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Stowe, The Gardens of the Right Honourable Richard Viscount Cobham

by Gilbert West (1732)



Gilbert West wrote the following poem to celebrate the landscape gardens of his uncle, Lord Cobham. As G. B. Clarke notes, this is one of the earliest examples of a topographical poem devoted to the description of an English garden and, in fact, it serves as a versified guide to Stowe. Note that you may follow links to pages on this Web site for present garden features mentioned in the poem.

To Thee, great Master of the vocal String,
O Pope, of Stowe's Elysian Scenes I sing:
That Stowe, which better far thy Muse divine
Commands to live in one distinguished Line.
Yet let not thy superior Skill disdain
The friendly Gift of this Poetic Plan.
The same presiding Muse alike inspires
The Planter's Spirit and the Poet's Fires,
Alike, unless the Muse propitious smile,
Vain is the Planter's, vain the Poet's Toil,
All great, all perfect Works from Genius flow,
The British Iliad hence, and hence the Groves of Stowe.

To guardian Phoebus the first Strains belong,
(And may th' auspicious Omen bless the Song)
To Phoebus, and th' attendant Virgin Train,
That o'er each Verse, each learned Science reign,
And round embellishing the gay Parterre,
Unite their sacred Influences here.
Here Congreve, welcome Guest, oft chear'd the Days,
With friendly Converse, or poetic Lays.
Here Lyttleton oft spreads his growing Wing,
Delighted in these Shades to rove and sing.
And Thou, where Thames impels his silver Flood,
Quitting the Care of thy own rising Wood,
Oft, as thy Breast, with pleasing Rapture glow'd,
Hast here, O Pope, avow'd th' inspiring God.
In a green Niche's over-arching Shrine,
Each tuneful Goddess shrouds her Form divine.
Beneath, in the wide Area's middle Space,
A jetting Fount its chrystal Flood displays.
In whose clear Face again reflected shine
Pierian Phoebus, and the Virgin Nine.
Here too for ever bloom th' Aonian Bays,
Ordain'd the Meed of tuneful Poets Lays.
In seemly Order They on either Hand,
Alternate in the verdant Arches stand:
Alternate glitt'ring with the gilded Vase,
On either Hand the verdant Arches blaze.
Here, odorous Flowers perfume the vital Gale,
And here Hesperian Oranges exhale.
Or on the Sunday's consecrated Morn,
Select in Nosegays the fair Breast adorn.

Lead thro' the Circle, Virgins, lead me on,
Where, guided by the still-revolving Sun,
The faithful Dial counts the fleeting Hour,
Lead to the Church's venerable Tower:
Which like the life-producing Plant of Old,
That flourish'd once in Eden's blessed Mould,
In the mid-Garden placed, its sacred Head
Uprears, embosom'd in aspiring Shade:
And blest with Vertue, like that wond'rous Tree,
Confers on Mortals Immortality.

Hence thro' the Windings of the mazy Wood
Descending, lo! the Octagon's clear Flood,
And rustick Obelisk's aerial Height,
Burst in one sudden view upon the Sight.
Batavian Poplars here in ranks ascend;
Like some high Temple's arching Isles extend
The taper Trunks, a living Colonnade;
Eternal Murmur animates the Shade.
Above, two Dorick Edifices grace
An elevated Platform's utmost Space;
From whence, beyond the Brook that creeps below,
Along yon beauteous Hill's green sloping Brow,
The Garden's destin'd Boundaries extend,
Where Cobham's pleasing Toils, tho' late, shall end
Beneath the far-stretch'd Lake's capacious Bed,
Receives the loud praecipitate Cascade;
And tufted Groves along the verdant Side,
Cast their deep Shadows o'er the silver Tide:
The silver Tide (where yonder high-rais'd Mound
Forms the wide-floating Lake's extremest Bound)
In secret Channels thro' the swelling Hill,
Gives Force and Motion to th' impulsive Wheel;
Whose constant Whirl, the spouting Jets supplies,
And bids aloft th' unwilling Waters rise.
Fair on the Brow, a spacious Building stands,
Th' applauded Work of Kent's judicious Hands:
The spreading Wings in arched Circles bend,
And rustick Domes each arched Circle end.
Thence back returning, thro' the narrow Glade,
See, where the Ruin lifts its mould'ring Head!
Within, close-shelter'd from the peering Day,
Satyrs and Fauns their wanton Frolicks play.
While sad Malbecco in the secret Cell,
Hears each rude Monster ‘ring his Matin's Bell.'

Where yon high Firs display their darksome Green,
And mournful Yews compose a solemn Scene,
Around thy Building, Gibbs, a sacred Band
Of Princes, Patriots, Bards, and Sages stand:
Men, who by Merit purchas'd lasting Praise,
Worthy each British Poet's noblest Lays:
Or bold in Arms for Liberty they stood,
And greatly perish'd for their Country's Good:
Or nobly warm'd with more than mortal Fire,
Equal'd to Rome and Greece the British Lyre:
Or Human Life by useful Arts refin'd,
Acknowledg'd Benefactors of Mankind.

Thou first Elizabeth, Imperial Maid,
By freeborn Subjects willingly obey'd;
Foe to the Tyranny of Spain, and Rome,
Abroad respected, and belov'd at home,
Beneath the friendly Shelter of thy Throne
Each Art of Peace with useful Lustre shone:
Industrious Commerce courted every Gale,
And spread in distant Worlds her fearless Sail.
Encourag'd Science rear'd her laurel'd Head,
And all the pleasing Train of Muses led.
Lo! Verulam and Shakespeare near Thee stand,
Rais'd by thy Smiles to grace this happy Land:
Both dear to Phoebus, sacred both to Fame,
With Princes here an equal Rank they claim;
This with the richest Stores of Learning fraught,
That by indulgent Nature only taught.
All hail! auspicious Queen, thy Praise shall live
(If Worth like thine Eternity can give)
When no proud Bust th' Imperial Wreath shall bear,
And Brass and Marble waste to Dust and Air.

O! that like Thee, succeeding Kings had strove,
To build their Empire on their Peoples Love!
That taught by thy Example they had known,
That only Justice can support a Throne!
Then had not Britain wanted Hambden's Hand,
Weak and oppressive Counsels to withstand:
Nor had the Patriot, on his native Plain,
Dy'd for the Laws he struggled to maintain.
Behold his bust with Civick Honours grac'd,
Nearest to thine, immortal Nassau plac'd,
To thine, great William, whose protecting Sword,
That Liberty, for which He fell, restor'd.

Next Locke, who in defense of Conscience rose,
And strove religious Rancour to compose:
Justly opposing every human Test,
Since GOD alone can judge who serves him best.

But what is he, in whom the heav'nly Mind
Shines forth distinguish'd and above Mankind?
This, this is Newton; He, who first survey'd
The Plan, by which the Universe was made:
Saw Nature's simple, yet stupendous Laws,
And prov'd th' Effects, tho' not explain'd the Cause.

Thou too, bold Milton, whose immortal Name,
Thy Country dares to match with Homer's Fame;
Whose tow'ring Genius vast and unconfin'd,
Left ev'n the Limits of the World behind;
Thro' Hell, thro' Chaos, and infernal Night,
Ascending to the Realms of purest Light;
Or else on Earth, in Eden's happy Grove,
With Peace, with Bliss conversing, and with Love:
Here art thou plac'd, these blooming shades among,
Second to those alone thy Muse has sung.

An ancient Wood (upon whose topmost Bough
High-waving croaks the unauspicious Crow)
From hence its venerable Gloom extends,
Where, rivaling its lofty Height, ascends
The pointed Pyramid: This too is thine,
Lamented Vanbrugh! This thy last Design.
Among the various Structures, that around,
Form'd by thy Hand, adorn this happy Ground,
This, sacred to thy Memory shall stand:
Cobham, and grateful Friendship so command.

Nysean Bacchus next the Muse demands;
To Him, in yon high Grove, a Temple stands;
Where British Oaks their ancient Arms display,
Impervious to the Sun's unclouded Ray,
There, half-conceal'd, it rears its Rustick Head;
The painted Walls mysterious Orgies spread.
A jolly Figure on the Ceiling reels,
Whose every Nerve the potent Goblet feels:
His Vine-bound Brows bespeak him God of Wine,
The Cheeks, and swelling Paunch, O! [Rand] are thine.
[Rand] (not unknown to Phoebus is the Name)
Once felt the Fervour of a softer Flame;
When heedless Fortune shot the sudden Dart,
And unexpected Rapture seiz'd his Heart.
My faithful Verse this Secret shall reveal
Nor [Rand] himself shall blame the mirthful Tale.

A cool Recess there is, not far away,
Sacred to Love, to Mirth, and rural Play.
Hither ofttimes the youthful Fair resort,
To cheat the tedious Hours with various Sport.
Some mid the Nine-pins marshall'd Orders roll,
With Aim unerring the impetuous Bowl.
Others, whose Souls to loftier Objects move,
Delight the Swing's advent'rous Joys to prove:
While on each side the ready Lovers stand,
The flying Cord obeys th' impulsive Hand.
As on a Day contending Rivals strove,
By manly Strength to recommend their Love;
Toss'd to and fro, up flew the giddy Fair,
And scream'd, and laugh'd, and play'd in upper Air.
The flutt'ring Coats the rapid Motion find,
And One by One admit the swelling Wind:
At length the last, white, subtle Veil withdrew,
And those mysterious Charms expos'd to view--
What Transport then, O [Rand] possess'd thy Soul!
Down from thy Hand, down dropt the idle Bowl:
As for the skillful Tip prepar'd he stood,
And Hopes and Fears alarm'd th' expecting Crowd.
Sudden to seize the beauteous Prey he sprung;
Sudden with Shrieks the echoing Thicket rung.
Confounded and abash'd, the frighted Maid,
(While rising Blushes ting'd here Cheeks with red)
Fled swift away, more rapid than the Wind,
And left the treach'rous Swing, and [Rand] behind,
Down the smooth Lawn she flew with eager Haste,
And near thy Obelisk, O Coucher pass'd:
As on the wounded Stone thy Name she view'd,
The well-known Name her every Fear renew'd;
And strait, in dreadful Vision, to her Eyes
She sees another Priest and Lover rise.
Nor cou'd thy gentle Mind her Fears assuage,
Nor honest Heart, that knew no Guile nor Rage;
But with redoubled speed away she fled,
And sought the Shelter of the closer Shade;
Where in thick Covert, to her weary Feet,
A Private Grotto promis'd safe Retreat:
Alas! too private, for too safely there
The fierce Pursuer seiz'd the helpless Fair;
The Fair he seiz'd, while round him all the Throng
Of laughing Dryads, Hymeneals sung:
Pronubial Juno gave the mystic Sign,
And Venus nodded from her neighb'ring Shrine.
The Grotto, conscious of the happy Flame,
From this auspicious Deed derives its Name.

Here future Lovers, when in Troops they come,
Venus, to visit thy distinguish'd Dome,
As thro' this consecrated Shade they pass,
Shall offer to the Genius of the Place.

Shift now the closer Scene: and view around,
With various Beauties the wide Landskip crown'd.
Here level Glades extend their length'ning Lines,
There in just Order the deep Quincunce shines.
Here chrystal Lakes reflect contiguous Shades,
There distant Hills uplift their azure Heads.
Round the free Lawn here gadding Heifers stray,
And frisking Lambs in sportive Gambols play.
There murmur to the Wind Groves ever-green,
And inter-mingled Buildings rise between:
The Sun declin'd with milder Glory burns,
And the fair Piece with various Light adorns.
Lo! in the Centre of this beauteous Scene,
Glitters beneath her Dome the Cyprian Queen:
Not like to her, whom ancient Homer prais'd,
To whom a thousand sacred Altars blaz'd:
When simple Beauty was the only Charm,
With which each tender Nymph and Swain grew warm:
But, Yielding to the now-prevailing Taste,
In Gold, for modern Adoration, drest.
For her the Naiads, in their watry Bed,
Amid the level Green a Mirror spread;
Along whose terass'd Banks the shelt'ring Wood,
Defends from ruder Winds th' unruffled Flood.

Beyond, a sylvan Theatre displays
Its circling Bosom to the Noon-tide Rays.
In Shade, o'er Shade, the sloping Ranks ascend,
And tall Abeals the steep Gradation end.
Here to the Sun the glossy Laurels shine,
There wave the darker Honours of the Pine.

High on a Pedestal, whose swelling Base,
To Heav'n itself aspiring Columns raise,
Shines the great Partner of Augustus' Bed,
The guardian Goddess of the noble Shade.
Beneath, in order ranged on either hand,
Attendant Nymphs and Swains rejoycing stand.

But cou'd the Muse presume her lowly Pray'r
Might win attention from the Royal Ear,
Here shou'd those Princely Stars, that dawning smile,
With kindly Lustre on Britannia's Isle,
Fair Constellation! in one Blaze unite,
Aiding with filial Beams their Mother's Light.
Here shou'd Imperial CAROLINE be seen,
The glorious Rival of the Phrygian Queen,
Who ‘mid the thousand Altars that around,
Blaz'd in old Rome's Pantheon, high enthroned,
With Pride survey'd the venerable Dome,
Fill'd with the heav'nly Off-spring of her Womb.

And see! where, elevated far above,
A Column overlooks yon nodding Grove;
On which, the Scene of Glory to compleat,
Deck'd with the Ensigns of Imperial State,
Stands the great Father, George, whose equal Sway,
With Joy Britannia's happy Realms obey.
Thence round, he views the cultivated Plain,
That smiling speaks the Blessings of his Reign.
Thus, o'er their Planets radiant Suns preside,
By Heav'n's fixt Laws their various Courses guide;
And shedding round Benevolence divine,
Bless'd by depending Worlds, indulgent shine.

Deep in this close, umbrageous, wild Recess,
Where the sweet Songsters of the feather'd Race
Warble their native Musick thro' the Shade;
A solitary Building hides its Head.
This peaceful Fabrick, for Repose design'd
Close Valves defend from penetrating Wind;
And the thick Under-wood's combining Boughs,
On every Side a verd'rous Wall compose.
Nigh, sound the quiv'ring Poplars in the Air,
Like falling Waters murm'ring from afar.
Here, where their quiet unmolested Reign
The Gods of Sleep and Solitude maintain;
Whether soft Slumbers close thy languid Eyes,
Or Thought be lost in pleasing Reveries,
From yon sage Motto learn thy self to spare,
And bid adieu to unavailing Care.
Let not the Censures of the Wise dismay;
But where they own clear Reason leads the Way,
Her pleasing Dictates uncontroll'd pursue,
Thy Dreams, may be as good as Theirs, perhaps as true.

Forsaking now the Covert of the Maze,
Along the broader Walk's more open space,
Pass we to where a sylvan Temple spreads
Around the Saxon Gods, its hallow'd Shades.

Hail! Gods of our renown'd Fore-Fathers, hail!
Ador'd Protectors once of England's Weal.
Gods, of a Nation, valiant, wise, and free,
Who conquer'd to establish Liberty!
To whose auspicious Care Britannia owes
Those Laws, on which she stands, by which she rose.
Still may your Sons that noble Plan pursue,
Of equal Government prescrib'd by you.
Nor e'er indignant may you blush to see,
The Shame of your corrupted Progeny!

First radiant Sunna shews his beamy Head,
Mona to Him, and scepter'd Tiw succeed;
Tiw, ancient Monarch of remotest Fame,
Who led from Babel's Tow'rs the German Name.
And warlike Woden, fam'd for martial Deeds,
From whom great Brunswick's noble Line proceeds.
Dread Thuner see! on his Imperial Seat,
With awful Magesty, and kingly State
Reclin'd! at his Command black Thunders roll,
And Storms and fiery Tempests shake the Pole.
With various Emblem next fair Friga charms,
Array'‘d in female Stole and manly Arms.
Expressive Image of that Double Soul,
Prolifick Spirit that informs the Whole;
Whose Genial Power throughout exerts its Sway,
And Earth, and Sea, and Air, its Laws obey.
Last of the Circle hoary Seatern stands;
Instructive Emblems fill his mystick Hands.
In this a Wheel's revolving Orb declares
The never-ending Round of rolling Years,
That holds a Vessel fill'd with fading Flowers
And Fruits collected by the ripening Hours.
Be warn'd from hence, ye Fair Ones! to improve
The transitory Minutes made for Love,
E'er yet th' inexorable Hand of Time
Robs of its bloomy Sweets your lovely Prime.

Lo, Nelson's airy Seat, whose rising Sides
Obscuring Fir, and shining Laurel hides!
Here in sweet Contrast Rural Scenes display'd
Around their native wilder Beauties spread.
The tufted Woodlands, where the Hunter's Horn
Oft wakes with chearful Note the drowzy Morn;
The Brook that glitters in the Vale below,
And all the rising Lawn's enlighten'd Brow,
In lowly Huts adown whose shelving Side,
From Storms secure the peaceful Hinds reside:
The spacious Park, within whose circling Pale,
The bounding Deer at large imprison'd dwell;
And feed in social Herds along the Glade,
Or lonely seek the solitary Shade.
Far o'er the level Green, in just array,
Long Rows of Trees their adverse Fronts display.
So when two Nations, fierce in Arms, prepare
At one decisive Stroke to end the War,
In seemly Order, e'er the Battle joins,
The marshal'd Hosts extend their threat'ning Lines,
And Files to Files oppos'd await the Word,
That gives a Loose to the destroying Sword.

High on a Mount, amid a verdant Field,
Where intermitted Lines wide opening yield;
Where from their plenteous Urns the watry Gods
Four o'er the green expanse their limpid Floods,
Behold the good old King in Armour clad,
Triumphant Wreaths his sacred Temples shade.
And in his gracious Aspect shine exprest,
The manly Beauties of his gentle Breast;
His Mind, sincere, benevolent and great,
Nor aw'd by Danger, nor with Pow'r elate;
For Valour much, but more for Justice known,
Brave in the Field, and Good upon the Throne.

An ample Arch, beneath whose spacious Round,
The massy Valves on turning Hinges sound,
Opens its hospitable Bosom wide;
Thro' which at large the rolling Chariots glide.
On swelling Bastions here Two Buildings rise,
(While far beneath the low-sunk Valley lies;
Where, or in one broad Lake the Waters spread,
Or draw their humid Trains along the Mead)
Of These, a Shelter from the scorching Rays,
One in the Garden spreads his rustick Base:
One in the Park, an habitable Frame,
The household Lares, and Penates claim.

But shall the Muse approach the Pile, assign'd
Once, for a Mansion to her much-lov'd Friend,
And not bestow one sad, one tuneful Tear,
Unhappy Speed! on thy untimely Bier?
Here, had not hasty Fate our Hopes deceiv'd,
In sweet Retirement tranquil hadst thou liv'd;
And pass'd with him, whose Friendship did engage
In Arms thy Youth, In Peace thy weary Age.
Faithful Companion of his calm Retreat,
Here had he destin'd thy delightful Seat.
Here too the Muse had joy'd to see the blest,
Of every Hope, of every Wish possest;
Had sung, with Friendship and Affection mov'd,
Thy honest Heart by all esteem'd and lov'd;
And to thy living Worth that Tribute paid,
Which sorrowing now she offers to thy Shade.




John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu