1760
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy II. To Sickness.

Elegies by Mr. Delap.

Rev. John Delap


The scoend of John Delap's pair of elegies is in seventeen quatrains, and like its mate imitates Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. The poem is an invalid's hymn to Sickness: "For many a virtue, shelter'd from mankind, | Lives calm with thee, and lord o'er each desire; | And many a feeble frame, whose mighty mind | Each muse has touch'd with her immortal fire" p. 10. This proposition is illustrate with verse characters of Alexander Pope ("sole terror of a venal age") and Thomas Gray, taught by Sickness "to warble 'mid the village tombs." The poem speaks of Gray (d. 1771) in the present tense.

Monthly Review: "The second Elegy, addressed to Sickness, most feelingly expresses her unwelcome influence over an infirm constitution: altho', at the same time, the Author shews a becoming resignation; and only desires the balm of friendship to alleviate his feelings. The opening of the poem is extremely natural, as supposed to be the effusion of a mind harassed by bodily pain; especially in that enlivening season of the year, when all Nature seems rejoicing around us, and (as one of our Poets beautifully expresses it) 'Triumphing in existence'" 22 (June 1760) 519.

Thomas Gray to William Mason: "Mr. Delap is here, and has brought his cub to Trinity. He has picked up again purely since his misfortune, and is fate and well, all but a few bowels" 17 March 1762; Correspondence of Gray and Mason ed. John Mitford (1853) 288.

Delap (who lived to the ripe age of 88) had once been William Mason's curate, and in a letter to Mason, Gray imagines trading places with him: "I shall be very ready to take as much of Mr. Delap's dulness as he chooses to part with at any price he pleases, even with his want of sleep and weak bowels into the bargain; and I will be your curate, and he shall live here with all my wit and power of learning" 23 April 1757; Correspondence of Gray and Mason ed. John Mitford (1853) 75-76



How blith the flowery graces of the spring
From nature's wardrobe come: and hark how gay
Each glittering insect, hovering on the wing,
Sings their glad welcome to the fields of may.

They gaze, with greedy eye, each beauty o'er;
They suck the sweet breath of the blushing rose;
Sport in the gale, or sip the rainbow flower;
Their life's short day no pause of pleasure knows.

Like their's, dread Power, my chearful morn display'd
The flattering promise of a golden noon,
Till each gay cloud, that sportive nature spread,
Died in the gloom of thy distemper'd frown.

Yes, ere I told my two and twentieth year,
Swift from thy quiver flew the deadly dart;
Harmless it past 'mid many a blith compeer,
And found its fated entrance near my heart.

Pale as I lay beneath thy ebon wand,
I saw them rove through pleasure's flowery field;
I saw health paint them with her rosy hand,
Eager to burst my bonds, but forc'd to yield.

Yet while this mortal cot of mould'ring clay
Shakes at the stroke of thy tremendous power,
Ah must the transient tenant of a day
Bear the rough blast of each tempestuous hour!

Say, shall the terrors thy pale flag unfolds
Too rigid Queen! unnerve the soul's bright powers,
Till with a joyless smile the eye beholds
Art's magic charms, and nature's fairy bowers.

No, let me follow still, those bowers among,
Her flowery footsteps, as the goddess goes;
Let me, just lifted 'bove th' unletter'd throng,
Read the few books the learned few compose.

And suffer, when thy aweful pleasure calls
The soul to share her frail companion's smart,
Yet suffer me to taste the balm that falls,
From friendship's tongue, so sweet upon the heart.

Then, tho' each trembling nerve confess thy frown,
Ev'n till this anxious being shall become
But a brief name upon a little stone,
Without one murmur I embrace my doom.

For many a virtue, shelter'd from mankind,
Lives calm with thee, and lord o'er each desire;
And many a feeble frame, whose mighty mind
Each muse has touch'd with her immortal fire.

Ev'n He, sole terror of a venal age,
The tuneful bard, whose philosophic soul,
With such bright radiance glow'd on Virtue's page,
Learn'd many a lesson from thy moral school.

He too, who "mounts and keeps his different way,"
His daring mind thy humanizing glooms
Have temper'd with a melancholy ray,
And taught to warble 'mid the village tombs.

Yes, goddess, to thy temple's deep recess
I come; and lay for ever at its door
The siren throng of follies numberless,
Nor wish their flattering songs shou'd sooth me more.

Thy decent garb shall o'er my limbs be spread,
Thy hand shall lead me to thy sober train,
Who here retir'd, with pensive pleasure tread
The silent windings of thy dark domain.

Hither the cherub charity shall fly
From her bright orb, and brooding o'er my mind,
For misery raise a sympathizing sigh,
Pardon for foes, and love for human kind.

Then while ambition's trump, from age to age
Its slaughter'd millions boasts; while fame shall rear
Her deathless trophies o'er the bard and sage,
Be mine the widow's sigh, the orphan's prayer.

[pp. 8-11]