An Epistle from an Under-Graduate at Oxford to his Friend in the Country, written in 1780.

Poems, chiefly by Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall. In Two Volumes. [Rev. Richard Polwhele, ed.]

Rev. Richard Polwhele

Juvenile verse by Richard Polwhele, composed when the author was an undergraduate at Christ Church College. Published in 1792, this unsigned satirical epistle on the students and faculty of Oxford concludes with a lament (burlesquing Gray's Elegy) for unrewarded merit in the person of Thomas Warton: "'Lo there (indignant GENIUS cries) | In yon clipt shade a WARTON lies! | How oft, while Eve her landscape drew, | He hail'd my steps to yonder yew!'" The "Tears of Isis" refers to Thomas Warton's Triumph of Isis, written in response to William Mason's attack on Oxford, Isis, an Elegy ("Tears of Isis"). In this vein, compare Thomas Maurice's The Oxonian (1778).

Charles Towgood to Richard Polwhele, 9 October 1779: "You are pleased to inform me, that it is your first attempt in the satirical way; as such, it undoubtedly has merit sufficient to encourage you to persevere in this kind of writing; but it seems to me neither so well digested, nor so complete a satire, as one might wish to see upon such a subject. By its title we are led to hope for a distinct view of the absurdities of the present mode of academical education; but this extensive field is only entered upon — not traversed. The follies satirized are those of a buck and a pedant; and to your animadversions on these two characters you have added some cursory strictures on the relaxed discipline of the University, and a few personal touches.... In your description of the 'Buck,' I am doubtful whether you do not make him too learned in his exclamations, and consequently render your character of him inconsistent. I have, likewise, some doubts concerning the propriety of your digressive address to 'Ticking.' I think, too, that your introducing the 'Dun,' will serve only to recall to the minds of your academical readers the inimitable description of that monster in the 'Splendid Shilling.' What you say of the perjury of Fresh-men, may, I think, be enlarged upon with propriety; and the subject of subscription, though it be a very delicate point, may, perhaps, be treated more fully with success. Your personal strictures [Polwhele's note: "They are all expunged"] will, I apprehend, be more read at Oxford than any other part of your poem; but before you give them the finishing touch, it may not be improper for you to run over the law of libels — 'Incedis per ignes,' &c. I think your conclusion is very pertinent; and, with a little correction, it may be made very beautiful" Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 1:127-30.

William Enfield: "Many of the pieces contained in these volumes have that moderate degree of merit, that, when once read, though with some degree of approbation, they will be thrown by and forgotten. Of this kind are most of the elegies and sonnets. Something is attempted in the way of humour, but with little success, except in the epistle from an undergraduate at Oxford to his friends in the country" Monthly Review NS 9 (September 1792) 93.

Well, since my HENRY bids me trace
The manners of the College-Race;
Such as it is, my verse shall chime—
Or classic lays, or runic rhyme!
To thee, perhaps, these lines may haste
Unpolisht by the hand of taste:
Yet, while in rougher traits they rise
To hurt the critic's purged eyes,
With pleasure shall a friend peruse
The sketches of an Oxford muse.

First, for the troop whom no degree
Hath stamp'd from ARISTOTLE free—
Who yet, amid these seats of science,
Hold sense and learning at defiance;
A troop, that oft in hostile show
In madness aim the rebel blow;
And, led by wild caprice, appear
With discipline denouncing war!
Or idlers, who, at leisure laid
In RHEDYCINA'S holy shade,
Their Bacchanalian hours devote
To wine, and vacancy of thought!

From loungers of a listless day
Learning flies ridicul'd away;
Enough — if learn'd the logic rules
For disputations in the schools!
See crowds high-vested with degrees,
Just qualified — to pay the fees!
As well might ALMA, for a purse,
With D. D. dignify a horse!
Ah! think not ye, whose sons consume
In College-rust their early bloom—
Think not, these sons with purest flame
Kindle at learning's awful name,
Lost in the reveries of PLATO,
And mystic visions of ERATO!
O think not, while an Athens rises
Again upon the banks of Isis,
That here, as wild enthusiasts dream,
"Wave the hoar shades of Academe!"
Have bucks and bloods a letch to rove
Amidst the philosophic grove?
They never trace, through learning's maze,
The purer scenes of ancient days!
For them, old PLATO still may rule
A fancied empire, or a school!
Will not the youths, whose pulses beat,
High-mettled, with equestrian heat,
Who burn to run the Olympic round,
Scorn the dull race on classic ground,
And place, amidst a nobler course,
Their summum bonum in — a horse?

Yet the poor Servitor, whose mind
Droops in its narrow cell confin'd,
By no wild wishes taught to stray,
Preserves the tenour of his way.
How oft o'er pots of beer he smiles,
The bright reward of all his toils;
And cheers his soul with golden dreams
Of declamations and of themes!
Though minister of tarts and cheese,
With joy he contemplates the fees,
And in his purse, for all his pains,
"A splendid shilling" still retains!
To his fond hopes indulgent heaven,
Perhaps, a chaplainship has given—
Some refuge from the frowns of care,
Some shelter from the world's broad glare;
Where sneering Insult, brushing by,
Or Scorn, that oft inverts her eye,
Shall bid no more his moments flow,
Dash'd with the bitterness of woe!

While such, to servile fortunes born,
Are doom'd to feel the shafts of scorn,
That wound full oft the ingenuous heart,
'Till, callous, it defies the dart;
Lo, yonder, Liberty (with Pride,
And vacant Folly by her side)
Points to the velvet cap, whose power
Exempts from care the frolic hour;
There gives, as triumph lights her face,
The silken gown its fringed grace,
And bids it rustle in the breeze,
A sanction to the sons of ease!
Such, whom the Muses blush to name,
Let such still glory in their shame;
Assert (when PLUTUS proves no friend)
Their happy privilege to spend;
And still, with supercilious air,
The tufted cap of Folly wear.

Bold FLORIO see — (his only pride
The chariot's rapid wheel to guide)
Spurn from his phaeton and four,
The fasces of proctorial power;
And wildly act the knowing part,
Too light of head, and light of heart!

As DULCINEA's fancied smile,
Or brain-sick PANZA's airy isle,
Lo, Pleasure (wrapt in clouds she flies)
Cheats the bright ken of eagle eyes!
His idle whirl of transport past,
He feels solicitude, at last.
Ah! soon — too soon his sight aggrieve
The terrors of the velvet sleeve:
The frown-clad personage appears—
Anathemas affront his ears!
And lo — the fury Rustication
Threatens the loss of reputation!
At length he hears announc'd his doom,
To pine amid the college gloom:
And he, who erst deriv'd alone
Importance from his phaeton;
Who flew, like SANCHO, through the skies,
Beyond the Proctor's prying eyes,
For one long moon is doom'd to pore,
Cheerless, o'er antiquated lore!
Yet, than proctorial frowns still worse,
His schemes, perhaps, make work for NOURSE;
And by a double doom secur'd
He sighs, in college walls immur'd,
While many a pale moon gives repentance,
To mourn their revokable sentence.

Gay Pleasure now has lost the power
To wing with speed the lagging hour.
He — ne'er hath been inur'd to study,
Since books would make his brain but muddy;
And yet, to act the jockey's part,
Has BRACKEN'S farriery by heart:
But classic volumes, pil'd on high,
Dark as their lore mysterious, lie.

"Come, hounds and horn, with ardour fire us—
What a damn'd bore the hunt of CYRUS!
Ye pedants, what avails the idea
Of chaste and beautiful PANTHEA?
Not with her virtues, but her charms,
Come, spunky PHILLIS, to my arms!
Sure had he been a man of fashion,
The King had gratified his passion:
Gods! what a quiz, and woman-hater,
To spear the nymph whene'er he met her."

Thus cries the high-bred youth, whose brain is
Best suited to a game of tennis;
Who loud would hail the billiard-board,
To his own element restor'd.
Chagrin'd he views the nectar'd stream,
Quaff'd in rich draughts with sparkling gleam,
And sees, condemn'd to capillair,
Riot whirl round the crashing chair.

What now can every wish avail,
To guide, as erst, the spreading sail;
Or ply, amid the jocund roar,
On Isis' flood, the dashing oar!
Around, where glows the varied scene
In soft diversities of green;
Where float, by nature's hand pourtray'd,
The blended hues of light and shade;
While many a sun, with chequer'd dyes,
At eve illumes the summer skies;
In memory's eye he views the day,
Light as his skiff that danc'd away,
When bent to Medley's lov'd retreat;
Or Binsey's shade-surrounded seat;
Or antique Godstowe's mould'ring walls
Where oft the hoary fragment falls,
Where wild o'er buried beauty's grave
The hollow trees their branches wave,
And all in gloomy dirges, hail
The passing Genius of the gale.
See, as he sits in moping mood,
Sudden, soft-pac'd, a DUN intrude!
Curst monster! whose vindictive strain
With horror thrills the freezing vein;
Who threatens, clad in frowns, alas! till
He whirls his debtor to the Castle,
There doom'd to sigh in durance drear—
Far distant every friendly ear.

O TICKING, what a train of woes,
Sudden, thy lavish favours close!
Yet thoughtless gownsmen, by thy care,
Breathe freely academic air;
By thee display, though pennyless,
The kick in fashionable dress;
And quaff the sparkling bowl by thee,
In all the roar of social glee!
And such, "when free from college rules,
And lumber of the lying schools,"
Indulge, as Yahoo passion fires,
In all the pride of rural squires;
Or hail the pleasures of the chace,
Though destin'd for a holy race,
And shew — to carry still the farce on,
How Riot sublimates the Parson!

Yet, are there some can waste their whole age
Amid the dullness of a college;
Whom reason and good sense deride;
The sons of Pedantry and Pride!
Heav'ns! of how cynical a nature
The school-taught race of Alma Mater!
Who, of cramp'd mind and clouded brain,
Bind Genius in a Gothic chain;
Whose learning only proves of use
To vitiate reason or traduce;
While dark SMIGLECIUS frowns away
Each unsophisticated ray!
Yet such as these affect the skies;
Too supercilious to be wise!

O Pedantry, by thee dismay'd,
What numbers fly the classic shade!
How droops beneath thy harsh controul
The mutuality of soul!
Those generous feelings, which impart
Refinement to the human heart;
That sweet benevolence, which glows
With anguish at another's woes,
And, as it sighs to soothe distress,
Feels every selfish sorrow less;
Which, sparkling in the expressive eye,
Derives delight from others joy?—
These clouded virtues shrink away
Pale at the hoar Collegian's sway!
These charities full quickly fade
In Pedantry's cimmerian shade!
Beneath the yew's funereal gloom
The flow'rets lose their brightest bloom,
And, tainted by the poisonous gale,
Breathe faint their fragrance o'er the vale.

Thus, though 'tis theirs to guide our youth,
Where Science points to Taste and Truth,
These Sages cloud with scowl austere
The paths of Science, dark and drear;
And, with the noblest joys at strife,
Quench the fair star of social life!

And should, my friend, a pedant fool,
Like clock-work, breathe by stated rule;
In all the sourness of grimace
Distort his curvilinear face;
And, strictly to mechanics true,
Walk mathematically, too,
'Till haply (if no flapper plies
With rousing strokes, his ears and eyes)
In the wild maze of problems lost
He bounce his head against a post;
Or, while in theories his brain
Draws forms of solids on a plane,
Stumbling (though singular the fact is)
Prove stereometry by practice;
Who could, in such a learned bustle,
Keep unrelax'd a single muscle?

But, should he act the Cynic's part
With deep malignity of heart;
And, studious to diffuse o'er all
Perverted nature's bitter gall,
Swell with dark triumph to survey
The rose of Pleasure fade away;
Should he (though oft constrain'd to lower
The paltry fasces of his power,
To bold Assurance pressing near)
Treat modest Merit with a sneer;
Insulting wound the ingenuous breast
By Taste and Sentiment impress;
And, while his heart the vultures tear,
Feel not a single virtue there;
Say, would not indignation hiss
At such a character as this?

Ye Fellows, who demurely dose,
Blest with stupidity's repose;
(And sure, unless the poet lyes,
"'Tis arrant folly to be wise:")
Say, should the Muse hold forth to view
Your pictures drawn severely true—
Say, would not shame in blushes rise,
Oft' as the colours caught your eyes
Ah, no — so bronzed o'er with brass,
Shame never ting'd a Fellow's face.
What then avails, my Muse, so long
To waste, in whipping posts, a thong?
What though thou lash the fools, behold
Still in the paths of folly bold,
With all the glare of impudence
They rove, secure from shame, or sense:
Still, listless, in the common room,
They dream of happiness to come;
And, weary of their learned life,
Sigh for a living, or a wife!
Still, when their reverend heads incline,
Fill'd with the drowsy fumes of wine,
They haste to BAGGS'S, void of grace,
(I've mark'd their desultory pace)
And there, Reflexion, far from thee,
Nod o'er the nation's news and tea;
Or cups of fragrant coffee sip,
(Coffee, the curer of the hyp—
Coffee, that makes ev'n Fellows wise,
And see, like owls, with half-shut eyes)
Still, as lewd appetite prevails,
They love the wit of smutty tales;
Paint, with the colouring of a Titian,
The glowing raptures of fruition;
And hold (though ministers of GOD)
Their first, best minister, a bawd!

Yet, in the rear, a reverend train
Demand a tributary strain;
Since Fortune whimsically sheds
"A cruel sunshine" round their heads.

Perhaps, my Muse may rue the hour
She dar'd to censure fools in power:
Perhaps she's doom'd to sue for pardon
To Master, Principal, or Warden,
In convocation, on her knees,
For ridiculing high degrees.

But when a HELLUO stuffs the stall,
Or, 'mid the lofty-window'd hall,
Waddles in robes that, full display'd,
Diffuse around an awful shade—
When, as each Gaudy marks the year,
And gives the day to festful cheer,
In scarlet pomp the Sage carouses,
Full of the dignity of Houses;
When great in paunch, in honours great,
At Golgotha the Doctors meet,
And launch abroad their mighty bulls
In thunder, from the place of skulls,
The Muse would bid, to swell the strain,
A TERRAE FILIUS rise again;
And, stor'd with many a tragic rhyme,
Eke out the ludicrous sublime.

Lo! where St. Mary's antique tower,
Proud rising, crowns the classic bower;
A motly mercenary herd
Ordain'd to propagate the word.
These with peculiar grace impart
Religious comfort to the heart!
Oft, while their powers might raise a sneer
Or draw from Pity's eye the tear;
MORPHEUS lets fall his gentle dews,
And slumbers creep along the pews!
Go, shameless tribe! and walk the town,
Vile hirelings, in your draggled gown;
Or, seiz'd with a religious qualm,
At Merton sing the hundredth psalm;
With scouts the chorus join, or hail
Their Warden with — a pot of ale;
The Liturgy for halfpence read;
Or bury for a groat a head,
While (congregations staring round)
Ye reel o'er consecrated ground,
And, thus prepar'd your souls to save,
Totter into the yawning grave!

Around the spot where Knowledge streams
The genial influence of her beams;
Around this spot does Ignorance sway
Bosoms that never own'd a ray—
That privilege of human kind,
The emanation of the mind?
Where no Religion lends its aid,
Can ought illumine Error's shade?
What wonder flocks disorder'd stray,
When ev'n their shepherds lose their way—
When ministers, ordain'd to preach,
(Without ability to teach)
Are quite unanxious to impart
One precept to amend the heart;
And hurrying breathless through the pray'rs,
Reach glad the goal, and bless their stars!

Such rise to honours in the church,
And leave true merit in the lurch
Thus are the mercenary herd
Of cringing sycophants prefer'd!
Thus undistinguisht shall we find
Ev'n worth of far superior kind;
And view with scorn the happier fate
Of fools and knaves in church and state!
How many, blest by learning's ray,
Pass in sequester'd shades the day:
Unheard how oft the poet sings:
Neglect weighs down the Muse's wings.

Pensive around the common-room,
While WARTON "snuffs his pipe's perfume;"
Too oft' the College Head, whose name
Can never grace the rolls of Fame,
Struts dignified — with not a sprig
Of bay-leaves stuck about his wig!
"Lo there" (indignant GENIUS cries)
In yon clipt shade a WARTON lies!
How oft, while Eve her landscape drew,
He hail'd my steps to yonder yew!
For him I wove, in fancy's loom,
A texture of perennial bloom!
For him, with joy the assembled Nine
Their amplest wreath conspir'd to twine!
Yet what, alas! but idle praise,
Rewards my sweetest minstrel's lays!

"Thus droop my sons, with scorn repaid,
Listless amid the sombre shade!
What though I raise the Muses' flame,
With ardent hopes of deathless fame,
Yet cold Neglect's severe controul
Chills the warm current of the soul!"

And see the silver-slipper'd Maid—
Her robes of glossy verdure fade!
See, in the wildest anguish press
To yon pale urn her heaving breast!
Still Nature's hand, her streams around,
Scatters with simple flowers the ground;
But, mark'd by no poetic eye,
Their hues in breathing incense die.

Well may the faded virgin glow
With varied energies of woe:
Long has she deem'd her "Triumphs" vain,
Though her own poet fram'd the strain.
Haply ev'n he may breathe, ere-long,
The spirit of despairing song,
And own, reclin'd his pensive head,
The "Tears of ISIS" justly shed!