1785
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Epistle to William Hayley, Esq.

European Magazine 8 (November 1785) 385-87.

H. S.


H. S., a "youth unknown," compiles a verse catalogue of eighteenth-century romantic poets of some interest, appearing as it did immediately before the appearance of Robert Burns and of William Cowper's The Task, writers who changed the tenor of romanticism and reshuffled the deck of fashionable poets. While they are not particularly good, the thirty verse characters in this poem cover a wide range of writers since rendered obscure, among them translators, women poets, and several minor Spenserians.

In an oblique allusion, we are told that William Hayley, "Thou last great master of the tuneful throng" has avoided imitating the Faerie Queene: "In these late days how arduous to explore | Paths by poetic feet untrod before! | The wilds of wit, and ev'ry bower of love, | Each field of battle, and each fairy grove" p. 287. In fact, Hayley imitates Spenser in the Triumphs of Temper (1781), albeit in a very original manner.

The "bard of Claverton" is Shenstone's friend, Richard Graves; Thomas Francklin (1721-1784) was Professor of Greek and Cambridge and a translator of Sophocles, Lucian, and Cicero.

Robert Southey: "And while Percy and Warton recalled the rising generation to the school of Spenser and of the Elizabethan age, Mr. Hayley led the way to a renewed intercourse with the literature of those countries from which the writers in that illustrious age had drawn so largely, and with such success" "Sayers's Works" in Quarterly Review 35 (1827) 193.



On high Parnassus' highest summit plac'd,
With every Muse's choicest dowry grac'd,
Dost thou, O Hayley! hear the voice of Fame
Spread o'er the land the honours of thy name?
While, with applauding voice, the learned throng
Rehearse the various beauties of thy song;
Ev'n snarling critics join the friendly train,
And dwell with rapture on each pleasing strain;
The nation hails thee as its last great hope,
As strong as Milton, and as soft as Pope.

Tho' still we envy George's golden reign,
When Pope and Thomson rul'd the numerous train
Of noble bards; who tun'd the living lyre
To strains that only Phoebus could inspire;
Yet many a bard, with radiant lustre bright,
Hath clear'd our darkness with a beam of light.

Mason's chaste muse shews the unthankful age
Such scenes as once adorn'd th' Athenian stage;
His strains harmonious claim the public love,
And bid the beauteous and the wise approve.
In vain satiric wits, with envious aim,
Launch'd their keen darts to wound his growing fame;
Time's liberal hand in Glory's dome shall place
His name, high honour'd with the tuneful race.
Long shall the sons of freedom mourn the fate
Of Valour, falling with a fallen state;
Long shall the sacred tears of Beauty flow
For Evelina, and Elfrida's woe:
While time endures his Garden's flowers shall bloom,
And shed rich fragrance round the Poet's tomb.

Gray reigns the master of the British lyre;
And soars through azure skies on wings of fire:
The shade of Pindar hears the mighty song,
Like his own numbers, boundless pour along;
His plaintive strains shall still unrival'd stand,
While plaintive strains the feeling breast command.

Tho' taste on Gray has stamp'd the seal of fame,
Yet Collins' Muse no common praise may claim;
The various Passions own his master-hand,
And Freedom hails him of her noble band.

In classic pride bold Akenside may claim
A place distinguish'd on the roll of Fame.
What splendid diction dignifies the lay
That paints Imagination's pleasing sway!
But when the lyre's sweet chords his fingers press'd,
The flame of Fancy seem'd to leave his breast:
Not Pindar, glowing with celestial fire,
But sober Solon seems to strike the lyre.

Satire with triumph boasts her Churchill's page,
But mourns his candour lost in party rage:
Poets and Peers his random arrows hit,
While Truth lies bleeding by the shaft of wit.

Still shall the gentle bosom own the sway
Of pleasing numbers in a Goldsmith's lay.
As Nature warbles in the linnet's song,
So pours his stream of harmony along.

Tho' fickle taste regards not Glover's lays,
Candour must own he well deserves our praise;
No common Muse inspir'd the classic strain
That paints the Spartan, and his patriot train,
Who the proud tyrant's num'rous host withstood,
And seal'd their country's freedom with their blood.

Nor can our age, with cold neglect, refuse
Her share of praise to Whitehead's laureate Muse;
Tho' unfair satirists with partial rage
Have with their gall defac'd his blameless page,
Yet still with pleasure shall his verse be read,
When the keen critic and his works are dead.

But what strong numbers shall the poet find
For the great object that now fills his mind?
He bows with reverence to the honour'd name
Of hoary Johnson, great high-priest of fame.
Hail son of science! Whose unbounded skill
Makes every Muse subservient to thy will;
Tho' great in merit shine they manly lays,
The powers of verse are but thy second praise.

The British Muse hath rais'd to Warton's name
A small neat monument of lasting fame,
Due to the man, who in his learned page
Hath trac'd her beauties through each darker age.

What breast devoted to the Muses train,
But feels with rapture learned Beattie's strain!
Sweet as the notes that Philomela pours
To soothe the lover in the midnight hours.
O deign, sweet Bard! Again to strike the lyre,
And charm the world with true poetic fire!
O let the Muses still engage thy mind,
And with their noble works enrich mankind.

In numbers such as Paean's self might use,
Armstrong invokes Hygeia for his Muse;
To sweeten human life his friendly plan,
He sings wise precepts for the health of man.

Anstey with Satire's dreaded weapon plays,
But hides its shining edge with hum'rous lays:
While Folly reads, on Pleasure's vain pretence,
The Muse is there, and laughs her into sense.

While Pity in the human breast remains,
So long, O Pratt! Shall last thy tender strains;
Long shall the sympathetic tear be paid
To thy poor Hermit, and the frantic Maid.

Thee too, mild Jerningham, the Muses love,
And though their various walks have bid thee rove:
The public favour consecrates thy lays,
And crowns thy temples with the wreath of praise.

The favour'd Bard of Claverton shall long
Remain distinguish'd in the tuneful throng;
Various his themes, on each ordain'd to shine,
Satiric, tender, humourous, or divine.

With no weak voice we hear learn'd Roberts sing
The power and goodness of th' Eternal King;
Proud to confute the atheist's daring plan,
"And justify the ways of God to man."

Nor must I here forget thy modest strain,
O gentle master of fair Amwell's plain!
Tho' not to thee the splendid powers belong,
Good sense and virtue dignify thy song:
Thy mournful muse shall soothe the pensive mind,
And ev'ry page please or instruct mankind.

Here may I mention thy unequal strain,
O Cawthorne, master of a pleasing vein!
How has cold negligence deform'd thy lays,
And from thy temples snatch'd the poet's bays!
Yet midst thy pebbles brightest diamonds lie,
Well worth the search of each poetic eye.

A nobler praise is due the Dyer's strain,
Whose friendly must instructs the careful swain.
And tho' with wool his artful hands were bound,
Yet his strong lyre emits a pleasing sound;
And lasting praise shall to the verse be paid,
That paints fall'n Rome, and Grongar's pleasing shade.

Tho' last not least in love, a bard, whose name
On Merit's roll an honour'd place may claim,
An Ogilvie demands my honest praise,
And pleads just title to the crown of bays.
Oft have his strains beguil'd the painful hour,
And sooth'd my sorrows by their magic pow'r;
His page the sole companion of my grief,
When tears and sighs afforded small relief,
When Death's cold hand had sunk to senseless clay
The lov'd companion of my youthful way.

Praises well-earn'd to those bold bards belong,
Who bring from foreign shores the noble song;
To Hoole, who brought from gay Italia's plain
To British ears great Tasso's epic strain;
With the wild story of Orlando's rage,
And tuneful Metastasio's pleasing page.

He, too, who brought from Lusitania's clime
The splendid beauties of Camoens' rhime,
Shall gain a place among the sons of Fame,
And with his fav'rite poet join his name.

Unskill'd in Greek, each author claims my praise,
Who opes the tuneful springs of ancient days;
"How by Medea's love the golden fleece
Was born from Colchos to the relams of Greece"—
I read with pleasure, and the bard adore,
From whom great Virgil drew his sweetest store.

By West's sweet skill the Man of Thebes appears,
The lofty wonder of two thousand years;
To British strains, with matchless force and fire,
He tunes the chords of his melodious lyre:
We see the wide Olympian plains arise,
And demi-gods contending for the rpize;
Behold each hero of distinguish'd name
Snatch, with bold hand, the sacred wreath of fame;
While all around the eager list'ning throng
Drink the rich nectar of the poet's song.

By Francklin's aid I feel the pow'rful strain
That rous'd each passion in th' attentive train,
When learned Athens sought the splendid stage,
To hear her noblest poet's tragic rage.

Around thy brows a radiant wreath shall shine,
O learned Potter! fav'rite of the Nine!
Thine is the pleasing praise t' enrich our tongue
With the bold beauties of the Grecian song;
By thee stern Eschylus revives again,
And bids Britannia praise his lofty strain;
And Pity's bard, in thy just language dress'd,
Still holds his empire o'er the feeling breast.

But let not tyrant man usurp the bays,
And snatch from Beauty's brow the corwn of praise;
Italia's clime her tuneful dames can boast,
Boscage and Dacier grace the Gallic coast:
Thy daughters, Albion, nobler honours claim,
The first in beauty, and the first in fame.

A wreath unfading Carter's head shall bind,
The pride and pleasure of the beauteous kind;
Ev'n lordly man shall praise her pleasing strain,
And place her high among the learned train.

Near her's shall gentle Seward's name appear,
Who deck'd with lasting verse brave Andre's bier,
Who trac'd bold Cook the Southern Isles among,
And to his memory rais'd the noble song.

Fair Barbauld's muse glows with a seraph's fire,
And tunes to strains of wisdom Beauty's lyre;
Religion's self with added lustre shines,
Deck'd in the radiance of her happy lines.
Pride of your sex, and worhty of our praise,
By Phoebus crown'd with never-fading bays;
On Fame's eternal roll your names shall stand,
Ye three chaste Sappho's of the British land.

Sweet poesy! Thou gift by heav'n design'd
The noblest pleasure of the virtuous mind;
'Tis thine to bid the streams of rapture flow,
And soothe the mind oppress'd with worldly woe.
'Tis thine, O Muse! Eternal fame to give;
Tho' dead, 'tis thine to bid the poet live!
When kings and princes in oblivion rest,
He reigns the monarch of each feeling breast;
The warrior's fame, the statesman's praise, may die,
The poet's meed is immortality.
Two thousand years have pass'd since Homer sung,
Yet still we hear the music of his tongue;
And Virgil's strain, that charm'd majestic Rome,
Shall live the praise of ages yet to come.
Thousands unborn shall feel our Shakspeare's fire,
And the strong harmony of Milton's lyre;
And Hayley, if aright my muse divine,
A long eternity of fame is thine;
Our eager sons shall banquet on thy song,
Thou last great master of the tuneful throng!
In these late days how arduous to explore
Paths by poetic feet untrod before!
The wilds of wit, and ev'ry bower of love,
Each field of battle, and each fairy grove,
Have oft been ransack'd by the Muses train,
And made the theme of many a noble strain;
But thy keen eye paths unexplor'd hath found,
And round thy brows the freshest bays are bound;
A crown, of all thy toils the bright reward,
Claim'd by no ancient, by no modern bard.
To fill the honours of these later-days,
Thy noble muse aspire to ancient praise:
Sublime on eagle wing she sails along,
And leaves below the sons of modern song.
O may she still on all thy labours smile,
And deathless fame reward thy pleasing toil!
May peace and love thy graver hours unbend,
And Health's gay train thy happy steps attend!

Accept, O Hayley! from a youth unknown
The verse that seats thee on a poet's throne:
No flatt'rer he, no prostitute of praise,
But as he loves so he commends thy lays.
As the fond lover can no faults espy
In the fair form that captivates the eye;
So if all beauty shines not in thy song,
The lover's eye hath led his judgment wrong.
O were my wit but equal to my will,
I'd mount the summit of th' Aonian hill;
Thence bear a chaplet of the freshest bays,
Bright as thy mind, and lasting as thy praise,
Wove by the fingers of the sacred Nine,
Upon thy brow the honour'd wreath should shine.

[pp. 385-87]