1767
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sonnets wrote at Inversnaid, in Scotland, in the Year 1767.

The Land of the Muses: A Poem, in the Manner of Spenser. With Poems on Several Occasions. By Hugh Downman, A.B.

Dr. Hugh Downman


Four sonnets by Hugh Downman, an Englishman studying Medicine at Edinburgh. The poet, on a visit to the Highlands, reflects on the legacy of the 1745 rebellion: "Now is the feudal vassalage destroy'd, | By which the haughty Thane his subject train | Held at his will, and in confinement strong | Fetter'd the servile crew, and with stern reign | Led them in shackles like brute beasts along." The imagery of these highly irregular sonnets derives from Spenser and Milton, the first alluding to the Despair episode in the Faerie Queen. One might compare the sentiments in William Collins's Superstitions Ode. The eighteenth-century sonnet would not achieve a regular form and range of subjects for another decade or two, when Charlotte Smith, Thomas Warton, and William Lisle Bowles would establish the new romantic norms for the what in the 1760s was still an unfamiliar genre.



SONNET I.
Hence Sickness, nor about my weary head
Thy languid vapours wrap, and drooping wings:
Better would'st thou thy baleful poison shed
In some dark cave where the Night-raven sings,
Where heavy sits the gloom-delighted Owl,
Where Aconite its loathsome juices throws;
Where dwells the Bat, and Serpents hissing foul,
And fell Despair, who never knows repose:
There drag with thee the wretch, who has betray'd
His trust, has ruin'd innocence, or spilt
The sacred blood of him who gave him life;
Him torture there: nor will the lovely maid,
The sweet-ey'd Mercy, conscious of his guilt,
Restrain thy hand, or blunt thy sharpen'd knife.

SONNET II.
Though here almost eternal Winter reigns,
And piercing deep the womb of Nature chills;
Though born far off under a milder sky,
The northern blast e'en through my marrow thrills,
And freezes up the life-blood in my veins;
The hardy natives o'er the mountains high,
Trace out the step of Health amid the snow;
Or where o'er the gray moss her bare feet stray:
Hence active nerves, and scorn of danger flow;
Hence where of late, call'd forth to mortal fray,
At their approach, Revenge more furious grew,
War smil'd, while triple Rage new steel'd his heart,
Pale bloodless Fear turn'd to a ghastlier hue,
And Death more dreadful shook his poison'd dart.

SONNET III.
When Recollection stirs up in the mind
And sets before her eye past scenes of woe,
In vain will the wise men their sayings bring
Dead, unimpassion'd, wrote in the full flow
Of health and strength, to nicer feelings blind:
In vain against Rebellion's piercing sting,
They urge a formal phrase, or adage quaint,
And with a shrewd and well-turn'd point of wit,
Or a laborious studied argument,
Think to chase far away the fretful fit:
They might as well drink the wide ocean dry,
Or rob cold Winter of his snowy beard:
Spite of the vain saws of Philosophy,
Nature is prevalent, and will be heard.

SONNET IV.
Now is the feudal vassalage destroy'd,
By which the haughty Thane his subject train
Held at his will, and in confinement strong
Fetter'd the servile crew, and with stern reign
Led them in shackles like brute beasts along:
No will they ever of their own enjoy'd,
But bent implicitly to his controul.
Now by degrees they find that Liberty
Opens the narrow foldings of the soul,
And they too dare to boast that they are free.
No more with rapine they the fields infest,
Or seek out Slaughter in her secret den;
But by the laws of equal Justice blest,
Humanely think, and feel that they are men.

[pp. 51-53]