32 Spenserians: graveyard reflections on death and resurrection: "Yes, thou, stern Death! art, after all, the best | And truest teacher, an unflattering one, | And yet we shun thee like some baneful pest."
Robert Southey to Bernard Barton: "I shall be glad to receive your volume, and you have my best good wishes for its success. The means of promoting it are not within my power; for though I bear a part in the Quarterly Review (and endure a large portion of the grossest abuse and calumny for opinions which I do not hold, and articles which I have not written), I have long since found it necessary, for reasons which you may easily apprehend, to form a resolution of reviewing no poems whatever. My principles of criticism, indeed, are altogether opposite to those of the age. I would treat everything with indulgence, except what was mischievous; and most heartily do I disapprove of the prevailing fashion of criticism, the direct tendency of which is to call the passions into full play" 21 January 1820; Life and Correspondence (1849-1850) 5:15.
Francis Jeffrey: "The style is rather diffuse and wordy, though generally graceful, flowing, and easy; and though it cannot be said to contain many, bright thoughts or original images, it is recommended throughout by a truth of feeling and an unstudied earnestness of manner, that wins both upon the heart and the attention. In these qualities, as well as in the copiousness of the diction and the facility of the versification, it frequently reminds us of the smaller pieces of Cowper, — the author, like that eminent and most amiable writer, never disdaining ordinary words and sentiments when they come in his way, and combining, with his most solemn and contemplative strains, a certain air of homeliness and simplicity, which seems to show that the matter was more in his thoughts than the manner" Edinburgh Review 34 (November 1820) 350.
British Stage and Literary Cabinet: "Mr. Barton is not a Mannerist in his poetical style. Do our readers understand us? If not, we must explain ourselves by examples. Scott is a Mannerist. He says everything, however different in subject, in the same manner: as almost all painters have some one predominating colour, which, in their eyes, possesses magic excellence. We have many of these artists among our modern poets. Tom Warton was a famous one; and every body knows Dr. Johnson's verses on Tom's weak point, which begin, we think, 'Clad in antique ruff and bonnet, | Ode, and Epigram, and Sonnet,' &c. If we were at all inclined (though we do not know we are) to find a blemish in Mr. Barton's style, it would be, that it is a little too variable; it waqnts a little more of individuality; a little stronger personal character" 4 (July 1820) 214.
Literary Speculum: "It is unfortunately where Mr. Barton becomes argumentative that he ceases to be poetical; forgetting, that when the muse assumes a didactical appearance, it is then that she has most occasion to convey her reasoning with sounds of sweetest melody, and insinuate her principles adorned with the loveliest flowers of fancy" 2 (1822) 363.
It is not only while we look upon
A lovely landscape, that its beauties please:
In distant days, when we afar are gone
From such, in fancy's idle reveries,
Or moods of mind which memory loves to seize,
It comes in living beauty; fresh as when
We first beheld it: valley, hill, or trees
O'ershadowing unseen brooks; or outstretch'd fen,
With cattle sprinkled o'er, exist, and charm again.
Such pictures silently and sweetly glide
Before my "mind's eye;" and I welcome them
The more, because their presence has supplied
A joy, as pure and stainless, as the gem
That morning finds on blossom, leaf, or stem
Of the fair garden's Queen, the lovely Rose;
Ere breeze, or sunbeam, from her diadem,
Have stol'n one brilliant, and around she throws
Her perfumes o'er the spot which with her beauty glows.
Bear witness, many a lov'd and lovely scene,
Which I no more may visit; are ye not
Thus still my own? Thy groves of shady green,
Sweet Gosfield! or thou, wild, romantic spot!
Where, by grey craggy cliff, and lonely grot,
The shallow Dove rolls o'er his rocky bed:
You still remain as fresh, and unforgot,
As if but yesterday mine eyes had fed
Upon your charms; and yet months, years, since then have sped—
Their silent course. And thus it ought to be,
Should I sojourn far hence in distant years,
Thou lovely dwelling of the dead! with thee:
For there is much about thee that endears
Thy peaceful landscape; much the heart reveres,
Much that it loves, and all it could desire
In meditation's haunt, when hopes and fears
Have been too busy, and we would retire,
Even from ourselves awhile, yet of ourselves enquire.
Then art thou such a spot as man might choose
For still communion: all around is sweet,
And calm, and soothing; when the light breeze woos
The lofty limes that shadow thy retreat,
Whose interlacing branches, as they meet,
O'ertop, and almost hide the edifice
They beautify; no sound, except the bleat
Of innocent lambs, or notes which speak the bliss
Of happy birds unseen. What could a hermit miss?
Enough there is of life, to bind him to
The living; and still more here is to guide
His thoughts and feelings, by a nat'ral clue,
To those who thought and felt like him, then died;
And now in quiet slumber, side by side,
Still challenge kindred, by a holy link,
That not e'en Death can totally divide:
Do we not feel this, when, upon the brink
Of a yet unfill'd grave, we pause, compell'd to think?
We do, for whomsoe'er that grave is ope;
Or young, or middle-ag'd, or if the flight
Of time, have had with such unusual scope:
Whether its inmate claim the pensive rite
Of friend, or kinship; or if such were quite
A stranger, living; Nature will be heard;
Reason, and Revelation, both unite
Their voice with hers, proclaiming how absurd
Earth's vain distinctions are, though eagerly preferr'd.
Yes, thou, stern Death! art, after all, the best
And truest teacher, an unflattering one,
And yet we shun thee like some baneful pest.
In youth, we fancy life is but begun:
Then active middle-age comes hurrying on,
And leaves us less of leisure; and, alas!
Even in age, when slowly, surely run
The few last sands which linger in the glass,
We mourn how few remain, how rapidly they pass.
But 'tis not thee we fear, if thou wert all;
Thou might'st be brav'd, although in thee is much
To wither up the nerves, the heart appal:
Not the mere icy chillness of thy touch,
Nor nature's hopeless struggle with thy clutch
In tossing agony: in thyself, alone,
Thou hast worse pangs; at least I deem them such,
Than any mere corporeal sense can own,
Which, without future fears, might make the bravest groan.
For, wert thou all, in thee there is enough
To touch us to the quick; to part with all
We love, might try a heart of sternest stuff,
And in itself would need what man could call
Of strength and courage; but to feel the thrall
Of rending ties twine closer round the heart;
To see, while on our own eyes shadows fall
Darker, and darker, tears of anguish start,
In lov'd-ones looking on us; saying, "Must we part!"
This is indeed enough. I never stood
But once beside a dying bed; and there
My spirit was not in the fittest mood,
Perhaps, to be instructed, save TO BEAR!
And this is somewhat to be taught us, where
We fancied it impossible: I say
But once it yet has been my lot to share
Such scene; and that, though now a distant day,
Convinc'd me what it was to pass from life away.
Yet there was comfort in that death-bed scene:
Piety, resignation, hope, faith, peace—
All that might render such an hour serene,
Attended round, and in the slow decrease
Of life's last ling'ring powers, for calm release
Prepar'd the suff'rer; and, when life was flown,
Though not abruptly could our sorrows cease,
We felt that sorrow for ourselves alone;
Not for the quiet dead, around whom there was thrown—
Calmness, as 'twere a canopy: the spirit
Seem'd like the prophet in his parting hour,
(When he threw back, to him who was to inherit
His gift, the mantle, as his richest dower,)
To have left behind it somewhat of the power
By which the o'ershadowing clouds of death were riven;
So that, round those who gaz'd, they could not lower
With rayless darkness; but a light was given
Which made e'en tears grow bright: "'twas light from heaven!"
Of thee no more: in truth I scarce can tell
What now recall'd thee to my thoughts; unless
This spot, where those who have bade earth farewell
Sleep peacefully, such memories should impress.
But, see! the sun has set; and now, to bless
With quietness and beauty, softer far
Than that of day, with pensive tenderness,
As best befits the scene, the evening star
Lights up its trembling lamp, to greet pale Cynthia's car.
Onward the queen of night advances: slow
Through fleecy clouds with majesty she wheels:
Yon tower's indented outline, tombstones low,
And mossy grey, her silver light reveals:
Now quivering through the lime-trees' foliage steals;
And now each humble, narrow, nameless bed,
Whose grassy hillock not in vain appeals
To eyes that pass by epitaphs unread,
Rise to the view. How still the dwelling of the dead!
It is a scene that well may call me back,
If any could, to solemn, tender themes;
Let me then once more turn me to the track
My thoughts were journeying: it is one that teems
With truths of high import, not baseless dreams.
I said that Death was not, abstractedly,
Were it but all, so dreadful as it seems;
Howe'er acute may be the agony,
'Tis brief, soon must be past, and yet we fear to die.
So much we fear it, in our natural state,
That all of want, of wretchedness, and woe
Combin'd, that can upon existence wait,
Will not induce us calmly to forego
The life we loathe, yet cling to. Wherefore so?
Why, because the deep instinctive awe
Of something else, which reason cannot show,
Or shows but faintly, makes our spirits draw
Back from an unknown world. — 'Tis nature's primal law.
Wisely this fear is rooted in the heart,
Even in that which knows no nobler rule;
If not, when hopeless anguish said, depart!
When passion stung the proud, contempt the fool;
What should deter the one till frenzy cool,
And make the other one brief moment wise?
What but that feeling, learnt in nature's school?
Which prompts us, spite of sophistry and lies,
To pause, before we dare a depth no sight descries.
But is this all? Is this the state of man?—
Of him but little less than angels made;
The master-work of God's creative plan,
After his image fashion'd, and array'd
With powers to think — will — act; by whom is sway'd
The visible sceptre of this lower sphere?
Is he thus doom'd by life, by death dismay'd,
To discontent and hopeless misery here?
Oh! think not thus of man: the Gospel more revere.
"The sting of death is sin!" From sin redeem'd,
By him who died upon the cross, to save
Mankind, (O be his death not unesteem'd!)
A way is open'd unto all who crave
His guidance, not to live of sin the slave,
Nor die in dark despair: be it thine to cling
To Him who won this victory o'er the grave,
And drew from death his direst, keenest sting;
So shalt thou, in his time, his glorious praises sing.
"Thanks be to God, who giveth evermore
The victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
Such is the joyful anthem; but before
Its full, triumphal echoes can be pour'd
Through heaven's high courts, and God can be ador'd
By thee, in that beatitude, thou must
Be born again; and thus, by grace restor'd
Unto his favour, even from the dust
Thou shalt be rais'd again, to join the good and just.
For this corruptible must first put on
An essence incorrupt; this mortal be,
Ere such pure blessedness by man is won,
Clothed upon with immortality.
Then, from corruption's deep defilements free,
Mortal in immortality array'd;
Death shall be swallow'd up in victory;
And thou, thy thirst by living streams allay'd,
Shalt enter in the gates where pain nor grief invade.
But I am vent'ring on a theme more high
Than Muse of mine should dare to touch upon;
Its dazzling glories dim her aching eye;
Imagination which afar had gone,
Owns, as she often heretofore has done,
Even her loftiest flights are far too low
For such a theme; by truth acknowledg'd one,
Which, were it handled as it ought, would grow
Too bright, too splendid far, for mortal ken to know.
And yet it is inspiring, and must tend
To elevate the mind, and purify
From low desires, to have its thoughts ascend
At times on eagle-wings, and heavenward fly;
Soaring above the vast and starry sky,
Through worlds and systems crowding boundless space,
To HIM who fram'd the whole; whose watchful eye,
And power supreme, in beauty, order, grace,
Upholds them all, and gives to each its destin'd place.
Nor do such flights as these, indulg'd with awe,
And due remembrance of our nothingness,
Improperly exalt: those who withdraw
Thus from themselves, into the mighty press
Of thoughts unutterable, from the excess
Of their o'erwhelming majesty, must feel
(Can finite in infinitude do less?)
The irresistible, though mute appeal,
Which these unto the heart intelligibly reveal.
Dost thou inquire what train of thought could lead
My mind, from such a spot, to these unsought
And unconnected musings? Some who read,
May think them such; and yet they have been brought
To me in seeming order. What is thought?
Imagination's vast and shoreless sea,
Which shifting light and darkness play athwart
In rapid change; inscrutable, and free,
A mirror, where we find forms of all things that be.
And as, when first creative Power employ'd
Its energies; when darkness rul'd the deep,
A mighty Spirit, moving o'er the void,
And waste of waters, rous'd from chaos' sleep
The mass of matter; so may those who keep
Observant watch within, discover there
Fathomless depths, o'er which at times may creep,
By many known not, light which would prepare
That inert, shapeless mass, and power divine declare.
But thou, my unknown reader, think'st perhaps,
I touch again on subjects, all unfit
For me to cope with. Bear with me: the lapse
Of time, and much that time has brought with it,
If it have taught me little else, has lit
A lamp within; and though too oft it may
But render darkness visible, there flit,
In calmer hours, before its trembling ray,
Forms which are not of earth, nor can with time decay.
We live but idly, if we learn not this,
That in our bosoms we must find, at last,
Or poignant wretchedness, or purest bliss.
It boots but little, if our lot be cast
In wealth, or poverty; or how are pass'd
The few short years we have to spend below:
Even while they seem to linger, they fly fast,
And, when the last has fled, we feel, and know,
That where the dead are gone, ourselves must likewise go!
All this we knew before! then why discuss
Subjects so trite? Why this, I own, is true;
And yet, to beings fallible like us,
Such truths, though trite, are worth recalling too.
But I must once more look upon this view,
Before I leave it: night has cloth'd it now
With added beauties: lovelily the hue
Of silvery moonlight rests upon the brow
Of those soft-swelling uplands; through each rustling bough—
Of these tall limes, it gently finds its way;
Shifting, with every breeze, its flitting gleam;
And, while I watch its ever-varying ray,
I catch, at intervals, from yonder stream,
Music so soft, that fancy half could deem
From viewless harps such liquid murmurs fell;
The scene, in truth, is like some lovely dream,
Thrown o'er the spirit by enchanter's spell:—
One more look ere I part! 'Tis given, and now, farewell!