1761
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On Despair.

Odes on Several Subjects. By James Scott, M.A. Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Rev. James Scott


An irregular ode in ten stanzas of gothic allegory. On Depair sports a remarkable alexandrine: "And screaming deadly hoarse night-ravens flap their wings!" One of the episodes is adapted from Milton's Lycidas ("Where were ye, Nymphs, O tell me where, | Daughters of Nereus fresh, and fair?"), but James Scott's model, along with Spenser's Cave of Despair, is Collins's Ode to Fear, of which it is one of the earliest of many imitations.

Lloyd's Evening Post: "I do not know any one that appears to be a greater favourite with the Lyric Muse, than Mr. Scott, the Author of a collection of Odes, lately published at Cambridge. There is a rich and original vein of Poetry runs thro' the whole; they are warm and enthusiastic, easy and learned, fanciful and elegant. The subjects are various and pleasing, tho' not always new, or perhaps chosen with judgment. He seems to be a master of numbers, and not a little skilled in raising the passions, as may be seen by reading the Odes on Pleasure and Despair. The picture of this last is so striking and animated, that I cannot forbear presenting it to the Public, as drawn by this admirable Painter. 'Save me! — What means yon grisly Shade, | Her stony eye-balls staring wide....' He then proceeds to shew the effects of this dreadful passion on the soul; first, in the instance of Hero, whose love for Leander, and unfortunate end, is told in the genuine language of Passion, and Poetry: he next introduces the confusion of the city of Athens, at the time of the Plague, whose violence is represented by the following images, 'Scar'd by the Daemon's spotted hand, | The Eagle scream'd, the famisht Vulture fled....' After having given us these two examples, he makes this apostrophe to Despair, 'O fly, thou first-born Child of Hell, | To some far distant, dreary, doleful Plain, | Where starting Fear, and agonizing Pain, | And black Remorse, and sullen Sorrows dwell, &c.'" (10 June 1761) 552.



Save me! — what means yon grisly shade,
Her stony eye-balls staring wide;
In foul and tatter'd patches clad,
With dirt, and gore, and venom'd dy'd?
A burning brand she whirls around,
And stamps, and raves, and tears the ground,
And madly rends her clotted hair;
While through her cank'red breast are seen
Myriads of serpents bred within,
The cursed spawn of self-consuming Care!—

'Twas thus, O poor enamour'd Maid,
The Stygian fiend approach'd the sea-girt tow'r,
What time, in sad misfortune's evil hour,
The faithless Lamp, Love's Cynosure decay'd.
"And why," the ghastly Phantom cries,
"Wilt thou, deluded Hero, wait
Leander's wish'd return, forbid by fate?
See floating on his wat'ry bier he lies;
Pale are his cheeks, where Love was wont to play,
And clos'd those radiant eyes that late out-shone the day."

The woe-foreboding voice she heard,
And wishing, trembling, pray'd for morn—
When lo the bleeding corse appear'd
By savage rocks all rudely torn!
Where were ye, Nymphs, O tell me where,
Daughters of Nereus fresh, and fair?
And why, sweet silver-footed Queen,
Would'st thou not leave thy coral cave,
And sooth the rough remorseless wave,
Ere Death had seiz'd thy best, thy boldest swain?—

With haggard eyes, all-streaming blood,
Distracted Hero saw her Lover slain,
And thrice indignant view'd the guilty main,
And thrice accus'd each merc'less watery God
Aye me in vain! — For "see, she cry'd,
My dear Leander's beck'ning shade!
And canst thou live, O lost, O wretched Maid?
Shall envious Fate so fond a pair divide?
Forbid it Love!" — Then head-long from the tow'r
Deep in the ruthless flood she plung'd to rise no more!

With scenes of woe, O cursed Pow'r,
How are thy greedy eyes regal'd?
How did thy heart exult of yore,
When Heaven's vindictive rod assail'd
The Queen of arts? — With Giant-stride
Contagion stalks, and lo the bride,
The Virgin-bride unpity'd dies!
Clasp'd to his daughter's throbbing breast,
The father breathes his soul to rest,
And sorrowing sons compose the widow'd mother's eyes!

Scar'd by the Daemons' spotted hand,
The Eagle scream'd, the famisht Vulture fled,
The hungry Wolf forsook th' unburied dead,
And pale Diseases shiv'ring left the land!
What cries, and piercing shrieks resound
Thro' ev'ry street, at ev'ry fane?
Yet ah! they weep, they weary heav'n in vain!
Death and Distraction stare on all around!
The wretched few, whom pois'nous Pest'lence spares,
Of moody madness die, and heart-distracting fears.

These are thy deeds, O fell Despair,
Thou tyrant of the tortur'd soul,
Sister of pale-ey'd Grief, and Care,
At whose command impetuous roll
Passion's rough tides, and swelling high
Burst thro' each dear and sacred tye,
And ev'ry pleasing thought o'erwhelm;
Anon the crazy bark is born,
Of winds, and waves, and rocks the scorn,
For Reason shrinks appall'd, and trembling quits the helm!

O fly, thou first-born child of Hell,
To some far distants dreary, doleful plain,
Where startling Fear, and agonizing Pain,
And black Remorse, and sullen Sorrows dwell:
Where arm'd with poison, racks, and death,
Stern Horrour rears his Gorgon head:
And writhing dreadful on their Iron-bed
The purple Furies grind their cank'red teeth;
While percht on stubs of trees the shriek-owl sings,
And screaming deadly hoarse night-ravens flap their wings!

Thither embost with vary'd woe,
Misfortune's pallid slave retires—
Hark, hark he raves! — Thy tablet shew,
Charg'd with damn'd ghosts, and sulph'rous fires.
Oh Mercy Heaven! — Upstaring stands
His grisly hair; his nerveless hands
Shake; o'er his face the curdled blood,
From his swoln heart, with tidings flies,
"Give me another Horse," he cries,
"Oh bring the poison'd bowl, let loose life's crimson flood!"

Sad, sacred wretch! — Thou Pow'r divine,
Whose god-like word from Chaos dark and dread,
Bad Discord fly, and Light sweet-smiling spread
Her orient wing, controul this breast of mine!
And still when gloomy thoughts prevail,
Oh short, and partial be their sway!
And beam'd from thee, let pleasure's gladsome ray
The mournful progeny of grief dispel.
So shall the chequer'd scenes of life delight,
As morning brighter peers preceded still by Night.

[pp. 37-42]