1812
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Stanzas to the Memory of Dr. John Leyden.

Metrical Effusions; or Verses on Various Occasions.

Bernard Barton


Eight Spenserians. Bernard Barton adds the following note on the Scottish poet and friend of Scott, John Leyden (1775-1811).

Author's note: "This extraordinary person, who had emerged from obscurity by the activity and ardour of genius alone, lately died at Batavia, of a fever partly occasioned by fatigue, and partly by the noxious climate to which he had accompanied Lord Minto. He appears to have been a linguist scarcely inferior even to the late Sir William Jones. The specimens of poetry which he left behind him in this country bear such decided marks of what may be called in some sense inspiration, that, had he confined his talents to poetry alone, he must have risen to the first height of excellence. For a more ample account of him, I refer my readers to the Monthly Magazine for February, 1812."



LEYDEN! the favour of the tuneful choir
Thy Caledonia consecrates to fame,
And soon shall many a lofty bard inspire
With numbers worthy of thy honour'd name;
But pardon, gentle shade! my powerless aim
To decorate with simple flowers thy bier;
The gift, though little worth, defies all blame—
The votive tribute of applause sincere
Shall sanctify the verse, if not excite the tear.

No more by Esk or Eden's classic wave
Shall Scotia's muse her votary's footsteps see,
Nor shall the banks the Teviot's waters lave,
Dear haunts of childhood! bloom again for thee:
No more at eve, beneath some spreading tree,
The pride of wood-girt Harden's wild domain,
Visions of rapture shall thy fancy see,
When, safe returning from the billowy main,
With joy thou might'st explore thy favourite haunts again.

For, did not many a tear unbidden start,
As rose the whispers of that dreaded gale,
Which bade thee from these scenes of bliss depart?
And, sadly listening to the flapping sail,
Did not each rocky cliff, each peaceful vale
Endear'd by habit, then more lovely seem
Than all the splendour and the pride that hail
The stranger borne to Ganges' sacred stream,
Which from its surface grand reflects the solar beam.

And, while the vessel which convey'd thee far
From friends belov'd, pursued her destin'd course,
As to thy harp thou sang'st the northern star
Just setting to thy view, the tear perforce
Betray'd of fond regret the copious source,
To think of those on whom it still has shone;
While the rude crew around, with voices hoarse,
Forbade thee to indulge thy grief alone,
Well pleas'd and proud to call the passing hour their own.

When treading sea-girt Sagur's desert isle,
Where superstition claims her deathful meed;
Where never beam'd sweet Mercy's godlike smile,
But cruel Kali claims the monstrous creed;
Say, did not Fancy, with the arrow's speed,
Fly to those scenes in Britain's distant isle,
Where, near the lowly glen, or grassy mead,
The solemn chime to many a hallow'd pile
Invites the weary poor to leave the world awhile.

Ah! not for thee, sweet bard! was heard the sound
Of that sad knell which toll'd thy fathers' end,
Nor o'er thy grave, within their burial-ground,
Shall childhood's dear companions mournful bend;
Yet still in Java's isle, some sorrowing friend
Shall o'er thy mould'ring reliques drop a tear;
On thy green sod shall gentlest dews descend,
And bounteous nature, through the circling year,
Deck with her fairest flowers a banish'd minstrel's bier.

Nor shalt thou share that hapless minstrel's doom
Who, nameless as the race from which he sprung,
Pour'd his sad strains o'er Mary's hallow'd tomb,
O'er Harden's bier a parting requiem rung;
Then died "unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung."
No, Leyden! no. A softer, sweeter strain
Than Jura heard, as with her syren tongue
The Mermaid strove her captive to retain,
Shall yet arise for thee from Scotia's tuneful train.

Long in my heart's affection I would fain
Embalm departed excellence like thine,
And loftier bards may view without disdain
The humble tribute of my feeble line.
When genius shows its origin divine,
I hail the spirit though to me unknown,
And though the strain no artifice refine,
The song of meek simplicity alone
Candour will scorn to chide, and folly may disown.

[pp. 145-49]