1760
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sonnet, occasioned by hearing a young Lady sing Spenser's Amoretti, &c.

Public Ledger 1 (20 December 1760) 1177.

Rev. William Dodd


A curious sonnet, signed "W. D.," notable for its archaisms and the alexandrine added as a fifteenth line. Maurice Greene had set Spenser's Amoretti to music in 1739. The poem alludes to Spenser's supposed poverty and neglect, illustrated with some appended lines from Spenser's October: "So praysen Babes the Peacock's spotted Train, | And wondren at bright Argus' blazing Eye; | But who rewards him ere the more for-thy? | Or feeds him once the fuller by a grain?" Known as the "Macaroni Parson," the unfortunate William Dodd was a popular public figure who pursued patronage aggressively and was eventually executed for embezzlement.

In A Day in Vacation at College (1750) Dodd mentions the acquaintance of John Duncombe, author of the Feminiad (1751), who knew Edwards and was a member of Samuel Richardson's circle. Dodd's "Spenserian" sonnet may have been written a decade prior to publication, related to a verse conversation about songbirds that includes poems by Duncombe, Thomas Edwards, and Hester Mulso Chapone, who is possibly the "Belinda, music's philomela" mentioned here. Compare her "Occasioned by reading Sonnets written in the Stile and Manner of Spencer, by T. Edwards, Esq. 1749." In Edwards's sonnet addressed to Miss Mulso, she is addressed as "Sweet Linnet, who from off the laurel spray | That hangs o'er Spenser's ever sacred tomb, | Pour'st out such notes as strike the Woodlark dumb, | And vie with Philomel's inchanting lay." Duncombe writes, "Sing on, sweet maid! thy Spenser smiles to see | Kind Fancy shed her choicest gifts on thee, | And bids his Edwards, on the laurel spray | That shades his tomb, inscribe thy rural lay." But the connection between Dodd's poem and the Edwards group remains conjectural.

William Dodd's note: "Alluding to the following lines of Spenser [in Shepheardes Calender], in which he speaks of himself: 'So praysen babes the peacock's starry train; | And wondren at bright Argus' blazing eye; | But who rewards him e'er the more forthy? | Or feeds him once the fuller by a grain? | Sike praise is smoke, that sheddeth in the skie, | Sike words been winde, and wasten soone in vaine.'"

Earl R. Wasserman: "Though it borrows some of Spenser's archaisms, is not in Spenser's form" Elizabethan Poetry in the Eighteenth Century (1947) 152.



Ah, gentle Edmund, when thy ditties sweet,
Belinda, music's Philomela, sings,
Raptur'd, I own the harmony complete,
Sweet poesy, sweet fair, sweet voice, sweet strings.

Ah poet worthy, of such minstrelsy;
Soft minstrelsy such poet meriting;
'Midst chill neglect, I wot, and penury,
Thou, Edmund, woud'st have joy'd to hear her sing,

For, well I ween, that melody can bring
Composure soft and tranquil, to the mind;
Since I (tho' in nought else thee equalling)
Yet who, like thee, cold praise, and barren find,
Can all my ills forget these strains to hear,
Oh then, dear harmonist, indulge a prayer,
Sing on; and lull to sleep that triple Cerberus, Care!

[p. 1177]