1792
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Honour.

Poems, chiefly by Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall. In Two Volumes. [Rev. Richard Polwhele, ed.]

Dr. Hugh Downman


Nine irregular Spenserians, couplet-stanzas in octosyllabics with the concluding alexandrine. The octosyllabic lines derive from the L'Allegro tradition of allegorical odes, and the stanza form, perhaps, from the series of heroic odes derived from Matthew Prior's Ode to the Queen (1706). Hugh Downman asks, "Much-injured Honour! where resides | Thy spotless form?" and supplies an answer which in its republican tenor begins to sounds like a response to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Critical Review: "It is to be observed that the Odes in the first volume are, in general, preferable to those contained in the second. In some of them we are often amused, as Hamlet says, with 'words, words, words,' instead of matter, or bewildered by too laboured an arrangement of them. Yet there is scarcely any among these Odes but what contains some passages either sublime or beautiful" NS 5 (July 1792) 248-49.

European Magazine: "Odes, Elegies, Heroic Pieces, Sonnets, and Songs, chiefly compose these volumes; and they afford no mean specimen of the poetical genius of Devonshire and Cornwall; the first county represented by Dr. Downman, the second by Mr. Polwhele, the principal contributors to this collection, and already known to the literary world by their various poetical publications" 22 (August 1792) 129.



O Thou! by numerous votaries sought,
Who seem to speak extatic thought!
While conscious of internal shame,
Their tongues alone proclaim thy name.
Often invoked with impious prayer,
T' embellish falshood's flimsy air,
Deep to conceal, or sanctify
The wily fraud, and treacherous lye,
To palliate horrid deeds, and chase
The gloom of secret guilt from the stern murtherer's face.

Much-injured Honour! where resides
Thy spotless form? with haughty strides
Ambition rises o'er the throng,
And towers in gawdy state along:
Dost thou attend, to guide his heart
Amid th' intangled paths of art?
With him the tricks of state pursue?
With him the bold finesse indue?
By which his crimes he veils in night,
And couching close beneath escapes the public sight?

Or hath the iron-moulded breast
Or avarice e'er one beam possest
Of thy bright essence? Hath it shone
Around the tyrant's purple throne,
Who glorying in superior force,
Impetuous speeds his wasteful course
Through unoffending regions? These
Thy stedfast eye with scorn surveys,
Though fools the titled slave admire,
The specious charms of gold, the heroes' vaunted fire.

Neglected power! who now intwine
The votive garland for thy shrine?
Erewhile, by thee, the Patriot stood
Undaunted 'mid corruption's flood,
And erring multitudes in vain
Opposed th' asserter of thy reign.
Or Liberty's brave sons he led,
And nobly fought, or calmly bled,
Thus HAMDEN seal'd his generous plan,
Thus SIDNEY, Britain's boast, th' unshaken friend of man.

What, but thy vigour, raised elate
The great ATHENIAN o'er his fate?
When in the dark abode confined,
No fetters held th' expanded mind?
When teaching to the listening youth
The serious depths of moral truth,
Each just, each philosophic grace,
While pitying tears bedew'd their face,
With tranquil dignity of soul
He smiled on vanquish'd death, and quaff'd the envenom'd bowl.

Nor did the Patriot, and the Sage,
More splendid names, alone engage
Thy favour; oft of yore to thee
Arcadia's offspring bent the knee,
When innocence colleagued with love,
Ere base deceit the rural grove
Had blasted with malignant air,
And strife's rude step had enter'd there.
Well-pleas'd t' inspire the Doric strain,
And teach the yielding maid to bless th' enamour'd swain.

And still, deserting pomp and pride,
Thou deign'st with Nature to reside,
The humble paths of life to tread,
Beneath the grot recline thy head,
To Nature's progeny impart
Each social feeling of the heart,
Knit firmer each domestic bond,
Each relative affection fond,
Excite each elegant desire,
And hear the poet tune his free unblemisht lyre.

O deckt with every mental charm!
Not all the radiant tints that warm
Th' emphatic and harmonious lay,
Can his transcendent worth pourtray,
Who joins not fortune's fickle crowd,
Or stoops before her minions proud;
Whose breast no specious guiles entice,
Who mocks the blandishment of vice,
Thy sacred stamp within beholds,
And from the glowing type his lucid conduct moulds.

When verse is silent, who shall give
Intrinsic excellence to live?
To thee belongs his meed divine,
The grateful task is solely thine,
Fair Virtue! Honour's other name!
For two ye are not, but the same.
'Tis thine to fix his glory's date
Far, far beyond this transient state,
To bid him this low world despise,
With thee to soar aloft, and gain thy native skies.

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