1820
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leiston Abbey.

Poems, by Bernard Barton.

Bernard Barton


22 Spenserians, dated 1819. A Quaker poet appeals for religious tolerance: "Then judge with charity, whate'er thy name, | Be thou a Pagan, Protestant, or Jew; | Nor with a scornful glance these papal reliques view." There are textual variants in the 1825 Poems.

Monthly Review: "Mr. B. appears to possess greater sensibility than imagination, and is more successful in descriptive and pathetic subjects than in the creations and combinations of intellect and fancy. In embodying his own feelings and reflections, and associating them with objects of external beauty, he is often very happy: but his powers of language and versification are unequal to the expression of his loftier sentiments, being often rather loose and rambling, and deficient in that ease and polish of style which denote the 'master of his art.' Another fault in the poetry of Mr. B. is a want of equal and sustained power; — a carelessness and prosaic turn of expression, which, with a little more study, might be avoided. These are observable in his Recollections, in Leiston Abbey, and others of a similar description; which appear to owe their origin to the impulses of sudden and associated feelings, when the heart has too powerful an interest to obey the colder dictates of the judgment. These feelings occur to us in scenes which have formerly afforded us pleasure: they are secretly treasured in our memory; and the are again called into existence inspired with imagination and regret" NS 93 (November 1820) 271.

Nathan Drake: "Of this salutary intercourse with the memory of days long gone by, with the vestiges of dying beauty and decaying magnificence, Mr. Barton has afforded us some highly interesting specimens. Among these, the poem entitled Leiston Abbey has a claim to peculiar distinction, and, as written in the metre of Spenser, of which I have already mentioned our author as a very skillful constructor, and as possessing, at the same time, striking proofs of the happy art with which the poet has blended the most delightful imagery with the most touching morality, I shall select from it the opening stanzas, constituting a picture at once calculated to soothe the heart and elevate the powers of fancy. Leiston Abbey, in Suffolk, exhibits the ruins of a house of Praemonstratensian Canons, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. They are situated not far from the sea, and a great part of the church, several subterraneous chapels, and various offices of the monastery, are yet remaining. It is not too much to say, that when these beautiful relics shall have vanished from the eye, when the place where they yet are shall know them no more, they will live in the following lines" "On the Poetry of Bernard Barton" in Evenings in Autumn (1822) 1:104-05.

Bernard Barton's interest in landscape extended to collecting pictures, among them works by Blake, Constable, Crome, and Northcote; see E. V. Lucas, Bernard Barton and his Friends (1893) 56-59, 122.



Beautiful fabric! even in decay
And desolation, beauty still is thine:
As the rich sunset of an autumn day,
When gorgeous clouds in glorious hues combine
To render homage to its slow decline,
Is more majestic in its parting hour;
Even so thy mouldering, venerable shrine
Possesses now a more subduing power,
Than in thine earlier sway with pomp and pride thy dower.

To voice of praise or prayer, or solemn sound
Of sacred music, once familiar here,
Thy walls are echoless; within their bound,
Once holy deem'd, and to religion dear,
No sound salutes the most attentive ear
That tells thy former destiny; unless
It be when fitful breezes wandering near
Wake such faint sighs, as feebly might express
Some unseen spirit's woe for thy lost loveliness.

Or when on stormy nights the winds are high,
And through thy roofless walls and arches sweep,
In tones more full of thrilling harmony,
Than art could reach; while from the neighbouring deep
The roar of bursting billows seems to keep
Accordant measure with the tempest's chime;
Oh, then! at times have I, arous'd from sleep,
Fancied that thou, even in thy proudest prime,
No music couldst have known more awfully sublime.

But to the eye, revolving years still add
Fresh charms, which make thee lovelier to the view;
For nature has luxuriantly clad
Thy ruins; as if wishing to renew
Their claim to homage from those hearts that woo
Her gentle influence: with indulgent hand
She has aton'd for all that time could do,
Though she might not his ravages withstand;
And now thou art her own: her skill thy beauties plann'd.

The mantling ivy's ever-verdant wreath
She gave thee as her livery to wear;
Thy wall-flowers, waving at the gentlest breath,
And scattering perfume on the summer air,
Wooing the bee to come and labour there;
The clinging moss, whose hue of sober grey
Makes beautiful what else were bleak and bare;
These she has given thee as a fit array
For thy declining pomp, and her delightful sway.

Yet, is it not her power, or these alone
That make thee interesting as thou art;
The merely beautiful, however prone
We are to prize it, could not touch the heart.
Mere form and colour would not thus impart,
Unto the pensive, contemplating mind,
Thoughts which might almost cause a tear to start
In eyes not given to weep: there is assign'd
To thee a stronger power in deeper feeling shrin'd.

It is a consciousness of what thou wert,
Compar'd with what thou art; a feeling sense
Which even steals upon the most inert,
Who have the least conception how, or whence
Such mixt sensation should arise from thence;
But so it is, that few there are can gaze
Upon the wrecks of old magnificence,
Nor own the moral that their fate conveys,
How all that man can build his own brief power betrays.

And most of all this truth arrests the heart,
When edifices that were meant to be,
Not mere mementos of the builder's art,
That future ages should with wonder see;
But monuments of wealth and piety,
To the MOST HIGH for ever consecrate;
When these, too, share the fate now fallen on thee,
Who can with stoic coldness contemplate
Their splendour thusdefac'd, their pomp thus desolate?

No catholic am I, in whom the sight
Of glories tarnish'd, altars overthrown,
Aught of revengeful feeling could excite:
Pope, Cardinal, and Abbot, I disown
Alike, as empty titles; seldom shown
More insignificant and profitless,
Than where they once assum'd their haughtiest tone;
Yet do I feel what words cannot express,
Viewing the faded pride of fancied holiness.

Of fancied holiness! O say not so,
Nor judge unkindly of another's creed;
The intent and motive God alone can know,
And these condemn, or sanctify the deed.
Ave-maria, crucifix and bead
Are nothing in themselves; but if they were
Imagin'd helpful in the votary's need,
Although a faith more spiritual may spare
Such outward aids to seek, from blame it may forbear.

And thus this gorgeous edifice, if rear'd
By piety, which sought with honest aim
The glory of THE LORD, should be rever'd,
Even for that cause, by those who seek the same.
Perchance the builders err'd; but who shall blame
Error, nor feel that they partake it too?
Then judge with charity, whate'er thy name,
Be thou a Pagan, Protestant, or Jew;
Nor with a scornful glance these papal reliques view.

I grant that Popery's was a galling yoke;
Its ritual, one that reason must disdain:
And much I venerate their names who broke
The fetters, and releas'd us from the chain.
Dreadful indeed is superstition's reign,
And priestcraft has pollution in its touch;
Yet, as extremes beget extremes again,
There is a danger, or there may be such,
That we in turn may doubt, as they believ'd, too much.

To give implicit credence to each tale
Of monkish legends; reliques to adore;
To think GOD honour'd by the cowl or veil,
Reckless or who, or what, the emblem wore;
Indeed is mockery, mummery, nothing more:
But if cold scepticism usurp the place
That superstition held in days of yore,
We may not be in much more hopeful case
Than if we still implor'd the Virgin Mary's grace.

There is a medium, could we find it out,
(And all may find it if they seek aright,)
Between extreme credulity and doubt;
A safe and middle path, not gain'd by might
Or wisdom of our own; a path, whose light
"Shines more and more unto the perfect day;"
Not overcast by bigotry's dark night,
Nor faintly lit by reason's twilight ray;
But cloudless, straight, and plain; a high and holy way.

And those who walk therein, with humble trust
In Him who cast it up, and led them there,
Remembering this, that they are form'd of dust,
The gifts they have receiv'd with meekness bear:
Reason and faith are such; a peerless pair,
Would man but use them both with holy awe,
And of the abuse of each, in turn, beware,
They would instruct him what to love — to abhor,
And how to live in peace, and keep GOD's righteous law.

But I have wander'd widely from my theme,
And some perhaps may think have wander'd long;
Yet others more indulgently may deem,
Nor chide the minstrel for his sober song:
It could not well be gay, thus fram'd among
The desolate ruins of departed days,
And years gone by, whose presence wakes a throng
Of pensive thoughts, compelling me to raise,
In contemplative mood, chasten'd and solemn lays—

Congenial to the scene; and, as is fit,
Imprest with somewhat of its temper'd hues;
One, if no more, I trust will cherish it,
When she, the past retracing, shall peruse
This frail memorial of an humble muse:
For she will then remember how, erewhile,
Far from her home upon the banks of Ouse,
She wander'd with me through this ruin'd pile,
When autumn's setting sun shed round his softest smile.

Yes, thou, my young friend, will not soon forget,
Nor shouldst thou, visiting this lovely scene;
Because upon thy brow thou bear'st as yet
Youth's joyous chaplet of unblighted green,
Surpassing far the poet's bay, I ween;
For the fresh dews which unto thine dispense
Its living loveliness — its charm serene,
Rise from the fount of early innocence,
That makes in happy hearts its hidden residence.

Thou art exactly at the age, when all
Within, each outward beauty can enhance;
When bliss has too much novelty to pall,
As it does afterward in life's advance,
Even reality may seem romance;
It often does, while yet delight is new;
And time, and place, and trivial circumstance,
That feed the eager fancy, charm the view,
At such an age as thine, may last existence through.

Therefore do I believe, that in thy heart
These ruins will their own remembrance keep;
And, sketch'd with them on memory's faithful chart,
Will be, the wild walk to the mighty deep,
The lone and shady spot for washing sheep,
Where the tall, trembling aspens ceaseless play,
And we stood still to hear the light winds sweep
Their rustling leaves, while, in the unseen bay,
We heard the billows' dash: these shall not pass away!

Nor will the scene that hail'd us at the close
Of our wild ramble, less survive to each;
When we exchang'd the stillness and repose
Of the lone common, for the open beach;
And saw before us, far as eye could reach,
The bursting breakers fling their foam on high,
And felt how poor was all the power of speech
To paint the grandeur and rude melody
That spoke, in nature's tone, to heart, and ear, and eye.

Farewell! I may not lengthen out a strain
Already too protracted; then, farewell!
Nor shall I think that I have writ in vain,
If they, who love such scenes, whose bosoms swell
With those pure feelings that delight to dwell
In yet untroubled hearts; if such shall own
That I have spoken what their tongues would tell,
Returning from such haunts: that praise alone
Shall recompense me well, and for the task atone.

[pp. 268-79]