Poetical Works of Johnson, Parnell, Gray, and Smollett
Samuel Johnson, Thomas Parnell, Thomas Gray, and Tobias Smollett
Part 3 out of 5
While some old Damon, o'er the vulgar wise,
Thinks he deserves, and thou deserv'st the prize!
Rapt with the thought, my fancy seeks the plains,
And turns me shepherd while I hear the strains.
Indulgent nurse of every tender gale,
Parent of flowerets, old Arcadia, hail! 40
Here in the cool my limbs at ease I spread,
Here let thy poplars whisper o'er my head,
Still slide thy waters soft among the trees,
Thy aspens quiver in a breathing breeze,
Smile all thy valleys in eternal spring,
Be hush'd, ye winds! while Pope and Virgil sing.
In English lays, and all sublimely great,
Thy Homer warms with all his ancient heat;
He shines in council, thunders in the fight,
And flames with every sense of great delight. 50
Long has that poet reign'd, and long unknown,
Like monarchs sparkling on a distant throne,
In all the majesty of Greek retired,
Himself unknown, his mighty name admired;
His language failing, wrapp'd him round with night,
Thine, raised by thee, recalls the work to light.
So wealthy mines, that ages long before
Fed the large realms around with golden ore,
When choked by sinking banks, no more appear,
And shepherds only say, The mines were here: 60
Should some rich youth (if Nature warm his heart,
And all his projects stand inform'd with Art)
Here clear the caves, there ope the leading vein;
The mines, detected, flame with gold again.
How vast, how copious are thy new designs!
How every music varies in thy lines!
Still as I read, I feel my bosom beat,
And rise in raptures by another's heat.
Thus in the wood, when summer dress'd the days,
When Windsor lent us tuneful hours of ease, 70
Our ears the lark, the thrush, the turtle blest,
And Philomela sweetest o'er the rest:
The shades resound with song--oh softly tread!
While a whole season warbles round my head.
This to my friend--and when a friend inspires,
My silent harp its master's hand requires,
Shakes off the dust, and makes these rocks resound;
For fortune placed me in unfertile ground,
Far from the joys that with my soul agree,
From wit, from learning--far, oh far from thee! 80
Here moss-grown trees expand the smallest leaf,
Here half an acre's corn is half a sheaf;
Here hills with naked heads the tempest meet,
Rocks at their side, and torrents at their feet,
Or lazy lakes, unconscious of a flood,
Whose dull brown Naiads ever sleep in mud.
Yet here Content can dwell, and Learned Ease,
A friend delight me, and an author please;
Even here I sing, while Pope supplies the theme,
Show my own love, though not increase his fame. 90
[Footnote 1: 'Egypt's princess:' Cleopatra.]
* * * * *
HEALTH: AN ECLOGUE.
Now early shepherds o'er the meadow pass,
And print long footsteps in the glittering grass,
The cows neglectful of their pasture stand,
By turns obsequious to the milker's hand,
When Damon softly trode the shaven lawn,
Damon a youth from city cares withdrawn;
Long was the pleasing walk he wander'd through,
A cover'd arbour closed the distant view;
There rests the youth, and while the feather'd throng
Raise their wild music, thus contrives a song. 10
Here wafted o'er by mild Etesian air,
Thou country Goddess, beauteous Health, repair!
Here let my breast through quivering trees inhale
Thy rosy blessings with the morning gale.
What are the fields, or flowers, or all I see?
Ah! tasteless all, if not enjoy'd with thee.
Joy to my soul! I feel the Goddess nigh,
The face of Nature cheers as well as I;
O'er the flat green refreshing breezes run,
The smiling daisies blow beneath the sun, 20
The brooks run purling down with silver waves,
The planted lanes rejoice with dancing leaves,
The chirping birds from all the compass rove
To tempt the tuneful echoes of the grove:
High sunny summits, deeply shaded dales,
Thick mossy banks, and flowery winding vales,
With various prospect gratify the sight,
And scatter fix'd attention in delight.
Come, country Goddess, come! nor thou suffice,
But bring thy mountain sister, Exercise! 30
Call'd by thy lovely voice, she turns her pace,
Her winding horn proclaims the finish'd chase;
She mounts the rocks, she skims the level plain,
Dogs, hawks, and horses crowd her early train;
Her hardy face repels the tanning wind,
And lines and meshes loosely float behind.
All these as means of toil the feeble see,
But these are helps to pleasure join'd with thee.
Let Sloth lie softening till high noon in down,
Or lolling fan her in the sultry town, 40
Unnerved with rest, and turn her own disease,
Or foster others in luxurious ease:
I mount the courser, call the deep-mouth'd hounds;
The fox unkennell'd, flies to covert grounds;
I lead where stags through tangled thickets tread,
And shake the saplings with their branching head;
I make the falcons wing their airy way,
And soar to seize, or stooping strike their prey:
To snare the fish I fix the luring bait;
To wound the fowl I load the gun with fate. 50
'Tis thus through change of exercise I range,
And strength and pleasure rise from every change.
Here beauteous for all the year remain;
When the next comes, I'll charm thee thus again.
Oh come, thou Goddess of my rural song,
And bring thy daughter, calm Content, along!
Dame of the ruddy cheek and laughing eye,
From whose bright presence clouds of sorrow fly:
For her I mow my walks, I plait my bowers,
Clip my low hedges, and support my flowers; 60
To welcome her, this summer seat I dress'd,
And here I court her when she comes to rest;
When she from exercise to learned ease
Shall change again, and teach the change to please.
Now friends conversing my soft hours refine,
And Tully's Tusculum revives in mine:
Now to grave books I bid the mind retreat,
And such as make me rather good than great;
Or o'er the works of easy Fancy rove,
Where flutes and innocence amuse the grove: 70
The native bard that on Sicilian plains
First sung the lowly manners of the swains;
Or Maro's Muse, that in the fairest light
Paints rural prospects and the charms of sight;
These soft amusements bring Content along,
And Fancy, void of sorrow, turns to song.
Here beauteous Health for all the year remain;
When the next comes, I'll charm thee thus again.
* * * * *
THE FLIES: AN ECLOGUE.
When the river cows for coolness stand.
And sheep for breezes seek the lofty land,
A youth whom AEsop taught that every tree,
Each bird and insect, spoke as well as he,
Walk'd calmly musing in a shaded way,
Where flowering hawthorn broke the sunny ray,
And thus instructs his moral pen to draw
A scene that obvious in the field he saw.
Near a low ditch, where shallow waters meet,
Which never learn'd to glide with liquid feet, 10
Whose Naiads never prattle as they play,
But screen'd with hedges slumber out the day,
There stands a slender fern's aspiring shade,
Whose answering branches, regularly laid,
Put forth their answering boughs, and proudly rise
Three storeys upward in the nether skies.
For shelter here, to shun the noonday heat,
An airy nation of the flies retreat;
Some in soft air their silken pinions ply,
And some from bough to bough delighted fly, 20
Some rise, and circling light to perch again;
A pleasing murmur hums along the plain.
So, when a stage invites to pageant shows,
(If great and small are like) appear the beaux;
In boxes some with spruce pretension sit,
Some change from seat to seat within the pit,
Some roam the scenes, or turning cease to roam;
Preluding music fills the lofty dome.
When thus a fly (if what a fly can say
Deserves attention) raised the rural lay:
Where late Amintor made a nymph a bride, 30
Joyful I flew by young Favonia's side,
Who, mindless of the feasting, went to sip
The balmy pleasure of the shepherd's lip;
I saw the wanton where I stoop'd to sup,
And half resolved to drown me in the cup;
Till, brush'd by careless hands, she soar'd above:
Cease, beauty, cease to vex a tender love!
Thus ends the youth, the buzzing meadow rung,
And thus the rival of his music sung: 40
When suns by thousands shone in orbs of dew,
I, wafted soft, with Zephyretta flew;
Saw the clean pail, and sought the milky cheer,
While little Daphne seized my roving dear.
Wretch that I was! I might have warn'd the dame,
Yet sate indulging as the danger came,
But the kind huntress left her free to soar:
Ah! guard, ye lovers, guard a mistress more!
Thus from the fern, whose high projecting arms,
The fleeting nation bent with dusky swarms, 50
The swains their love in easy music breathe,
When tongues and tumult stun the field beneath,
Black ants in teams come darkening all the road;
Some call to march, and some to lift the load;
They strain, they labour with incessant pains,
Press'd by the cumbrous weight of single grains.
The flies, struck silent, gaze with wonder down:
The busy burghers reach their earthy town,
Where lay the burdens of a wintry store,
And thence, unwearied, part in search of more. 60
Yet one grave sage a moment's space attends,
And the small city's loftiest point ascends,
Wipes the salt dew that trickles down his face,
And thus harangues them with the gravest grace
Ye foolish nurslings of the summer air!
These gentle tunes and whining songs forbear,
Your trees and whispering breeze, your grove and love,
Your Cupid's quiver, and his mother's dove;
Let bards to business bend their vigorous wing,
And sing but seldom, if they love to sing: 70
Else, when the flowerets of the season fail,
And this your ferny shade forsakes the vale,
Though one would save ye, not one grain of wheat
Should pay such songster's idling at my gate.
He ceased: the flies, incorrigibly vain,
Heard the mayor's speech, and fell to sing again.
* * * * *
AN ELEGY TO AN OLD BEAUTY.
In vain, poor nymph, to please our youthful sight
You sleep in cream and frontlets all the night,
Your face with patches soil, with paint repair,
Dress with gay gowns, and shade with foreign hair.
If truth in spite of manners must be told,
Why, really, fifty-five is something old.
Once you were young; or one, whose life's so long,
She might have borne my mother, tells me wrong.
And once, (since Envy's dead before you die)
The women own, you play'd a sparkling eye, 10
Taught the light foot a modish little trip,
And pouted with the prettiest purple lip.
To some new charmer are the roses fled,
Which blew, to damask all thy cheek with red;
Youth calls the graces there to fix their reign,
And airs by thousands fill their easy train.
So parting Summer bids her flowery prime
Attend the Sun to dress some foreign clime,
While withering seasons in succession, here,
Strip the gay gardens, and deform the Year. 20
But thou (since Nature bids) the world resign,
'Tis now thy daughter's daughter's time to shine.
With more address, (or such as pleases more)
She runs her female exercises o'er,
Unfurls or closes, raps or turns the fan,
And smiles, or blushes at the creature Man.
With quicker life, as gilded coaches pass,
In sideling courtesy she drops the glass.
With better strength, on visit-days she bears
To mount her fifty flights of ample stairs. 30
Her mien, her shape, her temper, eyes and tongue,
Are sure to conquer--for the rogue is young;
And all that's madly wild, or oddly gay,
We call it only pretty Fanny's way.
Let Time that makes you homely, make you sage,
The sphere of wisdom is the sphere of age.
'Tis true, when beauty dawns with early fire,
And hears the flattering tongues of soft desire,
If not from virtue, from its gravest ways
The soul with pleasing avocation strays. 40
But beauty gone, 'tis easier to be wise;
As harpers better by the loss of eyes.
Henceforth retire, reduce your roving airs,
Haunt less the plays, and more the public prayers,
Reject the Mechlin head, and gold brocade,
Go pray, in sober Norwich crape array'd.
Thy pendant diamonds let thy Fanny take,
Their trembling lustre shows how much you shake;
Or bid her wear thy necklace row'd with pearl,
You'll find your Fanny an obedient girl. 50
So, for the rest, with less incumbrance hung,
You walk through life, unmingled with the young;
And view the shade and substance as you pass
With joint endeavour trifling at the glass,
Or Folly dress'd, and rambling all her days,
To meet her counterpart, and grow by praise:
Yet still sedate yourself, and gravely plain,
You neither fret, nor envy at the vain.
'Twas thus, if man with woman we compare,
The wise Athenian cross'd a glittering fair; 60
Unmoved by tongues and sights, he walk'd the place,
Through tape, toys, tinsel, gimp, perfume, and lace;
Then bends from Mars's hill his awful eyes,
And 'What a world I never want!' he cries;
But cries unheard: for Folly will be free.
So parts the buzzing gaudy crowd, and he:
As careless he for them, as they for him;
He wrapt in wisdom, and they whirl'd by whim
* * * * *
Come hither, boy, we'll hunt to-day
The book-worm, ravening beast of prey!
Produced by parent Earth, at odds
(As Fame reports it) with the gods.
Him frantic Hunger wildly drives
Against a thousand authors' lives:
Through all the fields of Wit he flies;
Dreadful his head with clustering eyes,
With horns without, and tusks within,
And scales to serve him for a skin. 10
Observe him nearly, lest he climb
To wound the bards of ancient time,
Or down the vale of Fancy go,
To tear some modern wretch below:
On every corner fix thine eye,
Or, ten to one, he slips thee by.
See where his teeth a passage eat:
We'll rouse him from the deep retreat.
But who the shelter's forced to give?
'Tis sacred Virgil, as I live! 20
From leaf to leaf, from song to song,
He draws the tadpole form along,
He mounts the gilded edge before,
He's up, he scuds the cover o'er,
He turns, he doubles, there he pass'd,
And here we have him, caught at last.
Insatiate brute, whose teeth abuse
The sweetest servants of the Muse!
--Nay, never offer to deny,
I took thee in the act to fly-- 30
His roses nipp'd in every page,
My poor Anacreon mourns thy rage.
By thee my Ovid wounded lies;
By thee my Lesbia's sparrow dies:
Thy rabid teeth have half destroy'd
The work of love in Biddy Floyd;
They rent Belinda's locks away,
And spoil'd the Blouzelind of Gay.
For all, for every single deed,
Relentless Justice bids thee bleed. 40
Then fall a victim to the Nine,
Myself the priest, my desk the shrine.
Bring Homer, Virgil, Tasso near,
To pile a sacred altar here;
Hold, boy, thy hand outruns thy wit,
You reach'd the plays that Dennis writ;
You reach'd me Philips' rustic strain;
Pray take your mortal bards again.
Come, bind the victim,--there he lies,
And here between his numerous eyes 50
This venerable dust I lay,
From manuscripts just swept away.
The goblet in my hand I take
(For the libation's yet to make),
A health to poets! all their days
May they have bread, as well as praise;
Sense may they seek, and less engage
In papers fill'd with party rage.
But if their riches spoil their vein,
Ye Muses! make them poor again. 60
Now bring the weapon, yonder blade,
With which my tuneful pens are made.
I strike the scales that arm thee round,
And twice and thrice I print the wound;
The sacred altar floats with red;
And now he dies, and now he's dead.
How like the son of Jove I stand,
This Hydra stretch'd beneath my hand!
Lay bare the monster's entrails here,
To see what dangers threat the year: 70
Ye gods! what sonnets on a wench!
What lean translations out of French!
'Tis plain, this lobe is so unsound,
S-- prints before the months go round.
But hold, before I close the scene,
The sacred altar should be clean.
Oh, had I Shadwell's second bays,
Or, Tate! thy pert and humble lays!
(Ye pair, forgive me, when I vow
I never miss'd your works till now)
I'd tear the leaves to wipe the shrine, 80
(That only way you please the Nine)
But since I chance to want these two,
I'll make the songs of Durfey do.
Rent from the corpse, on yonder pin
I hang the scales that braced it in;
I hang my studious morning gown,
And write my own inscription down.
'This trophy from the Python won,
This robe, in which the deed was done, 90
These, Parnell glorying in the feat,
Hung on these shelves, the Muses' seat.
Here Ignorance and Hunger found
Large realms of wit to ravage round;
Here Ignorance and Hunger fell--
Two foes in one I sent to hell.
Ye poets, who my labours see,
Come share the triumph all with me!
Ye critics, born to vex the Muse,
Go mourn the grand ally you lose!' 100
[Footnote 1: 'Shadwell:' Dryden's rival.]
[Footnote 2: 'Tate:' Nahum. See Life of Dryden.]
[Footnote 3: 'Durfey:' the well-known wit of the time.]
* * * * *
AN ALLEGORY ON MAN.
A thoughtful being, long and spare,
Our race of mortals call him Care;
(Were Homer living, well he knew
What name the gods have call'd him too)
With fine mechanic genius wrought,
And loved to work, though no one bought.
This being, by a model bred
In Jove's eternal sable head,
Contrived a shape, empower'd to breathe,
And be the worldling here beneath. 10
The Man rose staring, like a stake,
Wondering to see himself awake!
Then look'd so wise, before he knew
The business he was made to do,
That, pleased to see with what a grace
He gravely show'd his forward face,
Jove talk'd of breeding him on high,
An under-something of the sky.
But e'er he gave the mighty nod,
Which ever binds a poet's god, 20
(For which his curls ambrosial shake,
And mother Earth's obliged to quake:)
He saw old mother Earth arise,
She stood confess'd before his eyes;
But not with what we read she wore,
A castle for a crown, before;
Nor with long streets and longer roads
Dangling behind her, like commodes:
As yet with wreaths alone she dress'd,
And trail'd a landscape-painted vest. 30
Then thrice she raised, (as Ovid said)
And thrice she bow'd her weighty head.
Her honours made, Great Jove, she cried,
This thing was fashion'd from my side;
His hands, his heart, his head are mine;
Then what hast thou to call him thine?
Nay, rather ask, the monarch said,
What boots his hand, his heart, his head?
Were what I gave removed away,
Thy parts an idle shape of clay. 40
Halves, more than halves! cried honest Care;
Your pleas would make your titles fair,
You claim the body, you the soul,
But I who join'd them, claim the whole.
Thus with the gods debate began,
On such a trivial cause as Man.
And can celestial tempers rage?
(Quoth Virgil in a later age.)
As thus they wrangled, Time came by;
(There's none that paint him such as I, 50
For what the fabling ancients sung
Makes Saturn old, when Time was young.)
As yet his winters had not shed
Their silver honours on his head;
He just had got his pinions free
From his old sire Eternity.
A serpent girdled round he wore,
The tail within the mouth before;
By which our almanacs are clear
That learned Egypt meant the year. 60
A staff he carried, where on high
A glass was fix'd to measure by,
As amber boxes made a show
For heads of canes an age ago.
His vest, for day and night, was pied,
A bending sickle arm'd his side,
And Spring's new months his train adorn;
The other Seasons were unborn.
Known by the gods, as near he draws,
They make him umpire of the cause. 70
O'er a low trunk his arm he laid,
(Where since his Hours a dial made;)
Then, leaning, heard the nice debate,
And thus pronounced the words of Fate:
Since Body from the parent Earth,
And Soul from Jove received a birth,
Return they where they first began;
But since their union makes the Man,
Till Jove and Earth shall part these two,
To Care, who join'd them, Man is due. 80
He said, and sprung with swift career
To trace a circle for the year,
Where ever since the Seasons wheel,
And tread on one another's heel.
'Tis well, said Jove, and for consent
Thundering he shook the firmament;
Our umpire Time shall have his way,
With Care I let the creature stay:
Let business vex him, avarice blind,
Let doubt and knowledge rack his mind, 90
Let error act, opinion speak,
And want afflict, and sickness break,
And anger burn, dejection chill,
And joy distract, and sorrow kill,
Till, arm'd by Care, and taught to mow,
Time draws the long destructive blow;
And wasted Man, whose quick decay,
Comes hurrying on before his day,
Shall only find, by this decree,
The Soul flies sooner back to me. 100
* * * * *
AN IMITATION OF SOME FRENCH VERSES.
Relentless Time! destroying power
Whom stone and brass obey,
Who giv'st to every flying hour
To work some new decay;
Unheard, unheeded, and unseen,
Thy secret saps prevail,
And ruin Man, a nice machine
By Nature form'd to fail.
My change arrives; the change I meet,
Before I thought it nigh. 10
My spring, my years of pleasure fleet,
And all their beauties die.
In age I search, and only find
A poor unfruitful gain,
Grave Wisdom stalking slow behind,
Oppress'd with loads of pain.
My ignorance could once beguile,
And fancied joys inspire;
My errors cherish'd hope to smile
On newly-born desire. 20
But now experience shows the bliss,
For which I fondly sought,
Not worth the long impatient wish,
And ardour of the thought.
My youth met Fortune fair array'd;
In all her pomp she shone,
And might perhaps have well essay'd
To make her gifts my own:
But when I saw the blessings shower
On some unworthy mind, 30
I left the chase, and own'd the power
Was justly painted blind.
I pass'd the glories which adorn
The splendid courts of kings,
And while the persons moved my scorn.
I rose to scorn the things.
My manhood felt a vigorous fire,
By love increased the more;
But years with coming years conspire
To break the chains I wore. 40
In weakness safe, the sex I see
With idle lustre shine;
For what are all their joys to me,
Which cannot now be mine?
But hold--I feel my gout decrease,
My troubles laid to rest,
And truths which would disturb my peace,
Are painful truths at best.
Vainly the time I have to roll
In sad reflection flies; 50
Ye fondling passions of my soul!
Ye sweet deceits! arise.
I wisely change the scene within,
To things that used to please;
In pain, philosophy is spleen,
In health, 'tis only ease.
* * * * *
A NIGHT-PIECE ON DEATH.
By the blue taper's trembling light,
No more I waste the wakeful night,
Intent with endless view to pore
The schoolmen and the sages o'er:
Their books from wisdom widely stray,
Or point at best the longest way.
I'll seek a readier path, and go
Where wisdom's surely taught below.
How deep yon azure dyes the sky,
Where orbs of gold unnumber'd lie, 10
While through their ranks in silver pride
The nether crescent seems to glide!
The slumbering breeze forgets to breathe,
The lake is smooth and clear beneath,
Where once again the spangled show
Descends to meet our eyes below.
The grounds which on the right aspire,
In dimness from the view retire:
The left presents a place of graves,
Whose wall the silent water laves. 20
That steeple guides thy doubtful sight,
Among the livid gleams of night.
There pass, with melancholy state,
By all the solemn heaps of fate,
And think, as softly-sad you tread
Above the venerable dead,
'Time was, like thee they life possess'd,
And time shall be, that thou shalt rest.'
Those graves, with bending osier bound,
That nameless heave the crumbled ground, 30
Quick to the glancing thought disclose
Where Toil and Poverty repose.
The flat smooth stones that bear a name,
The chisel's slender help to fame,
Which, e'er our set of friends decay,
Their frequent steps may wear away,
A middle race of mortals own,
Men half-ambitious, all unknown.
The marble tombs that rise on high,
Whose dead in vaulted arches lie, 40
Whose pillars swell with sculptured stones,
Arms, angels, epitaphs, and bones;--
These (all the poor remains of state)
Adorn the rich, or praise the great;
Who while on earth in fame they live,
Are senseless of the fame they give.
Ha! while I gaze, pale Cynthia fades,
The bursting earth unveils the shades!
All slow, and wan, and wrapp'd with shrouds,
They rise in visionary crowds, 50
And all with sober accent cry,
'Think, mortal, what it is to die!'
Now from yon black and funeral yew,
That bathes the charnal-house with dew,
Methinks I hear a voice begin;
(Ye ravens, cease your croaking din,
Ye tolling clocks, no time resound
O'er the long lake and midnight ground!)
It sends a peal of hollow groans,
Thus speaking from among the bones: 60
'When men my scythe and darts supply,
How great a king of fears am I!
They view me like the last of things:
They make, and then they dread, my stings.
Fools! if you less provoked your fears,
No more my spectre-form appears.
Death's but a path that must be trod,
If man would ever pass to God:
A port of calms, a state of ease
From the rough rage of swelling seas. 70
Why, then, thy flowing sable stoles,
Deep pendent cypress, mourning poles,
Loose scarfs to fall athwart thy weeds,
Long palls, drawn hearses, cover'd steeds,
And plumes of black, that, as they tread,
Nod o'er the 'scutcheons of the dead?
Nor can the parted body know,
Nor wants the soul these forms of woe:
As men who long in prison dwell,
With lamps that glimmer round the cell, 80
Whene'er their suffering years are run,
Spring forth to greet the glittering sun:
Such joy, though far transcending sense,
Have pious souls at parting hence.
On earth, and in the body placed,
A few, and evil years, they waste:
But when their chains are cast aside,
See the glad scene unfolding wide,
Clap the glad wing and tower away,
And mingle with the blaze of day!' 90
* * * * *
A HYMN TO CONTENTMENT.
Lovely, lasting peace of mind!
Sweet delight of human kind!
Heavenly born, and bred on high,
To crown the favourites of the sky
With more of happiness below,
Than victors in a triumph know!
Whither, oh! whither art thou fled,
To lay thy meek, contented head?
What happy region dost thou please
To make the seat of calm and ease? 10
Ambition searches all its sphere
Of pomp and state, to meet thee there.
Increasing Avarice would find
Thy presence in its gold enshrined.
The bold adventurer ploughs his way,
Through rocks amidst the foaming sea,
To gain thy love; and then perceives
Thou wert not in the rocks and waves.
The silent heart which grief assails,
Treads soft and lonesome o'er the vales, 20
Sees daisies open, rivers run,
And seeks (as I have vainly done)
Amusing thought; but learns to know
That Solitude's the nurse of Woe.
No real happiness is found
In trailing purple o'er the ground;
Or in a soul exalted high,
To range the circuit of the sky,
Converse with stars above, and know
All Nature in its forms below; 30
The rest it seeks, in seeking dies,
And doubts at last for knowledge rise.
Lovely, lasting peace appear!
This world itself, if thou art here,
Is once again with Eden bless'd,
And Man contains it in his breast.
'Twas thus, as under shade I stood,
I sung my wishes to the wood,
And, lost in thought, no more perceived
The branches whisper as they waved: 40
It seem'd as all the quiet place
Confess'd the presence of the Grace,
When thus she spoke:--'Go, rule thy will;
Bid thy wild passions all be still;
Know God--and bring thy heart to know
The joys which from Religion flow:
Then every Grace shall prove its guest,
And I'll be there to crown the rest.'
Oh! by yonder mossy seat,
In my hours of sweet retreat; 50
Might I thus my soul employ,
With sense of gratitude and joy!
Raised as ancient prophets were,
In heavenly vision, praise, and prayer;
Pleasing all men, hurting none,
Pleased and bless'd with God alone:
Then, while the gardens take my sight
With all the colours of delight;
While silver waters glide along,
To please my ear, and court my song: 60
I'll lift my voice, and tune my string,
And Thee, Great Source of Nature! sing.
The sun, that walks his airy way,
To light the world, and give the day;
The moon, that shines with borrow'd light;
The stars, that gild the gloomy night;
The seas, that roll unnumber'd waves;
The wood, that spreads its shady leaves;
The field, whose ears conceal the grain,
The yellow treasure of the plain;-- 70
All of these, and all I see,
Should be sung, and sung by me:
They speak their Maker as they can,
But want, and ask, the tongue of man.
Go, search among your idle dreams,
Your busy, or your vain extremes;
And find a life of equal bliss,
Or own the next begun in this!
* * * * *
Far in a wild, unknown to public view,
From youth to age a reverend hermit grew;
The moss his bed, the cave his humble cell,
His food the fruits, his drink the crystal well:
Remote from man, with God he pass'd the days,
Prayer all his business, all his pleasure praise.
A life so sacred, such serene repose,
Seem'd heaven itself, till one suggestion rose:
That vice should triumph, virtue vice obey,
This sprung some doubt of Providence's sway; 10
His hopes no more a certain prospect boast,
And all the tenor of his soul is lost:
So when a smooth expanse receives impress'd
Calm Nature's image on its watery breast,
Down bend the banks, the trees depending grow,
And skies beneath with answering colours glow:
But if a stone the gentle scene divide,
Swift ruffling circles curl on every side,
And glimmering fragments of a broken sun,
Banks, trees, and skies, in thick disorder run. 20
To clear this doubt, to know the world by sight,
To find if books or swains report it right,
(For yet by swains alone the world he knew,
Whose feet came wandering o'er the nightly dew)
He quits his cell; the pilgrim-staff he bore,
And fix'd the scallop in his hat before;
Then with the sun a rising journey went,
Sedate to think, and watching each event.
The morn was wasted in the pathless grass,
And long and lonesome was the wild to pass; 30
But when the southern sun had warm'd the day,
A youth came posting o'er a crossing way;
His raiment decent, his complexion fair,
And soft in graceful ringlets waved his hair.
Then near approaching, 'Father, hail!' he cried,
'And hail, my Son!' the reverend sire replied;
Words follow'd words, from question answer flow'd,
And talk of various kind deceived the road.
Till each with other pleased, and loth to part,
While in their age they differ, join in heart: 40
Thus stands an aged elm in ivy bound,
Thus youthful ivy clasps an elm around.
Now sunk the sun; the closing hour of day
Came onward, mantled o'er with sober gray;
Nature in silence bid the world repose;
When near the road a stately palace rose:
There by the moon through ranks of trees they pass,
Whose verdure crown'd their sloping sides of grass.
It chanced the noble master of the dome,
Still made his house the wandering stranger's home: 50
Yet still the kindness, from a thirst of praise,
Proved the vain flourish of expensive ease.
The pair arrive: the liveried servants wait;
Their lord receives them at the pompous gate;
The table groans with costly piles of food,
And all is more than hospitably good;
Then led to rest, the day's long toil they drown,
Deep sunk in sleep, and silk, and heaps of down.
At length 'tis morn, and at the dawn of day,
Along the wide canals the Zephyrs play; 60
Fresh o'er the gay parterres the breezes creep,
And shake the neighbouring wood to banish sleep.
Up rise the guests, obedient to the call;
An early banquet deck'd the splendid hall;
Rich luscious wine a golden goblet graced,
Which the kind master forced the guests to taste.
Then pleased and thankful, from the porch they go,
And, but the landlord, none had cause of woe;
His cup was vanish'd--for in secret guise
The younger guest purloin'd the glittering prize. 70
As one who spies a serpent in his way,
Glistening and basking in the summer ray,
Disorder'd stops to shun the danger near,
Then walks with faintness on, and looks with fear:
So seem'd the sire, when, far upon the road,
The shining spoil his wily partner show'd.
He stopp'd with silence, walk'd with trembling heart,
And much he wish'd, but durst not ask to part:
Murmuring he lifts his eyes, and thinks it hard,
That generous actions meet a base reward. 80
While thus they pass, the sun his glory shrouds,
The changing skies hang out their sable clouds;
A sound in air presaged approaching rain,
And beasts to cover scud across the plain.
Warn'd by the signs, the wandering pair retreat,
To seek for shelter at a neighbouring seat.
'Twas built with turrets, on a rising ground,
And strong, and large, and unimproved around;
Its owner's temper, timorous and severe,
Unkind and griping, caused a desert there. 90
As near the miser's heavy doors they drew,
Fierce rising gusts with sudden fury blew;
The nimble lightning, mix'd with showers, began,
And o'er their heads loud-rolling thunder ran.
Here long they knock, but knock or call in vain,
Driven by the wind, and batter'd by the rain.
At length some pity warm'd the master's breast,
('Twas then his threshold first received a guest)
Slow creaking turns the door with jealous care,
And half he welcomes in the shivering pair; 100
One frugal faggot lights the naked walls,
And Nature's fervour through their limbs recalls:
Bread of the coarsest sort, with eager wine,
(Each hardly granted) served them both to dine;
And when the tempest first appear'd to cease,
A ready warning bid them part in peace.
With still remark the pondering hermit view'd,
In one so rich, a life so poor and rude;
And why should such, (within himself he cried,)
Lock the lost wealth a thousand want beside? 110
But what new marks of wonder soon took place,
In every settling feature of his face,
When from his vest the young companion bore
That cup, the generous landlord own'd before,
And paid profusely with the precious bowl
The stinted kindness of this churlish soul!
But now the clouds in airy tumult fly,
The sun emerging opes an azure sky;
A fresher green the smelling leaves display,
And glittering as they tremble, cheer the day: 120
The weather courts them from the poor retreat,
And the glad master bolts the wary gate.
While hence they walk, the pilgrim's bosom wrought
With all the travail of uncertain thought;
His partner's acts without their cause appear,
'Twas there a vice, and seem'd a madness here:
Detesting that, and pitying this, he goes,
Lost and confounded with the various shows.
Now night's dim shades again involve the sky;
Again the wanderers want a place to lie, 130
Again they search, and find a lodging nigh.
The soil improved around, the mansion neat,
And neither poorly low, nor idly great:
It seem'd to speak its master's turn of mind,
Content, and not for praise, but virtue kind.
Hither the walkers turn with weary feet,
Then bliss the mansion, and the master greet:
Their greeting fair bestow'd, with modest guise,
The courteous master hears, and thus replies:
'Without a vain, without a grudging heart, 140
To Him who gives us all, I yield a part;
From Him you come, for Him accept it here,
A frank and sober, more than costly cheer.'
He spoke, and bid the welcome table spread,
Then talk'd of virtue till the time of bed,
When the grave household round his hall repair,
Warn'd by a bell, and close the hours with prayer.
At length the world, renew'd by calm repose,
Was strong for toil, the dappled morn arose;
Before the pilgrims part, the younger crept, 150
Near the closed cradle where an infant slept,
And writhed his neck: the landlord's little pride--
Oh, strange return!--grew black, and gasp'd, and died.
Horror of horrors! what! his only son!
How look'd our hermit when the fact was done?
Not hell, though hell's black jaws in sunder part,
And breathe blue fire, could more assault his heart.
Confused, and struck with silence at the deed,
He flies, but, trembling, fails to fly with speed.
His steps the youth pursues; the country lay 160
Perplex'd with roads, a servant show'd the way:
A river cross'd the path; the passage o'er
Was nice to find; the servant trode before;
Long arms of oaks an open bridge supplied,
And deep the waves beneath the bending glide.
The youth, who seem'd to watch a time to sin,
Approach'd the careless guide, and thrust him in;
Plunging he falls, and rising lifts his head,
Then flashing turns, and sinks among the dead.
Wild sparkling rage inflames the father's eyes, 170
He bursts the bands of fear, and madly cries:
'Detested wretch!'--But scarce his speech began,
When the strange partner seem'd no longer man:
His youthful face grew more serenely sweet;
His robe turn'd white, and flow'd upon his feet;
Fair rounds of radiant points invest his hair;
Celestial odours breathe through purpled air;
And wings, whose colours glitter'd on the day,
Wide at his back their gradual plumes display;
The form ethereal bursts upon his sight, 180
And moves in all the majesty of light.
Though loud at first the pilgrim's passion grew,
Sudden he gazed, and wist not what to do;
Surprise in secret chains his word suspends,
And in a calm his settling temper ends.
But silence here the beauteous angel broke,
The voice of music ravish'd as he spoke:
'Thy prayer, thy praise, thy life to vice unknown,
In sweet memorial rise before the throne:
These charms, success in our bright region find, 190
And force an angel down, to calm thy mind;
For this commission'd, I forsook the sky--
Nay, cease to kneel--thy fellow-servant I!
'Then know the truth of government divine,
And let these scruples be no longer thine.
'The Maker justly claims that world He made,
In this the right of Providence is laid;
Its sacred majesty through all depends
On using second means to work His ends:
'Tis thus, withdrawn in state from human eye, 200
The power exerts His attributes on high,
Your actions uses, not controls your will,
And bids the doubting sons of men "be still!"
'What strange events can strike with more surprise,
Than those which lately struck thy wondering eyes?
Yet, taught by these, confess the Almighty just,
And where you can't unriddle, learn to trust!
'The great, vain man, who fared on costly food,
Whose life was too luxurious to be good;
Who made his ivory stands with goblets shine, 210
And forced his guests to morning draughts of wine,
Has, with the cup, the graceless custom lost,
And still he welcomes, but with less of cost.
'The mean, suspicious wretch, whose bolted door,
Ne'er moved in duty to the wandering poor;
With him I left the cup, to teach his mind
That Heaven can bless, if mortals will be kind.
Conscious of wanting worth, he views the bowl,
And feels compassion touch his grateful soul.
Thus artists melt the sullen ore of lead, 220
With heaping coals of fire upon its head;
In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow,
And, loose from dross, the silver runs below.
'Long had our pious friend in virtue trod,
But now the child half-wean'd his heart from God;
Child of his age, for him he lived in pain,
And measured back his steps to earth again.
To what excesses had his dotage run?
But God, to save the father, took the son.
To all but thee, in fits he seem'd to go, 230
And 'twas my ministry to deal the blow.
The poor fond parent, humbled in the dust,
Now owns in tears the punishment was just.
'But how had all his fortune felt a wrack,
Had that false servant sped in safety back?
This night his treasured heaps he meant to steal,
And what a fund of charity would fail!
'Thus Heaven instructs thy mind: this trial o'er,
Depart in peace, resign'd, and sin no more.'
On sounding pinions here the youth withdrew 240
The sage stood wondering as the seraph flew.
Thus look'd Elisha, when, to mount on high,
His master took the chariot of the sky;
The fiery pomp ascending left the view;
The prophet gazed, and wish'd to follow too.
The bending hermit here a prayer begun,
'Lord! as in heaven, on earth Thy will be done.'
Then gladly turning, sought his ancient place,
And pass'd a life of piety and peace.
[Footnote 1: 'Eager:' i. e., sharp and sour.]
* * * * *
END OF PARNELL'S POEMS.
* * * * *
THE LIFE AND POEMS
How dearly, at one time, and how cheaply at another, does Genius
purchase immortal fame! Here a Milton
"Scorns delights, and lives laborious days,"
that he may, through sufferings, sorrows, and the strainings of a long
life, pile up a large and lofty poem;--and there a Gray, in the
intervals of other studies, produces a few short but exquisite verses,
which become instantly and for ever popular, and render his name as
dear to many, if not dearer, than that of the sublimer bard; for there
are probably thousands who would prefer to have written the "Elegy
written in a Country Churchyard," instead of the "Paradise Lost."
Thomas Gray was born in Cornhill, London, on the 26th December 1716.
His father was Mr Philip Gray, a respectable scrivener, and his
mother's name was Dorothy Antrobus. Gray was the fifth of twelve
children, and the only one that survived. His life was saved in
infancy by his mother, who, during a paroxysm which attacked her son,
opened a vein with her own hand. This, and many other acts of maternal
tenderness, rendered her memory unspeakably dear to the poet, who
seldom mentioned her, after her death, "without a sigh." He was sent
to study at Eton College, the happy days spent in which he has so
beautifully commemorated in his "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton
College." It added to his comfort here that his maternal uncle, Mr
Antrobus, was an assistant-teacher. From Eton he passed to Pembroke
College, Cambridge, where he was admitted as a pensioner in 1734, in
the nineteenth year of his age. He had at Eton become intimate with
Horace Walpole and with Richard West, a young man of high promise, who
died early. It is worth noticing that, during his residence both at
Eton and Cambridge, he was supported entirely out of the separate
industry of his mother, his father refusing him all aid.
At Cambridge, Gray studied very hard, attending less to mathematics
than to classical literature, modern languages, history, and poetry.
He aspired to be a universally accomplished as well as a minutely
learned man. His compositions, from 1734 to 1738, were translations
from Italian into Latin and English, and one or two small pieces of
original verse. In September 1738, he returned to his father's house,
and remained there for six months, doing little except carrying on a
correspondence he had begun at Cambridge with West and other friends.
Correspondence, from the first and to the last, was the best OUTCOME
of Gray's mind--he felt himself most at home in it; and, next to
Cowper's, his letters are the most delightful in the English language.
He had intended to study law, but was diverted from his purpose by
Horace Walpole, who invited him to take in his Company the "grand
tour." To no Briton, since Milton, could travel have been more
congenial or more instructive than to Gray. He that would travel to
advantage must first have travelled in mind all the countries he
visits, and must be learned in their literature, their politics, their
scenery, and their antiquities, ere ever he sets a foot upon their
shores. To Italy and France, Gray went as to favourite studies, not as
to relaxations; and spent his time in observing their famous scenes
with the eye of a poet--cataloguing their paintings in the spirit of a
connoisseur--perfecting his knowledge of their languages--examining
minutely the principles of their architecture and music--comparing
their present aspect with the old classical descriptions; and writing
home an elegant epistolary account of all his sights, and all
his speculations. He saw Paris--visited Geneva--passed to
Florence--hurried to Rome on the tidings of Pope Clement XII's death,
to see the installation of his successor--stood beside the cataracts
of Tivoli and Terni, and might have seen in both, emblems of his own
genius, which, like them, was beautiful and powerful, but
artificial--took a rapid run to Naples, and was charmed beyond
expression with its bay, its climate, and its fruitage--and was one of
the first English travellers to visit Herculaneum, discovered only the
year before (1739), and to wonder at that strange and solemn rehearsal
of the resurrection exhibited in its streets. From Naples he returned
to Florence, where he continued eleven months, and began a Latin poem,
"De Principiis Cogitandi." He then, on the 24th of April 1741, set off
with Walpole for Bologna and Reggio. At this latter place occurred the
celebrated quarrel between the two travellers. The causes and
circumstances of this are involved in considerable obscurity.
Dissimilarity of tastes and habits was probably at the bottom of it.
Gray was an enthusiastic scholar; Walpole was then a gay and giddy
voluptuary, although predestined to sour down into the most
cold-blooded and cynical of gossips. They parted at Reggio, to meet
only once afterwards at Strawberry Hill, where Gray long after visited
Walpole at his own invitation, but told him frankly he never could be
on the same terms of friendship again. Left now to pursue his journey
alone, he went to Venice, and thence came back through Padua and Milan
to France. On his way between Turin and Lyons, he turned aside to see
again the noble mountainous scenery surrounding the Grande Chartreuse
in Dauphine; and in the album kept by the fathers wrote his Alcaic
Ode, testifying to his admiration of a scene where, he says, "every
precipice and cliff was pregnant, with religion and poetry."
Two months after his return to England, his father died, somewhat
impoverished by improvidence. Gray, thinking himself too poor to study
the law, sent his mother and a maiden sister to reside at Stoke, near
Windsor, and retired to Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he resumed his
classical and poetical pursuits. To West, who by this time was
declining in health, he sent part of "Agrippina," a tragedy he had
commenced. West objected to the length and prosiness of Agrippina's
speeches. These were afterwards altered by Mason, in accordance with
West's suggestions; but Gray was discouraged, and has left "Agrippina"
a Torso. The subject was unpleasing. To have treated adequately the
character of Nero, would have required more than the genius of Gray;
and the language of the fragment is distinguished rather by rhetorical
burnish than by poetical spirit and heat. We have not thought it
necessary to reprint it, nor several besides of the fragmentary and
inferior productions of this poet, which Mason, too, thought proper
Gray now plunged into the _mare magnum_ of classical literature. With
greater energy and exclusiveness than before, he read Thucydides,
Theocritus, and Anacreon; he translated parts of Propertius, and he
wrote a heroic epistle in Latin, after the manner of Ovid, and a Greek
epigram. This last he communicated to West, who was now in
Hertfordshire, waiting the approach of the Angel of Death. To the same
dear friend he sent his "Ode to Spring," which he had written under
his mother's roof at Stoke. He was too late. West was dead before it
arrived. This amiable and gifted person, who was thought by many
superior in natural genius to his friend, and whose name is for ever
connected with that of Gray, expired on the 1st of June 1742, and now
reposes in the chancel of Hatfield Church. We strongly suspect that it
was he whom Gray had in his eye in the close of his "Elegy."
Autumn has often been thought propitious to genius, especially when
its tender sun-light is still further sweetened and saddened by the
joy of grief. In the autumn of this year, Gray, who was peculiarly
susceptible to skiey influences, wrote some of his best poetry--his
"Hymn to Adversity," his "Distant Prospect of Eton College," and
commenced his "Elegy written in a Country Churchyard." A Sonnet in
English, and the Apostrophe which opens the fourth book of his "De
Principiis Cogitandi," bore testimony to his esteem for the character
and his regret for the premature loss of Richard West.
To Cambridge Gray seems to have had little attachment; but partly from
the smallness of his income, and partly from the access he had to its
libraries, he was found there to the last, constantly complaining, and
always continuing, like the _statue_ of a murmurer. In the winter of
1742 he was admitted Bachelor of Civil Law; and in acknowledgment of
the honour of the admission, began an "Address to Ignorance," which it
is no great loss to his fame that he never finished. Hazlitt completed
what appears to have been Gray's design in that admirable and
searching paper of his, entitled, "The Ignorance of the Learned," in
which he shows how ill mere learning supplies the want of common sense
and practical knowledge, as well as of talent and genius.
In 1744, through the intervention of a lady, the difference between
Walpole and Gray was so far made up, that they resumed their
correspondence, although never their intimacy. About this time he got
acquainted with Mason, then a scholar in St John's College, who became
a minor Boswell to a minor Johnson; although he used liberties with
Gray's correspondence and poetry, such as Boswell never durst have
attempted with his idol. Mason had first introduced himself to Gray by
showing him some MS. poetry. With the famous Dr Conyers Middleton,
too, he became intimate, and lived to lament his death.
In 1747, Dodsley published for him his "Ode to Eton College," the
first of Gray's productions which appeared in print. It excited no
notice whatever. Walpole wished him to publish his poems in
conjunction with the remains of West; but this he declined, on account
of want of materials--perhaps also feeling the great superiority of
his own poetry. At Walpole's request, however, he wrote an ode on the
death of his favourite cat!
Greek became now his constant study. He read its more recondite
authors, such as Pausanias, Athenaeus, Pindar, Lysias, and AEschylus,
with great care, and commenced the preparation of a Table of Greek
Chronology, on a very minute and elaborate scale.
In 1749 he lost his aunt, Mrs Antrobus, and her death, which he felt
as a heavy affliction, led him to complete his "Elegy," which he sent
to Walpole, who handed it about in MS., to the great delight of those
who were privileged to peruse it. When published, it sold rapidly, and
continues still the most popular of his poems.
In March 1753, his beloved and revered mother died, and he erected
over her dust a monument, with an inscription testifying to the
strength of his filial love and sorrow. In 1755 he finished his "Ode
on the Progress of Poetry," and in the same year began his "Bard." All
his poems, however short, were most laboriously composed, written and
rewritten, subjected, in whole or in part, to the criticism of his
friends, and, according to their verdict, either published, or left
fragments, or consigned to the flames. About this time he begins, in
his letters, to complain of depression of spirits, of severe attacks
of the gout, of sleepless nights, feverish mornings, and heavy days.
He was now, and during the rest of his life, to pay the penalty of a
lettered indolence and studious sloth, of a neglected body and an
over-cultivated mind. The accident, it is said, of seeing a blind
Welsh harper performing on a harp, excited him to finish his "Bard,"
which in MS. appears to have divided the opinion of his friends, as it
still does that of the critics.
In 1758 Gray left Peterhouse, owing to some real or imaginary offence,
and removed to Pembroke Hall, where he was surrounded by his old and
intimate friends. The next year he carried his two Odes to London, as
carefully as if they had been two Epics. Walpole says that he
"snatched them out of Dodsley's hands, and made them 'the first-fruits
of his own press at Strawberry Hill,' where a thousand copies were
printed. When published, they attracted much attention, but did not
gain universal applause. Obscurity was the principal charge brought
against them. Their friends, however, including Warburton, Hurd,
Mason, and Garrick, were vehement in their admiration, and loud in
their encomiums. In this year Colley Cibber, the laureate, died, and
the office was offered to Gray, with the peculiar and highly
honourable condition, that he was to hold it as a sinecure. The poet,
however, refused, on the ground, as he tells Mason, that the office
had 'hitherto humbled its possessor.'"
In 1758, he composed, for his amusement, a "Catalogue of the
Antiquities, Houses, &c., in England and Wales," which was, after his
death, printed and distributed by Mason among his friends.
The next year the British Museum was opened (15th January 1759), and
Gray went to London to read and transcribe the MSS. collected there
from the Harleian and Cottoman libraries. During his residence in the
capital, appeared two odes to "Obscurity" and "Oblivion," in ridicule
of his lyrics, from the pens of Colman and Lloyd, full of spirited
satire, which failed, however, to disturb the poet's equanimity. Like
many fastidious writers, he was more afraid of his own taste, and of
the strictures of good-natured friends, than of the attacks of foes.
In 1762 he applied for the Professorship of Modern History, vacant by
the death of Turner; but it was given to Brochet, the tutor of Sir
In 1765 he took a tour to Scotland, and saw many of its more
interesting points--Stirling, Loch Tay, the Pass of Killierankie, and
Glammis Castle, where he met Beattie. He wrote a very entertaining
account of the journey, in his letters to his friends. He was offered
an LL.D. by the College of Aberdeen; but out of respect to his own
University, declined the honour. In 1767 he added his "Imitations of
Welsh and Norwegian Poetry" to his other productions. Sir Walter Scott
tells us, that when Gray's poems reached the Orkney and Shetland
Isles, and when the "Fatal Sisters" was repeated by a clergyman to
some of the old inhabitants, they remembered having sung it all in its
native language to him years before. In 1768, the Professorship of
Modern History falling again vacant by Mr Brochet's death, the Duke of
Grafton instantly bestowed it on Gray, who, out of gratitude, wrote an
ode on the installation of his patron to the Chancellorship of
Cambridge University. He went from witnessing this ceremony to the
Lakes of Cumberland, and kept an interesting journal of his tour to
that then little known and most enchanting region. In 1770, he visited
Wales; but owing probably to poor health, has left no notes of his
journey. In May the next year, his health became worse, his spirits
more depressed, an incurable cough preyed on his lungs; he resigned
his Professorship, and shortly after removed to London. There he
rallied a little, and returned to Cambridge, where, on the 24th of
July, he was seized with a severe attack of gout in the stomach. Of
this he expired on the 30th, in the 55th year of his age, without any
apparent fear of death. He was buried by the side of his mother, in
the churchyard of Stoke. A monument was erected by Mason to his
memory, in Westminster Abbey.
Gray was a brilliant bookworm. In private he was a quiet, abstracted,
dreaming scholar, although in the company of a few friends he could
become convivial and witty. His heart, however, was always in his
study. His portrait gives you the impression of great fastidiousness,
and almost feminine delicacy of face, as well as of considerable
self-esteem. His face has more of the critic than of the poet. His
learning and accomplishments have been equalled perhaps by no poet
since Milton. He knew the Classics, the Northern Scalds, the Italian
poets and historians, the French novelists, Architecture, Zoology,
Painting, Sculpture, Botany, Music, and Antiquities. But he liked
better, he said, to read than to write. You figure him always lounging
with a volume in his hand, on a sofa, and crying out, "Be mine to read
eternal novels of Marivaux and Crebillon." Against his moral character
there exists no imputation; and notwithstanding a sneering hint of
Walpole's, his religious creed seems to have been orthodox.
With all his learning and genius, he has done little. His letters and
poems remind you of a few scattered leaves, surviving the
conflagration of the Alexandrian library. The very popularity of the
scraps which such a writer leaves, secures the torments of Tantalus to
his numerous admirers in all after ages. His letters, in their grace,
freedom, minuteness of detail, occasional playfulness, delicious
_asides_ of gossip, and easy vigour of description, are more worthy of
his powers, as a whole, than his poetry. The poetic fragments he has
left are rarely of such merit as to excite any wish that they had been
finished. His genius, although true and exquisite, was limited in its
range, and hidebound in its movements. You see his genius, like a
child, always casting a look of terror round on its older companion
and guardian--his taste. Like Campbell, "he often spreads his wings
grandly, but shrinks back timidly to his perch again, and seems afraid
of the shadow of his own fame." Within his own range, however, he is
as strong as he is delicate and refined. His two principal Odes have,
as we hinted, divided much the opinion of critics. Dr Johnson has
assailed them in his worst style of captious and word-catching
criticism. Now, that there is much smoke around their fire, we grant.
But we argue that there is genuine fire amidst their smoke,--first,
from the fact that so many of their lines, such as,
"The bloom of young Desire, and purple light of Love;"
"The terror of his beak, and lightnings of his eye;"
"Their feather-cinctured chiefs, and dusky loves;"
"Sailing with supreme dominion
Through the azure deep of air;"
"Beneath the good how far, but far above the great"
"High-born Hoel's harp, and soft Llewellyn's lay,"
are so often and admiringly quoted; and because, secondly, we can
trace the influence of the "Progress of Poetry," and of the "Bard," on
much of the higher song that has succeeded,--on the poetry of Bowles,
Coleridge, Wordsworth, Campbell, and Shelley. Gray was not a sun
shining in his strength, but he was the morning star, prognosticating
the coming of a warmer and brighter poetic day.
He that can see no merit in the "Ode on the Distant Prospect of Eton
College," can surely never have been a boy. The boy's heart beats in
its every line, and yet all the experiences of boyhood are seen and
shown in the sober light of those
"Years which bring the philosophic mind."
Here lies the complex charm of the poem. The unthinking gaiety of
boyhood, its light sports, its airy gladness, its springy motions, the
"tears forgot as soon as shed," the "sunshine of the breast" of that
delightful period--are contrasted with the still and often sombre
reflection, the grave joys, the carking cares, the stern concentred
passions, the serious pastimes, the spare but sullen and burning
tears, the sad smiles of manhood; and contrasted by one who is
realising both with equal vividness and intensity--because he is in
age a man, and in memory and imagination an Eton schoolboy still. The
breezes of boyhood return and blow on a head on which gray hairs are
beginning "here and there" to whiten; and he cries--
"I feel the gales that from ye blow
A momentary bliss bestow,
As, waving fresh their gladsome wing,
My weary soul they seem to soothe,
And redolent of joy and youth,
To breathe a second spring."
Dr Johnson makes a peculiarly poor and unworthy objection to the next
stanza of the poem. Speaking of the address to the Thames--
"Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
Full many a sprightly race;"
he says, "Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself."
He should have left this objection to those wretched _mechanical_
critics who abound in the present day. He forgot that in his own
"Rasselas" he had invoked the Nile, as the great "Father of waters,"
to tell, if, in any of the provinces through which he rolled, he did
not hear the language of distress. Critics, like liars, should have
His remark that the "Prospect of Eton College" suggests nothing to
Gray which every beholder does not equally think and feel, is, in
reality, a compliment to the simplicity and naturalness of the strain.
Common thought and feeling crystalised, is the staple of much of our
best poetry. Gray says in a poetical way, what every one might have
thought and felt, but no one but he could have so beautifully
expressed. To the spirited translations from the Norse and Welsh, the
only objection urged by Dr Johnson is, that their "language is unlike
the language of other poets"--an objection which would tell still more
powerfully against Milton, Collins, and Young, not to speak of the
"chartered libertines" of our more modern song. But a running growl of
prejudice is heard in every sentence of Gray's Life by Johnson, and
tends far more to injure the critic than the poet.
In his "Elegy written in a Country Churchyard," Gray has caught,
concentred, and turned into a fine essence, the substance of a
thousand meditations among the tombs. One of its highest points of
merit, conceded by Dr Johnson, is essentially the same with which he
had found fault in the "Ode to Eton College." "The poem abounds with
images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which
every bosom returns an echo." Everything is in intense keeping. The
images are few, but striking; the language is severely simple; the
thought is at once obvious and original, at once clear and profound,
and many of the couplets seem carefully and consciously chiselled for
immortality, to become mottoes for every churchyard in the kingdom,
and to "teach the rustic moralist to die," while the country remains
beautiful, and while death continues to inspire fear. And with what
daring felicity of genius does the author introduce, ere the close, a
living but anonymous figure amidst the company of the silent dead, and
contrive to unite the interest of a personal story, the charm of a
mystery, and the solemnity of a moral meditation, into one fine whole!
We know of but one objection of much weight to this exquisite elegy.
There is scarcely the faintest or most faltering allusion to the
doctrine of the resurrection. Death has it all his own way in this
citadel of his power. The poet never points his finger to the distant
horizon, where life and immortality are beginning to colour the clouds
with the promise of the eternal morning. The elegy might almost have
been written by a Pagan. In this point, Beattie, in his "Hermit," has
much the advantage of his friend Gray; for _his_ eye is anointed to
behold a blessed vision, and his voice is strengthened thus to sing--
"On the pale cheek of Death smiles and roses are blending,
And Beauty immortal awakes from the tomb."
Nevertheless, had Gray been known, not for his scholarship, not for
his taste, not for his letters and minor poems, not for his reputed
powers and unrivalled accomplishments, but solely for this elegy--had
only it and his mere name survived, it alone would have entitled him
to rank with Britain's best poets.
* * * * *
I.--ON THE SPRING.
1. Lo! where the rosy-bosom'd Hours,
Fair Venus' train, appear,
Disclose the long-expecting flowers,
And wake the purple year!
The Attic warbler pours her throat
Responsive to the cuckoo's note,
The untaught harmony of Spring:
While, whispering pleasure as they fly,
Cool Zephyrs through the clear blue sky
Their gather'd fragrance fling.
2. Where'er the oak's thick branches stretch
A broader, browner shade.
Where'er the rude and moss-grown beech
O'ercanopies the glade,
Beside some water's rushy brink
With me the Muse shall sit, and think
(At ease reclined in rustic state)
How vain the ardour of the crowd,
How low, how little, are the proud,
How indigent the great!
3. Still is the toiling hand of Care;
The panting herds repose:
Yet hark! how through the peopled air
The busy murmur glows!
The insect youth are on the wing,
Eager to taste the honied spring,
And float amid the liquid noon;
Some lightly o'er the current skim,
Some show their gaily gilded trim,
Quick glancing to the sun.
4. To Contemplation's sober eye,
Such is the race of Man,
And they that creep, and they that fly,
Shall end where they began.
Alike the busy and the gay
But flutter through life's little day,
In Fortune's varying colours dress'd;
Brush'd by the hand of rough Mischance,
Or chill'd by Age, their airy dance
They leave, in dust to rest.
5. Methinks I hear, in accents low,
The sportive kind reply,
Poor Moralist! and what art thou?
A solitary fly!
Thy joys no glittering female meets,
No hive hast thou of hoarded sweets,
No painted plumage to display:
On hasty wings thy youth is flown,
Thy sun is set, thy spring is gone--
We frolic while 'tis May.
* * * * *
II.--ON THE DEATH OF A FAVOURITE CAT,
DROWNED IN A CHINA TUB OF GOLD FISHES.
1. 'Twas on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow,
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.
2. Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw, and purr'd applause.
3. Still had she gazed, but,' midst the tide,
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue,
Through richest purple, to the view
Betray'd a golden gleam.
4. The hapless nymph with wonder saw;
A whisker first, and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretch'd in vain to reach the prize:
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?
5. Presumptuous maid! with looks intent,
Again she stretch'd, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between:
(Maligant Fate sat by and smiled,)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled;
She tumbled headlong in.
6. Eight times emerging from the flood,
She mew'd to every watery god
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr'd,
Nor cruel Tom or Susan heard:
A favourite has no friend!
7. From hence, ye beauties! undeceived,
Know one false step is ne'er retrieved,
And be with caution bold:
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes,
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize,
Nor all that glisters gold.
* * * * *
III--ON A DISTANT PROSPECT OF ETON COLLEGE.
[Greek: Anthropos ikanae profasis eis to dustuchein]
1 Ye distant spires! ye antique towers!
That crown the watery glade
Where grateful Science still adores
Her Henry's (1) holy shade;
And ye that from the stately brow
Of Windsor's heights the expanse below
Of grove, of lawn, of mead survey,
Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowers among
Wanders the hoary Thames along
His silver-winding way:
2 Ah, happy hills! ah, pleasing shade!
Ah, fields beloved in vain!
Where once my careless childhood stray'd,
A stranger yet to pain!
I feel the gales that from ye blow
A momentary bliss bestow,
As, waving fresh their gladsome wing,
My weary soul they seem to soothe,
And, redolent of joy and youth,
To breathe a second spring.
3 Say, father Thames! for thou hast seen
Full many a sprightly race,
Disporting on thy margent green,
The paths of pleasure trace,
Who foremost now delight to cleave
With pliant arm thy glassy wave?
The captive linnet which enthral?
What idle progeny succeed
To chase the rolling circle's speed,
Or urge the flying ball?
4 While some, on earnest business bent,
Their murmuring labours ply,
'Gainst graver hours, that bring constraint,
To sweeten liberty:
Some bold adventurers disdain
The limits of their little reign,
And unknown regions dare descry;
Still as they run they look behind.
They hear a voice in every wind,
And snatch a fearful joy.
5 Gay Hope is theirs, by Fancy fed,
Less pleasing when possess'd;
The tear forgot as soon as shed,
The sunshine of the breast;
Theirs buxom health of rosy hue,
Wild wit, invention ever new,
And lively cheer, of vigour born;
The thoughtless day, the easy night,
The spirits pure, the slumbers light,
That fly the approach of morn.
6 Alas! regardless of their doom,
The little victims play;
No sense have they of ills to come,
Nor care beyond to-day:
Yet see how all around them wait,
The ministers of human fate,
And black Misfortune's baleful train!
Ah! show them where in ambush stand,
To seize their prey, the murderous band!
Ah! tell them they are men!
7 These shall the fury Passions tear,
The vultures of the mind,
Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear,
And Shame that skulks behind;
Or pining Love shall waste their youth,
Or Jealousy, with rankling teeth,
That inly gnaws the secret heart;
And Envy wan, and faded Care,
Grim-visaged, comfortless Despair,
And Sorrow's piercing dart.
8 Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
Then whirl the wretch from high,
To bitter Scorn a sacrifice,
And grinning infamy:
The stings of Falsehood those shall try,
And hard Unkindness' alter'd eye,
That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
And keen Remorse, with blood defiled,
And moody Madness, laughing wild
Amid severest woe.
9 Lo! in the vale of years beneath,
A grisly troop are seen,
The painful family of Death,
More hideous than their queen:
This racks the joints, this fires the veins,
That every labouring sinew strains,
Those in the deeper vitals rage;
Lo! Poverty, to fill the band,
That numbs the soul with icy hand,
And slow-consuming Age.
10 To each his sufferings; all are men
Condemn'd alike to groan;
The tender for another's pain,
The unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate,
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their paradise--
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.
[Footnote: (1) 'Henry:' King Henry VI., founder of the College.]
* * * * *
IV.--HYMN TO ADVERSITY.
Ton phronein brotous odosanta, to pathei mathos
phenta kurios echein.
AESCH. AG. 167.]
1 Daughter of Jove, relentless Power,
Thou tamer of the human breast,
Whose iron scourge and torturing hour
The bad affright, afflict the best!
Bound in thy adamantine chain,
The proud are taught to taste of pain,
And purple tyrants vainly groan
With pangs unfelt before, unpitied and alone.
2 When first thy Sire to send on earth,
Virtue, his darling child, design'd,
To thee he gave the heavenly birth,
And bade to form her infant mind:
Stern rugged nurse! thy rigid lore
With patience many a year she bore;
What sorrow was thou badest her know,
And from her own she learn'd to melt at others' woe.
3 Scared at thy frown, terrific fly
Self-pleasing Folly's idle brood,
Wild Laughter, Noise, and thoughtless Joy,
And leave us leisure to be good.
Light they disperse; and with them go
The summer friend, the flattering foe;
By vain Prosperity received,
To her they vow their truth, and are again believed.
4 Wisdom, in sable garb array'd,
Immersed in rapturous thought profound,
And Melancholy, silent maid!
With leaden eye, that loves the ground,
Still on thy solemn steps attend;
Warm Charity, the general friend,
With Justice, to herself severe,
And Pity, dropping soft the sadly-pleasing tear.
5 Oh! gently on thy suppliant's head,
Dread Goddess! lay thy chastening hand,
Not in thy Gorgon terrors clad,
Nor circled with the vengeful band:
(As by the impious thou art seen),
With thundering voice and threatening mien,
With screaming Horror's funeral cry,
Despair, and fell Disease, and ghastly Poverty.
6 Thy form benign, O Goddess! wear,
Thy milder influence impart,
Thy philosophic train be there,
To soften, not to wound, my heart:
The generous spark extinct revive;
Teach me to love and to forgive;
Exact my own defects to scan;
What others are to feel, and know myself a Man.
* * * * *
V.--THE PROGRESS OF POESY.
ADVERTISEMENT.--When the author first published this and the following
ode, he was advised, even by his friends, to subjoin some few
explanatory notes, but had too much respect for the understanding of
his readers to take that liberty.
Phonanta sunetoisin es
De to pan hermaeneon
PINDAR, _Olymp._ ii.]
Awake, Aeolian lyre! awake,
And give to rapture all thy trembling strings;
From Helicon's harmonious springs
A thousand rills their mazy progress take;
The laughing flowers, that round them blow,
Drink life and fragrance as they flow.
Now the rich stream of music winds along,
Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong,
Through verdant vales and Ceres' golden reign;
Now rolling down the steep amain,
Headlong, impetuous, see it pour;
The rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar.
Oh! Sovereign of the willing soul,
Parent of sweet and solemn-breathing airs,
Enchanting Shell! the sullen Cares
And frantic Passions hear thy soft control.
On Thracia's hills the Lord of War
Has curb'd the fury of his car,
And dropp'd his thirsty lance at thy command:
Perching on the sceptred hand
Of Jove, thy magic lulls the feather'd king
With ruffled plumes and flagging wing:
Quench'd in dark clouds of slumber lie
The terror of his beak and lightnings of his eye.
Thee the voice, the dance obey,
Temper'd to thy warbled lay:
O'er India's velvet green
The rosy-crowned Loves are seen,
On Cytherea's day,
With antic Sports and blue-eyed Pleasures
Frisking light in frolic measures:
Now pursuing, now retreating,
Now in circling troops they meet;
To brisk notes in cadence beating,
Glance their many-twinkling feet.
Slow-melting strains their Queen's approach declare
Where'er she turns, the Graces homage pay;
With arms sublime, that float upon the air,
In gliding state she wins her easy way:
O'er her warm cheek and rising bosom move
The bloom of young Desire and purple light of Love.
Man's feeble race what life await!
Labour and Penury, the racks of Pain,
Disease, and Sorrow's weeping train,
And Death, sad refuge from the storms of Fate!
The fond complaint, my Song! disprove,
And justify the laws of Jove.
Say, has he given in vain the heavenly Muse?
Night and all her sickly dews,
Her spectres wan, and birds of boding cry,
He gives to range the dreary sky,
Till down the eastern cliffs afar
Hyperion's march they spy, and glittering shafts of war.
In climes beyond the Solar road,
Where shaggy forms o'er ice-built mountains roam,
The Muse has broke the twilight-gloom
To cheer the shivering native's dull abode;
And oft beneath the odorous shade
Of Chili's boundless forests laid,
She deigns to hear the savage youth repeat,
In loose numbers, wildly sweet,
Their feather-cinctured chiefs and dusky loves.
Her track, where'er the Goddess roves,
Glory pursue, and generous Shame,
The unconquerable mind, and freedom's holy flame.
Woods that wave o'er Delphi's steep,
Isles that crown the AEgean deep,
Fields that cool Ilissus laves,
Or where Meander's amber waves
In lingering labyrinths creep, I
How do your tuneful echoes languish,
Mute but to the voice of Anguish?
Where each old poetic mountain
Inspiration breathed around;
Every shade and hallow'd fountain
Murmur'd deep a solemn sound,
Till the sad Nine, in Greece's evil hour,
Left their Parnassus for the Latian plains:
Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant Power
And coward Vice, that revels in her chains.
When Latium had her lofty spirit lost,
They sought, O Albion! next thy sea-encircled coast.
Far from the sun and summer-gale,
In thy green lap was Nature's darling laid,
What time, where lucid Avon stray'd,
To him the mighty Mother did unveil
Her awful face; the dauntless child
Stretch'd forth his little arms, and smiled.
This pencil take (she said) whose colours clear
Richly paint the vernal year;
Thine, too, these golden keys, immortal Boy!
This can unlock the gates of Joy,
Of Horror that, and thrilling Pears,
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic Tears.
Nor second He that rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstasy;
The secrets of the abyss to spy,
He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time:
The living throne, the sapphire-blaze,
Where angels tremble while they gaze,
He saw; but, blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.
Behold where Dryden's less presumptuous car
Wide o'er the fields of glory bear
Two coursers of ethereal race,
With necks in thunder clothed and long-resounding pace.
Hark! his hands the lyre explore!
Bright-eyed Fancy, hovering o'er,
Scatters from her pictured urn
Thoughts that breathe and words that burn;
But ah! 'tis heard no more.
O lyre divine! what dying spirit
Wakes thee now? though he inherit
Nor the pride nor ample pinion
That the Theban eagle bear,
Sailing with supreme dominion
Through the azure deep of air,
Yet oft before his infant eyes would run
Such forms as glitter in the Muse's ray
With orient hues, unborrow'd of the sun;
Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way
Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate,
Beneath the good how far--but far above the great.
[Footnote 1: 'Coursers:' the heroic rhymes.]
[Footnote 2: 'Dying spirit:' Cowley.]
[Footnote 3: 'Theban eagle:' Pindar.]
* * * * *
Back to Full Books