Twelve quatrains in which Henry Headley (if he is indeed the author) describes his waning days in the solemn strains of Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard: "The frowns of censure and the smiles of praise, | And all that fortitude and that fate decree, | The same indifference in my bosom raise, | For all, alas! is vanity to me." The poet, who had fled Oxford to Portugal to recover his health, died of consumption at Norwich in November 1788 at the age of only twenty-three. Gray, of course, had anticipated his own death in his Elegy.
Headnote: "Mr. Headley, of whom we have had recent accounts, was a Scholar of Trinity College in Oxford, and died of a rapid consumption, at a very immature age at Norwich. The following pathetic, and beautiful lines were written, almost in Articulo Mortis."
William Benwell: "The verses said to be written by the late Mr. Headley of Norwich, p. 649, were printed under the same title, first in the Gazetteer of Nov. 27, 1788, and since in the St. James's Chronicle of July 18. As the real author has not yet thought proper to correct the mistake, I cannot but feel it a duty to the memory of Mr. Headley, in order to remove the unfavourable opinion your readers must have conceived of his mind, which I do upon the best authority, that he never had any share in the verses above-mentioned. Reading, Aug. 6" Gentleman's Magazine 59 (August 1789) 679.
William Lisle Bowles: "Henry Headley was educated under Dr. Parr at Norwich, admitted afterwards scholar of Trinity college, Oxford, and died of a decline at the age of twenty-four. Some very beautiful pieces of poetry were published by him, distinguished for imagery, pathos, and simplicity" Bowles, Sonnets, and other Poems (1800) 166n.
Henry Kett: "This poem was inserted in the Public Advertiser, Nov. 3, 1790; and ascribed to the pen of Mr. Headley, a very short time before his decease" Select Beauties of Ancient English Poets (1810) 2:208.
Sickness, I yield to thy subduing sway,
A livid paleness o'er each feature steals;
Widely irregular my pulses play,
And all my frame a listless languor feels.
How chang'd, how alter'd from my former plight,
When youthful vigour every sinew strung;
When fancy wing'd a bold excursive flight,
And notes of rapture warbled on my tongue.
The dreams of pleasure which I then pursu'd,
No more shall lure me with their splendid guise;
Nor shall my love of fame be hence renew'd,
For sickness yields not to the great or wise.
The frowns of censure and the smiles of praise,
And all that fortitude and that fate decree,
The same indifference in my bosom raise,
For all, alas, is vanity to me.
E'en the sweet converse of thy nymph I love,
Of late so pleasing, now disgusts mine ear;
And should an Angel whisper from above,
His fine-ton'd accents I could scarcely bear.
No med'cine, mixt with Aesculapian art,
Can raise my spirits or assuage my pain;
For life's warm tide scarce issues from my heart,
And slowly creeps along each circling vein.
Where'er by chance these weary eye-balls stray,
O'er yon fair mirror, to its office true,
My wasted form I shudder to survey,
And almost doubt if 'tis myself I view.
Dim are these eyes which once refulgent shone,
And faint the throbbings of this aching breast:
My falt'ring voice has lost its wonted tone,
And all my sorrows are by sighs exprest.
Few are the transports I can hope to share,
Whilst here a ling'ring victim I remain;
Anticipation heightens my despair,
And retrospection sharpens ev'ry pain:
The sports of youth, in which I once partook,
Alas, no more, th' approving smile can wake:
On ev'ry scene I cast a heedless look,
Nor know but that may be the last I take.
Alike regardless of my friends and foes,
I wait the coming of that awful hour,
Which to affliction brings a welcome close,
And lifts the soul above misfortune's pow'r.
Then, when exempt from each terrestrial eye,
My trembling spirit wings the field of space;
Congenial souls may quit their native sky,
And smiling bear me to the Throne of Grace.