1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Local Attachment. Book the Fourth.

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

Rev. Richard Polwhele


The fourth book describes the effects of various human circumstances on the sense of local attachment. Stanza 15, describing the effects of poetry, contains an allusion to the Despair episode in the Faerie Queene: "the venom'd bowl and dagger court | Despair's wild gaze."

J. K. of Cambridge to Richard Polwhele: "I have read your poem on Local Attachment and you do not know what pleasure it gave me; for I was quite charmed with that Doric simplicity and unaffected pathos which almost breathe through every stanza. I felt great reverence and affection for your old peasant; with whom I long to be more acquainted, that I might shake him by the hand, and hang upon his legendary tongue for hours together. His two brothers, the 'longaevus senex' of Virgil, and the hoary-headed swain of Gray are not, I am sure, possessed of half his worth. How could it ever enter into the head of any rational man to accuse you of imitating the Pleasures of Memory? I see no trait of resemblance" 16 December 1796; Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:446.

Analysis of Book IV: "1. Having established and illustrated, in a general manner, both the EFFICIENT and the FINAL causes of the Local Attachment, let us descend to more particular doctrines and illustrations. It was intimated, that, assisted in their action by local scenery, memory, fancy, and the passions, under the controul of judgment, produced sensations of delight — whence originated the Local Attachment — but that this delight was felt more or less in proportion as some of those faculties or affections predominated over others. In conformity to these positions, we proceed to observe, that the energies of fancy and the gentler affections are attended with higher delight, than those of any other faculties and passions. At certain periods, and under certain circumstances, the fancy and the gentler affections predominate. In these situations, therefore, we feel a greater degree of delight, and consequently a greater degree of Local Attachment, than in other situations, where they do not predominate. Let us consider the influence of Local Attachment in YOUTH, in MORE ADVANCED LIFE, and in OLD AGE, as also in PROSPERITY and ADVERSITY. 2. In YOUTH, fancy and the tender passions predominate. We feel the Local Attachment, therefore, more strongly in youth. Whether the local mirror reflect pleasure or misfortune, we contemplate it in youth, 'burnished by fancy's rays.' The harshness of a view of past misfortune appears softened through the medium of years: and such a tenderness is diffused over it by the gentler affections, that, under their influence, we prefer the contemplation of the sorrowful to the pleasurable. On this principle we prefer a tragedy to a comedy. We enter into all the illusion of tragic representation; at the catastrophe of the story are melted into tears; and then indulge the subsequent sensations. In MANHOOD, the memory borrows a less vivid colouring from the fancy; the darker passions prevail; and the judgment looks round on every object, with timid circumspection. In manhood, therefore, the Local Attachment cannot be so strong as in youth. If, at this stage of life, the local scene reflect images of pleasure, we survey it with a rapid glance: We are too suspicious of deceit to trust ourselves long, to what may prove illusory. But, if the scene remind us of misfortune, we cannot bear the retrospect. The experience of troubles succeeding troubles, prevents our viewing the past as meliorated by the softening influences of time: and the sense of former sufferings, awakens our apprehension of future calamities. So deeply imprest are we, indeed, with ideas of the evils of life, that we shrink even from a fictitious representation of them. — It is very different in OLD AGE, which hath been called a second infancy. Here memory has a surprising quickness in recalling the events of our earlier years; and fancy wanders over the past with a childish fondness. Pleasant to the soul of Ossian were the days of his youth: and old Barzillai preferred 'his own place,' to 'the voice of singing men and singing women.' — Again, the degrees of Local Attachment differ very greatly, in PROSPERITY and ADVERSITY. In prosperity, we are so perfectly satisfied with realities, that we are not fond of resigning ourselves to illusion. It is in circumstances of tender distress, that, feeling the imbecility of human nature, and humbled by the consciousness of our own weakness, we fly for support to those objects which restore to us the faded images of youth and gaiety, and enable us to lose the present in the contemplation of the past. 3. We call, then, on the busy in the middle stage of life, and on the arrogant and vain who riot in affluence, to renew and cherish the Local Attachment since it is the friend of the generous virtues" (1798) 1:vi-viii.



While now the mind, in one wide view display'd,
(Tho' trac'd with rapid strokes the sketch be slight)
Where fair Localities its action aid,
From memory, fancy, passion, draws delight;
Lo, as its powers — affections thus unite,
Some, with a genuine ardor unreprest,
The sweet emotion more intense excite:
'Tis theirs to pierce with keener thrills the breast,
Till others coldly rise, and vaunt the imperious crest.

See Fancy and the tenderer passions move
With feelings far more exquisite the soul.
Full oft hath Fancy rais'd the blooming grove
On the black waste, or high where sea-waves roll,
Soft o'er the surge with fine illusion stole,
And in smooth azure cloath'd the halcyon scene:
Then doubt not but she spreads, while no controul,
While no rude checks from reason intervene,
E'en on the humblest home the faery light serene.

'Tis in the gentler passions to inspire
The wold where solitude far brooding frown'd,
With social ardor, with congenial fire.
Lo, the dank mead by wintry gloom embrown'd,
Pity relieves, and Love attires the ground
With flowers: Lo, Sorrow melting in a tear
Breathes her own sympathy the rocks around:
Then doubt not, but the soft affections here
Can many a day o'erpast to memory's eye endear.

Meantime, where reason boasts its influence cold,
Imagination faulters too confin'd;
And, where the less ingenuous passions hold
Dominion o'er the mercenary mind,
No more we welcome with complacence kind
The mirror that reflects our fleeted hours:
Then wonder not, that memory, disinclin'd
To mimic sunshine while the thunder lours,
Nor strays thro' wood walks dim, nor talks with silent bowers.

Lo, at peculiar seasons fancy reigns
With gentler passion: Then, without allay,
Lives all our fondness amid local scenes:
But when relax'd, she rules with feeble sway,
Behold the home-born sympathies decay:
Thus, whether we observe youth's roseate bloom,
The brow care-furrow'd, or the temples grey,
Or prosperous fortune, or a harsher doom,
We see them rise, or sink, or their first warmth resume.

If the muse glance on many-featur'd life,
She marks the point where youth first meets the cares
That, in a restless world, alas! too rife,
(So cruel fate ordains) each being shares.
'Tis at that point that vivid fancy wears
To the fond eye a more enchanting smile!
'Tis at that point that generous passion bears
The enthusiast far from trouble and from guile,
Spurning the venal path where busy mortals toil!

Then, but half-conscious of a fear, we grasp
Each trembling hope that flutters round the heart;
Then, feeling a slight sting from care, the wasp
We scorn, nor own the transitory smart.
Yet, with spontaneous retrospect, we dart
To the sweet dawn of life a longing look;
And woo, where memory marks her faithful chart,
The primros'd hedge, green lane, or willowy brook,
The o'ershadow'd stile, or ash that rocks the cawing rook.

Then, whether the returning forms of years
Featur'd with pain or pleasure we behold;
The local mirror to our eye appears
Burnisht with magic rays from fancy's gold.
And then, realities arise, too cold
For meditation; while in all the past
We see the story of the future told:
And lo, already hath the heart embrac'd
The illusive train of hopes that reason vainly chas'd!

Lo, thro' the veil of time, the traits of grief
Soften'd by such a tender tint arise,
That we prefer the sorrow in relief
To all the placid view of vanisht joys.
Yes! if the scene where tears had fill'd our eyes;
Present the mellow'd lineaments of woe,
With deeper interest such a scene we prize;
While, every sweet sensation to bestow,
Here with peculiar grace the gentler passions glow.

Absorb'd by Desdemona's rueful fate,
By poor Monimia's have I seen the young.
In all the stillness of suspense they sat!
And, as their nerves to agony were strung,
Their breasts what exquisite sensations wrung!
Yet, when the terror-breathing tale was o'er,
Still to the visionary scene they clung,
As fond each fine emotion to restore;
Tho' faint to other eyes the illusion shone no more.

Yes! 'tis for minds unpractis'd in the world
To view such pictures with a transient pain;
And, tho' o'er frenzy's wild a moment hurl'd,
Yet feel no dizzy fever of the brain.
Perhaps they bid a tear their cheeks distain:
And then, as drops the curtain o'er the past,
They wander, in a trance of grief, again,
Each soft impression mellower than the last,
Till Pity on the soul her gentle shadow cast.

So when the summer eve, with crimson bredes
Lilac and gold, by faery fingers meint,
Tinctures her horizontal cloud; recedes
In soft gradation, every vivid teint;
Till milder glories, paler blushes paint
Its melting form, where set the solar ball—
Till, as the colors in deep azure faint,
In clear serenity the shadows fall,
And melancholy reigns, and wraps in stillness all.

Far other beams from fancy's lamp, illume
Those who the furrows of experience wear.
Dull is the light that moves the lurid gloom
Of spirits long inur'd to many a care.
And, as the less ingenuous passions share
The bosom of the worldling, what avails
A ray from kind affection glimmering there?
Alas! when memory lives, yet fancy fails,
Vain are familiar groves and sympathizing dales.

Far-gone in life, their pleasure-gilded prime
The busy scarce with rapid glance review;
But turn with quick aversion from the time
Which melancholy mark'd with sombre hue,
Or on the picture brood with minds that rue
Misfortune frowning too distinct and clear;
And (while the shade of sorrow to renew
Pale memory labours, to herself severe)
Cloud with the gathering gloom full many a future year.

Poetic woes, resembling truth, too deep,
Say, is it theirs, care-visag'd, to support?
They tremble in suspence: they cannot weep.
Nor, as the venom'd bowl and dagger court
Despair's wild gaze, to fancy's orb resort,
Bidding its ray relieve the sullen breast,
They own, alas! no keen sensation short,
A moment by the tragic tale distrest,
But feel repeated pangs that rob the soul of rest.

But when old age approaches, silver-grey,
Then with a wond'rous quickness thro' the maze
Of incidents long-past, we bend our way,
And round us with a sweet emotion gaze;
And, as from time no touches could eraze
The impression of our youth but mellower grown,
Behold, perhaps, a tree thro' fancy's maze,
An arbor-bench, that, like ourselves, hath known
The pitiless-beating storm, by sympathy our own.

Soothing to feeble Ossian's pensive soul
Youth's airy vision could the sigh awake.
The soft-reflected forms on memory stole,
Like moonbeams fading from a distant lake,
Or, like the mid that morn's mild glories streak,
Glistening between the hills in long array:
Fair-opening, see the vapoury volume break—
With gradual stealth its colors glide away!
'Twas thus to Ossian's soul appear'd his youthful day.

Lo, at that hour when pleasure's dulcet voice
No more shall languish on the deaf'ned ear,
Nor the dim'd eye her glittering lures rejoice,
Nor luxury tempt the taste with genial cheer,
When all the charms of power shall disappear,
We bid the past delightful aid afford;
And, musing on some scene to childhood dear,
Feel for a moment to the silver chord,
And to the golden bowl their energies restor'd!

The hoar Barzillai, tho' his sovereign's grace
Would add new splendor to the chief's degree,
Yet, panting for his own paternal place,
Stole from the burst of royal minstrelsy,
The blaze of courtly pomp, and festal glee:
To his own walls yet anxious to return,
If Heaven would still sustain the feeble knee,
Behold, he long'd to bless his native bourne
Resembling, as he drop'd, the silvery sheaf of corn.

Meantime, the local flame with varying fate,
Or sinks or brightens. 'Tis not in the pride
Of affluence, or in self-applause elate,
When every gentler feeling we deride
And check the tear to misery's self-denied,
That, fancy-led, we woo the secret power
Of glens or fountains to the heart allied;
That, from the world retir'd, we court the bower,
Tho' memory's glass present the cloud-unsullied hour.

No! we are conscious of the attachment most,
Not in the midst of splendor and of joy;
But when, perhaps, some dear relation lost
We mourn, as all our earthly pleasures cloy:
'Tis then, our fairest prospect to destroy,
We see a brood of woes around us gloom;
And, as an infant grasps the gilded toy,
Cling to the scene that, clad in vernal bloom,
Gives back the former years, to veil our future doom.

If, then, the sympathetic love befriend
Pure virtue; be it yours, ye busy train
Who to the world alone your wishes bend—
O be it yours, ye arrogant and vain,
Whose ears are sooth'd by adulation's strain,
Ingenuous youth's fine ardor to renew:
So shall your native spots thro' life retain
By care untarnisht a delicious hue,
'Till death, array'd in smiles, foreclose the faery view!

[(1798) 1:37-48]

[Continue]