1784
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Midnight.

Poems. By the Rev. William Lipscomb, A.M. Late of C.C.C. Oxon, and Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Earl of Darlington. To which are added Translations of select Italian Sonnets, from the Collection of P. Nicandro Jasseus and others.

Rev. William Lipscomb


An allegorical ode, after Milton's Il Penseroso, with a fine Spenserian catalogue of seven personifications marking the atheist's path to hell: "And before thy wond'ring eyes | See! what griesly Fiends arise! | Cold Distrust, Suspicion dark | Lo! the gloomy entrance mark, | Next Disbelief with jaundic'd eye, | Then bare-fac'd bold Impiety; | To these succeed in order meet, | To make the hellish group complete, | Scouling Scorn with look severe, | Cruelty and coward Fear, | And last with wild and haggard stare | See! the Demon fell Despair!" p. 7. Since William Lipscomb had been a student at Winchester College, it is perhaps not surprising to see him imitating the Wartonian manner of forty years earlier. Lipscomb's gothicism is quite contemporary however, touching on the images and themes that would dominate gothic fiction in the next decade.

Critical Review: "These compositions seldom rise beyond mediocrity, and to do justice to the author, less frequently sink beneath it.... We have likewise a translation of twenty-three Italian sonnets, from the collection of P. Nicandro-Jasseus and others; all of which, either in the original or a prose version, have been already published. Though the author does not always give an adequate idea of their sweetness and simplicity, he never disgusts, and generally pleases" 59 (1785) 67-68.

Edmund Cartwright: "These poems are chiefly translations of Italian sonnets and odes of Horace. The original pieces are only eight in number; of which the principal is on the beneficial effects of inoculation; a poem that obtained one of the Chancellor's prizes at Oxford in the year 1772. The translations are rather deficient in point of elegance, and the originals in spirit" Monthly Review 72 (May 1785) 390.



Shrouded in thy dusky veil,
Midnight! sober Matron, hail!
Wearied of the busy day
Thro' thy silent shades I stray,
Where no idle cares intrude,
And dwell with thee and Solitude.

Bear me aloft thro' fields of air
In thy raven-colour'd car!
Let my greedy eyes explore
All the secrets of thy store,
And O! disclose to view profane
The pleasing horrors of thy reign.

Now Morpheus sheds his dews around
And wraps the world in peace profound;
Seest thou there yon tented plain
Drunk with the blood of thousands slain?
Fatigued at length both armies yield
And leave the slaughter-breathing field,
And as aside their arms they lay
Dream o'er the Fortunes of the day:
Each warrior still by fancy led
Furious strides o'er heaps of dead,
Impatient waits the fatal word
And grasps the visionary sword.

Now with gorgon looks Despair
Tears no more his clotted hair,
Persecution stops her wheel,
Anger drops the pointed steel,
Poverty no more complains,
Moody Madness hugs her chains,
Meagre Want his carcase rests
And riots o'er ideal feasts;
Not so the guilty wretch, who ne'er
Sleep's oblivious sweets may share;
Iron scourges round him crack
In dreams his harrow'd soul to rack;
See! tossing on his troubled bed
The Tyrant Nero hides his head!
Rome's bursting flames assail his ears,
Dying groans appall'd he hears;
See! before his haggard eyes
A Mother's awful spectre rise!
Round she waves the well-known sword
And bares her bosom freshly gor'd.

Now on Arabia's desert sands
The pious Pilgrim trembling stands
Doubtful if midst the gloom of night
He bends his wearied steps aright;
When lo! the lightning's liquid blaze
The distant Pyramid betrays;
And as redoubling thunders roll
And shake Heav'n's arch from pole to pole,
Joyful he lifts his longing eyes
And hopes his Prophet from the skies.

Lo! there is contemplation deep,
While Nature all is hush'd in sleep,
The hoary Sage renews his toil
And wakeful trims the wasting oil;
Intent the steps of youth to lead
To those bright paths the virtuous tread,
He pens with zeal divine the page
To instruct, and guide a future age.
There tortur'd Avarice quits his bed
And steals him where his wealth is laid,
With frequent start he hovers o'er
And counts with jealous look his store,
And yonder stalks in vengeful Mood
Murder fell prepar'd for blood!

Now Superstition's wakeful eye
With trembling ardour seeks the sky,
Secure that thy o'ershadowing veil
Will her mystic rites conceal;
Whether she to shrines retires
To watch the never-dying fires;
Or by the taper's glimmering light
Wastes in gloomy cell the night;
Or as on Mona's rugged strand,
E'er Roman arms profan'd the land,
She lov'd to listen, while each oak
In dark prophetic numbers spoke;
Or like Bacchus' frantic throng
Who danc'd the wilds and woods among,
When bursting loud with frequent cry
They felt the maddening Deity.
Me may no such Rites employ,
Symptoms of unhallow'd joy,
But rather let me, beauteous Queen!
View thee gentle and serene,
And when the Moon unveiled and bright
Sheds around her silver light,
Let me with Newton's piercing eye
Dart thro' the regions of the sky,
Thro' trackless realms of Aether soar
And Nature's secrets dark explore,
And see how endless systems roll
Combin'd to form one beauteous whole.

And shall the Atheist dare deny
The Almighty's powerful Deity?
And impious cry "'twas Chance alone
Drove ancient Chaos from his Throne?"
Who bade the fiery God of Day
Dart thro' the globe his genial ray?
Declare fond Men! what mighty cause
Gave the obedient planet laws?
O! led by Truth's all-chearing light
Emerge from Error's endless night!
Confess some wond'rous Power unseen
Sustains and moves the vast Machine!
Behold how boundless Wisdom guides
And o'er each secret spring presides:
And know, that midnight's darkest hour
Can shew thee the Eternal Power,
And to an humble mind display
His glories, as in blaze of day,
Whose wond'rous might alike is seen
In the least flower that decks the green,
As when his red right arm he bares
And the pine-clad mountain tears.

Turn then from that maze, aside
Twin'd by metaphysic pride!
If once thy heedless footsteps stray,
Tangled in the thorny way,
Farewell all the bands that tie
Souls in sweetest sympathy!
Farewell ev'ry social joy!
Friendship's sweets that never cloy,
And love's pure flame to mortals given
To anticipate the joys of Heaven!
And before thy wond'ring eyes
See! what griesly Fiends arise!
Cold Distrust, Suspicion dark
Lo! the gloomy entrance mark,
Next Disbelief with jaundic'd eye,
Then bare-fac'd bold Impiety;
To these succeed in order meet,
To make the hellish group complete,
Scouling Scorn with look severe,
Cruelty and coward Fear,
And last with wild and haggard stare
See! the Demon fell Despair!

But lift! O lift thine eyes above
To the source of Truth and Love!
Who from old Chaos darkest night
Erst at his word call'd forth the light:
And who when Nature shall expire
And these bright orbs shall melt in fire,
Shall bid new scenes of glory rise
New wonders strike our ravish'd eyes:
Then night and every cloud shall fade away,
Chac'd by the splendors of eternal day.

[pp. 1-8]