1762
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Hymn to Repentance.

An Hymn to Repentance. By Mr. Scott, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Rev. James Scott


Twenty irregular Spenserians (abbacdcdeE). With this allegorical ode James Scott, a clergyman better known for eloquence than piety, won his third Seatonian prize. The Hymn to Repentance contains the usual formulaic imitations of Milton's Il Penseroso, while the central stanzas seem to owe a debt to the Despair episode in the Faerie Queene as well as to graveyard poetry generally: "But chief that Tyrant of the Soul, | That cursed Man of Hell, Despair; | See, see his livid Eye-balls roll, | What cankred Teeth, what grisly Hair! | Anguish, and trembling fear his Conscience quail, | And all Hell's damned Ghosts the shrieking Wretch assail!" p. 9. Scott alludes to George Lyttelton's gardens at Hagley Park and his famous elegy for his wife.

In a damning unsigned review in the Monthly Review, John Langhorne supplies a list of lines appropriated, almost word for word, from Grainger, Mason, Hammond, Gray, and himself.

Critical Review: "This author seems to have deserved Mr. Seaton's prize, which was assigned to him in consequence of his having written the Hymn to Repentance; a performance which abounds with moral sentiment, and poetical expression" 14 (1762) 399.

John Langhorne: "Whether the Muses are offended by the poetical Simony of selling their gifts for money, or whatever may be the cause, we have observed, that those who have written professedly for a Prize, have frequently failed after the first or second attempt. This is the third poem of Mr. Scott's for which Seaton's reward has been assigned him; but it is inferior to either of the former. The Author, whose judgment seems unequal to his imagination, has oft mistaken an affected boldness for beauty, and an uncouth novelty for elegance. His expressions are frequently trite, and more frequently borrowed; and, sometimes, by aiming at plainness, he has sunk below the dignity of that species of poetry in which he writes. In his address to Repentance, all the attributes he gives her, are borrowed from the sacred writings, and from poetical descriptions of Melancholy. There is nothing peculiarly characteristic, nothing that shews the art or invention of the Poet" Monthly Review 27 (December 1762) 426-27.

Hoxie Neale Fairchild: "How was the prize for 1762 to be carried off? Scott decided to try the Milton-melancholy- retirement-contemplation mixture.... Worldly pleasures are banished, and Repentance, 'Goddess of the tearful Eye,' is summoned" Religious Trends in English Poetry (1942) 2:224.



Base World, begone! — Thy false delusive Joys
No more shall lead my feet astray—
Hence to the young, the vain, the gay,
And proudly deck them with thy tinsel toys!
Nor flatt'ring Hope, nor slavish Fear
Those Nails that to this mortal frame
Fix the fond Soul, my Breast shall tear;
No thirst for Pleasure, Wealth, or Fame,
Tempt me to quaff thy charmed Cup, whose taste
Unmolds the Form divine, and turns the Man to beast.

Base World, begone! — Cast on a friendly Shore
No more I dread thy desart deep,
Where swift the rushing Tempests sweep,
And mad Winds rave, and boiling Billows roar:
Behold no more, with wild Affright,
The Rocks close-lurking for their prey,
The black Clouds bursting on my Sight,
While round the livid Lightnings play;
O save us, save us! — Hark the doleful Cry,
All mortal Strength is vain, they faint, they sink, they die!

Betimes escap'd, while yet breathe Summer-gales,
While yet on Ocean's tranquil breast
The little Halcyon builds her nest,
I shorten all my Oars, and furl my Sails;
O Wretch profane, sure triple Brass
Girds thy proud heart, O Wretch profane,
To let the doubtful Autumn pass,
Yet tempt the Dangers of the Main;
Careless of Home the blissful Port despise,
Tho' scowl the low'ring Heav'ns, and Storms of Winter rise!

For me, I hang the votive Tablet high,
And to this lone sequester'd Vale,
With Care, and weary Watches pale,
Retire, and muse upon Eternity.—
Come Goddess of the tearful Eye,
With solemn Step, demure, and slow,
Thy full heart heaving many a Sigh,
And Clouds of Sadness on thy brow;
Oh come with Ashes sprent, in Sackcloth drest,
And wring thy piteous hands, and beat thy plaintive Breast.

Such was thy form, O heav'n-descended Maid,
When at her dearest Saviour's feet,
Bedew'd with tears, and Odours sweet,
Poor Magdalene repentant wept, and pray'd:
She wept, and swiftly to the Sky
The Steam, like hallow'd Incense rose;
When lo her Sins of Scarlet dye
Grew white as Wool, or Mountain-snows:
The Morning Stars with Joy triumphant rang,
And all the Sons of God their loud Hosannas sang!

Come then, my Magdalene, thy Aid impart,
O'er all my Soul thy balm diffuse,
And soften with the fleecy dews
Of penitential Tears my stubborn heart:
Teach me to search with honest skill
The Wounds that rankle in my breast,
To curb my Lusts, correct my Will,
And chuse, and cleave to what is best;
Teach me to urge, with never-ceasing care,
The force of holy Vows, and Violence of Pray'r.

Oh come, my Magdalene, but leave behind,
Leave far behind thy frightful Train;
Grim Penance, with an iron chain
Wont his gall'd Legs at stated hours to bind:
A barefoot Monk the fiend appears,
With Scourge in hand, and beads, and book,
His Cheeks are furrow-worn with tears,
Sunk are his Eyes, and lean his Look:
O wretched Fools, beguiling and beguil'd,
Can God be pleas'd to see his Image thus defil'd?—

Drive too away that wild distracted sprite
Enthusiasm, and that foul fiend
Remorse, that loves his Heart to rend
And sting himself to Death with scorpion spite:
But chief that Tyrant of the Soul,
That cursed Man of Hell, Despair;
See, see his livid Eye-balls roll,
What cankred Teeth, what grisly Hair!
Anguish, and trembling fear his Conscience quail,
And all Hell's damned Ghosts the shrieking Wretch assail!

O fly with such terrific Forms as these,
And seek the weary wakeful Bed,
Where the pale Murderer is laid
A ghastly Prey to Horror and Disease:
Or where th' Oppressor voids his breath,
Deaf to the Widow's breeding Cries;
Or from a bosom black as Death,
The Plunderer of his Country sighs;
Where Libertines expire, and Atheists lie
Harrow'd with doubts and fears, and curse their God, and die!

See, worn with Pain LORENZO, once so gay!—
The Pow'rs of Nature are at strife,
And the dim wasted Lamp of Life
Just feebly lifts an intermittent ray.
Oh mad, oh worse than mad to leave
To the short Mercies of an hour
Eternal Joys! — What would he give,
What thousand Worlds, if in his pow'r,
For time mis-spent, to watch, to fast, to prey,
And wash with contrite tears his shameful Sins away?

Poor Wretch in vain! — Before his frantic Eyes
Th' inexorable Tyrant stands,
And arm'd with Scorpions in their Hands,
The fury-Terrours of his conscience rise!
What agonizing Pangs he feels!
What Tortures! — What convulsive Throes!
O fall, ye Mountains, fall, ye Hills,
Preserve and hide him from his Woes!
Have Mercy Heav'n! — Thy Succours JESU bring,
Retriumph o'er the Grave, and draw Death's poignant sting.

Save me, what Shrieks! — And is there no faint Ray,
No glimm'ring from that light serene,
That gilds Death's melancholy scene,
And guides the Soul on her eternal Way?
Hark the last Pang! He faints! — He dies!
His Spirit bursts forth, and shiv'ring pale
To some black horrible Mansion flies,
There to despond, and howl, and wail,
Till Nature's Wreck, till from the shrivel'd Skies
The last dread Trump shall call, "Ye Dead awake, arise!"

O come betimes, sweet Penitential Pow'r,
And from such Soul-distracting care,
Such chilling Horrours of Despair,
Preserve me, shield me, at Death's trying Hour!
From Guilt of black enormous Dye
My breast is free; I ne'er betray'd
A Virgin's easy faith; no murd'rous Lie
In secret Whispers have convey'd,
Nor with the Muse's everliving store
Embalm'd the Carrion corps of Wealth, or Pride, or Pow'r.

From Truth's strait Path, and Virtue's thorny Way,
Have wandring Meteors false, and vain,
The Glare of Honour or of Gain,
Thro' Dirt, and Danger drawn my steps astray?
Have I rejected Reason's Aid,
And giv'n to headlong Lusts the Rein?
Or prone beneath the myrtle Shade
Of Indolence and Pleasure lain?
Have I the tribute of a Tear deny'd,
When Want unheard hath wept, and injur'd Orphans cry'd?

Good Heav'n forbid! — Yet still within my Soul
Some leprous Spots of Guilt remain:
Oh could I cleanse each grosser Stain
In Jordan's Tide, or Siloa's healing Pool!
Fond thought! — More salutary Pow'rs
In Sorrow's swelling stream reside,
Than Siloa's Pool at stated Hours,
Could boast, or Jordan's cleansing Tide:
This from the Soul sharp Humours can repel,
Cure ev'ry fest'ring Wound, and Death's dread Torments quell.

Here many a beauteous Pearl of costly Price,
And many a Gem of purer ray
Than all Golconda's Mines display,
Lie hid in Darkness far from vulgar Eyes:
For These the cloister'd Virgin pines,
Torn from each pleasing tender care;
For These her placid Breast resigns
To midnight Grief, and midnight Pray'r;
Poor, hapless Maid! — May Heav'n her Vows regard,
And all her wakeful Pains with endless bliss reward!

Go fly, ye silken sons of Pleasure, fly,
And barter for fantastic Joys,
Spurn'd by the Great, the Good, the Wise,
What Asia's Monarchs have not Worth to buy!
Chace ev'ry cloudy Thought away,
Whose serious Gloom o'ercasts the Soul;
To Rapture give Life's little day,
And bid full Tides of Pleasure roll;
Go where the loose-rob'd Forms of wild Desire
Expand their Wanton Charms, and press the buxom Choir!

'Tis Madness all! — Be mine unknown to Sin,
And Passions base, some lone Retreat,
Some hoary Hermit's moss-grown Seat,
Far from the guilty World's tumultuous Din.
Whether in Hagley's sacred Shades,
Where Inspiration breathes around,
And by the much-lov'd Thespian maids
Their Lucy's plaintive Bard is crown'd;
Or Hackfall's Bow'rs and woodland Walks invite,
Where Nature's various Charms, all rude of Art, delight.

O Lawns! — O Hills! — And O thou pleasant Vale,
Where Ure's meandring Waters roll!
What pensive Pleasures soothe my Soul,
What tender melancholy Thoughts prevail
At thy Approach! — While am'rous Jove
On Flora's bosom deigns to play,
Still let me haunt thy blissful Grove,
Where all the rural Graces stray;
There bid the folly-fetter'd World adieu,
And Wisdom's silent Steps with holy Zeal pursue.

There Contemplation dwells, that hoary Sire,
And points the way that leadeth right
To those most glorious Mansions, bright
With burning Stars, and everliving fire:
There, on her silver Anchor staid,
Sweet Hope to Heav'n directs her Eyes;
While Faith, that eagle-sighted Maid,
Her far foreseeing Tube applies,
Whose mighty pow'r reveals the blest Abode,
In beatific Trance, where Saints enjoy their God!

[pp. 5-15]