1813
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Written on the Night of my Birthday.

Poems, legendary, incidental, and humorous, by John F. M. Dovaston.

John F. M. Dovaston


Five Spenserians published in 1825. A palinode in which John F. M. Dovaston's tutelary spirit appears on the night of his twenty-first birthday, and speaks reprovingly of his addiction to poetry ("The dream of youth that leads to waking woe") and neglect of his more serious studies at Oxford. In the event, Dovaston elected to pursue the retired life of a country gentleman, writing poetry and pursuing his interests in natural history.

John Hamilton Reynolds to John F. M. Dovaston: "If I were to recommend any style for you to pursue, it would be the Spenserian; — The stanza is particularly harmonious — The Sense may with ease be compleated in every Stanza, — the double Rhyme in the middle is very sweet, — The Alexandrine winds up the whole with great force and Beauty, — No Poet has ever failed in it yet — And to crown the whole your Poem upon your Birthday (I mean the [Greek characters — "What have I dcone?"]) is an admirable Specimen of your ability in this metre" 24 May 1813; in Letters from Lambeth (1981) 93.



Blithe was the board, and festive wore the hours
When many a friend regal'd my natal day;
And Mirth and Music join'd their witching pow'rs
To make the very gloom of Winter gay:
When I by chance beneath the nipping ray
Of the cold moon, that glisten'd keen and clear,
Indulg'd at eve a momentary stray,
The Spirit of my birth, with voice severe,
Yet looks serenely sweet address'd my list'ning ear:

Hold, Youth, a moment hold, nor yet return
Where sweet Forgetfulness thy mind decoys,
From rathe Rememb'rance one true maxim learn,
—One thoughtless step Life's journey oft alloys;
Put off from hence the soft indulgent joys,
The dream of youth that leads to waking woe,
Fond scenes of love, and rhymes, and idle toys,
And all that youth and playful fancies shew.
Poor is the rose's fruit tho' sweet it's blossoms blow.

Since first thy little infant steps I view'd
Full twice ten times the verdure's come and flown;
Yet not in vain these trees their bloom renew'd,
—Full twice ten times the useful fruits have grown;
Then what hast thou in all these seasons done?
Does Truth expand while Science cloathes thy mind?
Bring'st thou from Oxford's pageant porch, alone
A tufted cap, and hood "that droops behind!"
With sleeves of fluttering silk replete with empty wind?

Was it for this by Severn's circling stream
I taught thy youth to cull the fairest flow'rs?
Was it for this I oft to Isis came
And cheer'd thy wand'ring solitary hours?
But now my wing with sad reluctance cours
To see thy youth in soft enjoyment flown;
To see neglected all thy native pow'rs,
And twice ten years of youthful vigour gone.
Say, in these years of prime — what hast thou done?

Hast thou aright the league of God explor'd
That Nature's comments on her Author shew?
Hast thou in op'ning herbs and minerals por'd
Where soothings soft for man's afflictions grow?
Do'st thou of Laws the nice distinction know,
To hold 'twixt man and man the scales of right?
Can'st thou give Truth in Eloquence to flow,
And wrest oppression from tyrannic might?—
—I sigh'd. — The Spirit frown'd — and sighing took her flight.

[pp. 207-09]