EPISTLE TO THE Right Honble. the Countess of HERTFORD, AT PERCY LODGE:
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR MDCCXLIV.
1 YOU ask me, madam, if the muse
2 From Colebrooke still my steps pursues:
3 Take then (but first your patience lend)
4 Her story thus from end to end.
5 She, that at Bath, so debonair,
6 Sung gallant Damon and his fair,
7 To beauteous Townsend tun'd her lyre,
8 And did, at Pelham's sight, inspire
9 Strains, that her Lincoln's self forgives
10 (You see the daring poet lives!)
11 She, that at Percy-Lodge so late
12 From morn to night was us'd to prate,[Page 55]
13 Almost impertinent and rude,
14 Unbidden would herself intrude
15 With tale, and epigram, and song,
16 To waft the chearful hours along,
17 Whilst I, o'erjoy'd myself to view
18 Alive, and with my lord and you,
19 Not once could check her merry vein,
20 Her unpremeditated strain,
21 And did, from heedless joy, neglect
22 To greatness every grave respect;
23 This muse, I say, inconstant grown,
24 Forsook me, when I came to town;
25 Friend to my fortune, she withdrew,
26 When I left Percy-Lodge and you.
27 Since then, in vain I ask her aid,
28 In vain her cruelty upbraid;
29 The town, she says, was ne'er her choice;
30 If there she tries to raise her voice,
31 Her strains are to their theme unjust,
32 Or drown'd in noise, or choak'd with dust.
33 Her plea is good. The muse's theme,
34 Like the pure, bright, harmonious stream,
35 Ne'er but in rural channels flows;
36 Cities and bards are endless foes.
37 Resolv'd Parnassus' top to climb,
38 a[Page 56]
a Part of a Verse of Milton's. And there to build the lofty rhyme,
39 I to fam'd Claremont's height aspire,
40 To borrow thence poetic fire,
41 To waft, like Cooper's-Hill, its name
42 On wings of everlasting fame;
43 Or, (if that bold attempt be vain)
44 Your partial ear to entertain.
45 I mount my chaise, the space between,
46 Fancy anticipates the scene,
47 And Vanity, officious maid,
48 Thus offers her self-pleasing aid;
49 "Poor Vanbrugh's plan is out of date,
50 " And Garth but saw its rising state,
51 "His verse with tuneful fable rung,
52 " But left its real charms unsung;
53 "But now, to my transported eyes,
54 " In full maturity will rise
55 "The bowers, the temples, and the groves,
56 " That Kent has plann'd, and Pelham loves.
57 At length, awaken'd from my dream,
58 My eyes behold the real theme,
59 And the gay sketch, that fancy drew,
60 They find more amiably true.
61 On a neat structure now they rest,
62 Where rural plainness is exprest,
63 With harvests stor'd, compact, and warm,
64 And, tho' Palladian, yet a farm,
65 Whence cars, in rustic order drawn,
66 Pass and repass the sloping lawn,[Page 57]
67 While flocks, in fleecy groups around,
68 Or, moving, crop the daisy'd ground,
69 Or, sunk beneath the tufted trees,
70 Turn, languid, to the noontide breeze.
71 The lustier herds, in glare of day,
72 Bask, and imbibe the sunny ray.
73 While these I view, on humid wings
74 The sultry south a tempest brings,
75 Black clouds invest the low'ring skies,
76 And all the beauteous vision flies.
77 Now from the thick-descending rain
78 I drive across the darken'd plain,
79 And leave the lovely scene behind,
80 That just began to charm my mind.
81 How rare does pleasure stand the test!
82 With patience now I arm my breast,
83 And, in a moralizing vein,
84 With thoughts like these my grief restrain:
85 "The skies are clear, when storms are o'er,
86 " Again smooth waves salute the shore,
87 "Each sun but sets to rise again,
88 " And gild with morn the dewy plain;
89 "This hour, perhaps, hope cheats the mind,
90 " The next, an equal joy we find. "
91 Just so; the house a shelter lends,
92 Within I find the best of friends,
93 Spence, whose soft bosom oft has known
94 To make another's woe her own;[Page 58]
95 She now, with hospitable grace,
96 Compassionates my present case,
97 Asks of your health, and hears with joy,
98 How you your growing strength employ
99 In rural cares and exercise;
100 And kind congratulations rise,
101 When on my favourite theme I dwell,
102 And Beauchamp's rising virtues tell.
103 Fondly the vanity I share,
104 And recollect my pleasing care,
105 That, with parental aid combin'd,
106 Founded the structure of his mind:
107 So boastful builders call their own
108 Works, where they laid the first rude stone.
109 The storm subsides, the mount I gain,
110 Thence dart my eyes across the plain.
111 Full swelling to the sight, I found
112 First holy Paul's majestic round,
113 Thro' wide Augusta's smoak; and now
114 Rose lofty Windsor's tow'red brow;
115 Here glitter streams of vulgar names,
116 There slowly winds imperial Thames,
117 On his green banks, in level line,
118 Here spacious Hampton's turrets shine,
119 Whose windows kindling at the ray
120 Of Sol, beam back redoubled day;
121 Towns, villages, and pointed spires,
122 And smoak thick-wreath'd from cottage-fires,[Page 59]
123 And planted villas, intervene,
124 To grace the sweetly-vary'd scene.
125 O'er all my eyes transported range,
126 With every glance the visions change,
127 Till, drawn by beauties nearer home,
128 Along the lovely park I roam,
129 Now skim the walk, descend the glade,
130 Then plunge into the deepest shade.
131 Here flourish sweets in mingled bloom,
132 There (worthy ancient Greece or Rome)
133 Fair temples, opening to the sight,
134 Surprise each turn with new delight;
135 In pleasure lost, I wish to gaze
136 At once a thousand different ways,
137 Awful or pleasing, every part
138 Expands the soul, or glads the heart,
139 Great, open, liberal, unconfin'd,
140 Just emblem of its master's mind,
141 Who knows unequall'd state to shew,
142 Yet, gracious, stoops to all below.
143 Beneath a hill, whose hoary brow
144 Ne'er felt the wound of scythe or plow,
145 (Along whose wild and heathy side
b About that time the crew of the Centurion were expected to pass by from Portsmouth with the prize-money taken from the Acapulca ship. naval heroes ride,
147 When they, with colours wide display'd,
148 That proud Iberia's sons upbraid,[Page 60]
149 In tawny troop, from India's shore,
150 Guard in rough pomp their captive ore)
151 Mid circling waters lies an isle,
152 Whose verdant shores reflected smile
153 With Flora's painted hues; above,
154 Soft-bosom'd in a shady grove,
155 A dome, but half reveal'd to sight,
156 Chequers the boughs with Parian white.
157 If chance from hence at evening fair
158 The rising song soft steals on air,
159 Which to the well-according strings
160 The skillful voice sweet-warbling sings,
161 The passing swain suspended stands,
162 And, wondering, lifts to heaven his hands,
163 Doubts if beneath some leafy spray
164 Soft Philomela pours her lay,
165 Or some blest spirit from above
166 Enchants with harmony the grove;
167 Nor guesses that the tuneful art,
168 Which awes and charms his simple heart,
169 Is hers, whose bounty loves to bless
170 Sad sickening want, and lone distress,
171 And hers the sweet enchanting song,
172 To whom the listening groves belong,
173 And all, that her Newcastle's art
174 In boundless fondness can impart,
175 Each level walk, each shelving glade,
176 Whate'er employs the labourer's spade,[Page 61]
177 Whate'er rewards his patient toil,
178 And makes the barren desert smile.
179 This isle in tempting prospect stands,
180 Thither I stretch my eyes and hands,
181 Eager the farther shore to gain,
182 But stretch my hands and eyes in vain.
183 For hark! the threat'ning winds arise,
184 Again with clouds obscure the skies,
185 And tell my baffled hopes, that this
186 Is an inchanted isle of bliss,
187 Now in near prospect blooming fair,
188 And now involv'd in black despair!
189 My chaise regain'd, I cross the plain,
190 When lo! the sun beams forth again.
191 Hope, gay impostor, points the way,
192 Where, near the road, fair Esher lay;
193 And who at Esher would not stay?
194 I turn'd. Retiring from the town,
195 The noble owner just came down.
196 I saw the gate behind him close,
197 Then murmur'd at this short repose
198 From cares for Britain's safety shewn,
199 Grudg'd his repose, who guards my own!
200 I now pursue my former way,
201 And with my journey ends this day
202 Of hope, and fear, and pain, and pleasure,
203 Of all my other days the measure!
204 Yours a more even tenor know,
205 And scarce perceive an ebb or flow. [Page 62]
206 The cause is plain. To fortune's gale
207 You, cautious, never spread a sail;
208 Safe in your port, content at home,
209 You ne'er for painful pleasure roam,
210 And think it folly, if not sin,
211 One night to sojourn at an inn.
212 Nay, when the Atlas of our state
213 Throws off for you a nation's weight,
214 In courtly terms your ear to greet,
215 And cast himself beneath your feet,
216 You (like Egeria) in your grott
217 Or seek he must, or finds you not.
218 More cautious still, e'en when retir'd,
219 By wits nor censur'd, nor admir'd,
220 You say, (tho' every art your friend)
221 You dare to no one art pretend.
222 Your fear is just. Each state and nation
223 Assigns to woman reputation,
224 While man asserts his wider claim,
225 Jealous proprietor of same.
226 Yet sure, without offence, you may
227 On nature's open leaf display
228 Your harmless unambitious skill,
229 To sink a grott, or slope a hill,
230 A dell with flowers adorn, or lead
231 A winding rill along the mead,
232 Or bid opposing trees be join'd,
233 In hospitable league intwin'd,[Page 63]
234 Without their leave, whose madness dares
235 Rouze human states to cruel wars;
236 Or, if the Bourbon of the air
237 Against your feather'd folk declare
238 Fell war, betake you to th' alliance
239 Of net or gun, and bid defiance
240 To every robber, small or great,
241 That would disturb your calm retreat.
242 O may kind heaven propitious smile
243 On every art that can beguile
244 A son's long absence from your sight,
245 And render back that just delight!
246 From those distracting dire alarms,
247 That set a jarring world in arms,
248 From tainted air's infectious breath,
249 Where flies unseen the dart of death,
250 His steps, ye guardian angels, guide,
251 And turn the fatal shaft aside!
252 Return'd, his parent's bliss to crown,
253 And make, all earth can give, their own,
254 Like Smithson's, may his manly heart
255 Act not the vain, but generous part,
256 Call drooping art from her recess,
257 With health, and ease, and fame to bless!
258 O may, like his, his riper age
259 With caution tread the civil stage,
260 Like him, th' enchanted cup put by,
261 And every vain temptation fly,[Page 64]
262 Of power, or pension, place, or name;
263 If meant state-traps, that sink to shame;
264 Yet his just Prince, without a bribe,
265 Love — more than all the venal tribe!
266 But from these themes I now refrain;
267 Reserv'd to grace a future strain.
268 For I have trespass'd on your time,
269 And see a tedious length of rhyme.
270 What must it then appear to you?
271 Respectful most this short adieu.