1762
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Indolence.

Two Odes. To Indolence, and To Impudence.

Andrew Erskine


A burlesque Pindaric in twelve ten-line stanzas. As Milton had written companion poems to Mirth and Melancholy, Andrew Erskine (who publishes anonymously) writes companion poems to Indolence and Impudence. These allegorical subjects seem to invite a burlesque treatment, though in To Idolence it is more suggested than realized, as in the dreamers' distracted vision, where "Unreal forms appear, | Pillows and cushions swim for ever near, | Before their eyes voluptuous sopha's fly, | And softest easy chairs come gliding down the sky" p. 8.

Andrew Erskine to James Boswell: "I am too lazy just now to copy out an Ode to Indolence, which I have lately written; besides, its fitting I reserve something for you to peruse when we meet, for upon these occasions an exchange of Poems ought to be as regular as an exchange of prisoners between two nations at war" 13 December 1761; in Letters between the Honourable Andrew Erskine, and James Boswell, Esq. (1763) 52.

Critical Review: "Notwithstanding the difficulty in writing upon a subject which hath before been treated of by a masterly pen, the author of this Ode had given us much pleasurable entertainment, even after we have perused with singular delight, the Castle of Indolence, by the late Mr. Thomson; a poem which we have always ranked among the best in the English language. The painting in this ode is the work of a truly poetical pencil, conducted with propriety; and he has happily varied the images from those which his predecessor had used with such success" 13 (May 1762) 443.

British Magazine: "Pretty and picturesque" 3 (June 1763) 324.

James Boswell to Andrew Erskine: "You and I Erskine are, to be sure, somewhat vain. We have some reason too. The Reviewers gave great applause to your Odes to Indolence and impudence; and they called my poems 'agreeable light pieces,' which was the very character I wished for. Had they said less, I should not have been satisfied; and had they said more, I should have thought it a burlesque" 20 November 1762; in Letters between the Honourable Andrew Erskine, and James Boswell, Esq. (1763) 156.



I. 1.
Come, Indolence, and from the hollow cloud,
With which all day thou lov'st to shroud
The gloomy mountain's brow,
Descend; for lo the wildly ruffling wind,
Perchance thy airy couch may find,
Which by his breath thro' heav'n will flow:
Or if thou'rt sitting on the darkling pine,
Hung o'er the lake while dies the gale around,
Slow heave thy heavy wings to view thy shrine,
Within this wood-embosom'd spot of ground.

I. 2.
Three years it took to raise the ample pile;
No votary of thine can toil,
And active labour long:
From ev'ry fowl I've pluck'd the softest down,
And poppies wreath'd compose thy crown;
And here is soporifick song,
Of pow'r to drive away each sprightly thought,
And lull mad Fancy's sallies all asleep,
Such sweet enchantment is by Dulness wrought,
And such the force of lays profound and deep.

I.3.
No wakeful sounds thy rest shall discompose,
Here never doubling drum was beat,
No ear-invading trumpets grate,
But still is heard the bagpipe's drowsy hum,
And drawling notes from harps of Cambria come,
Which wafted thro' the trees all sharpness lose:
And winding far below,
A scarcely rolling stream is heard to flow,
Which distant joining with the murmuring seas,
Inspires a calm desire for still indulgent ease.

II. 1.
Here often sable Morpheus loves to tread,
Oft in the sleep-inspiring shade,
He drops supinely down;
Thro' the thick branches to disturb his trance,
No burning beams of sunshine glance,
But gloomy mists eternal frown:
Then far is heard the Godhead's aweful snores,
By Echo answer'd from her rattling cell,
Where still her virgin state the nymph deplores,
Where still a fallow maid she's forc'd to dwell.

II. 2.
The God, the feather-footed slumbers tend,
Drugs of lethargick power they blend,
The drugs his mouth receives,
Yet still in spight of all their weary care,
Their heavy eyes forget to glare,
They fall amidst the tender leaves;
Then swells the heav'nly concert on the ear,
Deep-breathing music issues from each noise,
Not sweeter that by which it would appear,
The rough rocks danc'd, and spouting trees arose.

II. 3.
Then wand'ring Dreams light skim athwart the grove,
And thro' each thick and muddy brain,
Swift skips th' imaginary train;
And each his hardly-moving feet directs,
To silent waves whence no fair light reflects,
All view the darkly glimmering scenes they love:
Unreal forms appear,
Pillows and cushions swim for ever near,
Before their eyes voluptuous sopha's fly,
And softest easy chairs come gliding down the sky.

III. 1.
All these to soothing languishment incline,
All these, enfeebling Pow'r, are thine,
These lead the captive mind;
Farewell the toilsome hours on study bent,
Still on mysterious law intent,
Th' elusive form of fraud to find;
No more can sweetest Physic now attract,
Altho' each vain prescription offers gold;
The sons of dark Divinity start back,
As they the ancient Fathers' works behold.

III. 2.
Haste, Indolence, and never let me see
That restless wight Activity,
With Exercise allied,
A careless rustic clown with porter's limb,
That loves at dawn steep hills to climb,
Or plunges in the rapid tide;
Or early from his genial slumbers torn,
Mounts his wild steed and labours o'er the downs,
Rous'd by the sprightly vigour of the horn,
While some poor panting hare his efforts crowns.

III. 3.
Like him what mighty force could draw me forth?
Tho' I confess the pleasure's great,
To see fair Phoebus rise in state,
While all the soften'd air sheds dew and balm,
And every wood and every wave is calm,
And flow'rs all sweetness variegate the earth:
But who would throw away
The golden dreams that usher in the day,
Castles ascend before the half-clos'd eyes,
And airy baseless tow'rs hand glitt'ring in the skies.

IV. 1.
But soft, behold where Indolence appears,
Slow smooth thro' air her course she steers,
And grasps within her hand
A rod, with which like Mercury she seals
Each eye, Despair her influence feels,
Still as she waves her wond'rous wand:
An opiate balm from ev'ry pour distills,
The melting landscapes closes on the sight,
Her presence all the cloudy region fills,
Her far-expanding wings exclude the light.

IV. 2.
The sons of Industry avoid the place,
With all the bold commercial race,
That haunt the troubled main,
And Gallia's flutt'ring breed with airy mien:
But here Britannia's sons are seen,
And proud Iberia's lordly train,
Iberia o'er whose sweet enchanting vales
Sloth wide extends her all-enfeebling sway,
And o'er a climate fit for Gods prevails,
While Culture smiles not on the jocund day.

IV.
Here ends the strain, sweet Indolence; now take
With gentlest force my willing breast,
Which always when by thee possess'd,
Still loves thy pleasing lassitude which charms
Each sullen thought, and ev'ry care disarms;
Nor let me oft thy fav'rite haunts forsake;
But fix me in my chair,
Like her once chain'd by Comus' magic snare,
Till fair Sabrina from her glassy stream
Brought her cool lucid drops then sunk with radiant gleam.

[pp. 5-11]