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Willi AM Lisle Bowles, of an ancient family in the county of Wilts, was born in the village of King's-Sutton, Northamptonshire—a parish of which his father was vicar—on the 24th of September, 1762. His mother was the daughter of Dr. Richard Grey, chaplain to Nathaniel Crew, Bishop of Durham. The Poet received his early education at Winchester school; and he rose to be the senior boy. He was entered at Trinity College, Oxford, where he obtained the Chancellor's prize for a Latin poem, and where, in 1792, he took his degree. On quitting the University, he entered into holy orders, and was appointed to a curacy in Wiltshire: soon afterwards he was preferred to a living in Gloucestershire; in 1803, he became a prebend of Salisbury; and Archbishop Moore presented him with the rectory of Bremhill, Wilts, where he has since constantly resided,—only now and then visiting the metropolis, -enjoying the country, and its peculiar sources of profitable delight, performing with zeal and industry his parochial duties, and beloved by all who dwell within or approach the happy neighbourhood of his residence.
The sonnets of Bowles, his first publication, appeared in 1793. They were received with considerable applause ; and the writer, if he had obtained no other reward for his labours, would have found ample recompense in the fact, that they contributed to form the taste, and call forth the genius, of Coleridge, whom they “delighted and inspired.” The author of “Christabel” speaks of himself as having been withdrawn from several perilous errors “by the genial influence of a style of poetry, so tender, and yet so manly, -so natural and real, and yet so dignified and harmonious, as the sonnets of Mr. Bowles.” He was not, however, satisfied with expressing, in prose, his sense of obligation, but in poetry poured out his gratitude to his first master in minstrel-lore:
“My heart has thank'd thee, Bowles, for those soft strains,
whose sadness soothes me, like the murmuring
of will becs in the sunny showers of spring.”
In 1805, he published the “Spirit of Discovery by Sea:” it is the longest of his pro. ductions, and is generally considered his best. The most recent of his works is the “Little Villagers' Verse Book,” a collection of hymns that will searcely suffer by comparison with those of Dr. Watts; and which are admirably calculated to answer the benevolent purpose for which they are designed.
Mr. Bowles some years ago attracted considerable attention by his controversy with Byron, on the subject of the writings of Pope. In prefacing an edition of the works of Pope, he advanced certain opinions which went to show that he considered him “no Poet;" and that, according to the “invariable principles" of poetry, the century of fame which had been accorded to the “Essay on Man,” was unmerited. Campbell opened the defence; and Byron stepped forward as a warm, and somewhat angry, advocate. A sort of literary warfare followed; and a host of pamphlets on both sides were rapidly issued. As in all such cases, the question remains precisely where it did. Bowles, however, though he failed in obtaining a victory, and made, we imagine, few converts to his “invariable principles,” manifested during the contest so much judgment and ability, that his reputation as a critic was considerably enhanced.
The poetry of Bowles has not attained a high degree of popularity. He is appreciated more for the purity of his sentiments, than for any loftiness of thought, or richness of fancy. He has never dealt with themes that “stir men's minds;” but has satisfied himself with inculcating lessons of sound morality, and has considered that to lead the heart to virtue is the chiefest duty of the Muse. His style is, as Coleridge described it nearly fifty years ago, “tender, yet manly;” and he has, undoubtedly, brought the accessories of harmonious versification and graceful language to the aid of “right thinking,” and sound judgment. His poems seldom startle or astonish the reader: he does not labour to probe the heart, and depict the more violent passions of human-kind; but he keeps an “even tenor,” and never disappoints or dissatisfies by attempting a higher flight than that which he may safely venture. The main point of his argument against Pope will best exhibit his own character. He considers that from objects sublime or beautiful in themselves, genius will produce more admirable creations than it can from those which are comparatively poor and insignificant: the
topics upon which Mr. Bowles has employed his pen are such, only, as are naturally excellent.
MoUNTAIN no pomp of waving woods hast thou,
That deck with varied shade thy hoary brow;
No sunny meadows at thy feet are spread,
No streamlets sparkle o'er their pebbly bed.
But thou canst boast thy beauties, ample views
That catch the rapt eye of the pausing Muse:
Headlands around new-lighted; sails, and seas
Now glassy smooth, now wrinkling to the breeze;
And when the drizzly winter, wrapt in sleet,
Goes by, and winds and rain thy ramparts beat,
Fancy can see thee standing thus aloof,
And frowning, bleak and bare, and tempest-proof,
Look, as with awful confidence, and brave
The howling hurricane,—the dashing wave;
More graceful when the storm's dark vapours frown,
Than when the summer suns in pomp go down
chant REY'S SLEEPING CHILDREN.
Look at those sleeping children —softly tread,
Lest thou do mar their dream ; and come not nigh
"Till their fond mother, with a kiss, shall cry,
“'Tis morn, awake! awake!” Ah! they are dead!
Yet folded in each other's arms they lie—
So still—oh, look' so still and smilingly;
So breathing and so beautiful they seem
As if to die in youth were to dream
Of spring and flowers l—of flowers ? yet nearer stand,-
There is a lily in one little hand,
Broken, but not faded yet,
As if its cup with tears was wet !
So sleeps that child,—not faded, though in death;
And seeming still to hear her sister's breath,
As when she first did lay her head to rest
Gently on that sister's breast,
And kiss'd her ere she fell asleep!
Th' archangel's trump alone shall wake that slumber deep.
“Take up those flowers that fell
From the dead hand, and sigh a long farewell!
Your spirits rest in bliss —
Yet ere with parting prayers we say
Farewell for ever! to the insensate clay,
Poor maid, those pale lips we will kiss '''
Ah! 'tis cold marble ! Artist, who has wrought
This work of nature, feeling, and of thought,
Thine, Chantrey, be the fame
That joins to immortality thy name.
For these sweet children that so sculptured rest,-
A sister's head upon a sister's breast,-
Age after age shall pass away,
Nor shall their beauty fade, their forms decay :
For here is no corruption,-the cold worm
Can never prey upon that beauteous form:
This smile of death that fades not, shall engage
The deep affections of each distant age
Mothers, till ruin the round world hath rent,
Shall gaze with tears upon the monument'
And fathers sigh, with half suspended breath,
“How sweetly sleep the innocent in death."
RESTORATION OF MALM ESBURY A.B.B.E.Y.
Monastic and time-consecrated fane !
Thou hast put on thy shapely state again,
Almost august, as in thy early day,
Ere ruthless Henry rent thy pomp away.
No more the mass on holidays is sung,
The host high-raised, or fuming censer swung ;
No more, in amice white, the fathers, slow,
With lighted tapers, in long order go;-
Yet the tall window lifts its arched height,
As to admit heaven's pale but purer light;
Those massy-cluster'd columns, whose long rows,
E’en at noon-day, in shadowy pomp repose
Amid the silent sanctity of death,
Like giants, seem to guard the dust beneath :
Those roofs re-echo (though no altars blaze)
The prayer of penitence, the hymn of praise;
Whilst meek Religion's self, as with a smile,
Reprints the tracery of the hoary pile,
Worthy its guest, the temple. What remains 2
Oh, mightiest Master thy immortal strains
These roofs demand. Listen, with prelude slow,
Solemnly sweet, yet full, the organs blow.
And, hark 1 again, heard ye the choral chaunt
Peal through the echoing arches, jubilant?
More softly now, imploring litanies,
Wafted to heaven, and mingling with the sighs
Of penitence, from yon high altar rise :
Again the vaulted roof “ Hosannah” rings—
“Hosannah! Lord of lords, and King of kings"
Rent, but not prostrate, stricken, yet sublime,
Reckless alike of injuries or time;
Thou unsubdued, in silent majesty,
The tempest hast defied, and shalt defy!
The temple of our Sion so shall mock
The muttering storm, the very earthquake's shock,
Founded, O Christ, on thy eternal rock
Come, lovely Evening, with thy smile of peace
Visit my humble dwelling, welcomed in,
Not with loud shouts, and the throng'd city's din,
But with such sounds as bid all tumult cease
Of the sick heart; the grasshopper's faint pipe
Beneath the blades of dewy grass unripe,
The bleat of the lone lamb, the carol rude
Heard indistinctly from the village green,
The bird's last twitter from the hedge-row scene,
Where, just before, the scatter'd crumbs I strew'd,
To pay him for his farewell song, all these
Touch soothingly the troubled ear, and please
The stilly-stirring fancies, though my hours
(For I have droop'd beneath life's early show'rs)
Pass lonely oft, and oft my heart is sad ;
Yet I can leave the world, and feel most glad
To meet thee, Evening, here; here my own hand
Has deck'd with trees and shrubs the slopes around,
And whilst the leaves by dying airs are fann'd,
Sweet to my spirit comes the farewell sound,
That seems to say, “Forget the transient tear
Thy pale youth shed,—repose and peace are here.”
w INTER EVENING, AT HOME.
FAIR moon! that at the chilly day's decline
Of sharp December, through my cottage pane
Dost lovely look, smiling, though in thy wane;
In thought, to scenes, serene and still as thine,
Wanders my heart, whilst I by turns survey
Thee slowly wheeling on thy evening way;
And this my fire, whose dim, unequal light,
Just glimmering, bids each shadowy image fall
Sombrous and strange upon the dark'ning wall,
Ere the clear tapers chase the deep'ning night!
Yet thy still orb, seen through the freezing haze,
Shines calm and clear without; and whilst I gaze
I think—around me in this twilight room—
I but remark mortality's sad gloom;
Whilst hope, and joy, cloudless and soft appear
In the sweet beam that lights thy distant sphere !