1761
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Ode. Occasioned by the Coronation 1761.

The Land of the Muses: A Poem, in the Manner of Spenser. With Poems on Several Occasions. By Hugh Downman, A.B.

Dr. Hugh Downman


The twelve stanzas of Hugh Downman's expansive Pindaric ode unfold as a series of descriptive tableaux, discussing the status of eulogistic verse, the American War, and the recent marriage of the king. The poem is written in the Miltonic manner, the Envy passage perhaps owes something to Spenser as well as Milton: "Should meager Envy scowl | Thy steps before, and grimly-threat'ning lance | Keen arrows from her poisonous eye, | Unmov'd thou shalt advance, | Smile in her face, without a wound | Hear her fierce serpents hiss around, | And all her ill-shap'd monsters howl."

In 1761 Downman was a student at Balliol College Oxford. He took orders upon graduation, but the clerical life not proving congenial, in 1765 he migrated to Edinburgh to study medicine where he met Thomas Blacklock and wrote his Spenser imitation, The Land of the Muses (1768).



Sleep'st thou, fair maid,
Aeolian Virgin, sleep'st thou in the cave
Of drowsy silence, all array'd
In indolence supine?
Does listless Morpheus wave
His torpid-striking wand thy brows around,
Damping thy faculties divine?
Arise, fair maid, arise!
Shake off the tardiness of dull delay;
Quick bid the sacred lyre resound,
Quick tune th' harmonious lay:
'Tis Brunswick claims the verse, prepare
Thine eagle-plumes, and light as air
Sail through the azure-vaulted skies.

I. 2.
But first remove
Far from thy hallow'd presence, the base train
Of fawning Flattery; she to prove
Her love, falls bestial down
Licking the dust: disdain
So lowly to debase thine honest head,
And soil thy verdant laurel crown;
Back to thy shades retire,
Immerge in solitude thy form august;
Thy shining locks with darkness braid;
Still rest in silence, if the lust
Of fame entice thy voice to sing
The meanest of mankind, a King,
Whom vice and tyranny inspire.

I. 3.
The worthless great to praise
Befits the hireling's prostituted pen,
Who sells for sordid gold his venal lays.
Though oft along the winding Seine,
Though oft in days of elder date,
On the green margin of the Tuscan stream,
Dazzled by pomp's external state,
Th' ignoble bard has strung the glozing lyre
Of specious falsehood; yet the British Muse,
Free-born, should spurn th' illusive theme;
And fraught with conscious dignity, refuse
On Folly's sons to waste her sacred fire,
Or soothing regal grandeur, weave
For undeserving Pride her ever-blooming wreathe.

II. 1.
Such caution here
Is vain: those fabling strains nor George requires,
Neither art thou inclin'd to spare.
Where Truth shall point the way,
Thy progress he desires,
And thou secure from harm shalt onward fly:
Directed by her steady ray,
Should meager Envy scowl
Thy steps before, and grimly-threat'ning lance
Keen arrows from her poisonous eye,
Unmov'd thou shalt advance,
Smile in her face, without a wound
Hear her fierce serpents hiss around,
And all her ill-shap'd monsters howl.

II. 2.
Chaste Virgin, say
Where shall begin the song? before my eyes
So various are the Forms which stray,
That all confus'd my mind,
And smit with wild surprise,
Scarce keeps its proper function. Here behold,
Upon a craggy rock reclin'd,
High stretch'd out o'er the main,
Despair and Horrour on her faded brow,
Sits Gallia! while her arms enfold
The anguish of her breast, as now
Wide o'er the deep she looks, now o'er
Th' exhausted land, her humbled power
She weeps, thick falls the briny rain.

II. 3.
Chang'd is the scene, and here
Suppliant the savage chiefs of Indian race,
In lowly guise, with aspect meek appear,
The rugged features of their face
No more with death and terror clad,
Oft wont with wild foot through the dreary shade
To range with Slaughter, oft when mad
With rage, and hot revenge, and fierce desire
Of blood and prey, in the dead silent night,
For still repose and slumber made,
Have rais'd th' awakening yell of dread affright,
Have basely slain the unresisting sire,
The babe from its fond mother tore,
Soon welt'ring in her own, and her lov'd infants' gore.

III. 1.
Well skill'd in guile,
And treacherous as th' unsteady gale, which waves
Its fickle pinion with a smile
Now o'er the tranquil sea;
But soon with fury raves,
And lifts its tortur'd billows to the sky;
Where the bright chariot of the day
Bursts from his eastern goal,
Striking the face of darkness with affright,
And makes her ghastly shadows fly
Before the piercing light:
Dread Eastern Tyrants wear the chain,
Trust their deep policy in vain,
And crafty wiliness of soul.

III 2.
Where-e'er his arms
Proceed, the blooming form of Victory
Array'd in her full blaze of charms,
Girds laurels round the brow
Of British Mars; his eye
Gazes entranc'd upon the lovely maid,
And rapturous thoughts endow
His soul with ecstasy.
Say then, bright Queen of song, wilt thou entwine
A chaplet for his honour'd head?
Wilt thou among th' assembled Nine
Extol th' intrepid deeds of War,
The thunder of his rapid car,
His spear, and brazen panoply.

III. 3.
Ah, no; for what though here,
No vile ambition instigates to fight;
Yet learn, O Brunswick, name for ever dear
To Albion's sons, that at the sight
Of angry Justice from the eye
Of mild Humanity the pitying drop
Descends; with tenderest sympathy
Each mourning Virtue casts the head aside,
And every child of Reason and of Sense;
Ah then, be 't thine with haste to stop
The fatal steps of War and Death, dispense
With generous thought, and true heroic pride,
The blessings which attend the train
Of hallow'd Peace, and dignify her glorious reign.

IV. 1.
And, lo, they come!
Soft o'er the flowers of the velvet mead
Content and meck-ey'd Quiet roam,
Or join the choral dance
By frolic Laughter led:
And liberal Science rears her blushing face,
And Merit dares advance
From the dark haunt of Scorn,
Where she stray'd pensive many a long long day:
And every Muse and sister Grace
On thee shall beam the living ray:
Thy memory priz'd, when those whose reign
Ambition guided, shall remain
The curse of ages yet unborn.

IV. 2.
And see, to bless
Thy life, so soften Grandeur's aking fears
With the chaste conjugal caress,
To soothe the weighty toils
Of state, and ease its cares,
Where Charlotte every female virtue brings!
Oh happy state, in mutual smiles,
Where souls communion mingle! there
Love revels all-luxuriant and free,
There modest Transport waves her wing,
There dwells exulting Harmony
With chaste Delight, there ne'er is seen
Angry Suspicion's coward mien,
Nor doubts nor jealousies appear.

IV. 3.
Hail'd by a nation's voice,
Long happy pair, long may you wear the crown,
By merit yours; long may the land rejoice,
Rul'd by a Prince who boasts himself her own.
And when, howe'er belov'd, howe'er
Call'd on to stay, the laws of fate,
Which not transcendent goodness spare,
Shall snatch you hence from a lamenting world;
Heir to his father's virtues, may a son,
Another George, direct th' affairs of state,
And mount with glory his paternal throne,
As now, far off be angry Faction hurl'd,
Diffusive Peace, oh spread thy bounties wide!
And may another nymph like Charlotte be his bride.

[pp. 35-41]