1794
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Captain Bligh, on his Return to England in 1793.

To Captain Bligh, on his Return to England in 1793, after having in so successful a manner executed the Commission entrusted to his Care, of transporting the Bread Fruit Trees from Otahite to the Islands of Jamaica and St. Vincent.

George Keate


Eight irregular Spenserians (ababcC). Captain William Bligh (1754-1817) was rescued at Timor in 1789 after having been set adrift in an open boat by the mutinous crew of the Bounty; in 1791 he embarked again to complete his original mission of bringing bread-fruit trees to feed the slave population in Jamaica — for which he received the Society of Arts' Medal in 1794. Bligh was not a man ordinarily associated with "the glorious cause of sweet humanity"; indeed, as captain-general and governor of New South Wales he would be forcibly deposed and imprisoned in 1808. But Bligh was indomitable. In addition to writing poems, George Keate was a painter, member of the Royal Society, and a friend of Voltaire.

Anne Raine Ellis: "George Keate, F.R.S. and F.S.A., is described by George Colman the Younger, as 'a worthy gentleman of independent fortune, of good connexions, and good family;' who was therefore fittingly said (in the Biographia Dramatica) to have 'obliged the world with several poems of distinguish'd elegance and reputation,' with his own portrait attached to them. He 'obliged the world' with a poem in thin 4to yearly, from 1760 to 1769, and also with some in after years. His best book is in prose, being a compilation from the Journals of Captain Henry Wilson, called An Account of the Pellew Islands (1778), wherein our grandparents read the touching story of 'Prince Lee Boo.' George Colman wonders how Keate came to sit for his portrait, 'for his countenance was more grotesquely ugly than the generality of human faces.' Keate told the elder Colman a story which permits us to think that he had humour, and was not unaware of his own strange looks. He said that he had been in a side box of one of the London theatres, when there was a cry of 'Fire.' He was so much alarmed, that when he got safely home, he found that his eyebrows and eyelashes had dropt off through fright — 'and they have never, — as you may perceive, Sir, — grown again!' Some verses on Shakespeare in his poem of 'Ferney' caused Keate to be made free of Stratford-on-Avon, at the same time with Garrick, in the Jubilee-year, 1769" The Early Diary of Frances Burney (1889) 1:305n.

The ESTC locates only one copy of this publication (1998).



O, welcome home with thy triumphant sail!
Atchiev'd the noble task to thee assign'd;
With ardour such as thine it scarce could fail;
And to thy purpose friendly ev'ry wind:
All mark'd thy distant tract with eager eye,
For 'twas the glorious cause of sweet humanity.

To such a cause the Heav'ns protection lend!
Thou felt their influence in a trying hour;
When all around menac'd a fatal end,
From the black stratagems of lawless power:
For it was then they rais'd Hope's soothing form,
To cheer thy drooping heart, and calm th' impending storm.

O, snatch'd from death! — sav'd by a hand divine,
To persevere 'midst terrors round thee hurl'd,
To tread in happier times a glorious line,
And scatter blessings o'er the Western World;
Plant the fair tree of peace, the wretched save;
And give mankind far more than conquest ever gave.

What are the banners which the victor bears
From slaughter'd hosts stretch'd on the ensanguin'd field?
Wet with the orphan's and the widow's tears,
They to the mind no solid joy can yield;
The sense of fame may raise a transient glow,
But soon the laurel wreath shrinks with'ring from its brow!

The leader of the Argonautic Band
(Though his renown a while spread half o'er Greece),
Who with a daring, but a plunderer's hand
Convey'd to Thessaly the Golden Fleece;
Yet short is his glory; — torn by dire alarms,
Nor sooth'd by love's soft power, nor bright Medea's charms.

These are the fleeting triumphs of an hour,
Which one great deed of virtue far outweighs!
Those who for others' good exert their power,
On a firm base their own memorial raise.
Time views the trophy with a raptur'd eye,
And vows it ne'er shall feel the ravage of his scythe.

Yes, my respected friend, this trophy's thine;
Where with their weight of fruit thy Bread-Trees bend,
Afric's dark sons shall in their shade recline,
And to the skies thy well-earn'd praises send,
Their comforts share; and, conscious whence they came,
Teach children yet unborn to venerate thy name.

But what eulogium's due to his good mind,
The virtuous Monarch of these happy isles,
Who first this philanthropic plan design'd,
To o'erspread the anxious face of care with smiles?
Who from his people's joy derives his own,
His subject's loyal hearts the bulwark of his throne!

[European Magazine 26 (August 1794) 140]