Monody. Oswestry School.

Poems, legendary, incidental, and humorous, by John F. M. Dovaston.

John F. M. Dovaston

J. M. F. Dovaston's charming Monody on school-boy memories uses the Miltonic form as a container for materials adapted from Shenstone's School-Mistress, Gray's Eton-College Ode, and Thomas Warton's several odes on academic and gothic themes. In discussing the education of a provincial poet, Dovaston describes early reading that included, in school, Ovid, Virgil, and Homer, and out of school, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, and the Arabian Nights. Perhaps there is a special debt to the School-Mistress: Dovaston lived near the Leasowes, and his father had been a friend of Shenstone's. He may to some extent have modelled his life of literary retirement on that of the earlier poet.

Alone I love to haunt, fair Ostwestry,
The woods and hills that bosom thee around,
Sprinkling my lyre of guideless minstrelsy
With notes that, like thy rills, unheeded sound,
Trickling at times all wild along,
Lush herbs and mossy stones among.
Then smoothly gliding o'er the meadow ground,
'Till in some roaring torrent toss'd,
Their little melody is lost;
Or borne to some deep river's muddy shore,
Is heard no more.

Yet can I not restrain the lay,
For ah, this lonely scene
Minds me of many a distant day,
And many a time between,
Since here I first at early age
Began to con the column'd page.
A little waddling trowser'd lad
I came, and tedious toil'd
O'er leaves in yellow canvass clad,
Leaves corner-curl'd and soil'd:
And hid the bitten apple, half-afraid,
Flush'd at the noise the munching made.

I say I love to stray alone,
For school-companions all are gone;
Far countries some to see;
In Fortune's dome some refuge find;
Wealth's dusty ways while others wind;
And some in Fame's bright noon reclin'd,
Care little now for me.
And how to strangers can I tell
The joys that now my bosom swell
To trace my tree-cut name?
To them, alas, 'twill only shew
That I was twice ten years ago
A candidate for fame;
And warn me would the waggish throng
To trust to trees, and not to song.

And many a flow'r of purest dye
That open'd in that garden then,
Long since has clos'd it's little eye,
Unplanted in the fields of men.
Fair snowdrops they, that early fall
In the young lap of April gay,
Nor live to see the glories tall
That flourish in the train of May.
Wotless how many a blooming head
May grace the ground when they are dead.
And He that train'd our tender stem
Now sleeps, good man, the long long sleep with them.

I then 'mid proud Salopia's towers
Lightly my little pinnace plied
O'er Ovid's river, bank'd with bowers,
Or push'd it's more invigour'd powers
Through Virgil's graceful tide;
'Till Fancy loos'd the cables of controul,
And, launch'd at large, I felt th' astonish'd soul
High on the roaring surge of Homer's ocean roll.

Some, fir'd with hot mis-guiding light,
Like northern flakes that fret the night,
False-glory's meteor glare,
Hurried afar to human fight,
In fields that blasts of evil blight,
To do the work of hell, the butcher-work of war.
Such have afflicted fathers mourn'd,
Such have applauding senates prais'd,
Their bones in holy house inurn'd,
And high the stately stone have rais'd.

O give me but to trace my name
The lowest on Parnassus' base,
With pencil dipp'd in Avon's stream,
Though faint and feeble be the trace,
At death I'll deem it higher grace
Than tomb with trophied honours clad,
Though aisl'd in Abbey's hallow'd place,
With all that Sculpture's art can add.

So pray'd my young heart, then all akin
To the numbers wild and free
That here did my boyish bosom win,
As I read of the feats of the bold Robin,
All under the green-wood tree.
Nor lov'd I less in simple dress
The tender verse that ran
Of her that won an earlis son,
And him the banish'd man.
With fev'rish thirst of rhyme inflam'd
I oft the quaint acrostic fram'd;
Or spread the jingling riddle's maze
To catch a comrade's partial praise.
Nor did my stolen leisure lose
On him the Mariner to muse,
Who, far from home's endearing smile,
Dwelt on the solitary isle.
And oft I own'd the despot reign
Of high Romance's giant strain,
Bewitch'd by all the spells that lie
In storied nights of Araby.

No wonder that to minds like mine
Such fancies then seem'd wond'rous fine:
For he, the rude untravel'd wight,
That stares at Breidden's craggy height,
Weets not to what superior skies
The mightier Alps or Andes rise:
Nor dream'd I in those early days
Of Hamlets or of Odysseys.

Since then how varied scenes I've seen!
And dearer learning bought;
Sipp'd at the mingled cups of men,
Ah cups, not always found, I ween,
So pure as then I thought.
Yet not so muddy is the draught
But it may be refin'd,
And ev'n Life's bitterest cup be quaff'd
A med'cine for the mind.
And that dull canting fool, I wis,
That finds on earth no real bliss,
Rails at the cup himself hath mix'd amiss.
Nature for him no blessing show'rs,
With spleen his very soul he sours.
—He needs not seek a scene like this.

Ye flowery vales, ye woody hills,
Thou lengthening prospect wide!
With Gratitude my bosom fills;
And Joys o'erflowing tide,
To think that, insect though I be,
Yet ev'n to me is given
To con this fair creation free
From insects of a less degree
To orbs that roll in heaven;
Yea, to the fixed fires the mind may soar
That freck night's azure arch and look on millions more.

Yet here on this terrestrial spot
Enough of good is given
To bid us bless our humble lot,
And plume our souls for Heaven.
If aught Devotion can bestow,
And Love-of-man and all below.
'Twas this that led a Newton's soul
Beyond the starry way to roll,
And that, of Heav'n's own fire a part,
Enshrin'd itself in Howard's heart,
And fell, when he to God was gone,
On him, the Man of Whittington.

Thou, sainted Memory, art mine,
And smiling Hope, of birth divine,
Ev'n now I feel your mingled pow'r,
Ev'n in this solitary hour.
Yon church that lofty limes half hide,
High pinnacled in Gothic pride,
The chime the quarter'd hour that tells
Light touch'd on three discordant bells,
Nay all I hear, and all I see,
And all I think has charms for me.
I mark the tow'r's ill-measur'd chimes,
And think on childhood's truant times,
For still the self-same tune is troll'd,
"My lodging's on the ground so cold."
Then squalling rapid pass the pile
A flight of wheeling swifts the while,
Or crevic'd in some cornice rough
Chaffers the pert and prattling chough.
And sooth, these sounds, tho' harsh to hear,
At times are music to my ear.

They tell of times that long are gone,
They speak of deeds that long are done,
And musing Memory loves to dwell
On every trifle that they tell.
For taintless times and fraudless deeds
Are of Life's loveliest tree the seeds,
Of which on every branch it rears
Fond Memory pours her pleasing tears,
And if 'tis lopp'd by Fortune's shafts
Sweet Hope her cyons there engrafts,
While on the Heav'n-aspiring shoot
Ripens the everlasting fruit.

[pp. 198-206]