
And bade upon the canvas start
The tender Passions of their heart;
While lively Youth the Wantons taught
Each Fancy of the Poet's thought,
And fairy Visions flutter'd gay
Around the Eden where they lay.

Then first, 'tis said, in colours green,
The pictur'd Landscape rose to view,
And distant Mountains oft were seen
To dip in heav'n their foreheads blue;

And Trees their leafy honours bow'd,
And Reeds were waving to the Gale,
And Runnels seem'd to prattle loud,
And Shepherds pip'd along the Vale.

There oft within the murmuring Grove
The swain compos'd his am'rous lay;
There oft the Virgin own'd her love,
And blush'd along her modest way.

These scenes alone of rural rest
Youth was then divine in painting;
A grander grief, a fiercer fainting
Than Love had shewn, his hand had ne'er display'd:
Thence stronger Years were call'd by Art
To give her touch a deeper shade,
And teach the Painter's toil a bolder part;
And where they dash'd the pencil warm,
Historic Glory rais'd her awful form,
And War unsheath'd the sword, and pierc'd the bleeding breast!

The Soul's exertion tir'd; and lost to fame
Greece sunk her bleeding head;
While the gay Laurel from her barren name
Planted in a Roman shade,
Where Painting's alter'd pencil laid,
Green flourish'd o'er the genial land,
Till Death and Darkness arm'd the Vandal's hand;
Then around the wasted scene
War howling shook his gory mien,
And savage Slaughter blew the blast of Woe;
The Muse wept o'er her ruffled wing,
And sigh'd whene'er she sought to sing;
Thalia kiss'd her laurel drooping low,
And dew'd with chrystal tears the colours of her bow.

From flaming Latium's desolated Land
Italia's Phoenix form arose;
Upsprung the Laurel to her gentler hand,
And Painting smil'd above her cloud of woes.
Then with a wild ecstatic heat
Reclin'd in Fancy's airy seat
The Pencil met her Raphael's eye;
Gay Youth at length exulting view'd
His hands with stronger pow'rs endu'd,
And laugh'd along the sky.

But see! before his sparkling sight
Fair Forms of Joy, and panting Pleasures shine;
Idalia darting from her Cyprian shrine,
Bursts her radiant veil of Light;
And piercing in his painted bow'r,
Bright her beams, and hot the hour,
In the convulsive raptures of her bowl
Drowns his transport-frenzied soul!
Heard ye Thalia's plaintive sighs?
The warm excess has burst his boiling veins!
The bloom of Beauty is no more,
But pallid Tremor reigns!
On cheeks, that Summer-purple wore,
The Winter-lily lies!
Ah! yet life glimmers faint and fast!
No more! — the gaudy gleam is past;
And great Urbino dies!

Alas! where now, in what sweet shade
Wilt thou, thou rich-rob'd Fair, be laid?
Where paint again thy Visions wild?
Ah! Where shall Youth's exulting eye
A pencil yet sublime descry?
Where sad Thalia wipe away
The tears that cloud her festive day,
And weep her fav'rite child?
Yet mourn no more! see from the main
The Queen of Isles arise;
Old Triton wakes his echoing strain,
And from the grottos of the deep
The blue-eyed Naiads gaily peep:
Now in dashing frolic sporting
Swiftly thro' the waves they glide;
Now the gentle waters courting
Stretch them on their polish'd side,
And hark! slow swelling on the Western gale
The pomp of Music floats sublime along;
The sons of Ocean raise the choral song,
And bid their British Goddess hail!
Thalia catches comfort from her eyes,
And as her colour'd pinions spread,
Waves high the Laurel-wreath, and crowns her sea-green head.

O Britain, in thy boasted isle
The favour'd Muses loveliest smile;
Whate'er with Lyre sublimely strung
Calliope exalted sung,
When Homer first the colleague shone
Of Majesty's empyreal throne,
Or Maro's eye with modest ray
On Pindus shot serener day;
Whate'er the Muse of Painting taught
To give the eye the range of Thought;
Whate'er with steady hand she drew,
Or wildly dash'd for bolder view;
When Zeuxis o'er his pencil smil'd
To see his Critic eye beguil'd;
Or from Apelles with surprise
Greece saw a second Ammon rise;
Whate'er Parnassus boasts her own,
Thy sons display around thy throne:
There Fancy in the sunshine flings
A thousand colours from her wings;
There Judgment's eye with ken profound
Surveys his philosophic round;
And Wisdom with his star-crown'd head
Sees worlds unknown before him spread.

Yet ah! when Barry's glowing eye
Shuts cold within the grave;
When Fancy's dreams her Fuseli fly,
Nor longer in his eagle sight
Reflecting ev'ry varied light
Her gleaming visions wave;
When Hist'ry weeps her dying West,
And tears her variegated vest
At ev'ry streaming tear;
Ah! who on sad Thalia's cheek
Recalls the faded bloom;
Whose hands the drooping Laurel seek,
That waves in silence dark and drear
Above the Muse's tomb?

See o'er the fields of Glory gay
Yon youthful Form arise
That from his hand diffuses day,
And darts along the skies!
'Tis He! But why the hurrying gleam
That marks his ardent way?
Why streams yon wild disorder'd beam
With quick convulsive ray?
Ah! know'st thou not that sparkling bowl
In Pleasure's fatal arm?
Hide, Lurer, hide the fraudful charm!
Yet vain the pray'r! See where his trembling soul
With the wild rapture panting, dying,
Now on Hope's faint pinions flying,
Now casting back on Life's lost glitt'ring scene
The dimm'd and dark'ning eye,
Views pale and ghast its course beneath,
Cheer'd by no soft, no rural landscape green,
The Realms that bound the Vale of Death,
Gulf without depth, and cloud without a sky;
Glooms, where Fate is taught to frown,
Shades, that Fear and Horror crown;
Where is felt a weight of Night,
And Blackness that can blast the sight!
Ah! would this tear could melt his woes away,
This sigh his spirit call, and bid it mix with day!

Turn yet, ye Suns of Genius, turn,
With undiminish'd lustre burn;
Turn yet from yon obscuring cloud,
Where Sorrow weaves her dropping shroud;
And, o'er the fields of Glory borne
Beyond the reach of sullen Night,
Dart from your eyes the wonted Morn,
That gave our day Delight!
For see! Where on Thalia's head
With rays of beaming Grandeur spread,
Rich blooms again the Laurel green!
And low! slow moving o'er the radiant skies
With steadier step and of majestic mien,
He comes, the Youth who charm'd a Britain's eyes,
When from his Pencil Valour rose,
And, tow'ring high above his Eastern foes,
Wav'd his red standard o'er the daring scene.

O Painting, next in Fancy's heart,
To her sublime thy Sister Art,
Who taught her Shakspear's breast to glow
With more than thou, a Goddess, know;
Thou, warm Expression's rosiest child,
Whose blushful cheek has ever smil'd,
But when in some unwonted hour,
Pale Sorrow met thy pitying pow'r;
Such time, as lost in mimic pain,
A tortur'd Saviour died again,
The while thy tyrant Son beneath
The bleeding model gasp'd in death;
Pour, Goddess, on this tasteful age
Thy breathing Soul's divinest rage,
Each beam that sparkles in thine eye,
Where rang'd the colour'd Splendors lie,
The glowing Thought, the mind of Fire,
And all that Fancy's charms inspire!
E'en, Virgin, to this breast impart
If not to feel, to love thine Art,
Delight to view each pictur'd Tale,
Where Virtue and her sons prevail,
Where Taste has moral ends pursu'd,
And Genius teaches to be good.
Impart; and each new wonder giv'n
Shall bid me hail thee "Lov'd of Heav'n!"

[Second edition; pp. 127-39]