1789
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Three Idyls.

The Topographer: containing a Variety of original Articles, illustrative of the Local History and Antiquities of England 2 (1790) 39-40.

Rev. William Bagshaw Stevens


Three graceful stanzas by the master of Repton School in Derbyshire, the first a Prior stanza, describing a day's outing on the Trent. William Bagshaw Stevens was at Oxford in the 1770s and plainly acquired a taste for Collins, whose elegy for James Thomson seems to be the inspiration for these poems. Spenser's Prothalamion is also recalled, though the form of three miniature tableaux is Stevens's own. Compare William Lisle Bowles's Sonnets, also published in 1789.

The Topographer was Samuel Egerton Brydges's first antiquarian periodical; Brydges later reprinted the Idyls when he was an assistant editor for the Poetical Register.

Headnote: "The following poetic effusions written last summer on an excursion down the River Trent, being sufficiently topographical, require little apology for our introducing them in this work. And while they display much of the elegance and energy of the admired author, we trust they will be no unwelcome morceau to our readers. Who has ever visited delightful Derbyshire, or wandered on the banks of Trent, but feels a wish to have any of those beauties recalled to his memory? The scenes and objects introduced by the Poet are truly interesting, renowned Repton, Anchor Church, and the lofty ruins of Tutbury" p. 39.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "In the Topographer, II. 39, 40, are three idyls by him. The scene of these elegant idyls is the river Trent; and the subject of the second the hermitage of Anchor church on the banks of that interesting river, within the grounds of the late Sir Robert Burdett at Foremark, as more fully described in the above pages; where, also, p. 249, 279, &c. are full accounts, with engravings, &c. of Repton school and church, &c.... Collins, who had once been of the same college, was one of his models, and he had studied him with uncommon attention; yet he did not always imitate him with success. But who can hope to follow with equal steps a bard, who, in his sublime Ode to the Passions, has produced a just rival to Dryden's immortal composition on Alexander's Feast? Stevens was never trite or prosaic; his fancy was copious and his language rich; but, like his model, he was more attentive to imagery than sentiment. In search of metaphor and personification, he is apt to deviate too far from simplicity; and becomes sometimes encumbered, harsh, and tiresomely pompous. When he imitates Horace, therefore, whose easy felicity of language could never yet be approached, he is peculiarly unfortunate in the attempt to produce a likeness" memoir in Gentleman's Magazine 71 (February 1801) 107, 108.

Note in Poetical Register for 1802: "Anchor-Church, a curious hermitage, belonging to Sir Robert Burdett, at Foremark in Derbyshire. It is situated about half a mile north of the house, amidst a chain of rocks, that hang abruptly over extensive meadows, on the margin of the river" (1803) 387.



IDYL. I.
Go festal bark, and Pleasure spread thy sails!
Indulgent Trent reflects a lover's smile,
And woos with whispering reed such gentle gales,
As speed thy course, nor vex his wave the while.
Go by the marge of his fair winding vales
To yon romantic cliff, whose sainted pile
With all its waving oaks thy coming hails!
Exulting go — yet mindful that the fate
Of thousand hearts must on thy safety wait,
For never Cyprian bark could boast so fair a freight.

IDYL. II.
Romantic Cliff, in Supersition's day,
Whose chamber'd rock was scoop'd by holy hand!
Where lost to earth (as Cloyster-Legends say)
His church and cell some woe-worn Anchoret plan'd!
Yet chose he not a drear ungenial site;
See o'er that smooth expanse of pastures green,
What giant mountains heave their distant height;
While glitters, as he winds, bright Trent between!
Those lone and lifted towers, that awe the West,
See frowning still o'er Mary's regal woes!
And mark that graceful spire above the crest
Of yon fair hill, where Mercia's kings repose!
Religious cliff! forgive, with other view,
With vow less holy, if our pilgrim train
Short sojourn sweet in thy recess renew,
Nor deem gay Pleasures festal rites prophane,
Where Beauty's smile divine illumes thy rural reign!

IDYL. III.
Return, lov'd bark, for lo, the falling day,
Throws shadowy light athwart Trent's osier'd edge,
While hast'ning from the dashing oar away,
The timid cygnets seek the sheltering sedge,
With misty veil o'erhung! — Ah, now return!—
Thy simple tent protects a dearer charge,
Than Cydnus own'd, when erst his trophied urn
Pour'd wavy splendour round that gorgeous barge,
Whose silver oars to Lutes Idalian play'd,
Whose silken streamers Cupid self unfurl'd,
As down his tide the floating pomp convey'd
The boast of love and rival of the world.

[pp. 39-40]