An allegorical poem in twenty-four Spenserian stanzas. "The Fever" relates the progress of the illness from onset to redemption, with a goodly sprinkling of Spenserian archaisms. There is no obvious model for James Fordyce's poem, though health was a common enough theme in Spenserian verse. Nor is it obvious when this poem was composed. At the time of its publication the poet, an notable preacher and acquaintance of Samuel Johnson, was in his sixties, living in retirement in Hampshire. Fordyce had taken his M.A. from Aberdeen in 1753, but his poems were the late fruits of his retirement: the versification is more clumsy than a young, university-educated Scot would be likely to allow himself, nor is the poet very concerned with imitating models. "The Fever," the first of two Spenserian allegories, is, despite the archaisms, in modernized spelling. Both are jeux d'esprits, literary equivalents of the gothic "follies" decorating contemporary parks and gardens, though the piety they express is no doubt sincere enough.
James Boswell: "Nay, though Johnson loved a Presbyterian the least of all, this did not prevent his having a long and uninterrupted social connection with the Reverend Dr. James Fordyce, who, since his death, hath gratefully celebrated him in a warm strain of devotional composition" Life of Johnson (1791); ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 4:474.
Advertisement: "The Author is not ignorant of the objections which have been urged against a close imitation of Spenser. But being still of opinion, that there is in his manner, taken all together, an air of Nature and Simplicity, united with a flow and compass of Numbers, not often to be found elsewhere, he was willing to try whether he could attain a small portion of these in the two following Poems, by aiming, however faintly, at some resemblance of that admirable Author" p. 167.
Critical Review: "No superior excellence in this character can be acquired, unless it proceeds from the voluntary efforts of a fervid imagination. Whoever writes verse as a task imposed, as a relaxation from severer studies, with an idea of difficulties to be surmounted, may be precise and correct, may attain the character of a good versifier, but never that of a poet. What might be expected, however, is performed. We in general can approve, but not applaud. We every where distinguish evident marks of sound sense, of a pious and well-informed mind. The diction is clear and perspicuous, totally divested of all meretricious ornaments; but it is sometimes prosaic, and the rhymes are frequently incorrect.... We meet, likewise, with two well written poems, in imitation of Spencer: and in many others, the moral and religious duties are delineated with perspicuity, and forcibly inculcated" 63 (March 1787) 208.
The poem opens with a portrait of the Wizard Fever, a character prone to change: "His flaming eyne now wildly glare and roll, | Now languid sink, as life had them forsook: | His arms now drop, as though with palsy strook; | Anon are restless, tossing all around: | Eftsoons he creeps into a little nook" p. 169. Having stolen upon the poet unawares, Fever first afflicts him with cold, then with heat. Worst of all, the sufferer is deprived of sleep: "Who can controul that pulse, appease that pain, | Or raise the strength, and eke with courage fill, | When cruel Sorc'rer loudly threats to kill?" p. 172. In a series of verse characters, the pains of Fever are visited upon a statesman, a miser, a youth, and a maid. The physician enters: "Adored be the all directing hand, | That when in deep distress full low I lay, | Skill and Affection near my bed did stand, | And strive my dole to banish far away" p. 176. The poem shifts to the visionary realm is the patient's mind is afflicted by "Mummers, old hags, and jugglers, seem'd to rave; | Mutt'ring sometimes, then off'ring me to brave" p. 178. But by the grace of God reason is restored and the visionary crew put to flight. The poem concludes with a hymn of praise.
The ninth stanza is short a line as printed.
A Wizard fierce, THE FEVER call'd,
Doth oft mankind assail;
Whereby their courage is appall'd,
If o'er them he prevail.
Forth from his gorgeous chambers in the east,
Th' unwearied Sun hath sped his annual way,
Rejoicing in his strength, ne ever ceas'd,
With measur'd step to usher in the day,
Since that whereon I met a sore assay,
From a Magician drear of mickle might,
Who on my flesh his Rod did heavy lay,
That under it I trembled many a night.
Save me, sweet Heaven! from that dread Power, THE FEVER hight.
Ah! who can stand before his strong controul?
Ah! who can paint his hideous haggard look?
His flaming eyne now wildly glare and roll,
Now languid sink, as life had them forsook:
His arms now drop, as though with palsy strook;
Anon are restless, tossing all around:
Eftsoons he creeps into a little nook;
And now his head is rack'd with sudden stound.
Nathless he still hath force to fell you to the ground.
Of all the woes that harass this frail life,
None peradventure can us worse annoy,
Than that malignant Wizard's baleful strife.
At once, alas! he kills the seeds of joy,
And eke our gust of pleasure doth destroy.
Then, oh! how ling'ring oft the conflict dire!
What cares, what arts, what drugs we must employ,
To quench by slow degrees the dangerous fire,
Till all its hidden embers shall at last expire!
The self-same day that saw my mis'ry near,
I smil'd unweeting in the bower of ease:
Apparent symptom none, ne any fear,
When silent on me stole the sly Disease,
And all my blood with shiv'ring cold did seize.
How ignorant and fond the human mind,
That eager listens to the song of Peace!
To enemies at hand unheeding, blind;
Till war and desolation wide rush in behind!
The frozen current strait I sought to thaw,
And kindly warmth restore, but sought in vain.
More near the blazing hearth I strove to draw;
Yet long the chilly horror did remain.
And now to give variety of pain,
The Demon wreaks his wrath another way.
Of wrath so fell 'twas fruitless to complain.
Of hope he labour'd to shut out each ray,
And seem'd all bent to overwhelm me with dismay.
A burning heat intense rose in the place
Of that deep shuddering which shook my frame,
My head, my hands, my feet, my kindling face,
Were lighted all into one general flame,
That spreading mischief did too clear proclaim.
Then thirst unquenchable consum'd my soul:
Nor mid the host of foes that onward came,
Was on that Patience e'er could less controul;
While total loss of sleep conspir'd to crown the whole.
O Sleep! of mortal life thou sweetest balm!
Of all those sharp distresses let me taste,
Rather than be bereft of thy dear calm.
Spight of them all, methinks, I could be blest;
Or still some transient ease mote be possest.
The aching joints, parch'd tongue, and throbbing head,
By gentle slumbers mote be rock'd to rest.
But when they lenient visits long are fled,
Our fairest hope of help is finally strook dead.
Soft soothing Sleep! how vainly they do talk,
Who never left by Thee can yet complain!
O childish mis'ry! Let them once but walk
To yon hard bed of sickness, and of pain,
Where that meek suff'rer murmur doth restrain,
Whose eyes for nights and days do never close,
Whose mind uneath can Reason's power retain,
Whose pulse, whose nerves, have tasted no repose!
And will They idly whine, that live to dress and doze?
Ah! who shall hush the tempest of the brain?
What voice shall say t' impetuous Thoughts, "Be still?"
Who can controul that pulse, appease that pain,
Or raise the strength, and eke with courage fill,
When cruel Sorc'rer loudly threats to kill?
Ah! who shall aid th' afflicted man to shun
The horrid spectres that his soul would stun,
When Reason's scatter'd forces wild and madd'ning run?
Behold yon Orator, by all admir'd;
A learned, wise, and well-accomplish'd wight!
Where now, alas! the gifts that him inspir'd,
And rapt his wond'ring audience with delight?
The Wizard, sure, hath dash'd him in despight?
From that drad Power affrighted Fancy flies:
Each splendid ray of thought is plung'd in night;
And ev'ry boasted talent buried lies.
'Tis Piety alone, believe, me, never dies.
Ye sons of pride! see ye that Bed of State?
Therein survey a rich, great, flatter'd thing,
Sunk and emaciated; nor, as of late,
Bedight with staff, or star, and silken string;
Or caught with incense vain that courtiers bring.
What now are these? Poor, empty, sick'ning toys!
Present them now! Away he would them fling:
Far other thought his chasten'd soul employs.
'Tis Truth and Virtue only can give lasting joys!
Turn, thou poor Muckworm! crawling in the earth,
And note that Grub within his murky bed.
Vaunts he, as erst the thousands he is worth?
Oh no! For why? THE FEVER rends his head;
And there, in sooth, he lies as he were dead.
To purchase present ease, what nould he pay?
His darling gold, which he preferr'd to bread,
For life he now would fling it all away;
To die outright distracts him with such dire dismay!
Ye losel Fry, whose lustyhead is worn
In weary, wand'ring ways of sin and shame!
Of such false pleasaunce mark the rankling thorn!
Hear how that Youth those ways doth loud condemn.
Disease and Conscience him alike enflame:
His flesh ymolten by intemp'rate fire!
To feed his passions seem'd his only aim:
His soul devoured was with fierce desire:
And now all unprepar'd he's doomed to expire!
Daughter of Vanity! thou flutt'rer gay,
Prankt in thy costly robe, with sweeping train,
While smiles and dimples in thy cheeks to play;
Visit yon dreary, darken'd couch of pain.
Where now the Beauty it did late contain,
The rosy lip, sweet bloom, and sparkling eye?
What graces cannot sickness deep distain?
Go home, thou gaudy, painted butterfly!
Put off thy gaudes, and pause, and learn humility.
O blessed son of Esculapian Art,
That knows what philters lure the charmer, Sleep!
Who would not envy him that can impart
Relief and rest to them who wake and weep;
That knows in soft oblivion how to steep
Each weary sense, and steal away each pain?
Certes, the highest pleasure he must reap:
Certes, his praise demands the loudest strain;
Ne doth this spacious earth a fairer boon contain.
By what rare skill the curst Magician's rage
May vanquish'd be, whene'er he doth assail,
And how to spy his wiles through ev'ry stage,
And snatch at last his Rod, and break his spell,
It were a joy sincere for me to tell.
But 'twere a joy supreme, had I the lore,
THE FEVER in the sin-sick soul to quell,
And ghostly health, and heavenly strength restore.
Divine employment! Divinest, happiest power!
Adored be the all directing hand,
That when in deep distress full low I lay,
Skill and Affection near my bed did stand,
And strive my dole to banish far away.
Whiles yet th' oppressive Influence would stray,
They labour'd sinking Nature to sustain.
Through night's dark watches, and succeeding day,
To ease a Brother's and a Husband's pain,
Self was forgot: none could their fervent zeal restrain.
But, O thou Fountain of o'erflowing good!
What had avail'd their gentleness and love,
Or yet the means of health so long pursued,
Without thy benediction from above?
From thence alone the soul doth comfort prove;
From thence alone can holy peace outwell,
And anxious doubts and ghastly fears remove,
And give the mind in secret calm to dwell.
Blest calm, that sublunary joys doth far excel!
Nature's bright spectacles I then might view.
The glorious Sun into my chamber shone:
The verdant trees and plants before me grew:
But all their power to bring delight was gone:
For sickness still would sigh, and pain would groan,
That nought could cheer but gladness in the heart;
True gladness unsubdu'd by heaviest moan,
If God to you his sov'reign grace impart,
Ne in your greatest need shall ever you desert!
Fain would the Sorcerer have me oppress'd.
My Fantesy he forc'd into a Cave,
Where, crowding close around my stifled breast,
Mummers, old hags, and jugglers, seem'd to rave;
Mutt'ring sometimes, then off'ring me to brave,
And quite discomfit by their taunting scorn;
Whilst I, with firm rebuke, and aspect grave,
Did on their solemn fool'ries often turn,
And eke their strong delusion most sincerely mourn.
What now appear'd to me surpassing strange;
When I essay'd mine eyes to open wide,
The visionary scene at once would change:
In quiet as before I did abide,
With lighted taper twinkling by my side.
Anon my heavy lids again would close:
Anon the wretched Sprights would aye deride.
Nature forespent did still sink down, and doze.
And thus it will befall, when she cannot oppose.
But soon o'erruling Reason seiz'd the rein,
And all the gloomy Crew quick put to flight,
That now my soul did settled rest regain,
And prove no more sick Fancy's piteous plight.
Oh! hapless men, that banish'd are the light
Of Evangelic day, dark shades among!
Father of Heaven! illume their mental sight:
Teach them "the things that to their peace belong;"
And may they gladsome join in sweet Religion's song.
Forefend that ever I should cease to sing,
With grateful transports, undissembled praise,
To my Almighty and most gracious King,
Who from the bed of weakness me did raise,
To do him homage in my latter days.
Let but my suff'rings purify this breast,
And purge and brighten Virtue's dimmer rays,
That I may find the Everlasting Rest,
Where Virtue all unmixt 'mong Angels stands confess'd.
Nor will I e'er forget what I do owe
To Him who died upon the Cross for me,
To save my soul from sin, and death, and woe,
And ope the gates of blest Eternity;
When the triumphant Mind, from earth set free,
From error, frailty, folly, rapt shall soar,
Unclogg'd by flesh, and all its misery;
Divine Perfection ever to adore,
Nor Pain, nor Sickness sad to suffer any more!