1748 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To the Same [Charles Townsend], on the Death of a Relation.

Plays and Poems by William Whitehead, Esq. Poet Laureate, and Register and Secretary to the most Honourable Order of the Bath. 2 Vols.

William Whitehead


Twelve irregular Spenserians (ababcC): a very personal verse epistle on the subject of grieving, posthumously published in 1774.

Charles Townsend (1725-67) was a college friend of William Whitehead, as William Mason relates: "How much he thought of Mr. C. Townsend his friend, and how much he felt himself to that Gentleman's, appears strongly in two elegant epistolary poems, which he addressed to him, after he had removed to Town, and while Mr. Townsend still remained at Clare-Hall. But I have reason to believe, that when he too had quitted college, and began to figure in the world, which he very soon did, as a statesman, that friendship soon found its conclusion in a reciprocal inattention to one another. It is easy, however, to imagine on which side it would first shew itself" Memoirs of Whitehead (1788) 39.

Thomas Babington Macaulay: "The most accomplished tuft-hunter of his time.... The writings of Whitehead, Cambridge, Coventry, and Lord Bath are forgotten" Edinburgh Review 58 (October 1833) 232.



O CHARLES, 'tis now the tender, trying time,
The hour of friendship, the sad moment when
You must awhile indulge a virtuous crime,
And hide your own to ease another's pain,
The mournful tribute Nature claims forgo,
To calm a softer breast, and win it from its woe.

Yet think not of Consolation, vainly drest
In TULLY'S language, and the learned pride
Of wordy eloquence, can sooth the breast
Of real grief, or bid the tear subside,
The heartfelt tear, which streams from Virtue's eye;
For Virtue's noblest proof is soft humanity.

Let dull unfeeling pedants talk by rote
Of CATO'S soul, which could itself subdue;
Of idle scraps of Stoic fustian quote,
And bravely bear the pangs they never knew:
Refin'd from men, to desarts let them fly,
And, 'mid their kindred rocks, unpitied live, and die.

But He, whose mercy melts in vernal skies,
Whose attribute is universal love,
Knit man to man by Nature's tend'rest ties,
And bade us social joys and sorrows prove;
Bade us bedew with tears the kindred urn,
And for a brother lost like sad MARIA mourn.

He bids thee too, in whispers felt within,
For sure he finely tun'd thy social soul,
Haste to the lovely mourner, and restrain
Grief's sweeling tides which in her bosom roll,
Not by obstructing the tumultuous course,
But stealing by degrees, and yielding to its force.

As the kind parent treats the wounded child
With open smiles, and only weeps by stealth;
In wayward pain with condescension mild
She charms to rest, and cheats it into health:
So must we lightly urge th' afflicted fair,
Probe the self-tortur'd breast, and teach it how to bear.

Improve each moment when th' elastic mind,
Tir'd with its plaints, resumes the bent of mirth;
Lead it to joys, not boistrous, but refin'd,
Far from those scenes which gave its sorrows birth,
Thro' the smooth paths of Fancy's flowery vale,
And the long devious tracks of some well-woven tale.

Tho' oft I've known a sorrow like to theirs,
In well-devised story painted strong,
Cheat the fond mourners of their real cares,
And draw perforce the list'ning ear along;
Till powerful fiction taught the tears to flow,
And more than half their grief bewail'd another's woe.

But she, alas, unfortunately wise,
Will see thro' every scheme thy art can frame,
Reject with honest scorn each mean disguise,
And her full share of genuine anguish claim;
Wild as the winds which Ocean's face deform,
Or silent as the deep ere rolls th' impetuous storm.

Why had she talents giv'n beyond her sex,
Or why those talents did her care improve?
Free from the follies which weak minds perplex,
But most expos'd to all which most can move.
Great souls alone are curs'd with grief's excess,
That quicker finer sense of exquisite distress.

Yet shall that power beyond her sex, at last,
Not giv'n in vain, o'er grief itself prevail,
Stop those heart-bursting groans which heave so fast,
And reason triumph where thy counsels fail;
Save when some well-known object ever dear
Recalls th' untutor'd sigh, or sudden-starting tear.

Such tender tribute to departed friends
Thro' life alas must sad remembrance pay;
And such, O CHARLES, when kinder fate extends
Thy stronger thread beyond my fatal day,
Such shall I hope from thee, till thou resign
That last sure pledge of love to some poor friend of thine.

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