1798
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ellen and Danvert. A Tale.

The Influence of Local Attachment with Respect to Home, a Poem, in Seven Books: a new Edition, with large Additions: and Odes, with other Poems. In Two Volumes. By Mr. Polwhele.

Rev. Richard Polwhele


29 Spenserians, a brief gothic tale that originated as an episode in Richard Polwhele's Influence of Local Attachment (1796). Ellen is violently separated from her lover Danvert by a wrathful father and left to wander alone amid the scenes of their happier days. The story illustrates how a romantic landscape becomes imprinted by memories. Polwhele obviously follows the lead of Anne Radcliffe in his moody descriptions, even as the gothic details of his story look forward to Coleridge's Christabel, and Keats's Eve of St. Agnes. In its more sophisticated emotional effects Ellen and Danvert develops the sheer sensationalism of the earlier Spenserian romances of Andrew Macdonald and Mary Robinson.

John Aikin [reviewing the first edition of The Influence of Local Attachment]: "Much of the second book is taken up with a story of a pair of lovers, referred to the time of Elizabeth, which we think neither greatly to the purpose, nor very happily related. The stanza form is certainly not favourable to narration, whatever it may be to sentiment" Monthly Review NS 20 (May 1796) 69.

Critical Review: "To relieve this meagreness of plan [in Local Attachment], as is usual in didactic poems, a story is introduced, and as usual also, it is an extraneous and 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 from imagination, are more apt to quit an abode where a great loss has been sustained, than to grow attached to it" NS 18 (September 1796) 20.

European Magazine: "We have here a new Edition of Local Attachment, with large Additions, and a Variety of Miscellaneous Poems. The first Edition of Local Attachment consisted of 63 pages: the present Volumes consist of 206 pages: so that this may very properly be reviewed as a new publication" 34 (October 1798) 252.

Alexander Hamilton: "The poems which occupy the second volume claim different degrees of approbation: they were written 'on several occasions;' and as these were neither elevated nor ludicrous, the poetry seldom partkes of either of these qualities" Monthly Review 27 (October 1798) 228.

Anna Seward: "The neglect of Mr. Polwhele's poetic writings is a disgrace to the present period of English literature" Memoirs of Dr. Darwin (1804) 386.

Earl R. Wasserman: "Tells of a tragic love that centers about a castle and a crumbling, mouldy bower where 'funeral horrors breath'd' and ghastly specters dwelt" Elizabethan Poetry in the Eighteenth Century (1947) 199.



Once, in Eliza's days, beside a pile
Of rock gigantic upon rock, whose mass
Curtain'd with ivy clos'd a deep defile,
A castle rose. Illuminated glass
In ether dancing, thro' the narrow pass
Now caught the traveller's eye whilst yet aloof:
Now, thinly shaded by the sharp rye-grass,
Appear'd a buttress against ages proof:
Now frown'd thro' battlements a greyly-pointed roof.

There enter'd oft beneath the vaulted gate
Gleaming in azure steel, full many a knight,
What time the festival its banner'd state
Wav'd to each window's airy-shafted light;
And many a damsel as Aurora bright,
"Rain'd from her eyes sweet influence," while the meed
That consecrates hereditary might,
Was to the tourney's victor-chiefs decreed,
And rung the galleried hall to each heroic deed.

Here, mid her sire's high cheer, had Ellen seen
The blooming Danvert crown'd. His generous air
And all the graces of his manly mien
Had touch'd the yielding bosom of the fair!
Oft would she panting to the grove repair
Whence he had borne away the martial prize:
Oft in her pensive walks she breath'd the prayer
Mild as she saw the beam of Hesper rise,
That his dear form again might meet her wishful eyes.

Once thro' the twilight as she wander'd far,
From the dim sky that seem'd one sheet of lead
Scarce twinkled with scant rays a sickly star:
Scowl'd on the hilltop clouds of dusky red;
And sudden, like a murmur from the dead,
The low blast sigh'd along the reedy fen.
The faint air paus'd; a heavier darkness spread
O'er all; and in a blaze the distant glen
Stream'd on the sight and fled — obscur'd from mortal ken.

Now rush'd the squally wind: and now large drops
Fell scattering thro' the stillness. To an oak
Had Ellen ran; when, issuing from the copse,
"Tempt not, a stranger cried, the lightning's stroke—
Fly to the opening pathway." Scarce he spoke
When, as if Heaven's terrific arm would dash
The shrinking forest to destruction, broke
Full on the oak's broad branches the white flash,
And struck the chief to earth amid the shivering crash.

"O Danvert" — she exclaim'd, as o'er her face
Flush'd with a transitory crimson, stray'd
Her lovely tresses in disorder'd grace!
And with a feeble effort he essay'd,
As near his body stood the trembling maid,
To raise his limbs; when, cheering to the sight,
A taper gleam'd across the lurid shade:
'Twas from a neighbouring cottage ray'd the light,
Where, as the rustics deem'd, liv'd a hoar wizard wight.

But here no wizard wight his fancies told:
Her father he had serv'd, full many a day,
Dextrous with spade to turn the garden mould,
Tho' now his arm was weak, his locks were grey.
Yet did he love the village roundelay;
Oft to his hallow'd fountain with sly wink
Beckoning sick girls that sigh'd from Venus' sway;
When as the water bubbled, o'er the brink
He mark'd with boding looks, their pins or pebbles sink.

Thither, sustain'd by Ellen's feeble arm,
The youth repair'd; tho' faint his faultering feet:
And, "O! (he cries) if danger hath a charm,
'Tis when in sighs responsive bosoms meet.
Bath'd by my Ellen's sympathy how sweet
The thrilling keenness of heaven's fiery dart!"
High mantled her warm blushes. As they greet
The gard'ner, and their fateful tale impart,
The mingled passions rise, and swell each conscious heart.

How vain was her essay, to quench the fire
Of love, or dissipate the secret fears:
For Ellen knew, full well, her haughty sire
Would scorn her Danvert. And distressful tears
Flow down her cheek, as where the castle rears
Its towers, 'tis hers to seek the dubious way.
Yet the dire gloom reviving Danvert cheers:
And his true passion many a future day,
Beneath the peasant's roof, would Ellen's smiles repay.

Close by the mossy thatch, an old ash spread
Its light leaves o'er the path, that, taught to flow
Meandering up a hill's sleep verdure, led
Thro' tufts of purple lilac, such as blow
To vernal airs; till, darken'd at the brow
By laurels and tall-crested firs, it stole
Into a jasmine bower; whence, far below
Abruptly starting from the soft-green knoll
The eye saw clifts descend, and silvery billows roll.

Oft in this bower, where whisper'd overhead
The pine, was Danvert lost in amorous trance,
As the sweet sentiment of love he read
In her blue eyes that languish'd to his glance!
Yet, as she view'd ideal steps advance,
The tear of shrinking apprehension gleam'd;
When from the trees above, whose chequer'd dance
On the smooth turf a wavy lustre stream'd,
Type of some human form, the tremulous shadow seem'd.

Nor seldom, meeting in a cypress maze,
The lovers rov'd; where, long-untrodden, grew
The matted grass, and scarce the noon-day blaze
Had pierc'd for years the screen of spiry blue.
'Twas far behind a branching avenue
That from the castle stretch'd its statelier march,
The cypress gloom'd. Within, the paler hue
Of a fane glimmer'd: o'er its walls the larch
Floated, and briony half-hid each crumbling arch.

Once, on the fane while glow'd the westering day,
They climb'd the flint-steps to the light laid bare;
As no mere echoing to the choral lay
The unpillar'd rood-loft seem'd to rest on air.
Her heighten'd beauties shone, divinely fair!
The summer-sunbeam ting'd, more richly-warm,
The bright luxuriance of her flaxen hair;
And lovelier was her whole illumin'd form—
When sudden rush'd a sound that carried pale alarm.

Ellen, amidst the murmur, tottering down
The fractur'd staircase, sought the impervious shade,
But instant at her father's vengeful frown
Fell, as transfix'd; when, crashing o'er her head
Disparted fragments shook the cypress glade.
Strait, to the thistled pavement as she clung,
She swoon'd; nor op'd her lids the unhappy maid,
But to behold, the embattled towers among,
Dank solitary walls by many a cobweb hung.

As she awoke, to memory rising faint,
Each broken image came, but to appal.
Her lover's danger fancy prompt to paint,
Now saw him by her father's falchion fall,
Now, by the ruins of the shatter'd wall
O'erwhelm'd. As each idea fill'd her mind,
She started at herself. Around her, all
Was fearful silence; save when, as confin'd
Within some hollow cell, she heard the wailing wind.

Stretcht to a wide extent, the darkening dome
From its deep vaults funereal horrors breath'd,
As the light scarcely broke the dismal gloom,
From the dismantled windows ivy-wreath'd.
"There ghastly spectres oft ('twas said) unsheath'd
Their flametipt swords!" Hence superstitious dread
To airy habitants alone bequeath'd
The haunted room, and many a phantom bred,
From whose gigantic stride the castle-menials fled.

Meantime had Danvert scarce escap'd the sire,
As, darting thro' the thickness of the grove,
He shunn'd the curses of vindictive ire,
Yet unresenting for his Ellen's love.
Dire was the conflict he was doom'd to prove,
As, many a night, enwrapt in darkness drear,
Beneath the castle-towers 'twas his to rove;
Listening, perchance his Ellen's voice to hear;
But only the cold shriek from night-birds pierc'd his ear.

One time, as slow he pac'd the walls around,
He caught an echo as of Danvert's name:
From the aerial dome with turrets crown'd
He deem'd the plaining of his Ellen came.
And love, that fir'd with a romantic flame
His fervent spirit, bade the hero brave
The frown of danger, as with daring aim
He yet resolv'd to rescue from the grave
The persecuted maid, if ought avail'd to save.

And on one ominous night, a heavy door
That creak'd to many a melancholy gust
As Danvert mark'd, beneath the turret-floor;
Sudden, its hinges, fretted deep with rust,
Flew open at despair's embolden'd thrust.
Up the long staircase with loose fragments pil'd
He ran to the tower-chamber. "Ellen, trust
To thy own Danvert," with impatience wild
He cries — "A father fly, that ruthless slays his child."

They fled: and shadow'd by the wing of night
Amid the craggy hollows urg'd their way;
When lo (a lurking slave had watch'd their flight)
The father's gleaming mail. "Stay, miscreant, stay —
(He cried) this weapon shall the wrong repay!"
Whizz'd the fleet shaft. And, instant, to the ground
Her Danvert fell; and, gasping where he lay,
The blood that spouted from the deathful wound
Tinctur'd the low-brow'd rocks that black to horror frown'd.

So clos'd their hapless loves. O'er wild despair,
As Ellen gaz'd upon the corse, my muse
Would draw the veil. The poor distracted fair
From where hope loves its radiance to effuse
Long turn'd her eyes. But time her dreary views
Now gently lighten'd. And, as she survey'd
The scene, to sully with oblivion's dews
The image of the past she ne'er essay'd,
But call'd each object round to pensive memory's aid.

Pale sorrow canker'd her cheek's damask bloom,
And dim'd the lustre of her sparkling eyes:
And she had sunk untimely to the tomb,
Had not each object with congenial ties
Attach'd her, as it seem'd to sympathize
With her lorn spirit! Of her vanisht love
She saw the bosom-soothing vision rise,
Frequent in each lone room, or bower or grove,
Where Danvert wont to talk, and in fond passion rove.

Yet not the scene alone, where pleasure stole
The hours, her solitary footsteps trace:
E'en of the spot, where anguish thrill'd her soul,
She loves to mark the melancholy grace;
Nor for Golconda's jewels would erase
One sad impression of her Danvert here;
Tho', as she trembles o'er the sacred place
To love and fancy, to pale passion dear,
A shade of terror falls on every starting tear.

Where she beheld his fiery courser prance,
As from behind the hills in dazzling mail
Her Danvert came, and shook the uplifted lance;
Thither repairing, she was wont to hail
That hour, when, triumph kindling thro' the dale;
Her heart, unpractis'd yet in love, beat high;
When, as she saw her Danvert's arm prevail,
She felt the exulting throb she knew not why,
And caught, she knew not how, delirium from a sigh.

Nor less that oak which flung its blasted boughs
Across the forest-pathway, was her care:
There Ellen would recount her fondest vows —
Alas! he had first prov'd his passion there.
And, silence hovering in the shadowy air
O'er fading clouds, she sought the cottag'd dell,
Where, cheerful yet, the peasant breath'd a prayer,
That Danvert who had lov'd in life so well,
Might, with his Ellen still, a guardian spirit dwell.

Sweet was the cot, where, many a precious hour,
To the good man their tale the lovers told:
Sweet, the pine whispering o'er the jasmine bower,
Where Ellen still ascended to behold
Far, far beneath, the billows as they roll'd;
Where oft with sighs they seem'd to kiss the shore,
To mourn her Danvert now in earth so cold,
And every rockstone echoed to deplore,
In its last dying sound the joys that smil'd no more.

And in the cypress maze, the larch-veil'd fane,
She lov'd the summer-evening's saffron tint
And the pale burnish of the pictur'd pane,
And mourn'd, what time her Danvert wont to print
The grass, or climb the steps of dusky flint,
Her loves that, like a shadow, disappear'd:
And oft she borrow'd a distressful hint
From the lone tower by frienship's ray uncheer'd,
Yet by her sufferings keen, for Danvert's sake, endear'd.

Still glimmering to the glimpses of the moon
The dark-red rock appall'd the spectred air:
And with a hurried footstep at the noon
Of night, poor Ellen us'd to wander there!
At first, it was the wildness of despair;
When, as her frantic soul was robb'd of rest,
She hail'd the bloody crag that seem'd to stare
To murder, with the stain of hell imprest,
While deep parental rage was imag'd in her breast.

Yet, tho' paternal wrath had wak'd the pang
Of woe, to cloath her cheeks with deadly pale,
Tho' oft the sounds of execration rang
In her stunn'd ears; yet innocence could steal
The dart from vengeance, and its scowl conceal!
Yet virtue, that had breath'd the vow sincere,
Drew o'er the scene of death a gradual veil,
And, as it scatter'd every shade of fear,
Mus'd on the parting smile to conscious Ellen dear.

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