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8. Its most frequent use in the eighteenth century was the satiric; yet the didactic also claimed it as a method of expression; and as the century proceeded these gave way to the descriptive and finally to the narrative, though both of the primary uses of it in the Queen Anne period, satiric and didactic, continued to tinge them. Even the moralising Miltonist Akenside and the Pindarists Gray and Collins were drawn to it; the former in his satiric attack on Pulteney for his desertion of the opposition to Walpole, Epistle to Curio, afterwards rewritten in stanzas, and in his British Philippic on the Spanish war; the latter, Gray, in his The Alliance of Education and Government, and Collins in some of his Eclogues such as Hassan or The Camel-driver, the one didactic, the other narrative. Gilbert West's Ad Amicos (1740), Lord Lyttelton's Advice to a Lady, Armstrong's Benevolence, and Taste, Byrom's Pastoral, are instances of its power to attract writers of the most varied talents and purposes before the turning point of the century; the occasional poem, society verses, the didactic satire, and the pastoral all chose it as their medium. And whenever a minor poet took up an elaborate task in verse, he was as much inclined to the heroic couplet as to blank verse, as, for example, the Scotchman, John Wilson in his descriptive poem The Clyde (1767), Dr. William Wilkie in his echo of Pope's Homer, The Epigoniad (1757), and William Julius Mickle in his translation of the Lusiad of the Portuguese poet Camoens (1771-1776). There seems indeed to have been a distinct renaissance of the heroic couplet for didactic and narrative purposes in the last quarter of the century, probably due to the influence of Johnson in his Lives of the Poets and to the example of Goldsmith. Not only did Crabbe, Rogers, and Bloomfield adopt it as their chief medium of poetic expression, and Kirke White, Campbell, and Byron prefer it in their earliest attempts, but the imitators and minor schools of poetry, though ever anxious to show themselves abreast of their time by newness of form, resorted to this old-fashioned verse. Its use by William Hayley, the dellacruscan and biographer of Cowper, is perhaps the best proof of its renewed popularity. He wrote most of his much-read didactic poems in it, his poetical essays, Essay on History (1780), Essay on Epic
Poetry (1782), Essay on Old Maids (1785), Essay on Sculpture (1800) and his various "Triumphs," Triumphs of Temper (1781), The Triumph of Music (1804), according to Byron "for ever feeble and for ever tame".
I. But its freshest and most striking use by the minor poets for the didactic and descriptive was in Falconer's Shipwreck (1762) and Dr. Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden. It is a strange thing that so oceanic a nation as Britain should leave her pursuits and conquests on the sea so long unsung. Most of the stories of Elizabethan adventure are told in prose. And it is still stranger that the prosaic, uninspired eighteenth century should begin the task of singing the romance of the sea. Gay's Black-eyed Susan, Glover's Admiral Hosier's Ghost, and the sea-songs of Dibdin alone, would show that there was something exceptional in the age calling out the imaginations of Englishmen towards the sea; the Translation of the Lusiad, and Falconer's Shipwreck, point to the same conclusion. It was the naval victories of the time that stirred the English sea-fancy. Commercial struggle, adventure, and conquest are gradual and unobtrusive; and they remain voiceless till national victories by national ships throw a halo round the everyday pursuit. But it was singular that it was a Scotch sailor in the mercantile marine that first attempted the romance of his calling. William Falconer, the son of an Edinburgh barber, and the butt of his school, took with him to sea a strong taste for classics and Queen Anne poetry; and having been wrecked, in 1750 at eighteen, off Cape Colonna in Greece, he set himself to work up his adventure into a poem. The result of twelve years' polishing was The Shipwreck, first published in 1762. It brought him a post in the navy, and he revised the poem and enlarged it; the new edition (1764) had 900 more lines. After a period on land he went to sea again in 1769, and his ship The Aurora never returned. He had left another revision which was published on his departure. The additions and changes were no improvements; the first version, though marred by all the technicalities of a ship
and ship life, another symptom of the close approach that eighteenth century poetry made to the functions of prose, is full of naiveté and pathos, and less encumbered by the artificialities and the pedantic pseudo-classicisms of the Queen Anne poetry. In the second edition he interwove a strand from the new romance of the time; he introduced a love story and characters in the manner of the fiction that was growing so fashionable. He gives them names from the Gothic stories that were coming into vogue; Albert is the master of the ship, Rodmond the mate, Arion evidently the poet himself, the second mate, and Palemon the passenger whose love for Anna is sandwiched, in the form of story and apostrophe, into the narrative. The first canto describes the characters of these four, and various aspects of nature on the coast of Candia, which the ship leaves on her return home, a calm noon, a magnificent sunset "a sea of living gold", a midnight with a haloed moon; the descriptions are varied by Palemon's love story, Arion's dream, and the picture of the ship as she would appear from the shore. The second describes the voyage from the coast of Candia to that of Greece; they burst a waterspout and catch a dolphin; and then the action begins; the wind rises, the main-sail is split; the ship is driven from her course as the sun sets lowering; four seamen are lost whilst reefing as she dips her yard-arm into the sea; a sea bursts over her and she labours; the crew work at the pumps; the officers consult, and the master addresses them in a style that evidently emulates the speeches of Aeneas in Dryden's Virgil, and would better suit the House of Commons that listened to Burke than the crew of a ship that was driving on a lee shore; there is in the speeches of Albert, Rodmond, and Arion a reminiscence of Pope's translations of the speeches in the councils of the gods in the Iliad. Popian sublimities sound burlesque on eighteenth century sailors' lips; streams of tobacco juice from the ruminated quid were more native to them than such streams of eloquence ;—
Unhappy partners in a wayward fate!
Whose courage now is known perhaps too late;
You who unmoved behold this angry storm,
In conflict all the rolling deep deform ".
And so on for nearly a hundred lines. The end is that they
cut the mizzen-mast and scud before the wind. In the third canto the poet lingers for nearly four hundred lines over the historical glories of the shores upon which they were drifting to death. At line 378 he resumes his subject, addresses the spirits of the storm, and describes with considerable power the incidents of the wreck, the helmsman blinded by lightning, the masts and spars falling, the struggle for life, the parting of the ship, the death of the officers, and the dying scene of Palemon on the beach. The final version is a wonderful medley of old art and new times. The industrial era stirs the poet to the choice of his theme, the Queen Anne period to the choice of his verse; the romantic movement compels him to introduce a love-story; the pseudo-classicism of Dryden and Pope makes him follow the Homeric and Virgilian method, and throw in a long passage of versified classical learning; the learned pedantry of the old scholarship and the technical pedantry of the new era of industry mingle on his pages. We find couplets like these side by side all through the poem ;
"The reef enwrapped, the inserted knittles tied,
The halyards, throat and peak, are next applied".
So the new insight into nature, and love of the picturesque and wild, neighbour the old didacticism, moralisation, and rhetorical sublimities. The poem is worthy of attention, if only for its illustration of both the vanishing and the coming time.
I. So it is with The Botanic Garden, a poem that came almost a generation after The Shipwreck. Its author, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of the great evolutionist of our century, would have repudiated any sympathy or affinity with a satirist who could attack Chatham and all the advocates of freedom and progress so fiercely as Falconer did in The Demagogue (1765); and yet he is as truly conservative in his art; whilst thinking that he surpasses Dryden and Pope in polish, he really returns to the use of
the heroic couplet as it was before these poets took it up; and in the intellectual machinery of the poem he adopts the elaborate allegory of seventeenth century poetry and the belated sylphs and gnomes of The Rape of the Lock. It plainly comes after the Queen Anne poets, and profits by the melody and balance of their couplets; but it often has a stammer or halt in its metre, and as often indulges in imperfect rhymes like "air" and "car", "broad" and "road". Passages in it attain an airy beauty that reminds us of Pope's mock-heroic ;
'Stay thy soft-murmuring waters, gentle rill;
Hush, whispering winds, ye rustling leaves be still;
Ye painted moths, your gold-eyed plumage furl,
Or again in the invocation to the goddess of botany ;—
In noon's bright blaze thy vermeil vest unfold,
But as a rule the similes and pictures are overdrawn and tedious, the other oraments are meretricious, and there is a sense of bathos in the contrast between the prosaic purpose and the pompous verse.
2. It is the spirit of revolutionism in the poem that is most interesting; it was unconscious in Goldsmith and Cowper; it is a deliberate creed in Darwin. For example, in a passage which draws an analogy to a tropical plant, drifted to the Norwegian shore, from the finding of the child Moses amongst the bulrushes, he closes with a denunciation of slavery and an appeal to " Britannia's bands of senators" ending ;
'Hear him, ye senates! hear this truth sublime, He who allows oppression, shares the crime'!" So, in the second canto of the Economy of Vegetation, he welcomes the French Revolution as well as the American, and approves of the risings in Ireland; "Immortal Franklin watched the callow crew" of "tyrant Power", "And stabbed the struggling vampires ere they flew"; the contagion of freedom spread; "hill lighted hill and man electrised