1818
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fancy and Imagination.

Poems, by an Amateur.

Bernard Barton


Five Spenserians, on the sacred power of fancy. The word "amateur" is somewhat misleading — though he was never rich, Bernard Barton was one of the few poets who managed to make good money by publishing poetry in the 1820s and 1830s. Over a long and successful career as a popular writer this commercially-savvy poet would publish more verse than all but a few professionals. Poems, by an Amateur was printed in an elegant edition of 150 copies not intended for sale.

James E. Barcus: "Another of Barton's typically Romantic attitudes was his opinion on the best verse forms. More than once, for example, Barton pointed out that the two most popular verse forms during this period were the sonnet and Spenserian stanza, both of which Barton praised and used. Barton says that at least one-third of his own verse was written in Spenserian stanzas, a form which he erroneously states to have come into popularity with Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" Literary Correspondence of Bernard Barton (1966) 27.

E. V. Lucas: "Not only did he in his lifetime communicate pleasure and comfort to many thousands of readers; but by the publicity he gave to his poems he became the pioneer of that Quaker culture which for breadth and grace now holds its own with the best. It needed no reformer to stimulate Quakers to the composition of good prose; for that they have always been able to write. But Bernard Barton was the first Friend to come into prominence as a maker of literary luxuries. It is not too much to assert that had he not done so, the Society would still be more or less ignorant of much that is beautiful and ennobling in Literature and Art" Bernard Barton and his Friends (1893) 187-88.



There is a pleasure, now and then, in giving
Full scope to Fancy and Imagination;
And, for a time, to seem as we were living
In fearless, incorporeal exultation,
Amid sweet scenes of the mind's own creation.
Why should we not? — We surely need not deem
That man forgets the duties of his station,
Because he cherishes the lovely gleam
Thrown on life's thorny path by fancy's brilliant beam.

No gift of God was given without its end:—
And had it not been right that we should see,
As through this world's bleak wilderness we wend,
Beyond the reach of dull reality;
Imagination, fearless, fond and free,
Had not been given us; it has; — and why?
But to enable us at times to be
Partakers of those raptures pure and high,
Unearthly visions bring before our mental eye.

The danger of such dear delights is this:—
'Tis sweet to soar, but dreary to descend;—
To exchange for real bale, ideal bliss,
And see the beauteous forms which round us blend
In airy loveliness, no more befriend
The heart they lighten'd, vanishing afar!—
True, it is painful! but, think we to mend
Our mortal destiny, or rather mar,
By quenching in our minds each brightest, loveliest star?

The Patriarch, who laid him down to rest,
And saw in holy visions of the night,
'Mid opening clouds the angelic host confest,
Ascending and descending in his sight,
Those golden steps so glitteringly bright,
Which led from earth to heaven; from heaven to earth;
Did he, repining at the morning light,
Arraign the Power which gave those phantoms birth?
No! with adoring heart he humbly own'd their worth.

O hallow'd Fancy! sweet Imagination!
Although your blessings unto me have been
Not pure and unalloy'd; my admiration,
My love of you is not the less, I ween.
Still gild at intervals life's clouded scene;—
And though your lofty glories brightly breaking
On my mind's eye, be "few and far between,"
May I, in dreams at least, your powers partaking,
Woo your sublime delights, and bless you on my waking.

[pp. 83-85]