William Lisle Bowles defends the author of Reflections of the Revolution in France and in Wartonian gothic lauds Burke's invocation of chivalry: "Nor shall the wise and good with spleen deride | These fair illusions of the heart allied." Edmund Burke, who had always been associated with the cause of liberty, had come under intense attack for his remarks on the French Revolution; it stands to reason that an Oxford poet would come to his defense. In that in the 1794 Sonnets Bowles adds a note: "These lines were written before the murder of the late King of France, and many of the events of horror, which have since taken place in that miserable country" p. 115n. The poem was revised (and the tone tempered) in later editions.
The depiction of Anarchy with "mien distract" may owe something to Spenser, and the remarks on Burke's detractors ("Scowling, cold envy") might remind contemporary readers of Book V of the Faerie Queene, but no specific allusion appears to be intended. But there is no mistaking the echoes of Collins and Warton in what was becoming something of an Oxford "house style." Compare also Reginald Heber's Oxford prize essay, "A Sense of Honour" (1801).
John Aikin: "Who would think this to have been the country of the Sidneys, Lockes, &c. when an oratorical effusion is able to bring about that wonderful conviction and uniformity of opinion which is only to be expected upon a new subject scarcely ever before written or thought about? But, in fact, the political feeling of many has never gone further than to compare all other forms of government with the British Constitution, and assign them their merits and demerits in exact proportion to their approach to, or departure from, that all-perfect model. I certainly do not agree with you in thinking that a folio is necessary in reply to Mr. Burke; for setting aside what in him is unanswerable, and what is not worth answering, and being content to admire that unequalled flow of wit and brilliancy which is no subject for an answer, his false principles and distorted reasonings will not I think require many pages to expose them at the bar of good sense. I assure you, however, that I have had no thoughts of engaging with this Achilles, nor do my present studies or occupations lie in the political way" to Dr. Haygarth, December 1790; in Lucy Aikin, Memoir of John Aikin (1823) 1:146-47.
Peter Cunningham: "Mr. Bowles was one of Joseph Warton's Winchester wonders; and the taste he imbibed there for the romantic school of poetry was strengthened and confirmed by his removal to Trinity College, Oxford, when Tom Warton was master there" in Thomas Campbell, British Poets (1841) lxxxvi n.
Why mourns th' ingenuous Moralist, whose mind
Science has stor'd and piety refin'd,
That fading chivalry displays no more
Her pomp, and stately tournaments of yore?
Lo! when Philosophy and Truth advance,
Scar'd at their frown, she drops her glittering lance:
Round her reft castles the pale ivy crawls,
And sunk and silent are her banner'd halls!
As when far off the golden evening sails,
And slowly sink the fancy-painted vales,
With rich pavilions spread, in long array;
So rolls the enchanter's radiant realm away;
So on the sight the parting glories fade,
The gorgeous vision sets in endless shade.
But shall the musing sage for this lament,
Or mourn the charm dissolv'd, the fabrick rent?
Shall he, with Fancy's poor and pensive child,
Gaze on his shadowy vales, and prospects wild,
With ling'ring love, and sighing bid farewell
To Fiction's realm, when Truth has burst the shell?
No, BURKE, thy heart, by juster feelings led,
Mourns (whilst the fading pictures sink and die
In Reason's colder clime and purer sky),
That liberal Sentiment's exulting train
With these should smile, with these should leave the plain;
With these the graceful sympathies depart,
That wak'd with gentlest touch th' according heart;
Whilst Speculation's barren boast succeeds
To ardent energies, and glitt'ring deeds.
Nor shall the wise and good with spleen deride
These fair illusions of the heart allied.
Tho' now no more proud Chivalry recalls
Her turneys bright and pealing festivals;
Tho' now on high her idle spear is hung;
Tho' time her mould'ring harp has half unstrung,
Still to that peaceful harp's expiring sound
Love shall awake, and Fancy dance around;
Her milder influence shall she still impart
To decorate, but not disguise the heart;
To nurse the tender sympathies that play
In the short sunshine of Life's early way;
The vale retir'd of social Love to chear,
And half beguile Misfortune of her tear!
Lo! this her boast; and still, O BURKE, be thine
Her glowing hues that warm, yet temper'd shine:
Whilst whispers bland, and fairest dreams attend
Thy evening path till Life's last shades descend!
So may she soothe, with loftier Wisdom's aid,
Thy musing leisure in the silent shade,
And bid poor Fancy, her cold pinions wet,
Life's cloudy skies and beating show'rs forget.
Yet what, O BURKE, shall shield thy honour'd hairs,
Thy toiling age unthank'd, and bow'd with cares?
What charm the tumult of the bosom still,
And breath the sweet forgetfulness of ill?
Ev'n now thy foes with louder accents cry,
"Champion of unrelenting tyranny,
At Freedom hast thou aim'd the deadly blow,
And striven with impious arm to lay her altars low!"
No, BURKE, indignant at the voice we start:
We trust thy liberal views, thy generous heart:
We think of those who, naked, pale, and poor,
Reliev'd and bless'd have wandered from thy door:
We see thee with unwearied zeal explore
Pow'rs bloody footsteps on the farthest shore
Of injur'd Asia, and thy swelling breast
Harrowing the oppressor, mourning for the opprest.
No, BURKE, where'er Injustice rears her head,
Where'er with blood her idol grim is fed,
Where'er fell Cruelty at her command
Sweeps, like the pestilence, the groaning land;
And striding, like a giant, onward hies,
Whilst man, a trodden worm, looks up, and dies;
Where'er pale Murder in her train appears
With reeking axe, and garments wet with tears;
Or with stern brow, array'd in darker gloom,
Points to the dungeon silent as the tomb,
Thou the just cause of Heav'n with joy shalt greet,
Firm in the battle's van thy heart with joy shall beat:
Then shalt thou own, whilst Justice lifts the rod,
The cause of Freedom is the cause of God!
Of Freedom! who, rejoicing, dost abide
On the bleak rock, whose sanguine spear is dy'd
In the heart's blood of those who vaunting trod
On Mercy's altars, and the shrine of God;
When I behold thee firm, yet cool, advance
To scare th' oppressor with thy lifted lance;
When thou dost rear thy red right arm on high,
Bath'd in the blood of prostrate Tyranny;
When all thy form its awful port assumes,
And in the tempest shake thy crimson plumes,
I mark thy lofty mien, thy steady eye,
"So fall thy foes!" with tears of joy, I cry.
But ne'er may Anarchy, with eyes on flame,
And mien distract, assume thy awful name.
To her black ensign, dark'ning all the air,
Confus'd the murmuring multitude repair;
Till, rising in her might, her gloomy form
Pours with distracted hand th' o'erwhelming storm.
Before her dread career the good and just
Retire, with Virtue mourning in the dust.
As when the rising blast with muttering sweep
Sounds 'mid the sear leaves of the forest deep,
The sad horizon lowers, the parting sun
Is hid, strange murmurs thro' the high wood run,
The falcon wheels away his mournful flight,
And leaves the glens to Solitude and Night;
Till soon the Hurricane, in dismal shroud,
Comes forth, and sounds her pealing conch aloud:
The oak majestic bows its aged head,
And ruin round its ancient reign is spread.
So the dark Fiend, rejoicing in her might,
Pours desolation and the storm of night:
Mid wrecks and ruins now she takes her stand,
A dismal torch red-blazing in her hand;
Its glare disastrous round her tent is shed,
And high to Heav'n she rears her hydra head.
Whether her temple, wet with human gore,
She thus may raise on Gallia's bleeding shore,
Belongs to Him alone, and His high will,
Who bids the tempests of the world be still.
With joy we turn to Albion's happier plain,
Where ancient Freedom holds her temperate reign;
Where Justice sits majestic on her throne;
Where Mercy turns her ear to every groan!
O Albion! fairest Isle, whose verdant plain
Springs beauteous from the blue and billowy main;
In peaceful pomp whose tower'd cities rise,
And lift their glitt'ring foreheads to the skies;
Whose airy hills with wand'ring flocks are crown'd,
With tabrets whose green villages resound;
Whose far-fam'd commerce loads the yielding tides,
And o'er the darken'd Deep triumphant rides.
O! mid thy cities old, thy cultur'd vales,
(That with fond transport Contemplation hails:)
May Honour's train with liberal manners shine,
And love, and gallant deeds, and liberty be thine!
To Him who firm thy injur'd cause has fought,
This humble offering, lo! the muse has brought:
Nor heed thou, BURKE, if with malignant eye
Envy, or Hate, thy active toils decry.
'Tis the hard lot of Genius oft to mourn,
As sad he journeys thro' this cloudy bourne:
If hightest virtue mark his chosen breast,
And on the forehead shews her seal imprest;
Perhaps he mourns in bleak Misfortune's shade,
His age and cares with penury repaid;
His errors deeply scann'd, his worth forgot,
Or mark'd by hard Injustice with a blot.
If high he soars, and keep his distant way,
And spreads his ample pinions to the day,
Lo! envious Rumour sickens at his name,
And all her tongues are busy at his fame.
But 'tis enough to hold, as best we may,
Our destin'd track, till sets the closing day;
Whether with living lustre we adorn
Our high sphere, like the radiance of the morn;
Or, Whether silent in the shade we move,
Chear'd by the lonely star of pensive love;
Or, Whether dark-opposing storms we stem,
Panting for Virtue's distant diadem;
'Tis the unshaken mind, the conscience pure,
That bids us firmly act, or meek endure;
'Tis this may shield us when the storm beat hard,
Content, tho' poor, had we no other guard!