William Hamilton's contemplative poem was first published anonymously in 1747, and afterwards considerably altered and expanded. The general model, formal and thematic, is Milton's Il Penseroso, though Contemplation also reflects the influence of the more recent descriptive poems by Thomson, Mallet, and Savage. But Hamilton differs from these models by framing his poem as a love complaint in the manner of Pope's Eloisa to Abelard. Like Joseph Warton's The Enthusiast (1740, published 1744), and Thomas Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy (1745, published 1747), Hamilton's Contemplation pulls together several seminal influences on mid-century romantic poetry. While Contemplation, or the Triumph of Love reflects the poetry of the 1730s, its belated appearance (while the poet was on the run following the Jacobite rebellion) corresponded with the second wave of Miltonic imitations based on Il Penseroso.
The poem opens with the Contemplative dismissing the adverse passions in the manner of Il Penseroso: "But from these Woods, O! thou retire | Hoodwinkt Superstition dire; | Zeal that clanks her Iron Bands, | And baths in Blood her merc'less Hands; | Loud toung'd Clamour get thee far, | To wrangle at the noisy Bar" p. 4. He especially wishes to avoid the passion of Love. Retired to the woods, the Contemplative attempts to reflect on Nature, but his thoughts are disturbed by his love for Racelia. Nature proves no remedy for Love: "I thought, O Love! thou would'st disdain | To mix with Wisdom's black staid Train" p. 8. He next turns to his thoughts to Heaven, with the same result: "Ah me, my Soul! Whence sprung the Pray'r? | From Piety or from Despair" p. 12. The final appeal is made to Melancholy: "When he his Ensigns shall display, | Mirth and Love will fly away, | And bring with him his due Compear | Silence sad, forlorn and dread" p. 15. The Contemplative descends to the underworld, "this Dungeon of Despair," but even there finds no relief. Death alone has the power to lay to rest the tyrant Love.
According to Hamilton's editor James Paterson the poem was written "in or before 1739. According to Lord Woodhouselee, it was submitted to the critical examination of his friends, Home and Crawford, and was much altered. It is, perhaps, the most laboured of all his productions. It was published anonymously, at Edinburgh, in 1747, 8vo., price 4d.; and it also appeared in the Scots Magazine of the same year. It was reprinted in the two editions of Hamilton's Poems, with verses 'To a Young Lady, with the following Poem,' prefixed, which are not in the publication of 1747" Poems (1850) 47.
William Lyon Phelps: "The well-known men who show the influence of Milton most clearly are the Warton brothers, Collins, Mason, and Gray. But there were many lesser lights who give evidence of close study of the Puritan poet. For example, William Hamilton of Bangour imitated Milton in his octosyllabic poem Contemplation. He shows this perhaps most clearly in his fondness for Abstractions — and indeed the subsequent fashion of personifying Abstractions — though dating back even much earlier than the Morality Plays — seems in the new Romantic movement to have flowed largely from Milton" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 88.
Myra Reynolds: "Though Hamilton's scenes are usually of the soft, delicious, vaguely pleasing sort, and his diction largely classical, yet now and then in his rather monotonous spring poetry we find a fresh line or phrase, as when he comments on spring's gift of beauty 'to each nameless field.' He finds joy in the prickly briar rose, the bright-colored weed, the lion's yellow tooth, in a thousand flowers never sowed by art. He is filled with gratitude as he looks upon the smiling face of Nature and the radiant glories of the sky, or listens to the music of the opening year" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 117.
Hoxie Neale Fairchild: "But after reading Hamilton's poems in their entirety one cannot feel that he was moved by a strong romantic impulse. He has the gentleman's view of poetry as an elegant pastime, and he toys with various ways of writing none of which seem related to any emotional centre. He is more often neoclassical than pre-romantic, and in his amatory and eulogistic poems he tries to continue the tradition of Waller. In fact he is distinctly an old-fashioned man: much in his work that appears to be pre-romantic might more accurately be described as a seventeenth-century heritage which survived longer in Scotland than in England" Religious Trends in English Poetry (1939) 1:436.
W. R. of Glasgow published "The Relapse, partly after the manner of Mr. Hamilton's Contemplation" in Edinburgh Magazine 5 (October 1761) 545.
No longer CONTEMPLATION dwell,
Blest Eremite, in thy lone Cell;
But come to me, slow pacing Maid,
And lean thee in the silken Shade.
Bring Knowledge, free of dark Disguise,
Faith endued with Eagle Eyes;
And Her, the tenderest of the Three,
The youngest Sister, Charity;
Devotion, taught of Heav'n to sing,
That soars above on daring Wing;
And seldom on this Earth survey'd
Silence, sober suited Maid,
Who holds her Finger on her Mouth,
In whose dark Cave lurks bashful Truth;
Truth, Parent of celestial Song,
Bring thy harmless Child along.
But from these Woods, O! thou retire
Hoodwinkt Superstition dire;
Zeal that clanks her Iron Bands,
And baths in Blood her merc'less Hands;
Loud toung'd Clamour get thee far,
To wrangle at the noisy Bar;
Ambition mad, that stems alone
The boist'rous Surge on Bladders born;
Hate, her furry Forehead bound
With a hissing snaky Round;
Revenge, still violent and base,
And Envy with her famish'd Face;
But chiefly Love, Love far off fly,
Nor interrupt my Privacy.
CONTEMPLATION'S sober Ear
Disdains thy Syren Song to hear;
With all thy treach'rous Train, be gone,
CONTEMPLATION'S here anon.
Now on the flow'ry Turf I ly,
My Soul conversing with the Sky,
Far lost in the bewild'ring Dream,
I wander o'er each lofty Theme.
Fain would I search the perfect Laws,
That constant bind th' unerring Cause;
Why Villany triumphant shines,
When Honesty in Chains declines;
The Good, their Virtues all forgot,
Mourn, Need severe, their destin'd Lot;
While Vice, invited by the Great,
Feasts under Canopies of State.
Next the bold Enquiry tries
To search our various Passion's Rise;
This Moment Hope exalts the Breast,
The next it sinks by Fear deprest;
The Storms of Rage now fierce begin,
Now all is gentle, calm within;
How we in constant Hates combine;
And how, in each unguarded Part,
RACELIA soft assails my Heart.
Ah me! what, helpless have I said,
Unhappy, by myself betray'd?
I deem'd, but ah! I deem'd in vain,
From the dear Image to refrain;
For when I fixt my musing Thought
Far on solemn Views remote,
When wand'ring in th' uncertain Round
Of mazy Doubt, no End I found;
O my unblest and erring Feet!
What most I sought to shun, ye meet.
Come, my serious Maid, again,
Come, and try another Strain,
Let us Nature's Dome explore,
Where dwells retir'd the Matron hoar,
There her wond'rous Works survey,
And drive the Intruder Love away.
'Tis done; ascending Heaven's Height,
CONTEMPLATION, take thy Flight,
Behold the Sun through Heav'n's wide Space,
Strong as a Giant run his Race;
Behold the Moon exert her Light,
As blushing Bride on her Love Night;
Behold the Sister starry Train,
Her Bride Maids mount the azure Plain:
See where the Snows their Treasures keep,
The Chambers where the loud Winds sleep;
Where the collected Rains abide,
Till Heaven set all its Windows wide,
Precipitate from High to pour,
And drown in Violence of Show'r;
Or, gently strain'd, they wash the Earth,
And raise the tender Fruits to Birth.
See where Thunder springs its Mine,
Where the Paths of Lightning shine;
Or tir'd those Heights still to pursue,
From Heav'n descending with the Dew,
That soft impregns the youthful Mead,
Where thousand Flow'rs exalt the Head,
To mark how Nature's Hand bestows
Abundant Grace on all that grows,
Tinges with Pencil slow, unseen,
The Grass that cloaths the Valley green,
Or spreads the Tulips parted Streaks,
Or sanguine dyes the Roses Cheeks,
Or points with Light RACELIA'S Eyes,
Or forms her Bosom's snowy Rise.
Ah! haunting Spirit, art thou there,
Forbidden in those Walk's t' appear?
I thought, O Love! thou would'st disdain
To mix with Wisdom's black staid Train;
But when my curious searching Look
A nice Survey of Nature took,
Well pleas'd, the Matron set to show
Her Mistress Work on Earth below.
Then fruitless Knowledge turn aside,
What other Art remains untry'd?
Devotion, come with sober Pace,
Full of Thought, and full of Grace;
While humbled on the Earth I ly,
Wrapt in the Vision of the Sky,
To noble Heights, and solemn Views,
Wing my Heav'n-aspiring Muse;
Teach me to scorn, by thee refin'd,
The low Delights of human Kind,
Sure thine; to put to Flight the Boy
Of Laughter, Sport, and idle Joy;
O plant those guarded Groves about
And keep the treach'rous Felon out.
And see the spreading Gates unfold,
Display'd the sacred Leaves of Gold.
Let me with holy Awe repair,
To the solemn House of Pray'r;
And as I go, O thou my Heart,
Forget each low and earthly Part;
Religion enter thou my Breast,
A mild and acceptable Guest;
Put off, in Contemplation drown'd,
Each sinful Thought in holy Ground,
And cautious tread, with awful Fear,
The Courts of Heav'n; — For God is here.
Now my grateful Voice I raise;
Ye Angels swell a Mortal's Praise,
To charm with your own Harmony,
The Ear of him who rules on high.
"Bestow, propitious heav'nly Pow'r,
Whose Love benign we feel each Hour,
An equal Lot on Earth to share,
Nor rich nor poor, my humble Pray'r;
Lest I forget, exalted proud,
The Hand Supreme that gave the Good;
Lest Want o'er Virtue may prevail,
And I put forth my Hand to steal:
But if thy sovereign Will shall grant
The Wealth I neither ask nor want,
May I the Widow's Need supply,
And wipe the Tears from Sorrow's Eye;
May the weary Wand'rer's Feet
From me a blest Reception meet.
But if Contempt, and low Estate,
Be the Assignment of my Fate,
O! may no Hopes of Gain entice,
To tread the green broad Path of Vice:
And bounteous, O! vouchsafe to clear
The Errors of a Mind sincere;
Illumine thou a searching Mind,
Groping after Truth and blind,
With Stores of beauteous Science fraught
That Bards have dream'd, or Sages taught:
And chief the Heav'n-born Strain impart,
A Muse according to thy Heart,
That, rapt in sacred Extasie,
I may sing, and sing of thee,
Instructing Mankind in thy Laws,
Blest Poet! in fair Virtue's Cause:
Give Friendship's sacred Charms to know,
The greatest Good of Man below,
The indissoluble Tye that binds,
In pleasing Chains, two Sister Minds;
Not such as servile Int'rests chuse,
From Fortune's Smiles and sordid Views;
Nor when the Midnight Banquet fires
The Choice of Wine, inflam'd Desires,
When the short Fellowships proceed
From casual Mirth and wicked Deed,
'Till the next Morn estranges quite
The Partners of one guilty Night.
But such as Wisdom long has weigh'd,
And years of Faithfulness have try'd,
Whose tender Mind is fram'd to share
The equal Portion of my Care;
Whose Thoughts my Happiness employs,
Sincere who joys in my Joys;
With whom, in Raptures, I may stray
Thro' Study's long and narrow Way,
Obscurely blest in Joys alone,
To the excluded World unknown,
Forsook the long fantastic Train
Of Flatt'ry, Mirth, all safe and vain!
On whose soft and gentle Breast,
My weary Soul may take her Rest;
While the still tender Look and kind
Fair springing from the spotless Mind,
My perfected Delights ensure,
To last immortal free and pure.
Grant Heav'n, if Heav'n means Bliss to me,
RACELIA such, and long may be."
Ah me, my Soul! Whence sprung the Pray'r?
From Piety or from Despair.
In vain Love's Fugitive I try,
From the commanding Power to fly;
Still dwells for ever, in my Sight,
The pleasing Image of Delight.
When Grace was dawning on my Soul,
Possest by Heav'n entire and whole,
Why did'st thou cruel Love! again
Drag me back to Earth and Pain?
Well hop'd I, Love, thou would'st retire
Before the blast of Jessean Lyre,
Devotion's Harp would charm to Rest
The Evil Spirit in my Breast;
But the deaf Adder fell disdains,
Unlist'ning to the Chaunter's Strains.
CONTEMPLATION, baffled Maid,
Remains there yet no other Aid?
Helpless and weary, must thou yield
To Love supreme in every Field.
Let Melancholy last engage,
Sad and hoary mantled Sage!
When he his Ensigns shall display,
Mirth and Love will fly away,
And bring with him his due Compear
Silence sad, forlorn and dread.
Haste thee, Silence, haste and go
To search the gloomy World below:
My trembling Steps, O Sybil, lead
Thro' the Dominion of the Dead,
Where Care, enjoying soft Repose,
Lays down the Burden of his Woes;
Where meritorious Want no more,
Shiv'ring, begs at Grandeur's Door.
Unconscious Grandeur, seal'd his Eyes,
On the mould'ring Purple lies.
In the dim religious Round,
The Power of Speech, in Chains, lies bound,
And see a Tomb, its Gates display'd,
Expands an everlasting Shade:
O ye Inhabitants that dwell,
Each forgotten in your Cell,
O say, For whom, of human Race,
Has Fate decreed this dwelling Place?
And, hark, methinks a Spirit calls,
Low Winds that Whisper round the Walls;
A Voice, the sluggish Air that breaks,
Solemn amid the Silence speaks,
Mistaken Man! that seek'st to know
What, known, will but afflict with Woe.
There thy RACELIA shall abide,
With the pale Bridegroom rest a Bride;
The Wan Assistants there shall lay,
In Weeds of Death, her beauteous Clay.
O Words of Woe, what do I hear?
What Sounds invade a Lover's Ear?
Must then thy Beauties by and by,
In this cold dreary Mansion ly?
Good Heav'n retard, for thine the Pow'r,
The Wheels of Time that roll the Hour.
But ah! why swells my Breast with Fears?
Why start the interdicted Tears?
Love, do'st thou tempt again? Depart,
Thou Devil cast out from my Heart.
Sad I forsook the Feast, the Ball,
In sunny Bow'r and lofty Hall,
Where to exalt the raptur'd Soul,
Thou mix'd the Mirth-inspiring Bowl;
And sought this Dungeon of Despair;
Yet thou overtak'st me here.
How little dream'd I thee to find
In this lone State of human kind!
Nor Melancholy can prevail,
The direful Deed, nor dismal Tale,
Hop'd I for these thou wouldst remove?
How near a-kin is Grief to Love!
Then no more I strive to shun
Thy Snares, O Love! Thy Will be done.
The best Physician here I find,
To cure a sore diseased Mind,
To Death, unhappy Youth, apply,
Thy surest Remedy to dy;
Soon will this melancholy Gloom,
Yield a weary Suff'rer Room;
No more a Slave to Love decreed,
At Ease and free among the Dead.
Go to then, Tears, ne'er cease to flow,
In full Satiety of Woe.
Tho' now the Maid my Heart alarms,
Severe and mighty in her Charms,
Doom'd to obey, in Bondage prest,
The Tyrant Love's Commands unblest;
Pass but some fleeting Moments o'er,
This rebel Heart shall beat no more.
Then, from my dark and closing Eye,
The Form belov'd shall ever fly;
The Tyrany of Love shall cease,
Both laid down to sleep in Peace,
To share alike our mortal Lot,
Her Beauties, and my Cares forgot.