1800 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Progress of Pedantry.

The Harp of Erin, containing the Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Dermody. In Two Volumes. [James G. Raymond, ed.]

Thomas Dermody


Four "Rowley" Spenserians (ababbcdcdD): a sardonic character of college life, in which Thomas Dermody refused to participate though tuition was offered to him: "At last, old pedantry's anointed heir, | The Antichrist of learning, he doth rise | Despotic fellow of Miss Alma's chair."

The Countess of Moira, Dermody's patroness, attempted in vain to persuade the willful poet to mind his studies with Henry Boyd: "From Mr. Boyd's instructions you have the fullest opportunity to acquire that classic knowledge which is the solid foundation for every other science, and from his precepts and example you will learn the duty and responsibility for moral virtue. You will be inclined, I know, to tell me that you are thoroughly versed in all manner of knowledge. At your age one is apt to mistake, and to appreciate our own talents and acquisitions too highly: experience and subsequent information alone teach one how difficult, or rather laborious, it is for the greatest genius to gain extensive knowledge; and therefore humility is generally found to be an attendant on great minds. I allow you considerable facility in rhyming: nature has bestowed upon you that particular branch of ability. But if your rhymes convey not great, noble, just, and striking sentiments; or do not flow embellished by picturesque ideas, or adorned by elegance of style; your reputation as a poet will never rise above mediocrity" 21 January 1791; in James Grant Raymond, Life of Dermody (1806) 1:235-36.

Compare Mark Akenside's "The Virtuoso" (1737) and Gavin Turnbull's "The Bard" (1788).



The wight I sing who thro' Protean changes
The course of brazen pedantry pursues;
Thro' quibbles, puns, and motley bon-mots, ranges,
(Bon-mots, sage elfs, who con all wayward news,
Subject perdye right arduous to the muse!)
The wight who quite from mortal ken estranges
To study Plato and the Stagyrite,
Ye sprites Batavian, critics deep, avenge his
Dispraises vile; and while all proud I write,
Dub me (illustrious meed!) great "sooterkin of wit."

First in the musty cloisters of a college,
Poor servitor (a hapless state, I ween),
He dives expert in metaphysic knowledge,
And sees (what only by his eye is seen)
Myst'ries of awful depth; dulness their queen;
Like the vain dreams that crown'd the murky foliage
Of Morpheus tree, erst view'd by Venus' sun,
Darkling he ponders on a chair whose two legs
Down topple soon; bereft of sprightly fun,
Bereft of beef and ale, — but not bereft of dun.

Eftsoons the brother-wizards spy his lore,
A scholarship his golden branch appears;
Fine branch, that gives him, ale unquaff'd before,
October cognamed, hid full many a year.
Now deep Smiglecius, wet with nut-brown cheer,
Doth pose his pate, and bid the sluggard snore:
'Mongst holy fathers spends he the long night,
And livelong day, while others rant and roar.
His tassel'd square cap, comely to the sight,
Doth make him seem like man that necromancer hight.

At last, old pedantry's anointed heir,
The Antichrist of learning, he doth rise
Despotic fellow of Miss Alma's chair.
Exub'rant ignorance doth glaze his eyes:
Ignorance that makes a turtle a lord may'r.
With frowzy beard, black mouth, and haggard hair,
The goblin meagre utters maxims wise;
Through logic, physic flounders in despair,
Or tumbles in the depth where error lies:
Awful profound! where dash'd in woeful guise
With cobwebs blind he sleeps; till, miscreant vile! he dies.

[1:156-57]