The Progress of Poetry: or, the Fate of the Muse.

Westminster Magazine 2 (December1774) 652-53.


A pastoral ballad in 26 anapestic quatrains, not signed. In this love complaint the poet pursues the Muse rather than the usual shepherdess, with predictable results. The Progress of Poetry is in fact more of verse character than a ballad, beginning with the poet's initiation into poetry: "I admir'd the shrill pipe of the swain; | I would grieve for the nightingale's sigh; | I would listen to hear her complain, | For I lik'd her — I could not tell why." Though he protests his sincerity, the ladies will have nothing to do with him, and as an impoverished versifier he is rejected by society. The woods and streams echo his plaintive notes, however, and he resolves to live in obscurity. If ever there were a pastoral-ballad manifesto, this would be it.

Ye thoughtless, gay sons of the smile,
Whose days fly in rapture along,
Can you rest from your pleasures awhile,
And attend to the sighs of my song?

I have heard that your bosoms can melt
When the weak are involv'd in despair;
I have heard that ye sometimes have felt
For the Muse, when she drops the sad tear.

When your pleasures are too much possess'd,
Insipid and languid they grow;
For pleasure is relished best,
Contrasted with social woe.

When innocence smil'd on my cheek,
And simplicity lisp'd on my tongue,
I know not what forc'd me to speak
With rapture of music and song.

I admir'd the shrill pipe of the swain;
I would grieve for the nightingale's sigh;
I would listen to hear her complain,
For I lik'd her — I could not tell why.

I tun'd my young reed without art,
For I knew not that art was requir'd;
I spoke what was told by my heart,
And sung as fair Nature inspir'd.

When Aurora first blush'd in the East,
In the grove I would often repeat;
When Phoebus had sunk in the West,
I sung — for I thought it was sweet.

Ever sacred be Nature's kind ray,
Whose lustre first beam'd on my mind!
O blest be my Pope, whose soft lay
Kind Nature's impression refin'd.

Ever-lov'd be the Muse and the song,
Whose smiles on my heart are impress'd;
Who bade me forsake the rude throng,
And nourish the flame in my breast.

I resolv'd to obey the kind Fair,
And began for redress to implore;
They told me "how rude was my pray'r,
Ambition befits not the poor."

Did I seek to be rich, and aspire?
Fair Queen of the silver-rob'd train,
And ye groves, where I wander'd alone,
(For ye often have heard me complain)

If avarice, pleasure, or pride,
Or the madness ambition that warms,
E'er lodg'd in this breast; — if they did,
May I never more gaze on your charms!

I said, 'twas my bosom's desire
In the train of the Bards to rehearse;
To echo Pope's musical lyre,
Or Shenstone's sweet pastoral verse.

But they told me, "his fate is the worst,
Whose time with the Muses is spent;
His days are with poverty curst,
And he knows not the joys of content."

They bade me "beware of the Fate
Of Bards that existed before;
For Dryden was slave to the Great,
And Shenstone complain'd he was poor."

To be richer was ne'er my request,
Nor the pomp that with riches is bought.
May I die, if this innocent breast
E'er harbour'd so wicked a thought!

I ask not, I wish not for more,
Nor the art to attain to be rich;
Thou ye bid me for life-time be poor,
Never curse me, ye Gods, with too much.

O curs'd be Ambition's mean views,
For folly and wealth are the same;
Then welcome for ever the Muse!
I can ne'er be more poor than I am.

But Fate has denied my request,
Adieu! ev'n the hope of relief!
'Tis vain to expect to be blest,
For all they have left me is grief.

My time in sad silence is spent,
By day and by night I complain;
'Tis needless by day to lament,
And at midnight I murmur in vain.

To the woods I repair to lament,
For I find they are kinder than they;
The woods can repeat my complaint,
And prolong and re-echo my lay.

Philomela can join with my sigh,
The breezes can lull my repose;
The rocks to my plaint will reply,
And the streamlet can weep for my woes.

When my cheek is bedew'd with the tear,
When I sigh for the lot that is mine,
Fair Hope comes, and speaks in my ear,
"Be chearful, and do not repine!"

I cou'd hope — but that never will do—
False Fortune for ever beguiles;
Too well her delusions I know,
To trust any more to her smiles.

Farewell! — ah! farewell to the Muse!
No more shall I ask for her aid:
Henceforth be contracted my views,
And myself wrapt in silence and shade.

[pp. 652-53]