1797
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Apostrophe to an Old Tree.

Elegiac Sonnets, and other Poems, by Charlotte Smith. Vol. II.

Charlotte Smith


Charlotte Smith moralizes an ancient oak as honest and useful Integrity, as opposed to the courtier-flowers of summer that bloom and fade. The source of the poem appears to be the fable in Spenser's Februarie, though Smith dispenses with the narrative and renders the allegory in naturalistic terms.

Mrs. Anne Katherine Elwood: "At that period the friendship of Mr. Hayley appears to have entailed upon his "Muses," as he was wont to call his female friends, the loss of that of their own sex, each apparently wishing to monopolize to herself all claims to his adulation. This may, perhaps, in some degree, explain the severity of criticism with which Mrs. Smith's productions were greeted by certain literary ladies about this time. But whilst the performances of most of her contemporaries have been consigned to a well-deserved oblivion, at the end of half a century, some of Mrs. Smith's are still read with pleasure and interest by all persons of taste" Memoirs of Literary Ladies of England (1843) 1:302-03.



Where thy broad branches brave the bitter North,
Like rugged, indigent, unheeded, worth,
Lo! Vegetation's guardian bands emboss
Each giant limb with fronds of studded moss,
That clothes the bark in many a fringed fold
Begemm'd with scarlet shields, and cups of gold,
Which, to the wildest winds, their webs oppose,
And mock the arrowy sleet, or weltering snows.
—But to the warmer West the Woodbine fair
With tassels that perfumed the Summer air,
The mantling Clematis, whose feathery bowers
Waved in festoons with Nightshade's purple flowers,
The silver weed, whose corded fillets wove
Round thy pale rind, even as deceitful love
Of mercenary beauty would engage
The dotard fondness of decrepit age;
All these, that during summer's halcyon days
With their green canopies conceal'd thy sprays,
Are gone for ever; or disfigured, trail
Their sallow relicts in the Autumnal gale;
Or o'er thy roots, in faded fragments tost,
But tell of happier hours, and sweetness lost!
—Thus in Fate's trying hour, when furious storms
Strip social life of Pleasure's fragile forms,
And aweful Justice, as his rightful prey
Tears Luxury's silk, and jewel'd robe, away,
While reads Adversity her lesson stern,
And Fortune's minions tremble as they learn;
The crouds around her gilded car that hung,
Bent the lithe knee, and troul'd the honey'd tongue,
Desponding fall, or fly in pale despair;
And Scorn alone remembers that they were.
Not so Integrity; unchanged he lives
In the rude armour conscious Honor gives,
And dares with hardy front the troubled sky,
In Honesty's uninjured panoply.
Ne'er on Prosperity's enfeebling bed
Or rosy pillows, he reposed his head,
But given to useful arts, his ardent mind
Has sought the general welfare of mankind;
To mitigate their ills his greatest bliss,
While studying them, has taught him what he is;
He, when the human tempest rages worst,
And the earth shudders as the thunders burst,
Firm, as thy northern branch, is rooted fast,
And if he can't avert, endures the blast.

[pp. 50-53]