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Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: July 04, 2002 05:44AM

Seeing 'Stand Aside Keats' gives me the courage to ask if anyone could post any of the above's poems. He was Poet Laureate in the late 18th/early 19th century and is described either as the worst one or 'no poet at all'. A friend of mine is one of his descendants and mentioned him to me, but all I can find through google is a couple of short and not terribly complimentary biographies . I'd like to see for myself just how awful he was - especially as McGonalgle is so easy to find examples of , and Pye seems so obscure - could he be even worse? or just less flamboyantly awful.

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: July 08, 2002 07:54PM

According to The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (vol. XII), "Pye, though a convenient butt for the usual anti-laureate jokes, was, in fact, not so much a bad poet as no poet at all."

It also says that "As a prose writer, Pye was far from contemptible." Isn't that sweet?

Read more at: [] />

He was Poet Laureate from 1790 to 1813.

He built Faringdon House, and you can see a picture of it (and even rent it for a vacation) at:
[] />

Alfred; an Epic Poem in Six Books (his longest work) and two other books of his are available for purchase at ALIBRIS.


But the poems??? No where that I can find - on MSN or EuroSeek!

If you find some, please post a sample!

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (
Date: July 13, 2002 01:48PM

No I hadn't forgotten, just biding my time. The Guardian's columnist "Mr Smallweed" has been promising for some time to write an article on Henry. So I emailed him with "how about it squire?" With this result, today - hotoffthepress:

"Hail, glorious sage! Immortal patriot, hail! Whose fervent words o'er dark mistrust prevail! Could there be any more appropriate salute than this, taken from his epic work Alfred, to Henry Pye (1745-1813), perhaps the worst of all our distinguished poets laureate, and certainly the only one ever to have published a work called Summary Of The Duties Of A Justice Of The Peace Out Of Sessions. In an entry so waspish that one guesses it might have been toned down had the editor (Sidney Lee) not composed it himself, the Dictionary Of National Biography describes him as a "poetaster", rather than as a poet, and observes: "In May 1813, an edition of Pye's selected writings in six volumes was announced, but happily nothing more was heard of it."
I hope to get round to a fuller examination of Pyetistic iambic pentameterism next week in a disquisition which, I hope and believe, will recall that great climactic moment in Alfred when, "with thrilling clang/ At once a thousand harps symphonious rang." "

As you can see, more to come. Watch this space. And that's a pint you owe me, marian2.


Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: July 15, 2002 07:01AM

Would you settle for a bit of Henry's poetry, when I can extract it from his descendant, with whom I correspond by snail mail? If not, I'll meet you in the Whitehall at 9.30 pm tomorrow to pay my dues.

Thanks Stephen & Marian , and I look forward to the next bit from Mr Smallweed. All this background whets my appetite to see exactly what the poor man wrote to gain such notoriety, and which everyone who knows any of it never quotes at any length. he can't be so awful, they not only published him, they gave him the laureate!

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (
Date: July 15, 2002 08:17AM

Oh alright then; a bit of poetry it is - especially since I am forbidden to meet strange poets in Whitehall, after the last time ...

Oh, and a brace of Marians! Wow!


Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (
Date: July 22, 2002 09:46AM

Here it is then: second and final instalment.



Saturday July 20, 2002

Steven Spielberg, I see, is planning to make a TV series about King Arthur. It will feature the usual crew: Arthur, naughty Queen Guinevere, naughtier still Sir Lancelot, cunning old Merlin ("the Mandelson of my day", people sometimes heard him muttering to himself), the sword Excalibur, and lots of misty shots of old England - in this case, because tax breaks are better there, probably played by New Zealand.

I have to concede that Spielberg knows more about movie-making than I do, but even so I think he is making a big mistake. The Camelot scene has been done so often before. He'd do much better to go for a different English hero, and one who, unlike King Arthur, certainly once existed: King Alfred. What's more, if he went for Alfred, he could base his script on the epic work by King George III's poet laureate, Henry Pye, to which I drew attention last week: Alfred, An Epic Poem In Six Books.

Quite apart from the part of Alfred - tailor-made, I'd say, for Leonardo DiCaprio - the Alfred story is full of potentially stellar roles: Guthrum, the Dane whom he beat at the battle of Edington (Vinny Jones); his scholarly biographer Asser (Robin Williams); the woman whose cakes got burned (Julia Roberts). By basing himself on Pye, Spielberg could make the whole epic immeasurably grander.

There are other toothsome roles here which are bound to enthuse his scriptwriters. Gregory, King of Caledonia, for instance, ("Scotland's hoar monarch") who welcomes Alfred to his colourful court. "Unusual awe," Pye reports "pervades the wondering throng/ Hush'd is the laugh, and mute the minstrel's tongue, When, rising from his seat, the King address'd/ In words of kind accost, the noble guest". Pure Hollywood, wouldn't you say? And so right for Billy Connolly.

Then the death of Alfred's North British ally, Donald: there won't be a dry eye in the house as Sean Connery plays out his death scene, in which, in his very last gasp, Donald declares himself "grac'd in his obsequies, since Alfred's tear/ Will shed its kindly dew o'er Donald's bier". Or even, into his beer, perhaps, if that helps with the product placement.

But an even richer inducement for Spielberg to use this text is the role of the ancient seer who uses his magic powers to gaze into a distant future. "From the cave," writes Pye, who had clearly been granted a unique prevision of Richard Harris, "a venerable form stalked forth, announced by the preluding storm. His eyeballs, as he spoke, with rapture glow'd; his snowy robes in ample volume flow'd".

And what future joys Harris foretells! A time where, "through the shade of many a fragrant grove/ By Ganges' stream, the guiltless Bramins rove/ And as the dewy moisture Sol inhales, With beam refulgent, from the irriguous vales/ Descends in favouring showers of genial rain,/ To fertilise the hill and arid plain,/ So wealth, collected by the merchant's hand/ Spreads wide, in general plenty, o'er the land."

Even that isn't the half of it. One day, the seer foretells, we shall find ourselves in the presence of "Proud Commerce (Vanessa Redgrave), brooding o'er the sea-broad waves", much as, "from the scanty rill, mid sheltering reeds/ That steals, unnoticed through the irriguous weeds/ Swells the full stream Augusta's wall that laves". And all by courtesy of us Brits! "Each separate interest, separate right, shall cease", the old geezer goes on to predict "link'd in eternal amity and peace,/ While Concord blesses, with celestial smiles, THE FAVOURED EMPIRE OF THE BRITISH ISLES" (Henry's capitals, I hasten to say, not mine).

OK? Where's my reward then?


Patience is a virtue - she says, primly!
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: July 23, 2002 04:59AM

Still in the post, I'm afraid (like the famous cheque) My correspondent is a senior citizen and takes his time! Just hope it's worth waiting for - I'm not even sure he has any of his ancestor's poems; but I think it likely as he's a poet himself and an enquiring and interested observer of life's peculiarities. Whether he feels Pye's works are an embarassment or not, I've yet to discover, but sending him what I've discovered so far will probably encourage him to pass on some examples.

Thanks for the second installment - I will hint down some Pye in the end and post it, I promise. Otherwise, there's always the drink!


Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: July 23, 2002 06:18AM

Having printed your post off to read it properly (am I alone in being unable to read longish things properly on a computer screen or is it a common symptom of being brought up before computers existed?) and read it carefully, I hastened to cross 'Alfred An Epic Poem in 6 books' off my wish list. and am grateful to both Stephen and Mr Smallweed for spairng me the trauma of borrowing and attempting to read it. However, anyone would find it a strain to keep up rhyming for 6 books, so I'm willing to give Henry Pye's shorter poems (if such there be) a fair chance (provided that awful word irriguous isn't a compulsory element of every poem).

Has anyone else noticed how some authors make pets of obscure works and unearth them at every opportunity, no, fabricate oportunities to use them - I once read a historical tome by Antonia Fraser in the first part of which she was fixated on 'gubernatorial'. Shades of being given a list of words in primary school and told to use each in a sentence in such a way as to convey their meeting haunt me when I come across this - but the authors in question use them in such a way that you have no idea what they mean and have to look them up - like Latin quotes!

For anyone curious but not trained from birth to leap up and look in a dictionary whenever they come across an unfamiliar word - irriguous is a noun from irrigate, thus meaning watered or wet and gubernatorial is controlled or governed, as far as I can discover . Neither appears in my dictionary defined as that part of speech, only as a subsidiary definition, so it isn't entirely clear. I'm off to make my garden irriguous in a gubernatorial fashion.

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: July 23, 2002 01:24PM

What's an 'anastrophe'? Look it up I will. Rhymes with catastrophe it does.

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (
Date: July 25, 2002 01:58PM

Response from The Poetry Library -

You won't find very much Henry Pye available, I'm afraid. We have two
volumes you might be able to track down in a library nearer to you: Verses
of the Poets Laureate from John Dryden to Andrew Motion, collected by Hilary
Laurie and introduced by Andrew Motion (Orion: London, 1999); The Poets
Laureate by Kenneth Hopkins (The Bodley Head: London, 1954). These contain
a few poems by Pye in each book.

Simon Smith
Assistant Librarian
The Poetry Library


Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: July 27, 2002 04:48AM

Thanks, Stephen, I'll try those while I wait for an answer from my penpal.


Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: StephenFryer (
Date: May 26, 2005 05:12AM

From 'Tasteless Lists' by Karl Shaw:

'Worst Ever Published Poets in the English Language'

'Of pig-economy exalt the praise
Oh flatter sheep and bullocks in thy lays'

'As shown in the lines above, Henry Pye, a bookish and slightly eccentric country squire, specialised in rambling verse on largely agricultural themes, including his extraordinary treatise on The Effect of Music on Animals. Unfortunately, he was also Poet Laureate, a job handed to him by William Pitt, evidently as compensation for losing his parliamentary seat. Blessed as he was with a dull prose style and a complete lack of imagination, Pye's position was made even more difficult by the fact that his patron, George III, went completely and irretrievably mad during his laureateship. Pye did his best to avoid the subject - a tricky business at the best of times, but especially when it came to the obligatory annual King's Birthday Ode.'


Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: ilza (200.199.70.---)
Date: May 26, 2005 08:40AM

a couple of things I've found thru newspapers
(blame copy and paste for typos, these old newspapers are hard to copy):

The Allen County Democrat - Thursday, August 21, 1879 Lima, Ohio
St Joseph Herald - Saturday, April 19, 1879 Saint Joseph, Michigan

... (while Byron, Coleridge, Scott, Moore, etc) . . .
were enriching literature with their master works,
the nominal head of English literature was
one Henry James Pye. Henry James Pye was a captain in the Berks
militia, and a respectable police magistrate, but "incapable"of stringing
four rhymes together without an unpardonable fault of style.
There was ridicale beaped upon him from many quarters, but in spite
of it he went on patiently fabricating his New Year odes, and
his birthday odes, a pitiful series of forty-six, unneedful and apparently
unconcious of the chorus laughter.

The Times - Tuesday, June 04, 1793 London, Middlesex

Ode for His Majesty's Birthday - June 4, 1793
by Henry James Pye

if you want this poem I can fax it to you
– copy and paste does not show it right
or I can type it but I would rather fax it

The times – Monday, January 18, 1796 - Middlesex

Ode for the New year 1796
again, fax or type ? pls tell me
Trenton Times – Tuesday, October 18, 1892 Trenton, New Jersey

The Poet Laureate – An Office which has been held by all sort of Rhymsters
( the article mentions a couple of poets, plus this epigram about William Whitehead,
and the duke who appointed him :

Tell me, if you can, which did the worse,
Caligula or Grafton's grace?
That made a consul of a horse
And this a laureate of an ass.)

… Thomas Shadwell succeeded and made the place so ridiculous that all the critics
said it could not be worse; but his successor, Nahum Tate, proved that it could be.
… Thomas Warton then redeemed the place slightly till 1790, and next Henry
James Pye sunk it to the lowest place.
some 1790 newspapers tell about his appointment to Poet Laureate

a 1817 newspaper tells about the publication of the 3rd edition of his
A Summary of the Duties of a Justice of the Peace

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: RJAllen (
Date: May 26, 2005 09:05AM

One of Pye's rivals for "worst Poet Laureate ever" is Alfred Austin, appointed (after a gap of about three years) after Tennyson's death. Two alleged samples
On Edward VII's illness:
Across the wires the electric message came.
He is no better; he is much the same.

and from a poem on the Jameson raid:
They rode across the veldt
As fast as they could pelt.

Someone posted an extract from Austin (on owls, I think) from Nemo last year to look for a solution.

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (
Date: May 26, 2005 09:32AM

"wonderful, wonderful"
Marshall Kannert

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: May 26, 2005 12:26PM

Ilza - I failed completely in tracing any Henry Pye and have now lost touch with my correspondent who was one of his descendants, so have still never seen a poem by him. If you could fax the two you've found (the Birthday Ode and the Ode for the New Year , I'd be absolutely delighted and very grateful. I don't have a fax at home but if you could fax them FAO David Griffith at 44132223198 (ansaback Pullmax), that would be wonderful.

Posted by: ilza (200.199.70.---)
Date: May 26, 2005 05:25PM

marian, I think I can send it to you thru yr email,
so I am doing that in some 10 min - if it doesn't work, then tell me
and I will fax yr friend

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: May 31, 2005 03:26PM

Right, thanks to Ilza I'm about to fulfil my promise to Stephen of 15 July 2002 amd post some of Henry Pye's poetry. The first one is complete, the second not so, - Ilza faxed old newspaper articles complete with long f-like s characters and various illegible bits have therefore ensued. However, I have transcribed them as best I can and have indicated where words are missing. I've also defined 3 obsolte words in the first one. Such choices of words as I've been forced to make are in context as far as I can manage and obey the rhyme scheme. I've only missed out words I have no clue to.

Despite the poor quality of my transcription and Henry's original work (he was far too fond of apostrophes, and flowery terms and occasionally seems to have lost the plot completely, meandering off mid-thought and never returning to the subject, I wonder if this ought to go somewhere where people could consult it. He was, after all, Poet Laureate. Having decried his style, I don't actually think, taken all round, his poems are any worse than Ted Hughes' effort on Prince Andrew's wedding to Sarah Ferguson! They do have a rhythm and rhyme which is better than McGonagle 's efforts and that they are very sycopantic is very much of their time and the fact that they are designed to flatter royalty - his job.

Anyway, folks, let me know what you think.ODE FOR HIS MAJESTY’S BIRTH-DAY June 4, 1793
by Henry James Pye Esq, Poet Laureate to His Majesty

When blind Ambition drives his car
Impetuous thro’ the ranks of war,
Tho’ Fame her notes of triumph breathe,
Tho’ shouts of conquest soothe the ear,
Yet oe’r the victor’s blood-stained wreath,
Reflection drops the pensive tear;
But at Oppression’s lawless head,
When War’s vindictive bolts are sped,
When at the Despot’s shrinking breast
When o’er Sedition’s haughty crest
Stern battle shakes the avenging spear,
And teaches headstrong Arrogance to fear,
Mercy herself shall consecrate the cause,
While Justice points the sword that Indignation draws.

Tho’ Albion many an ancient scar
Still bears on her in indented breast,
In every age by Gallic war,
Or Gallic perfidy impress’d
Yet o’er their fields when Rapine flood,
When Faction drench’d their towns with blood,
No memory of insult past,
Urged her to swell Contention’s blast
With grief she view’d their sinking state,
With tears deplor’d her rival’s fate;
Their Chiefs, whole falchions yet were red
With her best blood in battle shed,
Found friendly refuge on her happy shore,
She knew they were distress’d nor e’er remembered more.

Yet when Invasion’s raging flooe
Burst dreadful o’er each ruin’d mound,
And, swell’d by carnage and by blood,
Threaten’d the trembling nations round;
While Europe, from Batavia’s wat’ry plain
By Commerce snatch’d from Ocean’s wide domain,
To Southern Seas that gently lave
Haia’s mild shores with tepid wave,
Look’d up, where on her rocky throne
Unaw’d Britannia sits alone, -
“Go forth, my sons, in Freedom’s cause!” she cried,
Check’d was the torrent’s course, and refluent roll’d the tide.

What tho’ on this auspicious day
Her offering to the best of Kings,
Pluck’d from the sober Olive’s spray,
The duteous Muse no longer brings;
Yet while the Laurel’s warrior bough
Now decks his youthful hero’s brow
Untouched by Rapine’s hand profane,
Unsoil’d by dark Ambition’s stain,
Albion once more with kindling flame
Renews her scenes of ancient fame,
Again she sees in fields of glory shine
Her sons of dauntless breast, her chiefs of royal line.

falchion – broad, short sword
Haia – not sure – possibly Portugal
refluent – flowing back, returning or ebbing.

ODE FOR THE NEW YEAR 1796 by Henry James Pye Esq Poet Laureate
To be performed before the Royal Family at St James’, this day.

Where is immortal Virtue’s meed,
The unfading wreath of true renown,
Best recompence by Heav’n decreed,
For all the cares that wait a Crown;
If industry, with anxious zeal,
Still watchful o’er the public weal;
Is equal Justice’ awful arm,
Temper’d by Mercy’s seraph charm,
Are ineffectual to assuage
Remorseless Faction’s harpy rage
But the fell deamons, urg’d by Hell’s behest
Threaten with frantic arm the Royal Patriot’s breast.

Yet not, imperial George, at thee
Was the rude book of malice sped;
Even fiends that crown with reverence see,
When Virtue consecrates the anointed head.
No – at thy bosom’s fondest claim –
Thy Britain’s peace – their shafts they aim;
Pale Envy, while o’er half the world
War’s bloody banners are unfurl’d
****** * wafts from savage tree
Protected by the guardian sea,
Where Commerce spreads her golden stores
Where ***
* waft triumph to our shores
She saw – and sickening at the sight
Wish’d the fair prospect of our hopes to blight
Sought out the object of our dreams
Found where we most could and tried to wound us there.

The broken shaft that coward malice rear’d
Shall to thy fame eternal lustre give
Inscribe on history’s page thy name rever’d
And **
* there with endless blazon live
For there ************* remotest race
How Britain’s ******* foes proclaim’d their hate
And deemed her Monarch’s life the bulwark of the State.

Now strike a livelier chord – this happy day.
Selected from the circling year
To celebrate a name to Britain dear,
From Britain’s sons demands a festive lay;
Mild Sovereign of our Monarch’s soul,
Whose eyes meek radiance can control
The powers of care, and grace a throne
With each calm joy to life domestic known;
Propitious Heaven has o’er they head
Blossoms of richer fragrance shed,
Than all the assiduous Muse can bring
Cull’d from the honied stores of Spring
For see amid wild winter’s hours
A bud it’s silken folds display,
That crown thy own ambrosial May.
O may thy * **** *** ,prove
Omen, of concord, and of love;
Bid the loud strains of martial triumph cease,
and tune to softer mood the warbling reed of peace!

meed - reward

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: ilza (200.199.70.---)
Date: May 31, 2005 05:57PM

Marian, you are amazing !

(Haia is in the Netherlands)

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: May 31, 2005 07:51PM

Oh, Haia IS a place is it, I thought it was probably an old name for somewhere that he was personifying (like Albion for Britain, for example), but he might have broadened his metaphor and it could have been some sort of Greek/Roman deity personifying or a character trait or something quite different. That is a relief! Trying to find a definition of Haia took me into the realms of religions I don't really want to study and I got a hint of Portugal from one of the hits, but it was a very tenuous connection. I must look at the history book and see what wars were going on in 1793 and 1796 - that might explain a bit more and give me clues to the gaps and other dubious bits.

Thanks again, Ilza - I think you are amazing, too!

Re: Henry James Pye (1745-1813)
Posted by: ilza (200.199.70.---)
Date: May 31, 2005 09:00PM

Haia is a place, and the only reason I know it is because

there is not such a place in Portugal ( I am married to a Portuguese,
I know Portugal quite well)

a famous brazilian author/politician ( a bad author, in my opinion)
represented Brazil in the Second International Peace Conference in Haia
in 1907, and I had to learn about that in High School

I am so glad I forgot almost everything I learned in HS !

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