1811
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[To the Spirit of the South Seas.]

The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, Authoress of Our Village, &c. told by herself in Letters to her Friends. 3 vols [A. G. K. L'Estrange, ed.]

Mary Russell Mitford


Five Spenserians, part of a letter to the poet's father dated 21 October 1811, posthumously published in 1870. The verses, "on reading some Verses addressed to the Author, written during Indisposition, by John Turner, Esq." originated as a dedication to Walter Scott prefaced to Mary Russell Mitford's Christina of the South Seas (1811); they were discarded at the suggestion of Samuel Taylor Coleridge when he was seeing the volume through the press. The stanzas are dated "Oct. 21, 1811." Poems signed "M. R. M." had been published in The Star, a London daily newspaper in 1809.

Mary Russell Mitford to her father: "The accompanying verses I have sent to Mr. Turner. You will see that, with my usual economy, I have turned my rejected Invocation to good account. Pray do not show them to dear Mr. Coleridge" 21 October 1811; Life of Mary Russell Mitford (1870) 1:129.

A. G. K. L'Estrange: "Who this Mr. Turner was it is impossible to ascertain; he began his correspondence with Miss Mitford as an unknown admirer of her poems" Life (New York, 1870) 119n.

James T. Fields: "I am inclined to think that her correspondence, so full of anecdote and recollections, will be considered among her finest writings. Her criticisms, not always the wisest, were always piquant and readable. She had such a charming humor and her style was so delightful, that her friendly notes had a relish about them quite their own" Yesterdays with Authors (1871) 275.

George Saintsbury: "She published poems as early as 1810; then wrote plays which were acted with some success; and later, gravitating to the London Magazine, wrote for it essays only second to those of Elia — the delightful papers collectively called Our Village, and not completed till long after the death of the London in 1832. The scenery of these is derived from the banks of the Loddon, for the neighbourhood of Reading was in various places her home, and she died at Swallowfield on 10th January 1855. Latterly she had a civil-list pension; but, on the whole, she supported herself and her parents by writing. Not much, if anything, of her work is likely to survive except Our Village, but this is charming, and seems, from the published Life of her and the numerous references in contemporary biography, to express very happily the character and genius of its author — curiously sunny, healthy, and cheerful, not in the least namby-pamby, and coinciding with a faculty of artistic presentation of observed results, not very imaginative but wonderfully pleasing" History of Nineteenth-Century Literature (1896, 1913) 164-65.



Spirit, that o'er the bosom of the deep
Didst guide the brave adventurer's early way
To those fair isles where southern breezes sweep
In murmuring silence o'er thy Cook's Morai;
Spirit that dwellest on the ocean spray,
Rid'st in the wind, and sportest in the beam,
With thee of late young Fancy took her way,
And lingering in the dale or by the stream
Of Pitcairn's Isle, she roved, enamoured of her theme!

Spirit, she wooed thee not to guide the bark
Of Slavery, across the peaceful tide,
Where men, who rose free as the matin lark,
Desperate, at eve, plunge o'er the ship's tall side,
Deep in the wave their chains, their woes to hide.
She wooed thee not to swell the waning store
Of drooping Commerce shorn of half her pride;
Nor sought the War, fell fiend, whose cannons roar
From Lusitania's plains to Norway's icy shore!

'Twas but to hang across yon towering palm
Her simple lyre; she sought that southern spring
That she might list while in the sea-breeze calm,
Waking the rustic music of its string,
Wild, faint, irregular, the echoes ring.
Hushed is the lay, frail warbling of an hour!
And Fancy, soaring on reluctant wing,
Forsakes the palmy grove, the jasmine bower,
And Friendship's purest bliss, and Love's celestial power.

Lingering and turning oft, coy Fancy flies
To woo the soft gales of Iberian plains,
Where Moors and Christians, mosques and convents rise
In visions arabesque or Gothic strains,
As Piety exults or Love complains.
Yet lists she still, as on Pacific seas
Another harp with nobler music reigns,
Flinging its bold notes on the southern breeze,
And swelling loud and deep its stately melodies.

Well might she list! For with the classic lore
Of Ithaca and lovely Arcady
Came lofty praise of Pitcairn's pleasant shore;
And 'twas her strain inspired the minstrelsy!
Spirit, with healing on thy pinions fly,
And breathe soft balm upon the minstrel's head!
So shalt thou list again his harpings high,
When rosy Health shall hover o'er his bed,
And Genius his bright dreams and golden visions shed!

[New York (1870) 1:129-30]