1715
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Epistle to Joseph Addison, Esq.

An Epistle to Joseph Addison, Esq; occasion'd by the Death of the right honourable Charles, late Earl of Halifax.

Dr. George Sewell


Writing anonymously, George Sewell appeals to his patron, Joseph Addison, to write a poem for Addison's old patron, Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax: "SPENSER might own the Song, and SIDNEY praise." Since Addison had long since stopped writing such verse, Sewell's epistle is itself the intended elegy. Addison presumably would have had better taste than to compare Hampton Court to "Chaucer's Grove, or Tully's Tusculum."

Of Halifax's youthful elegy for Charles II (1685), Sewell writes: "So much the God indulg'd the youthful Lays, | SPENSER might own the Song, and SIDNEY praise." Halifax did not have many opportunities to write: "For ah! what Tongue can sing when Tyrants reign?"



And shall great HALIFAX resign to Fate,
And not one Bard upon his Ashes wait?
Or is with him all Inspiration fled,
And lie the Muses with their Patron Dead?
Convince us, ADDISON, his Spirit reigns
Breathing again in thy Immortal Strains:
To thee the list'ning World impartial bends,
Since HALIFAX and Envy now are Friends.

Me deeply smit with Love of Nature's Laws,
The Vital Union, and Dissolving Cause,
His Worth transports beyond this fleeting Frame,
To tell how Dying Patriots live in Fame;
Virtues like his, the meanest Bard can raise;
And 'tis Ambition but to strive to praise.

When Scenes of Action are obscure and low,
Nature moves silent, and advances slow;
Defers to distant Days, and Ages sit,
The Pow'rs of Genius, and the Fires of Wit.
She suits her Times of Wonder to her Men,
And to a CAESAR gives a VIRGIL'S Pen:
When Toils are destin'd for the Brave or Wise,
A NASSAU, and a MONTAGUE arise.

Yet Virtue often, sullen and retir'd,
Shines to her self, nor cares to be admir'd;
Distrusting Fortune, or by Fears betray'd,
Round her own Merit casts an Envious Shade.
The Patriot-Soul with warmer Notions fir'd,
Or by some secret Providence inspir'd,
Waits with Impatience for the Publick Voice,
And owes his useful Greatness to his Choice;
Ev'en when excluded from more Noble Views,
Some lower Tract of Glory still persues.
Thus PHILIP'S Son ARBELA yet unfought,
With the Great Stagyrite in private thought:
Thus JULIUS once to Eloquence laid Claim,
And HALIFAX first chose the Poets Fame.

O ADDISON! assert the Poet-Race,
And save the Kindred Muses from Disgrace.
Say, by the Pow'rs of heavenly Numbers taught,
How Monarchs govern'd, and how Heroes fought,
When yet Morality in Verse was sung,
And Lyres by none but hallow'd Fingers strung;
When Bards unpractis'd in the Arts of Praise,
Flatter'd no TYRANTS in their servile Lays,
And scorn'd to gild in prostituted Rhimes
An Ox—d's Treasons, or a BOURBON'S Crimes.
They chose their Themes like HALIFAX and You,
Selected Spirits, and the Virtuous Few,
Who founded Laws, or banish'd Faith restor'd,
Or for their Country drew the righteous Sword;
Fit Objects to employ the Voice Divine
Of CATO'S, NASSAU'S, or of BRUNSWICK'S Line.

Fir'd with these Names the Muse ambitious tow'rs,
Fond of her Theme, forgetful of her Pow'rs;
But soon she falters, and to you resigns
The Rival Majesty of VIRGIL'S Lines;
Content, if her inferior rude Essays
Hurt not his Ashes, whom they meant to praise.

Ye murm'ring Sons of Phoebus, call no more
The Banks of Helicon a Barren Shore;
The Gods their Favourites thence to Honours bring,
And kindly raise them on the Muses Wing.
There MONTAGUE, with secret Rapture warm'd,
At CHARLES'S Urn the list'ning Shepherds charm'd;
So much the God indulg'd the youthful Lays,
SPENSER might own the Song, and SIDNEY praise;
So well he shar'd the Character he writ,
The gentlest Manners, and the strongest Wit.

Succeeding Days require no pious Strain;
For ah! what Tongue can sing when Tyrants reign?
Who wake the String, or tune the sprightly Reeds,
To Notes of Pleasure, when his Country bleeds?
APOLLO, then no more thy Sons inspire,
Then blast the Hand that dares provoke the Lyre,
Or stain their Actions with unhallow'd Rhimes,
And Bavius's and D—y's damn their Times.

But see! the Clouds of Romish Night disperse,
And WILLIAM gives a brighter Theme for Verse.
As a Brave Champion half his Force conceals,
'Till he some new uncommon Impulse feels,
Then meets an Object worthy of the Fight,
And puts forth all the Wonders of his Might;
His Foes stand trembling, and his Friends admire,
Where slept the hidden Strength, and secret Fire.
Thus HALIFAX's Muse, till WILLIAM came,
Check'd half her Vigour, and restrain'd her Flame;
Then soaring boldly with no middle Wing,
O'er Earth and Seas persu'd the Godlike KING;
Fill'd with new Fury ev'ry glowing Line,
And found a second Zanthus in the Boyne.

Ye Pow'rs! how just, how num'rous is that Song!
How rich the Fancy, and the Vein how strong!
The hurry'd Reader with the Poet flies,
Yet looks on all he pass'd with longing Eyes;
At ev'ry Prospect equal Passions burn,
Pleas'd he proceeds, yet wishes to return.

Here, Britons, see what diff'rent Spirit reigns
In free-born Muses, and in Slavish Strains:
Observe how artful BOILEAU sweats and toils,
To plume his Demi-God with borrow'd Spoils;
From CAESAR, or AENEAS, steals a Grace,
And forms from ancient Draughts a modern Face.

While MONTAGUE secure, without Controul
Fix'd on the Greatness of his Hero's Soul,
Trusts to his Theme his Numbers to inspire,
With proper Raptures, and Poetic Fire.

But, SIR, methinks I hear you check the Song;
That dwells upon his meanest Praise too long,
And bid me trace, with a superior Quill,
The Patriot's Wisdom, and the Statesman's Skill.
O! take the mighty Task, for You alone
Can charm in Language equal to his own;
Describe him form'd with ev'ry Grace to please,
Excessive Spirit, Fluency, and Ease:
Expert in wise Assemblies to preside,
The doubtful Senate's Oracle, and Guide;
Whose Eloquence, without the formal Art,
Flow'd, to convince the Head, and warm the Heart.
Say, when fierce Murmurs, and Contention rose,
(For Virtue finds in ev'ry Reign its Foes,)
His Soul an equal Firmness still maintain'd,
Compos'd their Tumults, and their Heats restrain'd.

Or paint Him, watchful over future Fates,
The Turns and Moments of contending States,
Directing where Britannia's Sword should sway
Her dreadful Edge, and where her Thunder play:
Consulting still in each important Aim,
His Country's Safety, and his Monarch's Fame.

These Publick Actions be thy juster Choice;
Then, ADDISON, inspire some second Voice,
To trace his less ambitious Scenes of Life;
Retir'd from Noisy Crouds, and Civil Strife;
Where the free Soul unbends her self, to please
In Social Virtues, and in Letter'd Ease;
Where chearful Looks, and friendly Speech give Birth
To wise Enjoyments, and Socratic Mirth.

For ever, Hampton, Sacred be thy Tow'rs,
Spring fresh thy Greens, and flourish thick thy Bow'rs;
There, still defended by indulgent Skies,
The Warriour's Wreath, and Poet's Garland rise!
These Scenes with deep Regard, Ye Sages, grace;
Ye Bards, with solemn Honours mark the Place;
Raise it as high in Ages yet to come,
As CHAUCER'S Grove, or TULLY'S Tusculum.
Then, while Posterity their Acts display,
The Gen'rous Briton shall with Rapture say,
"These Shades, absolv'd from War, Great WILLIAM sought,
And HALIFAX in those Recesses Thought."

When Sixteen barren Centuries were past,
This Second Great MAECENAS came at last;
In whom Example and Protection join'd,
All Sciences improv'd, all Arts refin'd,
And made our stubborn English Sense submit
To the just Culture of Athenian Wit.

To Thee, Bless'd Genius! thy Britannia owes
That Learning in a purer Channel flows;
That Vice no more the Price of Virtue reaps,
Nor modest Want in silent Sorrow weeps;
That Glory courts the Wise, the Good, the Strong,
And only virtuous Merit lives in Song.

Rest then, Great Soul! secure of deathless Fame!
Bless'd be thy Dust, and sacred be thy Name!
Be it invok'd in all our future Lays,
With lasting Honour, and Religious Praise,
'Till CATO'S Works with LIBERTY expire,
Or NEWTON'S die in falling Worlds of Fire.

[Posthumous Works (1728) 31-41]