1771 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy to the Memory of Gray.

Miscellaneous Poems; consisting of Elegies, Odes, Pastorals &c. Together with Calypso, a Masque.

Richard Cumberland


A pastoral elegy in the manner of Milton's Lycidas; like Gray, Richard Cumberland was a Cambridge man: "Thy shade below shall meet its due reward, | And far divided from th' ignoble croud, | Resort with spirits of the just and good."

John Langhorne: "Little genius and less judgment are to be found in these poems. The first is an elegy on the death of the Marquis of Tavistock, whom the Author, after indulging himself with describing a fine morning, represents as going out to hunt, and says, — 'Death, dread hunter, through the forest rang'd.' The other poems are of the same stamp" Monthly Review 59 (November 1778) 394.

Cumberland's first publication was an imitation of Gray, which he thus describes: "about this time [1754] I made my first small offering to the press, following the steps of Gray with another churchyard elegy, written on Saint Mark's Eve, when, according to the rural tradition, the ghosts of those who are to die within the year ensuing are seen to walk at midnight across the churchyard. I believe the public were very little interested in my plaintive ditty, and Mr. Dodsley, who was publisher, as little profited" Memoirs (1806-07, 1856) 79.



Once more my flowery wreaths I must forsake,
For mournful cypress, pensive myrtles take,
And creeping ivy for the sprightly bays,
Once more to strains of woe attune my lays;
And O, divinest nymph, fair Arethuse,
(If still propitious to the mourning muse,
If bitter Doris still retains her place
Nor stains thy waters in a forc'd embrace,
Filling thy breast with sorrows all thy own)
Vouchsafe thy wonted aid; the muses son,
Their fav'rite GRAY I mourn, the gentle youth,
For piety rever'd, for sacred truth,
Lov'd by them all, and cherish'd from his birth,
"Now rests his head upon the lap of earth;"
He mourn'd himself when merit was distress'd,
When virtue and when goodness were oppress'd:

Haste shepherds, haste, to greet his ashes bring
The first fair honors of the breathing spring;
Whatever earth from her free bosom pours,
All that on groves and gardens Flora showers
With copious hand, all verdant shrubs that bear
Perpetual sweets, and flourish thro' the year:
Strew sweets before his hearse, whilst o'er the plains
The sad procession moves to mournful strains:
And art thou gone lov'd youth, the shepherds cry—
Lov'd youth, the virgins all in tears reply;
Old age, with sighs relates his blameless life,
His manners, gentle, pure, and free from strife:

The race of wretched scribblers, they alone,
With envy stung, rejoice that thou art gone;
What now shall hinder them with flashy rhimes,
To strain their tuneless throats, with uncouth chimes,
And senseless jargon grate upon the ear,
And publish daily follies thro' the year?

But sure, if piety deserves regard,
Thy shade below shall meet its due reward,
And far divided from th' ignoble croud,
Resort with spirits of the just and good;
There rove at large amidst the blest abodes,
Where poets crown'd with everliving bays
Reside with heroes that inspir'd their lays,
And patriots rest in virtue's inmost bower
Who sunk beneath the stroke of tyrant power:
To these, one common group, thou may'st rehearse
The lofty cadence of the sounding verse;
Again huge Snowdon nods his haughty brow,
And foams old Conway's angry flood below,
Whilst purple tyranny stands all aghast,
And impious nations shiver in the blast;
But if in soothing elegiac strains,
In plaintive notes thy mournful muse complains,
Such as the bird of night from ev'nings close
Repeats amid the woods with thrilling woes,
The bending ghosts with fixt attention hear,
And shades of mightiest heroes drop a tear,
E'en grisly Pluto and his bride admire,
And Orpheus leans upon his golden lyre.

Such honors are for thee; to us remain,
Continued sorrows and whole years of pain;
Our first sad task, to give thy ashes rest,
And bid the turf lye light upon thy breast.

[pp. 26-28]