1802
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Aaron; or, the Flights of Fanaticism. Canto III.

The Spirit of Anti-Jacobinism for 1802: being a Collection of Essays, Dissertations, and other Pieces, in Prose and Verse, on Subjects Religious, Moral, Political, and Literary; partly selected from the Fugitive Publications of the Day, and partly Original.

Rev. Richard Polwhele


Returning in triumph to the village "as vain as | The dread devil-tamer Whitfield, ever strode," Sir Aaron resolves to make a bonfire of his library, including his own poetry. Amoret reports that Emira has fled in disgrace, though the baronet displays no more concern for his family than before: "Thus will I tear from Hell thy babes and thee, | If strait of worldlings and their ways asham'd, | Ye sob, and shed the scalding tear, perdie, | And panting for the Hills, the hot perdition flee" p. 182. One day, as Sir Aaron and Drywit are preaching to the assembled villagers ("Certes, from many a sinner Satan broke, | In many a shape, amidst the hideous fray; | While louts leap'd up, and came down lumps of clay" p. 184), a form hurls itself into the River Tavy. It is Emira. Shocked at this sight, Sir Aaron finally loses what little wit remains to him: "He sinks, to every wreakful fiend a prey; | His bosom shut to each affection kind; | Before him pain and death, remorse and shame behind" p. 186. His children flee their father in terror. Drywit absconds with the revenues intended for the village school and hospital: "Smooth hypocrite! how oft the treachor shed | With subtle tongue, the venom of an asp! | To rob the dying prompt, or strip the dead, | He wrench'd a goblet from a sick man's grasp, | And caught the expiring breath, and revel'd in the gasp!" p. 189. Amoret dies in despair while Sir Aaron lingers on to dance with the "demons of affright."



Striding a chief, as valorous, and as vain as
The dread devil-tamer Whitfield, ever strode;
SIR AARON, midst the villages Hosannas,
Enter'd in triumph his forlorn abode;
And, fierce with victory as his bosom glow'd,
His shrieking AMORET, his poor offspring pass'd:
And "burn my books!" he cried, "the foes to God;
Come, DRYWIT, with the torch of vengeance haste,
And every page of Hell with Hell's own sulphur blast!"

This said, he rang and dash'd his eyes on fire,
Down from the windows of the lofty dome,
Volumes on volumes, for the mighty pyre—
The theologic mass, the historic tome,
The unholy songs of Greece, or heathen Rome,
Nor fondly spar'd his own poetic lays!
"Thus, thus, to save me from the wrath to come,
I give vain glory to the common blaze!
DRYWIT! from Heaven alone, from Heaven I covet praise."

"Alas! (his consort cried) hath gracious Heaven,
Hath Heaven thy deeds with fav'ring eye survey'd?
O, from this roof by desperation driven,
O, whither hath the lost EMIRA stray'd?
By thee, to calumny, to scorn betray'd;
Say, shall as erst, a hoary father greet
His child, still welcome to the Tavy's shade?
And who thy presence shall with pleasure meet,
Thy poor unconscious babes, now smiling at thy feet?"

"Curst be their smiles (said he) shut out from life,
The children of Gehenna, doubly damn'd!"
Then sprang in wild disorder from his wife,
To where the pyre voluminously flam'd;—
"Yet," snatching up three smouldering tomes, exclaim'd,
"Thus will I tear from Hell thy babes and thee,
If strait of worldlings and their ways asham'd,
Ye sob, and shed the scalding tear, perdie,
And panting for the Hills, the hot perdition flee."

'Twas on a sabbath morn: the merry peal
Dropp'd into chimes; and down the willowy lane,
As lads were loitering, and with lightsome heel
Each lass was tripping to the decent fane:
Lo the grey fathers of the village train,
Here, with the ruddy cheek and vigorous pace;
There, bidding the thorn-staff their limbs sustain,
And clinging to his gown, where woodbines brace
His doorway's factur'd arch, the Rector's bloomy race.

'Twas then SIR AARON to a horseblock ran,
Nigh where the chancel panes stream'd orient light;
And, with a mouth of thunder strait began
To rend the prickt-up-ears of every wight.
"Ho! to the waters! thither, to yon height,
To Sion Hill your breathless courses bend!
Ho! to the overflowing rivers! In the might
Of Heaven, to yonder sacred mount ascend,
And drink, and drink again! ho! drunken without end.

"Fly from that pulpit of pollution! fly
Ye crowds! damnation only lingers there!
Guilt in his heart — in his right hand a lye,
That priest of Mammon baits his deadly snare;
O fly yon temple, as the lion's lair,
Where gathering darkness shrouds the sons of wrath!
Come, wretches that now droop, with me repair
To the green olives that no lightnings scath,
Come, seek, beside the streams, salvation's pleasant path!"

Impatient, every peasant to the block,
(As to a wreck Cornubian rustics) flew,
And, sudden, to their pastor all his flock,
Panting to hear SIR AARON, bade adieu;
Whilst Cobler DRYWIT, to his office true,
Dovetail'd his orbs of vision in the ground,
And, pertly glancing o'er the vulgar crew,
The flippant clerk drew nearer with a bound,
And the sick-caterer sleek from each black eyebrow frown'd.

All, tho' SIR AARON ceas'd, still stretch'd their jaws,
To swallow, yet again, the sweet harangue.
From his grey balls the cobler gleam'd applause:
Sly look'd the caterer sleek, in laud of slang.
The Clerk, in gratulation, upwards sprang.
His angel looks! how gracious and how good!
His praises, one and all, the parish sang:
"Our Rector! can he rain celestial food—
With heav'nly manna feed poor fainting flesh and blood!"

The oil of adulation, sweet and smooth,
Whilst DRYWIT bade his Honour's ears imbibe,
Off AARON flew, where many a busy booth,
Lur'd, with their lowing kine, the lubber tribe,
And, as the varlet's tramp (I trow, to bribe
Of silver sheen) re-echoed thro' the fair;
Prompt for the solemn saw the mirthful jibe,
Came greedy boors and stripplings debonnair,
And gipsies muttering fate, and girls with wishful air.

How, from a scaffold's height the Apostle spoke,
His arm how valiant, who, in sooth, can say?
Certes, from many a sinner Satan broke,
In many a shape, amidst the hideous fray;
While louts leap'd up, and came down lumps of clay;
While dainty damsels, uttering each a yell,
Their snowy bosoms labour'd to display;
And staler maids in fits hysteric fell—
Arrested, ere they reach'd the rav'nous mouth of Hell.

The mopeing owlet from her ivied barn,
How oft the Baronet was wont to scare,
To the green hill-top, or the craggy carne,
How oft he bade the unletter'd hinds repair;
To reckon, or relate, were idle care.
There last, where Tavy shapes its sylvan way,
(For westward journeying, did he linger there)
He climb'd a craggy carne, to preach or pray;
To weep, unspotted saint! o'er myriads gone astray.

Where oaks grotesque, with circling sweep enclose
A level area, deem'd a Druid fane;
A rockstone, rising in the centre, throws
Its awful shadow on the grassy plain;
From the bright sod while rills descending, stain
The Tavy's sabler stream that winds below:
There, on the shelving bank, a burnisht pane,
(As once I saunter'd there, escap'd from woe)
Seem'd from the sun's last rays to steal a faery glow!

'Twas on that rockstone, (the sweet cot in view,
Bright as before, where rays at evening fall,
Though one, alas! whom well the preacher knew,
With smiles shall light no more the lonely wall,)
'Twas there, obsequious to the spirit's call,
I saw rapt AARON, as in act to fly
Up to Heaven's gate, with groanings to appal
The bumpkins, lift the whites of either eye,
And now, with waving hands, bend forward from on high!

Hush'd was the scene; save when a sear leaf stirr'd,
In sighs responsive to the tinkling rill;
And not a whisper thro' the crowd was heard;
When sudden, some one rushing down the hill,
Plung'd in the foamy waters. A keen thrill
Pierc'd every heart. And, shivering thro' the shade,
(As all in fear, stood motionless and still)
Of a rent scarf the paly remnant play'd,
And to the startled thought some frantic fair betray'd.

With strenuous search amidst the gulphy stream,
Long toil'd the breathless peasants — long in vain,
When, tho' the parting water, (like a gleam
Of Cynthia) in the embraces of a swain,
As every shew he appear'd to strain,
A pale form glimmer'd. Ah! the sad resource,
From the drear wave her body to sustain,
For earth's cold bed! From poor EMIRA'S corse
How shrunk the palsied saint with horror, with remorse!

"AMORET!" — as struggling from the fatal spot,
His train in terror, bore the youth away—
"AMORET!" — (they bore him from EMIRA'S cot)
'Twas all his faultering accents could essay,—
Ah! never shall a glance of reason's ray,
Again illume his dark and cheerless mind!
He sinks, to every wreakful fiend a prey;
His bosom shut to each affection kind;
Before him pain and death, remorse and shame behind.

His AMORET! — see the feature sunk and wan—
But where that look, to love and pleasure dear?
His offspring! — lo, to meet their sire they ran;
Then shrinking back, and fill'd with sudden fear,
Dar'd not his sullen aspect venture near,
But to their poor distracted mother clung—
Their mother too distrest to drop a tear,
As o'er her heaven-husht innocents she hung,
And mingled grief and dread in silence seal'd her tongue.

Ah! hapless pair! how might your prime of years,
As every bliss fell canker-worms devour!
Alas! where now the spirit that endears
To gentle minds the sweet domestic hour?
Where now the blushes of your purple bower,
That, whilom, tinctur'd the translucent wave?
Where now poetic dreams from fancy's power?
Alas! if golden visions fancy gave,
She conjur'd up the fiends that beckon to the grave!

Where now the progeny, whose jocund bloom
Grac'd the mild sabbath morn, the sabbath eve?
Who lov'd the half-spelt lesson to resume.
(I see their little hearts with joyance heave)
As thy sweet Amoret, anxious to relieve
The master's care, o'erlook'd no poison'd page?
Ah pure Religion! how thy children grieve,
To mark the madness of Whitfieldian rage!
That master bids hell yawn, to scare unconscious age!

Where now the blessings of the village train—
The sick who languish, and the poor who droop?
Ah! where the widow cheer'd, tho' rack'd with pain?
The tottering carle, whom Eld had taught to stoop
O'er his stout crutch? say, where the wonted groupe
That ask'd for alms of med'cine? — they are gone.
Come generous youth! recal the scatter'd troop;
Bid them again exchange the suffering moan
For gratitude! O come, suspend the dying groan!

Thou canst not. Erst, where peace and love repos'd,
Sprinkling sweet incense o'er the pillow'd head,
Thy "sleek" disciple — dire apostate! clos'd
The gates, and with the fruits of rapine fled.
Smooth hypocrite! how oft the treachor shed
With subtle tongue, the venom of an asp!
To rob the dying prompt, or strip the dead,
He wrench'd a goblet from a sick man's grasp,
And caught the expiring breath, and revel'd in the gasp!

Farewell, poor maniac! passion's wayward child!
So early lost to joy, to reason's light!
Before him, lo, the immeasurable wild!
See, in things rushing to his dizzy sight,
How dance, how dance the demons of affright!
Hark to the hideous scream, the wailing cry!
But madness holds him here; she checks his flight
From earth, tho' sooth'd no more by every sigh,
He must not yet escape — ah, wretch! he must not die!

Yet dies his AMORET. Wasting all the while,
She cannot such a look of anguish bear.
She cannot, for her children, force the smile,
Meeting the ghastly grin, the stony stare.
"Ah no! (she cries) tho' pangs asunder tear,
For you, dear innocents! this bleeding breast—
Adieu, my orphans! ye are heaven's own care!
Adieu! — I go, where sinners shall molest
My trembling heart no more, and where the weary rest!"

[pp. 173-89]