1789
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy written at the Hot-Wells, Bristol.

Elegy written at the Hot-Wells, Bristol. Addressed to the Revd. William Howley.

Rev. William Lisle Bowles


25 elegiac quatrains, after Thomas Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard, published anonymously in 1791. The poem describes the mingling of nature and memory in the minds of the ill and dying at the Hot-Wells, substituting for the dead poet in Gray's Elegy a character of Bowles's friend the poet Thomas Russell, who had died at the spa in 1788, in his twenty-sixth year. William Howley, a mutual friend, had written the memoir prefixed to Russell's Sonnets (1789). In later editions the poem is dated July 1789.

Critical Review: "The opening is in imitation of Gray's Elegy, and some general resemblance may be traced in other parts. The lines, though not particularly excellent, are smooth and harmonious, and unexceptionate both as the scenery they exhibit and the sentiments they convey" NS 2 (June 1791) 231.

Analytical Review: "The sentiments that run through this little interesting elegy are so naturally excited by the romantic view, that presses on the eye, and the pallid forms, which glide about the hot-wells, withdrawing the thoughts from common scenes, that they must strike every person who has pensively wandered over the downs, admiring the grandeur of nature, and comparing it with the brief span of life — often snapt in the bud. Thus did our author view them" 13 (1792) 293.

Monthly Review: "This is a short and elegant composition. The concluding lines will not, we imagine, be unacceptable to our readers" NS 6 (1791) 346.

David Macbeth Moir: "The Attic taste of his scholarship seemed to trammel that enthusiasm essential for the creation of high lyric poetry; and in this he resembles Thomas Warton — to whom, in his descriptive sketches, as well as in his chivalresque tendencies, he bore a greater resemblance than to any other author" Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851;1852) 55.

Myra Reynolds: "The influences of those early school days [under Joseph Warton at Winchester] had awakened Bowles to love of Nature and of poetry, and when sorrow came it was to Nature and to poetry that he turned for relief.... In the midst of sorrow he is 'Thankful that still the landscape beaming bright | Can wake the wonted sense of pure delight.' What Bowles saw in Nature was largely determined by his state of mind. His own sadness led him to a quick perception of the pensive or melancholy suggestions in any scene. He loved sequestered streams, romantic vales, the hush of evening. The sounds he heard were soft and plaintive" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 200-01.



The morning wakes in shadowy mantle grey,
The darksome woods their glimmering skirts unfold;
Prone from the cliff the falcon wheels her way,
And long and loud the bell's slow chime is toll'd.

Now gains the struggling light upon the skies,
And far away the glist'ning vapours fail;
Down the rough steep the accustom'd hedger hies,
And the stream winds in brightness through the vale!

How beauteous the pale rocks above the shore
Uplift their bleak and fullow'd aspect high;
How proudly desolate their foreheads hoar,
That meet the earliest sunbeam of the sky!

Bound to yon dusky mart, with pennants gay
The tall bark, on the winding water's line,
Betwixt the riven cliffs plies her hard way,
And peering on the sight the white sails shine.

Alas! for those by drooping sickness worn,
Who now come forth to meet the gladsome ray;
And feel the fragrance of the tepid morn
Round their torn breast and throbbing temples play!

Perhaps they muse with a desponding sigh
On the cold vault that shall their bones inurn;
Whilst every breeze seems, as it whispers by,
To breathe of comfort never to return.

Yet oft, as sadly-thronging dreams arise,
Awhile forgetful of their pain they gaze;
A transient lustre lights their faded eyes,
And o'er their cheek the tender hectic strays.

The purple morn that paints with sidelong gleam
The cliff's tall crest, the waving woods that ring
With charm of birds rejoicing in the beam,
Touch soft the wakeful nerve's according string.

Then at fond memory's sad and silent hour,
A thousand wishes steal upon the heart;
And, whilst they meekly bend to Heaven's high power,
Ah! think 'tis hard, 'tis surely hard to part—

To part from every hope that brought delight,
From those that lov'd them, those they lov'd so much!
Then fancy swells the picture on the sight,
And softens every scene at every touch.

Sweet as the mellow'd woods beneath the moon,
Remembrance lends her soft uniting shades;
Some natural tears she drops, but wipes them soon,
The world retires, and the dim prospect fades!

Airs of delight, that soothe the aching sense,
Waters of health, that through yon caverns glide,
O kindly yet your healing powers dispense,
And bring back feeble life's exhausted tide!

Perhaps to these grey rocks and mazy springs
Some heart may come, warm'd with the purest fire;
For whom bright Fancy plumes her radiant wings,
And warbling Muses wake the lonely lyre.

Some beauteous maid, deceiv'd in early youth,
Pale o'er yon spring may hang in mute distress;
Who dreamt of faith, of happiness, and truth,
Of love — that virtue would protect and bless.

Some musing youth in silence there may bend,
Untimely stricken by sharp sorrow's dart;
For friendship form'd, yet left without a friend,
And bearing still the arrow at his heart.

Such was lamented RUSSEL'S hapless doom,
The lost companion of my youth's gay prime;
Ev'n so he sunk unwept into the tomb,
And o'er his head clos'd the dark gulph of time!

Hither he came, a wan and weary guest,
A softening balm for many a wound to crave;
And woo'd the sunshine to his aching breast,
Which now seems smiling on his verdant grave!

He heard the whispering winds that now I hear,
As, boding much, along these hills he past;
Yet ah! how mournful did they meet his ear
On that sad morn he heard them for the last!

So sinks the scene, like a departed dream,
Since late we sojourn'd blythe in WYKEHAM'S bow'rs,
Or heard the merry bells by Isis' stream,
And thought our way was strew'd with fairy flow'rs!

Of those with whom we play'd upon the lawn
Of early life, in the fresh morning, play'd,
Alas! how many, since that vernal dawn,
Like thee, poor RUSSEL, in the ground are laid.

As pleas'd awhile they wander'd hand in hand,
Once led by friendship on the spring-tide plain,
How oft did Fancy wake her transports bland,
And on the lids the starting tear detain!

I yet survive, now musing other song
Than that which early sooth'd my thoughtless years;
Thinking how days and hours have pass'd along,
Mark'd by much pleasure some, and some by tears!

Thankful, that to these verdant scenes I owe,
That he whom late I saw all-drooping pale,
Rais'd from the couch of sickness and of woe,
Now lives with me their mantling views to hail.

Thankful, that still the landscape beaming bright,
Of pendant mountains, or of woodland grey,
Can wake the wonted sense of pure delight,
And charm awhile my solitary way!

Enough: — Through the high heavens the proud sun rides,
My wand'ring steps their silent path pursue
Back to the crouded world, where fortune guides;
CLIFTON, to thy white rocks and woods Adieu!

[pp. 3-9]