1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode. The Genius of Danmonium.

Essays, by a Society of Gentlemen, at Exeter.

Rev. Richard Polwhele


Nineteen irregular octosyllabic Spenserians (ababcC): Richard Polwhele presents a progress of Devonshire poetry from Druid bards to Browne of Tavistock, Nicholas Rowe, John Gay, and then to the present Society of Gentlemen, for whose meetings this ode would have been written. The "two sons" of Teign mentioned in the last line Polwhele identified as Hayter and Burrington, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:405. The club included Richard Hole, William Jackson of Exeter, Hugh Downman, and Polwhele. Their essays were published anonymously.

Richard Polwhele prints the Latin verses by John Hayter (1756-1818) which gave rise to the poem: "One of the most learned and liberal of our Society was HAYTER; from whom I had the honour of receiving this elegant Virgilian Poem a few days before I left Devonshire.... These lines gave rise to the ode entitled 'The Genius of Danmonium,' of which I conceived the first thought at Crokern-well, and which I had finished before I reached Manaccan" in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:402-04.

B. [Burrington] to Richard Polwhele: "At our next meeting your Essay and Ode were read: the whole company were exceedingly pleased with the treat you had furnished them; and it was agreed that your Ode was written in your best manner. The handsome compliment which you have paid me, and another of the sons of the Teign, at the conclusion of it, I cannot but regard as a distinguished mark of your friendship. I must however add, that the consciousness of the very moderate acquirements I am possessed of, prevented me from feeling in its full force your friendly encomium" 16 August 1794; in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:386-88.

Thomas Busby: "In the year 1792, a literary society was instituted at the Globe inn, Fore-street, Exeter; of which the first members were Dr. Downman, president; Mr. Polwhele, author of "The History of Devonshire;" Mr. Jackson; the Rev. Mr. Swete, of Oxon; Mr. Hole, author of an 'Essay on the Arabian Night's Entertainments;' Mr. Sheldon, the anatomist; and other ingenious gentlemen, resident in Exeter, or its environs. Each produced in his turn an essay in prose or verse, on some useful subject, to be read at the regular meeting of the society. An octavo volume of these pieces was printed in 1796, reflecting great honor on the talents of which this laudable institution was composed" Memoirs of William Jackson of Exeter" Monthly Magazine 16 (September 1803) 142.

Hugh Downman to Richard Polwhele: "We go on but slowly with our volume. Hayter's paper on the Ptolemaic Chronology is but just begun. We inserted your Essay on Falconry, as being more original than that on the Progress of Literature, though not quite in order. The latter one, indeed, should be much curtailed; the third part seems to be the only one proper to be retained, with some short introduction, in which may be preserved your idea (I believe it is your own, and a just one,) of the origin of Pastoral Poetry; but on this I shall consult the other members of the Committee in time, and acquaint you more particularly, or send it to you if necessary" 2 May 1795; in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:414-15.

A dispute over a review of this volume, aired in the European and Gentleman's Magazines, resulted in Richard Polwhele's breaking with Richard Hole and Hugh Downman. The obituary for Downman in the Gentleman's Magazine, signed "Exeter," appears to attribute The Genius of Danmonium to Downman rather than Polwhele.



Where restless Teign, with many a surge
Foams to his sacred Logan's height,
The rockstone, at the wood's dark verge,
Shook to the moon, array'd in light;
When, as a cloud far off, disparting, flew,
A shadowy form appear'd, majestic to my view.

"Child of the dust" (the Genius cried)
"To thee (no trivial boast) 'tis giv'n,
To hear, with emulative pride,
How Concord links the inspir'd of Heaven
Not with the Muse's silken ties alone,
But in that Harmony which Friendship deems her own.

"Twas Concord bade the Bards of old
To Inspiration's numbers string
Their sweet-ton'd harps of burnisht gold
By sunny mount, or mossy spring—
Bad them, where Echo loves the sylvan dell,
The Druids mystic pomp, the Hero's prowess tell.

"The soul-subduing strain was high!
Still, still, it vibrates in mine ear!
I catch the holy minstrelsy
To Devon's faery vallies dear!—
Though central oaks no more, in forest deep,
Around the grey-stone cirque their twilight umbrage sweep.

"Snatcht from the altars of the east
I see the fires of Danmon rise!
To mark the new-moon's solemn feast,
Behold, they lighten to the skies:
And, as assembled clans in silence gaze,
The distant Karnes draw near, and kindle to the blaze!

"Fast by yon chasmed hill that frowns
Cleft by an elemental shock,
As ashen foliage light embrowns
Its rude side ribb'd with massay rock;
Lo, on the pillar'd way the white-rob'd bands
In long procession move, where proud the Cromlech stands.

"But see, where breaking thro' the gloom,
Danmonium's warrior-genius speeds
That scythed car, the dread of Rome!
See, fiercer than the lightning, steeds
Trampling the dead, their hoofs with carnage stain,
Rush thro' the spear-strown field, and snort o'er heaps of slain.

"Such was the heart-inspiring theme
Of bards who sung each recent deed;
Whether amid the mailed gleam
Of war, they saw the hero bleed;
Or, whether, in the Druid's circling fane,
They hymn'd to dreadful rites, the deep mysterious strain.

"No more to boast a spotless green,
E'er long their garlands deck'd the dead;
As, fading from the sight, the scene
Of oriental glory fled!
Then written verse for oral numbers came—
And lays of little worth were consecrate to fame.

"Then Saxon poets swept their lyres,
But harsh was their untutor'd song:
Then Norman minstrels vaunted fires
That ill to Phoebus' train belong—
Not that the Bard of Isca's elder'd vale
Told to the sparkling stream, an inharmonious tale.

"Nor idly wrapt in fairy trance
While each plume'd Edward fill'd the throne;
The daring offspring of romance
Gave to the glens a thrilling tone;
Chaunting the wizards spell in ruin'd halls,
Castles with ivy cloath'd, and mouldering abbey-walls.

"And o'er the dreary waste of years
Devonia mark'd some scatter'd rhymes:
But still, her eye suffuse'd with tears,
Wistful, she look'd to ancient times—
Ah! few, monastic Tavy's banks beside,
Few were the BROWNES that trac'd the silver-winding tide.

"And tho' of fancy and of taste
A Rowe, the first-begotten child,
By dark romantic woods embrac'd,
Warbled his native carols wild,
'Twas from the lonely copse that high o'erflung
The Tamar's haunted wave his ditty sweet he sung!

"Tho Gay attune'd his Dorian oat,
Such as beseems a simple swain,
He only pip'd a rustic note
To cheer the solitary plain—
Where, since the Bards have slept, hath Genius wove
His many-colour'd wreath, to grace the Muse's grove?

"Where, as in Danmon's myrtle bowers
The race of Iran caught the flame,
Exerting their congenial powers,
Not envious of a rival's name;
Where now, in close fraternal union meet,
Spirits that court the Muse by friendship doubly sweet.

"Ev'n now they live! Ev'n here they hail
Their reddening cliffs, in strains sublime;
Embosom'd in the vermil dale,
Nurst by the rosy-breathing clime!
Here many a letter'd minstrel, more refin'd
Than Bards of other times, displays the ingenuous mind.

"Behold, where lingering Isca laves
The turrets on her sloping banks,
While, far reflected by the waves
Rise her rich elms in tufted ranks,
The wreaths of Genius and of Taste adorn
Those, whom with partial smile I greet in Devon born.

"What tho' the Bards shall harp no more
To wondering ears their magic lays;
Yet shall my chosen Tribe restore
The long-lost fame of other days—
Rapt with diviner energies, aspire
Ev'n to empyreal worlds and catch the seraph's fire."

He ceas'd: And to the faultering sound
The Spirit of the Rock replied—
The old oaks bending kiss'd the ground
Then wave'd their boughs with conscious pride,
While, born on his translucent shell, hoar Teign
Joy'd that two sons were his, to rival Isca's reign.

[pp. 542-49]