Matthew Pilkington, “The Progress of Musick in Ireland, to Mira”


“The Progress of Musick in Ireland, to Mira”

The poet in fact is taught by Love, even if he has no skill before.
Eurip[ides], Sthenoboea.

By thee enjoyn’d th’ obsequious Muse obeys,
Yet, trembling, dreads the Danger she surveys,
But vain are Infant Fears, I plead in vain,
The Task too Noble, too Sublime the Strain,
The Fancy’s wing’d, and springs to bolder Flights,                                                    5
When Beauty bids, and Harmony invites;
For each, our Passions pleasingly controuls;
Love’s but the purer Harmony of Souls:
Musick and Love the savage World refin’d,
Reform’d the Manners, while they rais’d the Mind,                                                  10
Gave Man a Foretaste of the Joys above;
For what is Heav’n but Harmony and Love?

Hibernia long beheld, with Sorrow fill’d,
Her Poets and her Sons in Arts unskill’d:
Sons! dead to Fame, nor comely to the Sight,                                                            15
Their Customs wild, their Manners unpolite;
Nor yet cou’d Musick boast persuasive Charms,
To tempt one sprightly Genius to her Arms:
The Muse, in mournful Pomp, laments her Case,
Pale Grief and Anguish painted in her Face;                                                               20
To lonely Woods retire the tuneful Throng,
Uncharm’d by Sound, and negligent of Song:
The silent Lark forgets to wake the Dawn
With early Song, suspended o’er the Lawn,
On Earth he Pines, and droops his useless Wings                                                      25
With dumb Concern, and neither Soars nor Sings.

At length a Swain, long tortur’d with Despair,
The Scorn of some inexorable Fair,
Haunted each Grove, each dark Retreat of Grief,
Bereft of Ease, and hopeless of Relief;                                                                          30
Nightly he heard sad Philomel complain,
And wish’d to copy so divine a Strain,
So clear, so soft the plaintive Warbler sung,
The Groves, and Hills with plaintive Echoes rung.
Her Notes so mournfully melodious flow,                                                                     35
They calm his Soul, and mitigate his Woe,
Distressful Passion both alike bewail,
He sighs his Grief, she chants her piteous Tale.

Fain would he Sing; his Voice was still supprest
By swelling Sighs, which struggled from his Breast.                                                     40
Despair, whose Sting can haughtiest Minds controul,
Unstrings his Nerves, and quite unmans his Soul,
Breathes a wild Horror into ev’ry Part,
Restrains his Tongue, and preys upon his Heart.

But near the Grove, where comfortless he lies,                                                    45
The spiky Reeds in waving Clusters rise,
He models one, and his Invention tires,
Varying its Form as Art or Chance inspires:
Then gives it Breath to sing: With gentle Mirth
It strikes the Ear, as conscious of its Birth.                                                                    50
With sharpen’d Steel he lanc’d its tender Skin,
In order rang’d the op’ning Wounds are seen,
Wounds! less than he receiv’d, with piercing Smart,
In that soft Instrument of Love, the Heart:
To these his active Fingers he applies,                                                                            55
Which bid the changing Musick fall, and rise,
While in the Road of Harmony they guide
Each infant Sound, and o’er the Notes preside.

But o’er his Airs a gloomy Sorrow hung;
For still he lov’d, and Love distress’d he sung,                                                                60
His Heart in ev’ry Accent seem’d to bleed,
And Grief harmonious trembled from the Reed.

And still the Tenor of Hibernian Strains,
Those pleasing Labours of enamour’d Swains,
From his a melancholly Turn receive,                                                                               65
The Airs are moving, and the Numbers grieve.

Musick thus wak’d to Life, fair Child of Love!
Time’s rip’ning Touch, and growing Arts improve,
While to the feeble Voice of slender Reeds,
The manlier Musick of the Fife succeeds.                                                                        70
Alike in Form, but of a larger Mold,
More durable its Frame, its Tone more bold;
Now lively Numbers, born on willing Gales,
Flow to the Hills, and echo in the Vales;
The rural Throng now chearful croud around,                                                               75
And catch, enamour’d, the inspiring Sound,
They walk and move with correspondent Mien,
And Dance exulting on the level Green:
No Secret now the raptur’d Heart conceals,
The conscious Maid her hidden Flame reveals                                                               80
In glowing Blushes on her Cheeks they rise,
Burst from her Tongue, and kindle in her Eyes.

But secret Pleasures once disclos’d to Sight,
Give Birth to fresh Successions of Delight.
On Objects new the restless Fancy strays,                                                                       85
And wantons in the search of nobler Lays.
Extended Strings at length Experience found,
Start at the Touch, and tremble into Sound;
Of which a Vocal Multitude conspire,
In shining Order plac’d to form the Lyre:                                                                          90
And thus the Strings, as in a Choir combin’d,
Have each their parts of Harmony assign’d:
Some heav’nly Sounds transportingly create,
Like Echo some the heav’nly Sounds repeat,
Those plac’d above, rejoyce in sprightly Tones,                                                               95
Below the rough, hoarse Base, responsive, Groans.

If the judicious Artist bids them Play,
The dancing Cords in Silver Sounds obey,
But struck with Hands unskill’d, they spring to War,
Hiss out their Rage, and in harsh Discords jar.                                                               100

Musick henceforward more Domestick grew,
Courts the throng Towns, and from the Plains withdrew:
The Vagrant Bard his circling Visits pays,
And charms the Villages with venal Lays.
The solemn Harp, beneath his Shoulder plac’d,                                                             105
With both his Arms is earnestly embrac’d,
Sweetly irregular, now swift, now slow,
With soft Variety his Numbers flow,
The shrill, the deep, the gentle, and the strong,
With pleasing Dissonance adorn his Song;                                                                      110
While thro’ the Cords his Hands unweary’d range,
The Musick changing as his Fingers change.

The Croud transported in Attention hung,
Their Breath in Silence sleeps upon the Tongue,
The Wheels forget to turn, the Labours cease,                                                                 115
And ev’ry Sound but Musick sinks to Peace.

So when the Thracian charm’d the Shades below,
And brought down Raptures to the Realms of Woe,
Despairing Ghosts from Labour stand releas’d,
Each Wheel, each Instrument of Torture ceas’d;                                                            120
The Furies drop their Whips, afflictive Pain
Suspends, with ghastly Smiles, her Iron Reign,
All Groans were still’d, all Sorrow lull’d to Rest,
And ev’ry Care was hush’d in ev’ry Breast.

Joy spreads her Wings o’er all the raptur’d Isle,                                                        125
And bids each Face be bright’ned to a Smile.
Now Nature, pleas’d, her Gifts profusely Pours,
To Paint the chearful Earth with od’rous Flow’rs,
So chang’d a Scene she wonders to survey,
And bids ev’n Things inanimate look Gay.                                                                        130

The Muses now from Albion’s Isle retreat,
And here with kind Indulgence fix their Seat:
Then Viner rose, with all their warmth inspir’d,
A Bard caress’d by all, by all admir’d;
He Choral strings, in sleepy Silence bound,                                                                      135
Touch’d into Voice, and waken’d into Sound;
Then taught those Sounds to flow with easy Art,
To wooe the Soul, and glide into the Heart,
In Notes, untry’d before, his Fancy dress’t,
And bid new transports rise in ev’ry Breast.                                                                     140

While round in Crouds the fair Creation stand,
The polish’d Viol trembling in his Hand,
While swift as Thought, from note to note he springs,
Flies o’er th’ unerring Tones, and sweeps the sounding Strings,
The Old, the Young, the Serious, and the Gay,                                                                 145
With ravish’d Ears devour the ’witching Lay;
The Lover’s Eyes now languishingly Roll,
And speak the Dictates of the raptur’d Soul;
Foes, in whose Breasts the wildest Passion strove,
Forget their Rage, and soften into Love:                                                                            150
The prideful Beauty, feels with new Surprize
Her Bosom swell, and wonders why she Sighs,
Each Passion acts as he affects the Heart,
And Nature answers ev’ry stroke of Art.

But now refin’d Hibernia’s ravish’d Throng,                                                               155
With wonder dwell on Nicholini’s Song,
Whose warbling Voice and tuneful Tongue dispence,
The blended harmony of Sound and Sense:
With these he knew the list’ning Soul to charm,
And ev’ry Torment of its Sting disarm,                                                                               160
Cou’d calm the harsh disturber Care, to ease,
With Fear delight us, and with Sorrow please;
Cou’d warm the kindling Soul with am’rous Fire,
And Raptures, which he never felt, inspire.

While Musick thus its native Beauty shows,                                                              165
And, from its living Spring delightful flows,
How does it raise! how gladden ev’ry Heart!
How far transcend the mimic Voice of Art!

So, when Belinda’s heav’nly Beauties stand,
Wrought into Life, by Kneller’s magic Hand,                                                                     170
Her Face, her Shape, have all that Art can give,
Start from the animated Paint, and Live;
But, when the real Nymph, divin’ly bright,
Array’d in native Lustre, strikes our Sight,
Some nameless transport in our Bosom plays,                                                               175
That Shade and Colour want the Force to raise.

Dubourg next sways the Soul with nicest Art,
And binds in airy Chains the captive Heart,
While from the vocal Strings, and shifting Bow,
At his nice Touch th’ obsequious Numbers flow.                                                            180
With easy toil he swells the Notes aloud,
Now on the Ear precipitant they croud,
Now, scarcely heard, they gradually decay,
And with melodious Cadence waste away,
While at his melting Falls, and dying Notes,                                                                    185
Around the Heart the liquid Rapture floats.

With martial Ardor if he boldly warms,
The animated Hero pants for Arms,
With guiltless Rage th’ impetuous Spirit glows,
And prostrates Legions of imagin’d Foes.                                                                         190

But, if to Mirth, a sprightly strain inclines,
With Humour fraught his quick’ning Genius shines,
Then, smiling Joys thro’ ev’ry Aspect fly,
Glow in the Lips, and wanton in the Eye.

Next Bocchi Reigns, whom Art and Nature grace                                                    195
To smooth the roughness of the sullen Base,
Directs his Notes distinct to rise or fall,
Tries ev’ry Tone to charm, and charms in all.

Th’ awaken’d Muse thus rises, thus refines,
Improves with Time, and in Perfection shines;                                                                200
The first rude Lays are now but meanly priz’d,
As rude, neglected, as untun’d, despis’d:
Dead—(in Esteem too dead) the Bards that sung,
The Fife neglected, and the Harp unstrung.

So when the Thrush exalts his chearful Throat,                                                       205
To glad the Fields with many an artless Note,
With rude Delight the List’ner’s Breast he warms,
Wild tho’ he sings, his sylvan Wildness charms;
But if the warbling Nightingale prepares
Her softer Voice, that melts with thrilling Airs,                                                                 210
The Winds are hush’d, still Silence reigns around,
And list’ning Echo dwells upon the Sound;
Harsh seem the Strains which gave Delight before,
And far excell’d, those Strains delight no more.

The pausing Muse now shuts her vent’rous Wings,                                                  215
And, anxious of Success, distrustful sings;
O! might her Lays to thy Esteem succeed,
For whom she tun’d her artless Voice and Reed,
Thy Smiles wou’d swell her Heart with honest Pride,
Approv’d by thee she scorns the World beside.                                                                220


Title  Mira  Laetitia Van Lewen (1709-1750) married Pilkington in 1725, noted for her exceptional singing voice.  Several other pieces in his Poems on Several Occasions are dedicated to her.

Epigraph  From Stheneboea, a play fragment by Euripides (c. 480-c. 406 BC), given in ancient Greek.  Translation from C. Collard, et al, eds., Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays (Liverpool UP, 2009), fragment 663, p. 88.

13  Hibernia  Ireland (Oxford Classical Dictionary).

31  Philomel  A nightingale (OED).

51  its  Emended from “it’s,” a printer’s error.

66  Numbers  “Verses” (OED).

70  Fife  “A small shrill-toned instrument of the flute kind” (OED).

77  Mien  “The look, bearing, manner, or conduct of a person, as showing character, mood” (OED).

103  Bard  Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738, also Terrence O’Carolan), blind Irish composer and harpist; renowned for his improvisational verse (Brittanica).

117  the Thracian charm’d the Shades below  A reference to Orpheus, mythological Greek poet and musician of Thracian origin.  After the death of his wife, Eurydice, at the suggestion of the gods, Orpheus descended to the underworld and charmed Hades and Persephone with his song (Oxford Classical Dictionary).

121  Furies  Also called Erinyes; Greek spirits of punishment, avenging wrongs done to kindred (Oxford Classical Dictionary).

131  Albion’s Isle  Britain (Oxford Classical Dictionary).

133  Viner  William Viner (1650-1716), English violinist, composer and Master of the State Music in Ireland from 1703 until his death (Dictionary of Irish Biography).

138  wooe  Alternate form of  “woo;” to court a person, typically a woman (OED).

156  Nicholini  Nicolo Grimaldi (1673-1732), Italian opera singer, alto castrato (The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music).

160  its  Emended from “it’s,” a printer’s error.

161  Care  “A burdened state of mind arising from fear, doubt or concern about anything” (OED).

169  Belinda  The main character in Alexander Pope’s popular mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock (1714); based on Arabella Fermor (1696-1737), who was renowned at the time for her beauty.

170  Kneller  Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), English portrait painter.  One of the three known portraits of Arabella Fermor is attributed to him.

177  Dubourg  Matthew Dubourg (1703-1767), English violinist, preternaturally gifted and was appointed Master of the State Music in Ireland in 1728, a position he held until his death (Dictionary of Irish Biography).

195  Bocchi  Lorenzo Bocchi (d. 1725), Italian cellist; he is believed to be responsible for introducing the cello to both Scotland and Ireland (R. Cowgill and P. Holman, eds., Music in the British Provinces, 1690-1914, p. 4).

SOURCE: Poems on Several Occasions (Dublin, 1730), pp. 3-25.  [Google Books]

Edited by Jerry Andersen

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