1803
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Madness. An Elegy.

European Magazine 43 (June 1803) 462-64.

Dr. William Perfect


42 elegiac quatrains, after Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard, signed "Dr. Perfect." While the Elegy is not a formal imitation of Gray's poem, it is part of the series of imitations concerned with sentiment and victimhood. At some risk to sense and verbal propriety, Dr. Perfect aligns his subject with the more common elegiac theme: "More arduous far the Muse's task's assign'd; | Thy aid, Melpomene, her efforts crave, | Whilst she reviews the ruins of the mind, | Poor Reason, buried in the body's grave" p. 463. The poem is developed as a sequence of six verse characters illustrating various forms in which madness is manifested.

Since the poet was a physician who for many years specialized in treating cases of mental illness, one might expect to find something like case histories in this Elegy. It would seem from the portraits that Perfect regarded madness as an extension or intensification of more ordinary mental states, and by implication responsive to some sort of moral control. The details in the description of the Miser are perhaps drawn from the poet's practice: "This Miserfranke, in epitome, | Still is himself, altho' in madden'd plight, | Collecting bits of rags, or leaves of tea, | As hoards, in Fancy's eye, immensely bright." Several testimonies to the efficacy of William Perfects methods of treating madness were published by former patients in eighteenth century periodicals.



No more I carol amatory strains,
To friendship's eye submit the artless lay;
Pourtray the scenes where sylvan beauty reigns,
Or in light measure sing mellifluous May.

No more I tread the rill-dissected mead,
The thymy bank, and beach-surrounded field,
Where bleating ewes and sportive lambkins feed,
No more the groves their wonted transports yield.

Yet not to ease and indolence a prey,
To pleasure's syren call a willing slave,
My unbefriended Muse shall pensive stray
To lone retreats that Medway's currents lave.

Where peaceful virtues in sequestered train
The circling moor with splendid crescent thrones,
Silvers the Gothic pile and sacred fane,
The mould'ring turret and the moss-clad stones.

There, where the cypress and the mournful pine
Join in the breezy dirges of the night,
An altar rais'd, and Melancholy mine,
I'll taste her ever pensive, sad delight.

My theme the herald of no war's alarms,
Of grandeur, power, of honour, or of fame;
Of structures lost to all their former charms,
Mingled in dust, and found but by a name.

More arduous far the Muse's task's assign'd;
Thy aid, Melpomene, her efforts crave,
Whilst she reviews the ruins of the mind,
Poor Reason, buried in the body's grave.

O Reason, lamp that lights the busy soul,
To govern human passion kindly giv'n;
Our faith, our joys, and sorrows, to controul;
Thou brightest mirror of reflected Heav'n:

Blest taper, lighting to Religion's throne,
Ah! what were man without thy genial sway!
His hopes how frail! how little had he known,
Without thy strong and unerroneous ray!

Poor insects had we been in nature's scale,
Consign'd to dullness, levell'd with the brute;
The wanton sport of Folly's vicious gale;
Of Wisdom's tree precluded from the fruit.

Reason depos'd, how art thou sunk, O Man?
Hoodwink'd thy mind, ah! where is then thy boast?
Confus'dly restless, and without a plan,
Immers'd in doubt, and to reflection lost.

So yon fair seat of elegance and taste,
Which spread its charms to admiration's eye,
Destroy'd, behold a desolated waste,
And low in dust its splendid honours lie.

—Worst Pandemonium of the human mind,
Tremendous Madness — who's exempt from thee?
The weak, the strong, the brave, thy shackles bind,
And victims fall to thy severe decree.

How vast thy havoc o'er the human form,
O'er beauty, mem'ry, excellence, and sense:
Perfection's safe not from thy ruthless storm,
And wit or learning but a feeble fence.

How shall the Muse thy varied woes recite,
Thy wild ideas, foster'd in the brain,
That warm the cheated soul with fond delight,
Or form huge phantoms of fictitious pain.

Yet her's the task, she strives the course to steer,
With diffidence expands the vent'rous sail,
While heterogeneous sounds distract the ear,
And urge her passage thro' Misfortune's vale.

Behold that stately figure — Child of Pride!
I knew him ere to madness thus a prey,
When self-importance urg'd him to deride,
And scarcely own a great Creator's sway.

And now in all the mockery of state,
Tho' clad in rags, this ostentatious thing
Believes around him thousand slaves await,
Himself in fancy a despotic King.

Thus human nature, when o'ercast with pride,
Insulted Heav'n most severely scans;
Of arrogance repels th' impetuous tide,
Humbles rank insolence, and man unmans.

All dark within — Olivia, love-lorn maid,
In tatter'd garb, and with dishevell'd hair,
Avoids the light, of faithless man afraid,
Her haggard form the picture of despair.

Ask you the cause why poor Olivia's lost,
Her spirits broke, her bosom swoln with woe?
By slighted vows and disappointment cross'd,
Distraction urg'd her eyes to overflow.

Blushes the hectic on her pallid cheek,
Where lively breath'd the sweetly living rose:
Of sorrows past now hear her piteous speak;
Of sorrows past a Cazonette compose.

She sings; 'tis melody's most plaintive strain,
Big with a sigh, and usher'd with a tear;
Ever and anon abridg'd by pain,
And check'd with sudden starts of grief or fear.

And now in moody silence see she sits,
Absorb'd in apathy or mental gloom;
Or rous'd — bewails, or laughs, or sings, by fits;
Reviles, condemns, or calls she knows not whom.

That piteous object which our ears assails
With clam'rous rage and ceaseless discontent,
Attacking with his teeth his squalid nails,
Desp'rate in thought, on sable mischief bent.

Bright as the sun before th' approaching storm,
He shone conspicuous in the rings of taste;
But passion reason to deform,
Her fruitful soil becomes a dreary waste.

In midnight orgies were his moments past?
Was dissipation his without controul?
The reckonings came and finish'd the repast,
And pale distraction overwhelms his soul.

Who's this all mirth and mummery we see,
That laughs at fortune, pomp, and wealth, and pow'r;
From pride and malice, and from sorrow free,
The very May fly of the frantic hour.

Behold her brisk with freakish step advance,
In every gesture, every gambol shown,
On toe fantastic round and round she'll dance,
And deem the fairy regions all her own.

'Twas her's to flirt, and only seem sincere,
The vain coquet, with blandishments her own,
To laugh, to sing, to wheedle, and to jeer,
'Till Reason lost its unsubstantial throne.

No stings of mem'ry to her vacant mind
Reflection's busy images convey;
Tho' sad her friends, herself to mirth inclin'd,
Is ne'er unhappy, never less than gay.

Charming delusion! when distraction reigns,
And fancied pleasure's false ideas range:
But when black choler stagnates in the veins,
Behold and mark the melancholy change.

His words how broken! faul'tring! and how slow!
Sunk into darkness like a fallen star.
Melanthus view immers'd in sullen woe,
The door of reason does despondence bar.

The poor fanatic, buried in despair,
Madly anticipates each future pain;
Caught in some bigot's unrelenting snare,
Religion stretches out her hand in vain.

Dark as his brow — the chaos of his mind
Presents eternal torments to his sight;
A Deity no longer good and kind:
His apprehensions endless fears excite.

Ill-founded fear! but who shall comfort bring,
When wild Enthusiasm occupies the breast;
When horrors hence delusion's visions bring,
To rob Devotion of her purest rest.

O Melancholy! 'tis thine, in varied shape,
The voice of Peace and Pleasure to suppress,
To bind the brows of Reason with thy crape,
And o'er the mind thy leaden weights to press.

And Avarice thine! fell canker of each joy,
Fast foe to honour, pure fruition's bane:
How much the human mind thy cares annoy,
The wretch that's next in view can well explain.

Unsocial mortal, opulently poor,
Deaf to Misfortune's penetrating plaint,
He spurn'd poor shiv'ring merit from his door,
And starv'd midst plenty, making gold his saint.

This Miserfranke, in epitome,
Still is himself, altho' in madden'd plight,
Collecting bits of rags, or leaves of tea,
As hoards, in Fancy's eye, immensely bright.

The Poet's dreams, his frenzy rolling eye,
The Muse might paint, but ceases to intrude.
Or jealous Rage, or fell Misanthropy,
And other various shapes of Reason crude,

Curtails her flight as tender feelings rise,
And conscious tears protract the mournful tale,
Which speaks my heart in sympathetic sighs,
And kindred Nature drops Compassion's veil.

[pp. 462-64]