1812
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Muse.

A Few Verses, English and Latin.

Rev. Edward Smedley


Four anonymous Spenserians on the topics of poverty and ambition by a Cambridge undergraduate: "Oh! may I from Death's still and shadowy wing | Snatch half my being, and avoid the gloom | Which o'er forgotten names Time hastes to fling! | Those not ignobly die, who not ignobly sing!" p. 3. The utterance proved prophetic: while Edward Smedley won two Seatonian prizes while at Cambridge (an two others later) he never obtained significant patronage in the Church and was left to make a precarious income by tutoring and miscellaneous publications. This is the first poem in a volume where Smedley somewhat disingenuously presents himself as the editor of verses by a deceased friend.

British Critic: "These verses are said to be taken 'from the port-folio of a deceased friend,' whose portrait is drawn by the editor with an elegant simplicity, in no small degree attractive. 'I would have prefixed my friend's name to this little volume, but it would have done no good. 'You did not known him, Sir, — nor indeed did you, madam;' they were not many whom he knew, and from the bottom of my heart I do not think any body but myself knew him.' Whether this be, or not, the artifice of an author concealing himself, is immaterial. The verses are pleasing, and justify the publication" 40 (July 1812) 71.

Memoir in Poems: "Mr. Smedley's first publication was a little volume entitled, A Few Verses, English and Latin, which he sent to the press, anonymously, in 1812. The poems it contained bore the stamp of youth, and ardent fancy; many of them, indeed, were written three years previously, during his residence in Scotland; but their elegance of sentiment and expression, and the poetical feeling which pervaded them, promised much for the future. The greater part were in a melancholy tone, a common circumstance with the compositions of the young.... The Author, in his Preface, by a fiction too often practised to be very successful, spoke of himself as a deceased friend" Poems (1837) 15.



Small his reward for long and weary pain,
Save what himself can on himself bestow,
And little guerdon is the Poet's gain:
Few are the kindred breasts which seem to know
The holy raptures of the soul's full glow.
The freezing breath of cold and languid praise
Nips in their birth the fairest flowers that blow:
Vain task those plants to rear in wintry days,
Which scarce their buds unfold beneath Spring's warmest rays.

For gentle and retiring is the Muse,
Unfit the thorny path of life to tread;
Nurs'd in the wanton sun and heav'n's own dews,
How shall she lift her sad and drooping head
Where the dim fogs of earth's chill desart spread?
The silent plaudit of one willing smile,
Which from affection's anxious lip is shed,
The eye which chastens, yet approves the while,—
These seeks the timid Muse, and these her course beguile.

Such, dear inspirer of my early rhyme,
Such was the kindling praise I drew from thee:
Oft pass'd th' uncounted day in mingled chime
Of flowing undivided colloquy,
On all the lore of either poesy;
While thou wouldst bid the Muse, who idly stray'd,
And pour'd her matin warblings listlessly,
Her scatter'd blossoms in one chaplet braid,
And draw the violet forth from the dark poppy shade.

Then what sweet hope would rush upon my sight!
What joyous visions my rapt sense illume!
Of everlasting fame, and promise bright
Of those immortal flow'rs which love to bloom,
Breathing rich odour round the Poet's tomb!
Oh! may I from Death's still and shadowy wing
Snatch half my being, and avoid the gloom
Which o'er forgotten names Time hastes to fling!
Those not ignobly die, who not ignobly sing!

[pp. 1-3]