1785
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Invocation to Melancholy. A Fragment.

An Invocation to Melancholy. A Fragment.

Henry Headley


An Invocation to Melancholy, the first (anonymous) publication by Oxford's Henry Headley, takes the manner of Thomas Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy to new romantic extremes. Headley's Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry would be published two years later, shortly before the poet's early death from tuberculosis. The Invocation was later revised and slightly enlarged for the collected edition. The epigraph is Jacques' speech ("It is a melancholy of my own . . .") from As You Like It.

Critical Review: "The subject of this performance is capable of high poetical imbellishments, and the author has sometimes succeeded in their delineation. Like Hotspur, he 'apprehends a world of figures,' but they are not in general properly methodised, nor accurately expressed. It is probably the production of a young writer; who appears not defective in genius, but we cannot compliment him on his judgment" 60 (1785) 66-67.

William Enfield: "From this successful effort of a young and vigorous fancy, we learn with pleasure that the Muses still linger on the banks of the Isis. Melpomene has inspired this favoured youth with some portion of her spirit, and taught him strains, which melt upon the ear with 'a charming sadness'" Monthly Review 73 (October 1785) 306.

Samuel Parr: "we were much pleased with the Invocation to Melancholy, which seems to mark, not merely the powers of the writer, but the peculiarities of his character" Review of Headley, Poems; Monthly Review 75 (December 1786) 467.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "Henry Headley, 1766-1788, a native of Norwich, educated at Trinity College Oxford, published a volume of Poems and other Pieces in 1786, 8vo, and contributed to the Gentleman's Magazine under the signature of C. T. O., wrote No. 16 of the Olla Podrida, (2d edition, London, 1788, 8vo.,) published several papers in The Lucubrations of Abel Slug, and gave to the world, in 1787, Select Beauties of Ancient English Poets, with Remarks, 2 vols, cr. 8vo. An new edition of this works appeared in 1810, 2 vols, cr. 8vo., with a Biographical Sketch of the author, by the Rev. Henry Kett, Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:512.

Patricia Meyer Spacks: "Danger stalks through many an eighteenth-century poem, but Headley has found a new approach to the cliched personification, suggesting its nature through the ordinarily passive state of 'listening,' here transformed into a sinister activity. Again, Headley, like his predecessors, describes a fiend; unlike most of his predecessors he makes his creation both vivid and meaningful.... Headley's verse is plodding, but his imagery betrays an original romantic sensibility" introduction to Headley, Poems (1966) v.



Goddess of downcast eye! upon whose brow
Misfortune's hand seems dimly to have drawn
Her tints of pining hue — to Thee belong
The visionary tribes of busy thought
That crowd in nameless shapes the mental eye;
Ah! teach me, gentle Maid, with hermit step,
Thy haunts to find, and ever at thy shrine,
By fairy hands with mournful cypress hung,
To bend unseen an humble Votary.

Lost in sweet silent thought at eventide,
Thou wakeful lov'st to sit by river dank,
In shade of glen remote, or bosom'd bow'r,
And ponder pleasures past with fond regret,
Like wither'd flow'rs that once indeed were sweet;
'Till rous'd by softest voice of village maid,
In russet weeds bedight, with dainty hand
Who turns the snow-white wool on simple wheel,
Cheating slow Time with rustick madrigal
Of "Black-ey'd Susan," or "Auld Robin Gray,"
Thou meet'st the faintest sunbeam of the East
That gilds the heath-thyme and the broom-leaf wild;
E're Shepherd's boy has left his lowly cot,
And heard the woodland Cuckow's matin note;
E're Dian's Nymphs, who clad in April green,
Face the keen gale on Cynthus' beetled brow,
Have dash'd the sparkling dew with buskin'd feet,
Or shook with mellow horn the distant dale.

When bleak December chills with icy hand
The drooping features of the ling'ring year,
And warns the wilder'd wanderer of home,
I meet Thee list'ning to the hollow blast,
With musing ear, what time by Winter's fire
The social family of boon Content
Their evening group with smiling faces form.

Yours is the luckless Youth whom hopeless Love
Has crown'd unseemly with a willow wreath,
In sad requital for his vows sincere;
His last fond sigh is yours, his longing look,
When lost for aye he quits his own heart's Love,
And views her parting step and waving hand:
Lead him, Indulgent Pow'r! to tangled glade
That mellow gleams beneath mild Evening's star;
Or tall green forest hush'd in deep repose,
With hamlets thin besprent, and ruins grey,
That know no footstep save looby Hind's,
Where Taliessin in fam'd days long past,
And many a Bard, whose tuneful hand is cold,
Call'd forth their fabling numbers, and awoke
The Lion souls of Cambria's warlike Sons;
Near Teivi's haunted stream, or Menai's flood,
Whose banks with wild embroidery Nature fring'd,
And left her shaggy outline, that disdains
The tawdry finish of the Harlot Art.
Here lap his soul in bland forgetfulness,
Teach him in peace to wear the heavy hour,
And on the dimple of his faded cheek,
From whence the rose has long a truant been,
A few kind tears for Pity's sake let fall.

As on he thunders 'midst a shrinking world
With threat'ning gait and blood-stain'd sword in hand,
With tacit sigh, as sacred as the tears,
That parting Lover o'er each other shed,
Thou view'st Ambition for a brittle crown
Cut his fell passage thro' the hearts of Kings;
His little day in clouds for ever set,
At last unknell'd Oblivion's prey he falls,
Left to the naked blast, and e'en deny'd
The cheap and nauseous breath of rabble vile;
No lay unletter'd marks the spot remote
Where his mean ashes with the common herd
Of clay-cold mortals find their last abode;
No face of Friend, in poignant sorrow sunk,
His name remembers or his turf protects.
If such the rugged path that leads to Fame,
Each splendid hope and nobler aim forgot,
Oh, God! I'd rather be a looby Peasant,
Eat my brown bread and fatten in the sun
On bench by highway side, or cottage door,
Than wait th' insulting nod of abject Power;
Than dog and fawn with base humility,
To catch its pamper'd ear and Proteus smile.

With Thee o'er many a scatter'd wreck of Fate,
Much may I love to cast a pensive eye;
The Castle's shatter'd front of rough aspect,
High on the naked hill like Faulcon perch'd;
The moated Hall in lap of lonely dell,
From 'midst embrowning trees obscurely seen;
Oft may I mark with you, with you exclaim,
"In days of yore with old Magnificence
Here dwelt the Baron bold or gallant Knight;
Here in this hall their massy armour hung;
Here, at the gorgeous Tilt or Tournament,
Oft would the Bards awake th' enlivening string
Of airy harps to deeds of Chivalry;
Struck by the magick of whose minstrel chime,
The sun-burnt Ploughman as he hied him home,
Would oft uplift his brow in mute amaze,
And catch with ravish'd ear the far-off sound:
Here oft the rafter'd roofs full blithly rung
With tunes of Chevy Chace and Hardiknute;
Nor wanting were there, to inspire the dance
Kind blue-ey'd Maids full fair and peerless deem'd,
Who lent their tempting looks and softest smiles."

Ah! let me rove with Thee at dusky eve
That desolated pile of Gothic mould,
Where Superstition o'er the paly lamp
Long with sunk eye her midnight vespers sung;
Where Time who daily, from his coalblack wing,
Still wider throws Oblivion's deepen'd shade,
Now on the mould'ring tomb in grim state sits,
And laughs at all the baseless hopes of Man.—

Child of the potent spell and nimble eye,
Young Fancy oft in rainbow vest array'd,
Points to new scenes that in succession pass
Across the wond'rous mirror that she bears,
And bids thy unsated soul and wand'ring eye
A wider range o'er all her prospects take:
Lo, at her call, New Zealand's wastes arise!
Casting their shadows far along the main,
Whose brows cloud-cap'd in joyless Majesty
No human foot hath trod since Time began;
Here Death-like Silence ever brooding dwells,
Save when the watching Sailor startled hears,
Far from his native land, at darksome night,
The shril-ton'd Petrel, or the Penguin's voice,
That skim their trackless flight on lonely wing,
Thro' the bleak regions of a nameless main:
Here danger stalks, and drinks with glutted ear
The wearied Sailor's moan and fruitless sigh,
Who, as he slowly cuts his daring way,
Affrighted drops his axe, and stops awhile
To hear the jarring echoes lengthen'd din,
That fling from pathless cliffs their sullen sound:
Oft here the Fiend his grisly visage shews,
His limbs of giant form in vesture clad
Of drear collected ice and stiffened snow,
The same he wore a thousand years ago,
That thwarts the sun-beam and endures the day.

'Tis thus by Fancy shown Thou ken'st entranc'd
Lone tangled woods and ever stagnant lakes,
That know no zephyr pure or temp'rate gale,
By baleful Tigris banks, where, oft they say,
As late in sullen march for prey he prowls,
The tawny Lion sees his shadow'd form,
At silent midnight, by the moon's pale gleam
On the broad surface of the dark deep wave:
Here parch'd at mid-day, oft the Passenger
Invokes with ling'ring hope the tardy breeze;
And oft with silent anguish thinks in vain
On Europe's milder air and silver springs.

Thou unappall'd can'st view astouding Fear
With ghastly visions wild, and train unblest
Of ashy Fiends, at dead of murky night,
Who catch the fleeting soul, and slowly pace
With visage dimly seen and beck'ning hand;
Of shadowy Forms, that ever on the wing
Flit by the tedious couch of wan Despair:
Methinks I hear him with impatient tongue,
The lagging minutes chide, whilst sad he sits
And notes their secret lapse with shaking head;
See, see, with tearless glance they mark his fall,
And close his beamless eye, who trembling meets
A late repentance, and an early grave.

With Thine and Elfin Fancy's dreams well pleas'd
Safe in the lowly vale of letter'd ease,
From all the dull Buffoonery of Life,
Thy sacred influence grateful may I own;
Nor 'till Old Age shall lead me to my tomb
Quit Thee and all thy charms with many a tear.

On Omole or cold Soracte's top
Singing defiance to the threat'ning storm,
Thus the lone Bird in Winter's rudest hour
Hid in some cavern shrouds its ruffled plumes;
And thro' the long, long night, regardless hears
The wild wind's keenest blast and dashing rain.—

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