1760
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy I.

Elegies by Mr. Delap.

Rev. John Delap


After Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. In this variation, John Delap substitutes miners for the peasants of the original, and for the poet, a scholar who wishes for the simple virtues and secure morality of the laboring poor: "Full many an hour that now, tho' sped with art, | On slow and dusky pinions sullen flies, | Full many an anxious wish, or pang of heart, | That reason's boasted anodyne defies, | Had ne'er been born" pp. 6-7. "Charles" is "Charles V. of Spain, who in the full blaze of his glory, resigned the throne to his son Philip, and retired to a convent in Estremadura" p. 6n.

Critical Review: "These two elegies are a pretty imitation of Mr. Gray's upon a country church-yard. The merit of his and Mr. Hammond's performances in this way seems to have led succeeding elegiasts into the same kind of verse; and the alternating heroic measure seems now peculiarly appropriated to this sort of writing. Yet if we might be permitted to form the ear of another by our own, there seems something insupportably tedious in this measure.... But to our poet: his description of the miners, which runs thro' almost the whole first elegy, is picturesque and poetical.... The second elegy is to sickness, where the poet still shews the same strength of imagination which he discovered in the preceding: we are sorry however to find himself the subject of his complaint, and that this gentleman should be incapacitated by sickness from feeling those beauties of nature himself, which he is so well qualified to make others feel in his description" 9 (April 1760) 320-21.

J. W. Croker: "Dr. Delap of Lewes. See ante, vol. 1. p. 514; but it is there incorrectly stated [by Croker] that he was rector of Lewes; he only resided there" Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831) 3:519n.



Ah stay! — thy wand oblivious o'er my eyes
Yet wave, mild power of sleep! — my pray'r is vain;
She flies, the partial nurse of nature flies,
With all her soothing visionary train.

Then let me forth; and near yon flowering thorn
Taste heav'n's pure breath; while rob'd in amber vest,
Fresh from her watry couch, the youthful morn
Steals on the slumbers of the drowzy east.

Lo, at her presence, the strong arm of toil,
With glittering sickle, mows the prime of may;
While yon poor hirelings, for the mine's rude soil,
Leave to their sleeping babes their cots of clay.

With sturdy step, they cheerly whistle o'er
The path that flings across the reedy plain,
To the deep caverns of that yawning moor,
Whose shaggy breast abhors the golden grain.

There, in her green dress, nature never roves,
Spreads the gay lawn, nor lifts the lordly pine,
They see no melting clouds refresh the groves,
No living landscape drawn by hands divine.

But many a fathom from the sunny breeze,
Their painful way in central night they wear;
Heave the pik'd axes on their bended knees,
Or sidelong the rough quarry slowly tear.

Yet while damp vapours chill each reeking brow,
How loudly laughs the jovial voice of mirth;
Pleas'd that the wages of the day allow
A social blaze to cheer their ev'ning hearth.

There the chaste housewife, with maternal care,
Her thirsty distaf plies, in grave attire;
Blest to behold her ruddy offspring wear
The full resemblance of their sturdy sire,

To spread with such coarse fare their homely board
As fits the genius of their little fate,
Free from those ills that haunt their pamper'd lord;
To be unhappy we must first be great.

In these dark caves, where heav'n's paternal hand,
Far from the world, their private cradle laid,
They toil secure: the storms that strike the land
With wild dismay, roll harmless o'er their head.

For who, the load of weary life to bear,
Wou'd from these murky mansions chace the slave?
Who cease to breathe heav'n's pure and chearful air,
To be but living tenants of the grave?

Yet harras'd as they are, their face still wears
The reverend comeliness of green old age;
No stains their mind from worldly science bears;
Their ray of knowledge gleams from nature's page.

The few plain rules her simple lessons give,
They still thro' life with pleas'd attention ply;
Their helpless offspring bid them wish to live,
Their breathless parents bid them learn to die.

And surely heav'n, whose penetrating sight
Pierces the soul, and reads its inmost groan,
Must see content, with more sincere delight,
Toil in the mine, than triumph on the throne;

See Charles, more pleas'd, within the convent's gloom,
Seeking the slaves calm nights, their temperate days,
And peaceful passage to the private tomb,
Than diadem'd with glory's crimson rays.

Ev'n the proud sage, whose deep mysterious brain
Has reason'd all the balm of hope away,
Convinc'd that learning's but ingenious pain,
Might hail their happier lot, and sighing say,

"Oh had I thus, within the dark profound,
By daily labor earn'd my daily food;
Or with yon seedsman sow'd the quickening ground,
Or cleav'd with ponderous ax the groaning wood!

"Full many an hour that now, tho' sped with art,
On slow and dusky pinions sullen flies,
Full many an anxious wish, or pang of heart,
That reason's boasted anodyne defies,

"Had ne'er been born. Nor had th' uneasy mind,
Pent in the prison of this mortal mould,
Felt its ethereal energy confin'd,
Its brightest sunshine in dark clouds enroll'd.

"But native sense her modest course had run;
Her saintly lustre untaught virtue spread;
Health crown'd my toils, and ere the day was done,
Sound sleep beneath some alder's rustling shade.

"Then, as I stole down life's declining hill,
Here nature's gifts had furnish'd nature's needs,
The brook's cold beverage ev'ry latent ill
Had starv'd, that cloyster'd contemplation feeds.

"Till, in the peaceful shade of this lone bower,
Or near yon shattered tower in silence laid,
The orient orb, that watch'd my natal hour,
Had brightly glitter'd o'er my mouldering head."

[pp. 3-7]