1787
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Tomb of Shere, an Oriental Elegy.

European Magazine 12 (August 1787) 142-43.

William Hamilton Reid


Twelve quatrains, in the manner of Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard, signed "W. Hamilton Reid, Author of a Volume of Poems to be published by subscription" 143n. While the volume did not appear, Reid soon became one of the most visible contributors to London periodicals.

The setting of this elegy is a royal burial place in Indostan; contemplating the "time-wornn chinks around," a young officer hears a mysterious voice calling him to think about his ambitions in life: "Then hence return — each patrimonial field | For thee shall breathe a purer gust of air; | Or 'gainst the treach'rous Gaul thy prowess wield; | Or to thy bosom press some faithful fair." Reid's imitation is unusual not simply in its foreign setting, but in taking up the "choice of life" theme which was the original thought behind Gray's Elegy.



Near hoar Secundrie's mass of sculptur'd walls,
That sacred keep Indostan's Royal dead;
Where still the solemn voice of rev'rence calls,
A youthful chief European warriors led,

Who call'd to honour to the fields of Fame,
To love and arms confined his darling care;
He thought till then no glory man could claim,
Equal to the feats that win the yielding fair!

To him the winds that whistled thro' the gloom
The moon that gleam'd thro' time-worn chinks around,
The forms that seem'd to breathe on every tomb,
Seem'd thus to modulate the verbal sound:

"Tho' martial music every bosom warms,
And deeds heroic charm the coldest ear;
No glory waits the proudest feats of arms,
That once exceed necessity's barrier.

"Refin'd from all that strain'd a Gothic age,
Let modern annals speak the genuine brave;
Uninfluenc'd from each legendary page,
Let Eliott conquer, and let Curtis save.

"But should Ambition on a tow'ring car,
'Midst groaning heaps, and desolated fields,
In triumph bear thee from the front of war,
Whilst ruin'd States deplore thy sounding wheels;

"Keen vul'trous pangs would wring thy baffled breast,
Pale grinning spectres round thy couch would grow!
Mercy's strong claims thy secret haunts infest,
And tear the poppies from thy clammy brow.

"If Beauty's self could yield thee all her charms,
Flush'd as the dawn, or as the morning fair;
Or Syren-like invite thee to her arms;
As golden waves her length of flowing hair!

"What if, to paint from fancy's pic'tring views,
Her swelling bosom foil'd a Raphael's pains,
Her eyes as vernal suns in life profuse,
As lightning thrilling thro' thy raptur'd veins?

"And what, if when unloos'd her virgin zone,
Thy ravish'd senses could no limits keep?
She'd but perchance the soft dominion own,
Till Sol had waded through the western deep!

"Then hence return — each patrimonial field
For thee shall breathe a purer gust of air;
Or 'gainst the treach'rous Gaul thy prowess wield;
Or to thy bosom press some faithful fair.

"So shall true honours wait thy day's decline,
And Health each morn thy equal pulses greet."
They said: — his files wheel'd off in radiant line,
And sullen drums then measur'd movements beat.

[pp. 142-43]