1818
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fragment of a Fifth Canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Dedicated to Mr. H.

Blackwood's Magazine 3 (May 1818) 201-02.

Anonymous


Eight Spenserians: a portrait of Edinburgh, in the manner more of Tobias Smollett than of Lord Byron. By a medical student, perhaps? The poem is illustrated with several columns of notes by "Mr. H[ay?].": "As these notes would run out to much too great a length for the poem to which they are appended, it is proposed to publish the remainder in two large quarto volumes, on the model of Dr. Drake's Shakspeare and his Times" p. 204.

Robert Pearse Gillies left a fine description of student life in Edinburgh about this period in his Memoirs of a Literary Veteran (1851).

Mary Russell Mitford to Sir William Elford: "You ask me about Blackwood's 'Edinburg Magazine': I will tell you just what it is — a very libelous, naughty, wicked, scandalous, story-telling, entertaining work — a sort of chapel-of-ease to my old friend, the Quarterly Review; abusing all the wits, and poets, and politicians of our side, and praising all of yours; abusing Hazlitt, abusing John Keats, abusing Leigh Hunt, abusing (and that is really too bad) Haydon, and lauding Mr. Gifford, Mr. Croker, and Mr. Canning. But all this, especially the abuse of it, is very cleverly done; and I think you would be amused by it" 9 November 1818; in L'Estrange, Life of Mary Russell Mitford (1870) 1:294.



I stood, Edina, on thy Bridge of Sighs,
For who that passes but has sighed or bann'd,
To see from out the loch that structure rise,
As from the touch of dark enchanter's wand?
A thousand years shall its dull rays expand
Around thee? Doth a dying glory smile
O'er that fair princely street, with house and land
Fronting the Scottish lions castle pile,
Fronting Auld Reekie, thron'd on stinking closes vile?

She looks like old Cybele on mount Ida,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers,
At airy distance, with majestic pride, a
Mother of lawyers, writers' clerks, and whores:
And such she was — her daughters had their dowers
From spoils of clients — nor her casements creased
To pour into her lap their yellow showers,
Gilding her robe — and that fragrant feast
Monarchs partook, nor turned their noses up, the least.

In Reikie sounds the town-guard's drum no more,
Nor cadie piles, nor "wha wants me" is near,
Her Luckenbooths now choak the common shore,
And "Gardello" but seldom meets the ear.
Those days are gone — but wenches still are here:
Lands fall, flats empty — nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Reikie once was dear,
With her cheap clarets' bright festivity,
Revel of tappet-hen, high jinks, and mutton-pie!

But unto us she hath a spell beyond
Her lands of fourteen stories, long array
Of mighty shadows, whose dim forms despond
Above the Provostless city's waning sway:
Ours is a trophy which will not decay,
With all the Baillies — Brodie, Thomas Muir,—
Leith-pier will ne'er be worn or swept away:
The key-stones of the arch! Though, to be sure,
What now I would be at, sounds, I must own, obscure!

The beings of the wynd are not of clay,
Or stone, or lime, or mortar; they create
And multiply false keys, or else the ray
Of more insidious eloquence; that which fate
Prohibits to dull life in this our state
Of mortal bondage, is by such supplied,
Fine spirits exiled, pilloried, or late
Tucked up! No matter! Leith pier will abide
The longest, giving air and exercise beside.

This is the best refuge for our youth and age—
So Hope will tell you — so will Gregory;
An old idea peopling many a page,
As well that which grows beneath mine eye:
Yet these are truths whose strong reality
Outshines our fairy-land: good news, good news,
To hypochondriacs, such whose fantasy
Those strange quack-medicines constantly amuse,
Which Solomon and Co. are skilful to infuse.

I too have swallowed such — but let them go—
They came like truth, and disappeared like dreams:
And whatsoe'er they were — they're but so so:
I could replace them all if I would, still teems
My mind with many a nostrum drug, which seems
Such as I sought for, and a moments found:
Let these go too — for waking reason deems
Such overweening phantasies unsound,
And other Doctors call, all whom may Heaven confound!

Monro once ruled, and Gregory now reigns;
George Bell now feels the pulse which John Bell felt;
Dispensaries, Infirmaries, and chains
Purge, slash, and clank where'er the city's belt
Girdles it in — a space that may be smelt!
So we go on, I fear to little good—
Meanwhile the rivals one another pelt!
Oh, for one hour of him who knew no feud,
Th' octogenarian chief, the kind old Sandy Wood!

[pp. 201-02]