1783
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Mr. Wright of Derby.

Ode to Mr. Wright of Derby. By William Hayley, Esq.

William Hayley


Twelve irregular Spenserians (ababccddD). William Hayley salutes the painter Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97), who against the backdrop of the loss of the American colonies is a work on a painting of the defense of Gibraltar by Elliott and Curtis against a Spanish seige in September 1782. Britain has been well served: "Her battles yet are firmly fought | By Chiefs with Spartan courage fraught: | Her Painters with Athenian zeal unite | To trace the glories of the prosp'rous fight, | And gild th' embattled scene with art's immortal light" p. 9. The poem appears to have printed for private circulation.

Joseph Wright to William Hayley: "I have laboured under an annual malady some years, four and five months at a time; under the influence of which I have now dragged over four months, without feeling a wish to take up my pencil, till roused by your very ingenious and very friendly Ode, in which are many beautiful parts, and some sublime. Perhaps had I then been furnished with proper materials for the action of Gibraltar, I should have begun my fire; but for want of such instructions I soon sunk into my wonted topor again, from which as the weather grows cooler, I hope to awaken" 31 August 1783; in Memoir of William Hayley (1823) 1:306.

William Hayley: "The poet had felt that he owed some tribute of gratitude to this amiable painter, for that unexpected and valuable present, his sweet moonlight picture of Virgil's Tomb; and he pleased himself in the hope of cheering the depressed spirit of a suffering genius, who had injured his health by the perilous ardour of incessant application, during his studies at Rome. It was a favourite maxim of Hayley, that every poet ought to render his lyre an instrument of beneficence, and to regard both emolument and fame as secondary objects, far inferior to the delight of consoling merit under oppressive neglect, and of animating acknowledged talents to new and happy exertion" Memoir of William Hayley (1823) 1:305.

Astrophil: "The following excellent Ode to an admirable Artist of this Country has been some time circulated in MSS. in my neighbourhood. By the favour of a lady, in whose hands a copy has been placed, I am enabled to send you a transcript, which cannot but afford as much entertainment to your readers as it has done to an admirer of your publication, and your constant reader, Astrophil, Mansfield, May 6, 1784" European Magazine 5 (May 1784) 380.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "He published (1778-1811) many occasional works, both in prose and poetry, Epistles, Essays, Elegies, Dialogues, plays, biographies, translations from Milton's Latin and Italian Poems, &c. — almost all of which are now forgotten" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:8-7.

Hayley was a considerable bibliophile; the 1821 sale catalogue of his library includes (among much else) the 1772 edition of Browne's Britannia's Pastorals, Ogle's modernization of Chaucer (1741), J. B. Burges's Birth and Triumph of Love (1796), Joseph Beaumont's Psyche (1702 edition), Drayton's Polyolbion and Poems (1636 and 1753), Fletcher's Purple Island (1633), Spenser's Faerie Queene (1751) and Works ed. by Hughes, Aiken, and Todd, Joseph Sterling's Poems (1789), Tighe's Psyche (1805 and 1811), and Warton's Poems (1802), Observations on the Faerie Queene, and History of English Poetry; see A. N. L. Munby, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons (1971-75) volume 2.



Away! ye sweet, but trivial Forms,
That from the placid pencil rise,
When playful art the landscape warms
With Italy's unclouded skies!
Stay, Vanity! nor yet demand
Thy portrait from the painter's hand!
Nor ask thou, Indolence, to aid thy dream,
The soft illusion of the mimic stream,
That twinkles to thy sight with Cynthia's trembling beam!

Be thine, my friend, a nobler task!
Beside thy vacant easel see
Guests, who, with claims superior, ask
New miracles of art from thee:
Valour, who mocks unequal strife,
And Clemency, whose smile is life!
"Wright! let thy skill (this radiant pair exclaim)
Give to our view our favorite scene of Fame,
Where Britain's Genius blaz'd in glory's brightest flame."

Celestial ministers! ye speak
To no dull agent sloth opprest,
Who coldly hears, in spirit weak,
Heroic Virtue's high behest:
Behold! tho' envy strives to foil
The Artist bent on public toil,
Behold! his flames terrific lustre shed;
His naval blaze mounts from its billowy bed;
And Calpe proudly rears her war-illumin'd head.

In gorgeous pomp for ever shine,
Bright monument of Britain's force!
Tho' doom'd to feel her fame decline
In ill-starr'd war's o'erwhelming course,
Tho' Europe's envious realms unite
To crush her, in unequal fight,
Her Genius, deeply stung with generous shame,
On this exulting rock array'd in flame
Equals her ancient feats, and vindicates her name.

How fiercely British valour pours
The deluge of destroying fire,
Which o'er that watery Babel roars,
Bidding the baffled host retire,
And leave their fall'n, to yield their breath
In different pangs of double death!
Ye shall not perish: no! ye hapless brave,
Reckless of peril, thro' the fiery wave
See! British mercy steers, each prostrate foe to save.

Ye gallant Chiefs, whose deeds proclaim
The genuine hero's feeling soul,
Elliot, and Curtis, with whose name
Honour enrich'd his radiant roll,
Blest is your fate; nor blest alone,
That rescued foes your virtues own,
That Britain triumphs in your filial worth:
Blest in the period of your glory's birth,
When art can bid it live to decorate the earth!

Alas! what deeds, where virtue reign'd,
Have in oblivious darkness died,
When Painting, by the Goths enchain'd,
No life-securing tints supplied!
Of all thy powers, enchanting art,
Thou deemest this the dearest part,
To guard the rights of valour, and afford
Surviving lustre to the hero's sword:
For this, heroic Greece thy martial charms ador'd.

Rival of Greece, in arms, in arts,
Tho' deem'd in her declining days,
Britain yet boasts unnumber'd hearts,
Who keenly pant for public praise:
Her battles yet are firmly fought
By Chiefs with Spartan courage fraught:
Her Painters with Athenian zeal unite
To trace the glories of the prosp'rous fight,
And gild th' embattled scene with art's immortal light.

Tho' many a hand may well portray
The rushing war's infuriate shock,
Proud Calpe bids thee, Wright! display
The terrors of her blazing rock:
The burning bulks of baffled Spain,
From thee she claims, nor claims in vain,
Thou mighty master of the mimic flame,
Whose matchless pencil, with peculiar aim,
Has form'd of lasting fire the basis of thy fame.

Just in thy praise, thy country's voice
Loudly asserts thy signal power:
In this reward may'st thou rejoice,
In modest labour's silent hour,
Far from those seats, where envious leagues,
And dark cabals, and base intrigues
Exclude meek merit from his proper home;
Where art, whom Royalty forbade to roam,
Against thy talents clos'd her self-dishonor'd dome!

When partial pride, and mean neglect,
The nerves of injur'd genius gall,
What kindly spells of keen effect
His energy of heart recall?
Perchance there is no spell so strong
As friendship's sympathetic song:
By fancy link'd in a fraternal band,
Artist and Bard in sweet alliance stand;
They suffer equal wounds, and mutual aid demand.

Go, then, to slighted worth devote
Thy willing verse, my fearless muse!
Haply thy free and friendly note
Some joyous ardor may infuse
In fibres, that severely smart
From potent Envy's poison'd dart:
Thro' Wright's warm breast bid tides of vigor roll,
Guard him from meek depression's chill controul,
And rouse him to exert each sinew of his soul!

[pp. 5-11]