1819
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Exhibition, a Poem.

The Exhibition, a Poem; by a Painter.

Anonymous


66 ottava rima stanzas, most with the Spenserian alexandrine (and one ending in a fourteener). The author describes, among other things, the 1819 exhibition at the Royal Academy, at which he was exhibiting. The poem is written in the manner of John Hookham Frere's Whistlecraft poems and Byron's Beppo, as the poet himself declares.

The subject assigned by the Royal Academy in 1819 was Spenser's Cave of Despair, though the only reference to Spenser comes in an allusion to a depiction of Una by the academician William Hilton (1786-1839), who later won admiration for "Sir Calepine rescuing Serena" (1831): "HILTON, this verse shall with thy name be grac'd. | UNA! how sweetly he did thee define, | Like some fair jewel, amid brown rocks plac'd" p. 30. The catalogue of painters at the conclusion was reprinted in the Gentleman's Magazine. In 1778 another painting on a Spenserian subject, "Belphaebe" by Miss Moser, had been exhibited at the Royal Academy; see the London Chronicle, 2 May 1778.

Literary Chronicle: "Ardent admirers of the sisters arts of Poetry and Painting, we were led, by the title of this work, to give it a reading, with some anticipation of pleasure; what, then, must have been our disappointment, when, on wading through the sixty-five stanzas of which it is composed, we did not meet with one line to praise, or a single idea that is worth recording" 1 (12 June 1819) 54.

New British Lady's Magazine: "The success of Beppo in a style which is not only pleasing, but has much of novelty to recommend it, has induced the author of the poem before us to follow in the same track, retaining a portion of its faults with some of its beauties" 2 (June 1819) 266.

La Belle Assemblee: "This work seems to have some satiric end in view; though, we must confess, we scarce know where to find it, except on the Royal Academy itself. A few of the Academicians are extolled: the other part of the Poem seems irrelevant to the subject" NS 20 (July 1819) 22.



It is the month of Love; the month of May;
And, looking knowing, you may say 'tis cold;
Let asses at our changeful climate bray,
Yet in my country's praise I will be bold:
Her changing skies I love, which I survey
Now darkly rolling, and now tinged with gold;
Or, falling softly in refreshing showers,
Spreading a mantle green whose jewels are the flowers.

I said it was the smiling month of love;
And so it is, and I am deeply smitten;
But you perhaps my passion would reprove,
As something such as I not quite befitting;
Away from you this doggrel you may shove,
If you have paid for that which I have written.
Or you may roast these wrigglings of my pen,
As did the girl who said, "Sir, they're only Watchmen."

Know then, one love sufficeth not for me;
I court two sisters; each of them is fair.
"They live not separate," nor disagree,
A critic says. Whether I leave an heir
Is not for me to say. Time's just decree
Will settle this; and much I do not care,
So that, while living, I may still enjoy
Those smiles, which won my heart when I was yet a boy.

The youngest charm'd me with her splendid dress,
The mingling of the rainbow's mystic hues;
Her beauty won me; this I must confess,
You perhaps would say as much, if you should choose.
But if I do not mind. I shall digress,
And hear the critics scoffing at the Muse:
I came, I saw, I loved! this is enough:—
And having, said thus much, I'll take a pinch of snuff.

Here's to your health! they said 'twas Dutch Rappee,
And told a fib, I firmly do believe;
However, 'twill do very well for me;
There are some men who live but to deceive.
Now had I drank your health in ratafia,
Had you been better for the donative?
I think 'tis time that we had done away
Some silly customs of the present day.

The other lady of whom late I spoke,
Look'd not so lovely to the outward eye;
She charm'd me in my youth, and ('tis no joke)—
She lives within this bosom's heaving sigh.
Though, to my cost, I've worn her pleasant yoke,
I cannot cease to love her till I die:
My solace in my sorrow, and a sun
Which warms me in my course, till life's short stage be run.

How bright the sun is shining! chimney pots,
And smoky bricks, and all look joyous now,
As if they were contented with their lots;
While chirps the sparrow from the lilac bough:—
For though I live in town, where health oft rots,
And do not see a pig-sty, or a cow,
I view a grass-plot, daisies, et cetera,
And, as I said before, I hear a chirping sparrow.

We will proceed to business presently,
For this is only my exordium;
Those sparrows din my ears incessantly;
They have but one sound, like a school-boy's drum.
Their time is doubtless passing pleasantly;
I have to think how best my rhyme will come;
And if I were disposed to make a book,
I could get notes enough — but how they'd look!

And should I publish on my own account,
'Twould have a tendency to sink my pocket;
When I should see the printer's bill's amount,
My eyes might twinkle like snuffs in the socket;
Or else they might in wond'ring glances mount,
Or, go straight forward like a Congreve rocket:
And therefore, gentle reader, shall your eye
Not be engaged with notes, satirical or dry.

Thames! "Father Thames!" (since Gray has called thee so,
I call thee too, but cannot say for why.)—
I love to gaze upon thy current slow,
Rolling along in its obliquity.
I love "the antique towers," on which the glow
Of evening lingers 'neath the azure sky.
But I must quit these lest I grow too sad,
Musing on scenes, which once had power to make me glad.

Thy stream flows onward, and it muddier grows;
No wonder! for thou passest through a crowd
Who toil for earth, which, like thee, ebbs and flows;
Now poor and humble, now grown rich and proud!
Thou art the tomb where many a handmaid throws
Dead flowers, and other things, which thee o'ercloud,
And make thy waves, which else were clear and shining,
Like to some jaundiced face of muddy yellow, pining.

Upon thy banks there is a house of stone;
'Tis set in summer and in winter too.
A part of it was given from the Throne,
That we in peacefulness the arts might view.
And though its outside somewhat black is grown,
It is no more than other buildings do;
Its inside may look bright in spite of this,—
Too much on outside show we rest our happiness.

And it is half a century, this year,
Since our loved Monarch did the boon bestow.
I cannot choose but drop the sorrowing tear:
Are thine eyes dry? Does not thy bosom glow
To think of Him who yet is ling'ring here,
Our silent Sire, feeling not the glow
He else would feel to see his children stand,
Raising their grateful voice, through Britain's favour'd land?

But let us pause, and ponder for awhile—
The close of my last stanza says the same,
I do not care though you begin to smile;
The arts of Britain have a potent claim:
Their power with beauty can the soul beguile,
Or kindle in the bosom Passion's flame.—
But ere we venture on this expedition,
Let's talk a little of the EXHIBITION.

There are the labours of all sorts and sizes
Of gentlemen and ladies, young, old, fair.
And as the sorts are various, so are prices,
From Haste's wild sketch, to pictures wrought with care;
While Vanity perhaps his work high prizes,
Though it may be nor beautiful nor rare;
Or Modesty, whose estimate's so small,
She scarce knows how to name a price at all.

There are the toils of night, and toils of day;
The labors of the brain and of the hand.
Some use the pencil like a child at play;
And some seem lab'ring like one in the band
Of blind-man's buff, with scarce a mental ray
To guide their grovellings in the fairy land;
And some are toiling for they know not what;
And others have an aim to see a boiling pot.

Some talk of endless fame! (excuse my smiling)—
Their fame perhaps may end in the King's Bench!
And it is not a thought the most beguiling,
To have one's person in a bailiff's clench;
To reap this last reward of all ones toiling;
To live and die 'mid blasphemy and stench.
To think on endless fame, and on her call,
While girt, on all sides, by that most ambitious wall.

(At the suggestion of a worthy friend,
This stanza may be call'd apologetic,
For one improper word, it seems, did end
The sixth line of the last most energetic!
It is not true, I'm told; so I attend
To reason's voice. Don't think that I'm phrenetic
Or obstinate, unless you chance to say,
"Why do you write such stuff?" Ah, well a day!)

And do you think, "perhaps he has been there?"
I have, in truth — but, 'twas not for myself.
I, somehow, like to breathe the open air,
And love my freedom more than I do pelf;
For this perhaps I have too little care.
I lately had a friend there for himself,—
I never wish to see him there again;
N. B. the Pencil's bad enough — beware the Pen!

I deal with both — don't wonder if I'm poor!
The die is cast, — on, on, I do not mind!
Faint heart ne'er won fair lady, to be sure,
And many have unknown, unpitied, pin'd.—
This is gratuitous. Muse, I conjure
Thy voice to be more general, as we wind
Adown this page! this should be sublingual—
Since some admire most the setting of a jewel.

Some send their works in Vanity — "Indeed!"
Yes, and they soon may have them back again.
And let their restless feelings writhe and bleed;
It is but as the op'ning of a vein,
Restoring health, and soon they may be freed
From all the disappointment and the pain:
To measure muslin, or sew on a button,
Or rods of birch, to little bad-boys bottoms put on.

Perhaps you don't know who exhibits there
Have free admission, all days, one excepted.
This saves a shilling, if 'tis worth your care,
But, mark me, perhaps your works may be rejected,
And then of course you pay the reg'lar fare
If you expect yourself should be accepted;
Say what you will, I think it very cheap,
To see of paintings, for twelve-pence, so large a heap.

Besides, there is a ticket to the lectures,
And gentlemen exhibitors go free.
These may perchance exceed all your conjectures,
If your first thoughts like my first thoughts should be,
On hearing what may prove most useful strictures.
On Painting, Perspective, Anatomy;
On Sculpture MR. FLAXMAN'S the director;
And MR. SOANE sometimes holds forth on Architecture.

The clock strikes TWELVE! the doors are opening—
There is a rush of feeling; mind your bones!
Remember, though it is a month of Spring,
Earth's cov'ring here is nothing but bare stones.
You would not graceful look if in a sling
Your arm should rest; no Art for this atones.
Out with your money, or produce your ticket,
And then you have a right to pass the wooden wicket.

Just look behind the giant Hercules—
(We are like Lilliputians by his side!)
There all the backboards, the spectator sees,
Are closely stow'd, being a place denied.
I hope none of my works there take degrees
From those who on the various toils decide.
Give me a Catalogue; — I see all's right—
My heart beats quick with joy, as when in youth 'twas light.

We pass the miniatures and other trifles,
And go into the Great-room first, of course.
"Bless me!" says one, "the smell of varnish stifles!
But that it is which gives them so much force.
Meanwhile my anxious eye each corner rifles,
And doth a rigid scrutiny enforce,—
A father likes to see his children well off—
I hope my works hang so, for then perhaps they'll sell off.

I could enjoy the sight some years ago
More — I was then a youth; I am not old now,—
But I am changed. I think, indeed, 'tis so.
I am not sour'd, nor do I mean to scold now—
My thoughts are often in a backward flow:
Yet why should I expect Youth's glowings bold now?
I deem the grumblers somewhat like the boy
Who kill'd his goose, to find the golden source of joy.

There is a certain grumbling kind of gentry
Who relish nothing that is done at home.
Oh! I could cram such people in an entry
Where rays of genius would never come!—
Or place them in a watch-box, to stand sentry
Where Dulness sits beneath her leaden dome!—
A sort of quacking, racking, idle fellows,
Who throw cold water on the flame, when Genius blows the bellows.

Dull rogues! who cast their oil amid the ocean
Of rushing intellect, but cannot quell it:
More likely 'tis to whelm them with its motion:
If they survive this, they, may go and tell it.
Genius, all hail! (I have some, I've a notion;
And, though it may be small, they shan't expel it.)
I'm very near the bottom of a page,
And hope the cap don't fit the present personage.

I take a casual glance at first, — not study;
Just to look round me, and see how I hang.
Some pictures certainly seem rather muddy,
(Will you excuse me for this painter's slang?)
And some among them look quite fresh and ruddy;
I see a friend or two in yonder gang,—
Excuse me for one moment. "His urbanity
Is pleasant, to be sure — but then what vanity!"

I move towards them — ere we meet, I pause—
There doubtless was a reason. Would you know?
Our hearts are often true to feeling's laws,
Even when we gaze upon an empty show.
'Tis said there's no effect without a cause;—
And one there was, which lent a genial glow,
Such as had warm'd me in the days gone by;
I gazed — but at the first I scarcely knew for why.

I had much cause, though, had I known the whole.
I look'd upon a face of loveliness;
The mild expression of a gentle soul;
A concentration of all tenderness.
Fair eyes glanced on me, and there softly stole
A crimson hue no pencil can express.
Dear looks! I've thought of them in sorrow's hour,
And my heart lighter felt for their remember'd power.

Her name had music in its very sound—
I've heard it only once, nor have forgot it:
The sweetest I e'er heard in life's dull round:
"Laura Maria?" no, indeed, that's not it.
It is a spell wherewith my spirit's bound!
Come, try again — and if you haven't got it,
I'll tell you, since its close rhymes with my lyre,—
Well then, if you must know, it is Sophia.

I met her once, and very well remember;—
I think it was a "dark and chilly night,"
Some time about the middle of December;
I'll think again — I'm not quite sure I'm right.
I am not — 'twas the last eve of November;
And home I ran to fetch my lantern bright—
Love! this was one of thy sly means and ways!
But do not think that I would thee in aught dispraise.

When thou art true, thou dost not loudly bluster
With oaths eternal, bendings of the knee;—
These make the nymph scarce know how to adjust her,
And do not with thy gentleness agree.
But all the shame-faced passions softly muster,
With deep red blushes such as came o'er me—
The eloquence of silence — broken sighs;—
(The language of the heart), and meltings of the eyes.

"I'll see no more!" to day, I said and sigh'd—
(No more of Art, I mean.) I'm an odd fellow—
Nature, triumphant, put Art's power aside.
I felt like one who's getting rather mellow;
The power of painting lost its boasted pride.
"My occupation's gone," as said Othello,—
At least, as it relates to what is critical—
And yet I feel disposed to write a madrigal.

I love to see those eyes of thine
Thus raised toward the azure sky,
For they are like the stars which shine
In bright unclouded purity.

And now unto the earth they bend,
Like saints in their humility;
Where mingled colours softly blend,
In tones of sweetest harmony.

Their rise is like the gradual dawn,
Beauteous, — and oh, they shine on me!
They turn — as if a rankling thorn
Had touch'd that breast of purity.

As when the moon conceals her light
Behind the dark'ning clouds of eve,
So did she vanish from the sight
Of him who this vain verse doth weave.

I am a humble bard peripatetic,
And take the liberty to let you know it.
Some ladies think my verses are pathetic;
A critic said, I was "a pretty poet."
Another boldly gave me an emetic;
Good it is not, therefore away I throw it.
I like a bit of good sound criticism
But smile at those who give, instead, a witticism.

The people stare at me as I am writing;—
They think I'm drawing, and sometimes think right:
I love to be in the green fields inditing,—
This dust is quite unpleasant to my sight.
How rich the fields look! pleasant and inviting!
But I forget the lantern and that night—
Forget it! No — I cannot, while I live:
Toiling up this steep hill, that thought doth sweetness give.

'Tis sometimes hard to practise self denial,
Especially to poets — often vain men;
Yet here I'll put my vanity to trial,
Blotting out one whole stanza; it is plain then,
I practice what some preach. You know, a vial
Of simple ink may have the power to pain ten
Or ten thousand. "Silence! to the question!
Hear!" — what I had prepared might not meet with digestion.

When any author, as for instance, BYRON—
Lord, if it pleases better — meets with praise,
The Grub-street rhymers strive to put his ire on;
And trill like dying pigs their broken lays,
Like gutters in a storm they splutter fire on:
Dull rogues! who watch a meteor's devious ways,
And think, forsooth, the nonsense they have caroll'd
Is worthy of the author of "Childe Harold."

Great poets take a tinge from one another,
They say so in Edinda's three months' book;
Why should not brethren each be like his brother?
Why may not authors in the same way cook
Or dress their thoughts, — why make so great a bother
If your three words like my three words should look?
Who for his style would travel to Aleppo,
Or Venice, if at home he finds a model — BEPPO?

But, before BEPPO, came the Collar-makers,
Beneath the patronage of Mr. F***E,
(Who knows! we may have rhyming butchers, bakers,
And tinkers dinning verses in each ear.)
Then forth came doughty BEPPO, leaving Lakers
To gaze in silence upon Windermere:
Next came, and comes, th' Esquire, WILLIAM WASTLE,
Knight of the palmy isle, melodious as the throstle.

My toils being done, as I was home returning,
Having no lyre with me, I pull'd out paper.
I'd been a little of the useful earning,
And am now writing by the midnight taper,—
Alias the candle. I've a knack of spurning
Here verse like Pope's, where words so sweetly caper.
Some critics do not like the double ending,
But now, I'm not unto their voice attending.

I fetch'd the lantern, luckily I met her—
Sophy I mean, of whom I late was speaking;
I felt as perhaps I should if in a fetter;
It may be that l look'd a little sneaking.
The fair one said, she was to me a "debtor."
Oh when shall I again such sight be seeking?
She on her brother had to make a call,
So home I was obliged to turn, lantern and all.

"Tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep,"
Since bound my lids with poppies, as they say
At such times oft sweet fancies round us creep,
As mild and soothing as the breath of May;
And mine were such (if any), and perhaps keep
Place in my mem'ry of that eve and day.
Now to my theme with spirits like a feather,
Which seem to take their tone from this delightful weather.

I do not see why I should put each number;
'Twould look so strange, should I say number one:
And then we know some pictures are but lumber,
Like many other things beneath the sun.
Besides, it would my flowing verse encumber.
Few numbers into rhyme would smoothly run:
Therefore excuse my being so particular—
We'll leave the numbers out, or let them be auricular.

Besides, some gentle youth might take offence,
And sally forth arm'd with his pallet knife;
His maulstick for a spear, and for defence
A pallet which should shield his precious life;
Bladders for bullets; and no man of sense
Would venture on so dangerous a strife:—
Moreover, I prefer to keep the peace,
Therefore shall libels in my verses cease.

Some names I mention, and with humble praise:—
Slit WILLIAM BEECHEY sometimes I like much;
And the CHALONS; perhaps worthy better days
Is FUSELI, with more than magic touch,—
His works are like his looks, his fancy strays
'Mid scenes where mortals may not move as such.
FLAXMAN! thy name shall be remember'd here,—
Thy marble has a voice — it points beyond this sphere.

And shall the name of HOWARD be forgot?
No, he embodies visions of the Muse;
He fixes spirits to a local spot,
Nor will the feeling heart its praise refuse.
OWEN! thy hand twines fast the friendly knot,
And on thy works with pleasure oft I muse;
And CALLCOTT'S pencil strays where nature dwells,
Each touch is feeling, and its magic tells.

SMIRKE, thou hast character — thine Shakespeare's page;
LAWRENCE hath force, and dignity, and grace.
MULREADY, long thy pencil will engage
The smiles and feelings of the future race.
And MARTIN ARCHER SHEE, the witty sage,
Thy pencil and thy pen well pleased I trace.
I hope the latter won't fall foul of me;
'Twere like a giant hunting a poor flea.

STOTHARD! thy Pilgrimage will fix thy name;—
I saw it, wonder'd at it, in my youth;—
Worthy of Britain in her noon of fame!
The character of Chaucer's there, in truth,
Whether man's vigor, female sweetness, claim
Thy pow'rful pencil, they appear to sooth
Or raise the mind with energy and grace,—
The charms which warm the soul, and animate the face.

Your animals seem living, breathing, moving,
Painter of varied nature, — powerful WARD!
A pleasant thing it is (from me behoving)
To place thy name in this my poor record.
And doubtless. many there would be reproving,
If WILKIE pass'd without my best award;
The modern TENIERS, — ay, and something more,
Which they shall find who carefully explore.

WESTALL! the splendid one! thy works delight
The eye untutor'd, and the feeling heart.
Oh could a verse like mine thy toils requite—
Poetic feelings from thy canvas start,
The name of REINAGLE shall here unite;
Nor be his son forgotten in his art.
ARNALD transports us to some pastoral scene,
Mountains, and shady groves, and pleasant valleys green.

And thine is richness, PHILLIPS! without glare;
Softness and spirit, nature with her grace.
And long may TURNER'S genius, brilliant, rare,
Shine forth, oh Freedom, on thy dwelling place!
With him we seem to breathe the ambient air,
And with new feelings nature's beauties trace.
Thy name's enough, on Britain's heart imprest.—
Hail to thee, President! thee, honor'd WEST!

In looking over the preceding doggerel,
The author finds some names have been omitted:
Forgive him, — part he wrote going towards Hockerill,
So don't complain if all is not quite fitted
Pat in its Place; like proofs by COCKER well
Cast, which the dunce's brain have oft outwitted.
A few more names I'll mention, as I may,
With and without the letters, R and A.

SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT'S a favorite of mine
And yours too if you're a man of taste,
Rich and harmonious his pictures shine;
HILTON, this verse shall with thy name be grac'd.
UNA! how sweetly he did thee define,
Like some fair jewel, amid brown rocks plac'd;
DEWINT, I often like your pictures well,
And VINCENT'S too, for mine and many they excel.

CHANTREY'S a worthy name! those children slept
A lovely sleep in marble. BONE'S enamels
Are precious things. And what should intercept
My mentioning thee, RENTON, as the lay swells;
Rich, classic, vigorous, thy works have crept
Around, and hold my mind in gentle trammels.
EDRIDGE'S portraits are rich and powerful,
Like some in oil, or gardens when they're flower-full.

COLLINS! your namesake's Ode "Simplicity"
Is like your painting; this is saying much:
I like your ruddy children smiling pretty,
I likewise like your soft unmanner'd touch;
I don't suppose in saying this I'm witty,
With solemn gentlemen I'm one of such.
HOFLAND, accept my high consideration,
For furnishing me with some food for contemplation.

Much longer really I cannot dilate
This precious Poem; but hope they'll forgive me
Who are not here immortalized. To prate
Of worth I do not feel — I can't — believe me.
And yet I find it hard to separate
Some names from these whose works did never grieve me;
Some, too, would sound so very droll in verse;
For instance — PEPPER, PARTRIDGE, PHYSICK, STRUTT, STUMP, KEARSE.

Upon my word, I was well-nigh forgetting
The ladies; there is one, Mrs. C. LONG—
I really am not very fond of betting;
But she, and Mrs. ANSLEY too, are strong
In talent; and the bard would soon be whetting
His tongue upon your dozen, (and his song
Might flow the sweeter;) should he match but one
Of these two ladies, with some two or three — I've done.

I can't afford, like that most fertile genius,
(WASTLE I mean), to stow my verse so close,
Packing it up in slips, with such a mien as
The "Times Newspaper" o'er its columns throws;
Here aged eyes, which look, need no such thing as
Hangs to a ribbon, 'neath a Dandy's nose;
As painters say, I like a good relievo,
An ample margin where you may your notes inweave O!

This "O," believe me, does not signify
That I'm afraid of any notes of yours;
It comes in like a portion of the sky
At one end of a picture, and ensures
A more complete effect; Felicity
There is sometimes by chance; and it endures,
As scraping, scumbling, glazzing, testify,
Forgive these terms of art — expressive, as your eye:

Unless it chance to be, like I know who's,
Dark as the clouds which gird the throne of night;
Brilliant as morning, when she doth diffuse,
Like congregated diamonds, living light—
Pure as the visitations of the Muse,
Filling the soul with fancies high and bright:
If thine is such an one, 'tis more expressive
Than terms of art. I fear this may be call'd digressive.

I'm getting rather eloquent, I think,
Having dismiss'd my theme, "THE EXHIBITION."
A pleasing one it is; nor would I sink,
With satire, any in this expedition.
But tell some they must toil before they drink
The draught of praise; and some may fish, and fish on,
Yet nothing catch, alas, poor patient anglers!
How silent, when compared with literary wranglers.

Deem me not one of those who love to trifle,
Although such verse as this I have sent forth.
There are some feelings which one cannot stifle;
They may be worthy or of little worth.
I have done something, if herein I rifle
One heart of tears amid its sorrowing dearth.
It is not meet to brood in melancholy,
For it is near allied to madness and to folly.

I sometimes muse on higher themes than this,
And pour forth, as I may, the fearless verse.
Themes of high import suit me, woe or bliss;
Such as the mighty MILTON did rehearse.
Wherefore should man immortalize the kiss
Of this world's joy, in language strong or terse?
I know not — but it works as doth a spell:
Of this enough, I'll close here — Fare ye well.

[pp. 1-35]