1730
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Phoibo-Bathos: or the Poet's Well.

Poems on Several Occasions.

Rev. Matthew Pilkington


Complaining that modern poets are less respected than their ancient counterparts, Matthew Pilkington, a young Irish writer patronized by Jonathan Swift, has Apollo throw their works into a well to see which sink and which swim. Prior to the dunking, Spenser is catalogued among Albion's Ancient Sons: "Sweet laurel'd Spencer next was seen, | Immortal in his Fairy-Queen."

Samuel Austin Allibone: "Matthew Pilkington, Prebendary of Litchfield, January 1747-48; husband of Laetitia Pilkington" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 2:1596.

Whitwell Elwin: "The young clergyman was Matthew Pilkington, the son of a Dublin ale-house keeper, and his volume of poems was published in 1731. 'He is a little young poetical parson,' said Swift in a letter to Lord Bathurst, 'and has a littler young poetical wife. And take notice that the word littler is no blunder. And the young parson aforesaid has very lately printed his own works all in verse, and some not unpleasant, in one or two of which I have the honour to be celebrated, which cost me a guinea, and two bottles of wine" Pope, Correspondence, ed. Elwin (1871) 2:17n.

Howard Weinbrot: "Pilkington's speaker complains that 'the World so ill repays | The noblest Bards of modern Days' (p. 137), and promptly has a dream-vision in which he is transported to the muses' sacred spring. Apollo declares that on 'this ever-sacred Day' good British and Irish poets finally shall receive their due reward; the others die (p. 139). A temple then rises in which the Ancients are joined by England's early poets; before the temple is a deep well, from which the muses take the best works, place their authors in the temple, and doom the others to a soggy grave (pp. 143-46)" Britannia's Issue (1993) 4.



I wander'd out the other Day,
And stole from Care, and Town away,
No Cloud o'er all the Sky was seen,
The Fields were cloath'd with lively Green,
The Sun shone out exceeding fair,
And Hay new mown perfum'd the Air:
But forc'd to fly the Noon-day Heat,
I chose a silent shaded Seat,
From whence, where'er I turn'd my Eyes,
I saw inspiring Prospects rise,
Groves, Rivers, Hills with Verdure crown'd,
And Nature smiling all around,
And still to charm my Thoughts the more,
I read Saphira's Numbers o'er,
Where Wit and sacred Friendship shine,
And Virtue blooms in ev'ry Line.

But while, thus raptur'd, I attend
To each Perfection of my Friend,
I grieve, the World so ill repays
The noblest Bards of modern Days;
For Years, perhaps, unbid to rise,
Neglected, modest Merit lies;
See! Learning, that angelic Guest,
By pompous Ignorance deprest!
See, by the wealthy witless Herd,
The Wise contemn'd, the Fool prefer'd.

Reflecting thus, the drowsy God,
Thrice with his Sleep-creating Rod
My Eyelids touch'd; soft Slumbers came,
And thus I dreamt — or seem'd to dream.

Some wond'rous Pow'r, methought, with Care
Convey'd me swiftly thro' the Air,
And plac'd me near the sacred Spring
At which the tuneful Sisters sing,
Where God Apollo joins the Quire,
And strikes the Silver-sounding Lyre.

While rapt I stood, such Sounds to hear
As charm the Soul into the Ear,
Here cease the Song, Apollo cries,
Arise, ye Virgin-Train arise,
This Day, this ever-sacred Day
Shall ev'ry Author's Worth display,
Each British, each Hibernian Bard
Shall now acquire a just Reward,
I'll show the World what Poet's Lays
Shall bloom Immortal, blest with Praise,
And whose dull stupid Works shall lie
Unnotic'd, and obscurely die.

This said, before their wond'ring Eyes
He bids a spacious Temple rise,
A Temple, form'd with so much Art,
So beautiful in ev'ry Part,
It seem'd, (tho' rais'd in so much haste,)
The Labour of an Age at least.

Within the Dome, enthron'd in State
The Ancients sat, sublimely Great:
Homer, the Prince of Bards was there,
And Maro with majestic Air;
There Flaccus, who the Soul can sway
With Lays polite, instructive, gay;
The Teian too, whose Songs impart
A thousand Raptures to the Heart,
And ev'ry Bard whose tuneful Tongue,
In sacred Strains divinely sung.

There Albion's ancient Sons appear'd,
Great Souls! as Deities rever'd:
Old Chaucer, who the Mind regales
With witty, mirth-creating Tales:
Sweet laurel'd Spencer next was seen,
Immortal in his Fairy-Queen;
Milton, who boundless Worlds explor'd,
Where never Poet's Fancy soar'd.
And durst so great a Subject chuse
As ask'd an Angel for a Muse:
Soft Waller, who with silver Tongue,
The Pains of hopeless Passion sung:
Shakespear, with whom the Muses dwell,
Whom few can copy, none excell:
With Cowley, of o'erflowing Wit;
And Dorset keen in all he writ.

The God next bids the Earth subside,
To form a Well immensely wide,
And instant at his Word, the Ground
Discloses deep a vast Profound,
To fill the mighty Void, he sees
The Waters rise, by just Degrees,
And smiles with conscious Joy, to find
The Well adapted to his Mind.

Now haste, he cries, ye sacred Nine,
Sweet Modellers of Lays divine,
On Wings of Zephyrs thro' the Sky
To Albion and Ierne fly,
Let each collect with nicest Care
The Works of Bards that flourish there,
Then into This shall all be thrown,
To make their various Merits known.

The Strains by our Instruction writ,
With Spirit, Learning, Judgment, Wit,
Which Ages yet unborn shall praise,
And crown with never-fading Bays,
Shall float along the limpid Wave;
Those consecrating Time shall save,
The rest shall sink, and swiftly go
To dwell in Ebon Shades below.

Here shall the Graces stand to seize
Each Work that on the Surface plays,
And Time shall in his Temple place
The Writings sav'd by ev'ry Grace.

He spoke; away the Muses fly
More swift than Eagles thro' the Sky,
Discharg'd their Errand, quick as Thought,
And each a Load of Authors brought,
On Themes sublime, and trifling Matters,
Odes, Epics, Epigrams, and Satires,
Labours of ev'ry Size and Kind,
Yet left amazing Heaps behind,
Assur'd, convinc'd before they try'd,
Those Works must in the Well subside.

And, now the mystic Rites begin,
What Heaps, ye Gods! are tumbled in!
What Crowds of Volumes downwards tend!
How few have Worth to re-ascend!

First of the Time-surviving Train,
Appears th' inimitable Dean,
Whose Works so exquisite are writ,
With such uncommon Strokes of Wit,
Such Purity of Thought and Style,
They float uninjur'd all the while:
And these immortal matchless Lays
The smiling Graces fondly seize,
And place on Time's high-honour'd Throne,
Aloft, distinguish'd, and alone.

Then Pope, and wise Arbuthnot gain
Exalted Honours with the Dean;
And soon the Graces snatch'd away
The Strains of Addison, and Gay:
And Congreve, Dryden, Parnel, Prior,
Whose Writings boast Apollo's Fire;
With thine, O Pollio, next they raise
Saphira's, Garth's, and Harvey's Lays,
The tender Granville's Syren Strain,
Too matchless to be sung in vain;
Sweet Philips, who like Milton sung,
With Thompson, Lycidas, and Young:
And others whom immortal Fame,
Hath honour'd with a Poet's Name.

They ceas'd; and now, Apollo cries,
Be this a Lesson to the Wise,
To those who gloriously excell
In judging clear, and writing well,
That ev'ry Work sublimely writ,
With Learning, Elegance, and Wit,
Shall reign admir'd from Age to Age,
And mock the snarling Critic's Rage,
O'er Envy's Offspring soar sublime,
Unhurt by Calumny or Time,
While all the dull, detracting Fry,
Without Expence of Satire die.

He spoke: I start with hallow'd Dread,
And all the sacred Vision fled.

[pp. 135-50]