1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Beattie

George Butt, "An Epistle addressed to Dr. Beattie, written after the perusal of his incomparable and important Essay upon the Immutability of Truth" Gentleman's Magazine 70 (December 1800) 1187-89.



Forgive me, God, Thou Spring of life and thought,
If me the Babel-piles that Pride has wrought
Awhile compel to seem as fancying Thee
Bound in the fetters of Necessity;
An air-blown doctrine (Folly's school-boy play),
Which bursts beneath the breeze of active day.
But, if it boast the solid strength of Truth,
Why on this base refuse to build up youth?
"Freedom, an old wife's tale! (the stripling cries)
I now know better" — what he knows applies—
Feels something like Necessity within;
Follows the force, and scorns to call it sin,
Till on the gibbet ends his youth mistaught,
To prove his master's massacre of thought.
This, Beattie, were the course were mind not still
Restive, nor reason moveable at will.
But, were fatality the cause of things,
This on God's word no other ruin brings,
Than on his moral law by Reason's light
Deduc'd, and forc'd by knowledge on our sight.
If strong necessity (so weak of late)
Once had the pow'r this system to create,
'Tis what it is, and orderly to see,
And with God's word so well His works agree,
That both His moral government maintain,
And, should the Fatalists our credit gain,
At both their doctrine smites, as both its train arraign.
Nor want we scope our arguments to rest
On what all times, all Nature's works attest,
On Common-Sense, that first of witnesses,
Who speaks but to convince, and not to please;
Who cannot, will not, act the Sophist's part,
But blazes down the boldest front of art,
And instant cleaves the subtlest knot that Pride,
To prove her pow'rs at puzzling Truth, has tried.
Lend Epicurus to the vulgar herd,
Ye rulers; be by laws your Master's word
Establish'd, and by pow'r's terrific blow
Attempt to lay primaeval wisdom low.
But this dark chaos rais'd in Truth's despite
Shall soon to order change — this cloud to light:
Such force has Nature's law, and common sense such might.
Yet still Pride, urging mad inquiry where
God's primal law forbids it to appear.
Fall'n, she will strike — refuted, press her plea—
From Reason's dungeon utter her decree,
And, when she most is blind, pretend she most can see.
I care not if my reas'ning pow'rs are slow
Free agency's commencing point to shew;
For, if they cannot seize each nerve of mind,
Not grasp a sunbeam — are they therefore blind?
When how things are, I see not — 'tis to me
Indiff'rent if the things themselves I see.
Your eye beholds yon steep: a madman cries,
"Prove, prove it there." — You say, "Consult your eyes;"
But on the madman speeds — has toppled o'er, and dies.
Yet full as mad, and full as ill-advis'd,
His common sense (that inward eye) despis'd,
Is ev'ry fatalist — who God defied,
Leaps from life's brink on judgement's threat'ning tide.

But, if we cannot falsify his creed,
Can he defend it as a light to lead,
Or, rummag'd ev'ry archive of his school,
Deduce a plea to prove the man no fool
Who reasons but all order to confound,
Would build a house where Nature gives no ground,
And thinks in future life that rule to try,
Which here we cannot possibly apply?
We cannot — 'tis impossible — each hour
Repels its influence, and evades its pow'r:
But yet its touch is taint — is pestilence—
And fills with fev'rous fires the throbbing sense.
It doubles vision, shews distracting ways,
And spirits up a phrenzy that displays
The soul's worst forms, and goads it all abroad,
To batter down each fence of man and God.
Still may be seen the lifted light on high,
If men were wise, and would their star descry,
Which soon shall lead them where celestial grace
Unfolds the Truth, whose radiance saves their race.
But, scornful of the necessary light,
Fools wrap themselves in voluntary night—
To Doubt's wide ocean desperately run,
And wink, insensate to the blazing Sun,
By God assign'd their guide on action's way—
Yet, forc'd to act, are self-seduc'd to stray.

Or on this common sense the human thought
Its end to perfect is divinely wrought;
A seeming axis — whence the mass of mind,
Roll's in its space, hath all its pow'rs confin'd,
To win the glorious way by Heav'n itself design'd.
Thus, strong in native pow'rs, let man aspire
To know what Truth he need on earth acquire—
For Life's dim day declin'd, in purer light
His glories God reveal to Virtue's sight,
Which more than all at once e'en Angels see
Afford new joys through all eternity.
He then, who common sense rejects, shall mourn,
To fill with endless streams a leaking urn.
For only reas'ning surely will he know,
That thought then flows, and will for ever flow,
Driv'n by th' impetuous winds of Vanity
Down to the dreary deeps of Error's sea,
Where many a shapeless monster rav'ning roars,
To rend the soul that, launch'd from Wisdom's shores,
For fame by Virtue won at Virtue's coast explores.

Much may be known, and much we need not know,
Shut in this bondage-house of Want below.
Who values time, and cares aright employs,
Descends not to pursue the pedant's toys,
And duly scorn'd the sceptic's idlest aim,
Were prouder far an humble plough to frame.
Best is that search of Truth, applied to trace
Discov'ries useful to the human race;
To sooth the sorrows man on earth must prove,
And train him into perfect bliss above.
Mine be this aim; or never more again
God grant this hand to guide the writer's pen!
This aim be mine — or, palsied with the pride
In which the Scottish wizard liv'd, and DIED—
Like his be doom'd my spirit ne'er to know
How wrapt around it lurks the subtle foe,
And, while some specious worth my friends still please—
Some wit well-humour'd, some convivial ease—
From me, from them, from most my pride conceal'd
At length onall the world shall rise reveal'd,
When the malignant transcripts of my mind,
Their chilling poison spread, by me design'd
To damp the dearest hopes that God has giv'n mankind.

Thanks to thee, Beattie; for by thee the soul
Learns by what laws its movements to controul—
Learns on her storm-beat cloud, where trembling lies
Doubt, and where Truth's eternal hills arise,
Tow'r high vast moles of light, and blaze in purer skies.
By thee man's holiest weal best understood
That Truth's old barrier had confus'd but you,
Fast as they wound the maze, secure the clue.
Thy soul which all the Muses nurs'd with zeal
(Since ev'ry Muse for Truth is proud to feel),
With Reason's, Passion's, Fancy's blended force,
Press'd thee resistless on thy public course,
To gain the laurel in that modern field,
Which Glory's living wreath alone can yield.
In Atheist H—e Wit seem'd a suicide—
Fell a foul victim of unfeeling pride—
Genius self-slain, and useless for its end,
Warring at what God made it to defend—
A glorious flame, and sent from Heav'n alone,
At heav'nly pride in dread defiance thrown.

Yet as from Ahab dead a serpent rose,
'Twas thine a coming Hydra to disclose,
From the dead sire fast struggling into birth,
To show'r his venom o'er the peopled earth.
'Twas thine, high-rais'd, thy mental force to smite
This embryo-monster, ere he rush'd to light,
With guile paternal and his own fierce pow'r
Arm'd — the wide world of morals to devour;
His hundred heads, all in the strength of youth,
Madd'ning to rend the universe of Truth—
Corrupted Art and native Lust combin'd,
To urge his march upon the human mind;
Honour and antient Shame exil'd from life,
And meek-ey'd Candour chain'd by sceptic strife,
And Faith in Grace to modest Mis'ry giv'n,
Ready to mount her sun-bright car for Heav'n.

Thanks to thee, Beattie; God to thee impart
Doubly the joy thy toils ensure my heart,
Friend to mankind; whose hopes establish'd rise,
To bloom in realms beyond these clouded skies,
When, all terrestrial troubles past away,
A new Sun rising shall the scene display,
Where thou triumphant in his light shall see
New choirs of Angels rais'd to bliss by thee,
Where joy unmeasur'd, joy unsating flows,
Joy which but Faith conceives, and God bestows
On them the most (says Truth) to whom my cause most owes.
Stanford near Worcester.