Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.
Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 17101775
Thomas Godfrey and Nathaniel Evans
THOMAS GODFREY and Nathaniel Evans were so closely related in friendship and literary labors that it is natural to speak of them together. Both were Philadelphians, and both poets. The former, a son of the philosophical glazier of the same name mentioned in Franklin’s Autobiography, was born December 4, 1736; he died in North Carolina, August 3, 1763, from a fever contracted on a commercial voyage. He had already spent three years in the Southern colony as a purchasing agent, and while there had written a poetical tragedy, The Prince of Parthia, the first important dramatic undertaking made in the Colonies. He wrote also, and published, in the year of his death, The Court of Fancy, a poem, suggested by Chaucer’s House of Fame, and bearing other marks, of imitativeness, yet on the whole giving evidence of distinct poetic powers. His poems were issued with a sketch by his friend Evans in 1767. The latter also, who was born June 8, 1742, was a poet by nature, and had been first a merchant, then a student in the College of Philadelphia, and after ordination in England in 1775, a missionary in New Jersey for the Society for Propagating the Gospel. He died October 29, 1767, his poems appearing five years later with a Memoir by the Rev. Dr. Smith. Like those of Godfrey, the verses of Evans are distinctly immature. They have probably less power than those of the elder victim of adverse fate, but they have in compensation more charm. Godfrey’s Court of Fancy and Evans’s Ode on the Prospect of Peace, 1761, are too long for our pages, and are not to be mutilated without loss, but the second of the selections from Evans will probably leave the reader with a pleasant feeling for both amiable devotees of the Muse.
The Wish.I ONLY ask a moderate fate,And, though not in obscurity,I would not, yet, be placed too high;Between the two extremes I’d be,Not meanly low, nor yet too great,From both contempt and envy free.If no glittering wealth I have,Content of bounteous heaven I crave,For that is moreThan all the Indian’s shining store,To be unto the dust a slave.With heart, my little I will use,Nor let pain my life devour,Or for a griping heir refuseMyself one pleasant hour.No stately edifice to rear;My wish would bound a small retreat,In temperate air, and furnished neat:No ornaments would I prepare,No costly labors of the loomShould e’er adorn my humble room;To gild my roof I naught requireBut the stern Winter’s friendly fire.Free from tumultuous cares and noise,If gracious Heaven my wish would give,While sweet content augments my joys,Thus my remaining hours I’d live.By arts ignoble never rise,The miser’s ill-got wealth despise;But blest my leisure hours I’d spend,The Muse enjoying, and my friend.
Amyntor.LONG had Amyntor free from love remained;The God, enraged to see his power disdained,Bent his best bow, and, aiming at his breastThe fatal shaft, he thus the swain addrest:“Hear me, hear me, senseless rover,—Soon thou now shalt be a lover,Cupid will his power maintain;Haughty Delia shall enslave thee,Thou, who thus insulting brav’st me,Shall, unpitied, drag the chain.”He ceased, and quick he shot the pointed dart;Far short it fell, nor reached Amyntor’s heart;The angry God was filled with vast surprise;Abashed he stood, while thus the swain replies:“Think not, Cupid, vain deceiver,I will own thy power ever,Guarded from thy arts by wine;Haughty Beauty ne’er shall grieve me,Bacchus still shall e’er relieve me,All his rosy joys are mine;All his rosy joys are mine.”
To May.NOW had the beam of Titan gayUshered in the blissful May,Scattering from his pearly bed,Fresh dew on every mountain’s head;Nature mild and debonair,To thee, fair maid, yields up her care.May, with gentle plastic hand,Clothes in flowery robe the land;O’er the vales the cowslip spreads,And eglantine beneath the shades;Violets blue befringe each fountain,Woodbines lace each steepy mountain;Hyacinths their sweets diffuse,And the rose its blush renews;With the rest of Flora’s train,Decking lowly dale or plain.Through creation’s range, sweet May!Nature’s children own thy sway—Whether in the crystal flood,Amorous, sport the finny brood;Or the feathered tribes declareThat they breathe thy genial air,While they warble in each groveSweetest notes of artless love;Or their wound the beasts proclaim,Smitten with a fiercer flame;Or the passions higher rise,Sparing none beneath the skies,But swaying soft the human mindWith feelings of ecstatic kind—Through wide creation’s range, sweet May!All nature’s children own thy sway.Oft will I, (e’er Phosphor’s lightQuits the glimmering skirts of night)Meet thee in the clover field,Where thy beauties thou shalt yieldTo my fancy, quick and warm,Listening to the dawn’s alarm,Sounded loud by Chanticleer,In peals that sharply pierce the ear.And, as Sol his flaming carUrges up the vaulted air,Shunning quick the scorching ray,I will to some covert stray,Coolly bowers or latent dells,Where light-footed Silence dwells,And whispers to my heaven-born dream,Fair Schuylkill, by thy winding stream!There I’ll devote full many an hour,To the still-fingered Morphean power,And entertain my thirsty soulWith draughts from Fancy’s fairy bowl;Or mount her orb of varied hue,And scenes of heaven and earth review.Nor in milder eve’s decline,As the sun forgets to shine,And sloping down the ethereal plain,Plunges in the western main,Will I forbear due strain to payTo the song-inspiring May;But as Hesper ’gins to moveRound the radiant court of Jove,(Leading through the azure skyAll the starry progeny,Emitting prone their silver light,To re-illume the shades of night)Then, the dewy lawn along,I’ll carol forth my grateful song,Viewing with transported eyeThe blazing orbs that roll on high,Beaming lustre, bright and clear,O’er the glowing hemisphere.Thus from the early blushing morn,Till the dappled eve’s return,Will I, in free unlabored lay,Sweetly sing the charming May!
[Poems on Several Occasions. 1772.]
Ode to My Ingenious Friend, Mr. Thomas GodfreyWHILE you, dear Tom, are forced to roam,In search of fortune, far from home,O’er bays, o’er seas and mountains;I too, debarred the soft retreatOf shady groves, and murmur sweetOf silver prattling fountains,Must mingle with the bustling throng,And bear my load of cares along,Like any other sinner:For, where’s the ecstasy in this,To loiter in poetic bliss,And go without a dinner?Flaccus, we know, immortal Bard!With mighty kings and statesmen fared,And lived in cheerful plenty:But now, in these degenerate days,The slight reward of empty praise,Scarce one receives in twenty.Well might the Roman swan, alongThe pleasing Tiber pour his song,When blessed with ease and quiet;Oft did he grace Mæcenas’ board,Who would for him throw by the lord,And in Falernian riot.But dearest Tom! these days are past,And we are in a climate castWhere few the muse can relish;Where all the doctrine now that’s told,Is that a shining heap of goldAlone can man embellish.Then since ’tis thus, my honest friend,If you be wise, my strain attend,And counsel sage adhere to;With me, henceforward, join the crowd,And like the rest proclaim aloud,That money is all virtue!Then may we both, in time, retreatTo some fair villa, sweetly neat,To entertain the muses;And then life’s noise and trouble leave—Supremely blest, we’ll never grieveAt what the world refuses.