1828
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fourth Epistle to a Friend in Town.

Epistles to a Friend in Town, Golconda's Fate, and other Poems. Second Edition. To which is now added, A Fourth Epistle. By Chandos Leigh.

Chandos Leigh


A Horatian epistle in the manner of Pope: Chandos Leigh takes a gently satirical view of the intellectual follies of the age and, true to his liberal principals, acknowledges advances in physical and social sciences, if not in literature. While the verse characters are generalized, it is not difficult to make out Shelley and Byron. Here, as elsewhere, Leigh is explicit in his praise of Byron, implicit in his criticism. Leigh's admiration for Byron plainly extended to Pope; in imitating the manner of Pope he was following in the footsteps of Byron, at least of the Byron he admired.

The epistle is notable for speaking about patronage more from the patron's perspective than the poet's — Chandos Leigh could write about Byron and Shelley from a position of social, if not intellectual equality. While he appears to have taken pains to conceal his generosity to less wealthy bards, he is known to have given financial assistance to Leigh Hunt, and likely contributed to others as well.

The argument is continued in the Fifth Epistle (1835) subtitled "perfectibility," which contains what appears to be Leigh's only explicit references to Spenser: "Vain hope! still towers unmatch'd; and where | Is Fancy's child with Spenser to compare" Poems (1839) 61.

New Monthly Magazine: "In this Epistle, the topics discussed are — the pleasures of retirement — the errors of the imagination — the sordid fascinations of the Opera danseuses — the insolence of wealth — the silliness of mere collectors of books and pictures — the ostentation of charity —the mistakes made by many in the pursuit of fame — the nature of political ambition (true and false) — the claims of genius — and the true uses of philosophy. These subjects are treated with much spirit, and are illustrated by veiled allusions to several characters of the day; and we think that, altogether, the present is the best and most amusing of the Four Epistles of the writer" NS 24 (September 1828) 382.

Literary Gazette: "Mr. Leigh's style differs from that which obtains in the poetical compositions of the day; if it be less ambitious and imaginative, or less prodigal in its display of diction, there is no denying, we think, that it is terser and more carefully wrought, and that the thoughts are worthy of every attention, inasmuch as they are connected with subjects interesting to humanity in all its conditions. The school of Pope seems to be that in which the writer has acquired his poetical creed; and we are glad to see that this school still popular, and that a second edition is required of a work written in conformity to its rules. We have now, besides a few other introductions, a Fourth Epistle to a Friend in Town. This Epistle is, we think, the best of the four. The topics discussed belong strictly to the town and to the day; and the author, in one or two places, has not spared certain individuals at present moving in the circles to which he himself belongs" (8 November 1828) 707.



The golden morn of youth is gone, and man
Reaches his noon of life without a plan:
As snow falls softly on the mountain's height,
Time passes by: 'tis scarcely eve, 'tis night:
Though whispers oft the still small voice within,
To waste, or misapply thy time, is sin.

Yet it is pleasant here to gaze away
In sweet forgetfulness of cares the day,
The long long summer's day; while flowers exhale
Their fragrance borne along the western gale,
That o'er our Avon's bosom gently breathes,
Till in the sun her "crisped smiles" she wreathes;
Or glory in that sun, till thought elate
Would o'er the horizon round its orb dilate;
Or trace resemblance to that monarch proud
Of Alps, Mont Blanc, in some high-towering cloud;
Or wander lonely through the solemn grove
With every feeling hush'd, save that of love,
Love of a Being who is evermore
All that a grateful spirit must adore!
As clouds along the stream in varied hues
Their lovely shadows rapidly diffuse;
So o'er life's current changeful Fancy glides,
In shapes as fleet and beautiful besides.

All the fine plans thy subtle mind hath spun
Melt into air, like mists before the sun;
Yet why regret? substantial systems wrought
By heads of statesmen crumble into nought.
The wings of time, through oft repeated shocks,
Beat down opinions strong as granite rocks;
Senates have sanction'd schemes they now deride;
How mortifying this to human pride!

Bacon has said, then take it in my rhyme,
The slaves of custom are the sport of time;
How, as they strive to cheek his onward course,
He whirls them round with a resistless force!
While knowledge, strong as is the ocean's tide,
Scatters opposing errors far and wide:
Sweeping away the veil that time has thrown
O'er old opinions all must soon disown.
Though knowledge be progressive, mystery shrouds
The glowing sons of fancy in her clouds;
So brilliant they divert aspiring youth
From following sober lights hung out by truth.
But ah! from them involved within the mass
Too soon away the brilliant colours pass.

Mystical poetry with wond'rous art
Entwines itself around the enthusiast's heart.
Alastor gathers images remote
From human use, as stimulants to thought.
With projects wild his brain distemper'd teems,
His world appears impalpable as dreams.
Vague phantoms take the place of living forms,
And torturing doubt a noble mind deforms.
How can a soul which matter clogs, discern
Abstraction's shadowy tribe? their nature learn?
Awhile they rush before our mental sight
Enlarged, then far recede, and all is night!
We shape our projects from a chaos wild
Of dreams that ought not to delude a child;
Then as our air-built phantasies deceive
Hopes that are nursed in spite of reason — grieve.

Imagination is to mortals given,
That they might sometimes catch a glimpse of heaven,
But not to be an erring guide, at strife
With all the sober principles of life:
To cheat us, as a Prospero with his wand
Creates and then dissolves a fairy band.
Yet what are all the pleasures as we pass
Through life, that cheer our pilgrimage, alas?

A ballet at the Opera it seems,
Is what a poet fancies when he dreams;
Oh what a world of poesy is there!
What delicate spirits people earth and air!
Angels of light, too fine for Man's embrace—
They are, if Angels, then a fallen race.
What are these beings of ethereal mould
By whom the "Muses' tales are truly told?"
Young Claudius knows, whose heart such beauty warms,
That these all-glorious sprites have venal charms.

But Freedom here can show a nobler prize
Than loveliest nymph, if Claudius will be wise;
Fortune and birth, be he but blest with sense,
Will give him more than labour'd eloquence!
What though deficient he in Grattan's fire,
Canning's fine irony, Grey's nobler ire,
Let him but heed the People's genuine voice,
Their boundless love will make his heart rejoice.
Soon will he thank his God that gratitude
Can warm a peasant's heart however rude!

Metella, Fashion's most prevailing star,
Brilliant as Venus rising in her car;
Metella (scorn sits lovely on her lips)
Frowns, can another's radiance her's eclipse?
A purse-proud rival, not in loveliness
Dares to surpass her, but in wealth's excess.
Shall then the Day-God's flower that flaunting shows
Its yellow hue, raise envy in the rose?
Oh, no! Metella's splendour far outshines
Her rival's grandeur, were she queen of mines.
That unbought grace of life, Taste, waves her wand
Through her saloon — Gold cannot taste command.

Though timid Cocknies scorn (a nerveless race)
That life of life, the madness of the chase:
The draw, the find, the soul-exciting burst,
The burning emulation to be first;
These are delights; but sports must loose their zest,
When days are blank, and spirits are deprest.

Lucilius, burden'd with superfluous coin,
Pants the kind sharers in his wealth to join.
Where Crockford's palace glares upon his eyes,
As a proud harlot sense of shame defies.
How true the proverb, "Cobwebs that enfold
The less, on greater reptiles loose their hold."
Wondering that men can thus their money lose;—
Sons of virtu, a better part you choose.

Some book, it matters not in prose or rhyme,
You buy, — we'll call it "Pleasure's rare Passetyme"
Or drag some, dusty picture to the day,—
Cheap, if you have five hundred pounds to pay:
The picture, you remove the sacred dust,
Had better in its former station rust.—
The book, how vast your agony of grief!
More precious than the Sibyl's, wants a leaf!

Tullius, whose well-stored library's a hive
Of sweets the varied flowers of genius give,
Is but a drone: from book to book he flies;
Tastes all, contributes nothing, — useless dies.

Where to support the poor, Bazaars are graced
With high-born dames behind the counter placed:
Fair Seraphina studiously displays
Her pretty wares for charity, or praise.
Works finish'd by her lovely hands attract
Attention; here a novel, there a tract:
These works her varied inclinations paint;
The fair, as fashion wills, is blue, or saint!

This sickly feeling, that can never thrive,
Unless by Pleasure's aid 'tis kept alive—
Call you this Charity, that He approves
Who knows the spring that every action moves?
This charity, that's borne, as Angels sing
To God's eternal mount, on Seraph's wing?

Though Nature in her noblest mood has made
Sydney in camps, and Howard in the shade,
Moral phaenomena! as rare, I fear,
As an Iago, or Sir Giles, are here:
Benevolence, pure element of good,
Is dash'd with grosser matter in our blood.
Orfellus gives you feasts, to glut his pride:
You ask a loan of him, he turns aside.
While Bavius prates of friendship in his verse,
Yet from the dearest friend withholds his purse.—

Fame cries that Appius, generous wight, but lives,
To bless his neighbour: all he has he gives.
Though in subscriptions be his name enroll'd,
His virtue glitters — 'tis not sterling gold:
No prayer of those he has relieved by stealth,
Consecrates alms that trumpet forth his wealth.

Croesus for unimagined pleasure pants
His very pain is that he nothing wants:
His life, a calm so sick'ning to the soul,
Were worse to many than the tempest's howl.
'Tis the pursuit that cheers us; when attain'd,
The object is as speedily disdain'd;
Of wealth unbounded, as in rank the first,
Croesus with fulness of enjoyment's curst.

Crassus, rich child of dulness lives among
High orators and mighty sons of song:
Admitted to the table of the Gods, he's hit,
Like Vulcan, by their frequent shafts of wit.
Strange are the qualities in Man commixt!
Firm in some things, in others how unfixt!
Can that Valerius, whose high worth is seen
In public actions, be in private mean?
Or can Ambrosius point beyond the grave
A Hell for sinners, and become a knave?
How the arch-tempter loves within his toils
To catch reluctant dragons! they are spoils.
The same imaginary sorrows vex
Unquiet spirits, the same cares perplex;
Go to the Court, what characters are there?
The same by Pope described, or La Bruyere.

Eugenius daily with unwearied zeal
Resumes his labours for the common weal;
Neglects his fine estate, with study pale
O'erworks his brains, and what does this avail?
The dullest idler may in public speak
Better than him — our Patriot's nerves are weak.

Ascanius for his trade to honest dives
Into the depths of policy, and strives
In sabbathless pursuit of fame to be
What never with his nature can agree.
Too good, though train'd up in the statesman's school,
To see through those whom selfish passions rule.
Too sensitive to bear against the blast
Of faction till its rage be overpast.

Each flying shade, each transient light will throw
Young Flaccus into fits of joy or woe.—
The breath of censure, frown of scorn, will shake
His frame, until his heart-strings almost break.
If but a feather's weight oppress his nerves,
The mind disjointed from its purpose swerves.

Scarce on his self-raised eminence appear'd
Publius; the harrass'd sons of freedom cheer'd.
To him, as to the pillar'd fire that burn'd
At night before the Israelites, they turn'd.
Struggling 'gainst tyranny's recurring wave
They heard his voice, all-powerful to save;
(A voice that fulmining o'er Europe shamed
Power from attempting schemes that cunning framed,)
With energy renew'd then upwards sprung,
And firmly to their rock of safety clung.
As falls the mighty column in its pride,
Publius had reach'd Ambition's height, and died.
Perish'd a statesman as erect and great,
As from its watch-tower e're o'erlook'd the state.

Political Economy! how few
Through thy strange labyrinth can find a clue;
Soon as he enters it the Tyro's lost,
On every side by turns of "value" crost.
Then let Ricardo, mighty guide, direct
His steps, let Malthus shout each different sect.

Dear is our country to us, dear our law,
As perfect as a gem without a flaw:
Were he alive the dicast-lashing bard,
Whose wit is brilliant, though 'tis somewhat hard,
Would Mitchell's great Apollo dart his gibe
At virtuous England's fee-receiving tribe?
While Justice with her well-poised balance stands,
The weights pass slowly through a thousand hands.
Since some there are who, menaced with a jail
Invent, by conscience unappall'd, a tale;
Who join a company whose traffic lies
In certain wares, that men call perjuries;
Who live begirt by knaves from day to day
On alms supplied them by the law's delay.

Invention comes, unfolding every hour,
Of steam the almost preternatural power.
What cannot mind achieve whose magic skill
Rules this reluctant element at will?
It may perchance some mightier power create,
That now in depths of night its fiat wait.
Improvement points to paths yet unexplored,
Where realms of science richest spoils afford.

Hundreds, where one but formerly essay'd,
Attempt through learning's deepest paths to wade:
Fame's temple with her thousand portals still
Is placed on high; but all ascend the hill.
Ye few secure yon heights above to keep
Your stations now — is this a time to sleep?
The mild interpreter of Nature now
Had been a Faustus centuries ago,
Nor God, nor Daemon scarcely prized, no more,
He adds his mite unto the common store,
The gain of patient thought; meanwhile encrease
Through mutual intercourse the gifts of peace.
Commerce, the nurse of Freedom, rears afar
Her flag triumphant o'er wide-wasting war.
Though prejudice still struggles to maintain
Her long ascendancy, she strives in vain.

The "Georgics of the mind," so widely spread
Is knowledge, make the rudest hind well-bred.
Beggars in metaphor your alms entreat,
And low born knaves like Gentlemen can cheat.
Milkmaids write flowing lines on purling rills,
And Owen's happy children dance quadrilles.
Some master minds there are, that still excel
The rest, as Davy's vast discoveries tell;
Unrivalled in his art, with what success,
He bore the Torch through Chemistry's recess!
From age to age his deep research shall wake
Some genius slumbering else on Lethe's lake,
Whose talents in a moment may, by chance,
For years the no knowledge of his art advance.

The sun of science with its noonday blaze
Glorious would strike our Bacon with amaze,
Were he again revisiting this earth
To view its progress, as he hail'd its birth.

But genius came all-perfect from above,
As sprung Minerva from the head of Jove,
Play'd in bold lightnings o'er the Theban's lyre,
And shone round Homer's head a crown of fire:
Fresh as their air, and brilliant as their sky,
Flow'd on the deep stream of their Poesy.
In lovely Greece, while yet the world was young,
Pregnant with intellect such Poets sung;
In that fair clime, by subtle Taste refined
Came forth the rich creations of the mind.
Beauty and wit, bright idols of the crowd,
Beneath a veil of allegory glow'd.
Are not our Bards of olden times confest
By all to be more potent than the rest?

Shakspeare, whate'er I may presume to call
Thee, Moralist, Bard, Sage, or all in all;
May I approach thy intellectual throne,
While now all spirits are to thee as known
As once on earth mankind, and bow the knee,
Thou Idol of an English heart, to thee.
Compared with thine, the noblest dramas fraught
With genius, are but rudiments of thought;
And images the bard profusely pours,
As if he never could exhaust his stores,
On every glowing verse, but give the change
Of a few fancies circumscribed in range.
Invention's unborn sons might yet produce
Works, bending Nature's will to human use;
Another Watt may bless mankind; but when
Shall Shakspeare's inspiration live again?

Shakspeare, the glorious morning-star that cheer'd
Our dawn of literature, has disappear'd;
What light has since uprisen to adorn
The noon, as that illumed the purple morn?
One like a meteor (Nations gazed, admired,)
Rush'd on our sight, blazed momently, expired.
Its radiance, flashing on thy memory, warms
Thee still; in dreams its noble aspect charms.

The rage for all that's marvellous and new
Pervades the crowd, a love of truth but few.
With Shakspeare, and the Northern Seer content
Why heed we what inferior minds invent?

Far as our language spreads, from clime to clime,
Is Shakspeare's muse upborne on wings of time:
Thousands unborn her glorious flight shall hail
Nature is ever felt though customs fail.

Now Authors come at fashion's call in haste
To please with varied food the public taste.
Well! they are idols of the day, and have
All that they want — what's fame beyond the grave?
An unsubstantial glare that flickers o'er
Ambition's dangerous eminence, no more—
Let Milton wait posterity's award,
'Tis present gain that charms the modern bard.

A bard triumphant, disregarding facts,
Some known event from History's page extracts:
Drawn from a Poem that just praise hath won,
The tale is through a lengthen'd novel spun;
Here fiction o'er a wider surface blends
Itself with truth, and common sense offends.

Are not the Novelists whose bright renown
Blazed through all Italy — now scarcely known?
Except Boccacio; (He who reads must smile
At his fine wit, and love his perfect style.)
And yet the gems that from inventions mine
They drew, than ours more beautifully shine.

A tale of real life by fashion wove,
Each has its season, high and low approve.
Another follows, incidents surprise—
And scenes of woe with tears fill loveliest eyes.

As a high crested wave o'ertops the rest,
Then foaming breaks on Ocean's heaving breast;
Thus towers awhile, his Brother Bards among,
Some mightier Poet, how sublime in song!
Till, on the wide expanse of ages cast,
He's caught within oblivion's gulph at last!

Since thoughts successive in another sphere,
Excel those of our brightest moments here;
Why should he seek distinction, which acquired,
He may hereafter scorn, though now desired!
Unless the master- spirits of this earth
Then relatively greater shall shine forth.

How oft in bygone days we loved to quote
Each gentle verse that Pope to Harley wrote;
Or that sweet lay, in which while he adored
"Mary in Heaven," poor Burns his soul outpour'd;
To snatch, can words the depth or breadth express
Of Wordsworth? 'raptured with their loveliness,
The pearls of wisdom, that, beneath his stream
Of poetry, as pure as Derwent's, gleam.
Oh these are Poets we may call divine;
Like Angels standing in the Sun, they shine.
Point out to us exultingly the way
That leads to Truth's abode as bright as day.
They give the freshest hue to every flower
Year after year; they waken thoughts that tower
Above our sordid schemes on earth; they blend
Emotions here, with those which heavenward tend.
May we, once having past death's confines, see
In their own orbs the great, the good, the free:
That "old man eloquent" whose mind was stored
With ancient, modern lore, a boundless hoard!
Whose genius e'en o'er common subjects threw
Embroidery of language ever new!

Newton! La Place! what mind can comprehend
The worlds through which all-seeing they ascend!
While to their gaze as crystal mirrors clear,
The wonders of the Universe appear.
As knowledge burns within them, on their sight
In full perspective burst the realms of light,
One blaze, no momentary cloud obscures,
Such as the eye of mind alone endures!

From strength to strength, unclogg'd by grosser sense,
Progressive grows each fine intelligence.
The shades of mystery vanishing, at last
All harmonize — the present — future — past—
Like interchange of sunbeams, thought with thought
Has quick communion, — wisdom comes unsought:
And mind with all the sciences instinct
That rainbow-like are blended yet distinct,
With mind converses; envy never throws
One shadow there where Love's pure effluence flows.
Oh what ineffable delight above,
To know, to feel, that all around is love.

Though broken be the lute, the magic skill
Of the musician lives within him still.
Shall not that efflux bright from Heaven, the mind,
Survive the ruins of its "corporal rind"
Crown'd with surpassing beauty far and wide
Then range, and Time's decaying touch deride.
Drawing by turns into itself whate'er
It sees around that's wonderful or fair?
Collecting knowledge infinite each hour
As the Bee gathers sweets from every flower.
Beings we partially imagine now,
Gay creatures of our day-dreams, then will glow
Star-like in lustre, beauteous as that morn,
When above Eden's mount the Day-God rose new-born,
Will pass in waves of light the mind before
That then may dare their nature to explore:
Whatever be its element; or flame,
Or finer essence that we cannot name.

[(1830) 5-40]