1751 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Genius.

The Poetical Works of the Rev. Samuel Bishop, ... To which are prefixed, Memoirs of the Life of the Author, by the Rev. Thomas Clare.

Rev. Samuel Bishop


In this posthumously-published poem Edmund Spenser appears in a short list of the heroic geniuses of Great Britain: Milton, Spenser, Newton, Shakespeare, and Pope. The date assigned to this posthumously published poem is pure speculation. The poet, who was plainly fond of writing epigrams, was for many years the head master at Merchant Taylors' School.

Critical Review: "The first volume of this publication consists of odes, — imitations of Milton, — the fairy Benison, a compliment to the royal family, — and a number of verses on all kind of topics, written for the boys of Merchant-Taylors' school, to repeat on their public examination days. There is ingenuity in the turn of some of them, and they were very well for the occasion. The second volume contains eighteen anniversary compliments to the author's wife; all of them, no doubt, precious in the eye of affection, but not always sufficiently varied to captivate the attention of the indifferent reader. More familiar verses follow, miscellanies, and epigrams, with which last half the volume is filled. The greater part of the pieces do not exceed in length a card of compliments; nor, to say truth, are the subjects of more significance" NS 19 (January 1797) 50.

Robert Southey: "I know of no poet who crowds so many syllables into a verse. How his ear could allow of this, I know not. His domestic poems breath a Dutch spirit, — by which I mean a very amiable and happy feeling of domestic duties and enjoyments" Common-Place Book (1849-51) 4:309.



Three things in all her other works around,
The obvious powers of general Nature bound;
Time, Place, and Substance: — these include alone
Whatever is; — or being, can be known.
Fate has admitted in th' extensive plan,
But one exception, — and that one is Man:
Motion and life inferior forms assume,
To be; and be for ever, is his doom!

What wonder therefore, if his nobler part
Beyond mere visible existence start;
And thro' the mists, that cloud his present day,
Some Sparks of heavenly Radiance force their way!
Which, as with happier energy they shine,
Confess the Almighty Lord; whose care benign
Breath'd his own Spirit, thro' the embodied clod,
And bade it live — immortal with it's God.

Howe'er those Sparks on various objects fall,
One simple term will comprehend them all,
GENIUS! — that effort of the vigorous mind,
That leaves Time, Place, and Substance still behind:—
GENIUS! — whose excellence my Muse and I
(With your good leave) will by this standard try.

O'er Time it triumphs, winged with native force;
Nor Past, nor Future, circumscribe it's course.
Mark how it leads a MILTON'S mental eye,
Thro' the vast glories of primaeval sky;—
When Time itself was yet without a name;
And Present, and Eternal, were the same!
Remember by what generous toils exprest,
It fill'd the purpose of an ALFRED'S breast;
Taught him the first firm base of power to frame;
Then look thro' Ages, for his BRITAIN'S fame:
And scorn a shorter period to foresee,
Than everlasting rule, and endless liberty!

Genius, with equal strength and equal grace,
Surmounts the limits of surrounding Place:
Thro' Fiction's fairy-land with SPENCER goes;
While at each step some new Creation glows;
When all at large Imagination runs,
And fancied splendors beam from fancied suns.—
—Or aids a NEWTON'S patient search to trace
Athwart concentring Orbs, the Comet's race;
Where, (hid by distance from each other's sight,)
Worlds beyond Worlds have lost it's devious light;
And, haply, like ourselves, their NEWTONS trust,
'Till the returning Blaze proves computation just.

Myriads of Forms has passive Substance caught:
But what are they to SHAKESPEAR'S boundless Thought!
Thought! — that could local habitation feign,
For airy Nothing's animated train!
And Elves of phantom potency create,
To sport with Elements, and fashion Fate!
—Past all Substantial scope Idea stray'd,
When POPE his glittering Host of Sylphs array'd;
Fix'd a new Guard round female beauty's throne;
And peopled air with Nations of his own:—
Rosy Decorum hail'd the friendly Throng;
And every laughing Grace enjoy'd the song.

Thus GENIUS, Substance, Time, and Place, disdains:
And my position in full force remains.

Censure, perhaps, with critic frown, will deem,
This scale of mine too scanty for my theme:
—"Genius," 'twill say, "excels a thousand ways;
Time, Place, and Substance, speak not half her praise;
Her range of flight is infinite:" — Agreed!
But infinite range of flight suits not my speed.

Perhaps, my list of Heroes is too short:—
But they are Heroes of Gigantic sort.—
And sure 'tis just, as well as patriot pride,
To boast — my Country all that list supply'd!

If still I stand condemn'd, there's one sure card,
I'll plead my Head! and own myself no Bard!
My faults, of course, their own excuse will bring:
—For Genius only, should of Genius sing.

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