1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Scott of Amwell

Anonymous, Review of Scott, Poetical Works; 54 (July 1782) 47-50.



These poems are written by a quaker; a circumstance rather extraordinary in the world of letters, rhyming being a sin which gentleman of that fraternity are seldom guilty of: Mr. Scott is, notwithstanding, strongly attached to it; and having received some flattering applause on his former publications, that were not unsuccessful, has made some considerable additions to them, which, he hopes, "are not of inferior merit." With the author's opinion, in this respect, we cannot entirely coincide, as we do not think the greater part of the additional pieces now before us equal to what he before published. Amwell, a descriptive poem, the Elegy written in1768, with some others, had their share of poetical merit: the Amoebaen, and Oriental Eclogues, Odes, Epistles, &c. now added, are of a much weaker feature, and many of them incorrect; but they were necessary, we suppose, towards making up a volume, that trophied pillar consecrated to vanity, which every author erects with so much pleasure, and contemplates, when raised, with so much satisfaction: this noble structure our poet has adorned with a variety of head and tail-pieces, executed in a good style, by some of our most ingenious engravers. Mr. Scott has at least, we must acknowledge, spared no pains to decorate his work with all that can allure the eye, or gratify the taste of a dilletante readers, who loves to see the sister arts uniting to render a neat page truly delectable, as our author sings:

Nor less than books th' engravers works invite,
Where past and distant come before the sight.

To say the truth, there is a profusion of ornament and finery about this book, not quite suitable to the plainness and simplicity of the Barclean system; but Mr. Scott is fond of the Muses, and wishes, we suppose, like captain Macheath, to see his ladies well dressed.

But we will look into the contents, and lay before our readers a short specimen of Mr. Scott's volume of poetry, which consists of Eclogues, Odes, Epistles, Elegies, and almost every other species of miscellaneous production; amongst the Eclogues, of which there are five, Serim, or the Artificial Famine, is the best written: we shall therefore extract from it the following lines:

—Near a temple's recent ruin, stood
A white-rob'd Bramin, by the sacred flood:
His wives, his children, dead beside him lay—
Of Hunger these, and those of Grief the prey!
Thrice he with dust defil'd his aged head;
Thrice o'er the stream his hands uplifted spread:
"Hear, all ye Powers to whom we bend in prayer!
Hear, all who rule o'er water, earth, and air!
'Tis not for them, tho' lifeless there they lie;
'Tis not for me, tho' innocent I die;—
My Country's breast the tyger, Avarice, rends,
And loud to you her parting groan ascends.
Hear, all ye Powers to whom we bend in prayer!
Hear, all who rule o'er water, earth, and air!
Hear, and avenge!—"

"But hark! what voice, from yonder starry sphere,
Slides, like the breeze of Evening, o'er my ear?
Lo, Birmah's form! on amber clouds enthron'd;
His azure robe with lucid emerald zon'd;
He looks celestial dignity and grace,
And views with pity wretched human race!

"'Forbear, rash man! nor curse thy country's foes;
Frail man to man forgiveness ever owes.
When Moisasoor the fell to Earth's fair plain
Brought his detested offspring, Strife and Pain;
Revenge with them, relentless Fury, came,
Her bosom burning with infernal flame!
Her hair sheds horror, like the comet's blaze;
Her eyes, all ghastly, blast where'er they gaze;
Her lifted arm a poison'd crice sustains;
Her garments drop with blood of kindred veins!
Who asks her aid, must own her endless reign,
Feel her keen scourge, and drag her galling chain!'

"The strains sublime in sweetest music close,
And all the tumult of my soul compose.
Yet you, ye oppressors! uninvok'd on you,
Your steps, the steps of Justice will pursue!
Go, spread your white sails on the azure main;
Fraught with our spoils, your native land regain;
Go, plant the grove, and bid the lake expand,
And on green hills the pompous palace stand:
Let Luxury's hand adorn the gaudy room,
Smooth the soft couch, and shed the rich perfume—
There Night's kind calm in vain shall sleep invite,
While fancied omens warn, and spectres fright:
Sad sounds shall issue from your guilty walls,
The widow'd wife's, the sonless mother's calls;
And infant Rajahs' bleeding forms shall rise,
And lift to you their supplicating eyes:
Remorse intolerable your hearts will feel,
And your own hands plunge deep the avenging steel.
(For Europe's cowards Heaven's command disdain,
To Death's cold arms they fly for ease in vain.)
For us, each painful transmigration o'er,
Sweet fields receive us to resign no more;
Where Safety's fence for ever round us grows,
And Peace, fair flower, with bloom unfading blows;
Light's Sun unsetting shines with chearing beam;
And Pleasure's River rolls its golden stream!"

Enrapt he spoke — then ceas'd the lofty strain,
And Orel's rocks return'd the sound again.—
A British ruffian, near in ambush laid,
Rush'd sudden from the cane-isle's secret shade;
"Go to thy Gods!" with rage infernal cried,
And headlong plung'd the hapless Sage into the foaming tide.

There is great poetical merit in the whole of this Oriental Eclogue, which paints in the warmest colours the various scenes of misery and distress brought on the natives of India by their cruel English task-masters: there is too much truth, we fear, in this narrative. — In Mr. Scott's odes we do not meet with those polish'd numbers, nor that freedom and spirit, which this species of poetry requires. One of them, written on leaving Bath, ends thus:

—Thy mansions gay,
Where Peers and beauties lead the ball,
Neglected, soon may feel decay;
Forsaken, moulder to their fall.—
Palmyra, once like thee renown'd,
Now lies a ruin on the ground.—
But still thy environs so fair,
Thy waters salutary aid,
Will surely always some persuade
To render thee their care.

This conclusion is abrupt and insipid: but the last ode, called the Mexican Prophecy, makes us amends for the rest. Mr. Scott's Epistles are written in an easy and familiar style, and seem to flow from a good and benevolent heart. — One of them, which he entitles an Essay on Painting, addressed to a young artist, had perhaps been been omitted: this subject having been already so fully treated, and in so masterly a manner, by the ingenious Mr. Hayley, Mr. Scott's observations, however just or elegant, must suffer greatly in the comparison.

This volume of poems is, upon the whole, an amusing and agreeable collection.