1742
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hymn to Adversity.

Designs by Mr. R. Bentley, for Six Poems by Mr. T. Gray.

Thomas Gray


A Miltonic ode in six stanzas, written in 1742 and published in 1753. The stanzas consist of seven octosyllabic lines and a concluding alexandrine — a stanza that Gray did not invent but which was later used in a number of imitations of what became, after the Elegy and Eton College Ode, Gray's most generally admired poem. Some of the his many imitators in the allegorical ode plainly regarded Gray's Hymn to Adversity as an imitation of Spenser. Many of the imitators used a pentameter line in the penultimate position. The images in this sober poem are quite traditional: "Wisdom in sable garb array'd | Immers'd in rapt'rous thought profound, | And Melancholy, silent maid | With leaden eye, that loves the ground." It seems to have been most popular during the heyday of the allegorical ode, in the 1780s and 1790s.

William Mason: "It [the death of Richard West] will also throw a melancholy grace (to borrow one of his own expressions) on the Ode on a distant prospect of Eton, and that to Adversity; both of them written the August following; for as both these Poems abound with Pathos, those who have feeling hearts will feel this excellence the more strongly, when they know the cause from whence it arose; and the unfeeling will, perhaps, learn to respect what they cannot taste, when they are prevented from imputing to a splenetic melancholy, what in fact sprung from the most benevolent of all sensations" Poems of Mr. Gray, ed. Mason (1775) 156-57.

Samuel Johnson: "Of the Ode on Adversity the hint was at first taken from: 'O Diva, gratum quae regis Antium'; but Gray has excelled his original by the variety of his sentiments and by their moral application. Of this piece, at once poetical and rational, I will not by slight objections violate the dignity" "Life of Gray" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 3:435-36.

Isaac Reed: "An imitation, as Dr. Johnson observes, of the 35th Ode of the first book of Horace, beginning, 'O Diva, gratum quae regis Antium'; but Mr. Gray has excelled his original, by the variety of his sentiments, and by their moral application" in Dodsley, Collection of Poems (1782) 4:10n.

Edward Gardner: "In the mechanism of Poetry, Gray attained the acme of perfection. His elegance is never attended with want of strength: his novelty is never marked by sophistication, and excess of imagery: he never declines, in his poetical sentiments, into ratiocination, and mere good sense. In his union of abstracted qualities with sensible objects, in the lightning of his beak, and terror of his eye, he condenses the grand and sublime. In the structure of his verse, he steers in a most happy medium, between the frigid didactic, and the flowery descriptive; between the dull and the gaudy. He enfeebles nothing by superfluity, never attenuates by poverty, nor obscures by imbecility of conception. In his fulness he is not redundant, nor is his easiness lost in precision. In the harmony of numbers he is only exceeded by Collins" in "The Poetry of Gray" Miscellanies, in Prose and Verse (1798) 1:43-44.

Percival Stockdale: "The Hymn to Adversity is, in every respect, worthy of is authour. It abounds with his force of instructive, and pathetick sentiment, and of animated, and adventurous fancy. The alarming, and terrifying effects of adversity on vice, and tyranny; its repulsive influence on the selfish, trifling, and vain idolaters of good fortune; and its maternal, and salutary discipline on the mind of persevering, and benevolent virtue, are happily distinguished, and described. In this hymn, likewise, Gray's fortunate, and high talent, in forming the persons of his imagination, and invention, is as, eminent as in any of his other poems. The conclusion of his invocation to Adversity evinces the humane, and good, as well as the great man; it is a faithful, and glowing transcript of that amiable christianity which was intimately felt by his heart, and vigorously enforced by his mind" Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets (1807) 2:569.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "When Gray personifies ADVERSITY, he manages his invention in such a manner, as to give it a more moral effect [than Collins's Odes], and bring it more 'home to men's business and bosoms,' while his composition loses nothing of the poetical character" Censura Literaria 9 (1809) 416.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth: "This is by far the most difficult poem which has been yet inserted in this book. Its beauties are acknowledged by most critics, and it is considered as classical poetry — 'classical,' means what is like ancient authors of established reputation, who are all ranked or 'classed' the foremost among writers either ancient or modern. The object of the poem is moral, and as it relates more to the higher ranks of men, than to those of inferior station, the lesson it inculcates or enforces has something awful and sublime that commands attention. The poet tells the rich, the powerful, and the proud, that they are liable to numerous faults and vices from their extended situation. In general, they hear nothing but their own praises, they feel nothing but pleasure, they are exempt or free from the common wants of the rest of mankind, and whilst they continue fortunate, they meet with nothing to correct their faults and scarcely any thing to encourage their virtues. From Adversity alone can they hope for amendment. She teaches the mighty and the proud, that they are men, subject to the same miseries, and wants, and failings as the rest of their fellow creatures; and that they are liable to one great aggravation of adversity the want of pity and sympathy for others" Readings in Poetry (1816) 130-32.

Samuel Rogers: "I once read Gray's Ode to Adversity to Wordsworth; and at the line,— 'And leave us leisure to be good,'— Wordsworth exclaimed, 'I am quite sure that is not original; Gray could not have hit upon it'" [the phase is John Oldham's] Table Talk (1856) 35.

Oliver Elton: "These odes seem at first like museum curiosities, old no doubt and impressive, but in a past mode of decoration. Jewels shine here and there, but the figures of Vicissitude and Care and Contemplation are fading. Yet, looking closer, we see that a real artist of the Renaissance has been at work, following an antique pattern but putting his own vision into it. This is felt even in the Hymn to Adversity, the most rhetorical of all" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:61.

W. P. Ker: "Experiments in verse are made in the eighteenth century as in the nineteenth century, experiments in different, but made under the same 'principles of borrowing,' if there be such principles, as when Collins for his 'Ode to Evening' takes the blank verse lyric stanza of Milton's translation of Horace, or under 'principles of combination,' as when Gray writes his 'Hymn to Adversity' not in the French pattern of most of his shorter odes, but in the stanza invented by himself, of octosyllabic verses with the alexandrine at the end. Gray is not working in imitation of Milton, but with the same principles had when he invented the stanza of his 'Nativity Ode.' Gray's 'Hymn to Adversity' belongs to the Spenserian school in nearly the same degree as the verse of Milton's 'Nativity Ode'" Form and Style in Poetry (1928) 200. Ker points out that Wordsworth's Ode to Duty imitates Gray's stanza.



Daughter of JOVE, relentless Power,
Thou Tamer of the human breast,
Whose iron scourge and tort'ring hour
The Bad affright, afflict the Best!
Bound in thy adamantine chain
The Proud are taught to taste of pain,
And purple Tyrants vainly groan
With pangs unfelt before, unpitied and alone.

When first thy Sire to send on earth
Virtue, his darling Child, design'd,
To thee he gave the heav'nly Birth,
And bad to form her infant mind.
Stern rugged Nurse! thy rigid lore
With patience many a year she bore:
What sorrow was, thou bad'st her know,
And from her own she learn'd to melt at other's woe.

Scared at thy frown terrific, fly
Self-pleasing Folly's idle brood,
Wild Laughter, Noise, and thoughtless Joy,
And leave us leisure to be good.
Light they disperse, and with them go
The summer Friend, the flatt'ring Foe;
By vain Prosperity received,
To her they vow their truth, and are again believed.

Wisdom in sable garb array'd
Immers'd in rapt'rous thought profound,
And Melancholy, silent maid
With leaden eye, that loves the ground,
Still on thy solemn steps attend:
Warm Charity, the gen'ral friend,
With Justice to herself severe,
And Pity, dropping soft the sadly-pleasing tear.

Oh, gently on thy Suppliant's head,
Dread Goddess, lay thy chast'ning hand!
Not in thy Gorgon terrors clad,
Nor circled with the vengeful Band
(As by the Impious thou art seen)
With thund'ring voice, and threat'ning mien,
With screaming Horror's funeral cry,
Despair, and fell Disease, and ghastly Poverty.

Thy form benign, oh Goddess, wear,
Thy milder influence impart,
Thy philosophic Train be there
To soften, not to wound my heart,
The gen'rous spark extinct revive,
Teach me to love and to forgive,
Exact my own defects to scan,
What others are, to feel, and know myself a Man.

[pp. 24-27]