1747
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Pleasures of Melancholy. A Poem.

The Pleasures of Melancholy. A Poem.

Rev. Thomas Warton


The Pleasures of Melancholy was begun in 1745 when the Thomas Warton was 17, published two years later, and subsequently modified and refined in later editions. Warton (writing anonymously) takes Milton's Il Penseroso as his explicit model, though the use of blank verse follows the recent examples of James Thomson's The Seasons, David Mallet's The Excursion (1728), James Ralph's Night (1728), and Richard Savage's The Wanderer (1729); the gothic passages suggest the influence of Thomas Parnell's popular "A Night-Piece on Death" (published 1722). Unlike Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination (1744), Warton's poem is not didactic verse — it is a prototype of the "pure poetry" of the Warton school. The Pleasures of Melancholy, widely disseminated through Dodsley's Collection of Poems, was often imitated in conjunction with Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard (1751); together they supplied images and themes for hundreds eighteenth and early nineteenth century ruminative poems involving lonely cemeteries and ruined abbeys.

The allusions to Il Penseroso are clearly marked; in reworking the imagination section of his original Warton substitutes the names of Spenser and Milton in place of the original Chaucer and Spenser: "But let the sacred Genius of the night | Such mystic visions send, as SPENSER saw, | When thro' bewild'ring Fancy's magic maze, | To the bright regions of the fairy world | Soar'd his creative mind: or MILTON knew, | When in abstracted thought he first conceiv'd | All heav'n in tumult" pp. 7-8. The passage was later emended to "as Spenser saw, | When thro' bewild'ring Fancy's magic maze, | To the fell house of Busyrane, he led | Th' unshaken Britomart; or Milton knew...."

While Warton would later write much more sophisticated poetry, this early work has a programmatic significance as a gothic manifesto and marks as something of a turning point in literary history for its explicit rejection of Alexander Pope's social verse. In a cleverly-wrought central passage Warton elevates Spenser's Una over Pope's Belinda: "Thro' POPE'S soft song tho' all the Graces breath, | And happiest art adorn his Attic page; | Yet does my mind with sweeter transport glow, | As at the foot of some hoar oak reclin'd, | In magic SPENSER'S wildly-warbled song" p. 13. Joseph Warton created a stir when a few years later he argued to much the same effect in his Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope (1756).

Robert Anderson: "The Pleasures of Melancholy, one of his earliest productions, is a beautiful Miltonic poem, abounding with bold metaphors and highly-coloured pictures. The indulgence of melancholy, by attending the cathedral service during winter evenings, and the luxury of tragic tears at the theatre, are feelingly and poetically described" British Poets (1795) 11:1059.

Henry Kirke White to Neville White: "His Pleasures of Melancholy is truly a sublime poem ... it is impossible to withstand the emotions which rise on its perusal, and I envy not that man his sensibility who can read them with apathy" 11 April 1801; in Remains, ed. Southey (1807; 1869) 51.

Delius: "Let it not be supposed, as Hortensius concludes, that he was deficient in the qualifications of an original poet: to obviate this, it is only necessary to refer to The Pleasures of Melancholy, and they will find ample proofs of art, genius, and versification. The sombrous colouring which Warton borrowed of Milton, and has employed in this truly beautiful poem, throws a gloom over his versification, happily corresponding with the nature of his subject. His language is in a high degree flowing and luxuriant, and such as may be said to be 'Both its lustre and its shade'" Lady's Monthly Museum 6 (May 1801) 340.

Jane Warton: "Instead of this feeble, cold commendation [by Richard Mant in Warton's Poetical Works], for the extraordinary work of so young a boy (exclusive of the praise of the Author whom he quotes) how different are the opinions of literary men! for, at the time that beautiful poem was first published, an author of elegant taste, well known in the literary world, wrote thus, in a letter to Dr. Warton I have often seen, 'What an amazing genius is your young brother, of Trinity College, Oxford; who, only a boy of 16 years, has written a poem, which would not disgrace the latter years of Pope himself.' Yet Mr. Mant speaks of the little success of his two blank verse poems" Gentleman's Magazine 73 (April 1803) 331.

Nathan Drake: "This beautifully romantic poem, though executed at a period so early in life, betrays almost immediately the tract of reading, and the school of poetry, to which its author had, even then, sedulously addicted himself. Every page suggests to us the disciple of Spenser and Milton, yet without servile imitation; for, though the language and style of imagery whisper whence they were drawn, many of the pictures in this poem are so bold and highly coloured, as justly to claim no small share of originality" Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 2:169-70.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "The Pleasures of Melancholy, written as it was in 1745, in his seventeenth year, is a very extraordinary performance; and exhibits a command of language, and copiousness of phraseology, which prove both wonderful attainments, and great power of mind. It was at this time that the school of Pope was giving way: addresses to the head rather than to the heart, or the fancy; moral axioms, and witty observations, expressed in harmonious numbers, and with epigrammatic terseness; the "limae labor," all the artifices of a highly polished style, and the graces of finished composition, which had long usurped the place of the more sterling beauties of imagination and sentiment, began first to be lessened in the public estimation by the appearance of Thomson's Seasons, a work which constituted a new era in our poetry. Then arose a constellation of youths of genius, of a more wild and picturesque school — Gray, and Collins, and Joseph Warton, and Akenside. In this school grew up Thomas Warton" Censura Literaria 4 (1807) 280.

Thomas Campbell: "As the composition of a youth, it is entitled to a very indulgent consideration; and perhaps it gives promise of a sensibility, which his subsequent poetry did not fulfill" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1855) 655.

European Magazine, commenting on Warton's comparison of Belinda to Una: "I have already shewn the absurdity of comparing poems of a different character, which always require a different treatment, to give them all that excellence of which they are capable. The scenes of nature, it is true, are more frequently placed before us in the former than in the latter of these poems; but Mr. Warton and all his followers must he well aware, that the design of the Rape of the Lock was to expose the follies of fashionable life, and, consequently, that Pope was prevented, by the very nature of the poem, to embellish it with the 'wasteful solitudes and lurid heaths,' that so peculiarly belonged to the wild and romantic character of the Fairy Queen. To introduce rural scenes and natural affections into the Rape of the Lock, would be, in fact, to thrust nature out of it altogether; for nothing can be natural and improper at the same moment; and nothing could be more improper, nothing more at variance with the design of the Rape of the Lock, than those descriptions of nature, the absence of which is so much regretted by Mr. Warton and his followers. His criticism is not, therefore, worth repeating, though it has been echoed, over and over again, by the disciples of the Spenserian school" "On the Spenserian School of Poetry" 82 (October 1822) 335.

Henry Francis Cary: "In the course of this year he published, without his name, the Pleasures of Melancholy; having, perhaps, been influenced in the choice of a subject thus sombre, by the loss of his parent. In this poem his imitations of Milton are so frequent and palpable, as to discover the timid flight of a young writer not daring to quit the track of his guide. Yet by some (as appears from the letters between Mrs. Carter and Miss Talbot) it was ascribed to Akenside" "Thomas Warton" in London Magazine 4 (August 1821) 122.

John Wilson: "In the Pleasures of Melancholy, composed in his seventeenth year, there are some passages of no mean power — and that will bear comparison with any thing written at so early an age by the best of our poets. Indeed, we agree with Thomas Campbell in thinking that 'it gives promise of a sensibility which his subsequent poetry did not fulfil'; and, though it cannot be truly said that in after life he did not follow the bidding of his own genius, yet, by following it, he seems to have allowed to languish in disuse many feelings and emotions with which his thoughtful heart had in early boyhood been familiar, and almost to have forgotten them in his devotion to the lore of Chivalry and Romance" Blackwood's Magazine 44 (October 1838) 554.

Preface to Poems on the Pleasures: "Besides the productions selected for this volume [Akenside, Rogers, Campbell, McHenry], there have been published in our language, since the time of Akenside, several poems of kindred titles and, in some respects, of kindred structure, but not of kindred poetical spirit. Among these have been The Pleasures of Melancholy, The Pleasures of Religion, The Pleasures of Love, The Pleasures of Retirement, and notwithstanding the absurdity of its title, The Pleasures of Poverty. But, if T. Warton's short effusion, The Pleasures of Melancholy, be excepted, these all soon became wearied of the light of day, and shrunk back into primeval darkness. They had not vitality enough to bear the glare of this scrutinizing world. The would consequently be out of place in this volume" (1841) 5-6.

Herbert E. Cory: "In The Pleasures of the Melancholy Thomas Warton alludes to Spenser in a somewhat romantic spirit. 'Such mystic visions send as Spenser saw | When through bewildering Fancy's magic maze, | To the fell house of Busyrane, he led | Th' unshaken Britomart....' But his own mutations are so frigid and remote from their model that were they our only evidence we should suspect that Warton had no first-hand knowledge of Spenser" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" "Critics of Spenser" UC Pub. in Mod. Philology 2 (1911) 161-62.

Duncan C. Tovey: "In his 17th year, Thomas Warton, in his Pleasures of Melancholy, had all the accessories of the scene which Gray describes [in Elegy written in a Country Churchyard]; there is a 'sacred silence,' as in a rejected but very beautiful stanza of the Elegy there was a 'sacred calm'; there is the 'owl,' and the 'ivy' that 'with mantle green Invests some wasted tower.' But the young poet, in his character of devotee of melancholy, takes us too far, when, with that gruesome enjoyment of horrors which is the prerogative of youth, he leads us at midnight to the 'hollow charnel' to 'watch the flame of taper dim shedding a livid glare.' We are at once conscious of the artificial and ambitious character of the effort, precocious as an essay in literature, but without genuine feeling, without the correspondence between man and nature, which alone can create a mood. And it was the power to create a mood which was the distinctive merit of the best poems of this class and at this date. Joseph Warton, with the same environment, and, still more, Collins, in his magical Ode to Evening, achieved this success" Cambridge History of English Literature (1913) 10:140-41.

Eleanor M. Sickels: "Thus this youth of seventeen gathered into three hundred fiften lines of blank verse most of the influences — Milton, Thomson, Young, Dyer — and all of the paraphernalia of the earlier melancholy tradition, and at the same time pointed out and himself influenced the way in which that tradition was later to develop" Sickels, Gloomy Egoist (1932) 81.

Warton's poem is parodied in The Student 2 (1751) 313-15 and in Mirth, a Poem in answer to Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy (1774). Warton's borrowings from Milton in this poem, and others' borrowings from Warton, are discussed at length by "Octavius" in "Milton and Warton" Monthly Mirror 11 (March 1801) 153-58. The Spenser passage is quoted in the "Commendatory Verses" in Todd's Works of Spenser (1805).



Mother of Musings, Contemplation sage,
Whose mansion is upon the topmost cliff
Of cloud-capt Teneriff, in secret bow'r;
Where ever wrapt in meditation high,
Thou hear'st unmov'd in dark tempestuous night,
The loud winds howl around, the beating rain
And the big hail in mingling storm descend
Upon his horrid brow. But when the skies
Unclouded shine, and thro' the blue serene
Pale Cynthia rolls her silver-axled car,
Then ever looking on the spangled vault
Raptur'd thou sit'st, while murmurs indistinct
Of distant billows sooth thy pensive ear
With hoarse and hollow sounds; secure, self-blest,
Oft too thou listen'st to the wild uproar
Of fleets encount'ring, that in whispers low
Ascends the rocky summit, where thou dwell'st
Remote from man, conversing with the spheres.
O lead me, black-brow'd Queen, to solemn glooms
Cogenial with my soul, to chearless shades,
To ruin'd seats, to twilight cells and bow'rs,
Where thoughtful Melancholy loves to muse,
Her fav'rite midnight haunts. The laughing scenes
Of purple Spring, where all the wanton train
Of Smiles and Graces seem to lead the dance
In sportive round, while from their hands they show'r
Ambrosial blooms and flow'rs, no longer charm;
Tempe, no more I court thy balmy breeze,
Adieu green vales! embroider'd meads adieu!

Beneath yon' ruin'd Abbey's moss-grown piles
Oft let me sit, at twilight hour of Eve,
Where thro' some western window the pale moon
Pours her long-levell'd rule of streaming light;
While sullen sacred silence reigns around,
Save the lone Screech-owl's note, whose bow'r is built
Amid the mould'ring caverns dark and damp,
And the calm breeze, that rustles in the leaves
Of flaunting Ivy, that with mantle green
Invests some sacred tow'r. Or let me tread
It's neighb'ring walk of pines, where stray'd of old
The cloyster'd brothers: thro' the gloomy void
That far extends beneath their ample arch
As on I tread, religious horror wraps
My soul in dread repose. But when the world
Is clad in Midnight's raven-colour'd robe,
In hollow charnel let me watch the flame
Of taper dim, while airy voices talk
Along the glimm'ring walls, or ghostly shape
At distance seen invites with beck'ning hand
My lonesome steps, thro' the far-winding vaults.
Nor undelichtful is the solemn noon.
Of night, when haply wakeful from my couch
I start: lo, all, is motionless around!
Roars not the rushing wind, the sons of men
And every beast in mute oblivion lie;
All Nature's hush'd in silence and in sleep.
O then how fearful is it to reflect,
That thro' the solitude of the still globe
No Being wakes but me! 'till stealing sleep
My drooping temples baths in opiate dews.
Nor then let dreams, of wanton Folly born,
My senses lead thro' flowery paths of joy;
But let the sacred Genius of the night
Such mystic visions send, as SPENSER saw,
When thro' bewild'ring Fancy's magic maze,
To the bright regions of the fairy world
Soar'd his creative mind: or MILTON knew,
When in abstracted thought he first conceiv'd
All heav'n in tumult, and the Seraphim
Come tow'ring, arm'd in adamant and gold.

Let others love the Summer-ev'ning's smiles,
As list'ning to some distant water-fall
They mark the blushes of the streaky west:
I choose the pale December's foggy glooms;
Then, when the sullen shades of Ev'ning close,
Where, thro' the room a blindly-glimm'ring gleam
The dying embers scatter, far remote
From Mirth's mad shouts, that thro' the lighted roof
Resound with festive echo, let me sit,
Blest with the lowly cricket's drowsy dirge.
Then let my contemplative thought explore
This fleeting state of things, the vain delights,
The fruitless toils, that still elude our search,
As thro' the wilderness of life we rove.
This sober hour of silence will unmask
False Folly's smiles, that like the dazling spells
Of wily Comus, cheat th' unweeting eye
With blear illusion, and persuade to drink
The charmed cup, that Reason's mintage fair
Unmoulds, and stamps the monster on the man.
Eager we taste, but in the luscious draught
Forget the pois'nous dregs that lurk beneath.

Few know that Elegance of soul refin'd,
Whose soft sensation feels a quicker joy
From Melancholy's scenes, than the dull pride
Of tasteless splendor and magnificence
Can e'er afford. Thus Eloise, whose mind
Had languish'd to the pangs of melting love,
More secret transport found, as on some tomb
Reclin'd she watch'd the tapers of the dead.
Or thro' the pillar'd isles, amid the shrines
Of imag'd saints, and intermingled graves,
Which scarce the story'd windows dim disclos'd,
Musing she wander'd; than Cosmelia finds,
As thro' the Mall in silken pomp array'd,
She floats amid the glided sons of dress,
And shines the fairest of th' assembled Belles.

When azure noon-tide chears the daedal globe,
And the glad regent of the golden day
Rejoices in his bright meridian bow'r,
How oft my wishes ask the night's return,
That best befriends the melancholy mind!
Hall, sacred Night! to thee my song I raise!
Sister of ebon-scepter'd Hecat, hail!
Whether in congregated clouds thou wrap'st
Thy viewless chariot, or with silver crown
Thy beaming head encirclest, ever hail!
What tho' beneath thy gloom the Lapland witch
Oft celebrates her moon-eclipsing rites;
Tho' Murther wan, beneath thy shrouding shade
Oft calls her silent vot'ries to devise
Of blood and slaughter, while by one blue lamp
In secret conf'rence sits the list'ning band,
And start at each low wind, or wakeful sound:
What tho' thy stay the Pilgrim curses oft,
As all benighted in Arabian wastes
He hears the howling wilderness resound
With roaming monsters, while on his hoar head
The black-descending tempest ceaseless beats;
Yet more delightful to my pensive mind
Is thy return, than bloomy Morn's approach,
When from the portals of the saffron East
She sheds fresh roses and ambrosial dews.
Yet not ungrateful is the Morn's approach,
When dropping wet she comes, and clad in clouds,
While thro' the damp air scowls the peevish South,
And the dusk landschape rises dim to view.
Th' afflicted songsters of the sadden'd groves
Hail not the sullen gloom, but silent droop;
The waving elms that rang'd in thick array,
Enclose with stately row some rural hall,
Are mute, nor echo with the clamors hoarse
Of rooks rejoicing on their hoary boughs:
While to the shed the dripping poultry croud,
A mournful train: secure the village-hind
Hangs o'er the crackling blaze, nor tempts the storm;
Rings not the high wood with enliv'ning shouts
Of early hunter: all is silence drear;
And deepest sadness wraps the face of things.

Thro' POPE'S soft song tho' all the Graces breath,
And happiest art adorn his Attic page;
Yet does my mind with sweeter transport glow,
As at the foot of some hoar oak reclin'd,
In magic SPENSER'S wildly-warbled song
I see deserted Una wander wide
Thro' wasteful solitudes, and lurid heaths,
Weary, forlorn, than when the fated Fair,
Upon the bosom bright of silver Thames,
Launches in all the lustre of Brocade,
Amid the splendors of the laughing Sun.
The gay description palls upon the sense,
And coldly strikes the mind with feeble bliss.

O wrap me then in shades of darksom pine.
Bear me to caves by desolation brown,
To dusky vales, and hermit-haunted rocks!
And hark, methinks resounding from the gloom
The voice of Melancholy strikes mine ear;
"Come, leave the busy trifles of vain life,
And let these twilight mansions teach thy mind
The joys of Musing, and of solemn Thought."

Ye youths of Albion's beauty-blooming isle,
Whose brows have worn the wreath of luckless love,
Is there a pleasure like the pensive mood,
Whose magic wont to sooth your soften'd souls?
O tell how rapt'rous is the deep-felt bliss
To melt to Melody's assuasive voice,
Careless to stray the midnight mead along,
And pour your sorrows to the pitying moon,
Oft interrupted by the Bird of Woe!
To muse by margin of romantic stream,
To fly to solitudes, and there forget
The solemn dulness of the tedious world.
'Till in abstracted dreams of fancy lost,
Eager you snatch the visionary fair,
And on the phantom feast your cheated gaze!
Sudden you start — th' imagin'd joys recede,
The same sad prospect opens on your sense;
And nought is seen but deep-extended trees
In hollow rows, and your awaken'd ear
Again attends the neighb'ring fountain's sound.
These are delights that absence drear has made
Familiar to my soul, ere since the form
Of young Sapphira, beauteous as the Spring,
When from her vi'let-woven couch awak'd
By frolic Zephyr's hand, her tender cheek
Graceful she lifts, and blushing from her bow'r,
Issues to cloath in gladsome-glist'ring green
The genial globe, first met my dazled sight.
These are delights unknown to minds profane,
And which alone the pensive soul can taste.

The taper'd choir, at midnight hour of Pray'r,
Oft let me tread, while to th' according voice
The many-sounding organ peals on high,
In full-voic'd chorus thro' th' embowed roof;
'Till all my soul is bath'd in ecstasies,
And lap'd in Paradise. Or let me sit
Far in some distant isle of the deep dome,
There lonesome listen to the solemn sounds,
Which, as they lengthen thro' the Gothic vaults,
In hollow murmurs reach my ravish'd ear.

Nor let me fail to cultivate my mind
With the soft thrillings of the tragic Muse,
Divine Melpomene, sweet Pity's nurse,
Queen of the stately step, and flowing pall.
Now let Monimia mourn with streaming eyes
Her Joys incestuous, and polluted love:
Now let Calista dye the desperate steel
Within her bosom, for lost innocence,
Unable to behold a father weep.
Or Jaffeir kneel for one forgiving look;
Nor seldom let the Moor on Desdemone
Pour the misguided threats of jealous rage.
By soft degrees the manly torrent steals
From my swoln eyes, and at a brother's woe
My big heart melts in sympathizing tears.

What are the splendors of the gaudy court,
It's tinsel trappings, and it's pageant pomps?
To me far happier seems the banish'd Lord
Amid Siberia's unrejoycing wilds
Who pines all lonesome, in the chambers hoar
Of some high castle shut, whose windows dim
In distant ken discover trackless plains,
Where Winter ever drives his icy car;
While still repeated objects of his view,
The gloomy battlements, and ivi'd tow'rs
That crown the solitary dome, arise;
While from the topmost turret the slow clock
Far heard along th' inhospitable wastes
With sad-returning chime, awakes new grief;
Than is the Satrap whom he left behind
In Moscow's regal palaces, to drown
In ease and luxury the laughing hours.

Illustrious objects strike the gazer's mind
With feeble bliss, and but allure the sight,
Nor rouze with impulse quick the feeling heart.
Thus seen by shepherd from Hymettus' brow,
What painted landschapes spread their charms beneath?
Here palmy groves, amid whose umbrage green
Th' unfading olive lifts her silver head,
Resounding once with Plato's voice, arise:
Here vine-clad hills unfold their purple stores,
Here fertile vales their level lap expand,
Amid whose beauties glistering Athens tow'rs.
Tho' thro' the graceful seats Illisus roll
His sage-inspiring flood, whose fabled banks
The spreading laurel shades, tho' roseate Morn
Pour all her splendors on th' empurpled scene,
Yet feels the musing Hermit truer joys,
As from the cliff that o'er his cavern hangs,
He views the piles of fall'n Persepolis
In deep arrangement hide the darksome plain.
Unbounded waste! the mould'ring Obelisc
Here, like a blasted oak, ascends the clouds;
Here Parian domes their vaulted halls disclose
Horrid with thorn, where lurks the secret thief,
Whence flits the twilight-loving bat at eve,
And the deaf adder wreaths her spotted train,
The dwellings once of Elegance and Art.
Here temples rise, amid whose hallow'd bounds
Spires the black pine, while thro' the naked street,
Haunt of the tradeful merchant, springs the grass:
Here columns heap'd on prostrate columns, torn
From their firm base, encrease the mould'ring mass.
Far as the sight can pierce, appear the spoils
Of sunk magnificence: a blended scene
Of moles, fanes, arches, domes, and palaces,
Where, with his brother horror, ruin sits.

O come then, Melancholy, queen of thought,
O come with saintly look and stedfast step,
From forth thy cave embower'd with mournful yew,
Where ever to the curfew's solemn sound
List'ning thou sit'st, and with thy cypress bind
Thy votary's hair, and seal him for thy son.
But never let Euphrosyne begile
With toys of wanton mirth my fixed mind,
Nor with her primrose garlands strew my paths.
What tho' with her the dimpled Hebe dwells,
With young-ey'd Pleasure, and the loose-rob'd Joy;
Tho' Venus, mother of the Smiles and Loves,
And Bacchus, ivy-crown'd, in myrtle bow'r
With her in dance fantastic beat the ground:
What tho' 'tis her's to calm the blue serene,
And at her presence mild the low'ring clouds
Disperse in air, and o'er the face of heav'n
New day diffusive glows at her approach;
Yet are these joys that Melancholy gives
By Contemplation taught, her sister sage,
Than all her witless revels happier far.

Then ever, beauteous Contemplation, hail!
From thee began, auspicious maid, my song,
With thee shall end: for thou art fairer far
Than are the nymphs of Cirrha's mosy grot;
To loftier rapture thou canst wake the thought,
Than all the fabling Poet's boasted pow'rs.
Hail, queen divine! whom, as tradition tells,
Once in his ev'ning-walk a Druid found
Far in a hollow glade of Mona's woods,
And piteous bore with hospitable hand
To the close shelter of his oaken bow'r.
There soon the Sage admiring mark'd the dawn
Of solemn Musing in thy pensive thought;
For when a smiling babe, you lov'd to lie
Oft deeply list'ning to the rapid roar
Of wood-hung Meinai, stream of Druids old,
That lav'd his hallow'd haunt with dashing wave.

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