A Letter - Poem by Christopher Anstey
A young Lady of neither Fashion, Taste, nor Spirit.
Oft I've invok'd th' Aönian quire,
And Phoebus oft in vain,
Like thee, my friend, to tune my lyre,
Like thee to raise my strain:
And when of late I sought their aid
The flow'ry bank beside,
Methought, along the silent glade,
I heard a voice that cry'd,
``Mistaken maid! why idly waste
``Your hours in fruitless toil?
``You ne'er the hallow'd brook can taste,
``Or tread poetic soil:
``For since your friend pursues the path
``Where wit and pleasure reigns,
``With her has fled each Muse to Bath,
``From these neglected plains:
``There many a bard's inspir'd with song,
``With epigram and ode;
``And one, the meanest of the throng,
``Takes satire's thorny road;
``For him Bath's injur'd genius now
``The hemlock juice prepares,
``And deadly nightshade o'er his brow
``For laurel wreaths he wears:
``Him, like the Thracian bard, shall curse
``Each nymph, each angry dame;
``Tho' far inferior be his verse,
``His hapless fate the same;
``Torn be the wretch, whose impious strains
``Profan'd their beauty's pride,
``No Muse to gather his remains
``That flow down Avon's tide;
``But him shall many a drone pursue
``That hums around the stream;
``Him frantic priests, an insect crew
``That cloud Light's heav'nly beam.
``Then, lest his destiny you share,
``Rash nymph, thy strains give o'er!
``Be warn'd by me, of rhyme beware!''--
The voice was heard no more.
Yet tho' I cease my artless lay,
Nor longer court the Nine,
This faithful tribute will I pay
At friendship's sacred shrine.
Here will I offer incense sweet,
Here light the hallow'd fires:
And oh! with kind acceptance meet
What true regard inspires.
Nor let my friendly verse offend
That poor deluded maid,
Whose faith I ne'er can comprehend,
Or grace in dreams convey'd.
May no such grace my thoughts employ,
Nor I with envy view
Those scenes of dissipated joy,
So well describ'd by you!
Think not a parent's harsh decrees
From me those scenes withhold;
His soft request can ne'er displease
Who ne'er my joys control'd,
But pining years opprest with grief
My tender care demand;
The bed of sickness asks relief
From my supporting hand.
Well do I know, how sorrow preys,
E'er since the hour that gave
The partner of his happier days
To seek the silent grave.
In that sad hour my lips she prest,
Bedew'd with many a tear;
And ``Take,'' she cry'd, ``this last bequest,
``A dying mother's pray'r.
``O let the maxims I convey
``Sink deep into thy breast,
``When I no more direct thy way,
``Retir'd to endless rest.
``Look on thy aged father's woe!
``'Tis thine to sooth his pain;
``With Grace like this, Religion shew,
``And thus her cause maintain.
``Nor is't enough that Grace displays,
``Or Faith her light divine;
``In all thy works, in all thy ways,
``Let heav'nly Virtue shine:
``Q! may the Fountain of all truth
``Each Perfect Gift impart,
``With Innocence protect thy youth,
``With Hope support thy heart!
``So may'st thou learn thyself to know,
``Of all extremes beware,
``Nor find in age thy cup o'erflow
``With shame, remorse, and care:
``Then shall no madmen Light reveal,
``No visionary priest,
``With falsehood, ignorance, and zeal,
``Torment thy peaceful breast:
``Then shall no fears thy soul distress,
``Religion's doubts shall cease;
``Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
``And all her paths are peace.''--
Such were the truths, ere lost in death,
Her parting voice convey'd;
Such may I keep 'till latest breath,
Thou dear lamented shade!--
What tho' no Muse will deign, my friend,
My homely joys to tell;
Tho' Fashion ne'er will condescend
To seek this humble cell;
Yet freedom, peace, and mind serene,
Which modish life disdains,
(Perpetual sweets!) enrich the scene
Where conscious virtue reigns:
Blest scenes! such unrepented joys,
Such true delights ye give,
Remote from fashion, vice, and noise,
Contented let me live.
Now I hope that this letter from young Lady Betty,
Will be reckon'd exceedingly decent and pretty:
That you, my good ladies, who ne'er could endure
A hymn so ineffably vile and impure,
My indelicate Muse will no longer bewail,
Since a sweet little moral is pinn'd to her tail:
If not, as so kindly I'm tutor'd by you,
Pray tell a poor poet what's proper to do.
Why if thou must write, thou hadst better compose
Some novels, or elegant letters in prose.
Take a subject that's grave, with a moral that's good,
Throw in all the temptations that virtue withstood,
In epistles like Pamela's chaste and devout--
A book that my family's never without.--
O! pray let your hero be handsome and young,
Taste, wit, and fine sentiment, flow from his tongue,
His delicate feelings be sure to improve
With passion, with tender soft rapture and love.
Add some incidents too, which I like above measure,
Such as those which I've heard are esteem'd as a treasure
In a book that's intitled--The Woman of Pleasure.
Mix well, and you'll find 'twill a novel produce
Fit for modest young ladies--so keep it for use.
(aside.) Well, ladies, I'll do what I can,
And ye'll bind it, I hope, with your Duty of Man.
--Take a subject that's grave, with a moral that's good!
Thus musing, I wander'd in splenetic mood
Where the languid old Cam rolls his willowy flood.
When lo! beneath the poplar's glimm'ring shade,
Along the stream where trembling oziers play'd,
What time the bat low--flitting skims the ground,
When beetles buz, when gnats are felt around,
And hoarser frogs their am'rous descant sound.
Sweet scenes! that heavenly contemplation give,
And oft in musical description live!
When now the moon's refulgent rays begin
O'er twilight groves to spread their mantle thin,
Sudden arose the awful form of Quin:
A form that bigger than the life appear'd,
And head like Patagonian hero rear'd.
Aghast I stood! when lo! with mild command
And looks of courtesy, he wav'd his hand,
Me to th' embow'ring grove's dark path convey'd,
And thus began the venerable Shade:
``Forth from Elysium's blest abodes I come,
``Regions of joy, where Fate has fix'd my doom:
``Look on my face--I well remember thine:
``Thou knew'st me too, when erst in life's decline
``At Bath I dwelt--there late repos'd mine age,
``And unrepining left this mortal stage:
``Yet do those scenes, once conscious of delight,
``Rejoice my social ghost! there oft by night
``I hold my way:
``And from the mullet, and the sav'ry jole,
``Catch fragrant fumes, that still regale my soul:
``Sweet Bath, which thou these dreary banks along
``Oft makes the subject of thy wayward song.''--
O spare me, blest spirit--
Quit thy vain fears; I come not to accuse
The motley labours of thy mirthful Muse,
For well I ween, if rightly understood,
Thy themes are pleasant, and thy moral good.
Oft have I read the laughter--moving phrase,
And splayfoot measures of thy Simkin's lays,
Nor aught indecent or obscene I find,
That virtue wounds, or taints the virgin's mind:
Beware of that--O! why should I describe
What ills await the caitiff scribbling tribe?
First see the mob who novels lewd dispense,
The bane of virtue, modesty, and sense:
Next that infernal crew, detractors base,
Who pen lampoons; true satire's foul disgrace:
Nor less the punishment in realms below
For those who praise unmerited bestow,
Those pimps in science, who, with dulness bold,
The sacred Muses prostitute for gold:
Those too whom zeal to pious wrath inclines,
Pedantic, proud, polemical divines:
Bad critics last, whom Rhadamanth severe
Chastises first, then condescends to hear:
All, all, in fiery Phlegethon must stay,
Till gall, and ink, and dirt, of scribbling day,
In purifying flames are purg'd away.--
O trust me, blest spirit, I ne'er would offend
One innocent virgin, one virtuous friend:
From nature alone are my characters drawn,
From little Bob Jerom to bishops in lawn:
Sir Boreas Blubber, and such stupid faces,
Are at London, at Bath, and at all public places;
And if to Newmarket I chance to repair,
'Tis odds but I see Captain Cormorant there:
But he who his cash on physicians bestows,
Meets a light little doctor wherever he goes.
'Tis true, such insects as thy tale has shown
Breathe not the atmosphere of Bath alone,
Tho' there, in gaiety's meridian ray,
Vain fools, like flies, their gaudy wings display;
Awhile they flutter, but, their sunshine past,
Their fate, like Simkin, they lament at last.
Worse ills succeed; oft Superstition's gloom
Shed's baneful influence o'er their youthful bloom--
Such Heav'n avert from fair Britannia's plains,
To realms where bigotry and slavery reigns!
No more of that.--But say, thou tim'rous bard,
Claim not the Wines of Bath thy just regard?
Where oft, I ween, the brewer's cauldron flows
With elder's mawkish juice and puck'ring sloes,
Cyder aud hot geneva they combine,
Then call the fatal composition Wine.
By Cerberus I swear, not those vile crews,
Who vend their pois'nous med'cines by the news,
For means of death, air, earth, and seas explore,
Have sent such numbers to the Stygian shore:
Shun thou such base potations; oft I've thought
My span was short'ned by the noxious draught.--
But soft, my friend!--is this the soil, the clime,
That teaches Granta's tuneful sons to rhime?
On me unsavoury vapours seem to fix,
Worse than Cocytus or the pools of Styx;
Inspir'd by fogs of this slow--winding Cam,
O say, does --- presume thy strains to damn?
Heed not that miscreant's tongue; pursue thy ways
Regardless of his censure or his praise.
But if any old lady, knight, priest, or physician,
Should condemn me for printing a second edition,
If good Madam Squintum my work should abuse,
May I venture to give her a smack of my Muse?
By all manner of means: if thou find'st that the case,
Tho' she cant, whine, and pray, never mind her grimace,
Take the mask from her d--mn'd hypocritical face.
Come on then, ye Muses, I'll laugh down my day,
In spite of them all will I carol my lay;
But perish my voice, and untun'd be my lyre,
If my verse one indelicate thought shall inspire:
Ye angels! who watch o'er the slumbering fair,
Protect their sweet dreams, make their virtue your care!
Bear witness, yon moon, the chaste empress of night!
Yon stars, that diffuse the pure heavenly light!
How oft have I mourn'd that such blame should accrue
From one wicked letter of pious Miss Prue!
May this lazy stream, who to Granta bestows
Philosophical slumbers, and learned repose,
To Granta, sweet Granta, (where studious of ease
Seven years did I sleep, and then lost my
May this drowsy current (as oft he is wont)
O'erflow all my hay, may my dogs never hunt,
May those ills to torment me, those curses conspire,
Which so oft plague and crush an unfortunate 'Squire,
Some may'r to cajole me, some lawyer to chowse,
For a seven months seat in the parliament--house,
There to finish my nap for the good of the nation,
'Wake--frank--and be thank'd--by the whole corporation:
Then a poor tenant come, when my cash is all spent,
With a bag--full of tax--bills to pay me his rent;
And O! may some daemon, those plagues to complete,
Give me taste to improve an old family seat
By lawning an hundred good acres of wheat!
Such ills be my portion, and others much worse,
If slander or calumny poison my verse,
If ever my well--behav'd Muse shall appear
Indecently droll, unpolitely severe.
Good ladies, uncensur'd Bath's pleasures pursue,
May the springs of old Bladud your graces renew!
I never shall mingle with gall the pure stream,
But make your examples and virtue my theme:
Nor fear, ye sweet virgins, that aught I shall speak
To call the chaste blush o'er your innocent cheek.
O frown not, if haply your poet once more
Should seek the delightful Avonian shore,
Where oft he the winter's dull season beguiles,
Drinks health, life, and joy from your heavenly smiles.
To the Ghost.
For thee, who to visit these regions of spleen,
Deign'st to quit the sweet vales of perpetual green,
Forsake, happy Shade, this Boeotian air,
Fly hence, to Elysium's pure ether repair,
Rowe, Dryden, and Otway--thy Shakspeare is there:
There Thomson, poor Thomson, ingenuous bard,
Shall equal thy friendship, thy kindness reward,
Thy praise in mellifluous numbers prolong,
Who cherish'd his Muse and gave life to his song.
And O may thy genius, blest spirit, impart
To me the same virtues that glow'd in thy heart,
To me, with thy talents convivial, give
The art to enjoy the short time I shall live;
Give manly, give rational mirth to my soul!
O'er the social sweet joys of the full--flowing bowl!
So ne'er may vile scribblers thy memory stain,
Thy forcible wit may no blockheads profane,
Thy faults be forgotten, thy virtues remain.
Farewell! may the turf where thy cold reliques rest,
Bear herbs, odoriferous herbs o'er thy breast,
Their heads thyme, and sage, and pot--marjoram, wave,
And fat be the gander that feeds on thy grave.
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