This unsigned patriotic ode opens "In Allusion to to two Poems of Spencer" (author's note): "Spencer's pious Hand an Altar rears, | Preserves the Dirge, and consecrates the Tears." The complete title given is: "Verses occasion'd by a Poem of Mr. Lyttelton's to the Memory of Capt. Grenville of the Defiance Man of War, who was slain in an Engagement with the French Fleet, May 3, 1747. Address'd to Admiral Boscawen, the 19th of September 1747." Thomas Grenville (1749-1747), a captain in the Royal Navy, was mortally wounded while serving under Admiral Anson in an engagement with the French.
Gilbert West's "Father Francis's Prayer" was anonymously published an in the General Advertiser in 1746, and since he very close to George Lyttelton it seems quite possible that these verses are by him as well. References to Astrophel were not very common.
Lyttelton's poem, belatedly published in the General Advertiser 4 November 1749, compares Grenville to Sir Philip Sidney: "But nobler far, and greater is the praise, | So bright to shine in these degen'rate days; | An age of heroes kindled Sidney's fire: | His inborn worth alone cou'd Grenville's deeds inspire." These lines became the occasion for the present poem, in which Lyttelton's poem is compared to Spenser's elegy for Sidney and Clarendon's for Viscount Falkland (killed at Newbury in 1643). Admiral Boscawen (1711-1761), wounded in the action off Finisterre in which Grenville was killed, had been fighting in India; Stanhope is Lord Chesterfield, then secretary of state.
Thrice have the Muses wept, the tuneful Train
Mourn'd their first Hopes in gentle SIDNEY slain.
While Spencer's pious Hand an Altar rears,
Preserves the Dirge, and consecrates the Tears:
FAULKLAND was next, nor civil Rage could tell
What urg'd his Fate, but wonder'd why he fell;
By Hyde's rich Genius are his Honours paid,
In grave Discourse of high Record display'd:
GRENVILLE the last, his precious Pledge the Nine
To thee their Priest, O Lyttelton, consign,
Thy Verse alone can satisfy the Dead,
And pay the glorious Price for which he bled.
A spotless Sacrifice in Beauty's Prime,
Fell the lov'd Youth, nor fell before his Time.
No Life is timely to the Coward Slave,
No Death untimely to the Free and Brave.
While with his Friends the Publick's Sorrows flow,
And each soft Eye adopts a Sister's Woe;
While Honour, Truth, and ev'ry sacred Name,
Fill the grand Chorus of his finish'd Fame,
Could Years have added more! O envy'd Breath
Lost to thy Country! O luxurious Death!
To such Desert such Praises to succeed,
Lives there a Wretch who would not wish to bleed?
Lives there? — But stop the Song, too much is past:
And may His Fate, Boscawen, be the last.
From thy try'd Fortune BRITAIN hopes to raise
A cheaper Triumph, and less guilty Bays,
And Bids thee take the Fasces of the Main,
And free fair Commerce from her servile Chain.
Already I behold thy Navy steer,
By other Stars, and gain upon the Year,
Where Seas impell'd by faithful Breezes roll,
And the broad Shadows shorten from the Pole;
With no proud Luxury, the Vessels groan,
The glorious Freight is Liberty alone;
That rare Exotick to a foreign Sky,
Which Britain gives, but India cannot buy.
At her Approach the Gaul shall hide his Face,
And herd for Shelter with a swarthier Race;
His spurious Sun no more shall rule the Day,
But set for ever in an Eastern Sea;
New Titles and strange Trophies shall be thine,
And Laurels cull'd beyond the Burning Line:
Go with these Auspices, and when thy Sails
Bend homeward, swelling with less Spicy Gales,
The Muse who mourn'd thy much lamented Friend,
With better Strains thy Triumphs shall attend;
Ev'n now she strives to raise the drooping Wing,
Essays her Harp, and meditates to sing;
While o'er these late so sad and joyless Plains,
Again smiles Phoebus, and a Stanhope reigns.