1790
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Ghost of Milton, a Poem.

Poems by George Butt. In Two Volumes.

Rev. George Butt


A jeux d'esprit on two events that occurred in 1790: the exhumation of Milton's remains and the death of Thomas Warton. The ghost of Milton reminds Britons of what they owe to his memory and requests that his remains, like those of Shakespeare, be left in peace. He then pays a compliment to Thomas Warton, critic of Spenser and editor of Milton: "But now I leave your darkness, miscall'd day, | Enraptur'd Spencer beckoning me away | To hail our Warton, at the bow'r arriv'd, | Which for his own our blended skill contriv'd" 1:10-5.

George Butt comments, "This exquisite poet and critic was just dead before I prepared this feeble performance ... for public recitation at the school of a friend, than whom no one sets a higher value on Mr. Warton's writings" 1:105n. The school would be Reading, where the master was Richard Valpy.

Milton's remains had been exhumed by Philip Neve, as described in Neve's pamphlet, A Narrative of the Disinterment of Milton's Coffin (1790).



Peace, every bray discordant to my song,
Music that melts amiss, or Riot's tongue
Hell-bred, and foreign to the purged mind
In hymn angelic wont its joy to find,
And own it bliss, when the celestial sound,
From Cherubim in chorus echoed 'round,
The rapt heart draws towards the central throne,
Where sits, all light, the Holy One alone.
I come, once Milton (such on earth my name),
And bid you sons of Albion, of my fame
Studious, your hands of impious rapine stay,
Nor bare those relics to the garish day
Which once enclos'd the seraph soul of fire,
Whose unquench'd vigour struggling to aspire
From earth to Heav'n, and thro' the dread profound,
Spread with such conquering majesty of sound,
That ye might own (as fabling poets sing)
'Twas Jove's own eagle bore it on its wing.
Was mine the scrannel pipe of loose desire,
Was it the gusty wind which brush'd my lyre,
Call'd out the nerveless and uncultur'd chime,
And all the babblings of the chance-got rhyme?
Blush, Britons, blush, admonish'd, 'tis my praise
That "star-ypointed pyramid" to raise,
O'er wrought with characters of moral lore,
Which when the ages now unborn explore,
Your late posterity shall proudly own,
That on your manly worth I build my throne,
And other tribute scorn'd, exult in this alone.
Let then my ashes rest in awful night,
As his, on Avon's sedgy side, whose sprite
There oft descends, and, with benignant mind,
Joys in the growing rev'rence of mankind:
Who when he lately saw your Warton there,
And heard his doric lute, and mark'd his votive tear—
He secret touch'd the Bard's melodious string,
And, o'er him hovering with unnotic'd wing,
Govern'd the numbers of his pensive lyre,
All his own softness shed, and half his fire.
But now I leave your darkness, miscall'd day,
Enraptur'd Spencer beckoning me away
To hail our Warton, at the bow'r arriv'd,
Which for his own our blended skill contriv'd.
He marvels at the work of heav'nly mind,
And feels his fancy by the scene refin'd,
Blessing the day, that day which comes no more,
When he before you spread our nectar'd store,
Adjur'd you Folly's light repast to flee,
And feast your British sense on Spencer and on me.

[1:104-06]