1771
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Penseroso, or the Pensive Philosopher.

Penseroso, or the Pensive Philosopher in his Solitudes, a Poem in Six Books. By the Rev'd James Foot.

Rev. James Foot


James Foot's three-hundred-page blank verse meditation begins with an imitation of Milton's Il Penseroso. While Spenser is not mentioned in the catalogue of British worthies that concludes this vast poem, the opening lines pick up Milton's allusion to the Faerie Queene in Il Penseroso: "nor Chivalry's enchantments drear, | Where morals lay conceal'd, his search escap'd" p. 12.

Preface: "The following Poem is of the didactic kind, if the Critics will allow it that description. It is in some places descriptive, in other places argumentative, and in others narrative. The design of it is to recommend piety, the social virtues, and a love of liberty. It introduces an imaginary person of the name of Penseroso, reflecting in his solitudes, or rural retreats, upon the state of the moral and natural, the religious and civil world" p. iii.

Critical Review: "This poem is of the didactic kind. It is in some places argumentative, in others narrative, and in others descriptive. The design of it is to recommend piety, the social virtues, and a love of liberty. The author introduces an imaginary person, whom he calls Penseroso, reflecting in his solitudes upon the state of the moral and natural, the religious and civil world. He represents him moralizing in his rural retreats, as he takes occasion from thence to embellish his poem with pastoral description, and to relieve the reader with a pleasing view of the beauties of nature" 32 (August 1771) 150-51.

John Langhorne: "Mr. Foot, in this poem, introduces an imaginary person of the name of Penseroso, reflecting upon the state of the moral and natural, the religious and civil world. He means very well, but he writes unhappily. His poem affords innumerable instances of the Bathos; and had it been published before the treatise on that subject was written, it would have saved the Authors the trouble of coining" Monthly Review 44 (May 1771) 417.

Robert Southey made a note of Langhorne's review in his Common-Place Book (1849-51) 3:721.

Thomas Snyder: "James Foot published his Penseroso, or the Pensive Philosopher in his Solitudes, a Poem in six books (London, 1771). This is a long didactic treatise written under the influence of 'the elegant Mr. Mason,' whom the author mentions in the Preface. As a note on page 251 informs us that the last part of Penseroso was written 'in the beginning of the year 1760,' it is fairly safe to assume that the author's attention had been called to Druidism by Mason's Caractacus, of which two editions had appeared in 1759" The Celtic Revival in English Literature 1760-1800 (1923) 106-07.

Raymond Dexter Havens: "The six books are devoted respectively to 'the State of Man'; worldly disasters 'the Wisdom of the Divine Government'; death and immortality; the wickedness of heathenism and the excellence of Christianity as shown through 'the wisdom, power, and goodness of God in the visible creation'; the evils of Romanism, together with 'the Benefits of Liberty, Charity, and Moderation'; and, finally, 'Civil Government and the Glory of the English Nation'" The Influence of Milton (1922) 397.

Both James Foot and his only published poem seem to have disappeared nearly without a trace.



Press'd with a weight of woe, which death had wrought,
And lash'd by persecution's rod severe,
The injur'd Penseroso issued forth,
And in the height of sorrow made complaint,
Frequenter of the shades. Ne'er lived a Sage
In heart so pure, in life so much oppress'd.
No thin disguise e'er cloth'd his naked soul,
His act unblam'd, and kind his feeling heart
Yearn'd at the moan of sorrow. In the realm
Of Albion liv'd and mourn'd this Western Job;
Albion, the dark domain of sable clouds,
Region of fancied, more than real woe,
Where oft' in mimic night the solar beam
Is lost, and all the joyous face of Heav'n
Is muffled in a humid veil of air
With sad embarrassment; hence sinks oppress'd
The human heart, and the bright beam of joy
Fails for awhile to gild the mental gloom.
On death he fondly mus'd, for that he saw
Destructive of his friends; the night he sought
To ponder on his woe, and converse shunn'd,
But sought the still by-paths of Hermit life.
Delighted, nature's noble works rever'd,
Nor less rever'd the monuments of art
In ruins pleasing; nor the tales of Greece
And Rome; nor Chivalry's enchantments drear,
Where morals lay conceal'd, his search escap'd.
But chiefly would he moralize on man
And human life, to prove it vain intent
And full of woe. Oft' his companions were
The solemn birds of night, and deep in thought
His nightly round he shapes, 'till th' early cock,
Thron'd on the homestead tree, or shelt'ring stall,
Shrill-clarion'd wakes the morn, and loud the swain
Whistles well-pleas'd, forth issuing from his cot
To play his morning task. Thus nobly blest
In all his still retreats he pities Kings,
The insolence of pow'r, the strut of wealth,
And all the idle trappings of the great.

Heav'n, teach me what he sung, when to the glade
Whilom he bent his way. Twas in the night
Serene when Phebe rose; the air was calm,
And nought was heard but Philomela's note,
The distant tinkle of the drowsy fold,
The howl of village-curs foreboding woe,
The curfew's sound, and sage Minerva's bird
Venting nocturnal prophecy to swains.
Twas then the mournful Penseroso stood
Beneath the umbrage of an upland oak,
Rapt into heav'nly thought: The moon advanc'd
Gleam'd through the boughs, and shed a trembling light.
Fair to his view rose many a neighbouring grove,
And hills and rocks, with vallies interspers'd,
Gilt by the lunar beam; whilst at the foot
Of a sweet-winding vale, the neighbouring sea
Murmur'd complacence to his list'ning ear.
The sage his meditations thus began.

That man is born to grieve, as upward mount
The flying sparks, the page divine declares. . . .

[pp. 11-14]