1763
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Elegy in a Church-yard.

A Bavin of Bays: containing various original Essays in Poetry. By a Minor Poet.

Dr. William Perfect


Thirty-seven elegiac quatrains, after Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard: "Not one Memorial which around I see | But can (tho' silent-wise) instruction teach, | Give wholsome lectures of Mortality, | And of this life's unstable basis preach" p. 143. The length of the elegy reflects the long catalogue of graves to be moralized, including those of Myrtilla, Avaro, Voluptuoso, Honesto, Alexis, and Carlos, "the vainest of the human race!" Perfect seems to imitate Gray's Elegy through one of its sources, Thomas Parnell's Night-Piece on Death.

This volume was the first publication by William Perfect, who over the next four decades would become one of Britain's more prolific "minor poets." He was a practising physician who specialized in treating patients suffering from mental illness.

In 1773 Perfect reprinted this poem in the Sentimental Magazine with the title "A new Elegy in a Church-Yard" over the signature "Guliemo."

Preface: "As this Bavin will be found only to contain a little of the Spray-wood carelessly pilfered from about the precincts of Parnassus, the Author is induced to hope he has nothing more to do with Judge Criticism and his Court of Inquest, than to plead Guilty of the Felony, and solicit the Mercy of the Court. He might indeed plead in his defence the puerility of the performance, or say 'it was the result of a few idle hours;' but thinks them both equally unnecessary, as the former must too conspicuously appear throughout the whole, and the latter make it clearly evident that this kind of Amusement has been rather his Taste than his Talent. To Poetical merit, therefore, in these Essays he makes not the least pretension; but such as they are presents them to the Public, relying intirely on the Candor and Favour" iii-iv.



Mute is the voice of care, and ev'ry eye
Is shut upon the grizly gloom of Night;
Soft thro' the solemn yews the Zephyrs sigh,
And pale-ey'd HESPER twinkles into light.

Thro' parting clouds by intervals the Moon
Sheds broken glances on the dark-grey walls:
The faithful Clock proclaims — 'tis Midnight-noon;
What voice is that, if voice it is, that calls?

Imagination rest, nor Phantoms rear
To crush the strength of Contemplation's pow'r;
No voice is heard — but lo! what shapes appear!
Are those the Spirits of the Midnight hour?

Vain fears, away — 'Tis weakness thus to dread
The fleeting Phantoms of the forming air:
Here while I rove amongst the sleeping Dead,
Let pensive Meditation be my care.

To you, ye Tenants of this silent scene,
Let me in moral strains myself address;
If Actors once on life's weak stage you've been,
And that you have, those moss-clad stones confess.

Those moss-clad stones and these wild grass-grown graves,
Whose heaving sod the binding brambles keep,
Declare, that mould'ring in their narrow caves,
"The rude Forefathers of the Hamlet sleep."

Here let me muse, dejected as I tread
In pensive pleasing solitary state,
Offending not the venerable Dead,
Whose mingled relicks swell these heaps of fate.

Here rest the sons of Poverty and Toil,
A race "to Fortune and to Fame unknown;"
By fate ordain'd to turn the stubborn soil,
And call Contentment's envied joys their own.

Tho' Wealth and Honour flow'd not to their hand,
Nor Titles smil'd renown upon their birth,
See rural praises do the rail expand,
And the unletter'd Muse proclaims their worth.

It is enough: — The curious chissel'd stones,
The vaulted arches, and the marble tombs,
What fame they render unto senseless bones,
Is unavailing in these deathful glooms.

They tell, indeed, who once were rich and great,
And swell with praise the mercenary line:
If this is all the rich remains of state,
As rich are his remains whom thorns confine.

O Death, great King of Fears! whose rig'rous dart
Marks out a path which must by all be trod,
Thy spectre-form now chills the tim'rous heart,
And now the bravest yields unto thy rod.

This scene is thine: alas! what 'tis to die
Here let a sober Muse serenely think:
These are thy triumphs which around me lie,
Yet at the thought let not my spirits sink.

For Death's our greatest friend when sorrows gall:
To Prince and Peasant rack'd with worldly woe,
He points a port of calms and hushes all,
Of grief despondent which their bosoms know.

Then fly from me, ye visionary fears;
And rise no more weak Nature to betray:
Now CYNTHIA kind her silver crescent rears,
Unveils the shades, and brings a languid day.

A rev'rent care my awe-struck bosom fills,
And Contemplation all my senses charms;
Thro' my whole frame a pleasing transport trills,
Inspires each thought and each reflection warms.

Here sacred Quiet woos my thoughtful breast,
While Peace her pinions does around me spread;
Lulls all my passions into meekest rest,
And bids me hail those mansions of the Dead.

Not one Memorial which around I see
But can (tho' silent-wise) instruction teach,
Give wholsome lectures of Mortality,
And of this life's unstable basis preach.

This tells me Death did Innocence release,
(Kindest release from this world's sin and woe)
In infant-years, when all within was peace,
To dwell where endless joys seraphic flow.

And that, if ask'd, ah me! at once replies,
Tho' Nature's ev'ry charm MYRTILLA wore,
Here young MYRTILLA, once the loveliest, lies;
Alas, she's dead, and beauty is no more!

Why boast we then such charms in features lie,
Or pay warm adoration to a face?
Since charms soon perish, and with features die,
And to the grave resign their ev'ry grace.

This stone proclaims, O Death! O Grave! O Time!
Warm in the sunshine of propitious Fame,
JUVENO fell; ah! fell in youthful prime;
Whate'er his folly, friend, forbear to name.

And here another says, to earth return'd,
Tho' wealth his idol, yet how weak his trust,
Here rests AVARO, who for riches burn'd,
But now the Miser's mingled with the dust.

Ye sons of sordid care, whose plodding brains
Incessant labour to augment your store,
Mistrust still hovers o'er your ill-got gains,
And speeds your passage to the Stygian shore.

Few weeks are fled since toll'd AVARO'S knell;
His Wealth immense could not protract his stay:
How soon may toll your death-betoken'd bell?
Reflect, and live while yet remains a day.

This tomb imparts VOLUPTUOSO'S fate;
Mark well, it says VOLUPTUOSO, see!
Who eager swallow'd Pleasure's gilded bait;
His Death was sudden, aged Twenty-three.

He fell: — Youth just had whisper'd years to come,
And Fancy promis'd great should be his pow'r:
But Death unheeded cropt him in his bloom,
And snatcht him in an unexpected hour.

From hence, ye thoughtless Youths, who tread the wild
Of Folly's flow'ry joys, true Pleasure's bane,
This lesson learn before you are beguil'd,
In Virtue only lasting joys remain.

All hail! HONESTO'S shade. This marble says,
The learned, good, benevolent, and wise
HONESTO, here with hope most humble lays,
At the last day to heav'nly joys to rise.

Who, as HONESTO, at th' approach of Death
No soul-felt terror nor no fear alarms,
Shall say, like him, when he resigns his breath,
"Thy force alone, Religion, Death disarms."

Lo here ALEXIS, once my youthful Friend,
Implores "the passing tribute of a sigh;"
Whene'er I think of his untimely end,
What sorrow bursts from each dissolving eye!

What tomb is this, more pompous than the rest,
Adorn'd with Titles and with polish'd Arms,
Angels and Cherubims its sides invest,
And call attention to the Sculptor's charms.

Inscrib'd in brass it does with blushes tell,
What Vanity alone with Joy can trace,
That in its womb the bones of CARLOS dwell;
CARLOS, the vainest of the human race!

Lost to all honours, save a lying stone,
Now what avails his genealogy?
Like the poor Beggar left to rot alone,
And once tho' mightier, now as mean as he.

Where-e'er I walk this gothic structure round,
The graves of young and old together rise,
Thro' all this spot of consecrated ground,
Frail Man dissolv'd in mould'ring ruin lies.

While thus I view this melancholy scene,
And look thro' Nature up to Nature's Pow'r,
With mind enraptur'd and with soul serene,
On Thought's fair wing above the clouds I soar.

And see my SAVIOUR thro' Religion's eye
Fearless, should Death his awful summons bring;
The soul once fix'd beyond the fear to die,
Grave, where's thy vic'try! Death, where is thy sting!

[pp. 139-46]