WHILE stretch'd at ease beneath thy sylvan shade,
I call the sacred muses to my aid,
Where lavish nature charms the ravish'd sight,
To set her beauties in the fairest light;
Accept the tribute of a grateful heart,
Who loaths the varnish of the courtier's art;
But, were my genius equal to my will,
Thy green retreat should rival Cowper's-hill.
Far from the noisy tumult of the great,
Curs'd with no mean dependance on the state, 10
You,-- to your rural solitude retire,
And shun the follies which the world admire;
With books and exercise the time beguile,
And with a taste improve the stubborn soil,
Where nature and industrious art combine
With social aid each other to refine.
How pleasing is the change? Where lately stood
A desart's wild uncultivated wood,
Where loathsome weeds and rugged brambles grew,
A fair creation rises to the view; 20
So from old Chaos, wrap'd in gloomy night,
A paradise was open'd to the sight.
How vain the toil of rude magnificence,
To level mountains at a vast expence;
Except a taste with equal lustre shine
Throughout, and animate the whole design?
Else stately temples rise in dreary vales,
And ships in verdant trees expand their sails;
Birds, tygers, elephants,-- a motley crew,
While heroes fight, and giants frown in yew; 30
Where art and nature foolishly contend
To frustrate,-- not promote each other's end.
On a small hill a decent fabric stands,
Which gives a bounded prospect o'er the lands;
Where waving fields of golden corn appear,
The smiling product of the fruitful year.
From thence behold a level verdant plain,
Smooth as the surface of a halcyon main:
Then circling walks their leafy shades extend,
Which seem to puzzled strangers without end; 40
Till some new scenes attract the wond'ring eyes,
And with a gay variety surprize.
Swift o'er the plain tho' rapid whirlwinds sweep,
Like sudden tempests o'er the troubled deep;
From the rough northern blast secure you walk,
And scarce a murmur interrupts your talk.
Lest thro' the various windings of the grove
Your footsteps tire, arises an alcove;
There seated, thro' a vista of the wood,
Your wand'ring eye surveys a gentle flood, 50
Where (pleasing sight) the sun's refulgent beam
Glides o'er the surface of the silver stream.
As you thro' various paths the walk pursue,
A hermitage arises to the view;
Not built to vy with Carolina's taste,
Polish'd with art, with learned busto's grac'd;
But unadorn'd, as suits a hermit's state,
Where he might live content, and bless his fate.
While thro' the mazy labyrinth you rove,
The path conducts you to an orange grove, 60
Where golden-colour'd fruit suspend the trees,
And fragrant odours scent the wasting breeze.
Not far beneath, a lucid fountain plays,
Whose stream reflects the sun's departing rays.
To change the scene, yet please with taste polite,
An amphitheatre's majestic height
By slow degrees above the wood ascends,
And a clear prospect all around extends.
When the green hill your winding footsteps gain,
A temple overlooks the distant plain. 70
On a large terras a pavilion stands,†
The curious work of celebrated hands.
Within the dome is elegantly wrought
The pictur'd labour of the artist's thought:
Immortal bards from him new fame receive,
And to the pleas'd spectator seem to live.
First Cowley's image rises to the view,
Who charms with sprightly wit for ever new;
Who weary with the follies of the great,
To study nature sought a calm retreat; 80
And left the busy world to knaves and fools,
In search of happiness by wisdom's rules.
Next Virgil's awful form, in whose strong lines
The Roman genius in full splendor shines;
Whose flowing verses sooth'd Augustus' ear,
And made the fair Octavia drop a tear,
When he bewail'd o'er young Marcellus' tomb,
His country's hope, who perish'd in his bloom.
Great Dryden next, whose lofty genius rose
Above the party-malice of his foes; 90
Who, with a Juvenal's satirick rage,
Lash'd the bold vice of a licentious age;
Who rescu'd Virgil from the shameful brand
Fix'd on him by a vile translator's hand;
And made him in an English dress appear,
Which Virgil living would not blush to wear.
Immortal Shakespear next, whose bosom glow'd
With the full inspiration of the God.
What nature taught, her faithful poet drew,
And open'd all her treasures to our view. 100
Dan. Prior next, a merry bard, succeeds,
Whom scarce a critic without laughter reads.
He tells a merry tale with so much ease,
As cannot fail the splenetic to please:
Yet with what energy his lines rehearse
Great Churchill's triumphs in his sounding verse?
How bless'd his talent! who, with various art,
On every subject captivates the heart.
What numbers can poetic fancy chuse
To paint the vigour of a Milton's muse? 110
Who scorns the bounds of earth, and tow'ring soars
Above the stars, and distant worlds explores;
To foreign climates of his fame we boast;
And mourn the less that paradise was lost.
Next Homer's image rises to the sight,
His eyes like Milton's veil'd in shades of night.
Illustrious bard! for ever in his prime,
Age after age, who triumphs over time.
When Alexander read, the hero wept,
(And laid him by his pillow when he slept) 120
That no such genius in all Greece arose
To sing of conquests o'er his prostrate foes,
And consecrate in verse his glorious name
To late posterity, the boast of fame.
Peculiar beauties to each bard belong,
And Orpheus finishes the tuneful throng:
But hark!--the solemn organ's swelling note
Strikes on the sense, and sooths each troubled thought.
Swift o'er the keys Belinda's fingers move,
While fair Cecilia listens from above. 130
As ancient poets sing, when Orpheus play'd,
The savage beasts forsook the rural shade;
E'en the fierce tyger innocently stood
Close by the lamb, nor drank his vital blood;
And ravish'd with the music of his song
Inanimated forests danc'd along:
But this fair nymph has the peculiar art
To charm the list'ning ear, and touch the heart;
Not brutes, but men, attentive round her stand,
And bless the genius that directs her* hand. 140
A terras walk extends for ever green,
And opens to the sight a various scene.
When the bright sun withdraws his parting rays,
And quenches in the sea his fiery blaze,
There you may walk uncover'd by the trees,
O'er the smooth blade, and catch the cooling breeze.
But, if the scorching dog-star's sultry heat
With beams intense upon your temples beat,
Thro' the wood's shady mazes you return,
Secure from piercing rays, tho' Sirius burn. 150
A palace for the busy race of bees
Arises next, with various art to please,
Which, rugged like the fragment of a rock,
Preserves them from a sudden tempest's shock.
A female regent o'er the state presides,
And with impartial sway her kingdom guides.
Unlike to other courts, here subjects thrive,
Not by vain birth,-- but merit in the hive;
No private lust of gain, or deadly hate,
No rage of party-faction rends the state: 160
Each little insect breathes a patriot soul,
Not for himself he labours,-- but the whole.
To terminate the view where vista's end,
Light statues from their pedestals ascend:
Such the great artist's skill, their limbs appear
In just proportion, and their features clear;
The various passions in their visage glow,
And o'er each lively form a lustre throw.--
But now the fates have chang'd the scene of bliss:
Belinda marry'd equal to Your wish, 170
Of every noble quality possess'd,
To make a parent, or a husband bless'd;
Whose merit will his happiness improve,
To find a fair so worthy of his love:
Where Gibside pours her fragrant sweets around,
We seem to tread upon enchanted ground;
There pendant woods adorn the river's side,
Whose purling streams in gentle murmurs glide:
In the bleak north, What blooming groves appear?
What harmony delights the ravish'd ear? 180
Where elegance and taste with art unite,
To form so fine a scene to charm the sight.
Long may you live these pleasures to enjoy,
Which give true happiness, yet never cloy.
|*I shall here insert the objection an ingenious friend made to this passage, and leave the determination of it to the public, to wit, 'This passage (if I am not mistaken) seems to me to be an Anticlimax; you mentioned before the power of Orpheus's music over beasts and the inanimate creation; and afterwards, when you would commend a lady's execution on the organ, you say she has not power to charm brutes but men; which to me falls infinitely short of the excellency of Orpheus.' -- I think you are mistaken, and that it is paying the lady a greater compliment to say, that she is approved of by men of taste,-- than brutes.
|†Editor's note: Thomas Gilbert's topographical poem seems to be roughly patterned on Gilbert West's much-better-known "Stowe, The Gardens of the Right Honourable Richard Viscount Cobham" (1732; also reprinted in The Genius of the Place, 215-27); West was also the nephew of that garden's owner, Lord Cobham. The precursor of Stowe's "Temple of Virtue," the "Gibbs Building" described in West's poem also honors eight worthies, like Gilbert's pavilion at Paul's Walden; but just two of Gibbs' worthies are poets. An octagon dated 1733 still survives at St. Paul's Waldenbury (many thanks to the Bowes Lyon family for this information), the birthplace of Elizabeth, late Queen Mother of England.