1785
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Dream.

The Florence Miscellany.

Bertie Greatheed


Bertie Greatheed's vision, the opening poem in The Florence Miscellany, announces the Della Cruscan program. The dreamer sleeps, and in a fairy vision sees a poet arouse the Italian Muse, who startled from a long sleep, seeks the abodes of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Grief stricken at the present state of poetry, she arouses the spirit of Milton. She presents him with her lyre, and implores him to rectify the situation. Milton promises to raise a genuine band on "proud Albion's chalky shore." At the sound of his lyre, the Dreamer beholds a shepherd train appear: Hester Piozzi, Robert Merry, and William Parsons. The Dreamer is striving to join them when his vision is obscured by Envy with her sullen train, and he awakens.

Edward E. Bostetter: "Here are the dream-frame and the relation of sleep and poetry, the solitary poet and the bower, the personalized Muse or maid, and the sense of dedication to poetry that we associate with Keats. Here also is a rather striking mythopoeic use of Milton as a link between Italian and English literatures which indicates the tradition with which the poets are identifying themselves. The other English poets whom they mention from time to time are Shakespeare, Gray, Collins, and Blake's corporeal friend and spiritual enemy, William Hayley. The influence of Gray and Collins upon the poetic attitude and style is strongly evident. The Italian poets of the past to whom they turn are Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, and particularly Petrarch. In each they are attracted to those characteristics which are later seized upon by Byron, Shelley, and Keats" "The Original Della Cruscans" Huntington Library Quarterly 19 (1956) 284.

The bulk of the poetry in the Florence Miscellany was contributed by Robert Merry and William Parsons; Hester Piozzi contributed the preface and nine poems; Greatheed six poems, Merry nineteen, and Parsons thirty-one.

Preface by Hester Thrale Piozzi: "Prefaces to Books, like Prologues to Plays, will seldom be found to invite Readers, and still less often to convey importance. Excuses for mean Performances add only to the baseness of a submission to poverty of sentiment, and take from insipidity the praise of being inoffensive. We do not by this little address mean to deprecate public Criticism, or solicit Regard; why we wrote the verses may be easily explain'd, we wrote them to divert ourselves, and to say kind things of each other; we collected them that our reciprocal expressions of kindness might not be lost, and we printed them because we had no reason to be ashamed of our mutual partiality. Portrait Painting though unadorn'd by allegorical allusions, and unsupported by recollection of events or places, will be esteem'd for ever as one of the most durable methods to keep Tenderness alive, and preserve Friendship from decay: nor do I observe that the room here where Artists of many Ages have contributed their own likenesses to the Royal Gallery is less frequented than that which contains the statue of a slave and the picture of a Sibyl. Our little book can scarcely be less important to Readers of distant Age or Nation than we ourselves are ready to acknowledge it; the waters of a mineral spring which sparkle in the glass, and exhilarate the spirits of those who drink them on the spot, grow vapid and tasteless by carriage and keeping; and though we have perhaps transgress'd the Persian Rule of sitting silent till we could find something important or instructive to say; we shall at least be allow'd to have glisten'd innocently in Italian Sunshine; and to have imbibed from it's rays the warmth of mutual Benevolence, though we may have miss'd the harshness and polish that some coarser Metal might have obtain'd by beat of equal force. I will not however lengthen out my Preface; if the Book is but a feather, tying a stone to it can be no good policy, tho' it were a precious one; the lighter body would not make the heavy one swim, but the heavy body would inevitably make the light one sink" pp. 5-6.



As late beneath a cypress shade
To rest, my weary limbs I laid,
Soft sleep o'er all my senses stole,
And fair visions charm'd my soul.
'Twas then, methought, at early dawn
A Poet trod the dewy lawn,
With solitary steps, and slow,
Where hoary Arno's waters flow.
The Muse he sought whose song of yore
Resounded on the Tuscan shore.
At length his vagrant footsteps stray'd
To Val-ombrosa's gloomy shade;
Where, stretch'd upon the mossy ground,
In death-like sleep the Maid he found:
And thrice essay'd, with daring hand,
To seize her thought-inspiring wand;
And thrice exclaim'd dread Pow'r! arise,
Ere she unseal'd her long-clos'd eyes.
The waking Muse from side to side
Threw a wild gaze, and thus she cried.
"What single Bard is this I see
Who quits the haunts of Men for me?
Of Vot'ries once a num'rous hand,
In Cosmo's time, adorn'd the land:
And is that band so num'rous gone?
And does Lorenzo reign alone?"
The Bard a moment silent stood;
Blush'd a reply, and sought the wood.

Alarm'd, upsprang the radiant Pow'r;
Rush'd from the dark sequester'd bow'r;
With awful voice call'd Dante's shade,
And summon'd Petrarch to her aid.
With active pinion mounting high,
She cut the pure Tyrrhenian sky;
As when Jove's bird in quest of prey,
Bends through the azure deep his way:
O'er the cold Apennines she flew,
And scarce bestow'd a transient view;
But having reach'd the Pisan shore,
On even wing she seem'd to soar;
Nor linger'd long, but heav'd a sigh
And pass'd Sienna, Prato, by;
Then skimming o'er Certaldo's spires,
Where gay Boccaccio felt her fires,
With chrystal woe bedew'd his grave,
That to the sod fresh lustre gave;
So often, from the sky serene,
Some heat-born drops to fall are seen.
With rapid flight, and eager force,
To Florence next she steer'd her course;
Expecting sooner Arno's wave
Should seek again the native cave,
Than not, it's verdant banks around,
Be heard the lyre's enchanting sound.
But there, alas! no sound she hears,
Save busy hum of Cavaliers;
Who tell the daily tale of love
To many a Fair, in many a grove:
She found her Crusca's triumphs o'er;
And e'en it's name was now no more.
But Ig'rance rear'd her heavy head,
While ev'ry art, and science fled.
With shame, and woe, the Muse opprest,
Inclin'd her front, and heav'd her breast;
No longer tears bestow'd relief;
Their channels were shut up by grief:
But slow she sought the lonely plain,
To soothe her bosom's rising pain,
And soon the the melancholy Pow'r
Reach'd fair Val d'Arno's thickest bow'r.
As there she trod the sacred ground,
Immortal Milton's shade she found;
For mindful of the flame he caught,
When there he nurs'd his growing thought;
His grateful spirit loves to rove,
And haunt again th' inspiring grove.
As one whose day of wealth is o'er,
Without the Friends he sought before,
So she was half inclin'd to fly
To wander scenes of extasy.
The Bard approach'd the pensive Maid,
And deeply sigh'd, and thus he said,
"O wherefore does thy flowing hair
Betray thy bosom's wild despair?
Has some dark Bigot's zealous rage
'Gainst thee presum'd fell war to wage?
Or is pale Death's unerring dart
Aim'd at some Friend's beloved heart?"
"Ah no, (replied the Maid divine)
No dread of Bigot rage is mine,
No suff'ring Friends in sorrow weep,
Those, those I lov'd are sunk to sleep;
I mourn that now no equal choir
Take from my hands the offer'd Lyre:
If then my sceptre's proud controul
E'er rul'd thy vast capacious soul;
If e'er thou stood'st with list'ning ear,
The tuneful Tuscan song to hear;
If e'er could please this vocal shade;
I now implore thy friendly aid:
Yes, I conjure thee by that lay
Which sung the bright celestial day;
Which sung the joys of Eden fair,
The serpent, Eve, and Man's despair;
By gay Allegro's sprightly glow;
By Penseroso's solemn woe;
By the sad notes thy friendship gave
For Lycidas' untimely grave,
When sunk so low his sacred head
Within old Ocean's dreary bed;
With sympathetic zeal, impart
Some comfort to my sorrowing heart."
With anxious breast, the Poet sigh'd,
And thus in trembling notes replied.
"O Pow'r belov'd! full well I feel
The truth thy plaintive lays reveal.
I'll seek proud Albion's chalky shore,
Where foamy waves tumultuous roar,
And there a genuine Band I'll raise
To hither come and sing thy praise;
For Thames shall sooner cease to glide,
Than I forget fair Arno's side."

And now enchanting fancy leads
My wand'ring steps o'er flow'ry meads,
Where, proudly pointing to the skies,
High Fiesole's old turrets rise;
While on the stream that winds below,
Their sedge-bound locks the Naiads show;
And many a Wood-Nymph, many a Faun,
Trips sportive o'er th' enamell'd lawn;
While on the Fir-trees ever green,
The climbing Satyrs too are seen,
And, in the breeze their raptures pour,
With revel rout, and rustic roar.
As such delights my spirit cheer'd,
A Bard of Albion's Isle appear'd,
Who here had loiter'd down the day,
While sixty Moons had wan'd away;
And at his Lyre's majestic sound
The shepherd train would flock around.
Beneath a wood's extending shade,
Where many a Nymph so lightly trod,
She scarcely mark'd the velvet sod;
And with her numbers charm'd the ear
Of list'ning Eve who stay'd to hear.
The doleful Nightingale was mute,
Whene'er she struck the British Lyre,
With Grecian force, and Sapho's fire.
Nor distant far a Youth reclin'd,
Whose wild harp warbled to the wind,
So softly sweet, so clearly strong,
That Arno's self admir'd the song.
And now with eager haste I strove
To join the band that charm'd the grove.
But ah! my labour all was vain,
For adverse powers my course restrain.
Confus'd at length my vision grew;
Fantastic phantoms rose to view;
Envy I saw, in yellow vest,
Malignant tear her shrivel'd breast;
And there the sullen race appear
Who scorn the glowing verse to hear:
Amaz'd I found the tumult rise,
And sleep, on hasty pinion, flies.

[pp. 7-13]