A Letter from Italy

CHARLES LORD HALIFAX.

IN THE YEAR MDCCI .

While you, my Lord, the rural shades admire,
And from Britannia's public posts retire,
Nor longer, her ungrateful sons to please,
For their advantage sacrifice your case,
Me into foreign realms my fate conveys,
Thro' nations fruitful of immortal lays,
Where the soft season and inviting clime
Conspire to trouble your repose with rhyme.
 For wheresoe'er I turn my ravish'd eyes,
Gay gilded scenes and shining prospects rise;
Poetic fields encompass me around,
And still I seem to tread on classic ground;
For here the Muse so oft' her harp has strung,
That not a mountain rears its head unsung;
Renown'd in verse each shady thicket grows,
And ev'ry stream in heav'nly numbers slows.
 How am I pleas'd to search the hills and woods
For rising springs and celebrated floods!
To view the Nar, tumultuous in his course,
And trace the smooth Clitumnus to his source!
To see the Mincio draw his wat'ry store
Thro' the long windings of a fruitful shore!
And hoary Albula's infected tide
O'er the warm bed of smoking sulphur glide!
 Fir'd with a thousand raptures, I survey
Eridanus thro' flow'ry meadows stray,
The king of floods! that, rolling o'er the plains,
The tow'ring Alps of half their moisture drains,
And proudly swoln with a whole winter's snows,
Distributes wealth and plenty where he flows.
 Sometimes, misguided by the tuneful throng,
I look for streams immortaliz'd in song,
That lost in silence and oblivion lie,
(Dumb are their fountains and their channels dry)
Yet run for ever by the Muses' skill,
And in the smooth description murmur still.
 Sometimes to gentle Tiber I retire,
And the fam'd river's empty shores admire,
That, destitute of strength, derives it course
From thrifty urns and an unfruitful source,
Yet sung so often in poetic lays,
With scorn the Danube and the Nile surveys;
So high the deathless Muse exalts her theme!
Such was the Boyn, a poor inglorious stream,
That in Hibernian vales obscurely stray'd,
And, unobserv'd, in wild meanders play'd,
Till by your lines and Nassau's sword renown'd,
Its rising billows thro' the world resound,
Where'er the hero's godlike acts can pierce,
Or where the fame of an immortal verse.
 Oh could the Muse my ravish'd breast inspire
With warmth like your's, and raise an equal fire,
Unnumber'd beauties in my verse should shine,
And Virgil's Italy should yield to mine!
 See how the golden groves around me smile!
That shun the coast of Britain's stormy isle;
Or when transplanted, and preserv'd with care,
Curse the cold clime, and starve in northern air.
Here kindly warmth their mounting juice ferments
To nobler tastes and more exalted scents;
Ev'n the rough rocks with tender myrtle bloom,
And trodden weeds send out a rich perfume.
Bear me, some god, to Baia's gentle seats,
Or cover me in Umbria's green retreats,
Where western gales eternally reside,
And all the Seasons lavish all their pride;
Blossoms, and fruits, and flowers, together rise,
And the whole year in gay confusion lies.
 Immortal glories in my mind revive,
And in my soul a thousand passions strive,
When Rome's exalted beauties I descry
Magnificent in piles of ruin lie.
An amphitheatre's amazing height
Here fills my eye with terror and delight,
That on its public shows unpleopled Rome,
And held, uncrowded, nations in its womb:
Here pillars rough with sculpture pierce the skies,
And here the proud triumphal arches rise,
Where the old Romans deathless acts display'd
Their base degen'rate progeny upbraid:
Whole rivers here forsake the fields below,
And wond'ring at their height thro'airy channels flow.
 Still to new scenes my wand'ring Muse retires,
And the dumb show of breathing rocks admires,
Where the smooth chissel all its force has shown,
And soften'd into flesh the rugged stone.
In solemn silence, a majestic band,
Heroes, and gods, and Roman consuls, stand,
Stern tyrants, whom their cruelties renown,
And emperors in Parian marble frown;
While the bright dames, to whom they humbly su'd,
Still show the charms that their proud hearts subdu'd.
 Fain would I Raphael's godlike art rehearse,
And show th' immortal labours in my verse,
Where from the mingled strength of shade and light
A new creation rises to my fight;
Such heav'nly figures from his pencil flow,
So warm with life his blended colours glow,
From theme to theme with secret pleasure tost,
Amidst the soft variety I'm lost.
Here pleasing airs my ravish'd soul confound
With circling notes and labyrinths of sound;
Here domes and temples rise in distant views,
And op'ning palaces invite my Muse.
 How has kind Heav'n adorn'd the happy land,
And scatter'd blessings with a wasteful hand!
But what avail her unexhausted stores,
Her blooming mountains and her sunny shores,
With all the gifts that heav'n and earth impart,
The smiles of Nature and the charms of Art,
While proud Oppression in her vallies reigns,
And Tyranny usurps her happy plains?
The poor inhabitant beholds in vain
The redd'ning orange and the swelling grain;
Joyless he sees the growing oils and wines,
And in the myrtle's fragrant shade repines
Starves, in the midst of Nature's bounty curst,
And in the loaden vineyard dies for thirst.
 Oh, Liberty! thou goddess heav'nly bright,
Profuse of bliss, and pregnant with delight!
Eternal pleasures in thy presence reign,
And smiling Plenty leads thy wanton train;
Eas'd of her load Subjection grows more light,
And Poverty looks cheerful in thy sight;
Thou mak'st the gloomy face of Nature gay,
Giv'st beauty to the sun, and pleasure to the day.
 Thee, Goddess! thee Britannia's isle adores;
How has she oft' exhausted all her stores,
How oft' in fields of death thy presence fought,
Nor thinks the mighty prize too dearly bought!
On foreign mountains may the sun refine
The grape's soft juice, and mellow it to wine,
With citron groves adorn a distant soil,
And the fat olive swell with floods of oil;
We envy not the warmer clime that lies
In ten degrees of more indulgent skies,
Nor at the coarseness of our heav'n repine,
Tho' o'er our heads the frozen Pleiads shine;
'Tis Liberty that crowns Britannia's isle,
And makes her barren rocks and her bleak mountains smile.
 Others with tow'ring piles may please the sight,
And in their proud aspiring domes delight,
A nicer touch to the stretch'd canvass give,
Or teach their animated rocks to live;
'Tis Britain's care to watch o'er Europe's fate,
And hold in balance each contending state;
To threaten bold presumptuous kings with war,
And answer her afflicted neighbours' pray'r.
The Dane and Swede, rous'd up by fierce alarms,
Bless the wise conduct of her pious arms;
Soon as her fleets appear their terrors cease,
And all the Northern world lies hush'd in peace.
 Th' ambitious Gaul beholds with secret dread
Her thunder aim'd at his aspiring head,
And fain her godlike sons would disunite
By foreign gold, or by domestic spite;
But strives in vain to conquer or divide
Whom Nassau's arms defend and counsels guide.
 Fir'd with the name which I so oft' have found
The distant climes and diff'rent tongues resound,
I bridle in my struggling Muse with pain,
That longs to launch into a bolder strain.
 But I've already troubled you too long,
Nor dare attempt a more advent'rous song:
My humble verse demands a softer theme,
A painted meadow or a purling stream;
Unfit for heroes, whom immortal lays,
And lines like Virgil's, or like your's, should praise.
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