1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hymn to the Penates.

Poems, by Robert Southey. [Vol. 1]

Robert Southey


The sprawling biographical ode that concludes Southey's first volume of collected poems was described as a "Pantisocratic palinode" by William Haller in The Early Life of Robert Southey (1917) 184. The poet reviews his career and mourns the death of his friend Edmund Seward, in the neoclassical manner with many echoes of Milton. The poet concludes: "Yet shall my Heart remember the past years | With honest pride, trusting that not in vain | Lives the pure song of LIBERTY and TRUTH" p. 220.

Robert Southey to Grosvenor C. Bedford: "I have begun a hymn to the Penates, which will, perhaps, be the best of all my lesser pieces; it is to conclude the volume of poems.... It is a great advantage to have a London bookseller: they can put off an edition of a book however stupid; and without great exertions in its favour, no book book, however excellent, will sell. The sale of Joan of Arc in London has been very slow indeed. Six weeks ago Cadell had only sold three copies" 29 August 1796; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 1:291.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Joseph Cottle: "All these Poems are worthy of the Author of Joan of Arc. And The Musings on a Landscape, &c. and The Hymn to the Penates, deserve to have been published after Joan of Arc, as proofs of progressive genius" 1796; in Cottle, Reminiscences (1847) 75.

John Aikin: "We think it is superfluous to particularize all the remaining pieces, sonnets, odes, elegies, ballads, &c. on various topics, but mostly pensive or fanciful; scarcely any of them without strokes of pathos and warm touches of description, some of them irresistibly moving, and some strikingly picturesque. the volume concludes with a Hymn to the Penates, which, though less poetical than Akenside's Hymn to the Naiads, (whence the idea was obviously taken,) is more interesting to the heart, by pictures of life and feeling.... It can scarcely be necessary for us, after the quotations which we have made, and the general view that we have given, formally to recommend this volume to the notice of our poetical readers, and its author to their esteem. Genius is a despotic power, and irresistibly commands homage" Monthly Review NS 22 (March 1797) 301-02.

W: "The Hymn to the Penates, reminds us of Akenside's Hymn to the Naiads. The latter is superior in imagery and numbers. The former, by its allusions to the incidents in the life of the auhtor, and by its pictures of domestic life, possesses a strong influence on the feelings of the reader" Monthly Magazine and American Review [New York] 1 (February 1799) 137.

Anna Seward to Mrs. Childers: "I like it much better than Akenside's Hymn to the Naiads, with which the author draws it into a sort of comparison. Akenside is a favourite poet of mine; but that hymn, though stately in its style, and profoundly classical, appears to me, I could almost say, profoundly dull. Southey's hymn opens beautifully, and has several lovely passages, but I think it spun out too long, and that it has great moral defects. After the full stop in the seventh line, the verses to the middle of the thirteenth are classic lumber, heavy, and superfluous; then they become interesting again, and so continue till the absurd disgusting invocation to the benignant powers, that they will permit him to place misanthropy beneath the protection of his Lares. Falsely has this poet declared the origin of his acknowledged favourite; never could simplicity and benevolence produce such a monster! — no crimes of individuals, no injuries received from an individual, nor yet a general misconstruction of his character, ever made a good man misanthropic. It is a pleasing fancy to suppose the Penates are the spirits of the dead; but it is interrupted by the digression in praise of truth, which is there totally out of its place, and is one of those passages which encumber the poem; neither do we like, in the train of thought this composition inspires, to have our attention drawn off to Spencer and his allegories" 23 December 1798; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 5:181-82.

Leigh Hunt: "The Penates were gods of the house and family. Collectively speaking they also presided over cities, public roads, and at last over all places with which men were conversant. Their chief government however was supposed to be over the most inner and secret part of the house, and the subsistence and welfare of its inmates. They were chosen at will out of the number of the gods, as the Roman in modern times chose his favorite saint" The Indicator (1819-21, 1845) 1:31.

William Lisle Bowles to William Wordsworth: "Southey is with my namesake, Caroline [Bowles] — and I hope, and believe, the attachment will lead to happiness the most enviable in this life, and who but must wish so, who ever read Southey's exquisite Hymn to the Penates!" 15 April 1839; in Garland Greever, A Wiltshire Parson and his Friends (1926) 35.



Yet one Song more! one high and solemn strain
Ere, PAEAN! on thy temple's ruin'd wall
I hang the silent harp: there may its strings,
When the rude tempest shakes the aged pile,
Make melancholy music. One song more!
PENATES, hear me! for to you I hymn
The votive lay. Whether, as sages deem,
Ye dwell in inmost Heaven, the COUNSELLORS
Of JOVE; or if, SUPREME OF DEITIES,
All things are yours, and in your holy train
JOVE proudly ranks, and JUNO, white-arm'd Queen,
And wisest of Immortals, aweful Maid
ATHENIAN PALLAS. Venerable Powers!
Hearken your hymn of praise! Though from your rites
Estranged, and exiled from your altars long,
I have not ceased to love you, HOUSEHOLD GODS!
In many a long and melancholy hour
Of solitude and sorrow, hath my heart
With earnest longings pray'd to rest at length
Beside your hallow'd hearth — for PEACE is there!

Yes, I have loved you long. I call on you
Yourselves to witness with what holy joy,
Shunning the polished mob of humankind,
I have retired to watch your lonely fires
And commune with myself. Delightful hours,
That gave mysterious pleasure, made me know
All the recesses of my wayward heart,
Taught me to cherish with devoutest care
Its deep unworldly feelings, taught me too
The best of lessons — to respect myself.

Nor have I ever ceased to reverence you,
DOMESTIC DEITIES! from the first dawn
Of reason, thro' the adventurous paths of youth,
Even to this better day, when on mine ear
The uproar of contending nations sounds
But like the passing wind, and wakes no pulse
To tumult. When a child — (for still I love
To dwell with fondness on my childish years,
Even as that Persian favorite would retire
From the court's dangerous pageantry and pomp,
To gaze upon his shepherd garb, and weep,
Rememb'ring humble happiness.) When first
A little one, I left my father's home,
I can remember the first grief I felt,
And the first painful smile that cloathed my front
With feelings not its own: sadly at night
I sat me down beside a stranger's hearth;
And when the lingering hour of rest was come,
First wet with tears my pillow. As I grew
In years and knowledge, and the course of Time
Developed the young feelings of my heart,
When most I loved in solitude to rove
Amid the woodland gloom; or where the rocks
Darken'd old Avon's stream, in the ivied cave
Recluse to sit and brood the future song,
Yet not the less, PENATES, loved I then
Your altars; not the less at evening hour
Loved I beside the well-trimm'd fire to sit,
Absorbed in many a dear deceitful dream
Of visionary joys: deceitful dreams—
Not wholly vain — for painting purest joys,
They form'd to Fancy's mould her votary's heart.

By Cherwell's sedgey side, and in the meads
Where Isis in her calm clear stream reflects
The willow's bending boughs, at early dawn,
In the noon-tide hour, and when the night-mist rose,
I have remember'd you; and when the noise
Of lewd Intemperance on my lonely ear
Burst with loud tumult, as recluse I sate,
Musing on days when man should be redeem'd
From servitude, and vice, and wretchedness,
I blest you, HOUSEHOLD GODS! because I loved
Your peaceful altars and serener rites.
Nor did I cease to reverence you, when driven
Amid the jarring crowd, an unfit man
To mingle with the world; still, still my heart
Sigh'd for your sanctuary, and inly pined;
And loathing human converse, I have stray'd
Where o'er the sea-beach chilly howl'd the blast,
And gaz'd upon the world of waves, and wished
That I were far beyond the Atlantic deep,
In woodland haunts — a sojourner with PEACE.

Not idly fabled they the Bards inspired,
Who peopled earth with Deities. They trod
The wood with reverence where the DRYADS dwelt;
At day's dim dawn or evening's misty hour
They saw the OREADS on their mountain haunts,
And felt their holy influence; nor impure
Of thought — nor ever with polluted hands,
Touch'd they without a prayer the NAIAD's spring;
Yet was their influence transient; such brief awe
Inspiring as the thunder's long loud peal
Strikes to the feeble spirit. HOUSEHOLD GODS,
Not such your empire! in your votaries' breasts
No momentary impulse ye awake—
Nor fleeting, like their local energies,
The deep devotion that your fanes impart.
O ye whom YOUTH has wilder'd on your way,
Or VICE with fair-mak'd foulness, or the lure
Of FAME that calls ye to her crowded paths
With FOLLY's rattle, to your HOUSEHOLD GODS
Return! for not in VICE's gay abodes,
Nor in the unquiet unsafe halls of FAME
Does HAPPINESS abide! O ye who weep
Much for the many miseries of Mankind,
More for their vices; ye whose honest eyes
Frown on OPPRESSION, — ye whose honest hearts
Beat high when FREEDOM sounds her dread tocsin;—
O ye who quit the path of peaceful life
Crusading for mankind — a spaniel race
That lick the hand that beats them, or tear all
Alike in frenzy — to your HOUSEHOLD GODS
Return, for by their altars VIRTUE dwells
And HAPPINESS with her; for by their fires
TRANQUILITY in no unsocial mood,
Sits silent, listening to the pattering shower;
For, so SUSPICION sleep not at the gate
Of WISDOM — FALSEHOOD shall not enter there.

As on the height of some huge eminence,
Reach'd with long labour, the way-faring man
Pauses awhile, and gazing o'er the plain
With many a sore step travell'd, turns him then
Serious to contemplate the onward road,
And calls to mind the comforts of his home,
And sighs that he has left them, and resolves
To stray no more: I on my way of life
Muse thus PENATES, and with firmest faith
Devote myself to you. I will not quit
To mingle with the mob your calm abodes,
Where by the evening hearth CONTENTMENT sits
And hears the cricket chirp; where LOVE delights
To dwell, and on your altars lays his torch
That burns with no extinguishable flame.

Hear me, ye POWERS benignant! there is one
Must be mine inmate — for I may not chuse
But love him. He is one whom many wrongs
Have sicken'd of the world. There was a time
When he would weep to hear of wickedness,
And wonder at the tale; when for the opprest
He felt a brother's pity, to the oppressor
A good man's honest anger. His quick eye
Betray'd each rising feeling; every thought
Leapt to his tongue. When first among mankind
He mingled, by himself he judged of them,
And loved and trusted them, to Wisdom deaf,
And took them to his bosom. FALSEHOOD met
Her unsuspecting victim, fair of front,
And lovely as Apega's sculptured form,
Like that false image caught his warm embrace,
And pierced his open breast. The reptile race
Clung round his bosom, and with viper folds
Encircling, stung the fool who foster'd them.
His mother was SIMPLICITY, his sire
BENEVOLENCE; in earlier days he bore
His father's name; the world who injured him
Call him MISANTHROPY. I may not chuse
But love him, HOUSEHOLD GODS! for we wer nurst
In the same school.

PENATES! some there are
Who say, that not in the inmost heaven ye dwell,
Gazing with eye remote on all the ways
Of man, his GUARDIAN GODS; wiselier they deem
A dearer interest to the human race
Links you, yourselves the SPIRITS OF THE DEAD.
No mortal eye may pierce the invisible world,
No light of human reason penetrate
The depths where Truth lies hid. Yet to this faith
My heart with instant sympathy assents;
And I would judge all systems and all faiths
By that best touchstone, from whose test DECEIT
Shrinks like the Arch-Fiend at Ithuriel's spear;
And SOPHISTRY's gay glittering bubble bursts,
As at the spousals of the Nereid's son,
When that false Florimel, with her prototype
Display'd in rivalry, with all her charms
Dissolved away.

Nor can the halls of Heaven
Give to the human soul such kindred joy,
As hovering o'er its earthly haunts it feels,
When with the breeze it dwells around the brow
Of one beloved on earth; or when at night
In dreams it comes, and brings with it the DAYS
And JOYS that are no more. Or when, perchance
With power permitted to alleviate ill
And fit the sufferer for the coming woe,
Some strange presage the SPIRIT breathes, and fills
The breast with ominous fear, and disciplines
For sorrow, pours into the afflicted heart
The balm of resignation, and inspires
With heavenly hope. Even as a Child delights
To visit day by day the favourite plant
His hand has sown, to mark its gradual growth,
And watch all anxious for the promised flower;
Thus to the blessed spirit in innocence
And pure affections like a little child,
Sweet will it be to hover o'er the friends
Beloved; then sweetest, if, as Duty prompts,
With earthly care we in their breasts have sown
The seeds of Truth and Virtue, holy flowers
Whose odour reacheth Heaven.

When my sick Heart
(Sick with hope long delayed, than which no care
Weighs on the spirit heavier;) from itself
Seeks the best comfort, often have I deem'd
That thou didst witness every inmost thought,
SEWARD! my dear, dead friend! For not in vain,
O early summon'd on thy heavenly course!
Was thy brief sojourn here; me didst thou leave
With strengthen'd step to follow the right path,
Till we shall meet again. Meantime I soothe
The deep regret of nature, with belief,
My EDMUND! that thine eye's celestial ken
Pervades me now, marking with no mean joy
The movements of the heart that loved thee well!

Such feelings Nature prompts, and hence your rites,
DOMESTIC GODS! arose. When for his son
With ceaseless grief Syrophanes bewail'd,
Mourning his age left childless, and his wealth
Heapt for an alien, he with fixed eye
Still on the imaged marble of the dead
Dwelt, pampering sorrow. Thither from his wrath,
A safe asylum, fled the offending slave,
And garlanded the statue and implored
His young lost Lord to save. Remembrance then
Soften'd the father, and he loved to see
The votive wreath renew'd, and the rich smoke
Curl from the costly censer slow and sweet.
From Egypt soon the sorrow-soothing rites
Divulging spread; before your idol forms
By every hearth the blinded Pagan knelt,
Pouring his prayers to these, and offering there
Vain sacrifice or impious, and sometimes
With human blood your sanctuary defil'd:
Till the first BRUTUS, tyrant-conquering chief,
Arose; he first the impious rites put down,
He fitliest, who for FREEDOM lived and died,
The friend of humankind. Then did your feasts
Frequent recur and blameless; and when came
The solemn festival, whose happiest rites
Emblem'd EQUALITY, the holiest truth!
Crown'd with gay garlands were your statues seen,
To you the fragrant censer smoked, to you
The rich libation flowed: vain sacrifice!
For not the poppy wreath nor fruits nor wine
Ye ask, PENATES! nor the altar cleansed
With many a mystic form; ye ask the heart
Made pure, and by domestic Peace and Love
Hallow'd to you.

Hearken your hymn of praise,
PENATES! to your shrines I come for rest,
There only to be found. Often at eve,
As in my wanderings I have seen far off
Some lonely light that spake of comfort there,
It told my heart of many a joy of home,
And my poor heart was sad. When I have gazed
From some high eminence on goodly vales
And cots and villages embower'd below,
The thought would rise that all to me was strange
Amid the scene so fair, nor one small spot
Where my tir'd mind might rest, and call it home.
There is a magic in that little word:
It is a mystic circle that surrounds
Comforts and Virtues never known beyond
The hallowed limit. Often has my heart
Ached for that quiet haven; haven'd now,
I think of those in this world's wilderness
Who wander on and find no home of rest
Till to the grave they go! them POVERTY,
Hollow-eyed fiend, the child of WEALTH and POWER,
Bad offspring of worse parents, aye afflicts,
Cankering with her foul mildews the chill'd heart—
Them WANT with scorpion scourge drives to the den
Of GUILT — them SLAUGHTER with the price of death
Buys for her raven brood. Oh, not on them,
GOD OF ETERNAL JUSTICE! not on them
Let fall thy thunder!

HOUSEHOLD DEITIES!
Then only shall be Happiness on earth
When Man shall feel your sacred power, and love
Your tranquil joys; then shall the city stand
A huge void sepulchre, and rising fair
Amid the ruins of the palace pile,
The Olive grow, there shall the TREE OF PEACE
Strike its roots deep and flourish. This the state
Shall bless the race redeem'd of Man, when WEALTH
And POWER and all their hideous progeny
Shall sink annihilate, and all mankind
Live in the equal brotherhood of LOVE.
Heart-calming hope, and sure! for hitherward
Tend all the tumults of the troubled world,
Its woes, its wisdom, and its wickedness
Alike: so he hath will'd, whose will is just.

Meantime, all hoping and expecting all
In patient faith, to you, DOMESTIC GODS!
I come, studious of other lore than song,
Of my past years the solace and support:
Yet shall my Heart remember the past years
With honest pride, trusting that not in vain
Lives the pure song of LIBERTY and TRUTH.

[pp. 203-20]