1787
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Elegy on the unknown Author of the ancient Ballad of Chevy Chace.

General Evening Post (6 October 1787).

William Hamilton Reid


Nine quatrains after Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard, signed "W. Hamilton Reid." The poet, himself an untutored bard, imagines the composer of the famous ballad a person not unlike himself: "Perhaps remote from hall or bower | He wore his pensive hours alone. | Where Dulness lavish'd all her pow'r, | And died unhonour'd and unknown." A note to the fourth stanza reads "This alludes to an Anachronism first pointed out by the Author, vide The Gentleman's Magazine for February, 1787."

Reid, whose parents were servants, was apprenticed to a silversmith and employed making buckles. Unable even to purchase the newspapers in which his poems appeared, he became something of a poor-man's Della Crusca, attracting a series of complementary poems by feminine admirers. In a poem printed in the Morning Chronicle for 8 August 1786 he signs himself "W. Hamilton Reid, a Day-labourer."



In deep oblivion's dreary gloom
A magic name at rest is laid;
The ruthless rigours of the tomb
But half conceals the stately shade.

What, if the Muses earth-born name
To blazing Fame has been deny'd,
In Merit's unabating claim
The loss is more than half supply'd.

Perhaps Misfortune, in his youth,
His glowing virtues might assail,
Or o'er the half-rais'd shield of Truth
The points of Envy might prevail.

Or to his rude untutor'd lays
Untimely grand, sublimely wild,
Mute was the voice of Public Praise,
Which made him more Misfortune's child.

Perhaps remote from hall or bower
He wore his pensive hours alone.
Where Dulness lavish'd all her pow'r,
And died unhonour'd and unknown.

But now from vulgar sight debarr'd,
Genii select, his ashes keep,
Their spears transfix'd, their bound'ries guard,
Whilst o'er his grass-green sod they weep.

Yet know, lost Bard of partial fame,
Such flames thy numbers still inspire,
Our village youth oft ask thy name,
And of thy story too enquire.

And brave as in thy forceful lay,
Fair England's boast and Scotia's pride,
Now heap with slain th' embattled way,
'Gainst Gallia fighting side by side.

And down the live-long stream of time,
Thy artless theme shall e'er be sung,
Throughout fair Albion's happy clime,
In moving strain, by many a tongue.

[unpaginated]