1818
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Author's parting Address to the Muse.

Poems, by an Amateur.

Bernard Barton


Seven Spenserians: Bernard Barton, Quaker poet, muses on the poetical vocation. "Know thine own worth, and reverence the lyre" is quoted from the first book of James Beattie's The Minstrel, also written in Spenserians. Beattie's poem seems to have been particularly influential on "untutored" bards like Bernard Barton and John Clare, who wrote large quantities of verse in Spenserian stanzas. Bernard Barton managed his public career very carefully from the start, and in the 1820s and 30s became one of the most popular poets in Britain.

Time's Telescope: "in 1812 [Barton] ventured upon an anonymous volume entitled 'Metrical Effusions,' 250 copies of which were printed by a bookseller of Woodbridge, and sold within the immediate circle of our author's acquaintance. In 1818, Mr. Barton printed, by subscription, a volume 'Poems by an Amateur,' of which 150 only were struck off, and none ever sold at the shops. Encouraged by the very flattering manner in which these impressions of his poems were received by his friends, he at last ventured to publish, in a small volume, 'Poems by Bernard Barton,' which was very favourably noticed by the Literary Journals, and being afterwards made still more known by an article in the Edinburgh Review, has now reach a third edition" quoted in Literary Gazette (22 November 1823) 741.



Our task is ended now, and we may part,
As lovers do when Fate and Fortune frown;
With some foreboding heaviness of heart,
Each struggle quell'd, each stubborn sigh kept down:—
Experience cools "the fever of renown;"—
More serious duties claim increasing care;—
Nor glimpse of future fame, nor laurel crown,
Can woo me with their soul-seducing snare;
Since Prudence bids me shun what Hope once bade me dare.

And yet, like truant school-boy, I have known
The dear delights of stolen liberty;
And bow'd at times before thy magic throne,
Like one half conscious of idolatry,
And half asham'd; — for thou hast been to me,
"My shame in crowds, my solitary pride;"
'Twas loneliness first led to love of thee;—
Hence, before men though I have oft denied
Thy name, in secret still I've call'd thee to my side.

There is a cause for this: — thou know'st there is;
Ask of thy numerous worshippers, and they
Can truly tell what empty meed is his,
Who, fondly prompted unto thee to pay
His votive vows, and hail thee with his lay,
Deems thou wilt grant the barren boon he craves;—
One in a thousand wins a wreath of bay,
Which o'er his brow in sterile splendour waves;
The rest in mute despair crouch before Mammon's slaves.

"Know thine own worth, and reverence the lyre,"
Like many a lofty precept, potent seems,
Till prov'd by sage experience: — but the fire
Unfed is soon extinct; and when the dreams
Of proud distinction and the fancied gleams
Of future fame fade from the mental eye;
What wonder if the bright and witching beams
Thy brow once wore, when its first majesty
Dawn'd on thy votary's view, should seem a dream gone by?

Happy, if this were all; but worse remains;—
There are who have profess'd themselves to be
Thy worshippers, whose souls have worn the chains
Of lust, ambition, avarice, sophistry;
Who, mindless of the homage sworn to thee,
Have basely bow'd to idols, pomp and power;
Or in false glory's fane have bent the knee:
And thereby forfeited the deathless dower
They might have shar'd with thee in lone sequester'd bower.

Thus hath apostasy, from that pure spirit
Befitting thee, and those who use thy name,
Made it a dubious gift for man to inherit
A bard's desires, or seek a poet's fame:—
Yet, fickle as thou art, not thine the shame
Of this degeneracy; — when man shall learn
His real interest, and his noblest aim,
With genuine love to thee shall thousands turn,
And pure and hallow'd fires shall on thy altar burn.

When man shall know the real worth of wealth,
And prize it for that worth; — when truth shall keep
The heart, and heart's affections, in sound health
By love's unerring law; — when man shall weep
To see the murdering sword its lustre steep
In human blood, and shun false glory's fane:—
Then shall thy songs of triumph proudly sweep
From realm to realm, from billowy main to main,
And freedom, peace, and love, with thee for ever reign!

[pp. 141-44]