1780
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mediocrity, a Poem. In Three Parts.

Poems on Various Subjects.

Rev. William Cameron


This unfortunately-titled ode is a variation on Milton's companion poems by one of James Beattie's favorite pupils at Aberdeen. The first two parts paraphrase L'Allegro and Il Penseroso; in the third Sophronia warns that "From Passion's source is found to flow | Each severer mortal woe."

These may be juvenilia; the unsigned preface states that most of the pieces were in the volume were written "some years ago," likely while the author was a student at Marischal College, 1770-74.

Cameron's book is notable for containing no fewer than twenty odes, representing the range of mid-century styles and forms, though none are particularly Spenserian. Many years later William Cameron published a conclusion to Beattie's The Minstrel.



PART I.
EUPHROSYNE OR JOY.
Laughter-loving, ruddy Fair!
Foe to thought and Pining care;
Let me pass the day with thee,
All in wit and mirth and glee,
Festive dance and revelry,
Wanton jokes and jollity.
Charm'd by thee I now disdain
Contemplation's leaden train,
Solemn, pensive, and severe,
Dark of mind, of brow austere.
Hence I leave the hoary sage,
Moping o'er his peevish page;
Mammon's drudges, griping, old,
Digging, starving, still for gold;
Full of labour, full of care,
Haply for base, thankless heir.
Lead me, Goddess! from the cells,
Where pale Melancholy dwells;
From her dull, terrific shades,
Rugged rocks and gloomy glades.
Lead me to the lillied lawn,
Where thou lov'st, at early dawn,
Gladsome to salute the morn,
Of the Ocean newly born:—
Where, disporting ever gay,
All the live-long summer day,
With the cheerful nymphs and swains,
Tenants of the verdant plains;
Thou presidest o'er the throng,
Still awak'st anew the song.
Where the shepherds meet at eve,
And the toils of day relieve;
There thou lead'st the festive train,
Frisking to thy lively strain.

Glancing through the neighbouring brake,
Dapper elves their ditties wake;
Rich in gold and gems array'd,
Far emblazing all the shade.
Now they part, and now they join,
Now they form the starry line,
Instant in the circle meet,
Tripping light with flying feet.
Now in myriads mounting high,
Quick they sweep the dewy sky.
Now they seek the haunted stream,
Sliding down the lunar beam.

When stern winter rules the year,
Then to cities throng'd we steer,
Mix among the jovial crew
Plung'd in pleasures ever new.
There we join the midnight-choir,
Of thy purpled jolly Sire
Laughing o'er the flowing bowl,
That revives the sadden'd soul,
Warms the close and cautious heart,
All its secret cares t' impart;
Banishes reflection, sorrow,
And ill presage of to-morrow.
Thus thy votaries life enjoy,
Conscience, fear, and thought destroy;
Thus improv'd their moments fly,
Thus they sport and drink and — die.

PART II.
MELPOMENE OR MELANCHOLY.
Hail Melancholy! Power divine!
May I approach thy awful shrine;
Hung round with shrouds of raven-hue,
Deep shaded with the mournful yew;
Where glimmering taper, 'mid the gloom,
Faint shews the frequent, heaving tomb.
There thou reclin'st in musing mood,
Thy visage veil'd in sable hood,
Indulging still thy doleful theme,
Contemplated in sad extreme,
Of man, degenerate, born to woe;
Unequal chance and change below,
Where Virtue oft is doom'd to groan,
Where prosperous Vice insults her moan.
There, Goddess! there are truths approv'd,
By there each generous breast is mov'd;
There claim our tears, our serious care,
Thy sorrows then I beg to share.
—Away! ye idle brood of Joy,
That all the powers of mind destroy!
Ye trifling toys of thoughtless youth,
That cheat the heart, disguise the truth!
Ye creatures of the giddy brain,
Your luring glare, I hence disdain!
Far from the noisy haunts of Folly,
Be mine thy converse, Melancholy!
To sit with thee in inmost bower,
In deepest vault of ruin'd tower,
Remote amid the forest wild,
Where day's effulgence never smil'd;
Whose pavement oft has drunk the gore
Of murder'd kings and chiefs of yore;
Where shrieking ghosts yet oft complain,
And drag a length of clanking chain.
Still more the sons of day affright,
Than all the wailing Shades of night:
More dark and dangerous is man,
Than legions squar'd of spectres wan.
Hence worn with care, inur'd to grief,
Despairing still of kind relief,
I leave at length a world of woe,
Its empty pleasures all forego;
To thee my future hours devote,
Indulging strains of saddest note.
Hence let me shun the glare of day,
Till Midnight rise in black array,
Till through the silent, dusky grove,
Uninterrupted I may rove.
Nor wish I mortal footing near,
Nor other sound desire to hear,
Save Philomela's nightly wail,
Slow quivering on the lonely gale;
Or, save the owl's discordant song,
That scatters dread the woods among,
Responsive to the sullen wave,
Hoarse dashing through the shelved cave.
The gelid spring and acorns plain,
Shall still my meagre corps sustain.
Upon the cold and craggy steep
I throw my naked length to sleep;
Regardless of the wintry skies,
Regardless though I ne'er arise.

PART III.
SOPHRONIA OR SERENITY.
Complacent Nymph! of mildest mien,
Image of the soul serene;
With heavy heart inur'd to woe,
At thy sacred shrine I bow.

Deceiv'd by false licentious Joy,
Sailing, luring to destroy,
On waxen wing of Hope I flew,
Charm'd, from far her form to view.
From scene to scene she shifted, smil'd,
Still allur'd, and still beguil'd;
At length the prov'd a fury fell,
Plunged me in the dismal cell,
Where Melancholy's vot'ries stare
Wild on hopeless, dark Despair.
—"Thus all must fare, the Goddess said,
Who are by the syren led.
Before the eyes of heedless youth,
Blind, averse to see the truth,
Her fatal charms she fair displays,
Till, bewilder'd in her maze,
Aghast they see her meteor-light
Sudden drown'd in blackest night.
Wrong'd conscience wakes, and Terror scowls,
Loud the lonely desart howls.
Thus disappointed, thus forlorn,
Solitary left to mourn,
Affliction's tempest roaring round,
All the soul unpois'd, unsound;
How sad, how comfortless their state,
Toss'd the sport of adverse Fate!
More hapless they who run direct,
Guilty pleasure's course uncheck'd;
Till Death, now deem'd afar to stand,
Seize them with resistless hand.

From Passion's source is found to flow
Each severer mortal woe.
How wretched those who must obey,
While it rules with sovereign sway!
Undisciplin'd in early age,
Soon it rises into rage,
Disdaining Reason's due control,
Fierce convulsing, all the soul;
Impatient of the talk design'd
To improve and fit the mind,
By steady duty, trying care,
Virtue's high reward to share.

To bask in joy's unclouded ray,
Ever thoughtless, ever gay,
Befits not mortals born to woe,
In this tearful vale below.
Yet not in Melancholy's cell
Are they ever doom'd to dwell.
Her darker day they ne'er may prove,
While in Virtue's path they move,
Unsway'd by treacherous Pleasure's smile,
Harbouring anguish, guilt and guile.

While Mind from conscious crimes is clear,
Then may Fortune's tempest drear
Infuriate blacken all the sky;—
Then it dares its rage defy,
Serene regards its heaven-rul'd power,
Patient bears th' afflicting hour;
Assur'd that soon the trial hard
Shall be crown'd with rich reward."

[pp. 50-57]