1778
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Monody [on Chatterton].

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (24 October 1778).

Hannah Cowley


The figure of Despair with his poison bowl in Hannah Cowley's monody derives from Spenser's Despair: "Ah, see! a deadly bowl the fiend conceal'd, | Which to his eye with caution is reveal'd— | Seize it, Apollo! — seize the liquid snare! | Dash it to earth, or dissipate in air!" The impotence of Apollo and the Muses in Cowley's poem recalls Milton's Lycidas. This is a very early entry in what would become a popular topic for romantic poets: Chatterton's suicide. His collected Poems, supposed to have been written at Bristol, had been published in 1777; in 1778 their authorship was still very much an open question. Compare Coleridge's better-known Monody for Chatterton.

Headnote: "Mr. Editor, The following, written by Mrs. Cowley, on the death of the most extraordinary young man this, or any age has produced, I beg you to give to the world. I apologize to the fair author for publishing it without her permission, but I do not apologize for having prefixed her name, because I think the subject, and her name, reflect honour on each other. Reklaw."

An admiring poem, On Reading Mrs. Cowley's Monody, was published in the General Advertiser for 12 November 1778.

Headnote in The Oracle (where the Monody is attributed to "Adelaide"): "The following Monody was THE VERY FIRST POETIC OFFERING, which was made to the Memory of the unfortunate and ill used CHATTERTON. It was published in the Morning Post of that day, immediatedly on the unhappy Event becoming public — and since that, has been preserved in more lasting Publications" (21 May 1791).



O CHATTERTON! for thee the pensive song I raise,
Thou object of my wonder, pity, envy, praise!
Bright star of genius! — torn from life and fame,
My tears, my verse, shall consecrate thy name!
Ye muses! who around his natal bed
Triumphant sung, and all your influence shed;
APOLLO! thou who wrapt his infant breast,
And, in his daedal numbers, shone confest,
Ah! why, in vain, such mighty gifts bestow—
Why give fresh tortures to the child of woe?
Why thus, with barb'rous care, illume his mind—
Adding new sense to all the ills behind?

Thou haggard! Poverty! whose cheerless eye
Transforms young rapture, to the pondrous sigh;
In whose drear cave no Muse e'er struck the lyre,
Nor Bard e'er madned with poetic fire;
Why all thy spells for CHATTERTON combine—
His thought, creative, why must thou confine?
Subdu'd by thee, his pen no more obeys,
No longer gives the song of ancient days;
Nor paints in glowing tints from distant skies,
Nor bids wild scen'ry rush upon our eyes—
Check'd in her flight, his rapid genius cowers,
Drops her sad plumes, and yields to thee her powers.

Behold him, Muses! see your fav'rite son
The prey of Want, ere manhood is begun!
The bosom ye have fill'd, with anguish torn—
The mind you cherish'd, drooping and forlorn!

And now Despair her sable form extends,
Creeps to his couch, and o'er his pillow bends.
Ah see! a deadly bowl the fiend conceal'd,
Which to his eye with caution is reveal'd—
Seize it APOLLO! — Seize the liquid snare!
Dash it to earth, or dissipate in air!
Stay, hapless youth! refrain, — abhor the draught,
With pangs, with racks, with deep repentance fraught!
Oh, hold! the cup with woe ETERNAL flows,
More — more than Death the pois'nous juice bestows!
In vain! — he drinks — and now the searching fires
Rush through his veins, and writhing he expires!
No sorrowing friend, no sister, parent, nigh,
To ease his pangs, or catch his parting sigh;
Alone, unknown, the Muses darling dies,
And with the vulgar dead, unnoted lies.
Bright star of genius! — torn from life and fame,
My tears, my verse, shall consecrate thy name!

[unpaginated]