1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Swiss Scene.

Poetic Trifles.

Rev. Richard Polwhele


Four Spenserians, perhaps spun off from Richard Polwhele's Influence of Local Attachment (1796). Under the influence of Solomon Gessner, Switzerland was gradually displacing Lapland as the cynosure in the late eighteenth-century romantic imagination. Richard Polwhele's Spenserian poems on Greece and Switzerland anticipated what, in the wake of Childe Harold, would become very popular subjects for descriptive and lyric verse. With Beattie, Polwhele deserves some credit for making the Spenserian stanza a vehicle for literary landscape description. Poetic Trifles was published anonymously.

Critical Review: "There is a command of language exhibited in these poems, which looks as if the author might write something more finished, if he would give himself sufficient trouble. . . The Swiss scene, and the Scotch scene, are good sketches.... By far the greater part of the volume is taken up by the Flight of Montauban, in mock heroic, which, to those who know nothing of the story, is totally without a meaning" NS 18 (September 1796) 105.

John Aikin: "These are, indeed, no more than trifles. From reading or observation, the writer has picked up some of those ideas called indifferently picturesque of poetic, but he is not possessed of skill to manage them so as to produce any considerable or lasting effect" Monthly Review NS 21 (December 1796) 463.

Boase and Courtney: the volume was "suppressed after a very few copies had been sold. Contains pp. 27-70 'Canzones and sonnets occasioned by the amours of Montauban' [i.e. Sir J. St. Aubyn]" Bibliotheca Cornubiensis (1874-82) 2:509.



Where long, long vallies of eternal ice,
Within the hollows of the mountain gleam;
And, glaz'd with frost, the shaggy precipice
Hangs o'er the dashing of the torrent-stream
That spreads its foam, then far beneath the beam
Of the pale sun, deep frets its cavern'd way;
Here the Swiss wooes his pine-woods, tho' they seem
To darken their brown foliage, and display
Their cones, in sullen pomp, to the dim-struggling day.

Here, if a wanderer, as array'd in light
Sudden a glaciere meets his charmed eyes,
Muse on the congelation, glittering bright,
Or tinctur'd with the rainbow's transient dyes;
Sudden, the surges of the vapour rise
O'er all the illumin'd landskape's beauteous glow:
And, shivering 'mid the horrour of the skies,
He marks immeasurable tracts of snow,
Shook by the wrathful roar of clouds that burst below.

And see the lonely traveller's weary feet
Pursue his path along the mountain's side:
His burning cheeks are pierc'd by arrowy sleet,
Slow as he climbs where ruins threaten wide.
But lo! his smoking cot at length descry'd
He fondly picture's the parental kiss,
Quickening his eager pace — when strait divide
The snows in hollow thunder! — scarce the abyss
He 'scapes, once more to taste the dear domestic bliss!

Yet the Swiss loves his chasmy-fractur'd steep;
Yet loves his dusky woods, tho' cold and drear,
And the rough roads that round his mountain sweep:
Yet, as the sombrous torrents soothe his ear,
Wild-hanging o'er the craggy point, how dear
His simple hut! 'Tis there he breasts the gale,
Furrowing his fields; nor, 'mid his genial cheer,
Heeds, tho' high floods the mountain-base assail,
The enormous mass of snow that overwhelms the vale.

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