1791
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Il Povero.

Poems by Thomas Townshend, Esq.

Thomas Townshend


A burlesque verse character of an impoverished poet, cleverly contrived as a double imitation. Il Povero is a paraphrase of Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, though Thomas Townshend draws his matter from Philips's The Splendid Shilling, itself a burlesque imitation of Milton. The poem, like others in the Philips series, describes the daily round on an impoverished poet: "Then with cautious steps to shun | That iron-hearted fiend — a dun, | And freed from all his instincts rude, | Seek eleemosynary food, | Of cashful friend who feels the curse | Of ponderous overfreighted purse | Jocund groupes delight me then, | And the converse gay of men" p. 89. Several other writers had combined elements of the Milton and Philips poems, but none so programmatically as here. Information on Townshed is scarce; he was apparently an Irishman (this first edition of his poems was published in Dublin); the second edition (1796) presents the author as Thomas Townshend of Gray's Inn."

Monthly Review: "If we could persuade ourselves to believe that an assemblage of splendid imagery, involved in turgid, affected, and obscure language, constituted the essence of poetry, we might be inclined to think favourably of Mr. Townshend's genius: but we have always considered poetry as a happy vehicle for conveying instruction, by engaging the imaginations and passions in the cause of truth and virtue; and while we retain this opinion, it will not be expected that we should applaud poems of which we cannot comprehend the meaning. The volume before us contains three Elfin Eclogues , and Odes on various subjects, pointed in an elegant manner, and adorned with vignettes" Review of Poems (1797) NS 24 (December 1797) 460.



Hence Wealth thou nurse of care,
Whose glitt'ring train with idle joys adorn'd,
Which the Rhodian Cynic scorn'd,
Wakes the black wish, and lures the foul to err;
Thee eye-brow'd Avarice tore
From Earth's deep womb; on gorgeous wing hence fly
With swollen Luxury,
Where raves with mighty sway thy madding pow'r,
As when in deathful hour
It plung'd Sichaeus to Averno's shore.
But come thou goddess lank and lean,
Of tatter'd robe and languid mien,
To whom I bend the sinking knee,
On earth ycleped Poverty;
Haste thee and bring hand in hand
The ragged virtues in a band;
But chiefly her unheard to moan
E'en o'er the cold sepulchral stone,
Where stands the faded lover's pile,
Patience, nymph of serious smile,
She who time-worn legends say
Was born on a wint'ry day,
On Scythian mountains bleak and wild,
Of Abstinence the only child;
Who yielded once with rigid grace,
To Temperance's cold embrace;
Pale-lip'd goddess bring with thee
The garret nymph Frugality;
And if I give thee rev'rence due,
Admit me of thy modest crew;
To live with them and live with thee,
In unsensual pleasures free;
Exalted by thy influence
To dwell in attic eminence,
Where the modest pallet laid
Scorns the curtain's loose parade;
And the solitary chair
Bends, grown valetudinaire,
And the unpictur'd walls around
Lour with candle-blaze embrown'd,
And the window half-aperted,
Which exil'd glass has long deserted,
Patch'd with supplemental pane,
Admits intruding wind and rain;
Where many a book and many a page,
Fill'd with ancient precepts sage,
(Which academic wights peruse)
And disemboguings of the Muse,
With scraps of literary lore,
Thickly strew th' uneven floor;
Where Homer, eldest son of song,
To stop a rat-hole lies along,
While the rigid Stagyrite
Backs him in half-moulder'd plight
And the Mantuan bard unable
To prop laconic leg of table,
For want of crassitude is crown'd,
With Burgersdicius unbound;
While poets, critics and declaimers,
With scholiasts and dull explainers,
Once purchas'd cheap at corner stall,
Avert the mischiefs of its fall.
There from my many-staired chamber
Where gouty wealth cou'd never clamber,
When the Morn's purple ray
Tinges deep the cheek of day,
Let my eye o'er housetops run,
Gilded by the mounting sun,
And see the fire-born clouds which fly,
Issuing forth from chimney high;
And shiv'ring let me faintly hear
The growing sounds which catch my ear,
Of matin warblers of the street,
The dustman and the dingey sweep,
And the muffin-vender's note,
And the milk-dame's treble throat.
Then when bus'ness calling loud
Wakes to strife the toiling crowd,
How wise to sit in musing state,
And mortal schemes vituperate;
Pity men's wayward modes unnumber'd,
And sigh for those with wealth encumber'd!
Then when Hunger's hints alarm
Let me avert her empty harm,
And to the crazy shelf repair,
Scarce conscious of its long-sav'd fare,
And as I break the mouldy roll,
Let me abridge the stocking hole.
Then above the sordid throng
To hail the jingling powers of song,
And think in full poetic pride,
For slender dinner to provide,
And rapt in all the Muses dream,
My forehead scratch for happy theme,
To lure the purchase of that wight,
Learning's waggoner — long hight
Bookseller, by th' unletter'd throng:
Then to gaze in phrenzy strong—
Straight mine eye has caught old pleasures,
Often view'd in Hope's false treasures—
(Hope, that juggler of the sky,
Whose visions cheat the mental eye)
While grave Essays slowly rise
In verbal mantle lightly wise;
And the Sonnet light and gay
Trips it in the distich way;
And the Epic stalks along
In all the majesty of song;
And Elegy in mourning wreaths
Her long-lin'd sorrows softly breathes;
While the Ode obscurely tries
Thro' clouds of words to reach the skies.
Then in all an author's rage
Swift to mould the title page,
And write and blot most hastily,
In endless versatility
'Till mine hostess' petty claim
Wake me from my scribbling dream;
When excuses long worn out
Are made to wipe away her doubt,
And flop the beldam's toiling tongue,
With vows and threats and curses hung.
When Night shoots her ebon ray,
Darking o'er the succumb'd day,
Then with cautious steps to shun
That iron-hearted fiend — a dun,
And freed from all his instincts rude,
Seek eleemosynary food,
Of cashful friend who feels the curse
Of ponderous overfreighted purse.
Jocund groupes delight me then,
And the converse gay of men,
And ever against ruthless cares
Lead me where young wit repairs;
And the punster quaint is found,
And the pealing laugh goes round,
(Such as sent Chrysippus packing
To Styx, while's stoic sides were cracking)
With jests, such as old Lucian says,
Were uttered in th' Elysian ways;
And such as from the sod-prest dead
Wou'd make Joe Miller raise his head;
Then these delights if thou canst give,
Meek Poverty, with thee I'd live.

[pp. 83-90]