Nineteen irregular stanzas: the monody was George Lyttelton's most admired poem, one of the select number of pastoral elegies to become both a popular anthology piece and part of the literary canon. The poem is set at Lyttelton's estate at Hagley — compare Moses Browne's elegy "Percy Lodge" (1749) which imitates Lyttelton's use of landscape and irregular stanzas in a "house-poem" elegy. The original publication was anonymous.
James Thomson to William Paterson: "All our friends are pretty much in statu quo, except it be poor Mr. Lyttelton. He has had the severest trial a human tender heart can have; but the old physician, time, will at last close up his wounds, though there must always remain an inward smarting" 1748; Goodhugh, The English Gentleman's Library Manual (1827) 267.
Joseph Cockfield to Weeden Butler: "I have got the amiable Lord Lyttelton's Monody on his excellent Lady, and have often read it over with sincere satisfaction. I also have purchased his Dialogues of the Dead, and Persian Letters. Lord Lyttelton is an elegant poet and correct writer indeed; to his person I am a stranger" 26 February 1766; in John Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 5:761.
Vicesimus Knox: "Love and its effects were beautifully described by the elegantly sensible Lord Lyttelton. To assert that he was remarkable for poetical genius, were to lessen, by endeavouring to exaggerate, his praise. Force, fire, and an exuberance of invention, were not his excellencies; but hat equable beauty of sentiment and diction, which results from an elegant mind. The graces distinguish his compositions, as the virtues marked his honourable life" "Observations on some of the inferior English Poets" Universal Magazine 76 (May 1785) 253.
John Britton: "Lord Lyttelton's Monody on his Wife's Death, speaks of the 'well-known ground,' 'the fountain's side,' the 'waters gliding along the valley,' the 'wide-stretch'd prospect, and the verdant lawns,' all allusive to his home. The park and pleasure-grounds were justly admired and noted for variety of scenery, and combination of fine old forest woods, undulating lawns, distant prospects, streamlets with cascades, and devious walks and drives; whilst the large, old, rich mansion was well stored with works of art, which were then regarded of great value. George Lyttelton's History of the Reign of Henry the Second, has remained a standard book in English History; whilst several others of his published writings were formerly popular. He was brother of the Rev. Dr. Lyttelton, Dean of Exeter, and Bishop of Carlisle, who wrote several papers on archaeology, and was President of the Society of Antiquaries for some years" Autobiography (1850) 1:127.
Edmund Gosse: "If we desire to name a personage as typical of what was best in the ordinary man of cultivation in the eighteenth century, we can do no better than point to George Lyttelton of Hagley, first Lord Lyttelton (1709-1773). He was a virtuous politician, who rose to be Chancellor of the Exchequer; he was the founder of a house that has never ceased to hold a respectable place in the country; he was the friend of great poets and divines, and something of a divine and a poet himself, while his life comprised all that was elegant and amiable in man. Cruel sceptics, like Gibbon, have not failed to point out that his works are 'not illuminated by a ray of genius.' But his heart has spoken once or twice, in the loosely-strung Pindaric Monody to his wife, and in the elegiac prologue to Coriolanus, Thomson's posthumous tragedy" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 228.
W. J. Courthope: "Full of generous feeling, he had not enough of original thought to let his personality penetrate through the forms of conventional expression. He is always an imitator; yet his work is of interest, as showing how strongly the social tendency to 'nature-worship' was influencing Englishmen of education and accomplishment, who had been brought up within the strict limits of classical reserve" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:377.
Raymond Dexter Havens: "In 1747, the year in which [William Mason's] Musaeus appeared, Lyttelton won general praise with a 'Monody' on the death of his wife, the best poem the [Miltonic] movement produced. Inspired by the sincerity and depth of his grief for the woman whom he had tenderly loved, he was able, while retaining the classical allusions and something of the pastoral element, to be natural and unhackneyed. He may have been somewhat influenced by Dryden's great ode to the memory of Anne Killigrew, particularly since he did not, like Milton and most of his imitators, begin every line flush with the margin, but printed his monody as a Pindaric, varying the indentation with the length of the line. Yet there can be no question of the influence of Lycidas here" The Influence of Milton (1922) 552.
Oliver Elton: "The best known of the elegiac odes is the Monody (1747) of George Lord Lyttelton, upon his wife Lucy. The feeling is deep, but it is long drawn out, and the poem seldom rises to energy" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:26.
See the parody by Tobias Smollett, A Burlesque Ode (Plays and Poems, 1777), and the opening stanzas rendered by Anna Seward into three Miltonic sonnets in her Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 1:261-62. Some lines from the Monody were adapted to mourn the death of Princess Charlotte in the Morning Chronicle, 14 November 1817.
At length escap'd from ev'ry Human Eye,
From ev'ry Duty, ev'ry Care,
That in my mournful Thoughts might claim a Share,
Or force my Tears their flowing Stream to dry,
Beneath the Gloom of this embow'ring Shade
This lone Retreat, for tender Sorrow made
I now may give my burden'd Heart Relief
And pour forth all my Stores of Grief,
Of Grief surpassing ev'ry other Woe
Far as the purest Bliss, the happiest Love
Can on th' ennobled Mind bestow,
Exceeds the vulgar Joys that move
Our gross Desires, inelegant, and low.
Ye tufted Groves, ye gently falling Rills,
Ye high o-ershadowing Hills,
Ye Lawns gay-smiling with eternal Green,
Oft have You my LUCY seen!
But never shall you now behold her more:
Nor will she now with fond Delight
And Taste refin'd your Rural Charms explore.
Clos'd are those beauteous Eyes in endless Night,
Those beauteous Eyes where beaming us'd to shine
Reason's pure Light, and Virtue's Spark Divine.
Oft would the Dryads of these Woods rejoice
To hear her Heav'nly Voice,
For Her despising, when she deign'd to sing,
The sweetest Songsters of the Spring:
The Woodlark and the Linnet pleas'd no more;
The Nightingale was mute,
And ev'ry Shepherd's Flute
Was cast in silent Scorn away
While all attended to her sweeter Lay.
Ye Larks and Linnets now resume your Song,
And thou, melodious Philomel
Again thy plaintive Story tell,
For Death has stopt that tuneful Tongue,
Whose Music could alone your warbling Notes excel.
In vain I look around
O'er all the well-known Ground
My LUCY'S wonted Footsteps to descry;
Where oft we us'd to walk,
Where oft in tender Talk,
We saw the Summer Sun go down the Sky;
Nor by yon Fountain's Side
Nor where its Waters glide
Along the Valley, can she now be found:
In all the wide-stretch'd Prospect's ample Bound
No more my mournful Eye
Can ought of Her espy,
But the sad sacred Earth where her dear Relics lie.
O Shades of H—y, where is now your Boast?
Your bright Inhabitant is lost.
You she preferr'd to all the gay Resorts
Where female Vanity might wish to shine,
The Pomp of Cities, and the Pride of Courts.
Her modest Beauties shunn'd the public Eye:
To your sequestered Dales
And flow'r-embroider'd Vales
From an admiring World she chose to fly;
With Nature there retir'd, and Nature's GOD,
The silent Paths of Wisdom trod,
And banish'd ev'ry Passion from her Breast,
But those, the Gentlest, and the Best,
Whose Holy Flames with Energy Divine
The virtuous Heart enliven and improve,
The Conjugal, and the Maternal Love.
Sweet Babes, who, like the little playful Fawns,
Were wont to trip along these verdant Lawns
By your delighted Mother's Side,
Who now your Infant Steps shall guide?
Ah! where is now the Hand whose tender Care
To ev'ry Virtue would have form'd your Youth,
And strew'd with Flow'rs the thorny Ways of Truth?
O Loss beyond Repair!
O wretched Father, left alone
To weep Their dire Misfortune, and Thy own!
How shall thy weaken'd Mind, oppress'd with Woe,
And drooping o'er thy LUCY'S Grave,
Perform the Duties that you doubly owe,
Now She, alas! is gone,
From Folly, and from Vice, their helpless Age to save?
Where were ye, Muses, when relentless Fate
From these fond Arms your fair Disciple tore,
From these fond Arms that vainly strove
With hapless ineffectual Love
To guard her Bosom from the mortal Blow?
Could not your fav'ring Power, Aonian Maids,
Could not, alas! Your Power prolong her Date,
For whom so oft in these inspiring Shades,
Or under Campden's Moss-clad Mountains Hoar,
You open'd all your sacred Store,
Whate'er your antient Sages taught,
Your ancient Bards sublimely thought,
And bade her raptur'd Breast with all your Spirit Glow?
Nor then did Pindus, or Castalia's Plain,
Or Aganippe's Fount your Steps detain,
Nor in the Thespian Vallies did you play;
Nor then on Mincio's Bank
Beset with Osiers dank,
Nor where Clitumnus rolls his gentle Stream,
Nor where through hanging Woods
Steep Arno pours his Floods,
Nor yet where Meles, or Ilissus stray.
Ill does it now beseem
That of your Guardian Care bereft
To dire Disease and Death your Darling should be left.
Now what avails it that in early Bloom,
When light, fantastic Toys
Are all her Sex's Joys,
With you she search'd the Wit of Greece and Rome,
And all that in her later Days
To emulate her ancient Praise
Italia's happy Genius could produce;
Or what the Gallic Fire
Bright-sparkling could inspire,
By all the Graces temper'd and refin'd;
Or what in Britain's Isle,
Most favour'd with your Smile,
The Pow'rs of Reason and of Fancy join'd
To full Perfection have conspir'd to raise?
Ah what is now the Use
Of all these Treasures that enrich'd her Mind,
To blank Oblivion's Gloom, for ever now consign'd!
At least, ye Nine, her spotless Name
'Tis Yours from Death to save,
And in the Temple of Immortal Fame
With golden Characters her Worth engrave.
Come then, ye Virgin Sisters, come,
And strew with choicest Flow'rs her hallow'd Tomb.
But foremost Thou, in sable Vestment clad,
With Accents sweet and sad,
Thou, plaintive Muse, whom o'er his Laura's Urn
Unhappy Petrarch call'd to mourn,
O come, and to this fairer Laura pay
A more impassion'd Tear, a more pathetic Lay.
Tell how each Beauty of her Mind and Face
Was brighten'd by some sweet, pathetic Grace!
How eloquent in every Look
Thro' her expressive Eyes her Soul distinctly spoke!
Tell how her Manners by the World refin'd
Left all the Taint of modish Vice behind,
And made each Charm of polish'd Courts agree
With candid Truth's Simplicity,
And uncorrupted Innocence!
Tell how to more than manly Sense
She join'd the soft'ning Influence
Of more than Female Tenderness!
How in the thoughtless Days of Wealth and Joy
Which oft the Care of other's Good destroy,
Her kindly-melting Heart,
To ev'ry Want, and ev'ry Woe,
To Guilt itself when in Distress
The Balm of Pity would impart
And all Relief that Bounty could bestow!
Ev'n for the Kid or Lamb that pour'd its Life
Beneath the bloody Knife,
Her gentle Tears would fall,
As She the common Mother were of All.
Nor only Good, and Kind,
But Strong and Eleveated in Mind:
A Spirit that with noble Pride
Could look superior down
On Fortune's Smile, or Frown;
That could without Regret or Pain
To Virtue's lowest Duty sacrifice
Or Int'rest's, or Ambition's highest Prize;
That injur'd or offended never try'd
Its Dignity by Vengeance to maintain
But by magnanimous Disdain.
A Wit, that temperately bright,
With inoffensive Light
All pleasing shone, nor ever past
The decent Bounds that Wisdom's sober Hand,
And sweet Benevolence's mild Command,
And bashful Modesty, before it cast.
A Prudence undeceiving, undeceiv'd,
That nor too little, nor too much believ'd,
That scorn'd unjust Suspicion's coward Fear
And without Weakness knew to be sincere.
Such LUCY was, when in her fairest Days
Amidst th' Acclaim of Universal Praise
In Life's and Glory's freshest Bloom
Death came remorseless on, and sunk her to the Tomb.
So where the silent Streams of Liris glide,
In the soft Bosom of Campania's Vale,
When now the Wintry Tempests all are fled,
And genial Summer breathes its Western Gale
The verdant Orange lifts its beauteous Head:
From ev'ry Branch they balmy Flow'rets rise,
On ev'ry Bough the golden Fruits are seen;
With Odours sweet it fills the smiling Skies,
The Wood-Nymphs tend it, and th' Idalian Queen:
But in the midst of all its blooming Pride
A sudden Blast from Apennius blows
Cold with perpetual Snows:
The tender, blighted Plant shrinks up its Leaves, and Dies.
Arise, O Petrarch, from th' Elysian Bowers
With never-fading Myrtles twin'd,
And fragrant with Ambrosial Flowers,
Where to thy Laura thou again art join'd;
Arise, and hither bring the Silver Lyre
Tun'd by thy skilful Hand
To the soft Notes of Elegant Desire,
With which o'er many a Land
Was spread the Fame of thy disastrous Love:
To me resign the vocal Shell,
And teach my Sorrows to relate
Their melancholy Tale so well
As may ev'n Things inanimate
Rough Mountain Oaks, and desart Rocks, to Pity move.
What were, alas! Thy Woes compar'd to Mine?
To Thee thy Mistress in the blissful Band
Of Hymen never gave her Hand:
The Joys of wedded Love were never thine.
In thy Domestick Care
She never bore a Share,
Nor with endearing Art
Would heal thy wounded Heart
Of ev'ry secret Grief that fester'd there:
Nor did her fond Affection on the Bed
Of Sickness watch thee, and thy languid Head
Whole Nights on her unwearied Arm sustain
And charm away the Sense of Pain:
Nor did she crown your Mutual Flame
With Pledges dear, and with a Father's tender Name.
O Best of Wives! O dearer far to me
Than when thy Virgin Charms
Were yielded to my Arms,
How can my Soul endure the Loss of Thee?
How in the World, to me a Desart grown,
Abandon'd, and alone,
Without my sweet Companion can I live?
Without thy lovely Smile,
The dear Reward of ev'ry virtuous Toil,
What Pleasures now can pall'd Ambition give?
Ev'n the delightful Sense of well-earn'd Praise,
Unshar'd by Thee, no more my lifeless Thoughts could raise.
For my distracted Mind
What Succour can I find?
O whom for Consolation shall I call?
Support me, ev'ry Friend,
Your kind Assistance lend
To bear the Weight of this oppressive Woe.
Alas! each Friend of mine
My dear, departed Love, so much was thine,
That none has any Comfort to bestow.
My Books, the best Relief
In ev'ry other Grief,
Are now with your Idea sadden'd all:
Each fav'rite Author we together read
My tortur'd Mem'ry wounds and speaks of LUCY dead.
We were the happiest Pair of Human kind!
The rolling Year its varying Course perform'd,
And back return'd again,
Another, and another smiling came,
And saw our Happiness unchang'd remain:
Still in her Golden Chain
Harmonious Concord did our Wishes bind:
Our Studies, Pleasures, Tastes the same.
O fatal, fatal Stroke,
That all this pleasing Fabric Love had rais'd
Of rare Felicity,
On which ev'n wanton Vice with Envy gaz'd,
And ev'ry Scheme of Bliss, our Hearts had form'd,
With soothing Hope, for many a future Day,
In one sad Moment broke!
Yet, O my Soul, thy rising Murmurs stay,
Nor dare th' All-wise Disposer to arraign,
Or against His supreme Decree
With impious Grief complain.
That all thy full-blown Joys at once should fade
Was his most righteous Will, and be that Will obey'd.
Would thy fond Love his Grace to her controul,
And in these low Abodes of Sin and Pain
Her pure, exalted Soul
Unjustly for thy partial Good detain?
No — rather strive thy groveling Mind to raise
Up to that unclouded Blaze,
That heav'nly Radiance of eternal Light,
In which enthron'd she now with Pity sees
How frail, how insecure, how slight
Is ev'ry mortal Bliss,
Ev'n Love itself, if rising by Degrees
Beyond the Bounds of this imperfect State,
Whose fleeting Joys so soon must end,
It does not to its sov'reign Good ascend.
Rise then, my Soul, with Hope elate,
And seek those Regions of serene Delight,
Whose peaceful Path, and ever-open Gate,
No Feet but those of harden'd Guilt shall miss.
There Death himself thy LUCY shall restore,
There yield up all his Pow'r e'er to divide you more.