1782
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Health.

Poems by the Rev. William Bagshaw Stevens, A.M.

Rev. William Bagshaw Stevens


This imitation of Milton's L'Allegro has little to say of Health, consisting as it does of an encyclopedic train of sprightly allegorical figures: "Touch'd by thy spirit, genial power! | And crown'd by thee, Life's varied hour | A gay unclouded aspect wears, | High o'er the groveling mist of cares." The poem, with its remarkable number of run-on lines, was printed without signature in the Universal Magazine in June 1782.

European Magazine: "These poems are four in number, and are probably the productions of a young writer, who possesses more fancy than judgment. The first of them, which is the longest, is intitled Retirement, and contains the rhapsody of a person called Eugenio, who in a solitary retreat — 'smarting with the wrongs, | And sated with the vanities of life," inveighs in a loose, desultory, and unconnected manner, against the vices and follies of the present times.... The execution of this work is not much superior to the plan of it. The other poems have about the same degree of merit. They may be read without disgust, but will scarce excite the slightest wish to remember a single line of them" 1 (March 1782) 209.



Return fair Health! — the Muse again,
A sweet associate of thy train!
To sketch the landscapes as they lie
Bright'ning beneath thy beamy eye,
Shall follow where thy footsteps lead
Along the morn-impurpled mead,
That, slanting down old ASKEW'S side,
Obtrudes on Trent's diminish'd tide.

Touch'd by thy spirit, genial power!
And crown'd by thee, Life's varied hour
A gay unclouded aspect wears,
High o'er the groveling mist of cares.

While Hope in every changeful scene
Exults beneath thy radiant mien,
O most indulge my favour'd breast
When Friendship greets the heart-lov'd guest,
Nor let my hand, with languor faint,
Cast o'er his welcome cold restraint.
O ever round my chearful board
Be all thy social pleasures pour'd,
While, sparkling from the liberal mind,
The gladden'd thought starts, unconfin'd
By slow Reserve, or down cast Awe
Whose words in faltering haste withdraw;
Or Inattention's torpid ear,
Who, gazing, only seems to hear;
Or dark Distrust, in silence bound,
With jealous eye that peers around.
Thy influence wakes a fairer birth,
Light Ease, and Play, and vacant Mirth;
The dancing Hopes; the glittering vein
That runs thro' Fancy's boundless reign;
With all the vivid grace of thought,
In Wit's energic quickness wrought;
And Humour, at whose festal sounds
Fantastic-footed Laughter bounds.

With thee even Solitude is seen
Clear from the withering brow of spleen;
Her solemn air, her musing pace,
Each deep, compos'd, majestic grace,
Flush'd heavenly by thy vital bloom
A freer fairer look assume;
Her listless thought, her languid tone
No more oppressive sadness own;
But, nerv'd by thee, such transport take,
That all her silent fancies wake.

Thou, in RETIREMENT'S hermit hour,
A fairy saint to bless her bower,
Shalt chace, with holy spell, away
The fiends that vex her private day;
Self-tir'd and sullen Discontent;
Hatred, his brows in anger bent;
And Superstition's Gorgon head
That rends the midnight dream with dread;
And Melancholy's moping train,
Grief, and the sickly dregs of Pain;
And stern disgust of Life, that bears
With murmur'd woe his weight of cares,
Or, as his desperate sorrows rave,
Visits in gore his timeless grave.

When evening shadows haunt the vale,
And dewy sweets enrich the gale,
And musing thro' her motley groves
With Inspiration Autumn roves;
When Hope, upon her morning's wing,
Enchanting sheds the bloom of Spring;
When Summer's sultry noon persuades
Where Coolness wreathes her bow'ry shades,
And Beauty courts, with loosen'd vest,
The straggling zephyrs to her breast;
When shuddering Crones, in wintry nights,
Recount long tales of ghostly sights,
And, hovering o'er the ember's gleam,
At every casual sparkle scream;
O Genius of each chosen hour!
When most I court thy glowing power,
From irksome labours ever free,
If Heaven such bliss reserve for me!
From social worth retir'd a while,
Full on my soul delighted smile!

Tho' Grandeur stoop not to my shed;
Tho' Pride avert his lifted head;
Tho' tasteless Folly fluttering by
Leer on my lot with Mockery's eye;
Yet here while Health consents to stay,
The charmer of my secret day;
While Love, with youthful Hope allied,
Beneath my cottage-roof abide;
While myrtle-handed Leisure throws
O'er soften'd life her sweet repose;
And Fancy to her fav'rite lute
Some high ambitious rhyme shall suit;
My heart, with these sublimely blest,
Bids Pride and Folly share the rest.

Yet if my fate my wish deny;
If leisure, love, and fancy fly,
While, dim and weary, life remains,
And heaves the flow blood thro' my veins,
Order and Peace, a tranquil mind,
Tho' ever pensive, yet resign'd,
Shall worship on the banks of Trent
The household deity, CONTENT.

[pp. 30-35]