A descriptive allegory in fourteen Spenserians — apparently the first imitation of Shenstone's The School-Mistress. Little is known of Robert Bedingfield, nor do we know the date composition or the circumstances under which the Education of Achilles was written. It describes a catalogue of allegorical figures surrounding Chiron's cave, and the activities pursued by the Centaur and his young charge. The poem is part of the "Choice of Hercules" sequence developing Shaftesbury's program for aesthetic morality.
While the topic suggests a school exercise, the Education of Achilles is possibly a work of riper years, a Patriot allegory casting the future George III (b. 1738) as Achilles, who was educated away from the court. In the 1740s Gilbert West, once proposed as the prince's tutor, would have been at work on Education (1751) also in the Spenserian stanza; if there is a personal allegory here, the pious West would be a good candidate for Chiron — he was much admired for having converted the young George Lyttelton from deism.
Robert Bedingfield was an Oxford man, as was Joseph Spence, who may have the the conduit to Dodsley's Museum. (Other Oxford Spenserians included William Shenstone, Gilbert West, William Collins, both Wartons, and Christopher Pitt). Robert Dodsley reprinted it in the same volume of his Collection of Poetry (1748) with Bishop Lowth's more popular Choice of Hercules (which also first appeared in The Museum).
Joseph Warton: "It has been fashionable of late to imitate Spenser, but the likeness of most of these copies, hath consisted rather in using a few of his ancient expressions, than in catching his real manner. Some however have been executed with happiness, and with attention to that simplicity, that tenderness of sentiment, and those little touches of nature, that constitute Spenser's character. I have a peculiar pleasure in mentioning two of them, The SCHOOL-MISTRESS, by Mr. Shenstone, and the EDUCATION of ACHILLES, by Mr. Bedingfield" Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope (1782) 2:37.
Anonymous editor: "The Author of this Poem was of Hertford College, Oxford, where he took his master's degree in 1743, and died in 1768" Bell's Classical Arrangement of Fugitive Poetry (1789-97) 11:170.
William Lyon Phelps: "In addition to Lowth's, Ridley's, and Upton's imitations, the year 1747 saw still another from the pen of Robert Bedingfield (died 1768). The Education of Achilles is a poem of fourteen stanzas, in the regular Spenserian form. It has more poetic merit than the common run of contemporary imitations. The fondness for abstractions — so common at the time — is very noticeable. Modesty, Temperance, Fidelity, Benevolence, Exercise, Experience and Contemplation all take a hand in the Education of Achilles" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 73.
Herbert E. Cory: "The poem gives an account of certain allegorical comrades of the young hero at the cave of Chiron, 'A lowly habitation, well I ween.' It shows an easy mastery over some of Spenser's more graceful if superficial traits. Achilles is instructed by Modesty, Temperance, and others.... Would not even the high-serious poet of the Faerie Queene have smiled, Shakespeare-wise, if he had seen this pretty little Augustan-Spenserian prude?" "Spenser, Thomson, and Romanticism" PMLA 26 (1911) 66-67.
Richard C. Frushell: "A synecdoche of sorts for all imitations of this type, Bedingfield's piece is characterised by feeble, transparent allegory, absence of literary ornamentation, emphasis on instructive elements, and roots which cannot be tied to any specific episode, character, or meaning in Spenser' Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 397.
Ah me! is all our Pleasure mix'd with Woe?
Is there on Earth no Happiness sincere?
Must e'en this bitter Stream of Sorrow flow
From Joy's domestic Spring, our Children dear?
How oft did Thetis drop the Silver Tear,
When with fond Eyes she view'd her darling Boy!
How oft her Breast heav'd with presaging Fear,
Lest Vice's secret Canker shou'd annoy
Fair Virtue's op'ning Bud, and all her Hopes destroy!
At length, so Nereus had her rightly taught,
That doubtful Cares might eat her Heart no more,
Her Imp in prattling Infancy she brought
To the fam'd Centaur, on mount Pelion hoar,
Hight Chiron, whom to Saturn Phyl'ra bore;
Chiron, whose Wisdom flourish'd 'bove his Peers,
In ev'ry goodly Thew, and virtuous Lore,
To principle his yet untainted Years;
The Seed that's early sown, the fairest Harvest bears.
Far in the Covert of a bushy Wood,
Where aged Trees their Star-proof Branches spread,
A Grott, with grey Moss ever dropping stood;
No costly Gems the sparkling Roof display'd,
Ne crystal Squares the Pavement rich inlaid,
But o'er the Pebbles, clear with glassy Shine,
A limpid Stream in soothing Murmurs stray'd,
And all around the flow'ring Eglantine
Its balmy Tendrils spread in many a wanton Twine.
A lowly Habitation, well I ween,
Yet sacred made by Men of mickle Fame,
Who there in Precepts wise had lesson'd been;
Chaste Peleus, Consort of the Sea-born Dame,
Sage Aesculape, who cou'd the vital Flame
(Blest Leach!) relumine by his healing Skill;
And Jason, who, his Father's Crown to claim,
Descended dreadful from the craggy Hill,
And with his Pourtance stern did false Usurper thrill.
Fast by the Cave a Damsel was ypight,
Afraid from Earth her blushing Looks to rear,
Lest aught indecent shou'd offend her Sight,
Lest aught indecent shou'd offend her Ear;
Yet wou'd she sometime deign at sober Cheer
Softly to smile, but ever held it Shame
The Mirth of foul-mouth'd Ribaldry to bear,
A cautious Nymph, and MODESTY her Name.
Ah! who but churlish Carle would hurt so pure a Dame?
With her sate Temperance, Companion meet,
Plucking from Tree-en Bough her simple Food,
And pointing to an Urn beside her Feet,
Fill'd with the Crystal of the wholesome Flood:
With her was seen, of grave and aweful Mood,
Hoary Fidelity, a Matron staid;
And sweet Benevolence, who smiling stood,
Whilst at her Breasts two fondling Infants play'd,
And Turtles, billing soft, coo'd thro' the echoing Glade.
On t' other Side, of bold and open Air,
Was a fair Personage, hight Exercise;
Reclin'd he seem'd upon his rough Boar-Spear,
As late surceas'd from hardy Enterprize;
(For Sloth inglorious did he aye despise)
Fresh glow'd his Cheek with Health's vermilion Dye,
On his sleek Brow the swelling Sweat-drops rise,
And oft around he darts his glowing Eye
To view his well-breath'd Hounds, full jolly Company.
Not far away was sage Experience plac'd,
With Care-knit Brow, fix'd Looks, and sober Plight,
Who weighing well the Present with the Past,
Of every Accident cou'd read aright.
With him was rev'rend Contemplation pight,
Bow-bent with Eld, his Beard of snowy Hue,
Yet Age's Hand mote not empare the Sight,
Still with sharp Ken the Eagle he'd pursue,
As thro' the buxom Air to Heav'n's bright Bow'rs she flew.
Here the fond Parent left her darling Care,
Yet softly breath'd a Sigh as she withdrew;
Here the young Hero, ev'n from tender Year,
Eftsoons imbib'd Instruction's hony'd Dew,
(For well to file his Tongue, sage Chiron knew)
And learnt to discipline his Life aright;
To pay to Pow'rs supreme a Reverence due,
Chief to Saturnian Jove, whose dreaded Might
Wings thro' disparted Clouds the bik'ring Light'ning's Flight.
Aye was the Stripling wont, ere Morning fair
Had rear'd o'er Eastern Waves her rosy Tede,
To grasp with tender Hand the pointed Spear,
And beat the Thicket where the Boar's fell Breed
Enshrouded lay, or Lion's tawny Seed.
Oft wou'd great Dian, with her woody Train,
Stop in mid Chace to wonder at his Speed,
Whilst up the Hill's rough Side she saw him strain,
Or sweep with winged Feet along the level Plain.
And when dun Shades had blent the Day's bright Eye,
Upon his Shoulders, with slow stagg'ring Pace,
He brought the Prey his Hand had done to die,
Whilst Blood with Dust besprent did foul disgrace
The goodly Features of his glowing Face.
When as the Sage beheld on grassy Soil
Each panting Corse, whilst Life did well apace,
The Panther of his spotted Pride he'd spoil,
To deck his foster Son: fit Meed of daring Toil.
And ever and anon the Godlike Sire,
To temper stern Behests with Pleasaunce gay,
Would touch (for well he cou'd) the Silver Lyre;
So sweetly ravish'd each enchanting Lay,
That Pan, in scornful wise, wou'd fling away
His rustick Pipe, and e'en the sacred Train
Wou'd leave their lov'd Parnass' in trim Array,
And thought their own Apollo once again
Charm'd his attentive Flock, a simple Shepherd Swain.
And ever and anon of Worthies old,
Whose Praise Fame's trump thro' earth's wide bounds had spread,
To fire his Mind to brave Exploits, he told;
Pirithous, known for prowest Hardy-head;
Theseus, whose Wrath the dire Procrustes fled;
And Hercules, whom trembling Lerna fear'd,
When Hydra fell, in loathsome Marshes bred,
In vain against the Son of Jove uprear'd
Head sprouting under Head, by thrillant Faulchion shear'd.
The stern-brow'd Boy in mute Attention stood,
To hear the Sage relate each great Emprise;
Then strode along the Cave in haughtier Mood,
Whilst varying Passions in his Bosom rise,
And Lightning-Beams flash from his glowing Eyes.
Ev'n now he scorns the Prey the Desarts yield,
Ev'n now (as Hope the future Scene supplies)
He shakes the Terror of his Heav'n-form'd Shield,
And braves th' indignant Flood, and thunders o'er the Field.