1820
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

England.

The View, and other Poems.

Chandos Leigh


Nine patriotic Spenserians. Chandos Leigh epitomizes Edmund Burke's criticisms of the French Enlightenment, though it is Sir James Mackintosh's Vindiciae Gallicae that is cited in the notes: "Vain fear! before Religion's rising sun | The fogs of superstition break away. | Let sophists to the den of error run | And hide them from the intellectual ray | That this 'best sun' sheds forth on us to-day." Not seen.

There are two Spenser allusions, to "Charissa," the spirit of domestic love, and to the "den of error" applied to the French infidels. The "royal casuist" is Hamlet; "the dark-eyed maids of Spain" are praised in the first canto of Childe Harold — Leigh implicitly criticizes Byron's cosmopolitanism.



What are Helvetia's woods, Ausonia's bowers,
Compared with England's home-attractions? Rove
Where'er we may, we waste away those hours
That sure were better spent with friends we love,
Such as the royal casuist might approve.
But England has her beauties, her green fields;
Her rising grounds o'ertopp'd with many a grove;
The wealth her land so prodigally yields,
That yet from violent hands the arm of justice shields.

And thou, Charissa, with thy smiling train
Of infants, in this island art renown'd;
Let others sing the dark-eyed maids of Spain,
Here beauty's modest gracefulness is found;
Here love domestic is by valour crown'd:
Ah! happy isle, where Faction vainly roars:
Her wild war-cry we heed not; we are sound:
With flag reversed, rebellion quits our shores,
And peace exulting smiles, and virtue God adores.

"Whatever is, is best;" the blasts from hell,
Of irreligion cannot shake the tree
Of truth, that in our happy isle has well
Driv'n deep its roots: the true philosophy
Is Christian faith, from superstition free.
England of Heaven asks no miraculous voice
To silence foul-mouth'd infidelity.
No! in the gospel-truths her sons rejoice:
That worship must be pure, where reason points the choice.

What mighty minds have here conjointly raised
An altar to their Maker; there up-piled
The gifts of truth and eloquence amazed
Surrounding nations; gentle as a child
Was Newton, Cowper as a seraph mild!
Yet were they champions of the faith, and kept
The ark of their religion undefiled.
Here never has Devotion's genius slept,
Nor o'er her broken fanes meek Piety has wept.

Those who do fear it, always hate the light.
Let man but know his duties, he pursues
His proper good; 'tis only in the night
Of ignorance that uncertain are his views,
That Cleons his most credulous heart abuse.
But learning's like Ithuriel's spear, and shews
Impostures stripp'd of all their borrowed hues.
What is the fruitful source of human woe?
The fear lest men become too wise the more they know.

Vain fear! before Religion's rising sun
The fogs of superstition break away.
Let sophists to the den of error run
And hide them from the intellectual ray
That this "best sun" sheds forth on us to-day.
Though tyrants dread opinion, 'tis the base
Of every government, its only stay.
Good God! what crimes the moral world disgrace,
When prejudice would drive right reason from its place.

Are not the gifts of eloquence and wealth,
Beauty and talent, easily abused?
Thus into minds not guarded well, by stealth
The poison of false doctrine is infused.
E'en freedom has been, often is, misused!
Yet by instruction man is lifted here
High in the scale of being, not amused
With grovelling joys, but panting for a sphere
Where mind shall live with mind through Heaven's "eternal year."

As rushing whirlwinds 'mid the stagnant air,
In eastern climates, suddenly arise,
Thus slaves whom passions prompt, or fell despair,
Rush on their despot-master. Lo! he dies.
How weak the state which terror guards, or lies!
But when fair mercy, justice, truth support
The throne, let statesmen ope the people's eyes;
Their knowledge is as an unshaken fort
To which 'gainst all assaults the monarch might resort.

Let others fashion works that charm the eye
And please the moral taste; we cannot strive
In these with Greece and Italy to vie;
We teach the master-science how to live.
Long may our dear, dear country's glories thrive;
May never pestilence consume her strength, may God
Far, far away domestic discord drive:
But, must we bow beneath his chastening rod,
Ne'er may the rebel's bones rest 'neath his father's sod.

[Sylva (1823) 66-70]