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West Country Poets

REV. E. A. BRAY (1778-1857)

The Rev. Edward Atkyns Bray was born in the Abbey House, Tavistock, on December 18, 1778.  He was the only son of Mr. Edward BRAY, a solicitor, who, from an early period till the time of his decease in 1816, managed the whole of the extensive property of the Duke of Bedford in the West of England.  he was a delicate child, but from his earliest years displayed a singular aptitude for study.  So great was his love of books, he was never so happy as when he could get into a corner, and pass the hours over the pages of a favourite author.  He also exhibited artistic skill, and at eleven years old he sketched portraits with a correctness of outline and truth that older artiest might have envied.  He was also musical.

One of the boy's godfathers was the late Mr. TREMAINE, of Sydenham House, Devon, who, desiring to confer on his godson a benefit, had, whilst he was yet a child, given to a clergyman related to the lad the living of Lew Trenchard, Devon (now held by the Rev. Sabine BARING-GOULD), to hold till he should be of sufficient age to take the duties upon himself.  But this kind act on the part of Mr. Tremaine was afterwards rendered useless by Mr. Bray's determination to make his son a lawyer.  His mother had a rooted objection to sending the boy to a public school, so he was placed under the care of a most worthy clergyman at Moreton Hampstead, and afterwards under the same at Alphington near Exeter.  On leaving school he gave himself up heart and soul to poetry, and in his nineteenth year published a volume of his juvenile productions.  PARK, in his edition of RITSON's 'Select English Songs,' spoke with commendation of the volume, and quoted some of the pieces.  About this time Edward formed a plan for writing the history of his native town, and made notes of his investigations and discoveries in the neighbourhood and on Dartmoor.  He had also a good knowledge of French, German, and Italian; for the former he was indebted to a French prisoner-of-war then on parole at Tavistock.  A second volume of poems followed closely upon the one just mentioned; this was entitled 'Arcadian Idyls,' and these also met with considerable favour.  In 1801 he went to London, and was entered as a student at the Middle Temple.  Five years after he was called to the Bar.  He prosecuted his studies and his practice most assiduously, but followed still more industriously his favourite literary pursuits.  he formed an acquaintance with Mr. EDWARDS, a leading publisher of his time, who placed his valuable library at the disposal of the young student.  His acquaintances amongst the leading literati of London were numerous, and with many of them he formed a life-long friendship.  His initiation into the mysteries of London life gave him the incentive to write many bright and witty pieces, such as are now denominated vers de societé. For five years Mr. Bray went the western circuit, and attained a fair reputation in his vocation, though it was not to his liking.  His own inclinations were always turned to the Church, and even whilst in the Temple he studied the works of the old divines.  At length he resolved to enter that sacred profession to which his heart and wishes were devoted, and by the aid of Mr. MATHIAS, with whom he had long been on terms of great intimacy, he received ordination at the hands of the Bishop of Norwich, although he had not taken a degree or passed through the usual course of University studies.  He then proceeded to Tavistock on a visit to his parents.   Just then the Vicar of Tavistock (the Rev. Richard SLEEMAN) died suddenly, and through the exertions of Mr. ADAM (afterwards Baron Adam), Mr. Bray was appointed to the vacant preferment, in the year 1812.  He was thus, after many changes of fortune, at last settled in his native town and established as a minister in the very church on which he had always fixed his desires and his hopes.  An amusing incident occurred soon after he had taken holy orders.  The Rev. Dr., HUNT, a well-known clergy-man in Devon, said to him one day:  'Mr. Bray, I have had the pleasure of seeing you but three times in my life; the first was in your regimentals' (he was a volunteer officer) 'at a dinner given by General England to the military, the second was in your wig and gown as a lawyer in the court at Exeter, and now I see you in gown and bands as Vicar of Tavistock.'  In 1822 he became  Bachelor of Divinity at Trinity College, CAmbridge, he had previously (1812) been made a magistrate.  On being made Rural Dean he made in a clear and beautiful outline, sketches of every church he visited, and also kept a journal, still having an intention of publishing an account of Tavistock and its vicinity.  In 1820 he published a little volume of 'Lyric Hymns,' and in 1821 he printed for private circulation, a selection of songs, chiefly those written in his earlier years.  He wrote and published various works of controversial character, and several sermons.  Many of his notes on Dartmoor were incorporated by his wife, Mrs. BRAY, in her popular work, 'Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy,' published in 1836 and since reprinted.  This work was undertaken at the suggestion of Mr. SOUTHEY.  In 1839 Mr. and Mrs. Bray visited Switzerland.  He kept a journal, which was afterwards published by Mrs. Bray in a work entitled 'The Mountains and Lakes of Switzerland.'  Mr. Bray, despite his delicate constitution, lived to a good old age, and died on July 17, 1857.  He was interred in the old churchyard, in a spot that he had always indicated, close to the only remnant of the once famous abbey church of Tavistock. Mr. Bray's poetical works were published by his widow (herself a writer of no mean repute) in two volumes in 1859, with a memoir from which these few facts have been culled.  Some of his hymns are very beautiful; in the vers de societé he excelled, while his miscellaneous and patriotic poems contain many stirring pieces.  Many of his poems have a local colouring, and all bear the stamp of deep thought and high culture.


How soon within my youthful breast
Is every anxious thought suppress'd;
How feels it nature's soothing power,
When lonely, at eve's tranquil hour,
Led by the moon's unclouded beam,
I seek the banks of Tavy's stream.

If absent from my native cot,
Affliction were to prove my lot;
Though on my bed in tears I lay,
My woes would swiftly pass away,
Were I an instant but to dream
I saw the banks of Tavy's stream.


Oh! what is man, the boasted lord of earth?
What but a contradiction from his birth?
One moment sees him rapt in thought profound,
Another, whirl'd in Passion's frantic round:
Now dares the soul to highest heaven aspire,
Now to the world confines its bas desire.
Thus changed, from joy and life to woe and death,
Was man, God's image, by Sin's baleful breath:
Then, too, from Reason, sovereign of the soul,
The rebel Senses, seized a joint control.
  But though the body thus its will constrains,
And binds it down to earth with iron chains,
that soul still feels 'twas framed a course to steer
'Beyond this visible diurnal sphere:'
E'en as a king, by lawless hands uncrown'd,
Prelude to death, within a dungeon bound,
Feels he was born, nor fears to make it known,
To speak his sovereign mandates from a throne,


Hail, far-seen Tor! piled on whose craggy head
  This sacred tower has seen the mother's tears -
  The knell wide-sounding to the pilgrim's ears -
Fall for her infant, number'd with the dead.
Thy breezy steep with youth's light steps I tread,
  And strain my sight to where Mount Edgcumbe peers,
  With charms reflected, whence the sailor steers,
'Mid countless dangers, o'er old ocean's bed.
Those kindred dead, that silent round me lie,
  Once ranged those vales that open to my view;
And oft with noisy mirth, that checks the sigh
  Sported, regardless how the moments flew.
Alas! to think, whilst tear drops dim mine eye,
  How soon we all must bid the world adieu.

Transcribed from: Wright, W. H. K.,(1896) West-Country Poets: Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock, pp.48-51

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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