1797
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Elegy to the Memory of Mr. Robert Burns, the celebrated Scots Poet.

American Universal Magazine 1 (20 March 1797) 447-48.

William Hamilton Reid


Six irregular Spenserians (ababcdcD) signed "W. Reid, Kensington, Feb. 19, 1797." William Hamilton Reid, one of the most popular poetic autodidacts of the era, had once been described as "the English Burns." The speaker in this elegy is Coila, taken from Burns's allegorical "A Vision." While it seems unlikely that Reid would know Spenser's Tears of the Muses, it is ultimately the source for Coila's complaint. The stanza, one of the less common Spenserian variants, is made by joining two elegiac quatrains and lengthening the last line to an alexandrine. Reid's poem would have originally appeared in an English periodical.

The short-lived American Universal Magazine was published in Philadelphia in 1797 and 1798.



As late I walk'd beneath the moon's pale rays,
Accusing fortune of my scanty share,
How I had spent — mispent, my youthful days,
To gain the favour of a venal fair;
Instant a form, in solemn sable clad,
Approach'd my path with heedless steps, and slow;
Pale fading laurels, hung adown her head,
And her dishevel'd hair did indicate her woe.

"Forbear," she cried, "nor think of woes but mine;
The pride of nature and these plains is dead.
The favourite songster of the tuneful nine,
Is fled forever — Is forever fled.—
COILA'S my name — with BURNS I oft' did go,
And did his bold poetic flame inspire;
Made his enraptur'd fancy smoothly flow,
And taught the bard to catch from heaven the sacred fire.

"With me he wander'd by the purling rill,
With me he stray'd upon the distant lawn,
And oft we climb'd yon cloud-capp'd distant hill,
And reach'd its summit, by the early dawn.
O Melpomene, muse of tragic woe—
Mourn him who sung of ruin and despair:
E'en smiling Thalia fraught with sprightly flow,
Lament his fate, who sung upon the banks of Ayr.

"Have we not seen him skim the dewy lawn?
And with advent'rous fingers sweep the lyre?
Have we not seen him at the early dawn,
Enraptur'd high with fancy's sacred fire?
Has not his fame in distant lands been told?
Has not his voice been pleasant to our ear?
Has not the youthful gay, the serious old,
Been highly charm'd, who now must shed the bitter tear?

"Ye sportive Naiades of the gurgling rills,
Lament his fate in Irvine, Ayr, and Doon,
Pour forth your plaints, till all the distant hills,
Do nod their sorrow to the silent moon:
For me, I'll weep while hills and streams endure;
I'll wand'ring mourn, and tell the groves my grief,
The lawn shall hear me at an early hour,
Nor shall I ever deign to take the least relief.

"I go," she cry'd, "nor ever shall return,—
I go forever from this once lov'd field,
My fate is fix'd — disconsolate I'll mourn,
Since Scotia now no longer charms can yield."
Her grief stung bosom heav'd with bitter sighs,
She seem'd prepar'd to take her distant flight;—
She turn'd and left me with her tear-swoln eyes,
And in a cloud of mist evanish'd from my sight.

[pp. 447-48]