1824
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lines to the Memory of the illustrious Canova.

Sylva: Poems on several Occasions.

Chandos Leigh


Six Spenserians, dated "December, 1822" and published in 1823. Chandos Leigh, whose poetry tended towards the neoclassical, salutes the romantic Helenism of the sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822). Canova's "Cupid and Psyche" is now in the Louvre. Not seen.

Literary Gazette: "These poems seem imbued with the calm, meditative spirit which blends love of nature and of learned love in a naturally fine and elegant mind; touched too with a keen perception of the ridiculous, and disgust of the contemptible, and a knowledge of life's busier scenes — now full of matter for serious thoughts" Review of Leigh, Epistles (28 January 1826) 50.

New Monthly Magazine: "This is a very delightful volume of Poems, unambitiously put forth. The author says in an advertisement prefixed to his book, 'I have sought recreation in writing, and I publish pretty much from the same motive, pleased, nevertheless, if I can extend some portion, however small, of the like pleasure to my readers.' After seeing this modest estimate which Mr. Leigh has been pleased to make of his own powers, the reader will be surprised to find noble thoughts, poetical imaginations, and a sustained dignity of expression abounding in this collection of Poems, the greater portion of which seem to be of a reflective cast" Review of Leigh, Epistles 18 (March 1826) 93.

Robert Southey on Leigh's publisher Henry Colburn [who also published Hazlitt]: "With the Low Vulgarites I have no concern, but with the other two tribes, much. Well it is that some of those who are 'fruges consumere nati,' think it proper that they should consume books also: if they did not, what a miserable creature wouldst thou be, Henry Colburn, who art their bookseller! I myself have that kind of respect for the consumers which we ought to feel for every thing useful. If not the salt of the earth they are its manure, without which it could not produce so abundantly" The Doctor (1849) 92.



Where is he now? an awful question! where?
'Mid disembodied sprights in realms of light,
Viewing angelic shapes more dazzling there,
Than those which gave him while on earth delight:
Such as appear'd unto his mental sight,
When he would dare create, what Art alone
Like his could realize, a goddess bright,
A Hebe, or a Grace without her zone,
Or all that poets dream of Beauty's queen, in stone.

Whate'er of beautiful, high-minded Greece
Imagin'd, from Canova's chisel sprung:
And must that master-hand for ever cease
To mould those forms so graceful and so young,
In praise of which the mystic bards have sung?
Those forms, o'er which ideal loveliness
Is, at it were, by touch etherial flung!
That hand, which in cold marble could express
All-perfect beauty, youth, eternal happiness!

His delicate Hebe almost seems to move:
So light thy step, fair daughter of the skies!
Thou art the gentle power that waits on Jove:
Thou art the flower of youth that never dies.
Sure 'tis a spirit that delights our eyes!
But Psyche, a celestial lover's pride,
With her sweet rival in proportion vies;
While beaming, like a twin-star at her side.
Cupid, as finely wrought, clasps his life-giving bride.

O! 'tis a super-human skill that turns
To being such creatures of the brain
As the fond worshipper of fancy burns
To paint in glowing colours, but in vain.
Look on these breathing marbles — look again—
They are the visions of our youth brought forth,
Though motionless, yet beautiful! no stain
Sullies their charms; they are not of this earth,
But pure, as when the bards' conceptions gave them birth.

How o'er the sculptor's manly features play'd
The light of genius, as with modest zeal
He spoke of those immortal works survey'd
By him, with raptures such as he must feel
To whom Art loves her secrets to reveal.
The Phidian fragments! in decay sublime,
Whence Art gives laws 'gainst which there's no appeal.
Such were man's labours in the olden time,
When freedom quicken'd thought, and a soul-wakening clime.

Yet in Canova's mind were nursed those fine
Imaginings, that, but by few possest,
We call, adoring their results, divine;
Since those who have them are indeed most blest
Of mortal beings, far above the rest.
The poetry of sculpture must be caught
From Heaven: it gives a feeling unexprest
When bodied forth, to those by Art untaught:
'Tis an ambrosial flame — the very soul of thought.

[(1826) 126-29]