1790
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy, written at Rome, on visiting the Colosseo or Ampitheatre by Moon-light.

European Magazine 17 (June 1790) 467-68.

William Parsons


Seventeen quatrains, signed "W. Parsons, Esq. F.R.S." after Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard: "To Fancy's eye full many a ghost appears | Of venal champions who for sordid pay | Here basely fought, unbless'd by Pity's tear | Here grimly breath'd their sullen souls away." The sight of the ruins leads the poet to muse on the contrast between violence and taste, the warlike Romans and the more clever civilizations they had conquered. In 1790 William Parsons, like the rest of the original Della Cruscans, had risen to fame for his contributions to the Florence Miscellany (1785), much of which had been reprinted in the European Magazine.



Farewell the mazy dance, the choral song,
The festive board, and every gay resort,
Where vacant minds with fond impatience throng,
And laughing Pleasure holds her tinsel court!

These let corrupted Britons now pursue
Where fam'd AUGUSTA rears her stately towers,
These vain LUTETIA'S ever frolic crew
In gilded mansions and ELYSIAN bowers.

Me other scenes on TIBER'S banks invite
To leave the letter'd page, the midnight oil,
And by the gleams of Cynthia's silver light
View the dread monuments of ancient toil.

The spot I seek, beyond the sacred ground,
Where the proud mass VESPASIAN'S power display'd;
With silent awe survey the vasty round,
And distant Temples darken'd by its shade.

As late I rov'd where Alpine mountains rise,
O'er rugged paths I trace th' aspiring way,
The loose wall climb with terror and surprize,
And musing through aerial arches stray.

Hail awful scenes! congenial darkness hail!
For times there are when man's wide grasping soul
Flies Nature's sweets, clear stream or painted vale,
And willing yields to Horror's mad controul.

'Mid passing clouds the trembling moon-beams fall,
As in each dreary vault my steps advance,
And through cleft ruins on th' opposing wall
In glimpses faint like paly spectres glance.

To Fancy's eye full many a ghost appears
Of venal champions who for sordid pay
Here basely fought, unbless'd by Pity's tear
Here grimly breath'd their sullen souls away.

Not slaves alone, but citizens and knights
Among the grisly combatants are seen,
And gentle woman, made for Love's delights,
In arms unseemly stalks with threatening mien.

They seem to try each murderous art anew,
As o'er th' accustom'd spot they wildly rave;
Some trembling fly, and some in rage pursue,
These cast the net, and these the faulchion wave.

By Furies fashion'd were their breasts of steel
Who could the real scene with joy behold,
More savage those, unknowing how to feel,
Who view'd for pleasure than who fought for gold.

Yet these are they, renown'd thro' every clime
For glowing Genius and for polish'd Art,
To shape the living bust, the dome sublime,
And pour the verse that fir'd the throbbing heart.

O partial voice of Fame! to me more dear
The humble Bramin 'mid the lonely waste,
Who on crush'd insects drops the pitying tear,
But rears no splendid monuments to Taste.

Less still the ROMAN boast when justly scann'd,
For with the Arts the softer Virtues dwell;
A bloodstain'd sceptre fill'd their iron hand,
And milder and more skilful nations fell.

Thus sunk th' ETRURIAN, thus the GRECIAN fame,
To fierce invaders a defenceless prey,
Who sought by arms alone a lofty name,
Scornful of all but battle's firm array.

Till, when the subject world their sway confest,
And sated Conquest hush'd War's tumult rude,
Art feebly warm'd their still unsoften'd breast,
Proud patrons of the people they subdued.

The stern commands of her triumphant foes
In this vast pile reluctant TASTE obey'd,
And, while for deeds of death the fabric rose,
With tearful eye her growing work survey'd.

[pp. 467-68]