1788
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy, supposed to be written on a Waste near the Charter-house, London.

New London Magazine 4 (May 1788) 266-67.

William Hamilton Reid


Seventeen elegiac quatrains, signed "W. Hamilton Reid." In another variation on the graveyard theme of Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard, the buckle-maker poet imagines the victims of a medieval plague, now buried beneath a London field: "Promiscuous here, lay mingled with the rest, | In heaps who fell in plague's relentless hour; | No dirge funereal their worth confess'd, | No stone perpetuates their boast of pow'r." Many of the Gray imitations were set in or otherwise concerned with London.

Reid, one of the more prominent untutored bards publishing at this time, reprinted a different, fourteen-stanza version of this poem in the European Magazine for October 1791.



Avaunt Indifference! with thy heedless air,
And Levity! who tip-toe stands behind;
For this rough waste of all but rank weeds bare,
Speaks other language to a pensive mind.

For in these bounds those crosier'd walls beneath,
O'er which yon elms their spreading branches wave,
Six times ten thousand bore the train of death,
Stamp'd in a moment for the noisome grave.

Some that, perhaps, when Edward led the way
In Norman fields could deathful deeds provoke;
Their faulchions flashing like a comet's ray,
While woods of spears descended at their stroke.

Promiscuous here lay mingled with the rest,
That fated fell in plague's relentless hour;
No dirge funereal their worth confess'd,
No sculptur'd stone preserves their boast of pow'r:

But here convey'd by mutes in mournful guise,
Whose wants had soften'd Horror to a trade,
No crouds as erst pursu'd with curious eyes,
Nor tribute, but astonishment was paid!

And yet how fair the wonted morn arose,
That with destruction charg'd the welcome light;
Ah! who can tell what may a day disclose,
The noon of life may feel the damps of night.

Delusive day! what projects then were crush'd,
What hopeful schemes that furnish'd years of care!
Perhaps in sad concern alike were hush'd,
Two restless rivals, and some hapless fair!

Ill suit my numbers fully to express
The panic wild discovery must feel,
When the first victim prov'd the dire distress,
That courtly prudence labour'd to conceal.

For wing'd the tale all guilt-attractive flies,
The city's dark recesses to alarm:
No golden god could charm Avaro's eyes,
But dropt instinctive to his nerveless arm.

Nor could the Court th' unyielding fact evade,
To supple arts and compliments unknown;
Can Truth e'en by such sycophants be staid,
That urg'd Canute to raise his wave-wash'd throne?

No; spite of State they flew, and equal fears
With hinds of sad mortality betray;
Ah! ill starr'd crouds, no flight for you appears,
Another death in arms impedes your way!

From scenes like these all but despair must turn
As spiry grass the once throng'd paths o'erspread,
While Thames slow languish'd in his silent urn,
The wings of commerce drooping o'er his head.

Habitual Mis'ry but the bosom steels,
Scarce kindred then a kindred sigh could claim;
E'en sympathy, unsocial grown, conceals
Her soothing softness, and her chearing flame.

For, callous, see! among that motly croud,
A plund'rer's arm stretch'd o'er that dying bed,
To ill-got wealth enjoyment's not allow'd—
For lo! a shaft has at the miscreant fled.

Vain was his thought, the deep embowl'd earth
Might save his treasures till had ceas'd the storm;
And these descry'd oft brings such crimes to birth,
Swells the wife's tale, or gives a spectre form!

But tho' from taste we dread such ills no more,
Our domes from science drink the healthful breeze;
Unwatch'd as erst from sad Byzantium's shore,
Each pore might open to the fell disease!

Yet this remains; that tho' with mortal sweep,
Fierce Nemesis again should seek her prey;
He's more than safe, that Virtue's lore can keep
With heart benignant as the beams of day.

[pp. 266-67]