1714
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Hymn on Contentment.

Poetical Miscellanies, consisting of original Poems and Translations. By the best Hands. Publish'd by Mr. Steele.

Rev. Thomas Parnell


Thomas Parnell's long-popular hymn to retirement imitates Milton's Il Penseroso in octosyllabic couplets. Parnell was particularly popular with the anti-romantics of the romantic age, the neo-Augustan poets and critics, often American, who shared Johnson's and Goldsmith's distaste for "ode and elegy and sonnet."

Oliver Goldsmith: "Parnell is ever happy in the selection of his images, and scrupulously careful in the choice of his subjects. His productions bear no resemblance to those tawdry things which it has for some time been the fashion to admire.... These misguided innovators have not been content with restoring antiquated words and phrases, but have indulged themselves in the most licentious transpositions and the harshest constructions, vainly imagining, that the more their writings are unlike prose, the more they resemble poetry: they have adopted a language of their own, and call upon mankind for admiration. All those who do not understand them are silent, and those who make out their meaning are willing to praise, to show they understand. From these, follies and affectations the poems of Parnell are entirely free" Life of Parnell (1770) in Works, ed. Cunningham (1854) 4:141.

Edmund Gosse: "We know little of his life. Pope discovered him, buried in an Ulster parsonage, and stimulated him to write. Swift brought him up to town, and insisted on presenting him to Harley. Parnell's best pieces all belong to the period between 1713, when he came under Pope's influence, and his early death in 1718. Yet Parnell cannot be called a disciple of Pope; within the narrow range of what he did well there was no poetical writer of his time who showed a greater originality. The Hermit is a very perfect piece of sententious narrative work in the heroic couplet, not easily to be matched for polish, elegance, and symmetry. Parnell's remarkable odes, The Night Piece and The Hymn to Contentment, however, possess more real inspiration. They form a link between Milton on the one hand and Gray and Collins on the other, and their employment of the octosyllabic measure is wonderfully subtle and harmonious.... It would be easy to entertain the thesis that there is more of imagination, in the purely Wordsworthian sense, more of mystery and spirituality, in Parnell than in any other poet of the time. He was very diffident, and published nothing; but in 1722 Pope collected his posthumous pieces into a volume to which he prefixed a fine dedication, the only fault of which is that it contains too little about the dead Parnell and too much about the living Harley to whom, as the muse 'shaded his evening walk with bays,' the volume was inscribed" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 136-37.

Amy Louise Reed: "The "Hymn" is evidently, in phrasing and metre, inspired by Parnell's reading of Il Penseroso, but in idea it is opposed to Milton's thought, for it condemns solitude as leading to restlessness and skepticism, unless solitary meditation is deliberately turned into religious channels" The Background of Gray's Elegy (1924) 120.

Hoxie Neale Fairchild: "The 'Hymn' looks forward to Wordsworth less certainly than it looks backwards to Cardinal Bona, for it was suggested by an ode in his Divina Psalmodia. It tells us that contentment is a prize reserved for those who curb their passions and lift their thoughts to God" Religious Trends in English Poetry (1939) 1:235.



Lovely lasting Peace of Mind,
Sweet delight of Human Kind,
Heav'nly born, and bred on high,
To crown the Fav'rites of the Sky
With more of Happiness below,
Than Victors in a Triumph know:
Whither, O whither art thou fled,
To lay thy meek contented Head?
What happy Region dost thou please
To make the Seat of Calms and Ease?

Ambition searches all its Sphere
Of Pomp and State to find thee there.
Encreasing Avarice wou'd find
Thy Presence in its Gold enshrin'd.
The bold Advent'rer ploughs his way
Through Rocks amidst the foaming Sea
To gain thy Love, and then perceives
Thou wer't not in the Rocks and Waves.
The silent Heart whom Grief assails,
Treads soft and lonesome o'er the Vales,
Sees Daizies open, Rivers run,
And seeks (as I have vainly done)
Amusing Thought; but learns to know
That Solitude's a Nurse of Woe.
No real Happiness is found
In trailing Purple o'er the Ground:
Or in a Soul exalted high
To range the Circuit of the Sky,
Converse with Stars above, and know
All Nature in its Forms below;
The Rest it seeks in seeking dies,
And Doubts at last for Knowledge rise.

Lovely lasting Peace appear;
This World it self, if thou art here,
Is once again with Eden bless'd,
And Man contains it in his Breast.

'Twas thus, as under Shade I stood,
I sung my Wishes to the Wood,
And, lost in Thought, no more perceiv'd
The Branches whisper as they wav'd;
It seems as if the quiet Place
Confess'd the Presence of the Grace,
When thus she spoke — Go rule thy Will,
Bid thy wild Passions all be still,
Know God — and bring thy Heart to know
The Joys which from Religion flow;
Then ev'ry Grace shall prove its Guest,
And I'll be there to crown the rest.

Oh! by yonder Mossie Seat,
In my Hours of sweet Retreat,
Might I thus my Soul employ
With sense of Gratitude and Joy,
Rais'd, as Ancient Prophets were,
In heav'nly Vision, Praise, and Pray'r,
Pleasing all Men, hurting none,
Pleas'd and bless'd with God alone.

Then, while the Gardens take my Sight,
With all the Colours of Delight,
While Silver Waters glide along,
To please my Ear, and court my Song;
I'll lift my Voice, and tune my String,
And Thee, great SOURCE of NATURE, sing.

The Sun that walks his airy Way,
To light the World, and give the Day;
The Moon that shines with borrow'd Light,
The Stars that gild the gloomy Night,
The Seas that roll unnumber'd Waves,
The Wood that spreads its shady Leaves,
The Field whose Ears conceal the Grain,
The yellow Treasure of the Plain;
All of these, and all I see,
Wou'd be sung, and sung by me,
They speak their Maker as they can,
But want and ask the Tongue of Man.

Go search among your idle Dreams
Your busie or your vain Extreams,
And find a Life of equal Bliss,
Or own the next begun in this.

[pp. 56-60]