1822
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy on the Death of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Elegy on the Death of Percy Bysshe Shelley. By Arthur Brooke.

John Chalk Claris


17 ottava rima stanzas with the Spenserian alexandrine. "Ireland's buried pride" is Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Writing as "Arthur Brooke, John Chalk Claris defends the fallen poet in some of his best verse: "Where now the champion for man's suffering kind, | To raise, unscoffing, his subjected sense, | Unveil foul superstition's idiot faith, | And crush the viperous worm which lurks that mask beneath!" p. 12. The poem is dedicated to Leigh Hunt.

Advertisement: "This imperfect attempt to commemorate the talents and virtues of the highly-gifted individual to whom the following pages refer, was commenced and finished within a few days after the intelligence of his lamented death had reached England: the Author being anxious to shew, if not by the excellence of the performance, at least by the priority of effort, his sense of the merits, and his veneration for the memory, of this most distinguished philosopher, philanthropist, and poet. Canterbury, 10th Aug. 1822."

Claris sent a copy of the poem to Bernard Barton, who replied to the elegy in an answering volume, "You DOUBT the Gospel: — keep in view, | What CAN BE DOUBTED — MAY BE TRUE!" Verses on the Death of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1822) 15. Felicia Hemans also reported receiving a copy of Claris's verses, relating that "I believe I mentioned to you the extraordinary letters with which I was once persecuted by —; he, with whom 'Queen Mab hath been.' It was rather a singular circumstance that the parcel in which Mr. —'s work was forwarded to me, contained, at the same time, an elegy on the death of that deluded character, sent from I know not what quarter: it was in a separate sealed packet, addressed to me, to the care of Mr. Murray, and whether meant as what the French call 'hommage de l'auteur,' or sent from any other person, I dare say I shall never find out" to anonymous correspondent, 15 November 1822; in Memorials, ed. Chorley (1836) 1:85.

Bernard Barton: "An Elegy on the Death of Percy Bysshe Shelley, — in which he is styled 'a most distinguished philosopher and philanthropist;' — in which his voice is said to have been 'a living stream of love and wisdom,' and he himself 'the last defence of a bewilder'd world,' — a poem of this sort, sent directly to the writer of the following few pages, by its Author, — seemed to render silence on his part criminal: were it only for the sake of a few whom such praise may have a tendency fatally to mislead" Preface to Verses on the Death of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1822) 7-8.

Literary Gazette: "This wretched composition on the lamentable and appalling death of Shelley, by a kindred spirit, a believer in the doctrine of Necessity without a Providence, is every way consistent. It is dedicated to 'Leigh Hunt, Esq. the companion and admirer of the illustrious deceased — his friend and fellow labourer;' its style is corrupt; its sentiments vapid, unintelligible or wicked; and its poetical demerits of the most obnoxious character" (21 September 1822) 591.

Literary Chronicle: "Mr. Arthur Brooke is a gentleman of talents, and strongly tinctured with those principles which Mr. Shelley so openly avowed; it is not, therefore, to be wondered at, that he should have written an Elegy on this 'most distinguished poet,' as he calls him. But, whatever fellow-feeling he might have with Mr. Shelley, his muse appears to have had none; for his elegy is tame and absurd, full of false metaphors and over-strained compliments, and altogether unworthy of Mr. Brooke's talents; while the principles it would establish are as injurious as those of Mr. Shelley" 4 (12 October 1822) 643.

Gentleman's Magazine: "Mr. Brooke, an enthusiastic young man, who has written some good but licentious verses, has here got up a collection of stanzas, for the ostensible purpose 'of commemorating the talents and virtues of that highly-gifted individual, Percy Bysshe Shelley' (Preface). Concerning the talents of Mr. Shelley, we know no more than that he published certain convulsive caperings of Pegasus labouring under cholic pains; namely, some purely fantastic verses, in the hubble bubble fantastic trouble style; and as to Mr. Shelley's virtues, if he belonged (as we understand he did,) to a junta, whose writings tend to make our sons profligates, and our daughters strumpets, we ought as justly to regret the decease of the Devil (if that were possible), as of one of his coadjutors. Seriously speaking, however, we feel no pleasure in the untimely death of this Tyro of the Juan school, that pre-eminent academy of infidels, Blasphemers, Seducers, and Wantons. We has much rather have heard, that he and the rest of the fraternity had been consigned to a Monastery of La Trappe, for correction of their dangerous principles, and expurgation of their corrupt minds. Percy Bysshe Shelley is a fitter subject for a penitentiary dying speech, than a lauding elegy; for the muse of the rope, rather than that of the cypress; the muse that advises us "warning to take by others' harm, and we shall do full well" 92 (Supplement, 1822) 623.

Monthly Review: "The early death of the possessor of acknowledged genius must ever be a melancholy topic, and we are unwilling to disturb the tender recollections of the more immediate friends of the deceased: but we have now a paramount duty to perform; the duty of warming those who may be misled by the excessive and indiscriminate praise of the elegiac of the elegiac writer now before us, and may be induced on his authority to receive all Mr. Shelley's works as the emanations of unmixed benevolence, guided and applied by consummate wisdom" NS 99 (November 1822) 326.

Lord Byron to John Murray: "You are all mistaken about Shelley. You do not know how mild, how tolerant, how good he was in Society; and as perfect a Gentleman as ever crossed a drawing-room, when he liked, and where he liked" 25 October 1822; Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (1898-1901) 6:157.

Donald H. Reiman: "Claris, though several of his volumes were published by Longmans in London and were reviewed by national periodicals, remained essentially a poet with a provincial reputation in Canterbury and eastern Kent. Only his Elegy on the Death of Percy Bysshe Shelley brought him to the notice of the literary men of his time. Bernard Barton's answering Verses on the Death of Percy Bysshe Shelley was read by Lamb, who seems not, however, to have known 'Brooke's' poem itself" introduction to facsimile, p. viii.



Ye waves! that in your azure calmness kiss,
Or, lashed by tempest, shake the Ausonian shore;
Ye winds! whose gentle breath wakes love to bliss,
Or whose wild rage deafens the thunder's roar;
Thou elemental air! and thou abyss
Of waters! where is he whom we deplore?
Spirits of sea and sky! say, do ye hide,
In fondness or in wrath, our joy, our hope, and pride?

But is he lost? and can it be that death
Has quenched that spirit's most ethereal beam?
Can that most vital thought be held beneath
The sullen deep in unawakening dream?
Could the blind wave, like any common breath,
Stifle that voice which was a living stream
Of Love and Wisdom, whose melodious flow
Was poured on all that is, around, above, below!

Oh for the strains of that soft Grecian reed,
On which Sicilian echoes that had rung
So oft to Bion's lay, refused to feed,
And, sorrowing, round the mountains mutely hung
Sweet is the classic page! but what the need
Of foreign minstrelsies, if he who sung
Lost Lycidas had left his native lyre,
And there be one who now to strike it dares aspire?

Who should aspire but he who once hath breathed
His dirge sublime o'er Ireland's buried pride?
Nor shall the cypress then for genius wreathed
Be now to genius mightier far denied:
This task the friend, the poet hath bequeathed
By wordless intimation, — best supplied
By the swift promptings of the mutual mind
Of those whom loftier thoughts in holiest brotherhood bind.

If yet once more to Aganippe's spring
With unaccustomed foot I, sorrowing, tread,
It is not that my hope be thence to bring
Aught not unworthy the immortal dead;
But, ah! a stranger's hand a flower may fling
Ere kindred grief its costlier gifts hath shed,
And love may claim the privilege to pay
Uncalled, yet unrebuked, such tribute as it may.

Not for ourselves we sorrow, nor for those
Who from his presence drew their life's delight,
Not for the bosom friend who soothed the woes
That warped his young heart with their poisonous blight,
Not for his gentle babes whose orphan brows
Their father's fame shall halo, proudly bright;
Not for ourselves, nor these, alone we mourn,
Such pangs, however keen, could have been better borne.

But who shall launch the lightning of the mind,
Instinct with inspiration, through the dense
Impalling clouds which slaves and tyrants wind
O'er the bewildered world, — their last defence!
Where now the champion for man's suffering kind,
To raise, unscoffing, his subjected sense,
Unveil foul superstition's idiot faith,
And crush the viperous worm which lurks that mask beneath!

For he with intuition's glance looked through
All nature's mysteries; and, kind as wise,
From the green bud that drinks the vernal dew,
To the vast sphere rolling through boundless skies,
From all that lives and moves his spirit drew
The influence of their bland benignities;
And like a new Prometheus brought to men
Lost Hope's abandoned flame; — shall it be quenched again?

No, no, the spark survives in many a heart,
Kindling from that communicated glow,
Which 'tis the bard's proud privilege to impart,
Which many way receive, but few bestow,—
Ye mighty masters of the Muse's art,
To nobler themes bid nobler numbers flow;
The torch transmitted, o'er the nations raise.
And pass to coming hands with undiminished blaze!

So shall that epoch which his soul fore-shared
Roll, hastening, on its irresistible hour,
And find its path not wholly unprepared,
And Love be Law, and Gentleness be Power,
While Wrong, and Force, and Fear, like vultures scared,
Fly, and their place be found on earth no more;
Freedom and Truth, and Peace, and guiltless Joy,
Forming no fabulous Age of Gold without alloy.

Alas, alas! it is a mournful thing
To speak of hope, while bending o'er the bier
Of one so loved, we feel the mortal sting
Of remediless grief; — the bitter tear
That falls, he sees not, — and the sweetest string
That sounds his name he does not, cannot hear;
Unmarked the voice of Friendship as of Fame,
Death sleeps — the living love, hate, praise, and fear, and blame.

Let calumny, which from the poisonous tongue
Of human reptiles o'er the great and good
Is ever thrown, be on his memory flung;
Such as the blackest of the hideous brood
Have poured till round themselves their foulness clung,
A leprous crust, — while he untainted stood!
His glory is an essence, pure and bright,
Which time shall not obscure nor breath malignant blight.

Thou poet's poet! whose sublimer strain
To the extremest verge of human thought
Soared, and the vulgar ken was stretched in vain
To follow, till with baffled powers o'erwrought
They turned their hooded eyes to earth again,
And slandered what themselves had vainly sought;
Effulgent spirit! splendour without peer!
Brief comet of our intellectual hemisphere!

And art thou vanished! and the wondrous frame
Wherein the fervour of thy genius burned,
Like centric sunbeams, with intensest flame,
Dissolved and into common earth returned?
Is all thy being now a bodiless name?
Thy boundless spirit with thy corpse inurned?
Alas, for man, that so divine a ray
Should kindle but to fade, shine but to pass away!

But he hath bowed to Nature and the power
Of stern Necessity, the One supreme,
Which links impartial to its destined hour
All chance and change; and in whose sightless scheme
A falling nation and a fading flower
Are equal, howsoe'er to man they seem:
He hath but yielded, in the obedient awe
Of being, unto that which gives and is its law.

Yet shall it be permitted man to mourn
A light departed — an extinguished star—
A glory gone that never shall return!
And sadly pause and ponder from afar
The secrets of that "dread mysterious bourn"
Which lies between the things which were and are:
So may the stillness of our sorrows reach
Truths which a happier lore is sometimes slow to teach.

For me, — alike unknowing and unknown,
To deck the cenotaph of honouring thought
Where richer flowers shall soon be fitly strewn,
These fresh-culled buds, — such as I could, — I brought.
Glory protect his tomb! and if my own
Be left neglected or be sometimes sought,
May those who scorn be such as would not sigh
For him, and those who seek love half so well as I.

[pp. 9-17]