Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton

Compton didn't live in Edinburgh, but was married here to a Scottish woman who inspired him with her wit and poetry, and then left him an early widower. Throughout his cosmopolitan life as an intellectual aristocrat he crossed paths with other eminent Charlotte Chapel members, who are reflected in his rather beautiful poems.

Castle Ashby, Northumberland
Charles Compton, Earl of Northampton, d.1828
Mary Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith MP of Earlestoke Park, Wiltshire, d.1843.
Castle Ashby, Northumberland
Political views
'A maverick tory, he would occasionally vote with the whigs and oppose his own party, which censured him as impractical and crotchety.' He supported direct taxation and the abolition of the slave trade. (2)
Styled Lord Compton until 1812, then Earl Compton of Compton.
Compton and his wife were poets. Some examples of his work are below.
Chapel connection
1815 (wedding)
Married on
24 July 1815
Margaret MacLean Clephane
Charles (1816), William (1818) who both inherited, also probably others.
He was introduced to Margaret by Walter Scott, whom he had just met, who commissioned him to deliver a book of verses by Robert Morehead, an Episcopalian clergyman at the Cowgate Chapel, Edinburgh. Northhampton wrote a sonnet on Scott's death (below). As President of the Royal Society he encountered Leonard Horner as a reformer in 1847. He was not an innovative man but was happy to acquiesce in widely-supported reforms, although they resulted in his resignation; but he deplored the reformers' style, finding them ill-mannered and offensive. (2) Perhaps Horner is the character of the Emperor Butterfly in Compton's fable of Cowper's Oak (below)?


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Jack Morrell, 'Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, second earl of Northampton, 1790-1851' in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Spencer Compton's Poems

Stanzas suggested by some lines of Brandrard, an American poet, on autumn

... October's gales as full of balm may be
As those of merry May. The barn-stored corn
May glad the peasant's breast. The lark may spring
As high amid the clouds, and to the morn
As loud, as clear, as sweet a descant sing
As when the youthful foliage on the tree
First budded, and the year itself was young,
And every forest glade with Love's own music rung.

And Autumn's changing hues and ruddy leaves
Perhaps are warmer, lovelier than the green
Gay robe of Spring: but while the painter's eye
With rapturous delight surveys the scene,
Far different objects will the mind descry.
Alas! It is the prescient heart that grieves;
In Autumn's tints sees Winter's coming gloom,
The twilight of Man's life, the shadow of his tomb!

Sonnet on the death of Sir Walter Scott, suggested by lines in his Lady of the Lake.

"Harp of the North, farewell: the hills grow dark,
On purple peaks a deeper shade descending;"--
The tyrant Death, alas, is with them blending
Dread shadows, where no glow-worm lights his spark.
Alas, the minstrel-form we no more mark
That o'er that wizard harp erewhile was bending;
And to its sounds an inspiration lending,
To which Grace, Genius, Virtue loved to hark.

Harp of the North, farewell! again farewell!
For ever silent is thy sounding wire?
Of cold annihilation speaks the knell
Where heavenward points yon venerable spire?
No, Minstrel Spirit! thus its accents swell,
Go, join in hymns divine the Angelic quire!"--

Sonnet on Eas Force, a cascade in Mull, which at High Water falls into the Sea.

On Margaret Maclean Clephane's family estate.

Where rears on high his giant bulk Benmore,
Frowning o'er blue Loch Tuath's stormy sound,
And nought of man is seen, far, far around,
Save some lone fisherman who plies the oar,
Or kelp's white-wreathèd smoke on Ulva's shore:
How do I love, stretched on the grassy mound,
Eas Force, to watch thy foaming waters bound,
And listen to their wide re-echoing roar!

And while its loveliness the scene endears,
Teaching a sad and solemn truth, appears
Thy fall abrupt into the'engulfing sea;
For human life with all its smiles and tears,
Its follies and its frailties, hopes and fears,
Oft runs as headlong to Eternity.

Cowper's Oak and the Emperor Butterfly: a fable, by Lord Northampton

A Butterfly one summer's day
Sat on an old oak's topmost spray--
A Butterfly that but of late
Had left the chrysalis's state:
Emerging from the narrow room
Of sleep, imprisonment, and gloom,
For a brief space he flutters round,
Then settles on the verdant ground:

About impertinently stares,
And gives himself most mighty airs.
Ungrateful to his foster oak,
At length contemptuously he spoke:
"Huge mass of dingy brown and green,
Thou ugliest tree that e'er was seen!
With those gaunt arms that white and bare
Thou raisest to the ambient air,
Like mendicant whose shrivell'd limb

Brings many a pity's dole to him:
Thy trunk as hollow to my eye
As Pride combined with Poverty:
Thy foliage thin and poor, and then
Upon thy side that frightful wen!
I wonder what could make my mother
Prefer thy oakship to another?
When round and near is to be seen
So many a tree, young, straight and green,

I cannot think the reason why--
I do not need a foil--not I--
The peacock's plumage bright may shine,
Yet it may serve as foil to mine!
My wings are form'd to soar on high
And emulate the azure sky!"--
Though oaks are not thin-skinned, we know,
A proper feeling yet they show,
As much as any other tree,

When treated with indignity--
So gravely thus our oak replied:--
Gay insect, full of idle pride,
Ungrateful dost thou scoff at me
Whose leaves have fed thine infancy?
Whose boughs protected thy weak form
From piercing wind and angry storm?
Ugly thou say'st I am, and old--
And yet, if truth is to be told,

Art here has spent full many a day
To bear my lineaments away.
Thou art an Emperor--idle name!
Thy purple robes thy rank proclaim--
Alone proclaim!-- Thine empire, where?
In earth, in ocean, or in air?
The eagle rules the liquid sky;
Wilt thou dispute his sovereignty?

The lion reigns through Afric's groves,
Where panther, leopard, tiger roves.
The whale, whose power no fish can brave,
Is autocrat in every wave;
While aged oaks with giant stem,
Upraise their leafy diadem:
Oaks that for centuries have stood
The mighty monarchs of the wood:
Then give--no idle boast and vain--

To man his empire o'er the main.
Poor insect though thy hue be gay,
Perhaps a week, perhaps a day,
Thou'lt live--a few miles round to soar,
Then fall, thy little being o'er--
While aged oaks, as ships, shall ride
In triumph o'er the bounding tide,
And, wing'd with sails, shall treasure bear,
To distant ports from regions fair,

Where'er the foaming billows roll,
From East to West, from Pole to Pole!--
Thy mother--dost thou ask why she
Did not as cradle choose for thee,
some younger, straighter, greener tree?
Alas, I speak with ruth and sorrow,
They all may be cut down to-morrow.
A mighty bard has giv'n to me
From woodman's axe immunity;

A Poet, of far different school,
Has turn'd thee into ridicule,
As making a wise man a fool!
To boast of Cowper's praise is mine--
To wince at Wolcot's lash is thine!
Go!--I forgive thee--off--away--
Enjoy thy very little day;
Ere yet thy fleeting course be run,
Show thy bright colours to the sun,

Sport in his beam from flower to flower--
Soon o'er thine eyes death's cloud shall lour--
An age is but to me as is to thee an hour!"

These were published in The Tribute: a collection of miscellaneous unpublished poems by various authors edited by Lord Northampton (London, John Murray, 1837)

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