1802
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Chatterton's Poem Charity, modernized from its obsolete English.

Poetical Register for 1802 (1803).

Anna Seward


Thirteen irregular Spenserians (ababbcC), signed "Anna Seward." Thomas Chatterton's works had been posthumously collected and published in 1777, and since then this poem in particular had been "modernized" on a number of occasions. Anna Seward was a contributor and possibly a kind of sub-editor for the early numbers of the Poetical Register.

Author's note: "Readers will, in general, throw a poem aside at once, than take the trouble of looking perpetually into a glossary, to enable themselves to comprehend it; and this composition has so much intrinsic beauty, that it ought to be universally known. It is an admirable paraphrase of the parable of the GOOD SAMARITAN, and has all the poetic constituents, landscape, striking picture, animated apostrophe, sweet touches of pathos, a regular fable, and a noble moral."

William Howitt: "Miss Seward, a woman who, with all her faults as a writer, had always the tact to discern true genius, and was one of the first to acknowledge that of Scott and Southey, would have dared to acknowledge the vast powers of Chatterton, had it been in her own day of popularity; but at the death of Chatterton she was a country girl of twenty three. What she says of Johnson's conduct is very just. 'Though Chatterton had long been dead when Johnson began his Lives of the Poets; though Chatterton's poems had been long before the world; though their contents had engaged the literati of the nation in controversy, yet would not Johnson allow Chatterton a place in those volumes into which Pomfret and Yalden were admitted. So invincible were his grudging and surly prejudices, enduring long-deceased genius but ill, and contemporary genius not at all'" Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets (1847) 1:259-60.



The Sun, in Autumn, shew'd a glaring mien,
And hot upon the meadows pour'd the ray;
The apple redden'd from its paly green,
The mellow pear bent low the leafy spray,
And the pied Goldfinch sung the live long day.
It was the pride and manhood of the year,
And all the glowing ground did richest livery wear.

The Sun was gleaming in the midst of day,
Dead was the air, and all the welkin blue,
When from the Sea arose, in drear array,
An heap of sable clouds, of sullen hue,
And their dark train on towards the Woodland drew,
Shrouding at once the Sun's delightful face,
And the black Tempest swell'd, and gather'd round apace.

Beneath an elm, fast by a pathway side,
Which did unto Saint Goodwin's Convent lead,
An hapless Pilgrim must the storm abide;
Lean were his bones, ungentle was his weed;
He felt the sharpest miseries of need.
Where from the hail-stone shou'd the Almer fly?
For ah! no House he saw, nor friendly Convent nigh.

Look in his gloomy face his sprite to scan,
How woe-begone, how wither'd, and how dead!
Haste to thy Church-yard house, unlucky Man!
Haste to thy grave, thine only quiet bed!
Cold as the clay, that shall lie o'er thine head,
Is charity and love among high Elves,
Lordlings, and Barons, live for pleasure, and themselves.

The gather'd Storm is ripe, the big drops fall;
The Sun-burnt Meadows smoke, and drink the rain,
Th' approaching gastliness the Herds appal,
And the full Flocks are driving o'er the Plain.
Dash'd from the clouds, the waters fall amain;
Th' Horizon gapes, the yellow lightning flies,
And the hot, fiery steam in the wide flashing dies.

Hark! how the sullen Thunder's grumbling sound
Comes slowly on, — and then, loud rattling, clangs!
Shakes the high Spire! — and then, tho' spent and drown'd,
Upon the shrinking ear of Terror hangs!
The winds are up, trees writhing as in pangs!
Again the lightnings flash, the Thunder roars,
And from the full Clouds burst the pattering, stony showers.

Spurring his Palfry o'er the watry plain,
The Abbot of St. Goodwin's Convent hied;
His High-Priest-hat was drenched by the rain,
His glistering girdle met with mickle pride;
Backward he told the bead-row at his side.
The Storm encreasing, to the elm he drew,
Where the poor Almer stood, and shiver'd in his view.

His cloak was all of Lincoln cloth, so fine!
With a gold button fasten'd near his chin;
His loose, white robe was edg'd with gilded twine,
And his peak'd shoes a Lordling's might have been;
Full plain he shew'd that he thought cost no sin.
The trammels of his Palfry pleas'd his sight,
The bridle silver'd o'er, the head with roses dight.

An alms, Sir Priest, the dropping Pilgrim said;
O! let me wait within your Convent door,
Till the Sun shineth high above our head,
And the loud tempest of the air be o'er!
Helpless, and old am I, alas! and poor;
No house, no friend, no money in my pouch,
All I can call my own, this silver keep-sake crutch.

Varlet, replied the Abbot, cease your din;
This is no Season alms and prayers to give,
My Porter never lets an Almer in,
None touch my floor but who in honor live.
And now the Sun with the black clouds did strive,
And shedding on the ground the diamond ray,
The Abbot spurr'd his Steed, and swiftly rode away

Once more the Sky grew black, the Thunder roll'd;
Fast running o'er the Plain a Priest was seen;
Not deck'd full proud, not button'd up with gold;
His coat was grey, his surplice very clean;
A Priest he was, of lower order seen.
And to the path-way side then turned he,
Where the poor Almer lean'd against the spreading Tree.

An alms, Sir Priest, the dropping Pilgrim said,
For sweet Saint Mary, and your Convent's sake!
The Curate straight unloos'd his cloth pouch thread,
And did thereout a groat of silver take;
The hapless Pilgrim seem'd for joy to quake.—
"Here, take this silver; it may ease thy care,
We are God's Stewards all, nought of our own we bear;

"But ah! unhappy Pilgrim, learn of me,
Scarce any give a rental to the Lord!
Here take my Cloak, for thou art bare, I see;
'Tis thine; — the Saints will give me my reward."
He left the Pilgrim, and pursu'd his road.
Virgin, and holy Saints, good times restore!
Give you the great Man will, or give the good Man power!

[pp. 48-51]