1791
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Chearfulness.

Genuine Poetical Compositions on Various Subjects. By E. Bentley.

Elizabeth Bentley


Seven aabccb stanzas, after Milton's L'Allegro, dated May, 1790. Elizabeth Bentley, a Norwich autodidact, works in the times of day and the seasons as she nimbly describes Chearfulness's allegorical train. A prospectus for this volume survives in the British Library. Compare the poem by W. P. of the same title in the same stanza, published in Gentleman's Magazine 58 (May 1788) 444-45.

Critical Review: "This candidate for poetical fame, like Stephen Duck and Mrs. Yearsley, owes but little to education.... The Ode to Content strikes us as the most correct and elegant; as this appeared in print before, we shall therefore select the ode which follows. It is addressed to Chearfulness; and, like the former, sprinkled with ideal beings, the conception of whom could only be formed by a strong and lively imagination" NS 3 (September 1791) 94.

Gentleman's Magazine: "This is certainly an extraordinary performance. The authoress is a poor, uneducated daughter of a journeyman shoemaker, who, without any assistance from books, or even the opportunity of improvement from conversation, has exhibited strong marks of a polished and superior mind. The present is with equal truth and energy called the Age of Benevolence; and we are very happy to find that the humble merit of Mrs. Bentley has excited the interest, and obtained the patronage, of an opulent manufacturing town. Her early talent for poetical composition has been eagerly encouraged and generously rewarded, as a long list of subscribers sufficiently testifies. When we say of her poems, that they are always correct, frequently animated, and often above mediocrity, we hope that many of our readers will be induced to contribute to the purpose the authoress has in view, of printing a second edition" 61 (August 1791) 747.



Hail! Virgin of aetherial birth,
Thou more lovely far than Mirth,
O hither bend thy way!
Come, beauteous Nymph, serenely smiling,
Ev'ry anxious thought beguiling,
Thou mak'st each prospect gay.

Thine eye with joy young Spring beholds,
When Nature ev'ry charm unfolds,
And spreads thy fav'rite hue;
When Eurus to his cave retires,
And Zephyr fans those glowing fires
That verdant life renew.

Thou lov'st to range the fields at dawn,
Or meet the shepherds on the lawn,
At leisure Eve's advance;
Brisk Sport comes tripping o'er the mead,
And sweetly sounds his oaten reed,
And joins the rural dance.

Not e'en hoar Winter's dreary sway,
Nor freezing blast can thee dismay,
Nor change thy sprightly mien;
'Tis then thou seek'st the social band,
And o'er their minds with gentle hand,
Diffus't a joy serene.

Though absent Sol his ray denies,
Round the bright flame which Art supplies,
The friendly train regale;
Some fairy legend each imparts,
Whilst rapt Attention, gazing, starts
At ev'ry wond'rous tale.

Thy presence charms stern grief to rest,
Thy light illumes th' untainted breast,
Sweet sister of Content;
Like her thou fly'st th' abandon'd mind,
Where Guilt, Despair, and Shame combin'd,
Their hapless prey torment.

What magic in thy aspect dwells!
That Melancholy mist dispells;
What graces round thee shine!
Sweet Pleasure ever near thee stands,
With Transport, whose high soul expands,
And soars to realms divine.

[pp. 38-39]