Written 1790-91, Richard Polwhele's philosophical poem was originally anonymously published in 166 Spenserian stanzas with commendatory verses by William Hayley, Erasmus Darwin, and Anna Seward (all of whom had read and commented on the long poem in manuscript). Local Attachment proved to be one of the more successful verse treatises in the language, appearing in three expanded versions, the last in 1810.
The use of Spenserian stanzas for discursive argument was not at all common in the eighteenth century, though Polwhele may well have been encouraged by the example of James Beattie's The Minstrel. While Polwhele's poem is not, like Phineas Fletcher's Purple Island, a Spenser imitation spun off from Alma's Castle, it several times alludes to the Faerie Queene, perhaps to remind readers that he was not the first to handle a didactic subject in descriptive stanzas.
The burden of the argument is carried in the long book-by-book analysis that prefaces the poem, the verses themselves consisting largely of illustrations and episodes. The illustrations are often wonderfully apt, and often picturesque. It seems not unlikely that they supplied the germ for more than one later romantic lyric, for much of the repertoire of romantic poetry is touched on in the course of the argument. The most attractive passages occur in the later books of the poem, as the argument devolves from general principles to local applications. The seventh book, which describes the poet's childhood at Polwhele in Cornwall, was written last and is easily the best.
In 1798 Polwhele revised and expanded the poem in response to criticism, shearing off the "Ellen and Danvert" episode which then appeared as a separate poem. Both the Critical Review and Monthly Review called attention to putative resemblance to Samuel Rogers's The Pleasures of Memory; Polwhele defended himself against the charge of plagiarism in a letter to the European Magazine 30 (December 1796) 407-10. In a letter to "B." he states that "Local Attachment was written and submitted to your inspection in MS. in 1790, when I had not heard of Mr. Rogers's poem" 10 November 1796; in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 438.
Anna Seward's verbal criticism of the poem is recorded in a long letter later reprinted by Polwhele: "Stanza 1st, beginning 'The wandering Dove' — and a beautiful stanza it is — but I do not like the word 'beagle'; to my ear it sounds vulgar. I would rather say, 'The exulting Dog scowers the wide woods in quest' &c" 26 November 1794; in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 392. Polwhele also sent the manuscript to William Hayley ("a very interesting subject") and Erasmus Darwin, whose briefer remarks are also reprinted.
Hugh Downman to Richard Polwhele: "We shall have a full meeting, to partake of a haunch of venison; I wish most heartily that you could be with us. Your former ode [Genius of Danmonium] is printed, and yesterday I corrected the proof, among the last of the first volume. I see your Poem on Local Attachment is published; but owing to your restriction I have not dropped a hint to any one of its being yours. You will let me know whether you will absolve me from the promise of secrecy. It must do you credit with every one who has a poetical mind and taste" 14 July 1796; in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:434-35.
Richard Polwhele to H. Burrington: "The Monthly Reviewers have referred their readers to several passages in my poem, 'too closely resembling (they say) the Pleasures of Memory. But Local Attachment was written and submitted to your inspection in MS. in 1790, when I had not heard of Mr. Rogers's poem. It is in the examples which are introduced to illustrate general positions that those resemblances are to be traced: but the examples were certainly 'drawn from common sources.' Had I been conscious of obligation to Mr. R. I should not have hesitated to express my sense of it. Had I indeed been aware of such similarities, I should have noticed the circumstance on the first appearance of my poem" 10 November 1796; Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:437-38.
European Magazine: "This is a pleasing Poem on a pleasing subject. Mr. Polwhele, who is the author of it, sets out with observing, that it is natural to prefer our own home to the rest of the world, and that neither philosophy nor sensuality have power to destroy this local attachment. He then enquires whence this preference, whence the pleasure we derive from it? and illustrates his sentiments on the subject by instances drawn from nations opposite to each other in manners, customs, laws, and climate. The Second Part shews, that local attachment may be seen, 1st, on the spot where it originates; 2dnly, during absence from that spot; and 3d, on our return to that spot after absence. The subject is interesting, and we agree with Mr. Hayley, that the author has treated it with considerable spirit and felicity of expression. In one of the notes at the end of the Poem is inserted the Winchester Dulce Domum; of which, in fact, this may be considered as an amplification" 31 (April 1797) 259.
Walter Scott to Richard Polwhele: "I am very glad indeed you like the Lady of the Lake; but if you knew how much I admire your poem on Local Attachment, you would not have threatened me with so terrible a compliment as that of laying down your own harp" 11 October 1810; in Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 637.
Robert Arnold Aubin: "It is a very formal and systematic treatise in seven books, emphasizing (especially in Book I) the association of ideas" "Topographical Poetry" (1936) 270.
Earl R. Wasserman: "his thesis, resembling Beattie's, is the effect of local setting upon man's mental and spiritual growth. The poem is muddied with pseudophilosophic arguments, but the large amount of descriptive material is in the Shenstone-Beattie tradition" Elizabethan Poetry in the Eighteenth Century (1947) 133.
Anna Seward defends Richard Polwhele from the reviewers' "envy-sharpen'd spear" in a sonnet prefaced to the second edition.
An excerpt from the sixth book appeared in the Universal Magazine (August 1796) under the title "The Influence of Local Attachment on vulgar Minds." An anonymous sonnet, "On reading Polwhele's Influence of Local Attachment" appears in the Monthly Magazine 21 (May 1806) 323. N. T. Carrington's "On reading R. Polwhele's On the Influence of Local Attachment" is in his Collected Poems (1834) 2:256. Polwhele's example possibly influenced another long didactic poem, Charles Swain's The Mind (1831) which like the Influence of Local Attachment was several times reprinted.
While Polwhele's poem is at best indirectly related to the Poems of the Pleasures, it appears from his Traditions and Recollections that he composed another, unpublished poem as part of the series: "In April 1820, Mr. Polwhele delivered to the Literary and Philosophical Institution of Truro, a Lecture on Taste, in the course of which he read copious extracts from an unpublished poem on the Pleasures of Taste, which he arranged in three parts" (1826) 2:588-89.
Analysis of the First Book: "1. It is natural to prefer our own home to the rest of the world. Neither philosophy nor sensuality have power to destroy this local attachment. Whence this preference? On looking into the mind, we see a continual succession of ideas there. And the idea of one object leads to the idea of another which can be compared or contrasted with it, or which borders upon it. By these principles of association, RESEMBLANCE, CONTRARIETY, and CONTIGUITY, all ideas are more or less connected. It is by one or other of these principles that the idea of the present, suggests the idea of the past. As the idea of the past is thus suggested to the mind, we observe MEMORY, FANCY, and the PASSIONS, under the regulation of the JUDGMENT, called into action. And from the nature of the mental constitution, their combined energies are accompanied with DELIGHT, which is felt more or less in proportion as one faculty or passion predominates over another. In the operation of recalling the past, inanimate objects assist their energies, and consequently increase this delight. Whatever heightens enjoyment, attracts regard: hence the attachment to inanimate objects. Here, then, we discover the EFFICIENT cause of our local feelings. 2. These faculties and affections are thus called into action in all creatures. We perceive them in the brutes. But the memory of the brutes may be termed recognition, or the recognizance of once familiar objects, whilst again presented to their senses. And their fancy and passions are circumscribed and fleeting. We observe these faculties and affections much superior and more extensive even in the uncultivated part of the human species; but in men only of polished minds can we contemplate their finer energies. 3. It is plain, therefore, that there is a sort of friendly intercourse subsisting between local objects and the universal mind" (1798) 1:v.
Breathes there a spirit on this ample orb
That owns affection for no favourite clime,
Such as the sordid passions ne'er absorb,
Glowing in generous hearts unchill'd by time?
Is it, ye sophists say, a venial crime
To damp the love of home with scornful mirth?
Tho', led by scientific views sublime,
Ye range, with various search, the realms of earth,
Seeks no returning sigh the region of your birth?
Yes! there are bands by which the soul is linkt
To favourite scenes — attaching all our kind:
Nor are the local sympathies extinct,
But only dormant in the sensual mind.
Nor can the philosophic few refin'd
The homeborn instinct from their bosoms chase:
The worldling still, tho' veering as the wind,
And the proud sage, whose plans the world embrace,
Some lingering hope retain, some with inspir'd by place.
Say, whence, so cherisht by familiar scenes,
This partial fondness? Go — the mind survey:
Mark it, where such a preference intervenes.
Behold, "the throng'd ideal hosts" display
Their never-ending series. In array
One rank arises: sudden, a new train
In quick effulgence flashes to the day:
And lo, the close confederates of the brain,
Connected as they start, confess the secret chain.
'Tis from resemblance we observe one thought
A thought of corresponding shape excite:
Nor less from contrast are the ideas brought
Wak'd by opposing images, to light:
And thus the present and the past unite.
Nor seldom, one clear image brings to view
Myriads, from contiguity more bright;
While, as we gaze upon their kindling hue,
We court each airy form, and deem the vision true.
Thus as in magic portraiture the past
Emerging, glows before the mental eye;
MEMORY retains the picture fleeting fast,
While FANCY gives it an illusive dye,
And the fond PASSIONS all their warmth supply:
Yet JUDGMENT interposes, to repress
The volatile ideas mantling high;
Lest they should flutter in too wild a dress,
Or by their dancing shapes the dizzy brain distress.
'Tis in these powers — affections — that we own,
Borne on excursive pinion, pure delight;
Yet more or less, as some with stronger tone
Prevail or sink before superior might.
But to localities, to speed our flight,
Fondly recurring, lo, we borrow aid
From objects that, presented to the sight,
Refresh the faint ideas as they fade,
Or call them into day from pale oblivion's shade.
Thus, with delight still keener, our career
We wing: and hence, more anxious to survey
The friendly spot, we hold its features dear.
Thus, recollecting life's mild-opening day,
If local objects but a tint display,
The eye, quick-glistening, the sweet tint perceives:
And hence, the kind assistance to repay,
The heart, as for a moment it believes
Its long-lost Joys restor'd, with grateful ardor heaves.
Such is the local love. But not alone
Is man to sympathizing scenes awake:
The bird and beast the same sensations own,
And from localities the impression take;
Tho' but a moment they an effort make
To recollect or image; tho' their frame
But with a transitory fervor shake:
Still, from one favourite spot, a sacred flame
Seems, with its wizard line, to circumscribe their aim.
The wandering dove, amid pale wintery skies,
Far off, remembers her accustom'd nest,
And down the gloom, o'er many a long vale, flies,
Till there, with weary wing, she sinks to rest:
The dog, exulting, scours wide woods, in quest
Of his bemoaned home, with broken chain:
The warrior horse, by foreign toil opprest,
Quickens his eager pace, as, once again,
He views the hoof-beat road, within his pasture-plain.
Nor, as revisiting, the palmy grove
That waves where Ganges rolls his yellow tide,
Does the sage elephant at random rove,
But winding round the gem-fraught mountain-side,
On the known valley glances looks of pride
Where he had once, fierce victor, with the blood
Of his mail'd enemy the foliage dyed:
Then o'er the seats of youth he seems to brood,
Rears his proboscis high, and hails the conscious wood.
Meanwhile, we give not to the brutes the joys
That memory's more extensive power bestows;
Since, chiefly as accustom'd scenes arise
To sense, each animal the emotion shews.
Yet ever new to man, the enjoyment flows,
As Memory her transporting vision rears!
There Fancy's fire, there generous Passion glows,
As fast-illum'd, the landscape reappears
Replete with shadowy forms, thro' the long lapse of years!
These sympathies in vulgar breasts to implant
Heaven loves. I hear the Grecian pilot sigh,
Amid the numbering shores of the Levant:
I see him lift to heaven his melting eye.
"Here," (he exclaims, with mingled grief and joy)
"Within my Tenedos, the favour'd isle,
Once lay the sable ships that conquer'd Troy!
Behold (he utters with a conscious smile)
The spot where chiefs were nurst, and glory crown'd their toil."
Yet 'tis the lot alone of souls refin'd
By taste, to feel the luxury that springs
From all the varied energies of mind:
To such, how oft a trivial object brings
The sweetly-pencil'd view, where Fancy flings
The tender colors of the autumnal sheaf;
While, as she sports within her faery rings,
Mixing the vivid tears of joy and grief,
She clothes each pictur'd form with rays of soft relief.
Tho' o'er his master's bow, so long unstrung,
An eye of sorrow good Eumaeus cast,
Tho' old Philaetius o'er the quiver hung,
Pierc'd by a quick remembrance of the past;
Yet was it theirs to own those feelings chaste,
Those sympathies that mov'd the widow'd fair?
Yet was it theirs, inspir'd by kindred taste,
As on an object of their fondest care
To muse, and from delight to steal a pensive air?
I see her slow the lofty stairs ascend!
I see her bosom heave delicious sighs!
Now o'er the bow I see the mourner bend,
While myriads of illusions round her rise
From the sweet relic of affection's ties,
The chronicle of many a blissful hour;
That, as the big tear trembles in her eyes,
Recals her vanisht days with soothing power,
Soft as in dreams we paint the fair Elysian bower.
Lo, by a fine ethereal spirit led,
Mid olive groves we trace Ilyssus' streams;
Or hail the solemn spot where Cato bled;
Or, where the ruin of Iona gleams,
Cherish, in holy trance, romantic dreams;
Or, with a filial tenderness, recal
Each monument of early youth that teems
With classic thought — the school's awe-breathing wall,
The bosom-thrilling bench, the academic hall.
Hence Tully, where Sicilian landscapes bloom,
Own'd all the enthusiast's fervor, as he found
Mouldering and clasp'd by briars, the sage's tomb:
In Tully's raptur'd mind 'twas hallow'd ground.
Hence, on a day that mark'd each annual round,
Due rites the muse-devoted Silius paid
Where the shagg'd steeps of Posilippo frown'd:
Hence, sweet Boccacio's vivid fancy play'd
Embower'd with Virgil's self amid the hoary shade.
Thus, then, to local objects that revive
Our former feelings, a delightful bond
Links us in friendly union; as alive
To sympathy, our bosoms correspond
With walks or arbors. Thus affection fond
That, unexcited by the scene, would rest
In dull stagnation, like a mantled pond,
Now, like a clear brisk current, flows confest,
Sparkles to fancy's ray, and cherishes the breast.