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[Tribute to a Mother, on her Death.]
For me who feel, whene'er I touch the lyre,
Let the blest art my grateful thoughts employ,
WILLIAM HAYLEY (1745-1820), the biographer of Cowper, wrote various poetical works, which enjoyed great popularity in their day. His principal productions are the Triumphs of Temper (1781), a series of poetical epistles on history, addressed to Gibbon, and Essays on Painting, on Epic Poetry, &c. He produced several unsuccessful tragedies, a novel, and an Essay on Old Maids. A gentleman by education and fortune, and fond of literary communication, Hayley enjoyed the acquaintance of most of the eminent men of his times. His overstrained sensibility and romantic tastes exposed him to ridicule, yet he was an amiable and benevolent man. It was through his personal application to Pitt that Cowper received his pension. He had (what appears to have been to him a sort of melancholy pride and satisfaction) the task of writing epitaphs for most of his friends, including Mrs Unwin and Cowper. His life of Cowper appeared in 1803, and three years afterwards it was enlarged by a supplement. Hayley prepared memoirs of his own life, which he disposed of to a publisher on condition of his receiving an annuity for the remainder of his life. This annuity he enjoyed for twelve years. The memoirs appeared in two fine quarto volumes, but they failed to attract attention. Hayley had outlived his popularity, and his smooth but often unmeaning lines had vanished like chaff before the vigorous and natural outpourings of the modern muse. specimen of this once much-praised poet, we subjoin some lines on the death of his mother, which had the merit of delighting Gibbon, and with which Mr Southey has remarked Cowper would sympathise deeply
And magnify with irritation's zeal,
If heartfelt pain e'er led me to accuse
might he thence receive the happy skill,
Nature, who decked thy form with beauty's flowers,
Inscription on the Tomb of Cowper.
Ye who with warmth the public triumph feel
On the Tomb of Mrs Unwin.
Trusting in God with all her heart and mind,
How snowdrops cold, and blue-eyed harebells blend
DR ERASMUS DARWIN,
DR ERASMUS DARWIN, an ingenious philosophi-Alight, ye beetles, from your airy rings; cal, though fanciful poet, was born at Elston, near Ye painted moths, your gold-eyed plumage furl, Newark, in 1731. Having passed with credit Bow your wide horns, your spiral trunks uncurl; through a course of education at St John's college, Glitter, ye glow-worms, on your mossy beds; Cambridge, he applied himself to the study of Descend, ye spiders, on your lengthened threads; physic, and took his degree of bachelor in medicine Slide here, ye horned snails, with varnished shells; at Edinburgh in 1755. He then commenced prac- Ye bee-nymphs, listen in your waxen cells! tice in Nottingham, but meeting with little encour- This is exquisitely melodious verse, and ingenious agement, he removed to Lichfield, where he long subtle fancy. A few passages have moral sentiment continued a successful and distinguished physician. and human interest united to the same powers of In 1757 Dr Darwin married an accomplished lady vivid painting and expression:of Lichfield, Miss Mary Howard, by whom he had five children, two of whom died in infancy. The lady herself died in 1770; and after her decease, Darwin seems to have commenced his botanical and literary pursuits. He was at first afraid that the reputation of a poet would injure him in his profession, but being firmly established in the latter capacity, he at length ventured on publication. At this time he lived in a picturesque villa in the neighbourhood of Lichfield, furnished with a grotto and fountain, and here he began the formation of a botanic garden. The spot he has described as adapted to love-scenes, and as being thence a proper residence for the modern goddess of botany.' In 1781 appeared the first part of Darwin's Botanic Garden, a poem in glittering and polished heroic verse, designed to describe, adorn, and allegorise the Linnæan system of botany. The Rosicrucian doctrine of gnomes, sylphs, nymphs, and salamanders, was adopted by the poet, as affording a proper machinery for a botanic poem, as it is probable they were originally the names of hieroglyphic figures representing the elements.' The novelty and ingenuity of Darwin's attempt attracted much attention, and rendered him highly popular. the same year the poet was called to attend an aged gentleman, Colonel Sachevell Pole of Radbourne-hall, near Derby. An intimacy was thus formed with Mrs Pole, and the colonel dying, the poetical physician in a few months afterwards, in 1781, married the fair widow, who possessed a jointure of L.600 per annum. Darwin was now released from all prudential fears and restraints as to the cultivation of his poetical talents, and he went on adding to his floral gallery. In 1789 appeared the second part of his poem, containing the Loves of the Plants. Ovid having, he said, transmuted men, women, and even gods and goddesses into trees and flowers, he had undertaken, by similar art, to restore some of them to their original animality, after having remained prisoners so long in their respective vegetable mansions:
From giant oaks, that wave their branches dark
*Linnæus, the celebrated Swedish naturalist, has demonstrated, that all flowers contain families of males or females, or both; and on their marriage, has constructed his invaluable system of botany.-Darwin.
Roll on, ye stars! exult in youthful prime,
In another part of the poem, after describing the
And broke, cursed slavery! thy iron bands.
Hark! heard ye not that piercing cry,
The effect of the whole, however, was artificial, and destitute of any strong or continuous interest. The Rosicrucian machinery of Pope was united to the delineation of human passions and pursuits, and became the auxiliary of wit and satire; but who can sympathise with the loves and metamorphoses of the plants? Darwin had no sentiment or pathos, except in very brief episodical passages, and even his eloquent and splendid versification, for want of variety of cadence, becomes monotonous and fatiguing. There is no repose, no cessation from the glare of his bold images, his compound epithets, and hightoned melody. He had attained to rare perfection in the mechanism of poetry, but wanted those impulses of soul and sense, and that guiding taste which were required to give it vitality, and direct it to its true objects.
[Invocation to the Goddess of Botany.]
[From The Botanic Garden."]
Stay your rude steps! whose throbbing breasts infold
The material images of Darwin are often less happy than the above, being both extravagant and gross, and grouped together without any visible connexion or dependence one on the other. He has such a throng of startling metaphors and descriptions, the latter drawn out to an excessive length and tiresome minuteness, that nothing is left to the reader's imagination, and the whole passes like a glittering pageant before the eye, exciting wonder, but without touching the heart or feelings. As the poet was then past fifty, the exuberance of his fancy, and his peculiar choice of subjects, are the more remarkable. A third part of the Botanic Garden' was added in 1792. Darwin next published his Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life, part of which he had written many years previously. This is a curious and original physiological treatise, evincing an inquiring and attentive study of natural phenomena. Dr Thomas Brown, Professor Dugald Stewart, Paley, and others, have, however, successfully combated the positions But thou whose mind the well-attempered ray of Darwin, particularly his theory which refers in- Of taste and virtue lights with purer day; stinct to sensation. In 1801 our author came forward Whose finer sense with soft vibration owns with another philosophical disquisition, entitled With sweet responsive sympathy of tones; Phytologia, or the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gar-So the fair flower expands its lucid form dening. He also wrote a short treatise on Female To meet the sun, and shuts it to the storm; Education, intended for the instruction and assist- For thee my borders nurse the fragrant wreath, ance of part of his own family. This was Darwin's My fountains murmur, and my zephyrs breathe; last publication. He had always been a remarkably Slow slides the painted snail, the gilded fly temperate man. Indeed he totally abstained from Smooths his fine down, to charm thy curious eye; all fermented and spirituous liquors, and in his On twinkling fins my pearly pinions play, Botanic Garden he compares their effects to that Or win with sinuous train their trackless way; of the Promethean fire. He was, however, subject Form with ingenious bill the pensile nest, My plumy pairs in gay embroidery dressed, to inflammation as well as gout, and a sudden attack To love's sweet notes attune the listening dell, carried him off in his seventy-first year, on the 18th And echo sounds her soft symphonious shell. of April 1802. Shortly after his death was published a poem, The Temple of Nature, which he had ready for the press, the preface to the work being dated only three months before his death. Temple of Nature aimed, like the Botanic Garden, to amuse by bringing distinctly to the imagination the beautiful and sublime images of the operations of nature. It is more metaphysical than its predecessor, and more inverted in style and diction.
And if with thee some hapless maid should stray,
The poetical reputation of Darwin was as bright and transient as the plants and flowers which formed the subject of his verse. Cowper praised his song for its rich embellishments, and said it was as 'strong' as it was learned and sweet.' 'There is a fashion in poetry,' observes Sir Walter Scott, which, without increasing or diminishing the real value of the materials moulded upon it, does wonders in facilitating its currency while it has novelty, and is often found to impede its reception when the mode has passed away. This has been the fate of Darwin. Besides his coterie at Lichfield, the poet of Flora had considerable influence on the poetical taste of his own day. He may be traced in the 'Pleasures of Hope' of Campbell, and in other young poets of that time. The attempt to unite science with the inspirations of the Muse, was in itself an attractive novelty, and he supported it with various and high powers. His command of fancy, of poetical language, dazzling metaphors, and sonorous versification, was well seconded by his curious and multifarious knowledge.
Winds of the north! restrain your icy gales,
Stretched o'er the marshy vale yon willowy mound,
[Destruction of Sennacherib's Army by a Pestilential Wind.]
[From the Economy of Vegetation."]
From Ashur's vales when proud Sennacherib trod,
Loud shrieks of matrons thrilled the troubled air,
[The Belgian Lovers and the Plague.] [From the same.]
[When the plague raged in Holland in 1636, a young girl was seized with it, and was removed to a garden, where her lover, who was betrothed to her, attended her as a nurse. He remained uninfected, and she recovered, and was married to him.]
Thus when the plague, upborne on Belgian air, Looked through the mist, and shook his clotted hair, O'er shrinking nations steered malignant clouds, And rained destruction on the gaping crowds;
The beauteous Ægle felt the envenomed dart, Slow rolled her eye and feebly throbbed her heart; Each fervid sigh seemed shorter than the last, And starting friendship shunned her as she passed. With weak unsteady step the fainting maid Seeks the cold garden's solitary shade, Sinks on the pillowy moss her drooping head, And prints with lifeless limbs her leafy bed. On wings of love her plighted swain pursues, Shades her from winds and shelters her from dews, Extends on tapering poles the canvass roof, Spreads o'er the straw-wove mat the flaxen woof; Sweet buds and blossoms on her bolster strows, And binds his kerchief round her aching brows; Soothes with soft kiss, with tender accents charms, And clasps the bright infection in his arms. With pale and languid smiles the grateful fair Applauds his virtues and rewards his care; Mourns with wet cheek her fair companions fled, On timorous step, or numbered with the dead; Calls to her bosom all its scattered rays, And pours on Thyrsis the collected blaze; Braves the chill night, caressing and caressed, And folds her hero-lover to her breast. Less bold, Leander, at the dusky hour, Eyed, as he swam, the far love-lighted tower; Breasted with struggling arms the tossing wave, And sunk benighted in the watery grave. Less bold, Tobias claimed the nuptial bed, Where seven fond lovers by a fiend had bled; And drove, instructed by his angel guide, The enamoured demon from the fatal bride. Sylphs! while your winnowing pinions fanned the air, And shed gay visions o'er the sleeping pair, And with his keener arrows conquered death. Love round their couch effused his rosy breath,
[Death of Eliza at the Battle of Minden.] [From the Loves of the Plants."]
So stood Eliza on the wood-crowned height,
Oh spare, ye war-hounds, spare their tender age; On me, on me,' she cried, 'exhaust your rage !' Then with weak arms her weeping babes caressed, And, sighing, hid them in her blood-stained vest. From tent to tent the impatient warrior flies, Fear in his heart and frenzy in his eyes;