1788
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Vision of Stonehenge: an Ode.

The Mine: a Dramatic Poem. The Second Edition. To which are added, two Historic Odes. By John Sargent, Esq.

John Sargent


A pindaric ode in nine irregular Spenserians "Occasioned by a tradition that Charles II. passed the night in his flight from the battle of Worcester." John Sargent takes the tradition from John Dryden's Epistle to Dr. Charleton: "These ruins shelter'd once his sacred head, | When he from Worcester's fatal battle fled; | Watch'd by the Genius of this royal place, | And mighty visions of the Danish race." While the poem is modeled on Gray's The Bard, the stanza is that of Gray's Hymn to Adversity augmented by an additional quatrain. This is the first of a pair of Gray imitations (the second features Mary Queen of Scots) that adapt Gray's treatment of the Plantagenets to the unhappy history of the Stuart dynasty. Sargent, a school-friend of William Hayley, would shortly afterwards enter Parliament and become a supporter of William Pitt. Presumably he was studying history in preparation for a political career that would extend to nearly four decades. Not seen.

As Charles flees the royalist defeat at Worcester he sleeps amid the ruins of Stonehenge: "Then pillows on the rocky bed | In sore display his faint afflicted head; | Portentous visions scare his closing eyes, | And mighty warriors march and British kings arise" p. 86. It consists of a procession of unfortunate British leaders who died violent deaths: Harold, William Rufus, Richard I, Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Edward V, Richard III, Charles II. They point to the rude columns of the pagan temple and read the young monarch a lecture on the stern ways of power: "If groveling in each sensual aim | You quench aspiring virtue's patriot flame, | Thy baleful sway what scourging woes attend, | Than exile days more sad, or e'en thy father's end!" p. 91.

Anna Seward to T. S. Whalley: "My acquaintance, Mr. Sargent, has lately reprinted his Mine, with two additional odes. The first, the Vision of Stone-Henge, we should think sublime, if it were possible to forget Gray's Welch Bard; but servilely imitative, yet, strikingly inferior, we are inclined to quarrel with it" 10 April 1789; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 2:259.

The term "historic odes" that Sargent supplies for these poems indicates the how imitations of Gray's ode were being developed as a series treating historical and ethnographic subjects. Sargent's odes were reprinted three times, though it may be that his mining poem was the chief attraction. Compare George Richard's Songs of the Aboriginal Bards of Britain (1792), composed as a sequel to his very popular ethnographic ode, The Aboriginal Britons (1791).



See, Worcester! see thy blood-stain'd walls;
England, mourn thy warriors slain!
In vain their vanquish'd sovereign calls,
No more they rise again.—
Where'er the mingled banners fly,
Forms of grisly havoc glare,
Shrieks of deathful agony
Shake the earth and rend the air:
With hasty flight, and Heav'n his guide,
He scours the solitary champaign wide,
Still seems of battle the loud din to hear,
While steeds and clattering arms re-echo in his ear.

The heavens, as conscious of such feuds,
Redden with indignant light;
While terror in the tempest broods,
And deepens low'ring night:
To the huge plain at length he comes,
Spreading wide to Sarum's spire;
O'er the pile gigantic roams,
Gleaming with meteorous fire:
Then pillows on the rocky bed
In sore display his faint afflicted head;
Portentous visions scare his closing eyes,
And mighty warriors march and British kings arise.

With crown that hangs like vapor pale
Round a dim autumnal star,
Stern Harold bids the monarch hail,
And shews his Norman scar.—
A victim of the sylvan fight,
Lifts his purple-streaming crest,
And with more than mortal might
Tears the arrow from his breast.
With holy palms from Syria won,
Behold, sad Eleanor, thy bleeding son;
With proud Carnarvon's heir, whose sorrows sharp
From echoing Severn sound and Cambria's midnight harp.

Behind a form, whose haggard eyes
From their fiery sockets burst,
Up starts, and speaks with endless sighs
Unconquerable thirst:
With trembling step, but sainted mien,
Martyr'd Lancaster appears;
By his side a Prince is seen
Smiling through his youthful tears:
In wildest storm of passion tost,
And circled with a dark and shadowy host,
Stalks murderous Richard, and new horror flings
O'er the ensanguined crowd of agonizing kings.

In the long rear of royal dead
Gleams his sire's grief-harrow'd face;
O'er his fix'd lineaments is shed
A pale and pensive grace:
Before him, tho' mad factions bray,
With fond heart and stedfast eye,
Dauntless Strafford leads the way
Of thundering destiny:
To a meek saint, who smiles above,
One tear he gives of ineffectual love,
And while her pure superior faith he owns,
Spurns the false heart of man and monarchs' crumbling thrones.

"We too," thy cry, "a realm could sway;
Lo! the sceptre, lo! the rod:
We too in perilous dismay
The edge of battle trod.
But not to all doth Heaven allow
Fate's impetuous tide to stem;
From the haughty monarch's brow
Falls the beaming diadem:
Proud potentates are taught to know
The strong dominion of transcendent woe;
When Justice in her desolating hour
Subverts the high-built mound and glittering arch of pow'r.

"Arrang'd by Superstition's hand,
Mark these fragments vast and rude,
Which in dread disorder stand
To awe the solitude:
This dreary mass, tho' summer smile,
Quickening verdure never decks;
Circling years the dusky pile
With desolation vex:
So power, by shallow craft design'd,
To curb with terrors, not to bless mankind,
In barren grandeur rears its naked form
To the keen lightning's bolt and Heav'n's avenging storm.

"Of harsh misfortune's chastening pow'r
Then own the blest controul;
And learn in sorrow's wholesome hour
To harmonize the soul:
For if when Heaven to triumph guide,
Pleasure's maddening rites you seek,
And, elate with prosperous pride,
Scorn the good, and crush the meek;
If groveling in each sensual aim
You quench aspiring virtue's patriot flame,
Thy baleful sway what scourging woes attend,
Than exile days more sad, or e'en thy father's end!

"To foes a needy suppliant fly,
Thy people's love disown;
While shame and griping penury
Besiege a sovereign's throne:
Thy revels o'er, thy pleasures fled,
Where's a friend thine eye to close?
Hateful bigots round thy bed
Crowd, and break the last repose:
No brother's tear is seen to flow;
Thy mangled relics an unseemly shew
Of the funeral pomp the tardy mockery wait,
While humbler mortals sigh, and tremble to be great."

[(1796) pp. 85-92]