1801
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Monody on the Death of Dr. Warton.

Poems, by the Reverend William Lisle Bowles. Vol. II.

Rev. William Lisle Bowles


In a loving tribute, William Lisle Bowles praises his schoolmaster and poetical mentor, Joseph Warton. The poem is in irregular stanzas, and includes a small catalogue of authors read at Winchester School, Homer, Theocritus, Ossian, Shakespeare, Milton — omitting Spenser. The Monody, however, is infused with the sentiments of eighteenth century Spenserianism ("Elfin Poesy") that Bowles describes as coming upon him as a revelation: "I shook my deadly slumber off; — I gaz'd | Delighted round — awak'd, inspir'd, amaz'd, | I mark'd another world, and in my choice | Lov'lier, and deck'd with light! — On fairy ground | Methought I buoyant trod, and heard the sound | As of enchanting melodies, that stole, | Stole gently, and intranc'd my captive soul" p. 138. Bowles's rhapsody, imitating Warton imitating Milton, traces the genealogy of English poetry down to the Lake-School taste that Bowles himself was influential in forming.

New Monthly Magazine: "Family connection early determined that Winchester should be the place of his education; to which school he was sent in 1776. An uncle of his father's had long been a fellow of that college, contemporary with Lowth, and other distinguished men; of whose kind attention to himself, with some pleasing account of the singularities of his character, Mr. B. has gratefully spoken in a very late publication [Vindicae Wykehamicae]. Bowles was not to be overlooked, even where he had so many competitors as at Winchester, and he was soon particularly noticed by Dr. Warton. By the year 1781, he had risen to be the senior boy of that illustrious seminary" 14 (November 1820) 481.

Elizabeth Montagu recorded a visit to Winchester at the time Bowles was a student there: "I went to Winchester yesterday, on purpose to take a survey of the school; I could judge only how it was calculated for health and sobriety and I am much pleased with it. The school room, the room they eat in, the place in which they play, are all excellent for the purpose, but what pleases me most is, that Dr. Warton having them in the House they cannot go to the Tavern at night like the Etoners, indeed the Winchester boys look as Children ought to do, modest bashfull and humbly apparelled. Dr. Warton that he might attend on me gave the boys a play, which is an extraordinary compliment. The great Boys are all readers of my essay [on Shakespeare], so were very curious to see me, and I dare say, now I have got them a play, they will like the book much better than before" 1777; in Reginald Blunt, Mrs. Montagu (1923) 2:32.

Sir Herbert Croft to John Nichols: "The magnetism of Tom Warton draws many a youth into rhymes and loose stockings, who had better be thinking of prose and propriety; and so it is with his brother Joe. At school I remember we thought we must necessarily be fine fellows if we were but as absent and as dirty as the Adelphi of poetry" 15 May 1786; in Nichols, Illustrations (1817-58) 5:210.

Critical Review: "The monody on the death of Dr. Warton is equally honourable to the master and the scholar.... The entire panegyric evinces how the old master of Winchester was beloved. It as been said that Dr. Warton was the best tutor for a boy of talents, and the worst for others. Proofs enough exist how well he knew to encourage the timidity of genius, or to counteract indolence; and he will not perhaps be generally censured, because his good-nature did not force idle dullness to unprofitable exertion. The monody proceeds with its review of the author's school studies, and pictures are exhibited from Homer, Theocritus, Sophocles, Shakspeare, Ossian, Milton, and the Ode to Fancy [by Warton], which here we do not wonder to find in such company" NS 32 (August 1801) 426-27.

Henry Augustus Beers: "Bowles was a disciple in the 'School of Warton.' He was 'one of Joseph Warton's Winchester Wonders,' says Peter Cunningham, in a note in the second edition of Campbell's Specimens of the British Poets; 'and the taste he imbibed there for the romantic school of poetry was strengthened and confirmed by his removal to Trinity College, Oxford, when Tom Warton was master there.' Bowles was always prompt to own that he had learned his literary principles from the Wartons; and among his poems is a monody written on the death of his old teacher, the master of Winchester College. His verses abound in Gothic imagery quite in the Wartonian manner; the 'castle gleaming on the distant steep'; 'the pale moonlight in the midnight aisle'; 'some convent's ancient walls,' along the Rhine" Romanticism in the Nineteenth Century (1901) 61.

Garland Greever: "He came under the influence of Joseph Warton, who awakened his faculties, encouraged him to write verse, and gave definite bent to his literary ideals. From Warton he borrowed a distrust of Pope, and acquired or augmented his love of nature, of the ancient classics, of Shakespeare, of Ossian, of Milton and unfettered verse, and of Warton's own poems, especially the 'Ode to Fancy.' It was fitting that afterward, when Warton died, Bowles should pay him an affectionate tribute; for Warton made Bowles a poet, made him moreover a romantic poet" A Wiltshire Parson and his Friends (1926) 4.



Oh! I should ill thy gen'rous cares requite,
Thou who didst first inspire my timid muse,
Could I one tuneful tear to thee refuse,
Now that thine aged eyes are clos'd in night,
Poor WARTON! — Thou hast strok'd my stripling head,
And sometimes, mingling kind reproof with praise,
My path hast best directed through the maze
Of thorny life — by thee my steps were led
To that romantick valley, high o'erhung
With sable woods, where many a minstrel rung
His bold harp to the sweeping waterfall,
Whilst Fancy lov'd around each form to call
That fill'd the poet's dream: to this retreat
Of Fancy, (won by whose inticing lay
I have forgot how sunk the summer's day)
Thou first did guide my not unwilling feet;
Meantime inspiring the gay breast of youth
With love of taste, of science, and of truth.

The first inciting sounds of human praise,
A parent's love excepted, came from THEE;
And but for thee, perhaps, my boyish days
Had all pass'd idly, and whate'er in me
Now live of hope, been buried.

I was one,
Long bound by cold dejection's numbing chain,
As in a torpid trance, that deem'd it vain
To struggle; nor my eye-lids to the sun
Uplifted — but I heard thy cheering voice!—
I shook my deadly slumber off; — I gaz'd
Delighted round — awak'd, inspir'd, amaz'd,
I mark'd another world, and in my choice
Lov'lier, and deck'd with light! — On fairy ground
Methought I buoyant trod, and heard the sound
As of enchanting melodies, that stole,
Stole gently, and intranc'd my captive soul.
Then all was life and hope! 'Twas thy first ray
Sweet Fancy, on the heart — as when the day
Of Spring, along the melancholy tract
Of wintry Lapland, dawns; the cataract,
From ice dissolving on the silent side
Of some white precipice, with paly gleam
Descends, while the cold hills a slanting beam
Faint lingers: till, ascending in his pride,
The great Sun, from the red horizon looks,
And wakes the tuneless birds, the stagnant brooks,
And sleeping lakes! So on my mind's cold night
The ray of Fancy shone, and gave delight
And hope, past utterance ....

Thy cheering voice,
O WARTON! bid my silent heart rejoice,
And wak'd to love of Nature: every breeze,
On Itchin's brink, was melody: the trees
Wav'd in fresh beauty; and the wind and rain,
That shook the battlements of Wykeham's fane,
Not less delighted, when with random pace
I trod the cloister'd aisles: and, witness thou,
Catharine, upon whose foss-encircl'd brow
We met the morning, how I lov'd to trace
The prospect spread around — the rills below,
That shone irriguous in the fuming plain;
The river's bend, where the dark barge went slow,
And the pale light on yonder time-worn fane.

So pass'd my days with new delight — meantime
To Learning's tender eye thou didst unfold
The classick page, and what high bards of old,
With solemn notes, and minstrelsy sublime,
Have chaunted, we together heard; and thou,
WARTON! wouldst bid me listen, till a tear
Sprang to mine eye: now the bold song we hear
Of Greece's sightless master-bard: the breast
Beats high, — with stern PELIDES to the plain
We rush; or o'er the corpse of HECTOR slain
Hang pitying; — and lo! where pale, oppressed
With age and grief, sad PRIAM comes; with beard
All while he bows, kissing the hands besmeared
With his last hope's best blood!

The oaten reed
Now from the mountain sounds; the sylvan muse,
Reclin'd by the clear stream of Arethuse,
Wakes the Sicilian pipe; — the sunny mead
Swarms with the bees, whose drowsy lullaby
Soothes the reclining ox with half-clos'd eye;
While in soft cadence to the madrigal,
From rock to rock the whispering waters fall!
But who is he, that, by yon gloomy cave,
Bids heaven and earth bear witness to his woe?
And hark! how hollowly the ocean-wave
Echoes his plaint, and murmurs deep below!—
"Haste — let the tall ship stem the tossing tide,
That he may leave his cave, and hear no more
The Lemnian surges unrejoicing roar—
And be Great Fate through the dark world thy guide,
Sad PHILOCTETES!" ...

So Instruction bland,
With young-ey'd Sympathy, went hand in hand
O'er classick fields; and let my heart confess
Its holier joy, when I essayed to climb
The lonely heights, where SHAKESPEARE sat sublime,
Lord of the mighty spell: around him press
Spirits and fairy-forms. — He, ruling wide
His visionary world, bids terror fill
The shiv'ring breast, or softer pity thrill
Ev'n to the inmost heart. Within me died
All thoughts of this low earth, and higher pow'rs
Seemed in my soul to stir — 'till, strained too long,
The senses sunk:—

Then, OSSIAN, thy wild song
Haply beguil'd the unheeded midnight hours,
And, like the blast that swept Berrathron's tow'rs,
Came 'pleasant and yet mournful' to my soul!
"See! o'er the autumnal heath the gray mists roll!—
Hark to the dim ghosts' faint and feeble cry,
As on the cloudy tempest they pass by!
Saw ye huge LAGO'S spectre-shape advance,
Through which the stars look pale!" ....

Nor ceas'd the trance
Which bound the erring fancy, till dark night
Flew silent by, and at my window-grate
The morning bird sang loud — nor less delight
The spirit felt, when still and charm'd I sate
Great MILTON'S solemn harmonies to hear,
That swell from the full chord, and strong and clear,
(Beyond the tuneless couplets' weak controul)
Their long-commingling diapason roll,
In varied sweetness. ....

Nor, amidst the choir
Of pealing minstrelsy, was thy own lyre,
WARTON, unheard; — as Fancy pour'd the song,
The measur'd musick flow'd along,
'Till all the heart and all the sense
Felt her divinest influence,
In throbbing sympathy: — "Prepare the car,
And whirl us, Goddess, to the war,
Where crimson banners fire the skies,
Where the mingled shouts arise,
Where the steed, with fetlock red,
Tramples 'the dying and the dead;'
And amain, from side to side,
Death his pale horse is seen to ride!—
Or rather, sweet Enthusiast, lead
Our footsteps to the cowslip mead,
Where (as the magick spell is wound)
Dying musick floats around:—
Or seek we some grey Ruin's shade,
And pity the cold Beggar laid
Beneath the ivy-rustling tow'r,
At the dreary midnight hour,
Scarce shelter'd from the drifting snow;
While her dark locks the bleak wind blow
O'er 'her sleeping infants' cheek!
Then let the shrilling trumpet speak,
And pierce in louder tones the ear,
Till, while it peals, we seem to hear
The sounding march, as of the Theban's song;
And varied numbers, in their course,
With gath'ring fullness, and collected force,
Like the broad cataract, swell and sweep along!"
Struck by the sounds, what wonder that I laid,
As thou, O WARTON, didst the theme inspire,
My inexperienc'd hand upon the lyre,
And soon with transient touch faint musick made,
As soon forgotten. ....

So I lov'd to lye
By the wild streams of Elfin Poesy,
Rapt in strange musing: but when life begn
I never roam'd, a visionary man,
(For taught by thee, I learnt with sober eyes
To look on life's severe realities)
I never made (a dream-distemper'd thing)
Poor Fiction's realm, my world; but to cold truth
Subdu'd the vivid shapings of my youth;
Save when the drisly woods were murmuring,
Or some hard crosses had my spirit bow'd,
Then I have left, unseen, the careless croud,
And sought the dark sea roaring, or the steep
That brav'd the storm; or in the forest deep,
As all its grey leaves rustled, wooed the tone
Of the lov'd lyre, that, in my spring-tide gone,
Wak'd me to transport:

Eighteen summers now
Have smil'd on Itchin's margin, since the time
When these delightful visions of our prime,
Rose on my view in loveliness. — And thou,
Friend of my muse, in thy death-bed art cold,
Who, with tenderest touches, didst unfold
The shrinking leaves of fancy, else unseen
And shelterless: therefore to thee are due
Whate'er their summer sweetness; and I strew
Sadly, such flow'rets as on hillocks green,
Or mountain-slope, or hedge-row, yet my hand
May cull, (with many a recollection bland,
And mingled sorrow) WARTON, ON THY TOMB,
TO WHOM, IF BLOOM THEY BOAST, THEY OWE THEIR BLOOM!

[pp. 137-46]