1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Scott of Amwell

Robert Southey, in Review of Chalmers's English Poets; Quarterly Review 11 (July 1814) 500-01.



In the life of that good man Scott of Amwell, a sort of last dying speech and confession, which the quakers published after his death, is inserted, without any suspicion that it will injure the memory of Mr. Scott. "Those," the editor adds, "who have admired him as the excellent and benevolent citizen and the favoured poet, will not, it is hoped, whatever their religious opinion may be, view him with less complacency on his death-bed as a christian." This precious paper requires some comment; Scott's life had not merely been innocent and decorous, but eminently useful. "He was esteemed regular and moral in his conduct," says this very document, "and extensive in his knowledge; very remarkably diligent and attentive in promoting works of public utility, in assisting individuals in cases of difficulty, and in the conciliation of differences. Nevertheless, it is added, "there is reason to believe he frequently experienced the conviction of the spirit of truth for not faithfully following the Lord." Whether any heavier offence can be proved against him by the society than that of having styled himself Esquire in one of his title-pages, and used such heathen words as December and May in his poems, instead of twelfth month and fifth month, we know not; but when he was dying at a vigorous age of a typhus fever, he was "brought down," says this, quaker-process, "as from the clifts of the rocks and the heights of the hills into the valley of deep humiliation." "Being convinced of his own low and unprepared state, he said he himself was unworthy of the lowest place in the heavenly mansions, but hoped he should not be a companion of accursed and wrathful spirits." In this state of "religious concern" he continued till he died; and the quakers published the account "as a word of, reproof to the careless, and of comfort to the mourners on Zion." They will probably not be well pleased at seeing it republished in a work which will preserve it for many centuries. Thirty years have done much towards softening down the asperities of the sect; and if they had among their members at this time one who wrote such poems as Scott of Amwell, they would regard his works, as things which did honour to the society as well as to the author. The Romanists draw a veil over their confessions, with due reverence for the feelings, as well as due tenderness for the infirmities of human nature. How much wiser and better is their practice than that which drags into day-light these death-bed scenes; and founding a judicial process upon whatever comes from the lips of a man upon the rack of disease, publishes sentence against him, and wounds the living while it stigmatizes the dead!