Richard Polwhele's first, anonymously-published work appeared the year before he entered Oxford. It contains a long, ghastly-gothic imitation of the Despair episode in the Faerie Queene, and echoes of Milton, Collins, Gray, and Ossian — doubtless the favorite reading of more than one seventeen-year-old romantic in the 1770s.
Advertisement: "The Author of the following lines, whom even a cursory view of them will soon discover to be a very young writer, is aware of their containing many imperfections, which the critical eye will not overlook, and some which his own maturer judgment would probably have enabled him to remove. Several little essays, which he has made in the poetical way, have been very favourably received within the circle of his friends. Their encouragement, added to an ambition he feels of distinguishing himself, 'For who so fond as youthful Bards of Fame?' — has prevailed on him to submit these pieces with all their imperfections on their head to the inspection of a candid and indulgent public; that from their judgment he may be informed, whether he has any talent for this kind of writing — or whether he has mistaken the partial applauses of his friends for the genuine inspiration of the muse."
John Wolcot to Richard Polwhele: "I congratulate you on your progress in our delightful art. I have told you again and again that you were too epithetish, and I am glad you have taken my advice, by sending epithets to poetasters. You will acquire nerve every hour, if you get rid entirely of those damned epithets — go on and conquer! You will descend to posterity with honour if you write like this" 1777; in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 49.
Catherine Macaulay to Richard Polwhele: "I would not answer your letter till I had had the satisfaction of perusing the poems you gave me reason to expect I should soon see. I now beg leave to return you my thanks for the entertainment they have afforded me. There is an agreeable vein of imagination runs through them; the numbers are, in general, smooth; and I particularly congratulate you on your success in imitative harmony. This last is a great beauty in your skillful hands, but it requires much management, and a peculiar nicety of ear, not to let it be too frequent, or appear too mechanical; by the former it loses its effect, and by the latter its gracefulness. The truly poetical Mr. Gray is, I will venture to pronounce, your favourite, and you cannot labour upon a finer model; but exquisite as he is — from the grandeur and sublimity of his images, their richness of his fancy, and the melody of his versification, he is frequently obscure, sometimes unintelligible — a fault blamable in any writer, but in a poet unpardonable" 10 October 1777; in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 71.
Critical Review: "The productions of a young gentleman at Truro school. Their deserts depend upon the age of the author. — If he be not within the description of the scholars of Mr. Hart, who teaches grown gentlemen to dance; these poems, the legendary tale especially, are not without merit" 44 (December 1777) 474.
John Langhorne: "School-boys should be encouraged to scribble, but should not be suffered to print. The exercise of young imagination is always useful, but the indulgence of youthful vanity is often dangerous. We have here nothing to praise bu the Author's diligence; and all we shall condescend to blame, is the conduct of his master, who ought to have saved his blossoming pupil from the public eye" Monthly Review 58 (February 1778) 161.
Young Lewellyn, son of the warrior Eldred, dwells by the bucolic banks of the Tamer which divides Cornwall from Devonshire. When the seditious Radnor rises in arms, Lewellyn, unhappy with his humble lot, feels compelled to join the rebellion. Lewellyn is smitten with Radnor's daughter Elfrida; their interview is broken off when her father appears before them as a captive. In shame, Radnor declares he would see his daughter dead, and lo! she expires. Wandering alone, Lewellyn encounters the dread figure of Despair, and resolves to do away with himself. He is saved by a providential return to reason only to encounter a Druid slumbering under a spreading oak. The Druid, detecting Lewellyn's guilty conscience, intends to sacrifice the boy to the God of War. As the priest plunges the knife into Lewellyn's breast he discovers — his son!
Samuel Austin Allibone: "Rev. Richard Polwhele, 1760-1838, a native of Truro, educated at Christ Church, Oxford; ordained deacon, 1782; and Curate to Archdeacon Sleech, Kenton, for about ten years; Vicar of Manaccan, Cornwall, 1793; Curate of Kenwyn, 1806; Vicar of St. Newlyn, 1821 to 1828, when he removed to his paternal seat at Polwhele, near Truro, where he resided for the rest of his live, — a magistrate and a man of letters.... Mr. Polwhele was a large contributor to Gent. Mag., Brit. Critic, Anti-Jacobin, &c." Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 2:1618-19.
Boase and Courtney: "The critic in The Monthly Review lviii, 161 (1778) having intimated in his notice of this book, that the Master of the school should have stopped its publication, the then Master, (Dr. C. Cardew) thought it necessary to write (ib. lviii, 328, 486) stating that he was ignorant of the proposed publication" Bibliotheca Cornubiensis (1874-82) 2:507.
Thomas Snyder: "Both poems contain much Celtic mythology, confused in the first with Norse; but the pieces are too puerile to be valuable. About the same time Polwhele (who was only seventeen years old) wrote The Cambrian Bards, published in 1810" The Celtic Revival in English Literature 1760-1800 (1923) 127.
Where Tamer's stealing waters glide,
And the green skirts of Cornwall lave;
While Trees, luxuriant Nature's pride,
Bend shadowy o'er the silver wave;
LEWELLYN led a rural life,
Unconscious of illustrious blood:
Far from the world's ignoble strife,
The swain had "leisure to be good."
With mimick hues no pageant Art
Deck'd vainly rich his blest abode:
Nature each beauty can impart,
'Twas Nature every charm bestow'd:
She, mistress of Creation's round,
Commands the rising flow'rs to bloom;—
In chearful verdure robes the ground,
And deeply paints the sylvan gloom:—
At her behest the breezy morn
Breathes incense thro' the purpled sky;
While on soft downy pinions borne,
The fragrant hours concordant fly.
The fleecy flocks exulting play'd
Around LEWELLYN'S lov'd retreat,
Or frisk'd along the velvet mead:
The high hills echoed with their bleat.
Harmonious thro' the raptur'd vales,
LEWELLYN pour'd the vocal strain;
O'er all the woodlands and the dales,—
Belov'd by every piping swain.
Gay Health diffus'd her smiles, that ease
Imperious fortune's gloomy frown;
Unblest by her, what lot can please?
Not ev'n the splendour of a crown.
Contentment, nymph of placid mien,
The dearest child of roseate health!
Adorn'd with meekest looks the scene!—
A stranger to the sons of wealth.
The swain, benign and pure in heart,
The precepts of his God obey'd;
He felt nor guilt's corroding smart,
Nor from the path of virtue stray'd.
Full many a circling year had roll'd,
Since ELDRED sought the martial field;
LEWELLYN'S sire, in battle bold;
Courage, the warrior's bosom steel'd.
His absence oft LEWELLYN mourn'd:
Now thought his aged father dead;
And now beheld the Sire return'd
In Fancy's eye, with laurel'd head.
Thick shaded from the gold-hair'd Sun,
When slumbering near the cooling streams,
Amidst the sultry hours of noon,
He view'd him oft in pleasing dreams.
O'er CORNWALL'S sons in elder days
Great CAMLAN held his peaceful reign:
He sigh'd not trophied spoils to raise,
High-pil'd on mountains of the slain.
His breast no lust of Empire fir'd,
Nor wild Ambition's impious flame;
But one small Realm the Chief desir'd,
His just hereditary claim.
Now RADNOR, restless Earl, arose,
With black Rebellion's treacherous band;
Spite of his injured country's Laws,
"He wav'd Sedition's dangerous brand."
War spread around its loud alarms,
The rumour reach'd LEWELLYN'S ear;
Squadrons, array'd in hostile arms,
Fill'd his tumultuous soul with fear.
He trembled: — When to Fancy's eye
ELDRED his aweful from display'd—
"Aspire to conquer or to die!"
With frowns th' indignant Hero said.
With conscious flame LEWELLYN blush'd,
He felt his Father's martial heat,
Honour appear'd, with vict'ry flush'd,
And drove him from his calm retreat.
A quiver on his shoulder hung,
His woods he left with heaving heart;
(An ancient quiver long unstrung,
Replete with many a time-worn dart.)
Curst be the hour, when daring Youth
Resign their heav'n-born peace of mind;
O let them bear the Shield of Truth,
Not aid the tyrants of mankind!
Lur'd by Persuasion's magic art,
(Ah! glittering was the syren's snare!)
Rebellion caught the shepherd's heart,
And Glory's visionary glare.
To RADNOR, proud Dunheved's lord,
Th' unwary Rebel strait repair'd;
Charm'd with his wealth and sumptuous board,
T' oppose his lawful Prince he dar'd:—
Haunt of illustrious chiefs, on high.
Dunheved rais'd his cloud-capt head;
Now Ruins strike the pensive eye,
Where many a Cornish Hero bled.
Where once proud battlements arose,
Now the huge fragments mouldering fall;
Where mourn'd their doom the captive foes,
Now nods the ivy-mantled wall.
Struck with the Castle's towering height,
The too magnificent abode,
LEWELLYN gaz'd with fond delight:—
His high-swoln heart for Glory glow'd.
No more Content his soul possest,
He never felt her joys again:—
Contending Passions tore his breast:
Lawless Ambition's baleful train.
Since NIMROD urg'd his furious course,
And dealt Destruction's deadly blow;
Since raging with tyrannic force,
He spread around disastrous woe;
Ambition scourg'd the jarring world,
'Twas she the Trump of Discord blew;
'Twas she the Bolts of Vengeance hurl'd,
'Twas she the deathful javelin threw.
Scar'd at her vast gigantic mien,
Pacific virtues sunk away;
Nought o'er the bleeding earth was seen,
But Desolation and Dismay.
Ev'n thus shall every kingdom rue
Their Sovereign's lawless love of fame;
Death the sad victims shall pursue,
And thousands die to obtain a name.
Where round Dunheved's turrets bloom'd,
In beauty's varied vesture drest,—
Romantic scenes! — LEWELLYN roam'd,
While Envy canker'd all his breast.
"Ye partial Pow'rs, while knaves possess
The wealth and honours of the earth,
The good man feels severe distress,
From the sad moment of his birth."
As thus, in proudly-swelling strain,
LEWELLYN 'gainst his fate exclaim'd,
Torn with dark Envy; while in vain,
Unerring Providence he blam'd:—
Divinely sweet, what airy notes
Steal wildly thro' the raptur'd grove!
What heavenly Musick softly floats,—
The voice of Harmony and Love!
Coelestial Powers! an Angel's form!
What ease and elegance conspire!
Her smiles, the prowling wolf could charm,
And the cold breasts of Stoics fire.
'Tis the fierce RADNOR'S loveliest child,
Above the nymphs in beauty far;
Her eyes "blue languish" sweetly mild,
Lustrous outshine the Morning Star.
Can words the swelling transports paint,
That fill'd the swain's high-bounding heart?
Description's boasted pow'rs are faint,—
How pleasing Love's severest smart!
"What means, rash Youth," ELFINDA cries,
(Soft blushes height'ning every grace;
Ten thousand killing charms arise,—
What deaths of rapture in her face!)
"What means thy bold intrusion here?"
With conscious dignity she said:
Confus'd, abash'd — with love, — with fear,
He look'd, — he languish'd, — and he fled.
"Yet stay," exclaim'd the faultering maid,
"I see, wrong'd youth, thy modest air!
Lift up thy meek eyes, void of dread,
Such diffidence can please the fair.
"Thy form bespeaks thee nobly born,
Tho' unadorn'd thy mean attire;
Perhaps, capricious Fortune's scorn,
Thy bosom feels a Hero's fire."
She ceas'd: — And lo! the shouts of war,
Re-echoed thro' the trembling gloom!
ELFINDA hears the rattling car;—
Pale Horror warns her of her doom.
Unthinking Maid! what beck'ning power
Thus hail'd thee to the spectred Grove?
Ah, heedless Nymph! is this an hour,
Is this a time for frighted Love?
Behold! the dread steel dimly gleams!
Alas! no visionary sword!
See! troops in arms! Hark! dismal screams!
Thy Father! lo! the captive Lord!
She swoons! o'er all her features spreads,
O'er her soft cheeks a deadly pale:.
So the sweet Rose's crimson fades,
So droops the Lilly of the Vale.
"Ye Gods!" astonish'd RADNOR cries,
"Let my dear child resign her breath.
Entranc'd my lov'd ELFINDA lies!
O let her sleep the sleep of death.
"Let her rapt spirit wing its way
To amaranthine bow'rs of joy;
Freed from the vesture of Decay,
There ages in delight employ.
"Far from these fleeting scenes below;—
Far from the world's deluding sight;
Ne'er let her share her father's woe,
Fall'n from vain grandeur's tott'ring height."
Thus RADNOR spoke: A hectic glow
The father's furrow'd face o'erspread;
The Tears of touch'd Affliction flow
Soft trickling o'er the transient red.
Heav'n heard the sire's fervent pray'r,
Yet ev'n in death her charms remain;
The melting troops, in wonder stare,
Scarce tearless can the sight sustain.
Afraid of Fate LEWELLYN fled,
As if by fiends of Hell pursued,
Appall'd he sought the thickest shade,
Far from the dirk, deep plung'd in blood.
PART THE SECOND.
'Twas Night: the paly-circled Moon,
Portending storms, — the storms of Fate,—
Through low'ring clouds malignant shone;
Muttering dire spells Enchantment sat.
Chill'd with the hollow gale of Death,
The Son of Madness wildly glar'd;
Wandering along the clanging heath,
Startled, the dread Alarm he heard.
Sudden the black'ning tempest rose,
And the strong whirlwind swept the waste;
Baffling his elemental foes,
He struggled with the raging blast.
The mingled scenes that mark'd the day,
Deep on sad Memory's wounded breast,
Their visionary forms display,
And with fierce pangs the soul possest.
The Raven croak'd: his sullen flight,
The dark Bat wheel'd on leathern wing,
The lone Owl scream'd the dirge of night,
The Vaults in hollow murmurs ring.
LEWELLYN, heedless where he went,
Thro' gloomy paths his way pursued:
Red glimmerings lurid Cynthia sent,
The welkin round with blood imbrued.
Sudden deep-groan'd the yawning earth;
A ghastly Phantom rear'd his head!
Grim Tart'rus gave the monster birth;
On his torn breast the Vulture fed.
His eyeballs flash'd with livid fire:
The sad shrill shriek discordant broke!
The Furies all the Fiend inspire!
His black lips trembling, thus he spoke:—
"Curst offspring of remorseless woe,
Thou, whom Perdition's pow'rs pursue!
Whose heart no more with joy shall glow,—
Darksome as yon' funereal yew!
"Thou wretch, what boots it thus to bear
Red Indignation's scorpion rod?
'Tis I, — pale Murder's Sire, — Despair,
Can free thee from an angry God!
"Dauntless yon' sacred rock ascend,
And hurl thee down the deathful steep;
Thee shall no ruthless woes attend,
Lock'd in th' eternal arms of sleep:
"Then shall no earth-born sighs remain,
Nor Fancy paint the joyless scene;
Wild Woe shall mourn thy loss in vain,—
Shall rue thy slumbers — soft — serene:
"Thee shall the fatal Sisters wail,
And view thy corpse with sadd'ning look;
Madness shall love the gloomy vale,
Reclin'd upon the blood-stain'd rock.
"Await not then Fate's lingering blow,
But headlong plunge with dreadless leap;
Assur'd that far escap'd from woe,
The soul shall one long Sabbath keep."
He said, and vanish'd. Tyrant Fear
Convulsive roll'd his haggard eye,
Besprent with many a pearly tear,
Gleam'd the wan cheek of Misery.
Thus unresolv'd LEWELLYN pour'd
His dismal dirge upon the gale:—
While clouds of dark Affliction lowr'd,
Ah! what could every dirge avail?
For no soft-soothing heart was there,
To listen to the tremulous strain;
No sympathizing breast to share
The anguish of relentless Pain!
Thus plain'd the Youth: "All hail, Despair,
Whom all the flaming Fiends adore!
Hail the fierce Light'ning's lurid glare,
And Thunder's aggravated roar!
"That GOD, who sways the woe-fraught world,
Unjustly rules the human kind!
What scenes in dire Confusion hurl'd!
In what dread torments groans the mind!
"Dreadless to yonder rock I'll fly,
And hurl me down the deathful steep:
Oh! 'tis an awful thing to die!
Peace, coward fears! — 'Tis joy to sleep!
"Why starts my soul? — I feel — I feel
The pow'r of GOD'S inspiring breath:
I hear cool Reason's voice reveal,
There's Woe beyond the Gate of Death.
"I shudder at the deep-felt thought:—
O my sad soul! how just th' alarms!
Can every sense return to nought,
Freez'd in Enchantment's torpid arms?
"Forbid it Heav'n! — A gleam of joy
Now breaks upon my darkling breast!
I see, in dear Reflection's eye,
The Righteous Man's supremely blest.
"Midst dreary Life's high-gathering storms,
Probation roughens every road;
When Ruin every scene deforms,
We look towards the bright abode.
"Why then did hellish Rage and Pride
Impious th' eternal pow'r arraign?
Why his just laws my heart deride
In Blasphemy's infernal strain?
"Ah, day of woe! Ah, luckless hour,
When erst I fled my rural seat:
Gay as the minstrel of the bow'r,
I prais'd my God in joy complete.
"Through the green woodlands swell'd the note;
Old Tamer heard the trembling song;
His streams in rapture used to float,
And musically steal along."
Faultering, he ceas'd: The floods of Grief
High o'er his heaving bosom roll:
Now Comfort gave a short relief,
And glimmer'd o'er his clouded soul.
Relax'd with toil, while the blue glare
Of sulph'rous fire with faintness fill'd;
While spectres midst the troublous air,
His shuddering frame with horror chill'd:
A ray gleam'd faint across the gloom,
Alas! no ray of chearing Light!
The Ghost, wild rising from the tomb,
Would prove more hospitably bright.
Reveal'd to view, an Altar stood:—
The fumes of incense breath'd around:
An awful scene! the streaming blood
Of victims stain'd the hallow'd ground.
High o'er the place, a sacred Oak,
King of the groves, its boughs display'd,
Hollow'd by Time's resistless stroke,
It form'd a venerable shade.
Embosom'd in the living bed,
In solemn sleep, a DRUID lay;
Savage to this wild gloom he fled
From the mild radiance of the day.
Hope beam'd in chear'd LEWELLYN'S eyes:
Sweet Hope reviv'd his fainting heart:
Th' illusive pow'rs of Comfort rise,
And reverential joys impart.
"Hail, holy Man!" the pale Youth said:
(A trembling shook his sinking soul.
He felt a sadly-pleasing dread;
Deep sighs involuntary stole.)
A hoarse voice sounds: "Who dares to tread
The ground which ne'er the vulgar trod?
Who dares profane the mystic shade,
And violate the Rites of God?
"Rash Youth! thy destiny's decreed:
Thy forfeit life to Heav'n resign.
Hail, Victim! hail! prepare to bleed!
Prepare t' appease the wrath divine!
"Does Innocence thy bosom warm?
Calm — on that Innocence rely:
The Good assume a pleasing Form,
Whene'er in conscious Joy they die.
"Sway'd by wild Passion, or by Pride,
By Lux'ry pestilent and pale;
If Heaven's decrees thy heart deride,
Soon shall thy boasted pleasures fail.
"Full soon thy Vices shalt thou mourn,—
When Death shall chill thy human frame,
In some dire beast thy soul shall burn,
Raging with Lust's eternal flame!—
"Has black Rebellion, o'er thy mind,
Darkling her burning poison spread,
When RADNOR, scourge of human kind,
The throat of swoln Sedition fed?
"Some rav'nous wolf, some beast of prey,
With howlings thou shalt fright the gloom;
Tear from the corpse the hallow'd clay,
While deeply groans the yawning tomb!
"Quick rising o'er thy dark-red cheek,
Ah, wretch! I see the blush of Guilt!
Heav'ns! midst these holy rites to break!
Presumption! Death! thy blood be spilt.
"No sorrowing Bard shall sweep the lyre,
No lone blast touch the trembling string:
No Funeral Song thy death inspire,
Nor Grief the Dirge of Sadness sing.
"The wither'd Witch shall haunt thy grave,
There herbs of deadliest poison strew:
There noxious trees their branches wave,
And there shall spread the darksome yew.
"Await thy doom, nor struggling dare
The dread Omnipotence of Heav'n!
To meet the destin'd stroke prepare;
Soon shall the destin'd stroke be given."
Wrathful the dark-brow'd DRUID spoke:
Pale and aghast LEWELLYN stood:
From his brown cell, high-pondering, broke
The sainted Savage of the wood!
Grimly the trembling Youth he bound;
In low groans heaves his short-quick breath:—
Remorseless Fate! — To deal the wound,
He lifts the light'ning steel of death.
"Hail, Mars! to thee, great God of War,
Devoted, let the victim bleed!
Such be the fate of all who dare:
And such be curst Rebellion's meed."
The steel, fierce-plung'd by bigot rage,
Deep drank the life-blood of the breast:
On the pale Youth the impetuous Sage
Thrice with wild arm the dagger prest.
Sudden, the forky lightnings stream
In blue sheets round the blazing shrine;
The trees thick-wrapt in Sulphur flame;
The clouds in lurid radiance shine.
Faultering in all the death of woe,
The woodland Druid sadly said,
"Horror! — My Son! — That scar I know!
'Tis he! — LEWELLYN! — Heav'ns, he's dead!
Ye Gods! he moves! he's lost! he's gone!"
(The gift of utterance was denied,)
Senseless he stood: his bleeding son
Rais'd his cold head, look'd up, and died.
'Midst the red Thunder's angry roar,
A blacken'd corpse, the father fell
Ah! what avail'd his mystic lore?
Inhuman as the sons of Hell!
The shuddering Muse thus dares relate
The woes which boundless pride attend;
Thus warns the lawless of their fate,
And wild Ambition's direful end!
Hence too let Bigotry no more
Th' unfated pow'rs of Vengeance hail;
But Mercy's tenderest God adore,
Warn'd by "a LEGENDARY TALE."