1803
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Experience to the Poet.

Monthly Mirror 15 (June 1803) 411.

Margaret Holford


Twelve irregular Spenserians (ababcC) addressed from "Chester." Margaret Holford treats the theme of literary poverty, with verse characters of Thomas Otway and Thomas Chatterton to illustrate her topic: "Will air-built castles yield thy homeless form | Rest from perturbing cares, and shelter from the storm?" p. 411. Otway and Chatterton exemplify the familiar argument that poetry leads to poverty, melancholy, and ultimately madness. The closing stanzas develop a conventional Spenserian topic in a conventionally Spenserian way.

The Monthly Mirror took a particular interest in impoverished genius, publishing original poems by Robert Bloomfield, Thomas Dermody, and Henry Kirke White. These stanzas were revised and reprinted in Holford's Poems (1811) under the title "The Poet's Fate."

Francis Hodgson: "The Poet's Fate rings the old changes on Otway, Chatterton, &c. and not in a manner that is calculated to add new interest to a subject which has been long exhausted, however originally adapted to poetry" Monthly Review NS 65 (July 1811) 245.



Why idly, shepherd, through the live-long day,
In thriftless song thy youthful leisure waste?
The busy world now beckons thee away;
Oh! quit thy dream of solid joys to taste,
Nor vainly liberal of life's golden prime,
Give to the thankless Muse thy swiftly fleeting time!

Say, will the Muse, 'mid Fancy's radiant beams,
On age and want her airy favours shed,
Lull thee with hopes, and flatter thee with dreams,
And bind her laurels round thy drooping head,
Bless with bright visions thy declining hour,
And on thy closing ears her heavenly accents pour?

And will she, should neglect thy bosom rend,
From thy dim eye forbid the tear to flow,
Teach thee unmov'd to meet each alien friend,
Or bid thee smile on memory's hoarded woe?
Will air-built castles yield thy homeless form
Rest from perturbing cares, and shelter from the storm?

How wilt thou bear, when Folly's ideot smile
Shall coldly mark thee for the vulgar scorn,
And sneering, thank indulgent heaven the while
That genius beam'd not on his natal morn,
But worldly thrift a glimmering light supplied,
He hail'd the taper's gleam, and took it for his guide?

Whil'st thou, poor bard, the Muse's luckless child,
In evil hour a dazzling track pursu'd,
Which steer'd thy wandering course thro' regions wild,
Where never Prudence led her pigmy brood;
Where never toil uptore the verdant sod,
To seek man's golden prize — his earth-extracted god!

There, seldom fortune's summer-breathing gale
Fans the young impulse with auspicious wing,
But Poverty uprears her visage pale,
And checks, with icy grasp, the bosom spring,
Blasts the fair promise of youth's vernal hour,
Arrests the vital sap, and nips each opening flower!

Ah! many a name does dark oblivion claim,
Once cherish'd names, to faithless Genius dear!
Ah! many a bard, too late the boast of fame,
Press'd with cold limbs an unattended bier,
And felt unmark'd, hope's treacherous hectic die,
And breath'd, where none could hear, his last unecho'd sigh!

Thus vainly, Otway, did thy numbers flow!
Thus idly swell'd thy unavailing song!
Ah! did thy Muse immortal aid bestow,
When Famine's fever parch'd thy tuneful tongue,
When man, thy brother, from thy suppliant eye,
Regardless turn'd away, and let a poet die?

Oh! why each throbbing sense to anguish wake!
Why on the bard fix Fate's tremendous seal,
And bid him suffer, for the Muse's sake,
Such pangs as common souls ne'er dar'd to feel!
Why must the touch of Sorrow's venom'd dart,
Thro' every fine-strung nerve run quivering to his heart!

Oh Chatterton! how gay thy morn arose!
Bright on thy youth celestial Genius smil'd,
But Poverty thy heart's warm current froze,
And Misery clasp'd thee, her devoted child;
Urg'd, while thy lips the poison'd chalice drain'd,
And on thy wasting form each lurid eye-ball strain'd:

Yet from thy breast tho' each fair form was fled,
Pride held her state in thy unconquer'd soul—
"What! shall I, bending low my laurel'd head,
From affluence beg a slowly yielded dole,
From pity's boon life's poor support obtain,
Or drag its weary load in flattery's helot train!"

Oh! ever following in the Muse's rear,
Of perish'd hopes a spectre band is seen!
There, Melancholy drops the frequent tear,
There, Memory raves of joys that once have been,
There, keen-ey'd Want assails with famish'd cry—
Who clanks the sounding chain? 'Tis wild Insanity!

[pp. 411-12]