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Poems and Translations

An Essay on Music

Celestial Harmony! thy favour’d haunts
An infant vot’ry[1] traces; ten-fold blest
If to thy banquet rich her artless call
May tempt another guest, to lose with thee
The ling’ring hours; and from thy treasures win
Chaste pleasure’s essence and the balm of care.
Still aid me, Pow’rs of Solitude and Peace,
To Harmony allied!—but chiefly thou
Whose soul she dwells in; thou whose gentle hand
First led my careless footsteps to her shrine;
Thyself her fairest priestess. If my soul
Is in melodious unison attun’d,
Thine be the bliss, my Mother! thine the praise!
Say, Harmony! what favor’d age and clime
Dare boast thy birth? Perhaps like him who came
The minister sublime of hope and peace,
Thy presence first enrich’d a shepherd’s hut;
Some reed, made vocal by his love-skill’d lip,
Taught the rapt ear the miracles of sound.
Next youthful Poesy, thy sister fair,
From thy rude cradle in a shapeless shell,
Call’d thee to flourish in her best-lov’d home,
Proud Corinth, birth-place of a nymph divine,[2]
Her mute, but powerful rival, whose fine touch
Lends to a new creation shape and life.
No more the whispers of one feeble chord [3]
Belied thy vigor; soon the oft-strung lyre
Responsive to the glowing Theban’s call,
Urg’d to sublimer deeds th’ awaken’d soul;
While Love’s sad vot’ry from its softer tones
Won the sweet concords which arrest despair.
The vocal tube[4] grew sacred; and its breath
Join’d the rich incense pour’d to guardian gods.
Then Mirth invok’d thee, Music! then the sage,
When Lesbian roses crown’d his silver brow,
Call’d thee to raise the spirit of delight,
While on his lyre the dove of peace reposed.
Nor seldom, ’midst the chosen heirs of heav’n,
Thy spirit triumph’d; oft the prophet-king
Drew from his golden harp the magic sounds
Which charm to rest the serpents of the soul;
And emulate on earth th’ harmonious choir
Of joyful angels in their Maker’s praise.
Now every clime is Harmony’s abode;
Now the brown savage in the western realm
Of half-discover’d Nature, asks her aid,
In the rude combat of the rites of death.
Tho’ the soft breathings of the dulcet flute,
The shrill-voic’d clarion and love-teaching lyre,
In long-drawn links of melody divine,
Are to his ear unknown, the sable chief,
When the rude concave[5] echoes to his touch,
Feels in his breast the thrill of strange delight,
And worships the divinity of sound.
Amidst the turban’d tyrants of the East,
Where ignorance is bliss, and Science sleeps,
While Nature show’rs her richest gifts in vain,
Thine, Harmony! are priz’d. Thy aid redeems
Degraded Beauty from her bondage base:
When in thy perfum’d bow’rs, sweet Moselläy!
She waves the sparkling cymbal, or directs
The warblings of the many-chorded lyre,
She triumphs, minister of purer bliss,
And the stern tyrant bends before his slave.
Nor is the blest dominion of sweet sounds
Supremer ’midst luxuriant Asia’s lords,
Whose bosoms, fervid as their Parent Sun,
Glow with electric fire, than ’midst the tribes
Of frozen Zembla, where the sullen day
Is but night’s usher, and th’ imprison’d soul
Scarce bursts the bounds of vegetable life.
Behold the tenant of an earth-built hut,
Roof’d with eternal snows! If Music aids
The Runic spell of incantation dire[6],
With upfix’d eyes the panting list’ner sees
Rich visions of delight before him glide;
And while the sun of joy illumes his soul,
Asks not of heav’n the partial pomp of day!
Proud Caledonia! ’mid thy mountains blue
Unnumber’d ages Harmony has dwelt,
Wild as the visions of the gifted see,
But potent as his spell: thy Ossian heard
Her awful voice on Morven’s misty shores,
While round him throng’d the spirits of the dead.
Nor silenc’d was that voice amidst the yells
Of giant Faction, and the storms of war;
Tho’ vainly it essay’d to sooth the pangs
Of royal Beauty on her friendless couch,
Or charm the fiends of murder from their prey[7].
Still ’mid those low-brow’d rocks and glimm’ring dells,
The sweet Enchantress lingers: still she breathes
Her melting whispers thro’ the shepherd’s reed,
As on the broom-clad hill he lies supine,
Wooing the ready ear of her he loves.
Nor sleeps thy harp, Ierne! that proud harp
Coeval with the pride of Cambria’s sons[8],
When in moon-silver’d groves or roofless pile,
They hymn’d the deities of war and death.
Now tho’ on Mona’s steep it rings no more,
Rous’d by the fierce hand of the high-born Bard,
Nor mingles with the choir of Druids hoar;
Still in the rural throng or banner’d hall,
Some aged Carolan, the shepherd’s joy,
Tunes to its sound the oft-remember’d tale
Of lady gay, and chieftain long renown’d,
And warms to mirth or war the list’ning crowd.

 Thine, bright Italia! eldest nurse of arts,
Proud Scotia’s mighty rival, ever thine,
Is Harmony’s best temple. In thy bow’rs,
Elysian bow’rs, eternal summer’s seat!
A native, not a guest, she loves to dwell.
There, like thy syren daughters, she allures
With all the soft varieties of grace,
Till in delicious bliss she steeps the soul.
Long in the flow’ry lap of laughing France
She slept unheeded; only sought or known
In the wild round of Pleasure’s frolic court.
There in gay slav’ry, like the silken throng,
She stoop’d to tinsel toys and antics strange[9].
Yet on the wine-clad banks of rich Garonne,
She flourish’d once: for there romantic Love
(Her sure and skilful ally) taught his slaves
With . soft aid to charm the heart.
And haply like the far-extending blaze
Of Truth and Freedom, from its trance supine,
The soul of Gallic Harmony shall rise,
Strong as their empire, glorious as their flame!—
Like hostile heirs of one luxuriant soil,
Austere Germania vies with polish’d Gaul.
Her’s is the vestal fire of Harmony,
By Science guarded in a pile obscure
Of cumbrous grandeur, and extension vast.
As chaste Religion loves the dim recess
Veil’d by mysterious pomp from vulgar eyes,
Her priestess, sacred Harmony, presides
On the high summit of a barren steep,
With toil attain’d, thro’ many a thorny maze:
But when attain’d, her fav’ring hand unveils
The treasures of a higher world of sound,
Sublime, immense, and boundless as the heav’n,
By blest Religion promis’d to her sons.

 Thy Genius, ALBION! asks not music’s aid
To rouse the patriot’s ardor, or beguile
The silent victims of a tyrant’s sway:
Nor with deceitful ecstasies to warm
The cloister’d mourner. In thy golden fields,
Brown Industry’s delight! no sighing swain
Tells to the languid lute his idol’s pride:
Not with unheeded hymn to saints despis’d
On thy proud waves the busy oar keeps time.
Free, bold, and jocund as they gallant sons,
Thy native Harmony exalts her voice
In the rude chorus of triumphant mirth;
Or thro’ the mellow horn, far echoing round,
Invites the panting hunter; or precedes,
With clang sublime the scarlet sons of war.
But in the rev’rend bow’rs, majestic Cam!
And thine, fair Isis! Harmony assumes
Her garb divine; in proud Augusta’s domes
She sits imperial, and from every clime
Receives its richest tribute, and combines
The well-selected treasures with her own.

 Approach with timid steps, advent’rous Muse!
They sov’reign sister’s temple; in her porch
Strew thy wild roses, and thy flame renew;
Thrice happy if its wand’ring ray may pierce
The sacred shade where Harmony enshrines
Her mystic talisman of bliss supreme!

 To range in order due by lucid laws,
The throng undisciplin’d of nameless sounds,
Guido! the task was thine. As Man divides
In well-proportion’d ranks his social race,
So in the soft society of sounds,
First mark the sacred intervals: their realm
Nine ancient Brothers[10] rule, and scarce admit
Two young intruders, (near allied in birth,
Tho’ far remote in name) to share their state:
Each from the First, (a monarch absolute!)
Derives his office and authority;
Like and ambitious ministe, too near,
Yet still beneath his chief, the Second holds
A place abhorr’d[11], tho’ useful; in his train
Two sycophants attend, and when he falls,
Ascend and triumph with extended powers.
The Third[12], and orator of potent skill,
Prevails by sweetness; he delights to join
In leagues of amity his gentle tribe,
And in his monarch’s glory blends his own.—
Neutral alone, but in alliance strong,
The Fourth stands next; a parasite of pow’r,
He yields his nature to his colleagues’ sway:
And in discordant fractions oft is seen,
Or to the chosen band of Harmony
Lends his imperfect aid. But to the Fifth
She trust the key of power: to him belongs
The treas’ry of her empire and the crown,
The triple crown which marks supremacy.
The Sixth a delegated place assumes,
Due to an elder Brother[13]; to the Seventh,
No higher praise belongs. As sceptred chiefs
Are but the deputies of humble throngs,
In name inferior, but in import great;
So live the proudest of the tuneful tribe[14],
(Tho’ high their tones and measureless their grasp)
Supine dependents on another’s power.—
 Yet is this sov’reign family of sounds
Divided tho’ allied. To Concord, six,
To Discord, three adhere. But as the sun
Rolls with sublimer pomp thro’ fleeting clouds
Than when unspotted azure robes the sky:
And as the painter, when his vent’rous hand
On mimic canvas wakes another sun,
Weds the bold pow’r of Light to sober Shade;
So Discord lends a charm to Concord’s reign.
Transition is our joy; but not abrupt,
Not harsh or unprepared. Let Discord come
Brief as the mild rebuke by Wisdom taught,
If aptly like the silver voice of praise,
Soft Concords follow to withdraw its sting:
But not in long succession. The proud soul,
Requires a banquet various as itself:
The constant presence of delight is pain.

 Like skilful Beauty, studious of her pow’r,
Let the soft Treble shun the jealous Bass;
Nor with too tame servility pursue
His devious steps, nor shape her course alike.
Wise Nature still from opposition draws
Her noblest harmony. Ev’n wedded souls,
When rich Affection heaps her banquet high,
Ask varied aliment; and soon forsake
Familiar joys for shadows unpossess’d.
Bold in its vigor, let the Bass explore
The depths of Science; while with frolic grace,
Its soft associate beautifies its toil:
As manly spirits chuse a daring range,
While feminine enchantments smooth the way.—
 Celestial Harmony, like mortal queens,
Has various moods; of masculine and bold,
She congregates her force in martial pomp,
Tries every path, and summons every aid,
Then sunk in plaintive languour, she assumes
A minor grace; resistless, tho’ unknown
To ancient Greece, where Music’s self was born.
Thus, like the seraph-messenger of heav’n,
By majesty divine, and whispers bland,
She soothes and conquers: thus her laws confirm
Imperial Nature’s edict and produce
From contrasts forceful and mutations soft,
Harmonious order; and to Wisdom’s eye
Yield a rich copy of Creation’s plan.

 Ye favorites of Fate! who in the vale
Of safe domestic Peace, your leisure give
To Music, deity of souls refin’d!
Deem it not needless to determine first
What posture fits the vot’ries of her shrine:
For Grace is Music’s ally; and her charms
Are twin with those which fascinate the ear,
Both link’d to nature—Let the modest head
Preserve its altitude; nor let the eye
Forsake the mystic page, or idly watch
Th’ unerring fingers in their rapid flight.
Conceal their taper points and lightly press
Their iv’ry rivals: nor with bound abrupt,
Distorting grasp, or involution strange,
Affright the gazing eye to charm the ear.
And when those magic fingers sweep the strings,
Of Gallia’s harp or oft Ionia’s lyre,
Let the fine form preserve its waving line:
For Harmony abhors th’ unequal curve,
The angle or the square; but loves to join
Fitness with ease, and negligence with grace.
When gentle Poesy her tribute pays
To aid her sister, let the voice obey
Articulation’s laws, nor basely yield
The poet’s honor to the songster’s pride.
Give sense to sound; and when the soft complaint
Of Love or Sorrow ask congenial aid
From kindred melody, forbear to lose
Chaste Nature’s elegance in lavish art:
Nor, while the far-stretch’d cadence floats in air,
Let slighted Reason wonder and despise.
To long, long undulation and the trill
Drawn o’ver a thousand notes, may tempt applause
When the light verse no sentiment reveals:
But shall chromatic mazes mock the ear
While Dido languishes, or Marmion dies?
Forbid it, Taste!—the hymn of dying saints,
The warrior’s dirge, the patriot-hero’s call
Asks not the aid of meretricious art
To swell its native grandeur, or inspire
With grateful sympathy the gen’rous soul.
Leave to the ministers of Fashion’s court
The vacant pomp and foppery of sound’
As they who barter Nature’s gifts for gold,
Solicit, uncondemn’d, the aid of dress.

 But ye, unpurchas’d vot’ries! when ye raise
Your tuneful voices in the choral lay
Let labour disappear: in speech or song,
Ease is perfection. Teach the fluid tones
To glide unbroken thro’ th’ harmonious maze
By science form’d. Nor let the eye be mute,
Nature’s best orator: if oft its glance
Tells the pure harmony which reigns within,
The list’ning gazer feels new transport seize
The finest nerve; and his consenting heart
Bids admiration ripen to esteem.
But not to lengthen Beauty’s transient reign,
Not to extort the lavish boon of praise,
(Oft venal or reluctant) nor to soothe
The torpid hours of indolence and pride,
Is heaven-born Music’s privilege. Her place,
Her noblest place is in the rich retreat
Of modest Virtue and her sister Peace.
There at the closing hour of busy Day,
When social converse pauses—(if among
Hearts knit with hearts, soft converse finds a pause)
Let Music oft her welcome visit pay,
The sweet resource of leisure! the mild guide
To social bliss, domestic and serene;
Itself her emblem: the concordance sweet,
Of hearts attun’d to gentle unison!
Ah! happiest they who in the downy lap
Of Love, parental Love! repose secure;
And taught by homefelt harmony, delight
To tread the flow’ry path, and win the prize
By tuneful Science to her vot’ries shewn.
Thrice hallow’d if her dulcet pow’r assists
The soft solicitudes of filial care,
And cheers the vigil of reposing Age
With brief but sacred rapture. On the lyre
Touch’d by the duteous hand of grateful love
To sooth a Parent’s ear, a cherub sits
And breathes such magic melody as wafts
The soul of Age to its expected Heav’n!

* * *

And ye, pale victims of remorseless Fate[15],
Who, living, share the darkness of the grave,
Yet asks its rest in vain!—tho’ never more
The smile of Nature, or the dearer smile
Of them ye love shall glad your banish’d sight,
Deem not the fount of bliss for ever clos’d!
A brighter world is open’d to your souls.
To yours Elysian Harmony shall yield
The riches of her Empire—only hers
Can bribe the tyrant Anguish from his prey!
Not Reason’s whispers, nor the precepts cold
Of stern Philosophy, enrich the soul
With such meek peace as when amidst the gloom
Of glory’s last abode, the wand’rer hears
From choirs unseen the distant anthem rise,
Waking ’midst time-worn tombs and mould’ring busts
Responsive echoes——thus ye pass away
Warriors and monarchs! thus to empty air
The far-heard thunders of your pow’r dissolve;
And scarce those trophied arches where ye rest
Prolong the faint and dying note of praise!
Yet not when Beauty and victorious Mirth
Their sparkling banquet seek, is Music’s aid
Unsought to crown the glories of their realm.
Who on thy smiling bank, imperial Thames!
Feels not his soul new-fir’d, when magic Art,
Lends night ten thousand stars; and in her bow’rs
(Another Eden, throng’d with life and joy)
The full tide floats of melody divine?
Is there a heart whose cold and dark recess
Admits it not, when in yon dome august,
Th’ Eternal’s temple, peopled with the forms
Of those who shone his images on earth,
A thousand cherub lips their homage pay
To god-like Charity?—let him whose hope
Then soars not past the narrow bounds of Earth
Still grovel there and perish: let him seek
In sordid dens and labyrinths obscure
The baleful talismans of wealth and pow’r;
Content shall shun him: Peace and Social Love
Shall show’r no roses on his barren path.
Be his “the pangs of solitary care”[16]
Unpitied, unallay’d,; till Envy’s fiends,
Sour-ey’d Detraction and triumphant Hate
Feed on his life and revel round his tomb!
Yet search the record of th’ historic page—
Immortal Harmony! thy vot’ries dwell
’Midst Glory’s first-born heirs: the son of Jove[17]
Whose proud heart sigh’d for other worlds to win,
Found in the heav’n of sound another realm:
And he whose full-orb’d glory shone supreme,
With milder light—the Friend of [18] Humankind,
Deem’d pow’r cold exchange for love and thee!
Thy precepts sway’d him; and his silver tongue
Mild Wisdom’s organ, was thy envied throne.
Thine were the joys of Rome’s imperial sage[19];
While his long dream of life and greatness clos’d
Thy spirit mingled with his parting breath,
When in the east the day of empire dawn’d,
Its might master[20] call’d thee from thy cell
To aid the splendors of Religion’s reign.
Enchantress, triumph still! Britannia’s boast,
The Chief whose thunders rul’d the subject seas,
Bow’d to thy silver chain. In yon proud grave
Still gemm’d with patriot tears, thy vot’ry sleeps—
Wit, Truth and Freedom bid thee join his praise.
Nor pow’rless was thy lyre to him whose soul
The Syren spells of Pleasure never bound,
While with a Sampson’s graps, his dying hand
Shook the high pillars of Ambitions’ throne.
Cheer’d by a new AUGUSTUS’ smile benign
Extend they empire!—half a favor’d age
Has seen the wreath of glory bind his brow.
Now to soft Concord give his sacred eve!—
Thrice happy Albion! even may thy sons,
Beneath the civic robe and blazing crest,
Hide hearts allied in social harmony!
Thus may thy sages and they laurell’d chiefs
Tho’ with keen scythes they arm they conqu’ring car [21],
Still round thy oak the flow’rs of science twine
And swell to heav’n melodious peals of praise.
Then, while undimm’d thy glory’s sun ascends,
The fleeting cloud shall balmy show’rs bestow;
Wisdom and Pow’r their rival tints shall blend,
And spread o’er grateful Earth the Arch of Peace!

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  1. This Essay was begun at ten years of age. The writer’s accidental loss of sight detained it from the press till the third edition had been published. 
  2. The Origin of Painting is ascribed to a Corinthian female. 
  3. The Monochord, soon followed by the Tetrachord: the Theban lyre had ten strings. 
  4. This instrument was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans in all their religious ceremonies. The College of Musicians in Rome enjoyed the highest privileges. Vide Father Catrou’s History of Rome, Page 266. 
  5. An instrument used in Africa, not unlike the Indian Bonjoo and Chinese gong. 
  6. In the north of Europe, especially in Swedish Lapland, Music generally assists sorcery. 
  7. Rizzio, secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots. 
  8. Antiquarians have determined that the Irish harp is of the same date and form as the Welch. Carolan died in 1792. 
  9. Notwithstanding the labours of Lulli, French music has yet no decided character. The Troubadours, or Minstrels, so famous in the 15th century, flourished in Provence. 
  10. All harmonious progressions are derived from Nine Intervals, whose distances are measured from the Prime or leading note. Then, D is the 2d from C; E the 3d, F the 4th, &c. Modern theorists have added the eleventh and thirteenth: but these are merely repetitions of the 4th and 6th, an octave higher. Both are derived from the 7th. 
  11. The 2d and all the chords derived from it by inversion, are Discords. It has generally two accompaniments. 
  12. The 3d is a perfect Concord, and forms the most harmonic relations, especially with the Prime.—The 4th is an imperfect Concord: the 5th, when united with the Prime and 3d, forms the Triad, which is considered the perfection of Harmony. 
  13. The Sixth is an inversion of the Third. 
  14. The Eleventh and Thirteenth. 
  15. The subsequent lines were added during the Authoress’s temporary blindness. 
  16. The words of a late minister. 
  17. Alexander the Great. 
  18. Titus. 
  19. Adrian. 
  20. Constantine the Great, founder of the eastern empire. In his reign, music was first permitted to Christians in their public worship. 
  21. The custom of the ancient Britons.