A regular Pindaric ode, the second of a pair of "historic odes" imitating Gray's The Bard that treat the misfortunes of the house of Stuart. As Queen Mary is sailing to Scotland she has a visionary encounter with the Orcadian Spirit of the Isles: "Thrice with a whirlwind's ample breath | He blew the pealing trump of death; | While ghostly legions, fleeting by, | Swell'd with terrific scream his dreary cry" p. 100. The ode follows the events of Mary's direful reign and those of her offspring down to the termination of the dynasty in Queen Anne. There is a notable portrait of Oliver Cromwell: "With low'ring scowl a tyrant warrior glares, | Before him kings and wither'd hosts retire; | His pale lips quiver with slow-muttering pray'rs, | His eyeballs glisten with a comet's fire: | By his fierce breath the imperious deluge driv'n, | Rolls o'er th ruined throne, nor spares the shrines of heav'n!" p. 106. The poem breaks off with the conclusion of the prophesy, which is explicated in several pages of notes. The French history is taken from Pierre de Bourdeilles Brantome (d. 1614) and the Scottish history from William Robertson's History of Scotland.
Anna Seward to Helen Maria Williams: "You were questionless enchanted with that fine ode of Mr. Sargent's, Mary Queen of Scotland, — the bright reverse of Mr. St. John's dull unpoetic play on that ever-interesting theme; — a play which the reviewers stupidly alleged to be an imitation of Shakespeare, though there is scarce a metaphor through its pages, and Shakespeare has not three lines without one. But for the ode, whatever may be its obligations to Gray for the prophetic plan, there is great originality in some of the portraits — that of Cromwell has no superior; and, upon the whole, what striking, what mournful grace! what spirited transitions!" 23 July 1789; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 2:296-97.
Critical Review: "The two Historical Odes are not, we think, of equal merit. The Vision of Stonehenge, which we should not have expected from the author of the Mine, is weak and spiritless. Our author's phosphorus blazes only in the shades of night. The Vision, supposed to have appeared to the unfortunate Mary in her voyage from France to Scotland, is greatly superior. The Spirit of the Isles, from Orkney, appears, and foretells her future woes, with the different events of the reigns of her successors, James, the two Charles's, the second James, Mary, and Anne. The spirit is described with much poetical fire, though a little different from what historical fact relates, for we are told that the first night which Mary passed on the sea was out of sight of the French coast; yet this is the time of the vision!... This edition is very beautifully printed, and adorned with plates, whose execution exceeds the design. The drawing is in many respects defective" 68 (November 1789) 381-82.
Thomas Ogle: The second ode has for its subject (a copious subject, indeed), the misfortunes of Mary Queen of Scots. Two of the most interesting incidents in this ode, the Queen's leaving France on the death of her husband, Francis II. and her reception in her own country — are taken from Brantome. The author has managed them with great ingenuity: but the art of the poet could not possibly equal the affecting simplicity of the historian" Monthly Review NS 2 (May 1790) 58.
"Farewell, dear land! thou gallant seat
Of courtesy and soft delight;
Thy pleasure-breathing plains retreat,
And sink for ever from my sight:
Ah! happy realms, where late I shone
In scepter'd state, in beauty's highest noon;
When Hymen deck'd his youthful fow'rs,
And fancy, ever-new, awak'd the laughing hours."
Thus mourn'd the Queen, what time to Gallia's coast
She heav'd reluctant many a parting sigh;
And saw, 'midst fears and anxious bodings tost,
The white cliffs lessen from her lingering eye;
Through many a long night she watch'd the glimmering shore,
And heard, in doleful trance, the sullen billows roar.
From Orkney's stormy steep
The Spirit of the Isles infuriate came,
Round him flash'd the arctic flame;
His dark cloud shadow'd the contentious deep:
Thrice with a whirlwind's ample breath
He blew the pealing trump of death;
While ghostly legions, fleeting by,
Swell'd with terrific scream his dreary cry:
"Queen of unnumber'd woes! with evil star
Borne from each long-lov'd, rapturous scene away,
To realms where everlasting discords jar,
And maddening factions spurn the feeble sway:
What plagues are ripening in the womb of fate,
A Murray's venom'd guile, a Tudor's deadly hate!
"Nor dance nor festive air
Announce thy dawning reign;
To greet the royal fair,
A blank relentless train
With funeral visage frown, and scoffs uncouth,
Mocking the frolic smile of youth:
No more with weeping eyes
Thy hymeneal kingdom wail;
Hark! what anguish loads the gale,
What mists of carnage cloud the reeking skies!
See, on his couch, the lion crouch,
The heir of Conde's ill-starr'd might;
In wild amaze, his eyeballs blaze—
Deeds of horror scare the night:
Foul shepherd, in accursed mood
Thy sleeping fold to smite with murderous rage,
O shield the hoary warrior's helpless age,
And reverence Montmorenci's blood:
Blot not with endless guilt a nation's fame,
Nor let long ages curse the deeds they dare not name.
"He comes, in beauteous pride array'd,
The flow'r of Lennox' ancient race;
On his beaming front display'd
High valour and majestic grace:
He comes, as when the god of day
Hears on the eastern hills his proud steeds neigh,
And chides the lagging hours — thine eye
Avert, nor trust, fond Queen, the treacherous sympathy:
Thy heart, that swells with love's voluptuous tide,
Shall mourn the coldness of thine altered mate:
The storm of boisterous passion shall subside,
And ardent throbs expire in jealous hate:
Scar'd pleasure flies from thy unhallow'd bed,
While vengeance stalks around, and beckons to the dead.
"What sadly-soothing strain,
What mournful melody hath caught mine ear?
Ah! no more the notes I hear—
The lessening cadence dies along the plain:
Sweet minstrel, whose enchanting art
In ecstasy can lap the heart;
Why hath thy muse advent'rous stray'd
From Doria's stream and Susa's warbling shade?
In clattering hawberk clad, thro' night's still gloom,
Stern Ruthven fiercely stalks with haggard mien;
With thundering tone proclaims the victim's doom,
And tears her minion from a doating Queen:
Thro' the arch'd courts, and storied chambers high,
Loud shrieks of terror ring, and death's expiring cry.
"Bid the deep tempest roar,
And whelm a baleful crew;
Proud lord of Inis-tore!
Be thine, thy guilt to rue—
Pent in the dungeon's dark and stony womb,
O'er thee be rais'd a living tomb;
Grim fiends and spectres dire
Hover round thy coward head,
And swart melancholy shed
Her chilling dews that quench th' ethereal fire;
For lo! yon form, that rides the storm,
Traitor, 'tis thy murder'd king!
He joins the hosts, of monarch ghosts;
Of the days of old they sing—
With sounds of loud lament they hail
His sanguine shade, that fires the misty air;
Sublime they float, and o'er the mountains bare
In majesty of midnight sail:
Down heav'n's broad steep descend in dread array,
And in the shadowy moon's pale confine melt away.
"Ill-fated Queen! thy star, that stood
On the pure zenith's blazing height,
Now reddening meets the troubled flood,
And streams with melancholy light:
In yonder cloud, the book of Fate,
Read the long sufferings of thy captive state;
There count the groans, whose nightly sound
Thrills the wide-water'd moat, and castle's lonesome round:
Tho' in thy veins rich streams of honour flow,
Tho' thy proud hand a double sceptre prest;
No genial ties suspend the ruthless blow,
Nor love, nor pity melt a rivals breast:
'Perish the traitor! perish!' Shrewsbury cries,
While gentle Melvil veils his sorrow-streaming eyes.
"Shame to her high-born son!
And thou, Britannia, scorn his abject sway:
Short gleams of splendor fleet away,
And fell rebellions shakes the steadfast throne.
Uxorious lord, thy woes begin;
Hear thou the lamentable din
Of pikes, that ring on Freedom's shield,
While Glory pants along the crimson field.
With low'ring scowl a tyrant warrior glares,
Before him kings and wither'd hosts retire;
His pale lips quiver with slow-muttering pray'rs,
His eyeballs glisten with a comet's fire:
By his fierce breath the imperious deluge driv'n,
Rolls o'er th ruined throne, nor spares the shrines of heav'n!
"The waves and wild blasts cease,
That tore the black profound;
In robes of radiant peace,
Hyperion flames around,
And heavenly Muses strike each choral string:
Before the young triumphant king,
Flies Joy and towering Fame;
But a foul Circeian crew,
Rush with blood-ey'd rage to view,
And hurl to hovering infamy his name.
What orb now gleams, with angry beams,
Through the desert tracts of air?
His course half-run, the faded sun
Falls from his refulgent sphere.
Twin Queens ascend — though victory breathes
Immortal paeans round their free-built throne;
A father's curse resounds, a brothers groan,
And blasts their inauspicious wreaths:
No more — in dark futurity I close
Thy desolated race, and doom of lengthen'd woes."