1823
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Glastonbury Abbey, and Wells Cathedral.

Gentleman's Magazine 95 (July 1825) 70.

Rev. William Lisle Bowles


Four Spenserians "written after viewing the Ruins of the one, and hearing the Church Service of the other, June 18, 1823." William Lisle Bowles, draws pious conclusions in a comparison of the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey to the glories of Wells Cathedral. Note to line 6: "The Vale of Avalon was surrounded by waters at the time. King Arthur is described as buried in the Island of Avalon. Part of a sculptured Lion remains; and it may be observed, that Leland, in his Itinerary, speaks of 'Duo Leones sub pedibus Arthuri.' The masonry over the sacred Well, discovered by Dr. Warner, is eminently beautiful" p. 70.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Samuel Rogers: "Mr. Bowles leaves Bremhill on Monday next for town. The being so near him has been a source of constant gratification to me. He has an improved edition of his 'Missionary' in the press, and a volume of sermons worthy of a calm-minded clergyman, and which will, I trust, contribute to counteract the poison of Fanaticism, by way of preventive antidote; for the already diseased are incurable. We cannot expect that a man should attend to the reason of another, the pride of whose faith is to contradict and abjure his own" 26 May 1815; in P. W. Clayden, Rogers and his Contemporaries (1889) 1:192-93.

Blackwood's Magazine: "Wordsworth is much studied and cherished by a few devoted lovers of poetry — and by none more so than Mr. Francis Jeffrey. Southey is a great favourite with young men of a classical taste. He is quite the standing author at Oxford and Cambridge, particularly among those who are not quite Bachelors of Arts. But these gentlemen, when they quit the universities, generally dispose of their books, to pay off a few ticks, and they forget the Laureate to a culpable degree when they have taken their degrees. Southey's chief consolation, therefore, must be the same as Wordsworth's. As for Coleridge, his Ancient Mariner and Genevieve are known by heart by some hundreds — and the million knows nothing more of him than they do of Marvel or Cowley; while Bowles is, strange to say, more known by his pamphlets than those beautiful sonnets, which first touched the poetic spark slumbering in the young heart of Coleridge" 11 (June 1822) 669-70.

Thomas Moore: "His parsonage house at Bremhill is beautifully situated; but he has a good deal frittered its beauty away with grottoes, hermitages, and Shenstonian inscriptions. When company is coming he cries, 'Here, John, run with the crucifix and missal to the hermitage, and set the fountain going'" in Russell, Book of Authors (1860) 359.

John Britton: "He became amply provided with a handsome clerical income, and also with professional occupation. Though diligent, attentive, and conscientiously devoted to his pastoral duties, he had much leisure to cultivate literature; and there is scarcely any species of poetry which he not write about, nor any modes of composition, then fashionable, which he did did not practice: sonnets, elegies, monodies, ballads, and descriptive lays; from the fourteen-line sonnet to the more extensive poem of many pages. The extent of his literary productions, in prose and verse, it is difficult, if not impracticable, to specify; for, besides four volumes of poetry, he wrote and published numerous pamphlets, with miscellaneous letters and poems, in magazines and in newspapers. Amongst these, I have heard that he wrote and printed an Auto-Biographical sketch; but which I have vainly sought to obtain" Autobiography (1850) 1:291.

Bowles outlived nearly all his contemporaries, and indeed all of the later generation of romantic poets. He wrote this poem when in his sixties, and had another quarter-century of life before him.



Glory and boast of Avalon's fair vale,
How beautiful thy ancient turrets rose!
Fancy yet seems them, in the sunshine pale
Gleaming, or more majestic in repose,—
When west-away, the crimson landscape glows,—
Casting their shadows on the waters wide,
How sweet the sounds, that, at still day-light's close
Came blended with the airs of eventide,
When thro' the glimmering aisle faint "misereres" died!

But all is silent now! — silent the bells,
That, heard from yonder ivy turret high,
Warn'd the cowl'd brother from his midnight cell;—
Silent the vesper-chaunt — the Litany
Responsive to the organ! — scatter'd lie
The wrecks of the proud Pile 'mid arches grey,—
Whilst hollow winds through mantling ivy sigh,
And e'en the mould'ring shrine is rent away,
Where, in his warrior weeds, the British Arthur lay.

Now look upon the sister Fane of Wells!
It lifts its forehead in the lucid air,—
Sweet o'er the champaign sound its Sabbath bells,—
Its roof rolls back the chaunt, or voice of prayer,
Anxious we ask, "Will heav'n that temple spare?
Or mortal tempest sweep it from its state?
Oh! say, shall Time revere that fabric fair,
Or shall it meet, in distant years, thy fate,
Shatter'd, Proud Pile, like thee, and left as desolate?

NO! to subdue or elevate the soul,
Our best, our purest, feelings to refine,
Still, shall the solemn Diapasons roll
Through the high Fane! still hues reflected shine,
From the tall windows, on the sculptur'd shrine,
Tinging the pavement! for He shall afford—
He who directs the storm — his aid divine,
Because its Sion has not left thy word,
Nor sought for other guide than Thee, Almighty Lord!

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