1790
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Superstition.

The Speculator (17 April 1790) 83-87.

Dr. Nathan Drake


An imitation of Milton's Il Penseroso in full-gothic dress: "In the deep silent hour | When Terror hov'ring o'er each active sense | Impregnates Fancy's power: | Then rise strange spectres to the shudd'ring view, | With horrid lifeless stare, | And gliding float upon the noxious dew, | And howling rend the air." The poem takes an abrupt turn in its latter half, as Superstition shifts its aspect from fear to fancy. This is intended to illustrate Drake's point about the two kinds of gothic as developed in the fourth Speculator, of 6 April 1790. In addition to the allusions to Milton, Nathan Drake echoes two other favorite poets, Shakespeare and Collins (whose Superstition's Ode had been only recently published. The ode is signed "N." The poem was much revised when republished in Drake's Literary Hours.

The Speculator was the first of a long series of periodical works conducted by Nathan Drake that juxtaposed essays in prose and verse. Its 26 numbers were devoted to gothic themes, which are treated in the prose essays and developed in several kinds of verse. The latest of these collections, Mornings in Spring, was published in 1828, nearly thirty years later after The Speculator. Drake is best remembered, however, for his work of antiquarian scholarship, Shakespeare and his Times (1817).

Nathan Drake: "This paper, the composition of myself and of a gentleman, whose name, were I permitted to divulge it, would do honour to any branch of literature or science, was published in the year 1790; and the twenty-sixth, and last, June the 22d, 1790" Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 2:3417.



What dreadful shape was that? yon dismal cry
Strikes cold my flutt'ring soul,
O God! some livid face and deadly eye
Seems mid the dark to roll.
Avaunt! 'tis Superstition's horrid gloom,
Delusive clouds the mind,
Demon accurst! from Nature's shadowy womb
Of miscreated kind;
Of ghastly Fear and darkest Midnight born,
Far in a blasted dale
Mid Lapland's woods and noisome wastes forlorn,
Where lurid hags the Moon's pale orbit hail.
In the drear depth of such dim pathless shade,
The stream of infant blood
Damps the blue flame, and o'er th' unhallow'd glade
Hell's deepest darkness frowns the conscious wood.
Round the wither'd witches go,
Mutt'ring death and dismal woe,
On their uncouth features dire
Gleams the pale and livid fire:
The charm begins, now arise
Shadows foul and piercing cries,
Storm and tempest loud assail,
Beating wind and rattling hail;
Thus within th' infernal wood,
Dance they round the bubbling blood,
Till the rite ended, then they fly
To taint the breath of yonder sky,
Where on the desert vast, and boundless wild,
Mid the lightning's livid glare,
Or at the balmy close of evening mild,
They're seen to glide athwart th' affrighted air.
Hence from my bosom, all thy visions hence!
In the deep silent hour
When Terror hov'ring o'er each active sense
Impregnates Fancy's power:
Then rise strange spectres to the shudd'ring view,
With horrid lifeless stare,
And gliding float upon the noxious dew,
And howling rend the air.
Oft near yon leaf-clad solitary fane,
Whilst morn yet clasps the night,
Some Ghost is heard to sound his clanking chain,
Beheld mid moon-beam pale and dead to sight:
Nor less unfrequent the lone trav'ller hears
The sullen-sounding bell,
And the dim-lighted tower awakes to fears
Of haunted mansion, brake, or darkling dell.
Haste thee Superstition, fly!
Perish this thy sorcery!
Why in these Gorgon terrors clad
But to affright, afflict the bad,
'Tis thee, O Goddess! thee I hail,
Of Hesper born and Cynthia pale,
That wont the same rude name to bear,
Yet gentle all, and void of fear:
O come, in Fancy's garb array'd,
In all her lovely forms display'd,
And o'er the Poet's melting soul
Bid the sweet tide of rapture roll
To dying music, warbling gales,
Mid moonlight scenes and woody vales,
Where Elves, and Fays, and Sprites disport,
And nightly keep their festive court;
There, mid the pearly flood of light,
In tincts cerulean richly dight,
Light-sporting o'er the trembling green,
Glance they quick thro' the magic scene,
And from the sparkling moss receive,
Shed by the fragrant hand of eve,
The silver dew, of matchless pow'r,
To guard from harm at midnight hour
The lonely wight, who, lost from far,
Views not one friendly guiding star,
Or one kind lowly cottage door
To point his track across the moor;
Whilst the storm howling, tells his mind,
Some spirit rides the northern wind,
And, 'plaining, mourns his cruel doom,
On tempest hurl'd, and wintry gloom:
Oft too, at eve's warm-tinted ray,
The ling'ring blush of youthful day,
Pensive, sweet, seraphic lays,
Soft-warbling wake the note of praise,
Heard the echoing hills among
Repeating wild the heav'nly song,
Till lost in ether floats away
The last, faint, murm'ring vocal lay;
These on the lonely bard attend,
With him the mountain's side ascend,
Or in the valley's lowly plain,
Rapturous breathe the melting strain;
These lift his soul beyond its clime,
To daring flights of thought sublime,
Where, warm'd by Fancy's brightest fire,
He boldly sweeps the sounding lyre.
Come then, with wild flowers, come array'd,
O Superstition, magic maid!
And welcome then suggesting pow'r!
At evening close or midnight hour.

[pp. 83-87]