1812
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Genius [Dreams in Youth].

A Few Verses, English and Latin.

Rev. Edward Smedley


Six Spenserians anonymously published. Edward Smedley enlists himself in the roll of writers who were made poets by reading Spenser in their youth. Smedley's youth was spent at Westminster School in London, where his father was one of the ushers. The poet was an undergraduate when he wrote these stanzas; perhaps the allusions to Milton as well as to Spenser place this poem in a Cambridge University tradition. The knight restored by the flood is Redcross: "For much of tourneys, and of barons bold, | Of spell-wrought feat, I knew, and mystic lore; ... | Nor less could tell the wand'rings of that knight, | Who from the monster's fangs his leman tore; | Thrice sank the wondering day-star on their fight, | And thrice the charmed flood restored his fallen might" p. 5.

Memoir: "Of the youthful poetical compositions of Mr. Smedley, either in Latin or English, few specimens remain. The former (being distinguished by correctness and taste) obtained particular notice from his preceptors; and the latter he poured forth so readily and so frequently, as to excite but passing attention either from himself or others. Of reading, particularly of poetry, he was passionately fond; and Spenser's Faery Queen was his especial favourite" Poems (1837) 5-6.

In 1831 Smedley, having lost his chief means of employment upon becoming deaf, undertook a bowdlerized and modernized edition of the Faerie Queene with a life of Spenser, which, much to his annoyance, John Murray declined to publish.

Edward Smedley to H. Hawkins: "As a subsecival employment (for it really is no other) I am making the Faery Queen a poem which may be admitted into family reading, by certain omissions, by modernizing the spelling, and by appending, where necessary, brief glossarial foot-notes. I read Spenser so very early, and made him so much a part of the furniture of my mind, that, until I had my attention drawn to him afresh, I had utterly forgotten how much he required the pruning-knife, how utterly impossible it is that he should be read aloud; and I cannot but think that, when fitted for general perusal, he will become more attractive by a new coat and waistcoat. If we were to print Shakspeare, and Beaumont and Fletcher, or even Milton, litteratim from the first editions, the spelling would deter many readers. Strange to say, when Southey was asked some time ago whether he would undertake the task, he said, 'No I shall print every word of him,' and he has done so in a single volume. Can he have daughters? or any who, like my Mary, delight in such portions as they are permitted to open?" 22 September 1831; Poems (1837) 365.

Robert Southey, upon reading this letter when it was published, replied in a blistering chapter of The Doctor. Southey remembered having been taught Latin by Edward Smedley's father (also named Edward Smedley) at Westminster School half a century earlier.



Vain is to me the low and mourning breeze,
Which swells the requiem of departed day,
Pouring sad music through the quiv'ring trees;
Vain are the far off sounds which die away,
And round mine ear in ling'ring murmurs play.
Chaste, tranquil eve! thy sweet and solemn rest
Alone could never wake the slumb'ring ray;
Much nobler call, and far more high behest,
Must fan the secret flame, and rouse the heav'n-born guest!

What shall I call thee? thou, whose placid eye
First on the cradle of my boyhood fell,
And stamp'd my future doom in infancy!
Thou, who first shew'd me that aerial cell,
Where, far from moral view, the Muses dwell!
There, ever and anon, a wayward child,
I tried to build the rhyme I lov'd so well;
With song the hours of idleness beguil'd,
Pour'd many an uncouth strain, and o'er its rudeness smiled.

For much of tourneys, and of barons bold,
Of spell-wrought feat, I knew, and mystic lore;
Of Him who to th' accursed his being sold,
And Him, the matchless wizard, whom of yore
To the foul fiend an earthly mother bore;
Nor less could tell the wand'rings of that knight,
Who from the monster's fangs his leman tore;
Thrice sank the wondering day-star on their fight,
And thrice the charmed flood restored his fallen might.

Whence is thy secret power, sweet Poesy;
The hidden spell that binds my soul so strong?
Why 'mid my sorrows can I fly to thee,
And, rapt in holy mysteries of song,
Forget the cares which to dull earth belong?
It is not He, the bard of courtly ears,
Nursed 'mid the busy hum and flaunting throng,
That swells my hopes, and solaces my fears;
What though he raise my smile, he cannot soothe my tears!

The polish'd numbers of the grotto shade
Touch no respondent string of grief or joy;
At other founts, my weary course is stay'd,
Where, 'neath her moss-grown cell, the Naiad coy
Wells forth the spring, unstain'd by art's alloy;
To other days the rhymes I love belong,
(Those lofty rhymes may no rude hand destroy)
Where truth is twin'd the faery wreath among,
Fierce wars and faithful loves, the moral and the song.

Still, e'en in dawning manhood's riper age,
These elder minstrels bid my bosom glow;
Oft will they lure me to their magic page,
And viewless forms and airy fabrics show,
And teach me shapes of other worlds to know;
And while I hear their inexpressive strain,
Far fly the charm-bound fiends of earthly woe:
Ah! ne'er may reason stretch her chilling reign,
Unbind this "silken tye," or break this "silver chain!"

[pp. 4-7]