Saturday, March 29, 2014


Richard Bentley's Only Poem

James Henry Monk (1784-1856), The Life of Richard Bentley, D.D. (London: C.J.G. & F. Rivington, 1830), pp. 469-471 (anno 1722; footnote and Titley's verses omitted):
About this time Bentley committed to paper a copy of English verses: a sort of composition to which he was adapted neither by nature nor habit; but the reputation of the author, and singularity of the production, styled by Dr. S. Johnson 'the only English verses that he is known to have written,' have transmitted them to posterity. They were occasioned by an imitation of Horace's Ode (iii. 2.) Angustam, amici, pauperiem pati—by Walter Titley, a student of Trinity: this, which was probably a College exercise, so much pleased the Master, that he chose to devote a leisure hour to writing a parody of Titley's stanzas. The lines have been much admired, and the great critic just mentioned pronounced them the 'forcible verses of a man of strong mind, but not accustomed to write verse.' In truth, they rather aspire to the praise of eloquence than poetry; but they claim, at all events, a place in the account of Bentley's life, since, whoever reads them, must perceive that 'our hero' had in his eye his own fortune, and intended to pourtray his own character and career.


Who strives to mount Parnassus' hill,
   And thence poetic laurels bring,
Must first acquire due force and skill,
   Must fly with swan's or eagle's wing.

Who Nature's treasures would explore,
   Her mysteries and arcana know,
Must high as lofty Newton, soar,
   Must stoop as delving Woodward, low.

Who studies ancient laws and rites,
   Tongues, arts and arms, all history,
Must drudge, like Selden, day and night,
   And in the endless labour dye.

Who travels in religious jarrs,
   Truth mix'd with error, shade with rays,
Like Whiston, wanting pyx, and stars,
   In ocean wide or sinks, or strays.

But grant our hero's hope, long toil
   And comprehensive genius crown,
All sciences, all arts his spoil,
   Yet what reward, or what renown?

Envy, innate in vulgar souls,
   Envy steps in and stops his rise;
Envy with poison'd tarnish fouls
   His lustre, and his worth decries.

He lives inglorious or in want,
   To college and old book confin'd;
Instead of learn'd, he's call'd pedant,
   Dunces advanc'd, he's left behind:
Yet left content, a genuine stoic he,
   Great without patron, rich without South-sea.
Rhyme demands "days and nights" in line 11 (so printed by other editors).

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