Project Canterbury

In re Williams versus Garbett: The Judgment of an Ecclesiastical Court.

Oxford: J. Vincent, 1842.

Puddleton Vicarage,
Dec. 27, 1841.

AT last a thaw has loosed the frozen Rail,
And launched once more the long-expected Mail:
Our crippled Mercury (who daily bears
The burden of our little world’s affairs,
The only links—he and his donkey blind—
That tie our peaceful valley to mankind)
Is always slow; but slower still to-day,
Their walk become a crawl, as well it may:—
How teems the Post-bag! see its sides, as flat
In general as a Biffin, swoll’n with fat,
And bursting now, distended by their freight,
Portending news of argument, and weight.
Prithee, good man, disgorge thy burden quicker—
—And are they every one then for the Vicar?
Parcel, and letter, newspaper, and note,
Each after other asking for his vote,
On that great question now upon the carpet—
The Oxford cause of Williams versus Garbett?

Pamphlets on Pamphlets, Books on Books arise,
Poems, Polemics, Tracts, Reviews, Replies;
Reserve upheld, condemned, and contradicted;
The Church in doubt, triumphant, and afflicted:
Letters from villages, and towns, and cities,
From Curates, Rectors, Chairmen of Committees,
From Pusey, Gilbert, courteously contending,
From Dons grown supplicant and condescending,
From Common-Rooms, and Clubs, and friends and foes,
From busy Confidants whom no one knows.

Newspapers, too,—Whig, Tory, light, and solemn,—
Cramm’d with the contest thro’ each crowded column;
Squibs from all parts; explosions dull and sprightly
From ponderous Ward, and credulous Golightly,
From pompous Palmers, dolefully lamenting
The very strife they are themselves fomenting:
Excited Lords, too,—Ashley’s weightier cannon,
And popguns faint from fidgetty Dungannon.

What must the Vicar do? Consent to plod
Through all this mass of controversial mud?
Or rashly pledge himself for friendship’s sake,
Where good men deem so much to be at stake?
Here may no via media be taken,
To salve his conscience, and yet save his bacon?
Does there no chance for honest men remain
To judge aright, and yet continue sane?

E’en let him try, and cautiously endeavour
The double grounds, that court his vote, to sever:
Awhile let tracts and faith aside be thrown,
Leaving the question to the Muse alone.

His table then be cleared; for this decision
He opens in due form the high commission!
Sermons, avaunt! avaunt, each well-thumb’d aid,
Simeon, and Cooper, Girdlestone, and Slade!
Give Andrewes, Hooker, Newman, to their shelf,
We ask not here an arbiter in Jelf.

Appear, then, Garbett’s friends,—calmly declare:
Why send him forth as champions for the chair?
Does he advance unarm’d against his foes,
Save in the massive strength of Brasenose?
Or has he in himself the arms, the art,
To stand his ground, and singly do his part?
Thy friends bespeak thee well: “By talents fitted,
“Talents of all acknowledged and admitted:
“They count acquirements manifold and sure,
“Through every varied path of Literature:
“They speak the Poetry admir’d and known
“Of many a clime and age besides thine own;
“They boast thy mind most gifted to retain,
“Combine its reading, and produce again,
“Making its thoughtful views to others plain.”
And if this be, ’twere idle to deny
“Thy deep true love of genuine Poetry,”
Or doubt thee, on his word, who scarcely can lie,
“A critic comprehensive, just, and many.”

The Muse in silence leaves all other claims,
And slights thy host of honourable names;
Since of the poetic charms—if truth be told,
And justice still may venture to be bold—
Tutor, Examiner, or Lecturer may be
As perfectly unconscious as a baby.

Turn we to Williams now:—He comes alone,
And asks no chaperon to the empty throne;
No voucher does he need, nor friend to mention
His aims, his talents, learning, and pretension;
He is no humble candidate for fame,
But goodly title-pages vaunt his name;
Not Tracts alone, but Poems long and fair,
His style and Creed-poetical declare;
Forbear we, then, for evidence to look,
Behold! his taste embodied in a book!
Light must be here the Muse’s task, at once
To skim it through, to ponder, and pronounce.

Wondrous mistake! whoever enters here
Must walk in gloom, in trembling, and in fear;
Must brace his mind up stiffly, and expect
On many a shoal and shallow to be wreck’d;
Must learn through many a tiresome knot to hammer,
Nor pause for lack of either sense or grammar;
Here must he come with learning cabalistic,
To spell each symbol shadowy and mystic;
Here must he strive to gain some friendly clue,
The awful labyrinth to bear him through,
To guide his puzzled steps and wand’ring brain,
And land him safely in the light again.

Methinks! these Thoughts in years gone by must date
From Mother Chaos and her gloomy state,
E’er reason dawn’d upon the dismal earth,
E’er light arose, or order had its birth.

Methinks, this dark Cathedral has not known
God’s mercy in the Reformation shewn!
Methinks, the sainted Martyr’s funeral blaze
O’er these dim altars hath not shed its rays;
That still the icy links of error’s chain
These solemn porches in their grasp retain,
And the freed radiance of the dayspring’s light
Breaks not its long and melancholy night.

Who is a Poet? He who can express
The thoughts that many a lab’ring heart oppress;
He who can force the hard and cold to feel
What others, lacking language, must conceal;
He who is skilful to interpret best
The voiceless shades that haunt the burning breast;
He who can strike to song its drooping chords,
And wreak his feelings deep on pleasant words.

Not he who like the Pythoness, relies
On inarticulate and frightful sighs;
Who, struggling on his tripod, raves delirious,
With many a throe convulsive and mysterious,
And sends his downcast worshippers away,
Convinced he means much more than he can say.

Some may there be who love this style obscure,
Whom myst’ries please, and riddles dark allure:
For them let Williams write;—yet were it shame
For thee to gild them, Oxford, with thy name;
To stamp these cabala as worth thy loves,
To rear their altar in thy sunny groves,
And send this Priest to mystify thy schools,
To darken lightness, and bewilder fools.

No;—let them learn that England’s merry lyre
Calls every soul to listen and admire;
Attunes her inspiration glad and free
To small birds’ note, beneath the greenwood tree;
And, as in that famed Pilgrimage of yore,
Cheers both the young and old, the rich and poor,
Nor e’en presumes your choruses to shun,
Ye spinsters free, and knitters in the sun.—

No; let the mystic Poet be rejected;
Better, by half, the critic unconvicted—
He who as yet to choose his path is free,
Unfetter’d by his self-complacency,
Guiltless of mannerism weak and vile,
Addicted to no cramp’d unworthy style.

So for thy Clubs, magnificent Pall-Mall,
The candidate rejected knows too well.
Better to be of nameless, doubtful race,
Unmark’d alike in character and face,
Better as yet to lurk immur’d within
The “dark unfathomed caves of Lincoln’s Inn,
Than to be seen conspicuously drest,
Like Hesperus, bright flaming in the West,
Dazzling Almack’s, astonishing the Park,
Or link’d with Lordlings in their midnight lark.
So will the Bean of Fate more surely glide
Into the Ballot-box’s happier side;
So will the youth obscure from darkness rise,
And shine a hero—in his mother’s eyes.

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