1830
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Poets and Modern Poetry.

Modern Aristocracy, or the Bard's Reception; the Fragment of a Poem, written in March 1830.

Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges


Samuel Egerton Brydges, nearly seventy years old and living as an expatriate in Switzerland, recalls how as a child he lived upon "enchanted ground" where he would "breathless view, a Spenser's magic calls, | Knights, arms, fair ladies, and enchanted halls!" p. 28. Poets and Modern Poetry ends with a paraphrase of Collins's Ode on the Poetical Character, breaking off with a note: "The latter lines were written on the 13th and 14th May 1830. This Poem being interrupted at the time, could not afterwards be resumed."



Who would not wish a poet's holy name;—
Still more a poet's empire than his fame?
Ask ye the test that proves the genuine strain;—
If the tide flows from an undoubted vein?
Let the heart tell, if when the drink is first
In sparkling murmurs offer'd to the thirst,
The trembling glow its arteries attest;
And the brain fires, and swells the kindling breast!
If such the spell, tho' critics ply their taste,
And all their chymic arts in censure waste,
From fount of Helicon the stream proceeds,
And justly claims the poet's laureate meeds.
Not narrow is the poet's theme, nor bound
His means of pleasure to a narrow ground:
Rules, that would limit his excursive mind,
To forms of fiction, language, thought, confin'd,
Image or sentiment, or wandering flight
Of fancy in a phrenzy of delight,
Beholding shapes to mortal eyes unknown,
And maddening with creations of its own;
Morals that man, by nature's impress taught,
Deems by the hand of puff'd up Folly wrought;
Gorgeous invention of discordant things,
That shapes impossible together brings;—
Are rules like these the genius free to chain,
And bind to tasteless laws the poet's brain?
Not to the mighty range the eye surveys,
However beautiful are Nature's ways,
Is the Bard's theme restrain'd: — with equal joy
Th' invisible of mind his lays employ;
Thought is his empire; — every subtle ray
That loves upon the inmost soul to play,
'Tis his to paint; and every trembling dart,
That runs along the fibres of the heart,
Beyond the shapes of this material scene,
E'en when the Spring puts forth her emerald green;
Beyond the golden views of Summer's blaze;
Or gentler splendor of Autumnal days,—
Enchants fine reason's strain, to feeling join'd,
That lifts to loftier heights th' aspiring mind!
We live but in the mind: material life
Is the base contest of a mortal strife;
Joy ending in ennui, disgust, regret,
And Grief in ambush where our hopes are set;
But mental pleasures stronger grow, the more
Th' indulging passion feeds upon the store;
And when the feast is done, — the moment past,—
Backward our eyes with fond delight we cast.
The forms that tire, — the scene of earthly mould,
That loses soon its charm as we behold,—
Must these in song delight us, yet the strain
The shadowy tribes of Intellect disdain?
Tribes, in whose converse ne'er the charm abates,
Nor pain, nor sorrow, nor repentance waits!
But wisdom, that our being's end and aim
Teaches to follow with an holy flame;
The bosom's movements, and the springs to know
Whence mystic man's recondite actions flow,
The hopes and fears, the secret joys, the pangs
With which the soul on some dread evil hangs,
Pierce the thick veil, and to the light of day
The mind's conflicting elements display.
Fruits of the genuine spring we seek in vain
In the wild whims of a distemper'd brain;
Hobgoblin imps, imagination draws,
In her forc'd freaks defying human laws;
Passions of monstrous fierceness, that demand
Admiring plaudits for the blood-stain'd hand;
Capricious will for reason's milder sway,—
The reckless chace of a delusive ray!

Muses! who sitting round the sacred spring
Of Helicon, your liquid incense fling
On votaries kneeling at your inmost shrine!
The gravest, deepest of these drops be mine!
To moral truths, to reason let me bow,
To nature, as she is, my studies vow!
Stern be the lesson, — plain and unadorn'd
The precept by whose light the world is warn'd!
But let its lofty tone, and breathing force,
Bespeak the sacred regions of its source!

Nurs'd in the woods, from nature's voice I drew
The ceaseless fire that in my bosom grew;
And growing still in age's frozen clime,
Still bursts unblighted forth in fluent rhyme!
Shades of my Fathers, Wootton's spreading trees,
That fann'd my infant struggles by your breeze,
Ye taught me first to love the learned lore,
That mighty bards pour'd forth in days of yore;
On Milton's holiest song with rapture dwell,
And glow at tuneful Dryden's lyric shell!
With Shakespeare's fairy dreams, at evening hour,
To yield each wondering sense to Fancy's power;
And breathless view, at Spenser's magic calls,
Knights, arms, fair ladies, and enchanted halls!

Apart I liv'd upon enchanted ground,
No worldly strife my hopes and joys to bound;
The clamour, and intrigue, and force, and art,
That damp the kindling ardors of the heart,
The fame, esteem, the wonder, and the praise,
That wait on wily deeds, and honied phrase,
Far from my haunts in woods, and meads, and vales,—
Ne'er reach'd my ear, nor mingled with my tales:
The world I saw was of the good and wise,
In books related, crown'd with virtue's prize!
When mid the throngs of elbowing mobs I fell,
No charm the tumults of my heart could quell:
My senses in the silence of retreat
Had learn'd no strength the noisy crews to meet:
Appal'd, o'erwhelm'd, they sunk in helpless gloom,
And Hope refus'd the future to illume.
Long was the darkness; many a weary year
Upon my fate obscure I drop'd the tear;
But broke at length from cells of black Despair,
And strove to wave my new-plum'd wings in air.
Then came the spring of life within my brain,
And op'd the regions of my former reign:
Imagination drew the mighty Dead
Up from the tomb to lift the palmy head,
And Virtue once again before my eyes
Began in her attractive glow to rise;
And Wisdom shone in beamy looks, and told
The lore that realms of future joy unroll'd!

What are the wanton musings nurs'd by fools?
What is the jest, the fleeting hour that rules?
Will this frail life for ever last, and give
Time for all trifling tasks to those who live?
Ah, not a day has mortal man to spare!—
Let reason, truth, and knowlege be his prayer;
The moral lesson; — skill to scan the state
To which his being here is doom'd by fate,—
The talents, passions, whims of brother men;—
The movements that escape a hasty ken!—
To these alone the labours are confin'd,
That task a virtuous and a solid mind:—
Here is imagination's scope; — her light
Shews the deep secrets to the searching sight;
Shews all the subtlest workings of the breast;
Each throb that most beneath the veil is prest;
Each flying thought; each momentary aim;
The wish of honour, or the scheme of shame.
Not as the feeble fancy's vain conceit,
Not as proud labour, in factitious heat,
Would draw the picture of the scene of things,
Is the fair tale, from Helicon that springs!
Ah! fairer far than toilsome Art can tell;—
More bright the visions of the Muse's well!—
Cold is the fiction, that the false pretence
Of empty bardlings offers to the sense:
Not to the eye the willing splendors rise,
Not to the heart a glow the verse supplies:
A waste of gorgeous words; — fantastic forms,
With which no vein of Nature's bosom warms!

Of Bards most rich, most varied, most sublime,
Most tender, most intense, — whom ripening Time
Ne'er yet has equal'd, and will ne'er again
Reach in the height of Inspiration's strain,
Shakespeare, whose wand stretch'd o'er creation's range,—
Each outward, inward, shape, each subtle change!
Thou didst not seek, by tales which Truth disclaims,
To fill the wondering breast with childish flames!
The happiest notes of thy enchanting lyre,
Most touch'd by every Muse's purest fire,
True to each feature, shape, and tint, and shade,
Are nature's voice in nature's form array'd!

Each step that we from Nature's likeness part,
Shews the weak efforts of a sickly art!
There is no strain but Truth's, the wise can hear;
There is no voice but Nature's, charms the ear:
All else is wasting on an idle theme
Hours, we too late must struggle to redeem!

Strange is frail man's existence; grief and joy
And vice and virtue mingled form th'alloy;
When if the good alone could have its sway,
Earth would a perfect Paradise display.
Rapture is in the sight of hills and vales,
And woods and meads, and Ocean spread with sails,
And mountain-tops by rosy suns array'd,
And golden lights that billowy clouds pervade:
And rapture in the sound, when Nature's voice
Begins at the reviving Spring rejoice:
The low of herds, the bleat of lambs, the song
Of birds that in the opening foliage throng;
And when the falling leaf, all pale and sere,
Bemoans in gentle sounds the dying year;
And when from Summer clouds the lightning breaks,
And Winter's roaring storm in thunder speaks;
Rapture to all, in whom nor vice nor art
Has crush'd the simple movements of the heart!

Ye Muses, sitting round the heavenly throne,
With harps all strung to a celestial tone,
Ye, when the great Creator's word gave birth,
Pois'd in mid air, to this great globe of Earth
Struck up with echoing hand your notes of praise,
Till Heav'n's whole concave trembled with the lays!
Ye, who thus sung its primal being, wait
With anxious hearts upon its passing state!
'Tis yours to teach the favour'd few, whose toils,
By worship pure inspir'd, have won your smiles;
To sing this work of the Creator's hand,
Such as it started forth at his command!
No struggle vain still fairer hues to throw,
And make its skies with brighter gold to glow;
Mankind to cast in moulds of heavenlier form,
And souls with more celestial fire to warm!
Enough, vain Bard, enough, that man should be
Such as he came on earth by heaven's decree!

[pp. 25-31]