Brooke Boothby (1743-1824)

Sonnets from Sorrows. Sacred to the Memory of Penelope by Sir Brooke Boothby (1796)

Boothby never got over the loss of his only child Penelope in Spring 1791. As he wrote in Sonnet XIII:

Her faded form now glides before my view; her plaintive voice now floats upon the gale. The hope how vain, that time should bring relief! Time does but deeper root a real grief.

He neglected his estates, got into financial difficulties and wandered aimlessly in genteel poverty on the continent. He died in Boulogne, France, 13th Feb. 1824.

Thank you to Bonita Billman for transcribing most of the Boothby poems here.

A Locket of Hair

Bright crispéd threads of pure translucent gold!
Ye who were wont with zephyr's breath to play,
Over the warm cheek and ivory forehead stray,
Or clasp her neck in many an amorous fold,
Now, motionless, in this little shrine must hold:
No more to wanton in the eye of day;
Or to the breeze your changeful hues display:
For ever still inanimate, and cold.

Poor, poor last relic of an angel's face!
Sad setting ray;--no more thy orb is seen!
O beauty's pattern, miracle of grace;
Must this be all that tells what thou hast been!--
Come then, cold crystal, on this bosom lie
Till love and grief and fond remembrance die!

Sonnet I

Life's summer flown, the wint'ry tempest rude,
Began to lower on the declining year;
When smiles celestial gilt the prospect drear,
Dispell'd the gloom, and joyful spring renew'd:
Fresh flowers beneath her fairy feet were strew'd;
Again soft accents woo'd the enchanted ear;
In her bright form, as in a mirrour clear,
Reflected, each gay scene of life view'd.
Young in her youth, and graceful in her grace,
In her's, I lived o'er every joy again;
Lived o'er the charms that beam'd upon her face,
Where Hope and Love revived their smiling train.
Night o'er the scene her blackest veil has spread;
And Death's pale hand a tenfold horrour shed.

Sonnet II

Why died I not before that fatal morn,
That thunder'd in mine ears, "Thy Child is gone;
"Thy Joys are fled to Heaven; thy hope is done;
"And thy few days to come are all forlorn!"
Why, when the stroke, too heavy to be borne,
Had smote affrighted Reason from her throne,
And life's chill power suspended; why, too soon,
Did the warm current to its course return!
Twice twenty summer suns had roll'd away,
And seen my hours a clear smooth surface flow;
Prepared already nature's debt to pay;
Scarce would my head have shrunk beneath the blow.
Why now, in misery, do I lingering stay,
While happiness foregone but mocks my woe?

Sonnet III

Did I not weep for him that was in pain!
Was not my hand still open to distress!
When did my harden'd heart the weak oppress,
Or Misery tell her plaintive tale in vain!
Did ever crime this bleeding bosom stain,
Or injured sufferer claim unpaid redress!
Envy, or hate, or pride, my soul possess;
O wounded truth of broken laws complain!
Fate to my humble hopes one blessing gave,
And no new gift my grateful breast required;
"O Heaven! The object of my love but save!"
Was the sole boon my pious prayers desired:
Why then has angry Heaven, atone dire blow,
For ever laid my sorrowing head so low?

Sonnet V

Death! Thy cold hand the brightest flower has chill'd,
That e'er suffused love's cheek with rosy dies;
Quench'd the soft radiance of the loveliest eyes,
And accents tuned to sweetest music still'd;
The springing buds of hope and pleasure kill'd;
Joy's cheerful measures changed to doleful sighs;
Of fairest form, and fairest mind the ties
For ever rent in twain--So Heaven has will'd!
Though in the bloom of health, thy arrow fled,
Sudden as sure; long had prophetic dread
Hung o'er my heart, and all my thoughts depress'd.
Oft when in flowery wreaths I saw her dress'd,
A beauteous victim seemed to meet my eyes,
To early fate a destined sacrifice.

Sonnet VI

What art thou, Life? The shadow of a dream:
The past and future dwell in thought alone;
The present, ere we note its flight, is gone;
And all ideal, vain, fantastick, seem.
Whence is thy source! And whither dost thou tend!
So short thy period, and thy form so frail;
Poor prisoner! pent in Death's surrounding vale,
Born but to breathe, to suffer, and to end.
Why, Shadow, bring'st thou on thy raven wing
Dark trains of grief, and visions of the night,
Rather than graces, robed in purple light,
Elysian flowers, and love's unclouded spring;
Since sad, or gay, whatever be thy theme,
Death surely ends at once the dreamer and the dream!

". . . In a highly interesting and pathetic volume of elegiac poetry, written by Sir Brooke Boothby (and published in London by Cadell and Davies, 1796), entitled Sorrows Sacred to the Memory of Penelope, is contained a fine engraving of the exquisite recumbent figure by Banks in Ashbourne Church, referred to by your correspondent. Perhaps you will afford room for the quotation of the following sonnet (Sorrows, p. 18.), which may interest readers unacquainted with the volume:" (from Notes and Queries, May 15, 1852)

Sonnet XII

Well has thy classick chisel, Banks*, express'd
The graceful lineaments of that fine form,
Which late with conscious, living beauty warm,
Now here beneath does in dread silence rest.
And, oh, while life shall agitate my breast,
Recorded there exists her every charm,
In vivid colours, safe from change or harm,
Till my last sigh unalter'd love attest.
That form, as fair as ever fancy drew,
The marble cold, inanimate, retains;
But of the radiant smile that round her threw
Joys, that beguiled my soul of mortal pains,
And each divine expression's varying hue,
A little senseless dust alone remains.

*The reference is to Neoclassical sculptor Thomas Banks, who carved Penelope Boothby's sarcophagus in St. Oswald's Church, Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

Sonnet XV

Dear Mansergh! Of the few this breast who share,
And share in pitying sympathy its woe,
You best my vast excess of passion know,
And all the sorrow I am doom'd to bear,
While thoughts can present with the past compare.
Shall memory e'er that summer-day forego,
When thy fair Mate did every care bestow,
And vermeil fruits and fragrant wreaths prepare,
In honour of my Child, to dress the bower!
And when the sweet epitome of grace
Tripp'd o'er the walks, and honied every flower,
You mark'd the opening beauties of her face;
Mark'd how my captured soul was lost in love,
And trembled for the dire reverse I prove.