English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

Original Text: 
George Gordon, lord Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers; a satire (London: J. Cawthorn, March 1809). B-10 4322 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto). Byron, Works. 17 vols. London: John Murray, 1832-33. PR 4351 M6 1832 ROBA
104Ignoble themes obtain'd mistaken praise,
105When sense and wit with poesy allied,
106No fabl'd graces, flourish'd side by side;
107From the same fount their inspiration drew,
108And, rear'd by taste, bloom'd fairer as they grew.
109Then, in this happy isle, a Pope's pure strain
110Sought the rapt soul to charm, nor sought in vain;
111A polish'd nation's praise aspir'd to claim,
112And rais'd the people's, as the poet's fame.
113Like him great Dryden pour'd the tide of song,
114In stream less smooth, indeed, yet doubly strong.
116For nature then an English audience felt.
117But why these names, or greater still, retrace,
118When all to feebler bards resign their place?
119Yet to such times our lingering looks are cast,
120When taste and reason with those times are past.
121Now look around, and turn each trifling page,
122Survey the precious works that please the age;
123This truth at least let satire's self allow,
124No dearth of bards can be complain'd of now.
125The loaded press beneath her labour groans,
126And printers' devils shake their weary bones;
127While Southey's epics cram the creaking shelves,
130Is new"; yet still from change to change we run:
131What varied wonders tempt us as they pass!
133In turns appear, to make the vulgar stare,
134Till the swoln bubble bursts--and all is air!
135Nor less new schools of Poetry arise,
136Where dull pretenders grapple for the prize:
137O'er taste awhile these pseudo-bards prevail;
138Each country book-club bows the knee to Baal,
139And, hurling lawful genius from the throne,
140Erects a shrine and idol of its own;
141Some leaden calf--but whom it matters not,
143   Behold! in various throngs the scribbling crew,
144For notice eager, pass in long review:
145Each spurs his jaded Pegasus apace,
146And rhyme and blank maintain an equal race;
147Sonnets on sonnets crowd, and ode on ode;
149Immeasurable measures move along;
150For simpering folly loves a varied song,
151To strange mysterious dulness still the friend,
152Admires the strain she cannot comprehend.
153Thus Lays of Minstrels--may they be the last!--
154On half-strung harps whine mournful to the blast.
155While mountain spirits prate to river sprites,
156That dames may listen to the sound at nights;
158Decoy young border-nobles through the wood,
159And skip at every step, Lord knows how high,
160And frighten foolish babes, the Lord knows why;
161While high-born ladies in their magic cell,
162Forbidding knights to read who cannot spell,
163Despatch a courier to a wizard's grave,
164And fight with honest men to shield a knave.
165   Next view in state, proud prancing on his roan,
166The golden-crested haughty Marmion,
167Now forging scrolls, now foremost in the fight,
168Not quite a felon, yet but half a knight,
169The gibbet or the field prepar'd to grace;
170A mighty mixture of the great and base.
171And think'st thou, Scott! by vain conceit perchance,
172On public taste to foist thy stale romance,
174To yield thy muse just half-a-crown per line?
175No! when the sons of song descend to trade,
176Their bays are sear, their former laurels fade.
177Let such forego the poet's sacred name,
178Who rack their brains for lucre, not for fame:
179Still for stern Mammon may they toil in vain!
180And sadly gaze on gold they cannot gain!
181Such be their meed, such still the just reward
182Of prostituted muse and hireling bard!
183For this we spurn Apollo's venal son,
185   These are the themes that claim our plaudits now;
186These are the bards to whom the muse must bow;
187While Milton, Dryden, Pope, alike forgot,
188Resign their hallow'd bays to Walter Scott.
189   The time has been, when yet the muse was young,
191An epic scarce ten centuries could claim,
192While awe-struck nations hail'd the magic name;
193The work of each immortal bard appears
194The single wonder of a thousand years.
195Empires have moulder'd from the face of earth,
196Tongues have expir'd with those who gave them birth,
197Without the glory such a strain can give,
198As even in ruin bids the language live.
199Not so with us, though minor bards, content
200On one great work a life of labour spent:
201With eagle pinion soaring to the skies,
202Behold the ballad-monger Southey rise!
204Whose annual strains, like armies, take the field.
206The scourge of England and the boast of France!
207Though burnt by wicked Bedford for a witch,
208Behold her statue plac'd in glory's niche;
209Her fetters burst, and just releas'd from prison,
210A virgin phoenix from her ashes risen.
211Next see tremendous Thalaba come on,
212Arabia's monstrous, wild and wondrous son:
214More mad magicians than the world e'er knew.
215Immortal hero! all thy foes o'ercome,
218Well wert thou doom'd the last of all thy race!
219Well might triumphant genii bear thee hence,
220Illustrious conqueror of common sense!
221Now, last and greatest, Madoc spreads his sails,
223Tells us strange tales, as other travellers do,
225Oh Southey! Southey! cease thy varied song!
226A bard may chant too often and too long:
227As thou art strong in verse, in mercy, spare!
228A fourth, alas! were more than we could bear.
229But if, in spite of all the world can say,
230Thou still wilt verseward plod thy weary way;
232Thou wilt devote old women to the devil,
233The babe unborn thy dread intent may rue:
234"God help thee," Southey, and thy readers too.
235   Next comes the dull disciple of thy school,
236That mild apostate from poetic rule,
237The simple Wordsworth, framer of a lay
238As soft as evening in his favourite May,
240And quit his books, for fear of growing double";
241Who, both by precept and example, shows
242That prose is verse, and verse is merely prose;
243Convincing all, by demonstration plain,
244Poetic souls delight in prose insane;
245And Christmas stories tortur'd into rhyme
246Contain the essence of the true sublime.
247Thus, when he tells the tale of Betty Foy,
248The idiot mother of "an idiot boy";
249A moon-struck, silly lad, who lost his way,
250And, like his bard, confounded night with day;
251So close on each pathetic part he dwells,
252And each adventure so sublimely tells,
253That all who view the "idiot in his glory"
254Conceive the bard the hero of the story.
255   Shall gentle Coleridge pass unnotic'd here,
256To turgid ode and tumid stanza dear?
257Though themes of innocence amuse him best,
258Yet still obscurity's a welcome guest.
259If Inspiration should her aid refuse
261Yet none in lofty numbers can surpass
262The bard who soars to elegize an ass.
263So well the subject suits his noble mind,
264He brays the laureat of the long-ear'd kind.


103] First published in March 1809, this poem of over a thousand lines is partly a response to the unfavourable review of Byron's Hours of Idleness in the Edinburgh Review of January 1808. The first edition began with this line. Back to Line
115] Otway: tragic dramatist of the Restoration. Back to Line
128] Little's lyrics. Thomas Moore published his early poems under the pseudonym "Thomas Little."
Hot-pressed twelves. After printing, sheets were pressed between cold or hot rollers. Twelves are duodecimo volumes, each sheet being folded to make twelve leaves. Back to Line
129] See Ecclesiastes I: 9. Back to Line
132] Cow-pox: vaccination against small pox, first tried by Edward Jenner in 1796, who set up the National Vaccine Establishment in 1808.
Tractors: according to E. H. Coleridge, metal rods advertised to cure "Red Noses, Gouty Toes, Windy Bowels, Broken Legs, Hump Backs" by an American quack early in the century.
Galvanism: the medical use of electricity.
Gas: laughing gas (nitrous oxide), a stimulant first used by Dr. Beddoes in the late eighteenth century. Back to Line
142] Stott: "Stott, better known in the Morning Post by the name of Hafiz. This person is at present the most profound explorer of the bathos" (Byron's note). Back to Line
148] Tales of terror. A book of this name, written by "Monk" Lewis, with the assistance of Scott and others, was published in 1801. Back to Line
157] Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel (pub. 1805) grew out of the suggestion that he write a ballad on the border legend of Gilpin Horner. Back to Line
173] Murray and Miller were publishers with whom Constable, Byron's publisher, had arranged to share the copyright of Marmion. Back to Line
184] "Good night to Marmion:" "the pathetic and also prophetic exclamation of Henry Blount, Esquire, on the death of honest Marmion" (Byron's note). Back to Line
190] Maro: Virgil. Back to Line
203] Camoëns: Portuguese epic poet, author of the Lusiad (pub. 1572).
Tasso: Italian epic poet, author of Gerusalemme Liberata (pub. 1580). Back to Line
205] Southey's Joan of Arc was first published in 1796, Thalaba in 1801, and Madoc in 1805. Back to Line
213] Domdaniel: "a seminary for evil magicians, under the roots of the sea" (Southey). Back to Line
216] Tom Thumb: the hero of Fielding's farce, The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great. Back to Line
217] Here and in line 225, Byron refers to Southey's irregular, unrhymed verse-forms. Back to Line
222] Cacique: West Indian Prince. #Mexico ... Wales. The first part of Madoc takes place in Wales, the second in Mexico. Back to Line
224] Mandeville's. The very popular fourteenth-century travel book Mandeville's Travels pretended to be an authentic account of exotic marvels. Back to Line
231] "See The Old Woman of Berkeley, a ballad by Mr. Southey, wherein an aged gentlewoman is carried away by Beelzebub on a 'high trotting horse'." (Byron's note). Back to Line
239] See Wordsworth, The Tables Turned, 1-4. Back to Line
260] Refers to Coleridge's early poems Song of the Pixies and Effusion To a Young Ass (in which he calls the ass "brother"). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.480.