1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hamilton of Bangour

William Richardson in The Lounger No. XLII (19 November 1785) 165-66, 168.



SIR,

I was much pleased with the mention, made by your friend Colonel Caustic, of our poet Hamilton of Bangour. I have always regarded him as holding a distinguished rank among the fine writers of his age, and as having done signal credit to the genius of his country. Yet his works do not appear to me to be so well known, nor to be held in such high esteem, as they desire. Permit me, therefore, to recommend them to your readers.

The poems of Hamilton display regular design, just sentiments, fanciful invention, pleasing sensibility, elegant diction, and smooth versification. His genius was aided by taste, and his taste was improved by knowledge. He was not only well acquainted with the most elegant modern writers, but with those of antiquity.

The design of the poem is regular. The Poet displays in it the struggles, relapses, recoveries, and final discomfiture of a mind striving with an obstinate and habituated passion. It has, in the language of the critics, a beginning, a middle, and an end. It exhibits an action in its rise, progress, and termination. The Poet represents himself as wishing to withdraw his thoughts from inferior subjects, and fix them on such as he holds better suited to a rational, and still more to a philosophical spirit. He must be aided in this high exercise by Contemplation: and the assistance of this august personage must be duly solicited. Accordingly the Poem opens with a fine address to the "Voice divine," the Power of Poetry.

Go forth invok'd, O voice divine!
And issue from thy sacred shrine;
Go, search each solitude around
Where Contemplation may be found, &c.

But Contemplation must not only be duly solicited, but properly received and attended; and therefore a company of various but suitable associates are invited:

Bring Faith, endued with eagle eyes,
That joins this earth, to distant skies, &c.—
Devotion, high above that soars,
And sings exulting, and adores, &c.—
Last, to crown all, with these be join'd
The decent nun, fair Peace of Mind,
Whom Innocence, e'er yet betray'd,
Bore young in Eden's happy shade;
Resign'd, contented, meek, and mild,
Of blameless mother, blameless child.

In the like manner, such passions as are adverse to Contemplation are very properly prohibited; and in this catalogue are included, among others, Superstition, Zeal, Hypocrisy, Malice, and all inhuman affections. The Poet seems chiefly solicitous to prohibit Love. Of him and his intrusion he appears particularly apprehensive. Yet, in the confidence of his present mind, he would disguise his apprehensions, and treats this formidable adversary, not only with defiance, but with contempt.

But chiefly Love, Love, far off fly,
Nor interrupt my privacy.
'Tis not for thee, capricious pow'r,
Weak tyrant of a fev'rish hour,
Fickle, and ever in extremes,
My radiant day of Reason beams;
And sober Contemplation's ear,
Disdains thy syren tongue to hear,
Speed thee on changeful wings away
To where thy willing slaves obey.
Go, herd amongst thy wonted train,
The false, th' inconstant, and the vain;
Thou hast no subject here; begone!
Contemplation comes anon.

The action proceeds. The Poet attends to solemn objects: engages in important inquiries: considers the diversified condition of human life: dwells on the ample provision made by nature for human happiness: dwells on the happiness of social affections: is thus led imperceptibly to think of love: mentions Monimia, and relapses.

Ah me! What, helpless, have I said?
Unhappy, by myself betrayed!
I deem'd, but ah! I deem'd in vain,
From the dear image to refrain, &c.

He makes another effort; but with equal success: he makes another, and another: he will exalt his mind by acts of devotion, or plunge into the gloom of melancholy. But the influences of the predominant passion still return to the charge, and restore their object: on the heights of devotion, or in the shades of melancholy, he still meets with Monimia. Such is the progress of the Poem; and in the conclusion, we have an interesting view of the Poet, yielding to his adversary, but striving to be resigned.

Pass but some fleeting moments o'er,
This rebel heart shall beat no more, &c.

The justness of the Poet's sentiments is next to be mentioned. He illustrates the power of habituated passion over reason and reflection. Still farther, he illustrates, that though the attention be engaged with objects of the most opposite kind to that of the reigning passion, yet still it returns. He shews too, that this happens, notwithstanding the most determined resolutions and purposes to the contrary. All this he does not formally, but by ingenious and indirect insinuation. He also illustrates a curious process in the conduct of our intellectual powers, when under the dominion of strong emotion. He shews the manner by which prevailing passions influence our thoughts in the association of ideas: that they do not throw their objects upon the mind abruptly, or without coherence, but proceed by a regular process; for that, how different soever ideas or objects may be from one another, the prevailing or habituated passion renders the mind acute in discerning among them common qualities, or circumstances of agreement or correspondence, otherwise latent, or not obvious: that these common qualities are dexterously used by the mind, as uniting links, or means of transition: and that thus, not incoherently, but by the natural connection most commonly of resemblance, the ruling passion brings its own object to the fore ground, and into perfect view....

I have dwelt so long, and I could not avoid it, on the proceeding particulars, that I have not left myself room for illustrations of our Poet's language and versification. I observed, in general, that these were elegant and melodious: and so every reader of genuine taste will feel them. They are not, however, unexceptionable; and if in another letter I should give farther illustration of our author's poetical character, I shall hold myself bound, not only to mention some excellencies, but also some blemishes in his verse and diction. I am, &c.

PHILOMUSOS.