1775
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Clifton. A Poem. In imitation of Spenser.

Clifton. A Poem. In imitation of Spenser.

William Combe


A topographic poem in 31 Spenserians, describing a favorite resort. Anonymously published, this was an early production by William Combe, a literary hack and forger who would eventually acquire a modicum of fame his burlesque Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1812). The second stanza of Clifton alludes to Combe's models in descriptive poetry: Alexander Pope's Windsor Forest (1713), John Dyer's Grongar Hill (1727), and Henry James Pye's Faringdon Hill (1774).

In the preface Combe explains that, "a thought occurred to me in a pensive walk, and occurred to me in the stanza of Spenser." Given Combe's later career as a comic writer and the popularity of Christopher Anstey's New Bath Guide, one anticipates a burlesque of sentimental poetry. But the stanza was most likely taken up in imitation of James Beattie's The Minstrel, a very popular poem in 1775; Combe concludes, perhaps with Beattie in mind, "Here cease the warblings of my simple lyre!" p. 16.

Critical Review: "Though this poem be professedly written on a local situation, it is rather persons, than the place, that the author has thought proper to celebrate. We therefore meet here with only a few strokes of description, and those too of a general kind; but the sentiments are moral, and expressed in smooth versification" 42 (September 1776) 231.

John Langhorne: "One more [Spenser imitation], then, and be satisfied!" Monthly Review 55 (August 1776) 157.

London Magazine: "In praise of the place from which it is intituled, and the poetry about par" 45 (October 1776) 550.

Town and Country Magazine: "A pretty descriptive Poem, in which several persons of eminence are introduced" 8 (October 1776) 548.

Westminster Magazine: "Presents nothing great nor striking" 4 (October 1776) 549.

Harlan W. Hamilton: "In this work the writer, always sensitive to current tastes, managed to combine two popular genres, the Spenserian imitation and the topographical poem. To be sure, Spenserians were becoming a little passe by this time ('One more, then, and be satisfied!' exclaimed the Monthly Review, August 1776), but interest in topographical poems, particularly those describing hills, towns, and spas, was at its height. Clifton describes all three and makes a strong appeal to local loyalties by mentioning neighbouring towns and praising the whole city of Bristol.... Clifton survives today only in bibliographies as an example of the topographical poem. Combe was incapable of writing serious poetry, a fact which he himself often acknowledged — though expecting, perhaps, to be contradicted. He was incapable, however, of resisting the impulse to write, and a great many of his efforts survive. Clifton is by all odds the most interesting poem of serious intent that he ever published, and his first readers found it compelling evidence of the author's talent and sensitivity" Dr. Syntax (1969) 45-46.

Combe's "Clifton" (1775) should not (as has been done) be confused with Henry Jones's "Clifton" (1767), which is in couplets.



How varied are the wanderings of the Muse!
Amid the bloody fields of doubtful fight
She, fearless, the advent'rous way pursues.
Now, with more lofty wing, she takes her flight
Far, far beyond the stretch of human fight!
Then to the roaring billows of the sea
She tunes her notes; — and now she takes delight,
'Mid rural Swains, to deck the village tree
With ever-blooming wreaths of sweetest Poesie!

Times yet to come shall dwell upon his name;
To him immortal praises do belong,
Who gave to Windsor's woods eternal fame,
And made the Thames to murmur in his song!
Nor would I do his gentle spirit wrong
Who hail'd on Grongar Hill the rising sun,
And tun'd his reed the Cambrian Vales among.
He too, of late, the Muses' wreath has won,
Who sung, in pleasing strains, the Hill of Farringdon.

Thy beauties, Clifton, I will strive to sing!
For thee, thou lovely scene, I tune my lay!
For thee, my poor, forsaken Lyre I string,
And at the Muses' shrine my vows I pay.
Ye sacred virgins, wheresoe'er ye stray,
On Pindus Hill, — or, by the favourite stream
Of Helicon, your airy slight delay;
Hear me, and bless my fond poetic dream,
And give my daring Verse the Beauties of my Theme!

How great the scenes which do mine eyes assail!
Whate'er rich Nature, in her lavish mood,
Could give to deck the hill or dress the vale,
The craggy rock or the meand'ring slood,
On Clifton, she, kind Goddess, has bestow'd;
From where the Cambrian mountains meet the sky,
To the tall Tower which long has boldly stood
With anxious joy to fill the sailor's eye,
When Dund'ry's welcome peak he hap'ly doth espy.

The Muse, distracted, checks her dubious slight,
Nor knows she where to guide her trembling wing!
Till Bristol, 'riling to the astonish'd sight,
Claims the first tribute of the strain I sing.—
I who ne'er drank of Heliconian spring,
Or cropt one flower that on its border grows;
Will she accept my humble offering,
Within whose walls the tide of commerce flows,
And bears encrease of Wealth with every wind that blows?

BRITANNIA smiles to view her swelling store,
And bids her golden streams for ever glide:
While VENUS, queen of beauty, now no more
From her dejected daughters turns aside;
They joyful revel all in beauty's pride,
And boast the Paphian grace, the magic Eye,
From whence young CUPID doth his arrows guide;
Those arrows, wing'd with many a bitter sigh,
Which to the heart do give a pleasing misery.

But 'mid the blooming band, aright to chuse
And cull the fairest forms I do despair!—
But SPROWLE appears! — and now the faithful Muse,
Of every vernal floweret, doth prepare
An odorous garland for her flowing hair.
But tho' adorn'd with every native grace,
Her polish'd mind an higher form doth wear,
And Reason, pleas'd her mental charms to trace,
Improves the rosy bloom of her enchanting face.

And STONHOUSE too, whose earliest age I knew:—
I saw the bud fair opening to the day!
With joy mine eye beheld it as it grew;
And now th' enraptur'd Muse doth well essay
Its pride of full-bloom beauty to display.
Delighted Nature owns her favourite flower,
And Virtue will preserve it from decay:
For when the rough winds blow and storms do lower,
She'll bear it far from harm to her own sacred bower.

Grace of my measure, — of my verse the pride!
To thee I could attune my humble strain,
'Till the bright Sun his golden head doth hide
Deep in the bosom of the western main!
But Clifton's green-rob'd DRYADES would complain
That I so soon from their lov'd haunts should stray;
That, won by thine, I do their charms disdain,
And, pleas'd to bask in beauty's sunny ray,
Forget the promis'd fame of my devoted lay!

But, sure, I'm borne to some enchanted ground,
Where dazzling spars in twisted columns rise,
And bear a splendid roof: — while, all around,
Unnumber'd beauties meet my ravish'd eyes,
And bind my senses in a sweet surprize.
Dispos'd in just array, the glittering ore,
With sparkling minerals of a thousand dyes,
And speckled shells, delighted, I explore,
Cull'd from the secret caves and from the distant shore.

O GOLDNEY! — highly blest and happy they
Who could, like thee, their leisure hours employ!
Could pass, like thee, their inoffensive day,
Foes to the hurry of tumultuous joy,
And seek those pleasures which do never cloy!
Th' enchanting grot, by thy fond labours drest,
Old time shall totter e'er he dare destroy.
Oh may thy gentle shade in quiet rest,
And the green, grassy turf lie lightly on thy breast!

Again I spread the wing, and take my way
To where the column bears a CHATHAM'S name:
But its hard base shall moulder and decay
Ee'r dark oblivion will obscure his fame.
Oh could I blow the trumpet's loud acclaim!
But mine's a shepherd's reed, and doth disown
The power to sing the Patriot's noble aim:
It only cheers the flocks upon the Down,
Nor mingles with the song that tells of bright renown.

But ah! — this tomb proclaims the honour'd dead!
I read the warriors names and sad deplore
The valiant heroes who for Britain bled,
For Britain conquer'd: — but they are no more,
And 'round their graves the Indian billows roar.
The Chief his valiant soldiers fame reveres,
And, while they sleep upon a distant shore,
To them the sculptur'd monument he rears,
And calls the virtuous Muse to shed her sacred tears.

DRAPER! — thou honour to the human race!
If I, alas, could raise my feeble strain,
Thy well-earn'd triumphs I would gladly trace,
Won from the prowess of insulting Spain,
When Victory crown'd thee on Manilla's plain.
Oh long may time thy living glories save!
And when pale fate doth cut thy thread in twain,
All will lament the generous and the brave,
And weeping honour hang her ensigns o'er thy grave.

But I must leave the battle's bloody strife
To tell the virtues of thy feeling breast:
To tell that, in the charities of life,
By blessing others thou thyself art blest;
Of husbands, fathers, and of friends the best!
Her too I sing, who, from the northern shore,
In every native grace and beauty drest,
With tender triumph, you to Britain bore.—
Long may ye happy be, — I humbly do implore!

Bright PHOEBUS now attains his highest power,
And nature droops beneath the parching ray:
His searching beams inflame my secret bower:
I to the higher hill must take my way,
Where the gales cool the fervor of the day.
Arise ye soft winds from the distant seas,
Where o'er the rolling waves ye fondly play!
They rise; — and now the kind, resreshing breeze
Sweeps gently o'er the hill and whispers in the trees.

Nor sunny heat I feel, — nor rising gale,
When as on Avon's winding wave I view
A fleet, engulph'd in rocks, unfurl the sail,
And to the stormy main their way pursue.
I see the hurries of the busy crew;
I hear the dashings of the parting oar.
Adieu, ye jolly mariners, adieu!
May prosperous breezes blow and wast you o'er
The dangers of the deep, — and to the distant shore!

I leave the amazing scene and skirt the plain,
And look o'er meads and groves, o'r hill and dale,
To where the virtuous SOUTHWELL'S fair domain
Rises, in awful beauty; from the vale.
But here I rest, — for here my powers would fail
To tell the charms that do each sense surprize:
My bark o'er Severn's flood doth fear to sail
To Cambria's shores, where hills on hills arise,
And lift their tall, blue heads and mingle with the skies.

But now, fatigu'd with her excursive slight,
So bold a flight she never took before,
The Muse must rest; — or much would she delight
Fair Henb'ry's beauteous vallies to explore,
And Nature, on her verdant throne, adore
With tuneful note and humble offering;
But ah! — her fluttering pinions wexen sore,
That she must leave the hill and seek the spring,
And take th' enliv'ning draught and plume the slagging wing.

O Health thou fairest offspring of the sky!
Oh let thy balmy streams for ever flow,
To give new brightness to the languid eye,
And make fresh roses on the cheek to glow!
Their virtues sav'd AURELIA from the blow
Of threat'ning fate; — and banish'd all her pain.
—Thus ISRAEL'S thirsty sons forgot their woe,
When, 'mid the horrors of the desart plain,
The Prophet gave the word, — and rivers slow'd amain.

Avaunt, ye griesly fiends! — ye baleful train!
That spread your black wings o'er the healing wave!
Begone! — and in your noisome dens remain;
Nor stop the hand of health who strives to save
The young and blooming from an early grave!
Ye smile, and, pointing to your destin'd prey,
The powerful arts of medicine ye brave.
Ah DELIA! — in the morning of thy day,
Struck by their deadly shafts, you hasten to decay.

Where's thy enchanting grace, thy vernal bloom,
And all the glories of thy sparkling eye?—
What, — dost thou hurry to the silent tomb?
And must FLIRTILLA, then, prepare to die?—
Oh, the sad end of human vanity!
In pleasure's airy dance you did delight,
And rosy Health from your embrace did fly:
Soon must those eyes, which us'd to shine so bright,
Be dimm'd by sable clouds of everlasting night.

False are the gay delights of human life!
They're but the Heralds of approaching woe!
How oft is peace the harbinger of strife:—
And 'neath the fragrant rose the thorn doth grow.
The gentle Robin's song that oft doth cheer
The pensive musings of the lonely swain,
Marks the sad progress of the gliding year.
Thy notes, sweet bird, while they salute the plain,
Tell winter's bleak approach and all it's dreary train!

Pleasure's the bane of every good below;
Foe to fair nature and the child of art;
That, in sweet guise, doth work us mickle woe,
And steals so softly to the youthful heart:
Nor solid joys it gives, but bitter smart.
Oh! — from her dwelling turn your longing eye,
Ye blooming train, and from her paths depart!
For midst her bowers do poisonous adders lie,
And want, and pale disease, and grinning infamy.

Go, FLAVIA, join the Dance, and join the song!
To wondering eyes thy glowing charms display!
In joyous sports the festive nights prolong;
In airy laughter, pass the hasty day:—
Life's made for pleasure, — snatch it while you may!
Its nimble, fluttering hours will soon be o'er.
Go curl thine auburn locks e'er they be grey!
Enjoy each soft delight, e'er Charon's oar
Shall row thy sleeting ghost to the eternal shore.

Thus sings the Syren with enchanting sound,
And FLAVIA the delusive call obeys:
She joins the dance, she treads the idle round
Of airy pleasure through each winding maze,
And to the gazer's eye her charms displays.
—May reason teach thee, e'er it be too late,
That while the sweet song sooths thee, it betrays!
O FLAVIA! shun the false alluring bait,
Or mourn, mistaken maid, a miserable fate.

Ye guardian spirits! — from your silver bowers,
Oh, led by swift — wing'd pity, quick descend:
Or from your beds of ever blooming flowers,
Arise, — and to these rocks your pinions bend!
The virtuous LAURA calls you to befriend
Her fading form, that bows to taste the wave;
From the grim tyrant's arm her life desend!
—Alas! — 'tis all in vain: — ye cannot save
The dear, — the lovely maid from an untimely grave.

She died! — I saw her on the sable bier!—
The shroud's pale trappings did her limbs adorn
I gaz'd, — and soon the death-bell smote mine ear,
And lowering clouds deform'd the rising morn.
Oh hapless fate, that ever I was born!
—Around my lyre the baleful wreaths I twine,
And strike its mournful notes sad and forlorn.
O LAURA, the fair tomb that doth enshrine
Thy dear, thy sacred dust, — will soon inherit mine!

Oh lead me where the gloomy Cypress grows,
Or the black yews the dismal Valley shade;
Where nor the Violet sweet or fragrant Rose
E'er gave their odours to the dreary glade!
There, when the glowing day begins to fade,
Woo'd by my sorrows, I'll in silence go;
And, on some craggy rock or hillock laid,
While from my eyes the briny rivers flow,
To the hoarse echoes tell my grievous tale of woe.

There will I tell that LAURA is no more:
That, in the pride of youth and beauty's bloom,
Death, from my arms, the lovely victim tore,
And gave her sacred relies to the tomb!
E'en 'mid the horrors of the charnel's gloom,
I now could wander where my LAURA lies:
There weep my fate which still prolongs the doom,
That would for ever dry my strcaming eyes,
And waft my soul to where she dwells above the skies.

Here cease the warblings of my simple lyre!
Here must I check the fond, presumptuous strain,
And quench the flame of impotent desire:
My breathless LAURA shall not preach in vain.
While in this desart world I do remain,
I'll bow to heaven and its decrees adore;
Nor shall I e'er attune my voice again.
Oh, then, farewell my Lyre! — Thy strains are o'er:
Farewell! for I shall strike thy sounding strings no more!

[pp. 1-16]