1800
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Pursuit of Patronage: a Poetical Epistle.

Poems Moral and Descriptive. By Thomas Dermody.

Thomas Dermody


A verse epistle to an unspecified person printed as a kind of appendix to "The Retrospect," the major poem in Poems Moral and Descriptive. Whereas the former poem was autobiographical, "The Pursuit of Patronage," composed in the manner of Pope's Moral Essays as opposed to Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, presents Thomas Dermody's unhappy situation in London as the common lot of British poets. In the course of his brief life Dermody had run through a whole series of patrons, his outrageous behavior alienating him (intentionally, it would seem) from those who sought to promote his career. The Pursuit of Patronage consists largely of a sequence of verse characters of English and Irish poets, concluding with the proletarian poet's desire to abandon dissolute London for "green retreats, and shadows brown." The catalogue of poets notably omits Robert Burns, who Dermody implicitly emulated in both his irregular life and nationalist poetry.

The most elaborate character is given to Spenser, Dermody's other role model: "Sweet Bard! when ev'ning breathes a purer air, | No boist'rous breeze their fleeting form to tear, | Still round thy tomb the elfin bevies glide, | Bath'd in the trembling moonbeam's yellow tide, | Still, in that ring their mystic feats renew, | And crush the lurking worm, and kill th' unwholesome dew!" p. 50. Like Spenser and Oliver Goldsmith, Dermody had "fled" Ireland to London where he was living in poverty at the time "The Pursuit of Patronage" was written.

The ideal of patronage is not now what it once was: "Distinguish'd name, by ancientry approv'd; | Which SYDNEY cherished, and SOUTHAMPTON lov'd" p. 48. Thomas Chatterton found no such poet in Horace Walpole. There follows a list of English poets paired with their patrons, or would-be patrons, and a digression on the sister arts: "Fleeting and frail ... transitory all." The catalogue resumes with a trio of Irish writers: James De La Cour, Henry Brooke, and Dermody's own teacher, the Spenserian poet Henry Boyd. The poet then draws his own portrait at greater length. Dermody concludes by expressing his desire to abandon his sordid lodgings in London, "To quit the barren pen, and grasp the plough, | Chearful to chaunt unmeditated lays" p. 64.

Preface: "Conscious that very few, but those extensively acquainted with Poetical Biography, will relish those parts that hinge on the misfortunes of my predecessors, I have timidly refrained from prejudging their ignorance by tedious commentary, and vague annotation. While struggling under the deep clouds of disappointment, encompassed by various and threatening calamities, the Poet is too frequently a 'rara avis in terris;' but once released from this mortal sojourn, when malice can no more injure, or boated liberality be no more importuned, his talents, his conduct, even his every secret transaction emerge, with redoubled lustre and force, on the inquisitive avidity of mankind. I must confess, that an awful and enthusiastic veneration for the wild imagery, and fanciful flights of our Ancient British Bards, may have enticed me too wide from that pointedness of temporary allusion, and those frothy ebullitions of eccentric whim, which so commonly disguise a vapid bottom, and which I perceive to be so highly prevalent over the mind of Modern Refinement" pp. iv-v.

European Magazine: "These are evidently the effusions of a man of genius and learning; and, from the tenor of some of them, we are led to conjecture, that the Author is under circumstances of embarrassment, the frequent fate of genius. His epistle on the Pursuit of Patronage feelingly and forcibly describes the condition of unfriended bards from the days of Butler and Dryden to those of Boyse and Chatterton. This and The Retrospect are the principal poems in the collection, the remainder of which consists of sonnets, ballads, and occasional pieces and in the perusal remind us of some of the minor productions of Gray, Cowper, and Goldsmith. The Author's forte, however, seems to be satire; and we here and there meet with passages possessing equal energy with some of the best of Churchill's, without any of the personal rancour by which that able writer so distinguished and disgraced himself" 38 (October 1800) 282.

Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "At Falmouth I bought Thomas Dermody's Poems, for old acquaintance sake; alas! the boy wrote better than the man!" 25 July 1801; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 2:153.



Tho' lost for ever those delightful dreams,
That Fancy o'er the twilight-rapture streams,
No more recluse, with pensive joy, to walk,
Or hearken to the Muse's whisper'd talk;
No more to breathe the soul in witching rhyme,
By wizard fount, deep dell, or hill sublime,
What time the sere leaf quivers to the ground,
And SILENCE sheds her solemn calm around,
And Autumn's tawny hand with touch unseen
Strips from the bending branch it's garment green;
And moaning sad thro' each unblossom'd spray,
Shrieks shrill the awful Genius of Decay;
Tho' doom'd, enchanting POESY, no more
High-charm'd to listen to thy warbled lore,
Tho' in oblivion's dusky pool to hide
That flute, whilere my pleasure and my pride,
With which so oft I woke the blushing day,
The lark alone sweet rival of my lay,
Yet the dire vengeance of immortal song
Let Genius thunder on the tasteless throng
Who, basely girdled by a scoundrel-train,
Eschew the minstrel, yet adore the strain;
Lift at each line th' ecstatic-rolling eye,
But leave the Bard to languish and to die.
For such there are, and such should surely feel
The lasting pang of the poetic wheel;
So shall they boast no more a borrow'd fame,
Unjust usurpers of the PATRON'S name,
Distinguish'd name, by ancientry approv'd;
Which SYDNEY cherished, and SOUTHAMPTON lov'd:
One did a SPENSER, one a SHAKESPEARE raise,
And gave and got inestimable praise!

Ah thou, encompast with domestic pain,
Who fondly hop'st to build the lofty strain,
To weave the magic lay, whose light and shade,
Deep hues and dazzling colours, must not fade;
Who mount Imagination's rainbow wing,
Dipt in gay tin's of the Pierian spring,
Ah! turn, and damp'd be thy enthusiast joy!
To CHATTERTON, the Muse's matchless boy;
With every grace of ancient wisdom blest,
All untaught genius breathing from his breast.

Behold the haughty soul o'er heav'n that flew,
Submissive, for a paltry pittance sue,
Behold those lines that feed the general ear,
Despis'd, discarded, by the listless Peer!
Behold, (when vain each gentler plea to claim
A little notice of that mighty name)
In scorn too fierce, and disappointment dire,
The wonder of the learned world expire!
Can studious zeal his rapid flights to trace,
Or catch one meaning shadow of his face?
Can Admiration, with its late applause,
Or o'er each beauty the astonish'd pause,
Alas! to soothe his lone enanguish'd ghost,
In youth's proud dauntless prime for ever lost,
Tho' my heart gushes o'er his piteous tale,
Can e'en this honest verse of mine avail?

But shouldst thou more on elder proofs rely,
Th' historic page shall wound thy injur'd eye.
There still, in sad succession, they appear
To check thy warmth, and start the tender tear.
All chill'd his faery ecstacies divine
With wayward cross, and penury, and pine;
Sore shent by fickle Fortune's wintry blast,
The pleasant sunshine of Hope's summer past,
And o'er his cote fell Eurus whistling frore;
Lo! MULLA'S minstrel on JUVERNA'S shore;
Ah me! while foemen deal him grievous wrong,
Full deftly he indites his dainty song,
And though his tears may with his descant flow;
Th' unconquerable mind still mocks at woe!
Sweet Bard! when ev'ning breathes a purer air,
No boist'rous breeze their fleeting form to tear,
Still round thy tomb the elfin bevies glide,
Bath'd in the trembling moonbeam's yellow tide,
Still, in that ring their mystic feats renew,
And crush the lurking worm, and kill th' unwholesome dew!

Compell'd by want to gild a graceless Court,
Where all was empty jest, and idle sport,
Where Vice with Folly leagued, her revels held,
And chas'd the bashful Virtues from the field;
See DRYDEN scatter his ambrosial hoard
Of sacred incense o'er some booby lord,
Oh see! scintillant from his mental fire,
Bright points of wit, that sparkle and expire,
Gross, pond'rous dolts upbuoy'd in hasty Odes,
And British blockheads turn'd to Graecian Gods!
Yet, what proud meed awaits the LAUREATE'S death,
What pomp sepulchral, what distinguish'd wreath?
By a lewd rake his sacred corse profan'd,
For debt great DRYDEN'S last, sad rite's detain'd;
When o'er his bier the widow'd plaint is heard,
At length, by common charity interr'd!

Who led by sweet Simplicity aside
From pageants that we gaze at to deride,
Has not, while wilder'd in the bow'ry grove,
Oft sigh'd "Come, live with me, and be my love!"?
Yet oh! be love transform'd to deadly hate,
As freezes memory at MARLOW'S fate,
Disastrous Bard! by too much passion warm'd,
His fervid breast a menial beauty charm'd,
Nor, vers'd in arts deceitful woman knows,
Saw he the prospect of his future woes;
Vain the soft plaint that sordid breast to fire
With warmth refin'd, or elegant desire,
Vain his melodious magic to impart
Affections, foreign to th' unfeeling heart,
In guardless ecstacy's delicious glow
He sinks beneath a vassal murd'rers blow,
O'er his dread fate my kindred spirit stands
Smit with commutual wound, and Pity wrings her hands!
Ah! had some genial ray of bounty shone
On talents, that but lack'd it's aid alone,
Had some soft pennon of protection spread
Its eider plumage o'er that hapless head,
What emanations of the beauteous mind
Had deck'd thy works, the marvel of mankind,
Snatch'd from low-thoughted care thy stooping soul,
And plac'd thee radiant on Fame's deathless roll,
Where still anneal'd, thy own unequall'd strain
Shall, crown'd by Sensibility, remain!

Could JOHNSON'S learned skill, or moral pow'r,
Whose science rifled ev'ry ATTIC flow'r,
Their honey-dews suck'd from all blooms that blow,
And stripp'd of all it's sweets HYMETUS' brow,
Could aught his wisdom or his worth obtain,
Thro' many a year elaborately vain?
In patient poverty his youth was past,
And when slow favour, ling'ring, came at last,
Life's sprightly vigour flown, enjoyment lost,
Dear was the gift that so much labour cost;
E'en polish'd STANHOPE, when too late imprest
With truth's resistless energy his breast,
The proffer'd good his vanity supply'd,
Saw with a manly fortitude deny'd,
Merit's proud modesty the kindness spurn'd,
By venal flattery to be return'd!

Quaint Humour's child, whose "colonelling'' knight
Grave Satire archly kens with new delight,
Ingenious BUTLER! through thy various round
Of promissory jilts, what friend was found?
Tho' oft he conn'd thy volume laughter-fraught,
Tickled by each inimitable thought,
(Good easy man, with heedless glee he read,)
Could e'en thy sovereign's purse afford thee bread?
And BUCKINGHAM'S loose conduct well may shew
That wit, to wit is oft its greatest foe.
O! in our later era could I see
One son of smiling Ridicule, like thee,
Still, (keen correction leering in her eyes,)
Profuse of mirth, might sportive Censure rise,
Drop soft elixir where she wounds the heart,
And tickle with the plume that guides her dart!

In a dark garret where the biting cold
No cheerful hearth allays, poor BOYSE behold!
A blanket skewer'd his shiv'ring shoulder wears,
Outrageous Hunger at his vitals tears;
Not one dry crust his tuneful toil requites,
And e'en in famish'd misery he writes,
Yet, FIELDING'S candid judgment may sustain
The doubted value of his lofty vein!

Hark! what wild numbers break, sublimely sweet,
The breathing stillness of this deep retreat,
What bursts delirious of reviving song,
Steal on each sense those gloomy cells among,
'Tis SMART! — anon the maniac minstrel raves,
Loud as the tempest, fiercer than the waves;
And now, attuning soft a gentler lay,
It's tones, — how musical they faint away.

Of Taste's bright PLEIADS a distinguish'd star,
Whose burnish'd glories still are beam'd afar,
What fair resource did LOYD in grandeur meet,
His earliest lustre sully'd in the FLEET;
With CHURCHILL mark him at the social board,
What charms they cull from Reason's festive hoard,
But all the pleasures of the feast remov'd,
Which HEBE might have serv'd, and GODS approv'd,
All the soft solace of the banquet o'er,
And, dire to pay, the long-protracted score,
How shall their host the vent'rous heroes quit,
Wit without money, money without wit,
Till PHOEBUS, muffled in the shaggy cloke
Of Bookseller, expound the knotty joke,
Soothe the CERBEREAN landlord with a fee,
Clear the tremendous bill, and set his fav'rites free.

He who aspires to please this sapient age,
And reap due profit too, must mount the stage,
Yet brief indeed the ACTOR'S highest boast,
His acme in an hour attain'd or lost,
A casual fall the firmest frame destroys,
A curst catarrh obstructs the soundest voice;
Nor shouldst thou, PAINTING, too unjustly vain,
Thy elder sister's nobler art disdain;
Or, join with powerful MUSIC to dethrone
Consummate worth, superior to your own;
The symmetry exact, the touching grace
Finely diffus'd o'er Action's form or face;
The canvas, with creative colour fir'd;
The airs, by hymning cherubim inspir'd;
Fleeting and frail, are transitory all,
Nor oft will Wisdom for their raptures call;
But the bold song, where proud to vanquish Time,
Fond POESY pours forth the kindling rhyme,
In splendid rivalry where beauties meet,
And shining order marks the piece complete,
Tho' envious Chance consume the guardian page
Commission'd to inform each future age,
Water nor Fire, with all their vengeance fraught,
Impious, can hurt th' INVIOLABLE THOUGHT,
Tradition's volubly-transmitting tongue
Will catch the hallow'd numbers which she sung,
Sires to their list'ning sons repeat them o'er,
And spread the legend wide, 'till language is no more!

Who has not heard of CARAVAGGIO'S name?
Illumin'd by the painter's purest flame,
His graceful strokes delude the gazing eye,
Glide to the heart, and Nature's self supply:
On journey bent, his weary feet could find,
Tatter'd and poor, no habitation kind,
No unthatch'd hovel, no deserted shed,
Where hapless Genius might repose its head;
At length, a sordid inn where carters rest,
And beggars vile, receives the gifted guest,
Whose skill, employ'd to grace the gaudy sign,
Must prove it's best effort, before he dine;
And now the umber'd board before him stands,
Pallet and pencil fill his forming hands,
The mingling colours meet, and red and white,
Each other's aid! harmoniously unite,
'Till the full figures rise, and swell upon the sight!
Sublime it swings aslant the public road:
At morn, the Artist quits his mean abode.
Meanwhile, by fortune led to pass that way,
On neighing courser, with attendants gay,
A critic wight came pricking o'er the plain,
Right soon the sign-post doth his speed detain,
With curious haste he views, and quick surprize,
And for a sum immense the PICTURE buys!
Amaz'd with joy, th' unconscious master stares,
Straight from his stall the saddled steed prepares,
And, wing'd with hope, the Stranger's path pursues;—
But, how the rest to tell, too tragic muse!
By a ditch-side, in death his sorrowing eyes
For ever seal'd, the slighted Painter lies.

Hence may be taught the young unpractis'd heart
That gothic dullness chill'd each kindred art,
And though the Poet, much to public shame,
Pre-eminence of penury may claim,
Scarce less has barb'rous ignorance o'erlaid
The mimic world by daedal painting made;
Oh! say what soul the Muses deign to bless
In fawning phrase the servile song will dress,
Drop the smooth balm from Adulation's plume,
And picture Plenty on a Miser's tomb?
Yet, some, by partial glimmer led astray
Of sun-like Inspiration's ardent day,
On brainless sculls the blushing wreath have plac'd,
Or giv'n a Marquis sense, a Nabob taste,
Stuck a pert Fiddler next to NEWTON'S bust,
And rais'd a titled dolt on MILTON'S dust!

So have I seen a strolling ROMEO woo
Some cookmaid, redolent of sav'ry stew,
And pressing her coarse paw unwash'd and tann'd,
Sigh, "the white wonder of my JULIET'S hand!"
For well, smooth Flatt'ry! can thy colours spread
Youth's damask blushes with a warmer red,
Uncrutch hoar eld, and make the shrivell'd cheek,
Blushy as BACCHUS, as ADONIS sleek!

Let him, who desperately prone to eat
The crumbs of PATRONAGE, would court the GREAT,
Consider well, to cool his scribbling rage,
Thy apoplectic homily, LE SAGE!
Daub thick his dedication o'er with lies,
And to the slippery heights of falsehood rise,
Nor forfeit for uncivil truths his place,
But glory in a gen'rous want of Grace.

In Life's lone paths, and solitary glooms,
How many a flow'r has spent its choicest blooms;
Nip'd in it's bud by an untimely blight,
By circling weeds all hid from public sight,
Unknown its fragrance, beautiful in vain,
And torn and trampled by the passing swain,
No lordly son of wealth, no liberal fair,
Pluck'd the lost gem to grace a garland rare,
But spurn'd the simple chaplet nature yields,
Cull'd from the produce of our British fields,
While fam'd exotics, a vile, sickly race,
Find in the warmest beds unbounded space;
There, fade in state, fuliginously grim,
And rot, the martyrs of capricious whim!

Who, tho' on eagle wing alert to soar,
Scans thy sweet lay, disastrous DELACOUR?
Who nervous BROOKE'S illuminated lines,
Where all the PATRIOT in GUSTAVUS shines,
Tho' splendidly obscure, the hero of the Mines?
Not nobler thoughts could ADDISON express,
And CATO might assume the SWEDISH dress!

O! Thou, who mellowed'st first my artless note,
To piety, at once, and verse devote,
Who the rude depths of DANTE hast explor'd,
Yet ORPHEUS-like return'd, to light restor'd,
And then didst follow, unappal'd by fear,
Frantic ORLANDO in his mad career,
Or, bosom'd in Ophelia's haunted vale,
Of princely EUGENE sang'st the wond'rous tale,
Oh! skill'd, like TURPIN, with sagacious eye
To pierce the glorious rites of Chivalry,
And fill each Chronicle's mysterious void:—
Pattern of modest worth, where art thou, BOYD?

Tho' Fancy o'er my cradled vision smil'd,
And fav'ring Muses own'd their darling child,
Tho' secret bliss, ineffably refin'd,
Shed soft illusions o'er my melting mind,
And her fantastic mirror Promise gave;
E'en then misfortune mark'd me for her slave,
Dependance pointed to my lot forlorn,
And mid the roses thrust a latent thorn:
From youth's first dawn to manhood's riper day,
What scenes have drawn my pilgrim-step astray,
Deceitful scenes! in fairy-prospect bright,
But dim'd too often on the cheated sight;
Ere yet Grief's keenest shaft unerring sped,
And Rapture wip'd the tear that Pity shed,
What winning forms aye beck'd me to pursue
Such shades, as colder Prudence never knew,
While, every fibre stretching e'en to pain,
I commun'd with the BEINGS of the BRAIN!

Late, o'er my head, I view the gathering cloud
Of sorrow, wrap me in its sablest shroud,
Of life's machine the movements wear away,
And those voluptuous fantasies decay,
Yet, still, with undiminish'd smile remain
Some silent, conscious guests to soothe my pain,
Still meek-ey'd Feeling bends, divinely mov'd,
In social woe, o'er him the Muses lov'd,
Still Friendship, from it's healing store bestows
A sov'reign cure each slighter scar to close;
And fair Devotion, brightly fleeting by,
Unbars new portals to a purer sky,
Whence, seraphs leaning from th' angelic quire
Invite, to sweep a more than mortal lyre!
Be thine, my FRIEND! with free, facetious ease,
And flashes of unpilfer'd mirth to please;
Whom Fortune fix'd, then learning first to feel,
Just on the middle spoke of her inconstant wheel,
Be ne'er thy page, to gull a guilty taste,
By Ribaldry's licentious trash disgrac'd,
Be ne'er thy satire strew'd on Virtue's bier,
Nor yet the frown of Vice in office fear,
And still, with honest apathy, avoid
That glut of wit, where every palate's cloy'd,
Where Malice harlequins in Humour's vest,
And brother fools stand gaping for the jest:
Oh! would th' indulgent stars this hand allow
To quit the barren pen, and grasp the plough,
Chearful to chaunt unmeditated lays,
And see, at eve, the sprightly faggot blaze,
Reckless of all the brilliant toys of state
That win those babies, falsely styl'd the Great,
With friends, select but few, the noisy town
I'd fly, for green retreats, and shadows brown,
Shrink mid their vernal fold, and safe within,
Despise th' abode of Luxury and Sin,
Stretch'd by a winding streamlet's tiny tide,
Forget majestic THAMUS' ocean pride,
Nor miss, where village-spires presume to rise,
LONDON'S imperial top that wounds the skies.

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