1802
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Crusades.

Poetical Register, and Repository of Fugitive Poetry for 1802 (1803) 179-89.

Rev. John Mitford


A Miltonic ode by "Mr. John Mitford, of Oriel College, Oxford"; Mitford, who in 1802 was an undergraduate, afterwards edited Spenser for the Aldine poets and contributed essays on early English poetry to the Gentleman's Magazine. Mitford's heroic ode in blank verse celebrates the Christian Middle Ages as the dawn of European liberty: "Genius of chivalry! from thee arose | The first faint dawn of freedom" p. 184. At Oxford Mitford was a close friend of Reginald Heber, who may have had a hand in this. The manner and spirit of the poem owes little to Spenser, more to Milton, and most to Thomas Warton.

W. Davenport Adams: "John Mitford, clergyman, poet, and literary critic (b. 1781, d. 1859), published Miscellaneous Poems (1858), and edited the works of Milton, Gray, Parnell, and others. He was twice editor of The Gentleman's Magazine, from 1834 to 1850, and a sketch of his life is given in that periodical for July, 1859" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 399.

Mitford, one the more significant nineteenth-century literary antiquaries, was a great admirer of Phineas Fletcher. Some Spenserian stanzas he composed in the 1830s appear in Charlotte Matilda Houstoun, in Letters and Reminiscences of the Rev. John Mitford (1892) p. 87-88. Several undated poems in irregular Spenserians are printed in Mitford's Miscellaneous Poems (1858).



Spirit, who sitt'st in solitude, unseen,
Watching the change of nations, as they roll
Their fated round, beneath the wing of Time,
That ever with it's swift and ceaseless strokes
Brings manifest alteration; now a gleam
Of joyous sun-shine pouring, and e'en now
Plunging in total darkness man and all
His vaunted powers: Spirit, who hast seen
This awful change, as down oblivion's gulf
With swelling sail, full tide, and surges high
We fated speed, give ear unto my song!
Meanwhile, if strength possessing, from the grasp
Of dire Oppression it essays to sing
Man's proud deliverance, when the' assembled chiefs
Woke Europe into arms, and pour'd their might
Upon the Asian Continent, as thick
As are the locust-armies in the breeze;
What time Christ's Sepulchre from Paynim hands
They strove to liberate, and their toilsome way
Unto the Holy Land fervid they bent.

Time was, o'er Europe's desolated plain
Her ebon wand and cowl of sable hue
Grim Superstition spread. Oppression then
Frown'd from his feudal castle, and with heel
Contemptuous spurn'd the vassal croud below.
Oh, 'twas a time of darkness! for the spirit
Of man was humbled, and he plenteous drank
The bitter draught of slavery: he had not
A pleasant home of quietude and rest,
A peaceful dwelling in the tufted woods
And vocal waters bosom'd; but he heard
Instead of the soft music of the vale,
Soft music from oat-pipe, or pastoral reed,
Far other notes, and sounds of sadder tone.
Unceasing gall'd the fetter, and the scourge
Tore every throbbing vein: then, quite subdue'd
And plung'd in such calamitous constraint,
Himself of heaven descended, and of earth
A freeman, he forgot; — till his mind sunk,
And with the body's bondage felt it's own.
—So was it darkness in the land, and all
Lay wrapt in lethargy: blind Ignorance wav'd
His leaden sceptre, and with cold, dull touch
Spread wide his clustering mildew. Spring arose
And op'd her flowers in vain; in vain around
Her roses Summer strew'd, — for none were there
To taste their breathing sweet: the purple brow
Of Autumn glow'd; and not a cheerful sound,
And not a merry carol hail'd him in.
Seasons return'd; but not to man return'd
Hope or deliverance; with the herds he held
Sad, painful sojourn, and his lapsed powers
Almost forgot: — so farewell hope! farewell
All noble enterprize! on every gale
The shrieks of anguish came; unceasing howl'd
The fiends of famine, and the dogs of death.

But who is he? — yon Eremite? — that cries
To all the sons of Europe, "Rouse to war?"
Bare is his head, and with unshrinking foot
He mocks the pointed flint, while on his cheek
Glows love of enterprize, and his quick eye
Darts forth unusual fervour. Bolder now
Blows he the blast of terror: at the sound
The Soldan sinks recoiling, and in vain
To Alla weeps. Obedient Europe hears
The call; the fetters from her armed hands
Drop; and in adamant and complete steel
She waves the crimson banner. Thither flock
Myriads of gathering people; for, all lov'd
The pleasing sorcery, and could not choose
But join the throng. Forth from his midnight cave,
Where late the secret work of death he ply'd,
The daring robber creeps; the peasant wields
The scythe, now raging in the ranks of war.
Here croud the knights, their rich retinue led,
Their grooms and coursers; here the baron waves
His gorgeous Oriflamme; kings, prelates, here
Pour to the holy standard: thick they seem'd
As those embodied forces which at Thebes
Or Ilium conquer'd, or those numerous bands
Headed by Charlemagne. Ambition's sons
Came flocking here, and here the scoundrel train
Of Avarice, all their bestial views conceal'd
Under Religion's garb: for, Fancy play'd
In thousand orient hues, and lov'd to build
Her gorgeous imagery, their fond hopes belying
With sweet delusion. Thus, not few entic'd
The mines of gold and jasper, the sweet groves
Of balm and myrrh and nard, where every gale
Drops perfume from it's wings; and not a few
The black-eye'd Maids of Paradise, who wave
Amid the myrtle bowers their raven locks,
And, as they weave the choral dance, instruct
The look to languish, and the breath to sigh.

Now was it busy in the land; now glow'd
The martial phrenzy: (as the ceaseless hum
Of the home-coming bees at even-tide,
When the sun sinks, and from the quiet cot
The light blue smoke ascends:) in every gale
Bray'd the loud clarion, to the noon-day sun
Emblazon'd armour flash'd, the pennons broad
Flutter'd their streaming points, and wav'd traverse
On their high standard glittering: to the Cross
All bow'd in adoration, and all call'd
Upon the living God to lead them on.
—And on they went, panting with eager hope,
Ill-starr'd and ill conducted, on they went.
Yet were they flush'd with slaughter, yet they were
Laden with booty large of gold and gem
And radiant purple, till they' almost forgot
God's business, and with paramount step and pride
Their haughty rod of desolation shook
On every foe. They went like the tall ship
Of some rich burgher, to the Venetian bound
Beyond the Southern Cape, in proud career
Above the green wave tilting. Yet their pomp,
Their pride, and all their garniture of war,
And gay habiliments, (vain hopes and weak!)
Their coursers champing the rich curb, and swift
Their hawks that mock'd the winds, and dogs that woke
The Echo sleeping on the breast of Morn,
All could not save. Alas! how chang'd, how fallen
From former pomp and pride. — So was that change
In Eden, when his form of cherub grace,
His orient hues, and wings bedropt with gold,
Satan had doff'd, and bade each nobler limb
Shrink in the reptile's form: oh! such a sight
War now appear'd; and as he sail'd aloof,
With talon sheath'd, his long expected feast
The famish'd raven snuff'd. While on they mov'd,
With difficulty and labour, cursing oft
Their journey unfortunate: for, not now
O'er sunny uplands pass'd they, or rich vales,
Or flowery meadows; but the hot, hot sand
Stretch'd like the ocean's line, and not a breeze
Play'd on their throbbing temples, but they drank
The simoom's purple breath, and every plague
Infectious Shadowing o'er the fainting van
Pale Famine rear'd his hideous form, and howl'd
Unto his brother Thirst, who vampire-like
Sate panting in the rear, with iron gripe
His daily victim seizing, and each fount,
Each chrystal spring, that might have slak'd the lip
Of parched myriads, and the blood shot eye
Reviv'd, drove deep into their gelid beds.
Oh, it was foul to see them! for, they lay
Lean skeletons along, dug here and there
By the wild vulture, and their bones were strewn
Upon the shore, and whiten'd all the plain.

Sons of Ambition, how your crest is fallen!
Was this your pomp? was this, that to the sun
The flashing cymbal play'd, the clarion blew
It's clear, full swell, and streaming in the breeze
The crimson banner wav'd? Those mighty shouts,
The preparation, and the pomp of war,
Taunts of the tongue, and menace of the eye,
Was it for this? Alas, I know you not!
Men of the haggard cheek and hollow eye,
How are ye chang'd! for ye have lost your look
Of blood, your hungry cravings after flesh!
—Oh, they are satiate! they have gorg'd their food,
And drank their draught of gore! and now they lie
Upon the cold earth pillow'd, and their feast,
Their glorious feasting ended, and their high
Carousing done, they lay them down to sleep,
Bleach'd by the blast, and rotting in the sun.

Genius of chivalry! from thee arose
The first faint dawn of freedom: from thy hall,
Thy banner'd hall, and tournaments of yore,
Where gorgeous dames and bearded barons sate,
The loud harp rang, and woke to nobler deeds
The sluggish slumbering soul. Again thou call'dst
On Europe's sons, again they couch'd the lance,
And half the globe from it's foundations loos'd
Seem'd staggering to the other: once again
To the swift keel the Euxine billow flash'd,
And the lithe streamer it's reflected hues
Play'd glittering on the wave: with daring prow
They bore their perilous travel, and Despair
Sate lowering on their brow. — Ye men of blood,
Mark not your paths with slaughter! bid the sword
Not blush with carnage! Mercy cries aloud,
And by the orphan's look, the timorous tear,
That speaks the virgin's sigh, more eloquent
Than words can utter, by the' embosom'd vale,
The shelter'd hamlet and the fading scene
When breathes the perfum'd eve, she cries aloud,
By all that Pity can bestow on prayer ;
"Arrest your sword! men of revenge and war,
Turn, you and yours! lest now that the great flood
O'erwhelm you; as of old that impious host,
When the wide waters stretch'd their terrible jaws
And clos'd them in: in evil hour they sank
The renegades from God; fit punishment
For such apostacy. So perish all,
Who bid the purple sword of slaughter smoke
In fellow blood!" — Yet bear they fearless on
Their clamorous course, between despair and hope,
Replete with confidence: the' angel of death
Sweeps o'er the walks of war, his iron mace
Wielding aloft, and on his pale horse stalks
From band to band. Nor rest they till they view
Upon the flood the Turkish crescent gleam,
And all their flaming banners they unfurl
Before Jerusalem. Oh, shout for them,
For their long work is done! the perilous flood,
The wilderness, that shews it's lean, pale cheek
Kiss'd by the hurricane, and the worrying foe,
Are past; past are the purple blasts of death
That swept the desert, and the pillars of fire
Walk'd innocent. Yet are they not unseen,
Not unobserv'd, for many a far off league,
By them who on the watch towers frequent sat,
And gave the' alarm, their long, inquisitive search
Not intermitting: yet, at last, they come,
And now before that holy city all
Bend the low knee; soldier and prince and slave
Together join, hard plying their strong work,
Their work of faith. — For forty tedious days,
And forty tedious nights, impell'd they on
Against the sons of Alla: 'till aloft
And o'er the captive battlements unfurl'd
The Christian banner stream'd. 'Twas a proud day
For Europe and her sons. Weep, weep aloud
Ye of Damascus! and through all her streets,
Her silent courts, and long-deserted halls,
Let Bagdad mourn! — Aye, now the work is past,
The work of war; and now the spear has rest;
And ill the tent it's steely brows relax'd,
Slumbers the idle casque; befit them now
Raiments of other hue; and where the sword
Furrow'd with deep indented scars the hand,
Oh let the palm-branch wave! Suppliant and slow
Ascend they Calvary, that sacred mount
Where bled their Saviour; o'er his long-sought tomb
The warrior bends, and the rough soldier weeps
His tear of joy and sorrow; young and old,
The widow and the orphan, all bend down
In humble adoration. Europe hears
The loud shout; — floats there not a wave, but bears
Good tidings of great joy; — great joy — for war
And towns and battles won: breathes not a gale
But on it's flagging pinions Conquest rides,
And nations bless it as it sails along.

Now was the time accomplish'd, now was come
Man's freedom: o'er the visual orb appear'd
The golden day, and though by blood 'twas bought,
Yet was the price as nothing, — for the feast
Was noble. Now again erect he walk'd
And hail'd the sun; beneath his foot the rod
Of proud Oppression crumbled; the dank shades
Of Night drew beck, and all her hideous shapes
And all her squallid spectres shriek'd away.

Meanwhile no glimmering light, no doubtful beam
Came hovering over Europe, but a flood
Of golden radiance the scarce-opening eyes
Of mortals dazzled. From ill oft comes good:
From these romantic exploits, that had laid
All Asia waste, and from her turban rent
Her gorgeous crescent, Learning came, and Peace.
On every shore, upon the Caspian wave,
And where the vast Atlantic heaves it's form,
With huge tornados crown'd, and billowy foam,
The sail of Commerce open'd; danc'd the bark
Upon the freighted billow, and oft bore
The fruits of Afric and of farthest Ind
To Arctic climes. Astonish'd Europe saw,
Amid her desert rocks and wilds of snow,
The verdant palm-tree spread, the citron wave
It's silver gems, the perfum'd orange drop
It's golden balls, and every mountain teem
With vegetable life: amaz'd she saw
Another and a sweeter Flora smile;
She saw her with a fairer wreath adorn
Her roseate brow, and in a softer fold
Wave loose her robe of green. The native tore
His clotted fur, and wrapp'd him in the lawn
Of Persia's looms, his sordid cottage heav'd
It's marble dome, it's pillars rear'd aloft,
And glow'd with ornament; the statue breath'd,
And seem'd to live beneath the sculptor's hand.
Hark! on each gale celestial music floats;
And from his iron sleep of ages starts
Young Science, and his new-expanding wings
Plumes all afresh. The busy street close-throng'd
Humm'd with unceasing toil; a grove of masts
Rode on the level bay, and lov'd to stretch
Their oary wings, and give to every clime
Unusual sweets, and pleasure not it's own.

Oh for the pen of freedom, to pourtray
Oppression's downfall! from the cloud-capt hill,
Where late in dark and dismal pride it frown'd
Upon the vale below, the castle falls
Dismantled; all it's battlements, it's towers,
It's moated bastions, and it's chains of brass
Loud thundering come; the starting dungeon op'd,
And, all it's hideous womb disclosing wide,
Shew'd where his solitary sojourn kept
He, the renounced of the world, or else
Forgotten from his birth. But now the time,
The time of freedom's come, and at the sight
The city rears it's pinnacles and spires,
Bends the long arch, and bids the terrace rise
Magnificent. The' embosom'd village starts,
And musical along the echoing vale
The even-song-bell swells, where late alone
From the high turret it's far pealing sound
The sullen curfew swung. The trailing smoke
Ascends, which when the traveller from the hill
Slow journeying sees, he thinks him of his home,
His pleasant home that he has left behind,
His trees, his tufted orchards, and the gleam
Of sunset slanting on the yellow woods.
(It was a mournful thought, and yet it came
Sweet as the smile of Evening for it spake
Of peace to those he left.) And now arise
Scenes of domestic comfort, mutual bliss
Without suspicion, friendship, and the ties
Of sweet society. — Is ought so fair
In all the breathing prospects of the morn,
The long-withdrawing vale of azure hue,
The various blossom'd spring, and glittering gems
That stud heaven's canopy; is ought so fair,
Laden with music when the summer-gale
Breathes on the rosy mead, to the glad ear
Of weary pilgrim welcome, (when be turns
His last sad look upon his native plain,
And scenes of childhood dear, each farewell sound,
Once more — and still once more — slow lingering on
Catching, till faint they die;) — is ought so fair
As sweet society? — And now had fled
Grim Superstition, all her opiate drugs,
Her idols gorg'd with blood, and rites obscene,
To Thor and fabled Woden, gods abhorr'd,
Borne to her murky cell: the human gore
Then wrung she from her clotted locks, and yell'd
All her accursed song. Oppression dropp'd
His clanking fetters, and the scorpion whip
Crumbled to dust. His poniard stretch'd aloft,
Forth from his den and shaggy solitudes
The Spirit of freedom rose; then bar'd his arm,
And call'd upon the nations, and they heard
The echo of his trump. At that dread sound,
Bursting his sleep, in every breast awoke
The proud Divinity: athwart his brow
Stern Resolution sate; his eagle-wings
He imp'd afresh: — and now erect again
Man stands, his free-born dignity he claims,
His birth-right of equality, the seal
By which he looked superior, and was crown'd
Master and Judge and Lord of all below.

[pp. 179-89]