1787
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Tears of the Genii on the Death of Jonas Hanway, Esq.

Poems on Various Subjects. By John Thelwall. In Two Volumes.

John Thelwall


Seventeen irregular Spenserians, juvenilia by the famous radical orator, and less skilful poet: "Wherefore they droopen thus I fain would learn." John Thelwall adds an extra "b" rhyme to the end of the Spenserian stanza, making a difficult pattern all the more challenging: ababbcbcCB. Jonas Hanway (1712-86) was a philanthropic merchant, pioneer of the umbrella, and a founder of the Marine Society and Magdalen Charity.

John Thelwall: "Struggling (with no other assured advantage, than a keen taste for poetry, and a big ambitious heart) to attain the arduous heights of literary reputation, in spite of all the impediments with which neglect, obscurity, and misfortune could shackle an aspiring mind; and fluctuating in painful suspense between doubt and presumption — so natural to a secluded votary of the muses, to whom the advantages of literary acquaintance never had been known — my anxious heart could not but receive some consolation, when (embellished with all the charms of sentiment and description) I traced in the youthful manners and dispositions of Edwin [in James Beattie's The Minstrel], the faithful delineation of my own boyish years; and beheld, as in a mirror, the reflection of my own eccentric mind" The Peripatetic (1793) 1:97.



What pow'r supernal strengthens thus my sight?
Why do these sadly beauteous visions rise?
Beatific forms! the heirs of heav'nly light!—
Yet swell with pearly drops their beamy eyes.
Their charge neglected, and their mystic joys,
The drooping Genii 'neath the murky shade
Which yonder thick-grown woodland round supplies,
Sigh in sad concert, all supinely laid;
Careless of sunny hill, cool stream, or winding glade.
Thro' all the echoing wood the note of sorrow dies.

Lo, sadly murmuring winds each troubled stream!
Their charge translucent, lo, the nymphiads slight!
Lo, they who wont to cool the solar beam,
With wing unmov'd, forget their airy flight!
While feather'd warblers, all in doleful plight,
Hang low the wing, and stint their dulcet note:
The awful stilness fills them with affright,
And melody no longer swells the throat,
Tho' late thro' air it wont with pleasing rapture float,
And fill the list'ning soul with sweetly calm delight.

Wherefore they droopen thus I fain would learn.
Come then, my Muse, of chaste and sober mien,
Lead thy rapt votary where he may discern
Why thus they mournful seek yon sylvan scene.
Can heav'nly agents feel a pang so keen?
Can holy Genii shed the sorrowing tear?
Full sad to know, must be the cause, I ween,
To man portending some misfortune drear—
But lead me, gentle Muse, where I their plaints may hear:
E'en 'mong the bow'ry valves of yonder verdant screen.

Meet place I deem these spreading elms behind,
Where, antic-twisted, many a thick-wrought brere
Tempteth yon sprite to wail, beneath reclin'd,
Who of them all the chiefest doth appear.
Ah! if it be for woe, or if for fear,
The blushing blossoms seem to fade away,
As they his heart-empiercing accents hear:
Those blooms that shone erewhile so smiling gay.
But peace. My verse record what sadly he doth say,
As thus his mournful plaint steals on the list'ning ear:

"Ah Spirit gentle! tho' so frequent toss'd,
In early life on rude Misfortune's wave;
By Danger sieg'd, by Disappointment cross'd:
Ah evils borne with resolution brave!)
Thee, never form'd for Passion's fickle slave,
Nor Danger's frown, nor sad Misfortune's woe
The tender feelings from thy bosom drave,
Nor made thee mild Benevolence forego.
Yet HANWAY art thou dead — oh tale of heavy woe!
Ah must such worth as thine sink in the senseless grave!

"Ah Spirit meek! whom not the gaudy beams
Of giddy Fortune e'er could tempt away
To thoughtless Pride or Passion's wide extremes—
Ah much too apt frail mortals to betray!
But Charity did rule thy breast for aye;
And, busy e'er to bring the wretch relief,
No time had'st thou for thoughtless follies gay,
Which promise pleasure, but which end in grief.
Oh Britain mourn thy loss, nor be thy mourning brief;
For roll may many years ere thou his like survey.

"Ah Spirit patriotic! who didst toil
To save the wretch forlorn from Guilt and Shame,
And make the youth a guardian of this isle
Who else, perhaps, had stigmatiz'd her name
With crimes of blackest dye, which who proclaim
With shuddering horror shed the gloomy tear.
Full oft thro' him, I ween, the trump of Fame
Hath bade us worthily some name revere
Which else in guilt had sunk, and fall'n by doom severe.
Yet dead is he, alas! who well such praise might claim!

"Ah Spirit pious! in whose moral lines
Is kindly pictur'd to the lowly mind
How bright in vale obscure fair Virtue shines;
And teachest how true bliss that wight may find,
Who, to calm dale of Humbleness confin'd,
Far from the pompous blaze of gilded Joy—
(False Joy, external, of the baser kind!)
Doom'd in the sylvan scene the axe to ply,
Might for luxurious Ease and fickle Honour sigh.
Ah few like him I ween hath HANWAY left behind!

"Ah Spirit kind! his name ye females bless!
To ye the Sage I deem the best of friends:
When traitor man has plung'd ye in distress,
When guilty Woe your tortur'd bosoms rends,
And ghastly Want her sad assistance lends;—
Then, when ye seek that refuge from despair
"Which Peace restores, and tort'ring anguish ends,
Then, then remember well, ye weeping fair,
To him the boon ye owe which may your state repair,
And make those comforts yours to which repentance tends.

"Nor you, ye fair, who o'er the waves of life
With fav'ring gales of smiling honour sail,
Who boast the name of Virgin, or of Wife,
Treat with false pride your hapless sisters frail:
E'en you, yourselves, perchance the self-same bale
Experienc'd had, had ye so tempten been:
Who vaunt the most themselves do easiest fail.
With different eyes their fate hath Hanway seen,
And to reclaim them sought, and from new dangers screen;
But dead is he, alas! whose toils did oft avail.

"How oft, invited by his gen'rous care,
Sad wretches, trembling with disease and want,
From Guilt's vile shed, and Misery's horrid fare,
Have crawl'd with haggard eye, and visage gaunt,
Paler than midnight Ghosts, who church-yards haunt!
Him have they crawl'd to bless, whose voice so sweet
Bade black Despair their hearts no longer daunt,
For he had kindly founded a retreat,
Where, by Repentance led, they Happiness might meet:
Yet is he dead, alas! weep, weep to think upon't.

"Now will we weep and wail in drearyment,
And all unheeded each one leave his charge:
Ye gentle Breezes cease your merryment;
No longer ply the sportive wing at large;
Ye watry Nymphiads quit the babbling marge,
And ye who wont to tend the spreading bow'r,
And all unwholesome blights from thence discharge,
And ye who fed with sweets each fragrant flow'r,
And health reviving dews thro' ev'ry vale did show'r,
Here flock, with dismal notes my wailings to enlarge.

"For ah! how little boots the gentle gale,
That freshens vales, and wakes the warbling throat?
The babbling streams, how little they avail,
That fertilize the valley as they float?
How little merit bow'rs or blossoms note,
Which shade afford, or render nature gay?
Or rich perfumes, which scent fair Nature's coat,
To what we in Benevolence survey,
Which cheers the human breast and drives all care away?
Ah then for HANWAY's death let Sorrow swell the note!

"See round his tomb the heav'n-rob'd forms attend!
Lo Charity, with ever open hand;
Sweet Sensibility, fair Virtue's friend,
And kind Benevolence, with aspect bland,
Whose bounteous smilings with a soft command
Chace blank Affliction from Misfortune's face:
And close beside doth tender Pity stand—
Her azure eyes the pearls of Sorrow grace:
Yet from each other cheek she Sorrow's pearls doth chace.
These water with their tears the newly delved land.

"Since then of three who bless'd the present age,
Humane and generous, Howard, Hanway, Hawes,
Too soon, tho' late, one quits life's busy stage,
Ah loud let us lament, for we have cause—
We who are doom'd by Heav'n's all-sapient laws
Man's woes to mitigate, and guard his joys.
But see, yon sable cloud aloft withdraws;
A glorious vision opens to my eyes:
Array'd in glory's beams, lo HANWAY mounts the skies,
While hymning angels give his virtues due applause!

"Yes, pious sage! 'tis just that thou at last,
After so many years of virtuous toil,
Shouldst be rewarded for thy labours past
In that blest realm where joys perennial smile.
Yet drooping Nature must lament awhile
For her own loss, not thy imagin'd woe:
Lamentings sad her anguish must beguile;
For who could e'er thy worth, oh Hanway! know,
Nor weep when sadly forc'd such virtue to forego?
Then pardon these our tears, thou boast of Britain's isle!"

Thus wail'd the Genii 'neath the verdant screen,
Whose thick'ning lab'rinths cast an awful gloom,
All listless stretch'd on mossy couches green,
While tears celestial wet each op'ning bloom.
Then, lowly couching 'mongst the flow'ry broom,
Did Philomela sad, with drooping wing,
Near where was newly made lost Hanway's tomb,
From dulcet pipe his mournful requiem sing,
'Till round the Genii flock'd to hear her in a ring:
Tho' sooth'd she, sad, their woe for Fate's malignant doom.

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