1812
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry More's Song of the Soul.

Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores.

Robert Southey


Writing anonymously, Robert Southey takes issue with the claim that Henry More's philosophical poem is a successful imitation of Spenser, going so far as to criticize even Spenser's use of allegory, to which More's is far inferior.

Gentleman's Magazine: "These volumes are from the pen of the ingenious Mr. Southey, whose facile powers of mind enable him with equal success to use the pen of the Historian, that of the Satirist of living manners, the Poet, and of the Miscellaneous Author. In this latter character he appears at present, but has not thought proper to inform us why or wherefore, in either the preface, introduction, or advertisement; we therefore conclude Omniana, as is asserted in the title, to be the effusions of his leisure hours, and collected from the numerous works he must have perused in the course of his various literary pursuits, occasionally interspersed with original thoughts on different subjects" 83 (June 1813) 554.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge criticizes Southey's strictures in a marginal gloss to Omniana: "After so sharp a censure, of the justice of which the following extract is to be the proof, who would have expected a series of stanzas for the greater part at least so chaste in language, and easy in versification? Southey must have wearied himself out with the poem, till the mist from its swamps and stagnants had spread over its green and flowery plots and bowers" Table Talk and Omniana, ed. Ashe (1884) 393.




Henry More whose philosophical works contain the most extraordinary instances of credulity, is not less curious as a poet than a philosopher. He published a volume of Philosophical Poems, the greater part of which is filled by the Song of the Soul, "containing a Christiano-Platonicall display of Life," divided into several parts under the following tables. Psychozoia, or the Life of the Soul; Psychathanasia, or the Immortality of the Soul; Democritus Platonissans, or an Essay upon the Infinity of Worlds out of Platonick Principles; Antipsychopannychia, or a Confutation of the sleep of the Soul after Death; The preexistency of the Soul, and Antimonopsychia, or a Confutation of the Unity of Souls.

Mr. Todd enumerates the Song of the Soul, among the poems which have been written in Spenser's metre, and praises it for "often presenting as just an allegory and as sweet a stanza as the original, which it professes to follow." It is my good fortune to be gifted with some perseverance; and in some of those remnants and fractions of time which are so often left to waste, and which if summed up and carried to account, amounts to so much in the course of an ordinary life, I have read this work through. Few persons perhaps have done this before, and still fewer will do it after me. "Lend me your eyes," reader, and in a very few minutes you shall know as much about it, as can be known without a thorough perusal and in fact, almost as much as is worth knowing.

There is perhaps no other poem in existence, which has so little that is good in it, if it has any thing good. Henry More possessed the feelings of a poet; but the subject which he chose is of all others least fitted for poetry, and in fact there is no species of poetry so absurd as the didactic. The memory, when mere memory is concerned, may best be addressed in metre; old Lilly knew this, and the Memoria Technica is good proof of it. In these instances it is necessary to impress words, and nothing but words upon the recollection; which is facilitated by their chiming in. But philosophy set to tune only serves to puzzle the composer, without assisting the student. There is only one way of adapting it to the nature of poetry, which is, by allegorizing it: Henry More attempted this in a small part of his song, and the success of this attempt is not such as to induce a wish that he had extended it. Mr. Todd's praise is ill founded. The allegory in Spenser is the worst part of his poem, but the worst allegory in Spenser is far better than the best in Henry More. This the following specimen will convince. Old Mnemon is relating his journey from Beiron (the brutish life) into Dizoia, or double-livedness as he explains it.

So having got experience enough
Of this ill land, for nothing, there was new,
My purpose I held on, and rode quite through
That middle way, and did the extremes eschew.
When I came near the end there was in view
No tempest can him move with fiercest shock,
But there no door to me itself did shew;
Looking about at length I did espy
A lively youth to whom I presently gan cry.

More willing he's to come than I to call;
Simon he hight, who also's call'd a Rock.
Simon is that obedientiall
Nature, who boisterous seas and winds doth mock;
Not tempest can him move with fiercest shock,
The house that's thereon built doth surely stand;
Nor blustering storm, nor rapid torrents stroke
Can make it fall; it easily doth withstand
The gates of Death and Hell, and all the stygian band.

When I gan call, forthwith in seemly sort
He me approach'd in decent russet clad,
More fit for labour than the flaunting Court.
When he came near, in chearfull wise he bad
Tell what I would; then I unto the lad
Gan thus reply; alas! Too long astray
Here have I trampled foul Behiron's pad;
Out of this land I thought this the next way,
But I no gate can find, so vain is mine assay.

Then the wise youth, Good Sir, you look too high;
The wall aloft is rais'd, but that same door
Where you must pass, in deep descent doth lie.
But he bad follow, he would go before.
Hard by there was a place all covered o're
With stinging nettles and such weedery,
The pricking thistles the hard'st legs would gore;
Under the wall a straight door we descry,
The Wall hight Self-conceit, the Door Humility.

When we came at the door fast lockt it was,
And Simon had the key, but he nould grant
That I into that other land should pass
Without I made him my concomitant.
It pleased me well, I mus'd not much upon't
But straight accord, . . for why? a jolly swain
Methought he was; meek, cheerful, and pleasant.
When he saw this, he thus to me again,
Sir, see you that sad couple? . . Then I, . . I see those twain.

A sorry couple certainly they be,
The man a bloody knife holds at his heart,
With chearless countenance; as sad is she;
Or eld, or else intolerable smart
Which she can not decline by any art,
Doth thus distort and writhe her wrinkled face;
A leaden quadrate swayes hard on that part
That's fit for burdens; foulness doth deface
Her aged looks; with a straight staff her steps she stayes.

Right well you say, then said that lusty swain,
Yet this poor couple be my parents dear,
Nor can I hence depart without these twain;
These twain give life to me, though void of chear
They be themselves: then let's all go yfere.
The young man's speech caus'd sad perplexity
Within my brest, but yet I did forbear,
And fairly ask'd their names. He answered me
He Autaparnes hight; but she Hypomone.

I Simon am the son of this sad pair,
Who though full harsh they seem to outward sight,
Yet when to Dizoie men forth do fare,
No company in all the land so meet
They find as these. Their pace full well I weet
Is very slow, and so to youthful haste
Displeasing; and their connsels nothing sweet
To any Beironite; but sweetest taste
Doth bitter choler breed, and haste doth maken waste.

Nor let that breast impierced with weeping wound
An uncouth spectacle, disturb your mind.
His blood's my food. If he his life effund
To utmost death, the high God hath design'd
That we both live. He in my heart shall find
A seat for his transfused soul to dwell;
And when that's done, this death doth eke unbind
That heavy weight that doth Hypomone quell,
Then I Anautaesthetus hight, which seems me well.

So both their lives do vanish into mine,
And mine into Atuvus life doth melt
Which fading flux of time doth not define,
Nor is by any Autaesthesian felt.
This life to On the good Atuvus delt;
In it's all joy, Truth, Knowledge, Love and Force;
Such force no weight created can repel't.
All strength and livelyhood is from this sourse,
All Lives to this first spring have circular recourse.

Here the allegory is, that the way of escape from the brutish condition of human nature (Beiron) is by Obedience, which discovers Humility, the door of passage; now Obedience (Simon) consists in self-denial, Autaparnes, and Patience, Hypomone. Old Mnemon remarks upon this story,

A lecture strange he seem'd to read to me,
And though I did not rightly understand
His meaning, yet I deemed it to be
Some goodly thing.

Henry More's readers seem to have agreed with old Mnemon, in thinking it strange and in not understanding it. Yet this is the best part of the whole allegory, and of the whole poem. He soon begins to imitate John Bunyan in his nomenclature, . . but oh! what an imitation of that old King of the Tinkers, . . ! The passage is curious in another respect, . . it may have suggested the name of Pandaemonium to Milton, who was a friend of Henry More's.

On Ida hill there stands a Castle strong,
They that it built call it Pantheothen;
Hither resort a rascal rabble throng
Of miscreant wights; but if that wiser men
May name that fort, Pandemoniothen
They would it cleep. It is the strongest delusion
That ever Daemon wrought, the safest pen
That ere held silly sheep for their confusion.
Ill life and want of love, hence springs each false conclusion.

That rabble rout that in this Castle won
Is "Irefull-Ignorance, Unseemly-Zeal,
Strong-self-conceit, Rotten Religion,
Contentious-reproach-gainst-Michael-
If-he-of-Moses'-body-aught-reveal-
Which-their-dull-skonses-cannot-easily-reach.
Love-of-the-carkass, an-inept-appeal-
T'-uncertain-papers, a-false-formal-fetch-
Of-feigned-sighs. Contempt-of-poor-and-sinful-wretch."

Two more stanzas follow full of these Praise-God-Barebones names. The next contains one of those rare gleams of poetry which redeem the author, . . not indeed from neglect, . . but certainly from contempt.

These and such like be that rude regiment
That from the glittering sword of Michael fly;
They fly his outstretched arm, else were they shent,
If they unto this Castle did not hie,
Strongly within its walls to fortifie
Themselves. Great Daemon hath no stronger hold
Than this high Tower. "When the good Majesty
Shines forth in love and light," a vapour cold
And a black hellish smoke from hence doth all infold.

Here too are lines which none but a true poet could have written, and here the reader will again be reminded of Milton.

Fresh varnished groves, tall hills, and "gilded clouds
Arching an eyelid for the gloring morn,"
Fair clustred buildings which our sight so crouds
At distance, with high spires to heaven yborn,
"Vast plains with lowly cottages forlorn
Rounded about with the low-wavering sky."

But in general the language of this poem is the most barbarous that can be conceived. Some little excuse he makes for this, in the preface to the second edition. "I have taken the pains," he says, "to peruse these Poems of the Soul, and to lick them into some more tolerable form and smoothness. For I must confess, such was the present haste and heat that I was then hurried in (dispatching them in fewer months, than some cold-pated gentlemen have conceited me to have spent years about them, and letting them slip from me so suddenly, while I was so immerse in the inward sense and representation of things, that it was even necessary to forget the economy of words, and leave them behind me aloft, to float and run together at random, like, chaff and straws on the surface of the water), that I could not but send them out in so uneven and rude a dress." In one of his minor poems Cupid reproaches him with his style, and with the neglect which it has occasioned.

—thy riddles all men do neglect,
Thy rugged lines of all do lie forlorn;
Unwelcome rhymes that rudely do detect
The readers ignorance. Men holden scorn
To be so often nonplus'd, or to spell,
And on one stanza a whole age to dwell.

Besides this harsh and hard obscurity
Of the hid sense, thy words are barbarous
And strangely new, and yet too frequently
Return, as usual, plain and obvious,
So that the shew of the new thick-set patch
Marrs all the old with which it ill doth match.

This the Poet resolutely answers in his own person.

—What thou dost pedantickly object
Concerning my rude, rugged, uncouth style,
As childish toy I manfully neglect.
How ill alas! with wisdom it accords
To sell my living sense for liveless words!

My thought's the fittest measure of my tongue,
Wherefore I'll use what's most significant;
And rather than my inward meaning wrong,
Or my full-shining notion trimly skant,
I'll conjure up old words out of their grave,
Or call fresh foreign force in, if need crave;

And these attending on my moving mind,
Shall duly usher in the fitting sense.

And then looking on to the warm season which is to succeed the winter of the world, and at the same time anticipating Baron Munchausen's idea, he says,

My words into this frozen air I throw,
Will then grow vocal at that general thaw.

The following extract is the best specimen that can be given of the strain of feeling, which Henry More could express in no better language than an inharmonious imitation of Spenser's, barbarized by the extremes of carelessness the most licentious, and erudition the most pedantic.

In silent night when mortalls be at rest,
And bathe their molten limbs in slothful sleep,
My troubled ghost strange cares did straight molest,
And plunged my heavie soul in sorrow deep:
Large floods of tears my moistened cheeks did steep,
My heart was wounded with compassionate love
Of all the creatures: sadly out I creep
From men's close mansions, the more to improve
My mournfull plight; so softly on I forward move.

Aye me! said I, within my wearied breast,
And sighed sad, . . wherefore did God erect
This stage of misery? thrice, foure times blest
Whom churlish Nature never did eject
From her dark womb, and cruelly object
By sense and life unto such balefull smart;
Every slight entrance into joy is checkt
By that soure step-dames threats, and visage tart:
Our pleasure of our pain is not the thousandth part.

Thus vex'd I was 'cause of mortality,
Her curst remembrance cast me in this plight,
That I grew sick of the world's vanity,
Ne ought recomfort could my sunken spright;
What so I hate may do me no delight,
Few things (alas!) I hate, the more my wo.
The things I love by mine own sad foresight,
Make me the greater torments undergo,
Because I know at last they're gone like idle show.

Each goodly sight my sense doth captivate,
When vernal flowers their silken leaves display.
And ope their fragrant bosomes, I that state
Would not have changed, but indure for aye;
Nor care to mind that that fatall decay
Is still secured by faithfull succession.
But why should aught that's good thus fade away?
Should steddy spring exclude summer's accession?
Or summer spoil the spring with furious hot oppression!

You chearfull chaunters of the flowring woods,
That feed your carelesse souls with pleasant layes,
O silly birds! cease from your merry moods:
Ill suits such mirth when dreary death's assayes
So closely presse your sory carkases:
To mournfull note turn your light verilayes,
Death be your song, and winter's hoary sprayes,
Spend your vain sprights in sighing elegies:
I'll help you to lament your wofull miseries.

When we lay cover'd in the shady night
Of senselesse matter, we were well content
With that estate, nought pierced our anxious spright,
No harm we suffered, no harm we ment;
Our rest not with light dream of ill was blent:
But when rough Nature, with her iron hond,
Pull'd us from our soft ease, and hither hent,
Disturbing fear and pinching pain we found,
Full many a bitter blast, full many a dreadful stound.

Yet life's strong love doth so intoxicate
Our misty minds, that we do fear to dy.
What did dame Nature brood all things of hate
And onely give them life for misery?
Sense for an undeserved penalty?
And show that if she list, that she could make
Them happy? but with sprightfull cruelty
Doth force their groaning ghosts this house forsake?
And to their ancient Nought their empty selves betake.

Thus in deep sorrow and restlesse disdain
Against the cankered doom of envious fate,
I clove, my very heart with riving pain,
While I in sullen rage did ruminate
The Creature's vanity and wofull state;
And night that ought to yield us timely rest,
My swelling griefs did much more aggravate;
The sighs and groans of weary sleeping beast
Seem'd as if sleep itself their spirits did molest:

Or as constrain'd perforce that boon to wrest
From envious Nature. All things did augment
My heavy plight, that fouly I blam'd the hest
Of stubborn destiny cause of this wayment.
Even sleep that's for our restauration ment,
As exercrable things I did abhorre,
Cause ugly death to th' life it did depeint.
What good came to my mind I did deplore,
Because it perish must and not live evermore.

Thus wrapt in rufull thought through the waste field
I stagger'd on, and scattered my woe,
Bedew'd the grasse with tears mine eyes did yield;
At last I am arrived with footing slow
Near a black pitchy wood, that stronger throw
Of starry beam no'te easily penetrate:
On the north side I walked to and fro
In solitary shade. The Moon's sly gate
Had cross'd the middle line: It was at least so late.

When th' other part of night in painfull grief
Was almost spent, out of that solemn grove
There issued forth for my timely relief,
The fairest wight that ever sight did prove,
So fair a wight as might command the love
Of best of mortall race; her count'nance sheen
The pensive shade gently before her drove;
A mild sweet light shone from her lovely eyne:
She seem'd no earthly branch, but sprung of stock divine.

A silken mantle, colour'd like the skie
With silver starres in a due distance set,
Was cast about her somewhat carelessly,
And her bright flowing hair was not ylet
By art's device; onely a chappelet
Of chiefest flowers, which from far and near
The Nymphs in their pure lilly hands had fet,
Upon her temples she did seemly weare,
Her own fair beams made all her ornaments appear.

What wilfull wight doth thus his kindly rest
Forsake? said she approaching me unto.
What rage, what sorrow, boils thus in thy chest
That thou thus spend'st the night in wasting wo?
Oft help he gets that his hid ill doth show.
Ay me! said I, my grief's not all mine own;
For all men's griefs into my heart do flow,
Nor men's alone, but every mournfull grone
Of dying beast, or what so else that grief hath shown.

From fading plants my sorrows freshly spring;
And thou thyself that com'st to comfort me,
Would'st strong'st occasion of deep sorrow bring,
If thou wert subject to mortality:
But I no mortall wight thee deem to be,
Thy face, thy voice, immortall thee proclaim.
Do I not well to wail the vanity
Of fading life, and churlish fates to blame,
That with cold frozen death life's chearfull motions tame.

Thou dost not well, said she to me again,
Thou hurt'st thyself, and dost to them no good.
The sighs thou sendest out cannot regain
Life to the dead, thou can'st not change the mood
Of stedfast destiny. That man is wood
That weetingly hastes on the thing he hates:
Dull sorrow chokes the sprights, congeals the blood,
The bodie's fabrick quickly ruinates,
Yet foolish men do fondly blame the hasty fates.

Come, hasty fates, said I, come take away
My weary life, the fountain of my wo:
When that's extinct, or shrunk into cold clay,
Then well I wrote, that I shall undergo
No longer pain. O! why are you so slow.
Fond speech, said she, nor changed her countenance,
No signe of grief nor anger she did show;
Full well she knew passion's misgovernance,
Though her clear brest fond passion ever yet did lance.

But thus spake on, Sith friendly sympathy
With all the creatures thus invades thy brest,
And strikes thine heart with so deep agony
For their decay, 'cording to that behest
Which the pure source of sympathy hath prest
On all that of those lovely streams have drunk,
I'll tell thee that that needs must please the best,
All life's immortall; though the outward trunk
May changed be, yet life to nothing never shrunk.

With that she bad me rear my heavie eye
Up toward heaven, I rear'd them toward the east,
Where in a roscid cloud I did espy
A lunar rainbow in her painted vest;
The heavenly maid in the mean while surceast
From further speech, while I the bow did view:
But mine old malady was more increas'd,
The bow gan break, and all the gawdy hiew
Dispeared, that my heart the sight did inly rue

Thus life doth vanish as this bow is gone,
Said I. That sacred nymph forthwith reply'd,
Vain showes, may vanish that have gaily shone
To feeble sense; but if the truth be tri'd,
Life cannot perish, or to nothing slide:
It is not life that falleth under sight,
None but vain flitting qualities are ey'd
By wondring ignorance. The vitall spright
Assuredly doth remain as the Sun's lasting light.

This bow, whose breaking struck thy troubled heart,
Of causelesse grief, I hope, shall thee secure,
When I have well explain'd with skilfull art
By its resemblance what things must indure,
What things decay and cannot standen sure.
The higher causes of that colour'd ark,
What ere becomes of it, do sit secure.
That so (the body falling) life's fair spark
Is safe, I'll clearly show if you but list to mark.

He has found it necessary to annex a glossary to the poem, but these uncouth words which require a glossary are not the worst. The reader who does not understand Greek and Hebrew will naturally look there for the meaning of such words as "acronychall," "Adamah," "Anantaethesie," &c. &c. . . introducing foreign coin is not so heavy an offence as clipping the King's English is, which he has done most unmercifully. If the word which presented itself did not rhyme, he made it, and wrote "passe" for "Past," "narre" for "near," "emisse" for "emitted," "conject" for "conjecture," &c. and it is sometimes past the reach of conjecture to find out his meaning. In the midst of a very fine passage he calls Fear or Doubt "a sturdy rascal," . . and Alexander the Great is designated as "that pert Pellaean lad." "Idee" is generally used for "idea," a word which had not then been made trite by fashionable metaphysics.

A curious passage occurs against materialism.

For then our soul can nothing be but bloud,
Or nerves, or brains, or body modifide,
Whence it will follow that cold-stopping crud,
Hard moldy cheese, dry nuts, when they have rid
Due circuits though the heart, at last shall speed
Of life and sense, . . look thorough our thin eyes
And view the close wherein the cow did feed
Whence they were milk'd; gross pie-crust will grow wise,
And pickled cucumbers, sans doubt, philosophize.

Poor young Beattie has something in the same strain of thought.

A certain High Priest could explain
How the soul is but nerve at the most,
And how Milton had glands in his brain
Which secreted the Paradise Lost.

In looking over this account of Henry More's strange poems, I do not perceive that any thing too harsh has been said of their defects, and yet it leaves a more unfavourable opinion of the author's talents, than I feel myself, or by any means wish to communicate. It is generally acknowledged that a man may write good verses, and yet be no poet; it is not so generally acknowledged that he may be a poet and yet write bad ones. Three fourths of the English poets have had less genius than Henry More, but not one of them who possessed any has contrived so completely to smother it, and render it useless.


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