Christopher Anstey

(1724-1805 / England)

Envy, A Poem


Oh! hideous fiend, of form uncouth,
With jaundic'd eye, and canker'd tooth,
Fell Envy, why dost thou profane
The labours of the tuneful train?
Why deem sweet poesie the child
Of airy dreams, and visions wild,
Or why, her votaries the growth
Of wanton ease, and pamper'd sloth?
Why say, that virtue dwells no more
On lost Britannia's hapless shore?
Say, that her youth disdain to wield,
The falchion in the dusty field,
Or guard an injur'd nation's cause,
Her rights, her liberties, and laws?
But turn'd to flat, unmeaning bards,
In sonnets, riddles, and charards,
When discord reigns, and danger calls,
Are piping songs and madrigals?

E'en while the proud, perfidious foe
Spreads terror from the Ohio
Far as the Ganges, and the Indus,--
They're capering in the vales of Pindus?
Or, wrapt in soft Arcadian dreams
Of lovelorn nymphs, and purling streams,
While fortune, fame, and friends expire,
Like Nero tune their wanton lyre?

Why say, that oft with spleen opprest,
And vanity that ne'er can rest,
To Bath's gay scenes for refuge fly,
These vocal sons of luxury?
Not weeting, what an ample field
Their own dear selves for laughter yield,
Employ their all--discerning eyes
In search of Curiosities;
Then as their wayward passions move
Their fickle souls to hate or love,
These enterprising rhime--dispensers
Determine all our praise and censures.

What painter can the likeness draw
Of things he never heard or saw?
Yet, strange! as if by magic fancy,
Or potent charms of necromancy,
Your second sighted Bath--inspectors
Can conjure up a group of pictures,
Where names and characters are painted,
With which they're not the least acquainted;
And each his sufferings, each his share
Of censure or applause must bear;
All destin'd, all condemn'd to chime
In penal strains, and unrelenting rhime.

What though without one grain or symptom
Of taste to guide, or wit to tempt 'em;
And, what exceeds all parts and reading,
Politeness, candour, and good breeding,
Though many a line for satire meant
Perversely runs to compliment,
As often when 'tis meant to flatter,
Turns rebel, and becomes a satire,
Still must these unfledg'd songsters try
On Fame's immortal wings to fly,
By making every soul they meet,
A victim to some pert conceit;
Not e'en historians, and their patrons,
Not decent, unassuming matrons,
Or well--bred nymphs escape a stigma,
In vile acrostic or enigma;
Not e'en--


desunt multa
-- O cease, thou impious hag!
Thou bane of every humorous wag!
Thou scourge of genius! cease to pour
Thy venom on the Muse's lore!
Life, fame, and energy divine
Breathe from their pure, their sacred shrine;
The paths of industry, which you
Would make the British youth pursue,
Or toils that hardy soldiers bear
Are far beneath the poet's care;
Ignoble all, and unrefin'd,
For mean plebeian souls design'd;
The Nine alone, the sacred Nine
Their votaries to Fame consign,
Bear them beyond this mortal date,
And triumph o'er the shafts of Fate.

While Avon laves the sweet retreats,
Where Bladud held his ancient seats,
While Charity's soft bounty flings
New blessings on his healing springs,
Fame shall exalt the poet's lyres,
And Miller, who their notes inspires.

While Dreams, soft echos of the day,
In slumbers hold their airy sway,
While parting friends shall pity move,
Or poets paint the pangs of love,
Such as the sad Eliza knew,
When Yorick took his last adieu,
Her fairest wreath the Muse shall twine,
And, Jerningham, that wreath be thine.

Nor less thro' Fancy's flow'ry way
Ingenious Graves delights to stray;
To him, in verse and friendship join'd,
Shenston his orphan Muse consign'd;
And when, sweet bard, his last he breath'd,
To him his tuneful pipe bequeath'd;
And, right I ween, he knows full well
With tuneful notes that pipe to swell;
Right well he cheers the list'ning swains
That haunt the upland groves or plains;
Avon delights to hear his voice,
And Claverton's high mounts rejoice.

His pleasing, chaste, and classic lines,
Bragge to the laurel'd urn consigns;
Nor let him fear the critic rod,
While Helicon's inspiring God
Gives with the youthful bard to dwell
That Genius he describes so well.

Beauty, in fairest garb array'd,
And every winning smile display'd,
Long shall her favourite nymphs rehearse
In Palmerston's melodious verse.

Grevill in sweet Pierian lore
Gives to the Nine one sister more,
While grateful, as the month she sings,
Wafting soft gales from Zephyr's wings,
She breathes her gently--warbling lays
To beautiful Georgina's praise;
Not with more art, more taste, I ween,
The Graces deck the Cyprian Queen;
Nor less the Muse's wreath shall bloom,
And time encrease its rich perfume;
Ye angels say, who guard the shrine
Of Beauty, and of verse divine,
Can Envy blast, or age impair
A Muse so sweet, a theme so fair?

The learning, wit, and taste of ages,
And spirits of departed sages
All center in the well--ton'd shell
And varied notes of Lutterel;
Not e'en a Guido or a Titian
Could draw his lines with more precision,
Or Fresnoy sing on human phyzzes,
So long so sweet a strain as his is.

What though the keen Arthritis racks
The joints of Sedley and of Drax?
In easy numbers that give birth
To friendly smiles, and social mirth,
The Muse, in pity to their woe,
Hath taught her tuneful sons to flow;
O! Phoebus, if thy healing art
No balmy medicine can impart,
That health, those spirits to repair,
Which each so well deserves to share;
Still shall thy sweet poetic vein
Smile in their verse, and sooth their pain;
And o'er their shining scalps be laid
The ivy crown, that ne'er shall fade.

If fancy, elegance, and ease
In sweetly--flowing verse can please,
The Muse shall keep fresh palms in store
For Digby, Burgess, Hunt, and More;
Harmonious More, who well sustains
The dignity of ancient strains,
In numbers such as Orpheus sung,
Or dwelt on sweet Amphion's tongue.

Nor less to him whose tow'ring Muse
The same exalted theme pursues,
And wrapt in majesty sublime,
Disdains the servile bonds of rhyme,
Shall future bards in grateful song
Their tributary notes prolong,
And many a lisping babe proclaim
The sweet Hardcastle's liquid name.

Anstey, whom mirthful critics give
In farcical conceits to live,
Carols, I ween, his careless lays,
As humour calls, or fancy sways,
Regardless whether swans or geese
Record him as a curious piece.

Fain would the Muse her tribute bring
To all who sip th' Aonian spring,
From those industrious sons of Phoebus,
Who twine the riddle and the rebus,
Acrostics weave, and roundelays,
And make new legs for bouts--rimez,
Up to th'aspiring bards who soar
Aloft in proud Miltonic lore;
I'd sing of grave ecclesiastics
Who neatly frisk in Hudibrastics,
Stern patriots, and modern Catos,
Who, turn'd to soft inamoratos,
In woful elegy complain
Of slighted vows, and cold disdain;
But Phoebus whispers in my ear,
And bids me check the bold career;
Bids me with cautious flight proceed,
And curb the fierce Parnassian steed;
Give him his courage to regain,
And bear him on the foaming rein,
Then with redoubled strength once more
The vast unbounded tract explore,
And make each tuneful nymph and swain
The subject of Pindaric strain;
But neither nymph or swain may dread
Aught rudely, or unkindly said;
No, on the pennons could I soar
That erst the Theban Eagle bore,
I'd waft them from the foul terrene
Of rancour, jealousy, and spleen,
Each spiteful, each invidious lay
Drive to the howling winds away,
Safe in my talons through the air
Fam'd Tully's laurel'd Vase I'd bear,
I'd bear it to the realms above,
Meet present for the throne of Jove;
Take every poet in my flight
Triumphant to the fields of light,
And make his well--gilt page supply
New glories to the radiant sky.

So, when these seats of joy and love,
The hermit Cell, the whispering Grove
Shall hear our mirthful sounds no more,
And this sweet Villa's charms be o'er,
Her sun declin'd, her glories past,--
--The Bard's immortal fame shall last.
Time shall devour the brazen bust,
And marbles crumble into dust;
E'en Bath's high palaces o'erthrow,
Lay Wood's proud architecture low;
Each Doric, each Ionian pillar--
--But guard the sacred Urn of Miller.

To Verse the triumphs of the field,
Heroes and kings to Verse must yield,
To deathless Verse, that far outshines
The silver of Potosi's mines;
That precious bane, that pois'nous ore,
Let misers hoard, and fools adore;
Such shining dross the Poet spurns,
Leaves all such grov'ling base concerns
To pettifoggers, Jews, and factors,
Pimps, gamblers, brokers, and contractors;
He never battens on the stealth
Of public, or of private wealth,
Such as the frugal parent's care
Oft gathers for his spendthrift heir,
Or England tax'd, disgrac'd, forlorn,
Feels from her inmost bowels torn;
Enough for him, that Phoebus fills
His cup from pure Castalian rills,
That when he strikes the trembling strings,
Virtue her fairest guerdon brings,
Folly restrains her thoughtless round
And vice shrinks backward at the sound.--
Go then, ye base, plebeian throngs,
Go, triumph in the Muse's wrongs:
Envy, that preys on living bards,
Gives them in death their just rewards.

E'en me, the meanest of the train,
Who tune this wild advent'rous strain,
If aught of spleen or envious joke
My artless numbers can provoke,
When death shall close my falt'ring tongue,
Cold be my hand, my lyre unstrung,
Me too Detraction may release,
And bid my ashes rest in peace.

And, O! ye chaste, ye beauteous Maids,
Who grace Batheaston's vocal shades!
If, when the friendly Muse beguiles
Life's heavier hours, I steal your smiles,
Smiles, such as genuine joy bespeak,
And mantle in your dimpling cheek,
Haply one myrtle--sprig may bloom,
And join the cypress o'er my tomb;
Time may its fragrant life prolong,
And some kind bard in faithful song
Record the spot where first it grew,
Give the well meaning Muse her due,
And one short sigh escape from you.

Submitted: Thursday, October 07, 2010

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