Plymouth poet Nicholas Carrington's poem of bon voyage for Leigh Hunt, 'To a Friend, On His Approaching Voyage to Pisa' (1822), marks the beginning of Hunt's journey to join Lord Byron and P. B. Shelley in publishing the Liberal magazine. The poem offers a sidelight on some iconic events of Anglo-Italian Romanticism, and suggest that Carrington's other works deserve more attention than they have so far received.
Plymouth, Devon, Spring 1822. As Hunt prepared to set out for Italy, the local poet Nicholas Carrington wrote him …
To a Friend, On His Approaching Voyage to Pisa
And now for Italy –
Beautiful Italy. The loud sea-wave,
That in the deep and stormy winter rose
In all its mightiness against thy bark,
Sleeps; for the tyrant winds have heard the voice –
The soft, subduing voice of Spring. Gracefully
Green England wears her leaf; the choral lay
Thou lov’st so well is in her groves – the lark
Is in her chequer’d sky; - in vain to thee
Her foliage, flowers, and songs. With heedless step
The sailor, on his rough warm errand comes
To thee and thine - those little ones
That nestle round thy heart, and her[*] who pines,
E’en in our gentle Devon. Fare thee well.
May thine be fav’ring heavens; and if the winds
Should kiss the wave too roughly, swift as flies
The shaft from the strain’d bow, O may thy bark
Bear thee to Friendship’s arms!
Green England’s foliage is a compliment for Hunt, acknowledging his most recent collection Foliage (1818), and ‘Fare thee well’ echoes Byron’s searing verses on leaving for Italy published by Hunt in The Examiner on 21 April 1816. If the final lines suggest that Carrington has looked over Hunt’s copy of Adonais, they may draw two of Hunt’s closest friends, Shelley and Keats, into the poem as well. As Hunt and his family embark to follow Byron, Shelley and Keats to Italy, To a Friend glances gracefully back over his recent career and marks the beginning of what would prove a year of tumult and tragedy.
The New DNB offers us the following details. Nicholas Toms Carrington (1777-1830) was born in Plymouth and baptized there on 11 August 1777, the son of Henry Carrington, a grocer, and his wife, Rosamund. Soon after his birth his parents moved to Plymouth Dock. For some time Carrington was employed as a clerk in the dockyard, but he disliked the work, enlisted in the navy, and was present at the defeat of the Spanish off Cape St Vincent on 14 July 1797. After his naval service Carrington settled at Maidstone, Kent, where for five years he was a schoolteacher. In 1809 he established a private school at Plymouth Dock and ran this until shortly before his death. At an early period of his life Carrington began to contribute verses to the London and provincial papers. He also published ‘The Banks of the Tamar’, a Poem with other Pieces (1820) and a topographical poem, Dartmoor (1826) – two volumes that arguably deserve more attention than they have received up to now. Carrington died on 2 September 1830 at Bath, and was buried nearby at Comisnay village churchyard.
To a Friend has little significance as verse, but as a comment on Hunt’s sojourn in Plymouth and as a minor sidelight on some iconic events of Anglo-Italian Romanticism it deserves at least a footnote. As an accomplished poet of England’s West Country, perhaps Nicholas Carrington deserves more.
Nicholas Roe is the author of critically acclaimed biographies and studies including John Keats: A New Life, Fiery Heart: The First Life of Leigh Hunt, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years, and John Keats and the Culture of Dissent.
- Parker, Joanne. ‘“More wondrous far than Egypt’s boasted pyramids”: The South West’s Megaliths in the Romantic Period’, in English Romantic Writers and the West Country. Essays in Memory of Jonathan Wordsworth, ed. Nicholas Roe. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010. Print.