1785
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Il Viaggio.

The Florence Miscellany.

Robert Merry


The first of Robert Merry's pair of companion poems tells of the pleasures of foreign travel.

Monthly Magazine: "His native fire flames out in his odes. Some of these give room to think that had he employed himself chiefly in the lyric species of poetry, he might have filled a most honourable place between Pindar and Horace" "Memoir of Robert Merry" Monthly Magazine 7 (April 1799) 256.

E. H. Coleridge: "Robert Merry (1755-1798), together with Mrs. Piozzi, Bertie Greatheed, William Parsons, and some Italian friends, formed a literary society called the Oziosi at Florence, where they published The Arno Miscellany (1784) and The Florence Miscellany (1785), consisting of verses in which the authors 'say kind things of each other' (Preface to the Florence Miscellany, by Mrs. Piozzi). In 1787 Merry, who had become a member of the Della Cruscan Academy at Florence, returned to London and wrote in the World (then edited by Captain Topham) a sonnet on 'Love,' under the signature of 'Della Crusca.' He was answered by Mrs. Hannah Cowley, nee Parkhouse (1743-1809), famous as the authoress of The Belle's Strategem (acted at Covent Garden in 1782), in a sonnet called 'The Pen,' signed 'Anna Matilda.' The poetical correspondence which followed was published in The British Album (1789, 2 vols) by John Bell. Other writers connected with the Della Cruscan school were 'Perdita' Robinson, nee Darby (1758-1800), who published The Mistletoe (1800) under the pseudonym 'Laura Maria,' and to whom Merry addressed a poem quoted by Gifford in The Baviad (note to line 284); Charlotte Dacre, who married Byrne, Robinson's successor as editor of the Morning Post, wrote under the pseudonym of 'Rosa Matilda,' and published poems (Hours of Solitude, 1805) and numerous novels (Confessions of the Nun of St. Omer's, 1805; Zofloya; The Libertine, etc.); and 'Hafiz' (Robert Stott, of the Morning Post)" Poems of Lord Byron (1898-1904) 1:358n.



Hence listless occupation
Of dull domestic cares and mummery
The fretful infant's cry,
The chiding dame, and gossip's exultation,
The drunkard's brutal joy,
The yawning fire-side circle's musty tale,
And pipes, and humming ale,
The pamper'd justice, and the parson's prose,
Dull scenes that Britain knows!
Which waste the sum of life and daily bliss destroy,

But come fair Travel! whom of yore,
Variety the wood-nymph bore,
For once as she was roving free,
Wisdom with unwonted glee,
Woo'd her mid the vallies bright,
Woo'd her on the mountain's height,
By the stream, and in the grove,
Pour'd the winning voice of love:
At length beneath a spreading tree,
Fill'd the blushing maid with thee.
Haste, O Travel! hither come,
Thro other countries let me roam,
Haste to Paris, City proud!
Gave upon the chequer'd croud
Mark the ever-varying dress,
Painted vanity's excess!
Or listen with abhorrent ear,
To noisy harmony severe,
Where never yet attention found,
The luxury of thrilling sound.
But there the many-measur'd dance,
Shall my wond'ring soul entrance,
Grace and beauty, mingled move
In every wanton fold of love,
Soft they twine in blushing pleasure,
Heave the bosom's panting treasure;
Circling arms of loveliest white,
And melting glances charm the sight;
Or springing feet with agile bound
Glitter in the mazy round.
Now I join the sons of fashion
Void of sentiment and passion
Learn in modish guise to sit
And make dull nonsense pass for wit,
Characterise each sort of face
Run divisions upon grace,
The wanton's leer, the prude's disguise
And all 1 the mystery of eyes.

Next I seek the hardy band
Of Mountaineers in Switzerland,
Where the sheety lakes display,
Their glassy mirrours to the day,
While distant summits meet my view,
Cloath'd in robes of whitest hue
Wander o'er the pine-capt hill,
Or at fountains drink my fill,
Tracing ev'ry landscape fair,
That tow'ring Nature pencils there.
Or I join the social train,
Who vice and sensual bliss disdain;
Observe the maiden's blush aspire,
While the Matron checks the fire,
Jocund pass the hours away
In innocence and converse gay,
Hospitable, free and kind
The Swiss possess a gen'rous mind.

Now again the scene to change,
Thro' the wilds of Savoy range,
Where many barren rock appears,
To sadly pour the gushing tears,
That sail upon the vale below,
And steal along in murm'ring woe.
Next approach with vagrant feet
The holy Chartreuse lone retreat.
Dirges deep, and fervent prayer,
Solitude, and hope are there.
Gaze upon the forests round,
That echo to the torrent's sound,
Then beneath some shade reclin'd,
Scorn the world that's left behind.
How vain is human pride I cry,
Gilded care and misery.

Soon Mount-Cenis' top I scale,
See below proud Piedmont's vale,
As the wakening Morn discloses,
Locks of gold and front of roses.
Nature seems to breathe anew,
Seems to weep with amb'ry dew,
For those who force th' ungrateful soil
Wretched race of daily toil!
Yet all the rising pangs they know,
From penury and labour flow;
Deeper griefs, and sadder pain,
Rend the mad ambitious train;
Mid the tow'red cities fair,
Rage, and Jealousy, and Care;
Fraud, bedight with mantle pure,
Pious voice, and look demure,
While his folding skirts between
Lurks a dagger bare, and keen,
And Av'rice rolls a cautious eye,
His treasures viewing with a sigh.
Alas! I mourn the madding crew
Who heart-felt transports never knew,
Whose bosoms never yet could prove,
The rapture of the silent grove,
The soft complaining of the rill;
The flow'ry lawn, and breezy hill,
But waste away a slavish life,
In falshood, flattery, and strife.
Next I mount the Appenines,
Or stray where yellow Tiber shines,
Reflecting many a moulder'd fane,
As he bathes his wide domain,
Or behold the western deep,
In the arms of Naples sleep.

Ever midst Italian plains,
Peace, and wanton pleasure reigns,
But chief when Carnival appears,
And his painted standard rears,
Quaint disguise and mystery,
Motley mirth and liberty,
Bid the laughing moments glide,
From affectation free and pride,
While dance and musick both combine,
And blushing love with look divine.
Or from frolick scenes I haste,
To the nobler joys of taste
Where the proudest works of art,
Firm perfection's pow'r impart;
Where the Grecian Venus bends,
And from th' observer's eye defends
With cov'ring hands her naked charms,
And doubly by retiring warms.
Or within the Vatican
View the finish'd form of Man,
Apollo in young beauty bright,
Rushing on th' enraptured sight.
See all that painting can bestow,
The composition and the glow.
Learn to estimate by rules,
The excellence of diff'rent schools,
And with judging eye compare,
Titian's touch, and Guido's air.
Or at old Pompela trace,
The private manners of the place.
And observe each dread remain
That calls past ages back again,
And catch the moment of pale death,
That sudden stop'd the gen'ral breath.

When Italia's pleasures fail,
Let me seek the northern gale,
Where the Danube's waters flee
For refuge to the Euxine sea.
Or feel the frozen tempest bite,
With the barb'rous Muscovite:
So shall my glowing heart expand,
As I tread each distant land,
And observation's piercing ray,
Brighten ev'ry coming day,
Such the joys that trav'lers prove,
Ever, ever, let me rove.

[pp. 196-202]