1748
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[The Witch of Wokey.]

Newcastle General Magazine 8 (February 1755) 78.

Dr. Henry Harington


Twelve unsigned stanzas (aabccb) in Spenser's gothic manner. The tale relates the contest between a "lernede clerke" and an old hag who is turned to stone, though not before she lays a curse on the fair ladies of Wells; the poem concludes with an invitation to the young men of Oxford University. Apparently this piece of undergraduate verse was circulating in manuscript, from whence it made its way to the Newcastle Magazine. Henry Harington printed the poem in his scarce Euthemia volume, from whence it was collected and widely disseminated through Percy's Reliques (with a quite a few verbal changes). The poet, founder of the Bath Harmonic Society, lived well into the nineteenth century and retained his wit to the last.

Headnote: "Sir, The following stanzas were sent me from Wells in Somersetshire, and assign the reason why the ladies of that city are destitute of gentlemen. I am, Sir, Yours, &c."

Thomas Percy's note: "The Witch of Wokey was published in a small collection of poems, intitled Euthemia, or the Power of Harmony, &c. 1756, written in 1748, by an ingenious Physician near Bath, who chose to conceal his name. The following contains some variations from the original copy, which it is hoped the author will pardon, when he is informed they came from the elegant pen of the late Mr. Shenstone. WOKEY-HOLE is a noted cavern in Somersetshire, which has given birth to as many wild fanciful stories as the Sybils Cave in Italy. Thro' a very narrow entrance, it opens into a large vault, the roof whereof, either on account of its height, or the thickness of the gloom, cannot be discovered by the light of torches. It goes winding a great way under ground, is crost by a stream of very cold water, and is all horrid with broken pieces of rock: many of these are evident petrifactions; which on account of their singular forms, have given rise to the fables alluded to in this poem."

Richard Warner: "A talent for the lighter species of poetry, the gay, the witty, and the humorous, may be mentioned as one feature of Dr. Harington's mind; but its exercises formed only an amusement for his more leisure hours; and I know not that the public are in possession of any examples of it, save what may be found in a small collection of poems published by him in 1756; entitled "Euphoemia, or the Power of Harmony;" from which Dr. Percy has extracted a beautiful copy of verses, pregnant with elegance and point, called the Witch of Wokey, and introduced it into the first volume (page 330) of his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry" Literary Recollections (1830) 2:90.

W. Davenport Adams: "A ballad, first published in Enthemia: or the Power of Harmony, written by Dr. Harrington, of Bath. The version in Percy's Reliques contains some variations 'from the elegant pen of the late Mr. Shenstone.' Wokey Hole is a cavern in Somersetshire" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 695.

The version in Pearch ("Slander, or the Witch of Wokey") appears without William Shenstone's emendations.

Harington's Euthemia appears to be a very scarce volume; a copy is in the Bodleian Library. The Shenstone version of the "Witch of Wokey" is reprinted in Shenstone's Miscellany 1759-1763, ed. Ian A. Gordon (1952), who describes the poem as "an undergraduate production of which the author was not in later years particularly proud" p. 150.

Carpenter, Reference Guide to Edmund Spenser (1923) notes a Spenser parody, "O noble Festus," in Percy's Folio MSS, 3:272, (1897) 267.



In aunciente days tradition showes
A sorrie wicked elfe arose,
The Witch of Wokey hight;
Oft have I heard the fearfull tale,
From Sue and Roger of the vale,
Told out in winter's night.

Deep in a dreary dismal cell,
Which seem'd, nay was y-cleped hell,
The blue-eyed hag was sty'd;
Nine wicked elves, as legends sayne,
By night she chose her guardian trayne,
All kennell'd close her side.

Here baleful owls oft made their nest,
While wolves its craggy sides possest,
Night howling thro' the rocks;
No wholesome herb cou'd here be found,
She blasted ev'ry plant around,
And blister'd o'er the flocks.

Her haggard face, so foul to see,
Her mouth unmeet a mouth to be,
With eyne of deadly leer,
She nought devis'd, but neighbour's ill,
On all she wreak'd her wayward will,
And marr'd all godlie cheer.

All in her prime have poets sung,
No gaudy youth gallant and young,
E'er blest her longing armes;
Hence rose her fell despight to vex,
And blast the youth of either sex,
By dint of hellish charms.

From Glaston came a learned wight,
Full bent to marr her fell despight,
And well he did, I ween;
Save her's sich mischief ne'er was knowne,
And since his mickle lerninge showne,
Sich mischief ne'er has been.

He chauntede out his godlie book,
He cross'd the water, blest the brook,
Then — Pater-noster done,
The ghastly hag he sprinkled o'er,
When, lo! where stood the hag before,
Now stood a ghastly stone.

Full well 'tis known adown the vale,
Tho' strange may seem the fearful tale,
Eke wond'rous may appear;
I'm bold to say, there's never one,
That has not seen the witch of stone,
With all her houshould geer.

But tho' this lernede clerke did well,
With grievede heart, alas! I tell,
She left this curse behinde:
"My sex shall be forsaken quite,
Tho' sense and beauty both unite,
Nor find a man that's kind."

Now lo! e'en as this fiend did say,
The sex have found it to this day,
That men are wond'rous scante;
Here's sense and beauty both combin'd,
With all that's good and virtuous joyn'd,
Yet scarce there's one gallante.

Shall such fair nymphs thus daily moane!
They might I trow, as well be stone,
As thus forsaken dwell:
Since Glaston now can boast no clerks,
From Oxenford come down, ye sparks,
And help revoke the spell.

Yet stay — nor thus despond, ye fair;
Virtue's the god's peculiar care;
Then mark their kindlie voice,
"Your sex shall soon be blest agen,
We only wait to find sich men,
As may be worth sich choice."

[p. 78]