When a hermit resolves to better understand "how Vice should triumph, Virtue Vice obey" he meets a strange youth whose seemingly vicious actions reveal the mysterious workings of Providence. Thomas Parnell's Hermit proved to be one of the more popular poems published in the eighteenth century.
Alexander Pope: "Parnell's Pilgrim is very good. — The story was written originally in Spanish." Joseph Spence: "Whence, probably, Howel translated it, in prose, and inserted it in one of his letters" ca. 1734-36; in Spence, Anecdotes, ed. Singer (1820) 139.
Oliver Goldsmith: "This poem is held in just esteem, the versification being chaste, and tolerably harmonious, and the story told with perspicuity and conciseness. It seems to have cost great labour, both to Mr. Pope, and Parnell himself, to bring it to this perfection." Beauties of English Poesy (1767) 1:29.
Oliver Goldsmith: "the poem of Parnell's best known, and on which his best reputation is grounded, is The Hermit. Pope, speaking of this in those manuscript anecdotes [Spence's Anecdotes] already quoted, says that 'the poem is very good. The story,' continues he, 'was written originally in Spanish, whence probably Howel had translated it into prose, and inserted it in one of his letters.' However this may be, Dr. Henry More, in his dialogues, has the very same story; and I have been informed by some, that it is originally of Arabian invention" Life of Parnell (1770) in Works, ed. Cunningham (1854) 4:143-44.
Thomas Warton discovered a version of the story in the Gesta Romanorum: "Among other proofs which might be mentioned of Parnell's genius and address in treating this subject, by reserving the discovery of the angel to a critical period at the close of the fable, he has found means to introduce a beautiful description, and an interesting surprise.... The same apologue occurs, with some slight additions and variations for the worse, in Howell's LETTERS; who professes to have taken in from the speculative sir Philip Herbert's CONCEPTIONS to his Son, a book which I have never seen. These Letters were published about the year 1650. It is also found in the DIVINE DIALOGUES of doctor Henry More.... Parnell seems to have chiefly followed the story as it is told by this Platonic theologist, who had not less imagination than learning. Pope used to say, that it was originally written in Spanish. This I do not believe; but from the early connection between the Spaniards and Arabians, this assertion tends to confirm the suspicion, that it was an oriental tale" History of English Poetry (1774-81, 1840) 1:clix-x.
The Mirror: "Verses may be polished, and may glow with excellent imagery; but unless, like the poems of Parnel, or the lesser poems of Milton, they please by their enchanting influence on the heart, and by exciting feelings that are consistent, or of a similar tendency, they are never truly delightful" No. 24 (17 April 1779) 96.
Hugh Blair: "Mr. Parnell's Tale of the Hermit, is conspicuous, throughout the whole of it, for beautiful Descriptive Narration. The manner of the Hermit's setting forth to visit the world; his meeting with a companion, and the houses in which they are successively entertained, of the vain man, the covetous man, and the good man, are pieces of very fine painting, touched with a light and delicate pencil, overcharged with no superfluous colouring, and conveying to us a lively idea of the objects" Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1785) 2:375.
Gospel Messenger: "The Hermit of Parnell is marked by a plainness of style, an ease of thought, which charm every reader. The Hermit of Beattie exhibits the energy of poetic sentiment of moral sensibility. But, in the Hermit of Parnell, we behold, in a very peculiar degree, the purity of thought, the humility and unaffectedness of expression, the natural pathos, the descriptive beauty, 'when unadorned, adorned the most,' which might have become even the holy pen of an Evangelist. The Hermit of Beattie discovers more power, more invention, more richness and variety of language and sentiment: but the lines of Parnell, if I may so illustrate the subject, have the winning simplicity of childhood, the delicacy and gracefulness of female beauty, with no small share of the sober dignity and elegant propriety, which ornament the character of a simple, virtuous man" 1 (August 1824) 250.
Leigh Hunt: "We know not how it is with others, but we never think of Parnell's Hermit without tranquillizing and grateful feelings. Parnell was a true poet of a minor order; he saw nature for himself, though he wrote a book style; and this, and one or two other poems of his, such as the eclogue on Health, and the Fairy Tale, have inclined us to believe that there is something in the very name of 'Parnell' peculiarly gentle and agreeable. Hermits themselves in poetry are almost always interesting and agreeable people. We see nothing but their brooks, their solitude, and their resignation, their hermitage and their crust; and long to be like them, and play at loneliness" Leigh Hunt, Selections from English Authors, in Works (1854) 3:93.
Edmund Gosse: "The Hermit may be considered as forming the apex and chef d'oeuvre of Augustan poetry in England. It is more exactly in the French taste than any work that preceded it, and after it English poetry swiftly pasted into the degeneracy of classicism. Parnell's poem is the model of a moral 'conte'; the movement is dignified and rapid, the action and reflection are balanced with exquisite skill, the surprise is admirably prepared, and the treatment never flags from beginning to end. The French complaint of the lack of style in our minor poetry might have been triumphantly confronted by the Dennises and Budgells of the infancy of our criticism, by a reference to Parnell's masterpiece, which, if we are ready to grant that polish, elegance and symmetry are the main elements of poetry, could scarcely be surpassed in any language" The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 3:134.
A Latin translation of The Hermit was published in parts in the Universal Magazine (March-October 1754); another Latin translation, signed "Musis Amicus," appeared in The Diary, or Woodfall's Register (16 November 1792).
Far in a Wild, unknown to publick View,
From Youth to Age a rev'rend Hermit grew;
The Moss his Bed, the Cave his humble Cell,
His Food the Fruits, his Drink the chrystal Well:
Remote from Man, with God he pass'd the Days,
Pray'r all his Bus'ness, all his Pleasure Praise.
A Life so sacred, such serene Repose,
Seem'd Heav'n it self, 'till one Suggestion rose;
That Vice shou'd triumph, Virtue Vice obey,
This sprung some Doubt of Providence's Sway:
His Hopes no more a certain Prospect boast,
And all the Tenour of his Soul is lost:
So when a smooth Expanse receives imprest
Calm Nature's Image on its wat'ry Breast,
Down bend the Banks, the Trees depending grow,
And Skies beneath with answ'ring Colours glow:
But if a Stone the gentle Scene divide,
Swift ruffling Circles curl on ev'ry side,
And glimmering Fragments of a broken Sun,
Banks, Trees, and Skies, in thick Disorder run.
To clear this Doubt, to know the World by Sight,
To find if Books, or Swains, report it right;
(For yet by Swains alone the World he knew,
Whose Feet came wand'ring o'er the nightly Dew)
He quits his Cell; the Pilgrim-Staff he bore,
And fix'd the Scallop in his Hat before;
Then with the Sun a rising Journey went,
Sedate to think, and watching each Event.
The Morn was wasted in the pathless Grass,
And long and lonesome was the Wild to pass;
But when the Southern Sun had warm'd the Day,
A Youth came posting o'er a crossing Way;
His Rayment decent, his Complexion fair,
And soft in graceful Ringlets wav'd his Hair.
Then near approaching, Father Hail! he cry'd,
And Hail, my Son, the rev'rend Sire reply'd;
Words followed Words, from Question Answer flow'd,
And Talk of various kind deceiv'd the Road;
'Till each with other pleas'd, and loth to part,
While in their Age they differ, joyn in Heart:
Thus stands an aged Elm in Ivy bound,
Thus youthful Ivy clasps an Elm around.
Now sunk the Sun; the closing Hour of Day
Came onward, mantled o'er with sober gray;
Nature in silence bid the World repose:
When near the Road a stately Palace rose:
There by the Moon thro' Ranks of Trees they pass,
Whose Verdure crown'd their sloping sides of Grass.
It chanc't the noble Master of the Dome,
Still made his House the wand'ring Stranger's home:
Yet still the Kindness, from a Thirst of Praise,
Prov'd the vain Flourish of expensive Ease.
The Pair arrive: the Liv'ry'd Servants wait;
Their Lord receives them at the pompous Gate.
The Table groans with costly Piles of Food,
And all is more than Hospitably good.
Then led to rest, the Day's long Toil they drown,
Deep sunk in Sleep, and Silk, and Heaps of Down.
At length 'tis Morn, and at the Dawn of Day,
Along the wide Canals the Zephyrs play;
Fresh o'er the gay Parterres the Breezes creep,
And shake the neighb'ring Wood to banish Sleep.
Up rise the Guests, obedient to the Call,
An early Banquet deck'd the splendid Hall;
Rich luscious Wine a golden Goblet grac't,
Which the kind Master forc'd the Guests to taste.
Then pleas'd and thankful, from the Porch they go,
And, but the Landlord, none had cause of Woe;
His Cup was vanish'd; for in secret Guise
The younger Guest purloin'd the glittering Prize.
As one who 'spys a Serpent in his Way,
Glistning and basking in the Summer Ray,
Disorder'd stops to shun the Danger near,
Then walks with Faintness on, and looks with Fear:
So seem'd the Sire; when far upon the Road,
The shining Spoil his wiley Partner show'd.
He stopp'd with Silence, walk'd with trembling Heart,
And much he wish'd, but durst not ask to part:
Murm'ring he lifts his Eyes, and thinks it hard,
That generous Actions meet a base Reward.
While thus they pass, the Sun his Glory shrouds,
The changing Skies hang out their sable Clouds;
A Sound in Air presag'd approaching Rain,
And Beasts to covert scud a cross the Plain.
Warn'd by the Signs, the wand'ring Pair retreat,
To seek for Shelter at a neighb'ring Seat.
'Twas built with Turrets, on a rising Ground,
And strong, and large, and unimprov'd around;
Its Owner's Temper, tim'rous and severe,
Unkind and griping, caus'd a Desert there.
As near the Miser's heavy Doors they drew,
Fierce rising Gusts with sudden Fury blew;
The nimble Light'ning mix'd with Show'rs began,
And o'er their Heads loud-rolling Thunder ran.
Here long they knock, but knock or call in vain,
Driv'n by the Wind, and battered by the Rain.
At length some Pity warm'd the Master's Breast,
('Twas then, his Threshold first receiv'd a Guest)
Slow creaking turns the Door with jealous Care,
And half he welcomes in the shivering Pair;
One frugal Faggot lights the naked Walls,
And Nature's Fervor thro' their Limbs recals:
Bread of the coursest sort, with eager Wine,
(Each hardly granted) serv'd them both to dine;
And when the Tempest first appear'd to cease,
A ready Warning bid them part in Peace.
With still Remark the pond'ring Hermit view'd
In one so rich, a Life so poor and rude;
And why shou'd such, (within himself he cry'd,)
Lock the lost Wealth a thousand want beside?
But what new Marks of Wonder soon took place,
In ev'ry settling Feature of his Face!
When from his Vest the young Companion bore
That Cup, the gen'rous Landlord own'd before,
And paid profusely with the precious Bowl
The stinted Kindness of this churlish Soul.
But now the Clouds in airy Tumult fly,
The Sun emerging opes an azure Sky;
A fresher green the smelling Leaves display,
And glitt'ring as they tremble, cheer the Day:
The Weather courts them from the poor Retreat,
And the glad Master bolts the wary Gate.
While hence they walk, the Pilgrim's Bosom wrought,
With all the Travel of uncertain Thought;
His Partner's Acts without their Cause appear,
'Twas there a Vice, and seem'd a Madness here:
Detesting that, and pitying this he goes,
Lost and confounded with the various Shows.
Now Night's dim Shades again involve the Sky;
Again the Wand'rers want a Place to lye,
Again they search, and find a Lodging nigh.
The Soil improv'd around, the Mansion neat,
And neither poorly low, nor idly great:
It seem'd to speak its Master's turn of Mind,
Content, and not for Praise, but Virtue kind.
Hither the Walkers turn with weary Feet
Then bless the Mansion, and the Master greet:
Their greeting fair bestow'd, with modest Guise,
The courteous Master hears, and thus replies:
Without a vain, without a grudging Heart,
To Him who gives us all, I yield a part;
From Him you come, for Him accept it here,
A frank and sober, more than costly Cheer.
He spoke, and bid the welcome Table spread,
Then talk'd of Virtue till the time of Bed,
When the grave Houshold round his Hall repair,
Warn'd by a Bell, and close the Hours with Pray'r.
At length the World renew'd by calm Repose
Was strong for Toil, the dappled Morn arose;
Before the Pilgrims part, the Younger crept,
Near the clos'd Cradle where an Infant slept,
And writh'd his Neck: the Landlord's little Pride,
O strange Return! grew black, and gasp'd, and dy'd.
Horrour of Horrours! what! his only Son!
How look'd our Hermit when the Fact was done?
Not Hell, tho' Hell's black Jaws in sunder part,
And breathe blue Fire, cou'd more assault his Heart.
Confus'd, and struck with Silence at the Deed,
He flies, but trembling fails to fly with Speed.
His Steps the Youth pursues; the Country lay
Perplex'd with Roads, a Servant show'd the Way:
A River cross'd the Path; the Passage o'er
Was nice to find; the Servant trod before;
Long arms of Oaks an open Bridge supply'd,
And deep the Waves beneath the bending glide.
The Youth, who seem'd to watch a Time to sin,
Approach'd the careless Guide, and thrust him in;
Plunging he falls, and rising lifts his Head,
Then flashing turns, and sinks among the Dead.
Wild, sparkling Rage inflames the Father's Eyes,
He bursts the Bands of Fear, and madly cries,
Detested Wretch — But scarce his Speech began,
When the strange Partner seem'd no longer Man:
His youthful Face grew more serenely sweet;
His Robe turn'd white, and flow'd upon his Feet;
Fair rounds of radiant Points invest his Hair;
Celestial Odours breathe thro' purpled Air;
And Wings, whose Colours glitter'd on the Day,
Wide at his Back their gradual Plumes display.
The form Etherial bursts upon his Sight,
And moves in all the Majesty of Light.
Tho' loud at first the Pilgrim's Passion grew,
Sudden he gaz'd, and wist not what to do;
Surprize in secret Chains his words suspends,
And in a Calm his settling Temper ends.
But Silence here the beauteous Angel broke,
(The Voice of Musick ravish'd as he spoke.)
Thy Pray'r, thy Praise, thy Life to Vice unknown,
In sweet Memorial rise before the Throne:
These Charms, Success in our bright Region find,
And force an Angel down, to calm thy Mind;
For this commission'd, I forsook the Sky,
Nay, cease to kneel — Thy fellow Servant I.
Then know the Truth of Government Divine,
And let these Scruples be no longer thine.
The Maker justly claims that World he made,
In this the Right of Providence is laid;
Its sacred Majesty thro' all depends
On using second Means to work his Ends:
'Tis thus, withdrawn in State from human Eye,
The Pow'r exerts his Attributes on high,
Your Actions uses, not controuls your Will,
And bids the doubting Sons of Men be still.
What strange Events can strike with more Surprize,
Than those which lately strook thy wond'ring Eyes?
Yet taught by these, confess th' Almighty Just,
And where you can't unriddle, learn to trust!
The Great, Vain Man, who far'd on costly Food,
Whose Life was too luxurious to be good;
Who made his Iv'ry Stands with Goblets shine,
And forc'd his Guests to morning Draughts of Wine,
Has, with the Cup, the graceless Custom lost,
And still he welcomes, but with less of Cost.
The mean, suspicious Wretch, whose bolted Door,
Ne'er mov'd in Duty to the wand'ring Poor;
With him I left the Cup, to teach his Mind
That Heav'n can bless, if Mortals will be kind.
Conscious of wanting Worth, he views the Bowl,
And feels Compassion touch his grateful Soul.
Thus Artists melt the sullen Oar of Lead,
With heaping Coals of Fire upon its Head;
In the kind Warmth the Metal learns to glow,
And loose from Dross, the Silver runs below.
Long had our pious Friend in Virtue trod,
But now the Child half-wean'd his Heart from God;
(Child of his Age) for him he liv'd in Pain,
And measur'd back his Steps to Earth again.
To what Excesses had his Dotage run?
But God, to save the Father, took the Son.
To all but thee, in Fits he seem'd to go,
(And 'twas my Ministry to deal the Blow.)
The poor fond Parent humbled in the Dust,
Now owns in Tears the Punishment was just.
But how had all his Fortune felt a Wrack,
Had that false Servant sped in Safety back?
This Night his treasur'd Heaps he meant to steal,
And what a Fund of Charity wou'd fail!
Thus Heav'n instructs thy Mind: This Tryal o'er,
Depart in Peace, resign, and sin no more.
On sounding Pinnions here the Youth withdrew,
The Sage stood wond'ring as the Seraph flew.
Thus look'd Elisha, when to mount on high,
His Master took the Chariot of the Sky;
The fiery Pomp ascending left the View;
The Prophet gaz'd, and wish'd to follow too.
The bending Hermit here a Pray'r begun,
Lord! as in Heaven, on Earth thy Will be done.
Then gladly turning, sought his antient place,
And pass'd a Life of Piety and Peace.