1791
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Monody, written at Matlock.

Monody, written at Matlock, October, 1791.

Rev. William Lisle Bowles


A landscape with allegorical figures by William Lisle Bowles. James Beattie's The Minstrel is a model, as is Milton's Lycidas, as is John Dyer's Grongar Hill; the brief allegorical passages may owe something to Collins and the Wartons: "So Fortitude, a mailed warrior old, | Appears: he lifts his scar-entrenched crest: | The tempest gathers round his dauntless breast: | He hears far off the storm of havoc roll'd." While Bowles's sonnets are generally acknowledged as influencial, the Monody at Matlock was hardly less so. Bowles internalizes landscape in a mode quite unlike earlier works in the Spenserian tradition, pursuing innovations that later associated with the Lake School, Wordsworth and John Wilson in particular.

European Magazine: "Of the various places in this kingdom dedicated to health or amusement, no one has superior charms to Matlock, in Derbyshire, the scene where the pensive Muse of Mr. Bowles, after a long absence, as it appears, retuned her pipe, and made the rocks of this romantic spot again resound with her strains" 22 (December 1792) 445.

William Enfield: "In poetry, the judicious union of moral sentiments with descriptions of nature is always highly pleasing. It is this circumstance which diffuses an inexpressible charm of that universally admired production of Thomson's muse, The Seasons. Among the small pieces, which have peculiar excellence in this way, may be mentioned Dyer's Grongar Hill. Of the same kind, is the Monody before us. The poet appears to have viewed the romantic scenery of Matlock with a mind disposed to melancholy musing; his pensive contemplations are expressed in verse, which at once discovers a lively fancy and a correct taste, and which will not fail to awaken similar feelings in every kindred bosom" NS Monthly Review NS 8 (1792) 334.

Critical Review: "This poem is written in irregular stanzas, and is shaded by a tender melancholy, suggested, seemingly, by the deepening hues of autumn" NS 4 (January 1792) 112.

Robert Southey to G. C. Bedford: "My poetical taste was much meliorated by Bowles, and the constant company of Coleridge" 1 October 1795; in Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 1:247.

Joseph Cottle: Coleridge "once told me, that he believed, by his constant recommendation, he had sold a whole edition of some works; particularly amongst the fresh-men of Cambridge, to whom, whenever he found access, he urged the purchase of three works, indispensable to all who wished to excel in sound reasoning, or a correct taste; — Simpson's Euclid, Hartley on Man; and Bowles's Poems.... I noticed a marked change in his commendation of Mr. B. from the time he paid that man of genius a visit. Whether their canons of criticisms were different, or that the personal enthusiasm was not mutual; or whether there was a diversity in political views; whatever the cause was, an altered feeling towards that gentleman was manifested after his visit, not so much expressed by words, as by his subdued tone of applause" ca. 1795; in Reminiscences (1847) 15.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, distinguishing Bowles's poetry from the earlier Spenserianism of Warton and Gilbert West: "The reader must make himself acquainted with the general style of composition that was at that time deemed poetry, in order to understand and account for the effect produced on me by the SONNETS, the MONODY at MATLOCK, and the HOPE, of Mr. Bowles" Biographia Literaria (1817; 1983) 1:24.

Robert Southey: "I am conscious of having derived much benefit from Cowper, and more from Bowles; for which, and for the delight which his poems gave me at an age when we are most susceptible of such delight, my good friend at Bremhill, to whom I was then and long afterwards personally unknown, will allow me to make this grateful and cordial acknowledgment" Preface to Poetical Works (1837) 1:ix.

John Britton: "Mr. Bowles was the son of a clergyman of King's Norton, Northamptonshire, where he was born September 24, 1762; he was educated at the famed collegiate school of Winchester, under the Rev. Joseph Warton, and thence advanced to Trinity College, Oxford, where he met and became acquainted with Thomas Warton, the historian of English Poetry. To this education and association may be ascribed, if not the original bias, at least, the early cultivation and ripeness of the poetical talent in young Bowles; for I have often heard him speak in the highest terms of the judgment and abilities of those two men. Destined for the church, we find that he was early placed in the Curacy already named, adjoining the fine seat of Wardour Castle, the residence of Lord Arundell, a Roman Catholic, whose private chapel, in that mansion, excited my wonder and admiration when I left Bowood in 1798. It was in that year that I first met Mr. Bowles, a gay and handsome young man, then flushed with the fame arising from praises by Coleridge and by many other poets and professed critics" Autobiography (1850) 1:291.



Matlock, amid thy hoary-hanging views,
Thy glens that smile sequester'd, and thy nooks
Which yon forsaken cragg all dark o'erlooks;
Once more I court the long-neglected Muse,
As erst when by the mossy brink and falls
Of solitary WENSBECK, or the side
Of CLYDSDALE's cliffs, where first her voice she tried,
We wander'd in our youth — Since then, the thralls
That wait life's upland road have chill'd her breast,
And much, as much they might, her wing deprest—
Wan Indolence, resign'd, her dead'ning hand
Laid on her heart, and Fancy her cold wand
Dropt at the frown of Fortune; yet once more
I call her, and once more her converse sweet,
'Mid the still limits of this wild retreat,
I wooe; — if yet delightful as of yore
My heart she may revisit, nor deny
The soothing aid of some sweet melody!

I hail the rugged scene that bursts around;
I mark the wreathed roots, the saplings gray,
That bend o'er the dark DERWENT'S wand'ring way;
I mark it's stream with peace-persuading sound,
That steals beneath the fading foliage pale,
Or, at the foot of frowning craggs uprear'd,
Complains like one forsaken and unheard—
To me, it seems to tell the pensive tale
Of Spring-time, and the Summer days all flown—
And whilst sad Autumn's voice ee'n now I hear
Thro' the dark covert of the high wood moan,
That sheds, at times, it's hanging tresses sear;
Whilst o'er the group of pendant groves I view
The slowly-spreading tints of pining hue,
I think of poor Humanity's brief day,
How fast it's blossoms fade, it's summers speed away.

When first young Hope, a golden-tressed boy,
Most musical his early madrigal
Sings to the whispering waters as they fall,
Breathing fresh airs of fragrance and of joy—
The wild woods gently wave — the morning sheds
Her rising radiance on the mountain-heads—
Strew'd with green isles appears old Ocean's reign,
And seen at distance rays of resting light
Silver the farthest promontory's height:
Then hush'd is the long murmur of the main,
Whilst silent o'er the slowly-crisping tides,
Bound to some beaming spot, the bark of pleasure rides.

Alas the scenes that smile in light array'd
But catch the sense, and then in darkness fade.

We, poor adventurers, of peace bereft,
Look back on the green hills that late we left,
Or some faint hope that glimmering meets our sight,
Behold with beating breast, and anxious eye,
(Like the lone watch-tow'r in the storm of night),
Then on the dismal waste are driv'n despairing by!

Meantime, amid the landscape cold and mute,
Hope, sweet enchanter, sighing drops his lute:
So sad decay and mortal change succeeds,
And Time on prouder wing to Ruin speeds!

Yet yonder cliffs on high
Around whose lofty crags, with ceaseless coil,
And still-returning flight, the ravens toil,
Heed not the changeful seasons as they fly,
Nor Spring, nor Autumn: they their hoary brow
Uprear, and ages past, as in this Now,
The same deep trenches unsubdued have worn,
The same majestic look that seems to scorn
The beating winters, and the hand of Time,
Whose with'ring touch scarce frets their front sublime.

So Fortitude, a mailed warrior old,
Appears: he lifts his scar-entrenched crest:
The tempest gathers round his dauntless breast:
He hears far off the storm of havoc roll'd;
The feeble fall around: their sound is past:
Their sun is set: their place no more is known;
Like the wan leaves before the Winter's blast
They perish: He, unshaken and alone
Remains — his brow a sterner shade assumes,
By age ennobled, whilst the Hurricane,
That strews, like Time's fell sweep, the ravag'd plain,
But shakes unfelt his helmet's quiv'ring plumes.

And so yon sov'reign of the scene I mark
Above the still woods rear his awful head,
That soon all shatter'd at his feet shall shed
Their fading beauties — he the winter dark
Regardless, and the wasteful Time that flies,
Rejoicing in his lonely might, defies—

Thee, quiet stream! with other thoughts I view,
Like Peace, a hermit in some craggy dell
Retir'd, and bidding the loud throng farewel,
I see the still thy peaceful course pursue,
Making such gentle music as might cheer
The weary passenger that journeys near.

Such are the songs of Peace in Virtue's shade;
Unheard of Folly, or the vacant train
That pipe and dance upon the noontide plain,
Till in the dust together they are laid;
But not unheard of him, who sits sublime
Above the clouds of this tempestuous clime,
It's stir and strife, to whom more grateful rise
The humble incense, and the still small voice
Of those that on their pensive way rejoice,
Than shouts of thousands echoing to the skies;
Than songs of conquest pealing round the car
Of hard Ambition, or the Fiend of War,
Sated with slaughter. — Nor may I, sweet stream,
From thy wild banks and still retreats depart,
(Where now I meditate my casual theme)
Without some mild improvement on my heart
Pour'd sad, yet pleasing: so may I forget
The crosses and the cares that sometimes fret
Life's smoothest channel, and each wish prevent
That mars the silent current of Content!

Where steals the wave by yon secluded spot,
(Among the dark and dripping fragments rude,
That broken strew it's bounded solitude,)
Each passion past, forgetting, and forgot,
Some weary Bard, in his declining age
Might wish to place his reed-roof'd hermitage—
If fortune smil'd not on his early way,
If he were doom'd to mourn a faithless friend,
Here he might rest, and when his hairs were grey,
Behold in peace the parting day descend:
If a hard world his errors scann'd severe,
(When late the earth receiv'd his mould'ring clay)
Perhaps some lov'd companion, wand'ring near,
Plucking the grey moss from the stone, might say:
"Him I remember, in our careless days,
Vacant and glad, till, life, thy lore severe
First hung his placid eye-lids with a tear;
Yet on such visions ardent would he gaze,
As the Muse lov'd, that oft would smile and die
Like the faint bow that leaves the weeping sky—
His heart unguarded, yet it proudly beat
Against hard wrong, or coward cold deceit;
Nor passed he e'er, without a sigh, the cell
Where Wretchedness and her pale children dwell.
He never sought to win the world's cold ear,
Nor, known to those he lov'd, it's blame could fear;
It's praise he left to those who, at their will,
Th' ingenious strain of torturing art could trill;
Content, as random fancies might inspire,
If his weak reed, at times, or lonely lyre,
He touch'd with desultory hand, and drew
Some soften'd tones, to nature not untrue."

The leaves, O DERWENT, in thy bosom still
Oft with the gust now fall — the season pale
Hath smote with hand unseen the silent vale,
And slowly steals the verdure from the hill—
So the fair scene departs, yet wears a while
The lingering traces of it's beauteous smile;
But we who by thy margin stray, or climb
The cliff's aerial height, or join the song
Of hope and gladness amidst yonder throng,
("Losing the brief and fleeting hours of Time,")
Reck not how thus cold Age's wintry hand,
Hangs o'er us; — how, as with a wizard's wand,
Youth blooming like the spring, and roseate Mirth,
To slow and sear consumption he shall change,
And with invisible mutation strange,
Wither'd and wasted send them to the earth,
Whilst hush'd, and by the mace of Ruin rent,
Sinks the forsaken hall of Merriment!

Bright bursts the sun upon the shaggy scene;
The aged rocks their glittering summits gray
Hang beautiful amid the beams of day;
And all the woods, with slowly-fading green,
Yet smiling wave: — severer thoughts, away!
The night is distant, and the lovely day
Looks on us yet — the sound of mirthful cheer
From yonder dome comes pleasant to mine ear.
From rock to rock reverberated swells,
Hark! — the glad music of the village bells:
On the crag's naked point the heifer lows,
And wide below the brightning landscape glows!

Tho' brief the time and short our course to run,
Awhile, O DERWENT, on thy winding side,
(Ere yet the parting paths of life divide)
Let us rejoice, seeking what may be won
From the laborious day, or Fortune's frown:
Here may we, ere the sun of life goes down,
Erewhile regardless of the morrow dwell;
Then to our destin'd roads, and speed us well!

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