1798
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Elegy, written in St. Stephen's Chapel.

European Magazine 23 (March 1798) 189-90.

William Seward


A political burlesque of Gray's Elegy in 29 elegiac quatrains, signed "S." The loyalist poet takes a Burkean swipe at the venality of the opposition: "The labour little, and the pension big, | And all that Rose, and all Dundas bestow, | Can ne'er content the state-reforming Whig, | What others build, he joys to overthrow" p. 189. With the Tory ministry in firm control of the government, the Whigs, with their "scanty virtues" and "vices vain" languish in poverty and obscurity. Compare a similar burlesque with the same title, published in the Morning Chronicle (2 January 1784).

Annie Raine Ellis: "William Seward (1747-1799) was the only son of the rich Mr. Seward, of the firm of Calvert and Seward, the brewers of more beer than any firm in London, according to a list of 1759-60. They head this list with 74,734 barrels of beer, brewed in the year. After them come Whitbread, Trueman, and then 'Thrail,' brewing then only 32,740 barrels. According to Mrs. Thrale, this 'polite and agreeable young man,' who was of the 'Charter-House, and Oxford,' 'displeased and grieved his father by his preference for literature to riches;' but (she adds) 'his head was not quite right.' Mrs. Thrale was, perhaps, not much 'grieved and disappointed' when the heir of a rival turned out a literary trifler, and became (as Dr. Johnson wrote) 'a great favourite at Streatham.' Mr. Seward wrote papers in magazines, and kept a common-place book, which he published under the name of 'Anecdotes,' &c., 5 vols., 1795-97; 'Biographiana,' 2 vols., 1799. He is often met in Fanny's Diaries, 1778-84, and now and then, in Boswell's 'Johnson'" The Early Diary of Frances Burney (1889) 2:153-54n.



The Abbey bell now tolls the hour of One,
The drowsy porter holds the ready key,
And eager scowls (the public business done)
At mischief, and minority, and me.

Now the whole house a solemn silence wears,
While glimmering lamps emit a fainter ray;
Save where pert J—k—l clamours in my ears,
And with brisk nonsense interrupts my lay.

Save that from Palace-yard a motley band,
Inspir'd by freedom and election ale,
The self-created guardians of the land,
At Pitt, and property, and placemen rail.

Beneath this roof, to tory arts a prey,
Persuasive powers some honest brethren doom;
While others death's appointed call obey,
Their hapless laurels wither ere they bloom.

The dice-box flaunting in the face of noon,
The hustings laden with promiscuous freight,
Thelwall's shrill trumpet, and seditious tune,
No more shall snatch them from the grasp of fate.

For them no wreath the city shall afford,
No Crown and Anchor splendid feasts prepare,
No voters run to hail the noble Lord,
Or croud his gates, the envied bribe to share.

Oft has the Minister their power confess'd,
Joe Miller shone in Courtney's comic joke,
Reforms untried, and sorrows unredress'd,
Acquired new force, when thundering Barre spoke.

Let not stern reason mock their ceaseless pains,
Nocturnal sports, and tenements obscure;
Nor loan contractors scorn their little gains,—
What will not patriots for their cause endure?

The labour little, and the pension big,
And all that Rose, and all Dundas bestow,
Can ne'er content the state-reforming Whig,
What others build, he joys to overthrow.

Nor you, ye poor, impute to these the blame,
If still to virtue's dictates ye adhere;
Oft as you slept, some Gallic envoy came,
And pour'd seditious poison in your ear.

Faint is the joy that declamation gives,
For now, alas! these airy projects fail;
The speaker starves, whose elocution thrives,
And modern glory dwindles to a jail.

Perhaps in this unconscious spot is plac'd
Some heart inflam'd with more than Gallic fire,
Some patriot head, with sanguine laurel grac'd,
At whose approach virtue and peace retire.

But plunder in their reach her golden store,
Moisten'd with widows' tears, has never thrown;
Chill fear forbad their abject souls to soar,
Prompt to reform all vices, but their own.

Full many a knave, maintain'd by faction's hand,
The dark unconscious streets of London bear;
Full many a zealot quits his native land,
To breathe in Botany Bay a purer air.

Some French Colossus striding o'er the land,
Like Buonaparte, with despotic sway;
Some Guy Faux here may hide his flaming brand,
Some Paine the laws yet fated to obey.

The praise of grateful nations to command,
The mobs' tumultuous clamours to despise;
To roll the tide of commerce through the land,
And raise the fame of Albion to the skies,

Their lot forbad; nor circumscribed alone,
Their scanty virtues; but their vices vain;
Forbad to shake the basis of the throne,
And sink the eminence they cannot gain.

The sword of hireling armies to direct,
The voice of sense and reason to disclaim,
Betray the cause they promis'd to protect,
And hazard ev'n the halter for a name.

Far from a Monarch's smile, their idle rage
And mad cabals ne'er gain'd the purposed fame;
From joyless youth to unrespected age,
The same their follies, and their crimes the same.

Yet ev'n this race relax their cautious care,
When Bacchus gaily levels friends and foes;
And eager rustics pour along to share
The joys septennial jollity bestows.

Then empty names for property atone,
Th' evasive oath, and answer learnt by rote;
And many a secret hint around is thrown,
To teach the rude constituent to vote.

For who, to strict veracity a slave,
The Member's privileges ere resign'd,
The bailiff's subtle arts secure to brave,
Nor cast a long suspicious glance behind?

T—r—y the talkative here spreads his toils,
Pleas'd with the voice of Sheridan and wit;
While reason hallows with benignant smiles,
The flow of Burke, and manly sense of Pitt.

For thee who mindful of thy party's cause,
Dost in these lines their fallen fame relate;
If chance some slave to popular applause
In distant ages shall enquire thy fate,

Haply some partizan may thus exclaim,
"Oft have we seen him in the doubtful throng,
With ardour catch the fleeting voice of fame,
And pour the tide of eloquence along.

"There at the left of yonder velvet chair,
That rears its stately canopy on high,
He view'd his lessening phalanx with despair,
And scann'd their numbers with a mournful eye.

"Fronting that youth, now smiling as with scorn,
Conning his arduous lesson would he sit,
Now sinking low, and now on wings upborn,
In all the wild exuberance of wit.

"One night we miss'd him at a grand debate,
Nor at his house, nor Drury Lane was he,
We sought him early, and we sought him late,
At White's, St. James's square, and Bloomsbury.

The next (O reader, tremble while you read!)
In doleful accents told our leader's doom,
Sad disappointment forc'd him to secede,
And grav'd this verse indignant on his tomb:"

THE EPITAPH.
Here lies — ah no, a patriot never lies!
Here rests a man by Gallic frenzy driv'n,
To try each new, each daring enterprize,
And giant-like, wage impious war with Heav'n.

Friend to party, foe to regal fame,
Misfortune smote him with deserv'd disgrace;
He gave the party all he had — a name,
The King denied his only wish — a place.

No further seek his errors to explain,
Learn from his fate, ye senate-seeking youth,
How vain are talents, eloquence how vain!
Unaw'd by virtue, and the voice of truth.

[pp. 189-90]