Sensibility: An Epistle to the Honourable Mrs. Boscawen
ACCEPT, BOSCAWEN, these unpolish'd lays,
Nor blame too much the verse you cannot praise.
For you, far other bards have wak'd the string,
Far other bards for you were wont to sing;
5 Yet on the gale their parting music steals,
Yet your charm'd ear the lov'd impression feels
You heard the lyres of LlTTLETON and YOUNG,
And that a Grace, and this a Seraph, strung.
These are no more: but not with these decline
10 The Attic chasteness or the vig'rous line.
Still, sad Elfrida's Poet* shall complain,
Still, either WARTON breathe his classic strain;
While, for the wonders of the Gothic page,
Otranto's fame shall vindicate the age.
15 Nor tremble lest the tuneful art expire,
While BEATTIE strikes anew old SPENSER's lyre;
He best to paint the genuine minstrel knew
Who from himself the living portrait drew.
Though Latian bards had gloried in his name,
20 When in full brightness burnt the Latian flame;
Yet, fir'd with loftier hopes than transient bays,
See LOWTH* despise the meed of mortal praise;
Spurn the cheap wreath by human science won;
Borne on the wing sublime of AMOS' son:
25 He seiz'd the mantle as the prophet flew,
And with his mantle caught his spirit too.
To snatch bright beauty from devouring fate,
And lengthen Nature's transitory date;
At once the Critic's and the Painter's art,
30 With FRESNOY's skill, and GUIDO's grace impart;
To form with code correct the graphic school,
And lawless fancy curb by sober rule;
To show how genius fires, how taste restrains,
While, what both are, his pencil best explains,
35 Have we not REYNOLDS?* lives not JENYNS yet?
To prove his lowliest title was a wit?*
Though purer flames thy hallow'd zeal inspire
Than ere were kindled at the Muse's fire;
Thee, mitred CHESTER!* all the Nine shall boast;
40 And is not JOHNSON ours? himself an host.
Yes, still for you your gentle stars dispense
The charm of friendship and the feast of sense:
Yours is the bliss, and Heav'n no dearer sends,
To call the wisest, brightest, best, your friends.
45 And while to thee I raise the votive line,
O let me grateful own these friends are mine;
With CARTER trace the wit to Athens known,
Or view in MONTAGU that wit our own;
Or mark, well pleas'd, CHAPONE'S instructive page,
50 Intent to raise the morals of the age:
Or boast, in WALSINGHAM, the various power
To cheer the lonely, grace the letter'd hour;
DELANEY, too, is ours; serenely bright;
Wisdom's strong ray, and virtue's milder light:
55 And she who bless'd the friend, and grac'd the lays
Of poignant SWIFT, still gilds our social days;
Long, long, protract thy light, O star benign!
Whose setting beams with milder lustre shine.
Nor BARBAULD, shall my glowing heart refuse
60 Its tribute to thy virtues, or thy Muse:
This humble merit shall at least be mine,
The Poet's chaplet for thy brow to twine;
My verse thy talents to the world shall teach,
And praise the genius it despairs to reach.
65 Yet what is wit, and what the Poet's art ?
Can genius shield the vulnerable heart?
Ah, no! where bright imagination reigns,
The fine-wrought spirit feels acuter pains;
Where glow exalted sense and taste refin'd,
70 There keener anguish rankles in the mind;
There, feeling is diffus'd through every part,
Thrills in each nerve, and lives in all the heart;
And those, whose gen'rous souls each tear would keep
From others' eyes, are born themselves to weep.
75 Can all the boasted powers of wit and song,
Of life one pang remove, one hour prolong?
Fallacious hope! which daily truths deride;
For you, alas! have wept, and Garrick died!
O shades of Hampton! witness, as I mourn,
80 Could wit or song elude your fav'rite's urn?
Though living virtue still your haunts endears,
Yet buried worth shall justify my tears.
Who now with spirit keen, yet judgment cool,
The errors of my orphan Muse shall rule?
85 With keen acumen, how his piercing eye
The fault, conceal'd from vulgar view, would spy;
While with a gen'rous warmth he strove to hide,
Nay, vindicate, the fault his taste had spied.
So pleas'd, could he detect a happy line
90 That he would fancy merit e'en in mine.
His wit so pointed, it ne'er miss'd its end,
And so well temper'd, it ne'er lost a friend;
How his keen eye, quick mind, and ardent heart,
Impov'rish'd nature, and exhausted art.
95 A Muse of fire has sung*, if Muse could trace,
Or verse retrieve, the evanescent grace,
How rival bards with rival statesmen strove,
Who most should gain his praise, or win his love:
Opposing parties to one point he drew,
100 Thus TULLY's Atticus was CAESAR's too.
Tho' Time his mellowing hand across has stole,
Soft'ning the tints of sorrow on the soul,
The deep impression long my heart shall fill,
And ev'ry fainter trace be perfect still.
105 Forgive, my friend, if wounded mem'ry melt,
You best can pardon who have deepest felt.
You, who for Britain's Hero* and your own
The deadliest pang which rends the soul have known;
You, who have found how much the feeling heart
110 Shapes its own wound, and points itself the dart;
You, who are call'd the varied loss to mourn;
You, who have clasp'd a son's untimely urn;
You, who from frequent fond experience feel
The wounds such minds receive an never heal;
115 That grief a thousand entrances can find,
Where parts superior dignify the mind;
Yet would you change that sense acute to gain - -
A dear-bought absence from the poignant pain;
Commuting every grief those feelings give,
120 In loveless, joyless apathy to live?
For though in souls where energies abound,
Pain, through its num'rous avenues, can wound;
Yet the same avenues are open still,
To casual blessings as to casual ill.
125 Nor is the trembling temper more awake
To every wound calamity can make,
Than is the finely-fashion'd nerve alive
To every transport pleasure has to give.
Let not the vulgar read this pensive strain,
130 Their jests the tender anguish would profane.
Yet these some deem the happiest of their kind,
Whose low enjoyments never reach the mind;
Who ne'er a pain but for themselves have known,
Who ne'er have felt a sorrow but their own;
135 Who deem romantic every finer thought
Conceiv'd by pity, or by friendship wrought;
Whose insulated souls ne'er feel the pow'r
Of gen'rous sympathy's ecstatic hour;
Whose disconnected hearts ne'er taste the bliss
140 Extracted from another's happiness;
Who ne'er the high heroic duty know,
For public good the private to forego.
Then wherefore happy? Where's the kindred mind?
Where the large soul which takes in human kind?
145 Yes--'tis the untold sorrow to explain,
To mitigate the but suspected pain;
The rule of holy sympathy to keep,
Joy for the joyful, tears for them that weep:
To these the virtuous half their pleasures owe,
150 Pleasures the selfish are not born to know;
They never know, in all their coarser bliss,
The sacred rapture of a pain like this:
Then take, ye happy vulgar, take your part
Of sordid joy which never touch'd the heart.
155 Benevolence, which seldom stays to choose,
Lest pausing prudence tempt her to refuse;
Friendship, which once determin'd never swerves,
Weighs ere it trusts, but weighs not ere it serves;
And soft-ey'd pity, and forgiveness bland,
160 And melting charity with open hand;
And artless love, believing and believ'd,
And honest confidence which ne'er deceiv'd;
And mercy stretching out ere want can speak,
To wipe the tear which stains affliction's cheek:
165 These ye have never known--then take your part
Of sordid joy, which never touch'd the heart.
You, who have melted in bright glory's flame,
Or felt the grateful breath of well-earn'd fame;
Or you, the chosen agents from above,
170 Whose bounty vindicates Almighty love;
You, who subdue the vain desire of show,
Not to accumulate but to bestow;
You, who the dreary haunts of sorrow seek,
Raise the sunk heart, and flush the fading cheek;
175 You, who divide the joys and share the pains,
When merit triumphs, or oppress'd, complains;
You, who with pensive Petrarch love to mourn,
Or weave the garland for Tibullus' urn;
You, whose touch'd hearts with real sorrows swell,
180 Or feel, when genius paints these sorrows well;
Would you renounce such energies these
For vulgar pleasures or for selfish ease?
Would you, to 'scape the pain, the joy forego,
And miss the transport to avoid the woe?
185 Would you the sense of actual pity lose,
And cease to share the mournings of the Muse?
No, GREVILLE*, no! I Thy song, though steep'd in tears,
Though all thy soul in all thy strain appears;
Yet wouldst thou all thy well-sung anguish choose,
190 And all th' inglorious peace thou begg'st refuse.
And while Discretion all our views should guide,
Beware, lest secret aims and ends she hide;
Though midst the crowd of virtues, 'tis her part,
Like a firm sentinel, to guard the heart;
195 Beware, lest Prudence self become unjust,
Who never was deceiv'd, I would not trust;
Prudence must never be suspicion's slave,
The world's wise man is more than half a knave.
And you, BOSCAWEN, while you fondly melt
200 In raptures none but mothers ever felt;
And as you view, prophetic, in your race,
All LEVISON's sweetness, and all BEAUFORT'S grace;
Yet dread what dangers each lov'd child may share,
The youth, if valiant, or the maid, if fair;
205 You who have felt, so frail is mortal joy!
That, while we clasp the phantom, we destroy;
That perils multiply as blessings flow,
That sorrows grafted on enjoyments grow;
That clouds impending, dim our brightest views,
210 That who have most to love have most to lose:
Yet from these fair possessions would you part,
To shelter from contingent ills your heart ?
Would you forego the objects of your prayer
To save the dangers of a distant care?
215 Renounce the brightness op'ning to your view,
For all the safety dulness ever knew ?
Would you consent to shun the fears you prove,
That they should merit less, or you less love ?
Yet while we claim the sympathy divine,
220 Which makes, O man, the woes of others thine;
While her fair triumphs swell the modish page,
She drives the sterner virtues from the stage;
While FEELING boasts her ever-tearful eye,
Fair truth, firm faith, and manly justice fly:
225 Justice, prime good! from whose prolific law,
All worth, all virtue, their strong essence draw.
Justice, a grace quite obsolete, we hold
The feign'd Astrea of an age of gold:
The sterling attribute we scarcely own,
230 While spurious Candour fills the vacant throne.
Sweet SENSIBILITY! Thou secret pow'r
Who shedd'st thy gifts upon the natal hour,
Like fairy favours; art can never seize,
Nor affectation catch thy pow'r to please:
235 Thy subtle essence still eludes the chains
Of definition, and defeats her pains.
Sweet SENSIBILITY! thou keen delight!
Unprompted moral! sullen sense of light!
Perception exquisite! fair virtue's seed!
240 Thou quick precursor of the lib'ral deed!
Thou hasty conscience! reason's blushing morn!
Instinctive kindness e'er reflection's born!
Prompt sense of equity! to thee belongs
The swift redress of unexamin'd wrongs:
245 Eager to serve, the cause perhaps untried,
But always apt to choose the suff'ring side;
To those who know thee not no words can paint,
And those who know thee, know all words are faint.
She does not feel thy pow'r who boasts thy flame,
250 And rounds her every period with thy name;
Nor she who vents her disproportion'd sighs
With pining Lesbia, when her sparrow dies;
Nor she who melts when hapless Shore expires,
While real mis'ry unreliev'd retires!
255 Who thinks feign'd sorrows all her tears deserve,
And weeps o'er WERTER, while her children starve.
As words are but th' external marks to tell
The fair ideas in the mind that dwell
And only are of things the outward sign,
260 And not the things themselves they but define;
So exclamations, tender tones, fond tears,
And all the graceful drap'ry FEELING wears;
These are her garb, not her, they but express
Her form, her semblance, her appropriate dress;
265 And these fair marks, reluctant I relate,
These lovely symbols may be counterfeit.
There are, who fill with brilliant plaints the page,
If a poor linnet meet the gunner's rage;
There are, who for a dying fawn deplore,
270 As if friend, parent, country, were no more;
Who boast, quick rapture trembling in their eye,
If from the spider's snare they snatch a fly;
There are, whose well-sung plaints each breast inflame,
And break all hearts--but his from whom they came.
275 He, scorning life's low duties to attend,
Writes odes on friendship, while he cheats his friend;
Of gaols and punishments he grieves to hear,
And pensions prison'd virtue with a tear;
While unpaid bills his creditor presents,
280 And ruin'd innocence his crime laments.
Not so the tender moralist of Tweed,
His gen'rous Man of Feeling feels indeed.
O LOVE DIVINE! sole source of Charity!
More dear one genuine deed perform'd for thee,
285 Than all the periods FEELING e'er could turn,
Than all thy touching page, perverted STERNE.
Not that by deeds alone this love's express'd,
If so, the affluent only were the bless'd;
One silent wish, one pray'r, one soothing word,
290 The page of mercy shall, well pleas'd, record;
One soul-felt sigh by pow'rless pity giv'n,
Accepted incense, shall ascend to heav'n.
Since trifles make the sum of human things,
And half our mis'ry from our foibles springs;
295 Since life's best joys consist in peace and ease,
And though but few can serve, yet all may pease:
O let th' ungentle spirit learn from hence,
A small unkindness is a great offence.
To spread large bounties though we wish in vain,
300 Yet all may shun the guilt of giving pain:
To bless mankind with tides of flowing wealth,
With rank to grace them or to crown with health,
Our little lot denies; yet, lib'ral still,
Heav'n gives its counterpoise to every ill;
305 Nor let us murmur at our stinted pow'rs,
When kindness, love, and concord, may be ours.
The gift of minist'ring to others' ease,
To all her sons impartial she decrees;
The gentle offices of patient love,
310 Beyond all flatt'ry, and all price above;
The mild forbearance at a brother's fault,
The angry word suppress'd, the taunting thought;
Subduing and subdu'd, the petty strife,
Which clouds the colour of domestic life;
315 The sober comfort, all the peace which springs
From the large aggregate of little things;
On these small cares of daughter, wife, or friend,
The almost sacred joys of Home depend:
There, SENSIBILITY, thou best may'st reign,
320 HOME is thy true legitimate domain.
A solitary bliss thou ne'er could'st find,
Thy joys with those thou lov'st are intertwin'd;
And he, whose helpful tenderness removes
The rankling thorn which wounds the breast he loves,
325 Smooths not another's rugged path alone,
But clears th' obstruction which impedes his own.
The hint malevolent, the look oblique,
The obvious satire, or implied dislike;
The sneer equivocal, the harsh reply,
330 And all the cruel language of the eye;
The artful injury, whose venom'd dart
Scarce wounds the hearing, while it stabs the heart;
The guarded phrase, whose meaning kills, yet told,
The list'ner wonders how you thought it cold;
335 Small slights, neglect, unmixt perhaps with hate,
Make up in number what they want in weight.
These, and a thousand griefs minute as these,
Corrode our comfort and destroy our ease.
As FEELING tends to good or leans to ill,
340 It gives fresh force to vice or principle;
'Tis not a gift peculiar to the good,
'Tis often but the virtue of the blood:
And what would seem compassion's moral flow,
Is but a circulation swift or slow:
345 But to divert it to its proper course,
There wisdom's pow'r appears, there reason's force:
If, ill directed, it pursue the wrong,
It adds new strength to what before was strong;
Breaks out in wild irregular desires,
350 Disorder'd passions, and illicit fires;
Without deforms the man, depraves within,
And makes the work of GOD the slave of sin.
But if RELIGIONS's bias rule the soul,
Then SENSIBILITY exalts the whole;
355 Sheds its sweet sunshine on the moral part,
Nor wastes on fancy what should warm the heart.
Cold and inert the mental pow'rs would lie,
Without this quick'ning spark of Deity.
To melt the rich materials from the mine,
360 To bid the mass of intellect refine,
To bend the firm, to animate the cold,
And Heav'ns own image stamp on nature's gold;
To give immortal MIND its finest tone,
O SENSIBILITY! is all thy own.
365 This is th' ethereal flame which lights and warms,
In song enchants us, and in action charms.
'Tis this that makes the pensive strains of Gray*
Win to the open heart their easy way;
Makes the touch's spirit glow with kindred fire,
370 When sweet Serena's poet wakes the lyre:
Makes Portland's face it s brightest rapture wear,
When the large bounty smooths the bed of care;
'Tis this that breathes through Sevigne's fair page
That nameless grace which soothes a second age;
375 'Tis this whose charms the soul resistless seize,
And gives Boscawen half her pow'r to please.
Yet why those terrors? Why that anxious care,
Since your last hope* the deathful war Will dare?
Why dread that energy of soul which leads
380 To dang'rous glory by heroic deeds?
Why mourn to view his ardent soul aspire?
You fear the son because you knew the sire.
Hereditary valour you deplore,
And dread, yet wish to find one hero more.
11. MILTON calls EURIPIDES Sad Electra's Poet. 22. Then Bishop of
London. 35. See Sir JOSHUA REYNOLDS's very able notes to DU FRESNOY's
Poem on the Art of Painting, translated by Mr. Mason.--Also, his series
of Discourses to the Academy; which, though written professedly on
the subject of Painting, contain the principles of general art, and are
delivered with so much perspicuous good sense, as to be admirably
calculated to assist in forming the taste of the general reader. 36.Mr.
SOAME JENYNS had just published his work "On the internal Evidence of
the Christian Religion." 39. Afterwards Bishop of London.--See his
admirable Poem on Death. 95. See Mr. SHERIDAN's beautiful Monody. 107.
Admiral BOSCAWEN. 187. See her beautiful Ode to Indifference. 367. This
is meant of the Elegy in a Country Church-Yard, of which exquisite
poem Sensibility is, perhaps, the characteristic beauty. 378.
Viscount FALMOUTH, Admiral BOSCAWEN's only remaining son, was then in
America, and at the battle of Lexington.