1771
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Elegy, to the Memory of a poor Old Man.

St. James Chronicle (23 May 1771).

Dr. William Perfect


An imitation of Gray's Elegy in seventeen elegiac quatrains signed "W. P., Malling, April 29, 1771." The poem depicts the character of Colin, a virtuous cottager who pines and dies after the decease of his friend Philander. The poet boldly skirts the sentimental bathos: "His uninstructed muse, with wild essay, | Thy pleasures, Solitude! has often sung; | Smile not, ye learned, if the death of Tray | Gave lays pathetic to his master's tongue." The complete title is given as "An Elegy, to the Memory of a poor Old Man, who lived and died an Honour to his Species, in the most inviolable Obscurity."

A different text of this popular elegy was printed three years later in the Gentleman's Magazine. While the other newspapers neglected Perfect's initials in this instance, they would very shortly become very familiar to readers of periodical verse. He contributed several other items to the St. James Chronicle about this time.



Low in a fruitful Vale where Naiads guide
The wild Meanders of a limpid Rill,
Whose Chrystal Treasures unmolested glide
With fresh Supplies to furnish yonder Mill;

There in a Nook, sequester'd, peep'd a Cot,
The lonely Mansion of a patient Hind,
Whose Av'rice grasp'd not at a richer Lot,
For this Retreat was Wealth to Colin's Mind.

Lord of his humble Shed, Ambition's call
Convey'd a sound he ne'er had wish'd to hear;
The Comforts found within his Clay-built Wall
To him was Pomp — to him was all that's dear.

Nurs'd in the Shade, to sylvan Labour bred,
Tho' pageant Fortune smil'd not on his Birth,
Tho' Learning deign'd no polish'd Rays to shed,
Yet Colin harbour'd ev'ry milder Worth.

His Morals spoke an uncorrupted Heart,
His Hatch was ever open to a Friend,
To pining Need his Little he'd impart,
And feel a Wish that Little to extend.

Oft have I heard him near yon length'ning Walk,
Where, in thick Groupe umbrageous Walnuts rise,
With musing Fancy undissembled talk,
Or seen him mark the Rill with pensive Eyes.

His uninstructed Muse, with wild Essay,
Thy pleasures Solitude has often sung;
Smile not, ye Learned, if the death of Tray
Gave Lays pathetick to his Master's Tongue.

And not undeftly did he tune the Teed,
When Mag eloping from his osier Chains,
Himself from Durance unrelenting freed,
And sought the Freedom of his native Plains.

O lov'd Simplicity! thy modest Eye
Effus'd soft Candour o'er thy Colin's Breast,
Where conscious Innocence, averse to sigh,
Appear'd in Robes of native Virtue drest.

His was the guileless Heart, the Tongue sincere,
His the Elysium of a Soul serene;
Health's full-blown Rose was his, whose little Sphere
Contentment guarded from th' Approach of Spleen.

Smile not, ye wealthy Great, at one so low,
Let rich Contempt her meaner Scorn forbear;
The joys of Wealth he never wish'd to know,
The flash of Pomp he envied not to share.

Let rich Contempt the Blush of Shame disclose,
That one so low the Paths of Virtue trod,
That one so low so much superior rose,
—"Should look thro' Nature up to Nature's God."

Yet to his Bosom pale Affliction stole,
The Voice of Friendship long had chear'd his Cell;
One Friend he had, the dearest to his Soul,
Philander he, — he heard Philander's Knell.

No pen can paint the Anguish of his Mind,
Four Moons he bent beneath pale Sorrow's Sway,
But ere the Fifth his fleeting Breath resign'd
The freer Spirit to the realms of Day.

Avaunt, ye Heralds! What can you proclaim?
No Pomps funereal, here's no waving Plume;
The Muse, the Herald of his sober Fame,
Engraves this Tribute on his peaceful Tomb.

EPITAPH.
Shall venal Flatt'ry prostitute the Muse,
To senseless Titles spurious Honours pay,
And yet to sylvan Worth such Lays refuse,
Which Truth may burnish with her brightest Ray?

Forbid it Equity! The Task be mine
To yield his Mem'ry all the Praise I can;
The whole's compriz'd in one conclusive Line,
Here lies "God's noblest Work, an honest Man."

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