1776
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Charity.

Poetical Amusements at a Villa near Bath. 2 Vols [Lady Anne Miller, ed.]

Anonymous


An allegorical ode in nine irregular Spenserians (ababcC). The poem describes the qualities and virtues of Charity, concluding with an admonition to follow the ways of God, who "Alike on all, unask'd, distills his balmy showers." The Poetical Amusements were impromtu verses contributed to Lady Miller's urn at Bath-Easton Villa, from whence a winning entry would be chosen. The proceeds of the four volumes of Poetical Amusements were contributed to charity. On the circumstances of the composition, see Ruth Avaline Hesselgrave, Lady Miller and the Batheaston Literary Circle (1927) and the exchange of letters between William Hayley and his wife in Memoir of William Hayley (1823) 1:225-36.

London Magazine: "Entertaining and instructive. Many of the poems display both genius and the spirit of poetry" 45 (March 1776) 159.

John Anstey: "The poetical Coterie, as it was called, was an elegant morning assembly, instituted by Mrs. Miller, at her beautiful Villa at Batheaston, after the model of the French Coteries, at that time so much in vogue at Paris. The declared object of it was to encourage a taste for polite literature, by cultivating the art of poetry, as a rational amusement for people of fashion resorting to Bath, or probably for the more obvious purpose of assembling, and entertaining in the most hospitable manner, all the beauty, rank, and fashion of the place. In this latter object, it was eminently successful" Poetical Works of Christopher Anstey (1808) xliiin.

Florence MacCunn: "A happy turn for versifying was part of the equipment of an eighteenth-century fine gentleman. The vogue of Anstey's New Bath Guide had made Bath a school of trifling vers de societe. A certain Lady Millar, who established a claim on society by affecting wit and preciosity, had a classical urn in her drawing-room into which visitors were expected to drop verses, occasional, complimentary, facetious, or sentimental. Miss Burney has an entertaining page describing the blue-stockings and beaux esprits who crowded round the Bath Easton Vase. Miss Anna Seward, the Swan of Lichfield, speaks much more kindly of this 'amiable and elegant institution, the Bath Easton Vase,' but then she was herself one of the myrtle-crowned. Among these George Ellis was prominent. A very clever man, if young enough, may find it agreeable to shine in a very silly society. Facetious verses, written by a man of twenty-four to divert Bath society in the mid-eighteenth century, would have failed in their immediate object if we, in our time, found them tolerable" "George Ellis" in Sir Walter Scott's Friends (1909) 241-42.



Daughter of Heav'n, bright ray of Worth Supreme,
Essence sincere of Uncreated Mind,
Of seraph's voice and harp incessant theme,
Blest with affection soft, and aspect kind,
Thee I invoke! If on thy votary's head
Thou deign with liberal hand thy influence mild to shed.

By thee impell'd, with yearnings oft I rue
The ghastly form on dying couch reclin'd;
Prompted by thee, with visit sad I view
The wretch diseas'd, in nauseous dome confin'd,
Stript of parental aid, and friendships dear;
And sooth the orphan's plaint, and dry the widow's tear.

Mark, mark with tottering limbs, a prey to care,
The hungry cottager in silence mourn;
His pittance scant he takes of homely fare,
By all unseen, unpitied and forlorn:
All, but your keener search: your piercing eye
Pervades his dark recess, O godlike Charity.

Close by his side, sole partner of his grief,
Ghost of existence, sits his meagre spouse,
Round them, dismay'd, and strangers to relief,
Their squalid offspring frames its fruitless vows.
Soon as you touch the threshold, heav'nly queen,
Quick with refulgent day you gild the gloomy scene.

And first, with secret hand, diffusive wide,
You pour the blessings of your genial reign;
Next, to the dome where Med'cine's sons preside,
With speed conduct the grateful wandering train.
You give — and giving taste the bless refin'd,
Patron of want obscure, and friend of human kind.

Nor less the youthful uninstructed heart
Claims the rich tribute of your sympathy;
With willing tongue and lesson you impart,
And point to Faith, and Hope, and realms on high:
Then to the sisters twain consign your charge,
And bid them to his sight the prospect clear enlarge.

Struck with thy form, thy inward worth I trace,
In kind regards, and social converse sweet:
At thy approach, pale Envy speeds her pace,
Hatred, and foul Surmise, and dark Deceit.
See — by thy presence aw'd, thy step they shun,
Like vapours dank dispers'd, as beams the orient sun.

Charm'd I behold, while in thy train proceed
With awful majesty the Graces fair;
Forbearance kind, and Peace, the chorus lead;
And mild Humility, with modest air;
Compassion soft; and Temperance, whose best food,
Dainty repast of mind, is universal good.

And hark! methinks I hear thy solemn voice;
"Vain man, pursue thy Maker's first intent,
His best resemblance be thy earliest choice,"
Who, like the orb in yonder firmament,
To all alike his beams enlivening pours,
Alike on all, unask'd, distills his balmy showers.

[2:27-31]