1774
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mirth, a Poem in answer to Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy.

Mirth, a Poem in answer to Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy. By a Gentleman of Cambridge.

M. M.


Mirth is less an "answer" to the Pleasures of Melancholy (1747) than an amplified imitation of Milton's L'Allegro, extended to the scale of Warton's poem. As part of this amplification the poet enumerates the pleasures of the annual cycle rather than diurnal round; the imagery, however is often taken directly from Milton. The place of honor at the center of the poem is given to Shakespeare's Falstaff. Towards the end of the poem the anonymous poet enumerates a list of favorite burlesque writers: Samuel Butler, John Philips, and William Somervile — the list of comic names is taken from Somervile's Hobbinol, or the Rural Games (1740). The poem concludes with a final salute to Mirth: "thou art fairer far | Than nymphs that love-enchanted poets paint, | To happier extacy canst wake the soul" pp. 22-23. The dedication of "this first essay of a juvenile muse" is signed "W. M."

Critical Review: "This poem, which is written in blank verse, is too serious to suit its title. That sort of measure in burlesque poems is, it is true, well adapted to mirthful subjects, but in serious style it is too majestic. The author, probably, will not join in opinion with us, but we appeal to our readers; and cannot be thought to take an unfair advantage, when we make an extract from his own performance in confirmation of our remark. Instead of the chearful numbers in which many of our poets have caroled their jocund lays, hear those with which our author tries to divert us; for certainly he does intend to divert us, as it would be ridiculous to pretend that verses written in avowed opposition to gravity, and in praise of mirth and high glee, should tend to make us grave" 37 (May 1774) 393.

Westminster Magazine: "A misnomer — being very grave and very dull" 2 (June 1774) 317.

John Langhorne: "There is considerable merit in the title-page of this poem, which is neatly engraved, with elegant emblematical figures in the trophy, festoon, and vignette forms. But is this then nothing more than — 'a pompous sign, | T' invite dull sots to wretched wine?' We shall not pass so severe a sentence upon the Gentleman's poem; but this we must say, that the 'aptos numeros atque modos dicendi,' he has unfortunately neglected. Fantastic mirth requires a measure very different from the solemn and formal march of blank heroics, which, however, is well enough adapted to the Pleasures of Melancholy. It is not very material to inquire into the merits of a misapplied versification" Monthly Review 51 (October 1774) 318.



Queen of the genial thought, heart-easing Mirth!
Whose airy seat, upon some mountain's brow,
O'erlooks the laughing Landscape, wild-bespread,
What time that Phoebus in his radiant Car,
Lashes his fiery-winded steeds, and mounts
The vault of Heav'n, high gleaming from a-far
O'er flow'ry meads, and dales, and glittering streams,
And distant hills, blue-swelling to the sky,
And all the mingled beauties round; — the while
Natures full chorus swells the grateful song,
And hails, with heav'n-inspired melody,
The Light returning due, and greater far,
The Lord of Light; blest scene! at once thine eye,
Thine ear delighting, and thy raptur'd thought.
Come Goddess then of pleasures bland! and guide,
Tripping it light in frolick measure, guide
My nimble step o'er hill and dale, a-while
The jolly Huntsman swells his echoing horn,
And glads the jocund troop, and deep-mouth'd pack,
Reshouting to the sound; — while each proud steed,
Neighs dreadful to the scented gale, and hopes,
Impatient pawing, the yet distant death.

But oh! be far away the cloister's gloom,
Where Gothic piles, in sullen pomp, do chill
My soul, as pacing slow in pensive mood
I startle as I move, — the arched vault
Resounding hollow to each step; and round,
The marble monuments, but dimly seen,
Look animate, — like sheeted spectres wan,
And seem with fixed gaze to stare at me!
Terrific scenes away — where sadly pleas'd,
Pale Melancholy loves to roam; herself
The foulest Fiend that haunts your ghostly shades.

But haste with Mirth, the rosy-featur'd Nymph,
Sparkling her eye, and elevate her mein,
The buxom Genius of the mountain tops;
Thee Health! that tun'st the ruddy milk-maid's voice,
As treading new the dewy-silvered mead,
She greets my list'ning ear with carol gay;
Awhile the charmed plowman near, in vain,
Would ease her scornful of the loaded pail.
How thrills my ravish'd soul, as round I view
The Landscape ever varying, ever gay!
The low of oxen and the bleating sheep,
The feather'd songsters, and the busy hum
Of thousand forms disporting, when that spring
Flushes the vivid year, and, kind, renews
All trim and gay, glad Nature's livery;
How sweet to contemplate! Let others court,
When Sol fierce flaming in his highest noon,
The deep'ning groves, and brooding shades, as erst,
(So ancient stories tell) did Druids old:
Where, deep-sequester'd from all human eye,
They held their dreadful rites impure; and there,
By many a charm and potent spell, convok'd
Daemons and Sprites, and all the ghastly train,
Horrid to tell! of sad departed souls
Wand'ring unblest, Lethean shades among.—
Me rather lap beneath some wood-bine bow'r,
Where blossoms around each od'rous child of spring;
Such as on Ida's top; the conscious scene
Of heavenly loves, while flow'rs spontaneous rose:
Or else beneath some grotto's cool retreat,
Where chrystals shed a spangling light, and soft
Tinkles the liquid lapse of dimpled rills.—
And too let Music breathe, the dulcet flute
All languishing; that melts my soul entranc'd,
That all Elysium swims before my sense.—

Thus pass my mid-day hours. — But are there such
To whom not pleasing is yon' genial sun,
Yon azure sky, and blooming year? why court
December's reign, tempests, and clouds, and storms,
And chilling snows, fierce winter's dread array?
Can Horror breathe a purer elegance
Of soul, than heav'n-resembling scenes inspire?
Can Chaos-night more elevate than day?
Hail! fairest Light! Thou too shall share my song.
Child of Omnipotence! first-born, and best!
Who, when first dawn'd this goodly frame of things,
Obedient at the word divine, sprang forth;
Emblazing mid' the vasty firmament,
(Till then a gloomy undistinguish'd void)
Thy empyrean Day; O! Light all hail!
Whether, or mantled in dark clouds obscure,
Thou yet dost gracious shed a softer day,
Or gorgeous flaming up the cope of Heav'n,
Thou whirl'st thy beamy Car, with spokes of fire,
Streaming, like meteors, thro' the buxom air;
Welcome thy genial splendor; ever hail!
Tir'd with the dark dull night, and death-like sleep,
How oft, uprising with the earliest Morn,
(Thy ruddy child with locks of dewy hair,
And whom the vig'lant Cock due-crowing wakes)
I climb the steepy cliff, and anxious court
Thy lov'd approach; or when the matron Eve,
All veil'd in russet robe, walks forth; how oft
I bid adieu thy gradual-sinking Orb,
With ray faint-streaming thro' the woods embrown'd,
Or glittering on some steeple's spire. Nor yet
More ardent and more sad the love-lorn Youth
Beholds, with tremulous gaze, his parting Fair,
(When seal'd the last fond kiss, as now away
She turns her eye deep-darting love) than I,
Intent to catch thy last soft-shooting beam.
But, Goddess of the smile! when autumn's reign
Gilds the gay Country round, then lead me blithe
'Midst fields where Ceres waves her kindly store,
There view the Country's tawny sons, elate,
Marshal in neat array, the bundled sheaves;
While fluttering o'er his late fond home, the Lark
Warbles a wildly-thrilling strain, and bids
Farewell the genial summers gentler sway.
Then how exults my feeling breast, how leaps
My throbbing heart! — and yet, yet once again,
All gracious Heav'n! thy annual boon accept,
What conscious feelings would — but cannot speak!—
And see the last glad Team: with garlands crown'd,
Each steed more proudly shakes his tinkling bells,
And mounted on the Load, the sturdy boys
Huzza the Harvest Home! the village train
Forth-burst: there sportive Infancy leaps up,
And there, grey-headed Age, with feeble shout,
Reanimated smiles; and all is Joy.—
Oh! sight, excelling far the sullen bliss
(If Bliss) that Melancholy's haunts can yield!—
Encircled now beneath the social roof,
And broach'd the gay October, (sweeter far
Than all the luscious draughts of Luxury,
Madeira, Claret, or the brisk Champaigne)
Swift cracks the homely Jest, and roars the laugh:
In elbow chair, beside the blazing hearth,
Some hoary Nestor smoaking sits; and tells
(Oft interrupted by th' exhaling whiff)
Of valiant feats, when, warm in youthful blood;
How conquest smil'd in many a Boxing sore;
How oft superior in the sportful strife,
Wrestling, or hardier Cudgels: all around
In mute attention sit, awhile the Lad
Leans on the old man's knee, with eye uprais'd,
Steadfast he gazes in his face; and still
His count'nance varies with the tale, intent
With mouth half op'd, to catch each, ev'ry Word:
At intervals the song is called; perchance
Of Parish Clerk, in Psalmody far-famed:
The dittied lay of Rosamunda fair,
Or how, at dead of darkest midnight hour,
Poor Mary's Ghost, all Clad in snowy white,
Did to false William once appear; and straight
The Curtains drew, and glar'd her angry eyne,
And breath'd a dismal moan!—
At length succeeds the bliss more riotous,
And all is drinking rout and uproar wild,
'Till giddy, one by one, they drop o'erpow'rd.

But when stern Winter claims the varying year,
Oft' let th' assembl'd Ball my step invite,
And taste the Pleasures more refin'd. Oh! then,
Beneath the lofty roof, ample and warm,
While taper'd stars, innumerous, illume,
Resplendent in meet order (brighter far
Than those that distant twinkle on the brow
Of night) oh! then superior is the bliss
To scorn the angry Boreas' rage; without
Rough thund'ring thro' the streets, and driving fierce
Chill Snows, and Rain, and Hail, his tempest train:
Tho' with unceasing rage he rock the dome,
Regardless we, scarce hear, scarce feel his ire,
While Musick's call wakens the active pow'rs,
And glad revivifies the soul benumb'd:
And now pursuing now retreating, now
In mazes regular confus'd, we trip
With due feet beating to th' enliv'ning sound.
Here mid the female train; a garish set!
A thousand little Loves their thousand darts
Let fly; ambush'd, unseen, mid dimpled smiles
All roseate, mid the loozen'd zone: but chief
From each soft fair one's glist'ning eye (belike
The humid star of Eve, faint-shooting when
Its languid glance) the wanton archers fling
Their ticklish wounds upon each flutt'ring Beau.

To catch each elegance of polish'd life,
To mark the varied follies of mankind,
And with condemning steadily to shun,
Nor seldom let me 'tend the laughing Muse
Of Comedy, at this sour time of year,
And join the Burst of Theatres,
Thund'ring applause tumultuous; if perchance
The valiant Bobadil sublimely stalk
Thasonic; or if Drugger tread the scene
In humbler guise; or chief, renown'd Sir John!
Thee, Falstaff, gallant, gay; thyself alone
A comic world; Oh! let me ever hear,
With raptures ever new, thy dangers dread,
Thy deeds tho' numbers sore oppress;—
And let me weep — with laughter-streaming tear,
Thy hapless loves alas! — and Basket woes;
All thy disasters multifarious, dire,
Befitting ill true Honour's doughty Knight!—

Sure Heav'n not will'd us to be mis'rable,
E'en while to Earth's short span (our school) confin'd;
Rather it will'd, with innocent delights,
To sooth the soul, soften the rugged cares,
And hence dispel the melancholic Fiend,
Else, why was Music's pow'r assuasive giv'n?
Music, at his command, Omnipotent
Erst from his native heav'n descending flew,
With gracious aim to humanize mankind,
Wand'ring, 'till then a Savage, wild, forlorn,
Instant the nations felt his soft controul,
And own'd the god Apollo fierce y-clep'd.
Rap me then Goddess to Apollo's fane,
There let the Muses nine appear, and ope
Each secret source of harmony, that swells
Their Handel's song. — away! ye sullen Cares!
And moping Melancholy hence! Avaunt!
Fly to thy cloister'd shades, and listen there
The Raven cawing hoarse, and Bird of Night,
Hooting, with still unvarying pause, his wail;
Or list' foul Hecate, and her grisly train,
As, deep within some Cavern's gloomy cell,
'Bout and about the cauldron dancing round,
They hideous howl, and fling the deadly spell:
While melt my soul divinest airs that breathe,
And hush the stormy passions into rest,
And yield a foretaste of etherial joys.

Such the gay scenes, so sweet diversifi'd,
My Goddess points; and countless still Her arts
To please. Say when nor breathe ambrosial sweets
Of Spring, nor autumn waves her golden pride,
Nor Summer hastes me to the cooling grot,
Nor Ball, nor Op'ra nor the stage invite;
Say then, how best dispel the murky Foe?
Oft' times I ween the lowly rustic cot
Thou deign'st to visit; there let me attend,
Oft' as the Christ'ning blith prepares the feast,
Or oft as Hymen joins a pair, long since
By secret strong attraction, mutual drawn,
To each: there Cupid whets his keenest darts,
For bridal youths and bridemaids as they view,
With envy stung, the happy pair, and drink
Perennial joys, and smiling babes, and all
The bliss domestic: ill the conscious Bride,
Then joins the passing Joke with double sting,
All panting, wishing, dreading to be blest.—
Or shall we peep into some sounding hall
Of hospitable Squire (beset around
With antlers vast, of many a glorious chase
The meed) what time that Christmas glads the year,
And tenant farmers joyous sit conven'd:
Say can your then the smile refrain, whene'er
As pudding, or roast beef, or ale inspire
(Old English cheer, such as soup-meagre France
Ne'er knew) whene'er amid promiscuous talk,
One deeply vers'd in lore of politicks
Upstarts, and bold harangues the gaping throng:
Scarce might the thunder of Demosthenes
With his compare; one hand he graceful waves
Uprais'd; and one a mug sustains, well fraught
With nut-brown juice, from whence he frequent draws
Fresh argument, when non-plus'd e'er with old,
And straight conviction strikes with added force.
At length they much of Liberty 'gin talk,
How foul the bribe-stain'd hand, and grateful toast
Their free their hospitable Lord, and vote
Him only fitting as the County Knight.

Sure these are scenes that Heav'n can smile upon!
What tho' a Pilgrimage our state? what tho'
We wind, with toilsome march, our tedious way?—
Yet when amid the rugged road, perchance
Seizes the wand'ring eye some Landscape fair,
Swelling its beauteous bosom to the view,
Why then not list to Fancy's voice, that cries,
Haste from the rough track to yon smoother path?
The end alike, sure chuse the better means,
E'en Prudence speaks. — Let others then attune
The Lyre to strains that Melancholy loves.
Though thro' her Young's sad song the sweetest woe
Complain, and pleasing anguish melt the soul,
As weeps the pitying tear Narcissus fate,
And all a Fathers grief! — yet rather suits
My blithsome mind o'er Butler's page to pour,
And when the drowsy God pervades each sense,
Shall Fancy paint, in mimic dreams, whate'er
Stout Hudibras atchiev'd; and all the woe
(Whether of Garret vile, or caitiff Dun
Or Galigaskin's gaping orifice)
To whom full oft' a Splendid Shilling fails.
And then the deeds of Evesham's vale distinct
Shall rise: the young, victorious Hobbinol,
And Ganderela fair: the deadly fray
(Such as ne'er Simois nor Xanthus saw)
And all the warrior train: Tonsorio dire,
With helm, as thine Mambrino, gleaming dread,
And Hildebrand, and Cinderaxa, brave
Beyond her sex, e'en as Armidas self!
And Talgul, and Mundungo, mighty chiefs!
And last Twangdillo's woes, his catgut Lyre,
And all its Charms in thousand fragments lost!

O come then Goddess of the genial thought!
O come with laughing eye and frolick mein,
From forth thy mountain seat, with roses bowr'd,
Breathing perfumes than Araby more sweet;
Where Nature, yielding to the nicest art,
Thy garden forms; as groves of Eden fair:
Where oft thou wand'rest 'mid the winding maze
And list'nest to the distant waterfall;
While at each breeze soft Music wooes thine ear,
And Fancy paints the scene enchanted ground,
Where Fauns and Dryads, Elves and Fairies sport.
Oh! by thy robe of vari'gated hue,
By thy gay crown of cluster'd grapes, by all
The magic of thy ivy-wreathed wand,
By ev'ry dimpled smile and winning grace,
Haste to thy vot'ry, seal him for thy son.
But never let pale Melancholy steal
With phantom Horrors o'er my buxom Soul;
No: — haste with thee the rosy-featur'd Maid,
Health! that bepaints the rural Beauties cheek;
With her the mountain nymph, sweet Liberty
Shall come; and Fancy ever fair and young,
And last, the Graces, Loves, and Venus self
In soft attractive state; while, by her side,
Chaste Hymen waves her torch of purest flame,
Which still with added incense of desire,
He trims. Such, such shall swell thy happy train.
Then, ever laughter-loving Goddess, hail!
From Thee began, auspicious Maid, my song,
With thee shall end; for thou art fairer far
Than nymphs that love-enchanted poets paint,
To happier extacy canst wake the soul,
Hail! Queen benign, whom as Tradition tells
Erst, as in Arcady he revell'd gay
Young Comus found amid the daisied mead,
And to his vine-clad Bow'r he strait convey'd;
There soon the youth, admiring, mark'd the dawn
Of gayest fancy in your infant thought:
For when a smiling babe, you lov'd to list
The past'ral song, and saw'st, with sparkling eye,
Dance the gay shepherds o'er th' enamel'd plain.

[pp. 5-23]