1777
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy written in a College Library.

The new Paradise of Dainty Devices: consisting of Original Poems. By different hands.

George Ellis


31, later 32 quatrains: an academic parody of Gray's Elegy by George Ellis, future editor of Specimens of Early English Poets, then a scholar at Cambridge. For Gray's unlearned villagers, Ellis substitutes ancient folios languishing in their learned obsolescence. The setting for this unsigned parody is Oxford, known for its Tory politics and backward-looking scholars. While it may be that at least some of the satire is directed at Thomas Warton, the concluding stanzas seem intended as a portrait of Ellis himself. The poem, much rewritten in later editions, is attributed to Sir John Henry Moore in Northrup, Bibliography of Gray (1917) 133.

Advertisement: "The following Poem being a continued Parody on Mr. Gray's celebrated Elegy, it was thought unnecessary to make extracts from, or to insert the whole of that very popular performance; it being so universally and deservedly well known. The principal points which the author has here endeavour'd to accomplish, were — To make the imitation as close and connected as possible, and by avoiding a similarity of rhimes, give it in some measure the air of an original. The reader will be the best judge of how far he has succeeded" p. 48.

The bad pun on "grave" and "engraving" ("You find no trophies of th' engraver's art") unites the two Richard Bentleys, the father of Phalaris fame, and the son who did the engravings for Gray's poems. In later editions several revised stanzas attack the Monthly Reviewers: "With Griffiths, Langhorne, Kenrick, and the tribe | Whom science loathes, and scorn disdains to name, | To snarl unpaid, or, soften'd by a bribe, | Smear with vile praise, and deem their daubing fame."

Critical Review: "These Poems are chiefly of the humorous kind, intermixed sometimes with the vulgar ribaldry of political prejudices. That they are in general Devices, we readily admit; but whether Dainty or not, must be determined by the taste of the reader" 43 (March 1777) 232.

Horace Walpole to the Earl of Strafford: "English people are in fashion at Versailles. A Mr. Ellis, who wrote some pretty verses at Bath two or three years ago, is a favourite there" 24 June 1783; Letters, ed. Cunningham (1906) 382.

Henry J. Morley: "The Poetical Tales and Trifles had many readers. Sir Gilbert Elliot, first earl of Minto, had never read anything so 'clear, so lively, and so light.' And although some of the tales were light o' love, there was frequent evidence in them of that relish for the charm of our old English literature which caused George afterwards to take a place of honour among those who brought a sense of its charm home to many readers.... There were sixty pages in the companion volume of Poetical Trifles, and sixteen pieces, or which eight or nine are serious and sentimental. The best piece in the book is a parody of Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard, adapted to another place of repose for what is left of the dead" Parodies and other Burlesque Pieces by George Canning, George Ellis, and John Hookham Frere (1890) 17.

George Kitchin: "His first attempts, the Poetical Trifles and The Tales of Gander — noticed so pleasantly by his young friend Scott in Marmion (Introduction) — appearing in duodecimo form in 1778, we may greet as the earliest book of real parodies, and they are of the humane sort, very pleasant in an age of rancorous heat ... his Elegy written in a College Library is a juvenile attempt, which recalls The Splendid Shilling" Survey of Burlesque and Parody in English (1931) 143-44.

John Bowyer Nichols: "Perhaps no man of his time better united the character of a gentleman and a man of letters. In 1790, he published his Specimens of our Early Poetry, which, with an enlarged edition in 1801, and the Specimens of our Early Romances, formed an important contribution towards that growing study of our ancient literature which has breathed a youthful spirit into English poetry. These works justly gave him the titles of the Tressan, and St. Palaye, of England. He was one of the writers in The Rolliad, Probationary Odes, &c.; also in The Anti-Jacobin" Nichols, Illustrations (1817-58) 7:602n.

Compare John Duncombe's more popular Evening Contemplation in a College (1753).



The Chapel Bell with hollow mournful sound,
Awakes the Fellows slumb'ring o'er their fires,
Rous'd by the custom'd note, each stares around,
And sullen from th' unfinish'd pipe retires.

Now from the Common-Hall's restriction free,
The sot's full bottles in quick order move,
While gayer coxcombs sip their am'rous tea,
And Barber's daughters soothe with tales of love.

Through the still courts a solemn silence reigns,
Save where the broken battlements among,
The East wind murmurs through the shatter'd panes,
And hoarser ravens croak their ev'ning song.

Where groan the shelves beneath their cum'brous weight,
Heaps pil'd on heaps, and row succeeding rowss,
In peaceful pomp, and dignified retreat,
The labors of our ancestors repose.

With them no more engaged in ceaseless toil,
The watchful student on their leaves shall pore;
For them no more shall blaze the midnight oil,
Their sun is set, and sinks to rise no more.

For them no more shall Booksellers contend,
And on the rubric posts their worth proclaim,
Beneath their weight no more the press shall bend,
While common-sense stands wond'ring at their fame.

Oft did the classics mourn their critic rage,
While still they found each meaning but the true;
Oft did they heap with notes poor Ovid's page,
And give to Virgil words he never knew.

Yet e're the partial voice of Critic scorn
With harsh severity their fate decide,
Say! have we not like them had cause to mourn
A waste of words, and Learning ill applied?

Can none remember — yes I know all can—
When diff'rent readings against readings jarr'd,
While Bentley led the stern scholastic van,
And new editions with the old ones warr'd.

Nor ye who lightly o'er each work proceed,
Unmindful of the grave Historian's part,
Contemn these works; if as you run and read;
You find no trophies of th' engraver's art.

Can Bartolozzi's all-enchanting pow'r
To heavy works the stamp of merit give?
Can Grignion's art protract Oblivion's hour,
Or bid the Epic rage of Blackmore live?

In this lone nook with learned dust bestrew'd,
Where frequent cobwebs kindly form a shade,
Some wond'rous legend, fill'd with death, and blood;
Some Monkish history perhaps is laid.

With Store of barb'rous latin at command,
Though arm'd with puns, and jingling quibble's might;
Yet could not these sooth time's remorseless hand,
Or save their labours from eternal night.

Full many an Elegy has mourn'd its fate,
Beneath some pasty cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd;
Full many an Ode has soar'd in lofty state,
Fixed to a Kite and quiver'd in the wind.

A prey to moths, neglected here may lie
The rude memorial of some antient song,
Whose martial strains, and rugged minstrelsy;
Once with delight inspir'd each list'ning throng.

The untrod paths of learning to explore
With new ideas to enlarge the mind,
With useful lessons drawn from Classic Lore,
At once to polish and instruct mankind.

Their times forbade: nor yet with partial hand
Their fancy only, but their faults represt;
Forbade to scatter treason o'er the land,
Or with sedition taint the youthful breast.

To gild with similies Rebellion's cause,
Like — with trope and figure at command,
Or win with — the stupid cits' applause,
With air-built projects for Utopian Land.

Their humble science never soar'd so far,
In studious trifles pleas'd to waste their time,
Or wage with common sense eternal war,
In ceaseless jingle, and perpetual rhime.

Yet were they not averse to noisy fame,
Or shrank reluctant from her ruder blast,
But still aspir'd to raise their sinking name,
And fondly hope that name might ever last.

Hence blazon'd margins greet the wond'ring eye,
And tawdry bindings glare like Tyrrel's urn,
Where Ships, Wigs, Fame, and Neptune, blended lie,
And weeping cherubs for their bodies mourn.

For who with rhimes e'er rack'd his weary brain,
Or spent in search of epithets his days,
But from his lengthen'd labours hop'd to gain
Some present profit, or some future praise.

For thee who in harsh strains and uncouth rhime
Dost in these lines neglected worth bewail,
If chance (unknowing how to kill the time)
Some kindred idler should enquire thy tale,

Haply some ancient fellow may reply,
"Oft have I seen him, from the dawn of day,
E'en till the western sun went down the sky,
Lounging his lazy listless hours away.

"Each morn he sought the cloister's cool retreat;
At noon at Tom's he caught the daily lie,
Or from his window looking o'er the street,
Would gaze upon the travellers passing by.

"At night united with a kindred band,
In smoke and ale roll'd their dull lives away;
True as the college-clock's unvarying hand,
Each morrow was the echo of to-day.

"Thus past his hours, remote from care, or strife,
Till by his relentless fate's severe command,
A lethargy assail'd his harmless life,
And check'd his course, and shook his loit'ring sand.

"Where Merton's tow'rs in Gothic grandeur rise,
And shoot around each soph a deeper gloom,
Beneath the center aisle interr'd he lies,
With these few lines engraved upon his tomb."

THE EPITAPH.
Of vice or virtue void, here rests a man
By prudence taught each rude excess to shun;
Nor love nor pity marr'd his sober plan,
And Dulness claim'd him for her fav'rite son.

By no eccentric passion led astray,
Not rash to blame, not eager to commend;
Calmly thro' life he steer'd his quiet way,
Nor made an enemy, nor gain'd a friend.

Seek not his faults — his merits — to explore,
But quickly drop the uninstructive tale;
His works — his faults — his merits — are no more—
Sunk in the gloom of dark oblivion's veil.

[pp. 48-54]