Ode to Despair.

Gentleman's Magazine 58 (April 1788) 335.

Charlotte Smith

An allegorical ode in five irregular Spenserians (ababccdD) imitating Thomas Gray's Hymn to Adversity (1753). The Gentleman's Magazine reprints the poem from Charlotte Smith's novel, Emmeline, the Orphan of the Castle (1788). The line "Grim-visag'd comfortless Despair" is taken from Gray's Eton College Ode, which in turn is taken from Spenser's famous lines in Mother Hubberds Tale: "To eat thy Heart through comfortless Despairs; | To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to ronne...."

Headnote: "Not having time in the present month to enter into a critique on the Orphan of the Castle, we shall content ourselves with transcribing from it some specimens of Mrs. Smith's poetry. The exquisite sonnets of this 'pathetic poetess' have been already noticed in our vol. LVI p. 333. That which follows will not detract from her fair fame" p. 335.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "Of Mrs. Smith's poetry it is not easy to speak in terms too high. There is so much unaffected elegance; so much pathos and harmony in it; the images are so soothing, and so delightful; and the sentiments so touching, and so consonant to the best movements of the heart, that no reader of pure taste can grow weary of perusing them. Sorrow was her constant companion; and she sung with a thorn at her bosom, which forced out strains of melody, expressive of the most affecting sensations, interwoven with the rich hues of inspired fancy" Censura Literaria 4 (1807) 83-84.

W. Davenport Adams: "Charlotte Smith, novelist (b. 1749, d. 1806), wrote Elegiac Sonnets (1784); Emmeline (1788); Ethelinde (1789); Celestina (1791); Desmond (1792); The Old Manor House (1793); Marchmont (1796); The Young Philosopher (1798); The Solitary Wanderer; The Wanderings of Warwick; The Banished Man; Montalbert; and other works" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 584.

Thou spectre of terrific mien,
Lord of the hopeless heart and hollow eye,
In whose fierce train each form is seen
That drives sick Reason to insanity!
I woo thee with unusual prayer,
"Grim-visaged, comfortless Despair:"
Approach; in me a willing victim find,
Who seeks thine iron sway — and calls thee kind!

Ah! hide for ever from my sight
The faithless flatterer Hope — whose pencil, gay,
Portrays some vision of delight,
Then bids the fairy tablet fade away;
While in dire contrast, to mine eyes
Thy phantoms, yet more hideous, rise,
And Memory draws, from Pleasure's wither'd flower,
Corrosives for the heart — of fatal power!

I bid the traitor Love, adieu!
Who to this fond, believing bosom came,
A guest insidious and untrue,
With Pity's soothing voice — in Friendship's name.
The wounds he gave, nor Time shall cure,
Nor Reason teach me to endure.
And to that breast mild Patience pleads in vain,
Which feels the curse — of meriting its pain.

Yet not to me, tremendous power!
Thy worst of spirit-wounding pangs impart,
With which, in dark conviction's hour,
Thou strik'st the guilty unrepentant heart!
But, of illusion long the sport,
That dreary, tranquil gloom I court,
Where my past errors I may still deplore,
And dream of long-lost happiness no more!

To thee I give this tortured breast,
Where Hope arises but to foster pain;
Ah! lull its agonies to rest!
Ah! let me never be deceiv'd again!
But callous, in thy deep repose
Behold, in long array, the woes
Of the dread future, calm and undismay'd,
Till I may claim the hope — that shall not fade!

[p. 335]