1790
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An ironical Abuse of Poetry. In the Character of Plum, a rich old Citizen.

Poems, Odes, Prologues, and Epilogues spoken at public Occasions at Reading School. [Richard Valpy, ed.]

Rev. George Butt


A burlesque ode in anapestic couplets, published in 1804. "Plum," a London cit whose taste runs to plain sense ("Pshaw! the roast beef of truth is the viand for me, | And my palate recoils from the Bard's fricasee") encounters modern verse and, rather against his will, is swept away on wings of imagination. He describes his experience of reading Thomas Warton's Spenserian Odes, describing several of them in detail: "my cockneyship soon grew a pastoral zany, | And Wisdom outflew from my cracked pericrany." George Butt, an Oxford-educated provincial clergyman, would have been surprised had he lived to see Spenserian verse taken over by a new generation of Cockney poets.

William Jenkins Rees: "This Collection, as the preface states, 'consists of Poems spoken at Reading School, since the accession of the present Master in 1781; and is published at the desire of the speakers, who cast a pleasing recollection on those exhibitions which have formed a part of their amusement and instruction.' The writers of the principal part of these poems were the late Mr. Benwell, and the late Dr. Butt; the others names are Mr. Bolland, the late Mr. Seward, and Mr. Pye. The compositions, several of which are in Latin, have various merit, some of them evincing the juvenile age of the writers, while others would do credit to more matured authors. Dr. Valpy seems to have taken great pains with his pupils, and the publication must add to the repute of his seminary" Monthly Review NS 52 (February 1807) 215.



'Twas when Time was a green-horn, and docile and young,
That the booby was bribed into sense with a Song;
But since modern life's a great counting-house grown,
Men, at length unbemused, can take care of their own,
And released from your fanciful preachers in verse,
Duly scorn every jingle but that of the purse.
Besides, where's the merit? ev'n I could find rhyme,
And if I may guess from the bards of the time,
The metre is not such a difficult thing,
For the bard, who can say, may be soon brought to sing.
Such a spiritless thought the whole subject supplies,
That, untied from the verse, away Pegasus flies.
Yet I've heard that of old, were the verse rent away,
Still the nag of Apollo would oftentimes stay.
Thus by metre and rhyme rather injured than aided,
A poem is nothing but prose masqueraded.
'Tis the jig of a fool, when a wise man would walk,
'Tis a puppy that chatters, when prudent men talk.
'Tis a art soon acquired, and esteemed a fine trick,
Making oft the nice nymph sensibility-sick.
But if one or two bards in these times have the force
To whirl us along in their fanciful course,
And, escaped from their bedlam, a SEWARD and BARBAULD,
A COWPER, or HAYLEY, and MASON, have far hauled
From his reason the dolt in their vortices caught,
And shattered his brains in their frisk of fine thought;
Worse and worse! for I vow, 'tis a madman that flies
Mother Earth for the domes, that are built in the skies.
But the wise have the Critic's strait waistcoat up pointed,
To re-settle the soul, which the Muse has disjointed.
And you Peers of Great Britain, your wisdom I praise,
That no longer you wear in your bosoms the bays,
But despise a poor gift, that is not worth a straw,
And the simple old times when the Poets gave law,
When an ADDISON wound his smooth way into place,
And a Chancellor smacked of poetical grace.

Yet it seems that some ask, can the matter be worse
For the diction, and cadence, and graces of verse?
But at this rate ev'n Rhetoric itself is defended,
As a cooking of words, by which Wisdom is mended.
And a MASON'S mild hash, and GRAY'S lump of spice
To the taste is as wholesome as COCKER and PRICE.
Pshaw! the roast beef of truth is the viand for me,
And my palate recoils from the Bard's fricasee.
Oh, the fools! those old Spartans, when down in the dumps,
Whom the clang of Tyrtaeus refixed on their stumps;
Which had ne'er been, had not the strange statutes of SPARTA
Placed in Poverty's self her supreme Magna Charta,
Whence the belly of Reason, deprived of its fare,
Grew bloated and big with the stuffage of air.—

What is this that I hear? oh! the Laureate is dead!
Bays without and within his nonsensical head:
And with him it were well to let poetry die,
Nor our stomachs still fire with a pepper-strong PYE!
Yet I'm sure my thin skull you'd be tempted to break,
If you heard what a fool of me WARTON could make.
Now before you I'll stand, and produce my report
To a jury, whose worth would adorn any court;
Well assured that your Wisdom and Justice will find
WARTON'S guilt, and that guilt an assault on my mind.
Let me think when it was — oh! I now well remember,
On a rainy day once, in the month of November,
I perforce, for the want of a rational book,
Deigned to glance on the Laureat's vagaries a look:
As I happened to fall on the page, where his verse,
With a criminal charm, is contrived to rehearse
Ev'n a Suicide's worth, I am tempted to think
That I grew so beguiled as to stand on the brink
To mar number one, for I caught up my knife—
But the last stanza read was the thing saved my life.
Well, I then read his poem descriptive of Spring,
Which so bright to my eye seemed its beauties to bring,
That my cockneyship soon grew a pastoral zany,
And Wisdom outflew from my cracked pericrany.
What a mercy it was, when she skipped from my brain,
Such a trick she played JOVE, that she skipped in again!
Well, I still must read on, and he led me to view,—
For his language was picture, and that picture true,—
Let me think — 'Twas a Monastery ruined by Time;
And he mingled such thoughts of devotion sublime,
And my heart so bewitched with his musical airs,
That instead of the 'Change, I betook me to prayers.
Why, surely the man's a Magician, I cried,
For a Friar I'm grown, once a cit in Cheapside;
Tho' a minute ago I was dandling my crook,
Sniffed the breeze of the down, or lay stretched by the brook.

You will laugh, when informed that this magical wit
To a Hero one minute converted the Cit.
But the ditty perused, where, in tune of old days,
The Poet the great COEUR DE LION displays,
Cross the Alps, in a trice, from Old England I flew,
And the Holy-Land, meteor-like, rose into view.
Tho' I saw it, I feared not fierce SALADIN'S air,
For my heart was all English, and RICHARD reigned there.
Then the Monk's shabby cowl flying fast from my head,
Lo! the plume-shaking casque glittered there in its stead;
Then I stamped, and the Panim half killed with my look,
And away went the spear, that was lately the crook;
Then a chair haply lying athwart in my way,
Down I fell, gained my wits, nor again am a prey
To the madmen, whose chanting on times now no more
Fills with spectres the mine, where we dig for the ore;
Or by raising the sprites of the worth, which is fled,
Makes us hate living folks from the view of the dead.
'Tis now common sense, common rights, common strife,
And a new hurly-burly the business of life;
Money, Money's the mark, at which every one flies,
And the art to grow rich the sole art of the wise!

[pp. 94-100]