1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Local Attachment. Book the Second.

The Influence of Local Attachment with respect to Home, a Poem in Seven Books.

Rev. Richard Polwhele


The second book consists largely of geographical descriptions, as the poet establishes that local attachment is a matter of universal psychology rather than something derived from the effects of living among particular kinds of objects.

Analysis of Book II: "1. We have thus discovered the efficient cause of the Local Attachment. We have noticed its universality, as influencing the brutes, and the mind of man whether uncultivated or highly polished. 2. If we take a view of the human species, as actuated by the local passion, in different climates, it will appear, that every one prefers his own country to a foreign one. 3. There is no inherent charm, therefore, in any one place as contradistinguished from another. Consequently the efficient cause of the Local Attachment is to be found in the mind as acted upon by external objects, not as external objects as acting upon the mind" (1788) 1:vi.

British Critic: "We should love particularly to dwell upon our author's old Devonian peasant, the fair counterpart of Virgil's Corycian yeoman; his Highland Chief, delineated from the colours and with the pencil of nature; and his tale of Danvert and Ellen, recited with many touches of agreeably romantic description. In description, indeed, this author peculiarly excels. He has an eye that catches the various tints at once, and a judgment that afterwards discriminates them with precision; and his present poem shows him to have a fine taste, a warm sensibility, and an elegant mind" 8 (July 1796) 84.

John Aikin: "The general design of this piece much resembles that of the very beautiful poem intitled Pleasures of Memory [by Samuel Rogers]; and, indeed, so many of the illustrations are exactly the same, as to afford some charge of too close an imitation of that popular work. It is written in the stanza of Spenser; which, according to the opinion of Dr. Darwin, is better suited to such a subject than the common heroic measure. Yet the frequency of the rhymes will always produce an intermixture of expletive, mean, and improper words; while the equality and length of the stanzas will give occasional stiffness and languor to the matter. In general, however, it is managed by the present writer with considerable skill and facility" Monthly Review NS 20 (July 1796) 67.

Critical Review: "The Local Attachment, founded on the great law of association, seems to be not unhappily chosen for a poem of this kind, — either from the importance of the principle, or the pleasing illustrations of which it is susceptible. In no country can the subject be more interesting, as the very term of 'home' is peculiarly English; the Englishman, from his retired and domestic disposition, requiring more, perhaps, than the inhabitant of most other countries, the comforts suggested by the term, and which are but aukwardly and imperfectly suggested by the 'mon chez moi,' which our neighbours have lately adopted through pure necessity. Nor do we hesitate to pronounce that the poem is executed in such a manner, as to do credit to the author, and give pleasure to his readers. The verse is always elegant, often brilliant; a great deal of pleasing descriptive poetry is happily introduced in the various illustrations which present themselves; the stanza is well managed, and free from that monotony, which in feeble hands it is apt to sink into; and, on the whole, we look upon the author, whose modesty has forbidden him to favour the public with his name, as a respectable accession to the present generation of poets.... To relieve this meagerness of plan, as usual in didactic poems, a story is introduced ["Ellen and Danvert," later published separately], and as usual also, it is an extraneous and rather a heavy addition to the poem. Nor can we subscribe to the sentiment the story is meant to illustrate; for it is not agreeable to fact, that the horror of so deep a catastrophe should endear the spot where it happened, to the surviving sufferer; and we find, that, in real life, persons who are very susceptible of impressions form the imagination, are more apt to quit an abode where a great loss has been sustained, than to grow attached to it. The remembrance of deep anguish, though past, we love not to dwell upon. Another circumstance which we cannot but notice, is, that the author, led indeed by the nature of his subject, treads too nearly in the track of another beautiful poem, which is present to the minds of most of our readers; and in the notes, he has taken, even verbatim, from those on the Pleasures of Memory. It may be said, indeed, that these illustrations were drawn from common sources: but it is impossible, nevertheless, not to believe that one was the original to the other" NS 18 (September 1796) 19-20.



Thus, then, the plastic mind my muse surveys
With forms by each external scene imprest;
As Memory, more or less, her power displays,
Or Fancy, brooking not a moment's rest,
Or those prime movers of the generous breast
The Passions: stealing sweets from all around,
They to our being give a keener zest;
While, as we wander on our native ground,
We call back former years at every sight and sound!

Behold, on beasts this fondness habit graves
Deep as the chissel'd figure grav'd on stone:
And, from the rocks where ice-clad Hecla raves
To where swart Afric pants beneath the zone,
All feel their nerves with energetic tone
Vibrate to some congenial soil, and strung
For a peculiar air. Yet, we disown
Incredulous, the storied beasts that sprung,
Each to his kindred earth, and o'er his parent hung.

Nor less, from use, the sons of reason mark
Their native skies, their heart-responding home;
Whether those skies be azure-bright, or dark
With sullen tempest; whether lordly dome
Or shed be theirs. Still, sighing deep, they roam
Far from the umbrageous grove, or village green;
Nor wander over Ocean's angry foam,
Without a hope once more to trace serene
Where peace hath smooth'd her wing, the dear familiar scene.

Here, where, descending from the sea-worn cliffs
In his own heavy cloud of darkness clad,
Full oft his watery pennons Auster lifts
And wraps the extensive isle in sudden shade,
Tho' vernal sunbeams were effus'd, to glad
Our landscapes, from Cornubia vein'd with ore
To Scotia's heaths that triumph in the plaid;
The Briton still prefers the changeful shore
To Egypt's cloudless plains where no rude tempests roar.

Yes! o'er his acres the green barley-blade
He values more than fields of clustering rice;
And rather shapes his way thro' plashy glade
Where crackles, at each step, the sheeted ice,
Than mid gay groves of cassia, that entice
The soul to pleasure, far diffusing balm:
To him more dear the oak-crown'd precipice,
Than the deep verdure of date-crested palm,
Where all is lap'd in ease, one languor-breathing calm.

To him more sweet thro' ashen woods to rove,
As eddying winds the foliage round him whirl,
Than cull the blossoms of an orange-grove
Skirted by rose-tree bowers, where rivulets purl
Mid basil tufts, and odorous breezes curl
The dream besprent with many a silver lote;
While, on the smooth canal, light ships unfurl
Their sportive sails, and gently as they float,
Flutter the billing doves, and croud the neighbouring cote;

While the gay-gilded mosque shines, half-conceal'd
By tamarinds and the broad-leav'd sycamore,
And, as beneath their trembling verdure veil'd,
Airs, Eden-born, delicious incense pour
Softening the fervors of the summer-hour;
While rich pomegranates bid their cooling seeds
To the parcht palate a keen sense restore,
And, round each whispering islet of cane reeds,
Its melon's grateful pulp the tepid water feeds.

Not ivory palaces, their roofs inlaid
With massy gold, where thrones of coral glow
Starr'd with the gems of Ormuz; not the shade
Ambrosial, waving its peach-flowers that blow
To pearly grapes, and kiss the turf below.
The genuine son of Albion could induce
His dairy-meads, his fallows to forego:
Not all the fruits, that bloom o'er every sluice,
Would, in his mind, outvie the redstreak's vermeil juice.

Nor, if to innocence a gentle smile
Beam, placid as the May's mild morning-break;
If, with a modest blush, to mark our isle,
Mantle to veins of azure the fair cheek;
Are not the charms of foreign beauty weak,
Beauty, that wantons with voluptuous air?
Can jetty ringlets that adorn the neck,
Sleek as they glisten to the sunny glare,
Rival, O Albion's dames, your amber-brightening hair?

Yet pleasure views and trembles at the gaze,
Those glossy tresses their luxuriance spread
To roseate essences; the diamond-blaze
Of many a crescent on the turban'd head,
Or the pearl-lustre as by rainbows fed;
The full dark eye; the panting of the breast
Thro' gauze that seems to kindle; limbs that shed
Purpureal light by silken folds carest,
And the rich zone that checks the thin transparent vest.

See as the rose-lipt Alme weave the dance,
To melting airs they move, in amorous play;
Or, arch with nods and wreathed smiles, they glance
Their nimble feet to frolic measures gay:
The cymbal's notes to love new warmth convey:
The burning aloe breathes its fragrance round.
O'er all the light saloon with sparkling ray
The diamond trembles to the dancer's bound,
While with fantastic mirth the dizzy roofs resound.

See glowing virgins lave the polisht limb,
What time they bid the musky bath exhale
Its steaming odors, and along the brim
The dalliance of the loves lascivious hail:
Or, when the clear night wafts her cooling gale,
See their fine forms, as eve's last colours die,
Slow on the flower-embroider'd terrace sail;
While, glittering thro' its whole expanse, the sky
With its deep azure shade relieves the wearied eye.

Yes! — Home still charms: and he, who, clad in fur,
His rapid rein-deer drives o'er plains of snow,
Would rather to the same wild tracts recur
That various life had mark'd with joy or woe,
Than wander, where the spicy breezes blow
To kiss the hyacinths of Azza's hair—
Rather, than where luxuriant summers glow,
To the white mosses of his hills repair
And bid his antler-train the simple banquet share.

All love their native spot; whether beside
Their ice-ribb'd mountains thro' a waste of night,
They catch the frost gales from the stormy tide,
And shiver to the boreal flashes bright;
Or, if the sun vouchsafe a noonday light,
Hail, from the crags, his faint reflected beams,
And slide o'er mouldering bridge, from height to height,
Where pine or ebony, or benreed gleams,
To float their huge-hewn planks, along the gulphy streams:

Or, whether blinded by the solar glare
The moon-ey'd Indian amid poison'd dews
Tainting the breeze, to balsam groves repair,
And sleep, tho' venom many a plant diffuse:
Or whether he who journeys o'er Peru's
Re-echoing caverns, heap his gold, to pave
The streets with ingots, oft as he pursues
His burthen'd beast, to where the boiling wave
Once swallow'd Lima's walls, a universal grave.

E'en now where rages red Vesuvio's flame,
Scarce from the fluid rocks his offspring fly;
Tho' cities, strown around, of ancient name,
The monuments of former vengeance lie.
And we have mark'd the indissoluble tie
By which a myriad down the yawning gloom
Descended erst, as Etna fir'd the Sky—
By which a myriad that escap'd the doom,
Cling to the sulphur'd spot, and clasp their comrade's tomb.

No country, then, is fair to all alike;
No landscape with inherent beauty glows:
But different objects different creatures strike,
Whether Peruvian suns, or Greenland snows.
The mind alone, from habitude, bestows
On each familiar form its shadowy grace:
Thus a sweet spring of satisfaction flows,
Or to the human or the bestial race,
From that ideal source — the charm attacht to place.

[(1798) 1:13-21]

[Continue]