The study of men, as they have appeared in different ages and under various social conditions, may be considered as the natural history of the race. Let us, then, for a moment imagine ourselves, as students of this natural history, “dredging” the first half of the eighteenth century in search of specimens. About the year 1730 we have hauled up a remarkable individual of the species divine — a surprising name, considering the nature of the animal before us, but we are used to unsuitable names in natural history. Let us examine this individual at our leisure. He is on the verge of fifty, and has recently undergone his metamorphosis into the clerical form. Rather a paradoxical specimen, if you observe him narrowly: a sort of cross between a sycophant and a psalmist; a poet whose imagination is alternately fired by the “Last Day” and by a creation of peers, who fluctuates between rhapsodic applause of King George and rhapsodic applause of Jehovah. After spending “a foolish youth, the sport of peers and poets,” after being a hanger-on of the profligate Duke of Wharton, after aiming in vain at a parliamentary career, and angling for pensions and preferment with fulsome dedications and fustian odes, he is a little disgusted with his imperfect success, and has determined to retire from the general mendicancy business to a particular branch; in other words, he has determined on that renunciation of the world implied in “taking orders,” with the prospect of a good living and an advantageous matrimonial connection. And no man can be better fitted for an Established Church. He personifies completely her nice balance of temporalities and spiritualities. He is equally impressed with the momentousness of death and of burial fees; he languishes at once for immortal life and for “livings;” he has a fervid attachment to patrons in general, but on the whole prefers the Almighty. He will teach, with something more than official conviction, the nothingness of earthly things; and he will feel something more than private disgust if his meritorious efforts in directing men’s attention to another world are not rewarded by substantial preferment in this. His secular man believes in cambric bands and silk stockings as characteristic attire for “an ornament of religion and virtue;” hopes courtiers will never forget to copy Sir Robert Walpole; and writes begging letters to the King’s mistress. His spiritual man recognizes no motives more familiar than Golgotha and “the skies;” it walks in graveyards, or it soars among the stars. His religion exhausts itself in ejaculations and rebukes, and knows no medium between the ecstatic and the sententious. If it were not for the prospect of immortality, he considers, it would be wise and agreeable to be indecent or to murder one’s father; and, heaven apart, it would be extremely irrational in any man not to be a knave. Man, he thinks, is a compound of the angel and the brute; the brute is to be humbled by being reminded of its “relation to the stalls,” and frightened into moderation by the contemplation of death-beds and skulls; the angel is to be developed by vituperating this world and exalting the next; and by this double process you get the Christian —“the highest style of man.” With all this, our new-made divine is an unmistakable poet. To a clay compounded chiefly of the worldling and the rhetorician, there is added a real spark of Promethean fire. He will one day clothe his apostrophes and objurgations, his astronomical religion and his charnel-house morality, in lasting verse, which will stand, like a Juggernaut made of gold and jewels, at once magnificent and repulsive: for this divine is Edward Young, the future author of the “Night Thoughts.”
It would be extremely ill-bred in us to suppose that our readers are not acquainted with the facts of Young’s life; they are among the things that “every one knows;” but we have observed that, with regard to these universally known matters, the majority of readers like to be treated after the plan suggested by Monsieur Jourdain. When that distinguished bourgeois was asked if he knew Latin, he implied, “Oui, mais faîtes comme si je ne le savais pas.” Assuming, then, as a polite writer should, that our readers know everything about Young, it will be a direct sequitur from that assumption that we should proceed as if they knew nothing, and recall the incidents of his biography with as much particularity as we may without trenching on the space we shall need for our main purpose — the reconsideration of his character as a moral and religious poet.
Judging from Young’s works, one might imagine that the preacher had been organized in him by hereditary transmission through a long line of clerical forefathers — that the diamonds of the “Night Thoughts” had been slowly condensed from the charcoal of ancestral sermons. Yet it was not so. His grandfather, apparently, wrote himself gentleman, not clerk; and there is no evidence that preaching had run in the family blood before it took that turn in the person of the poet’s father, who was quadruply clerical, being at once rector, prebendary, court chaplain, and dean. Young was born at his father’s rectory of Upham in 1681. We may confidently assume that even the author of the “Night Thoughts” came into the world without a wig; but, apart from Dr. Doran’s authority, we should not have ventured to state that the excellent rector “kissed, with dignified emotion, his only son and intended namesake.” Dr. Doran doubtless knows this, from his intimate acquaintance with clerical physiology and psychology. He has ascertained that the paternal emotions of prebendaries have a sacerdotal quality, and that the very chyme and chyle of a rector are conscious of the gown and band.
In due time the boy went to Winchester College, and subsequently, though not till he was twenty-two, to Oxford, where, for his father’s sake, he was befriended by the wardens of two colleges, and in 1708, three years after his father’s death, nominated by Archbishop Tenison to a law fellowship at All Souls. Of Young’s life at Oxford in these years, hardly anything is known. His biographer, Croft, has nothing to tell us but the vague report that, when “Young found himself independent and his own master at All Souls, he was not the ornament to religion and morality that he afterward became,” and the perhaps apocryphal anecdote, that Tindal, the atheist, confessed himself embarrassed by the originality of Young’s arguments. Both the report and the anecdote, however, are borne out by indirect evidence. As to the latter, Young has left us sufficient proof that he was fond of arguing on the theological side, and that he had his own way of treating old subjects. As to the former, we learn that Pope, after saying other things which we know to be true of Young, added, that he passed “a foolish youth, the sport of peers and poets;” and, from all the indications we possess of his career till he was nearly fifty, we are inclined to think that Pope’s statement only errs by defect, and that he should rather have said, “a foolish youth and middle age.” It is not likely that Young was a very hard student, for he impressed Johnson, who saw him in his old age, as “not a great scholar,” and as surprisingly ignorant of what Johnson thought “quite common maxims” in literature; and there is no evidence that he filled either his leisure or his purse by taking pupils. His career as an author did not commence till he was nearly thirty, even dating from the publication of a portion of the “Last Day,” in the Tatler; so that he could hardly have been absorbed in composition. But where the fully developed insect is parasitic, we believe the larva is usually parasitic also, and we shall probably not be far wrong in supposing that Young at Oxford, as elsewhere, spent a good deal of his time in hanging about possible and actual patrons, and accommodating himself to the habits with considerable flexibility of conscience and of tongue; being none the less ready, upon occasion, to present himself as the champion of theology and to rhapsodize at convenient moments in the company of the skies or of skulls. That brilliant profligate, the Duke of Wharton, to whom Young afterward clung as his chief patron, was at this time a mere boy; and, though it is probable that their intimacy had commenced, since the Duke’s father and mother were friends of the old dean, that intimacy ought not to aggravate any unfavorable inference as to Young’s Oxford life. It is less likely that he fell into any exceptional vice than that he differed from the men around him chiefly in his episodes of theological advocacy and rhapsodic solemnity. He probably sowed his wild oats after the coarse fashion of his times, for he has left us sufficient evidence that his moral sense was not delicate; but his companions, who were occupied in sowing their own oats, perhaps took it as a matter of course that he should be a rake, and were only struck with the exceptional circumstance that he was a pious and moralizing rake.
There is some irony in the fact that the two first poetical productions of Young, published in the same year, were his “Epistles to Lord Lansdowne,” celebrating the recent creation of peers — Lord Lansdowne’s creation in particular; and the “Last Day.” Other poets besides Young found the device for obtaining a Tory majority by turning twelve insignificant commoners into insignificant lords, an irresistible stimulus to verse; but no other poet showed so versatile an enthusiasm — so nearly equal an ardor for the honor of the new baron and the honor of the Deity. But the twofold nature of the sycophant and the psalmist is not more strikingly shown in the contrasted themes of the two poems than in the transitions from bombast about monarchs to bombast about the resurrection, in the “Last Day” itself. The dedication of the poem to Queen Anne, Young afterward suppressed, for he was always ashamed of having flattered a dead patron. In this dedication, Croft tells us, “he gives her Majesty praise indeed for her victories, but says that the author is more pleased to see her rise from this lower world, soaring above the clouds, passing the first and second heavens, and leaving the fixed stars behind her; nor will he lose her there, he says, but keep her still in view through the boundless spaces on the other side of creation, in her journey toward eternal bliss, till he behold the heaven of heavens open, and angels receiving and conveying her still onward from the stretch of his imagination, which tires in her pursuit, and falls back again to earth.”
The self-criticism which prompted the suppression of the dedication did not, however, lead him to improve either the rhyme or the reason of the unfortunate couplet —
“When other Bourbons reign in other lands,
And, if men’s sins forbid not, other Annes.”
In the “Epistle to Lord Lansdowne” Young indicates his taste for the drama; and there is evidence that his tragedy of “Busiris” was “in the theatre” as early as this very year, 1713, though it was not brought on the stage till nearly six years later; so that Young was now very decidedly bent on authorship, for which his degree of B.C.L., taken in this year, was doubtless a magical equipment. Another poem, “The Force of Religion; or, Vanquished Love,” founded on the execution of Lady Jane Grey and her husband, quickly followed, showing fertility in feeble and tasteless verse; and on the Queen’s death, in 1714, Young lost no time in making a poetical lament for a departed patron a vehicle for extravagant laudation of the new monarch. No further literary production of his appeared until 1716, when a Latin oration, which he delivered on the foundation of the Codrington Library at All Souls, gave him a new opportunity for displaying his alacrity in inflated panegyric.
In 1717 it is probable that Young accompanied the Duke of Wharton to Ireland, though so slender are the materials for his biography that the chief basis for this supposition is a passage in his “Conjectures on Original Composition,” written when he was nearly eighty, in which he intimates that he had once been in that country. But there are many facts surviving to indicate that for the next eight or nine years Young was a sort of attaché of Wharton’s. In 1719, according to legal records, the Duke granted him an annuity, in consideration of his having relinquished the office of tutor to Lord Burleigh, with a life annuity of £100 a year, on his Grace’s assurances that he would provide for him in a much more ample manner. And again, from the same evidence, it appears that in 1721 Young received from Wharton a bond for £600, in compensation of expenses incurred in standing for Parliament at the Duke’s desire, and as an earnest of greater services which his Grace had promised him on his refraining from the spiritual and temporal advantages of taking orders, with a certainty of two livings in the gift of his college. It is clear, therefore, that lay advancement, as long as there was any chance of it, had more attractions for Young than clerical preferment; and that at this time he accepted the Duke of Wharton as the pilot of his career.
A more creditable relation of Young’s was his friendship with Tickell, with whom he was in the habit of interchanging criticisms, and to whom in 1719 — the same year, let us note, in which he took his doctor’s degree — he addressed his “Lines on the Death of Addison.” Close upon these followed his “Paraphrase of part of the Book of Job,” with a dedication to Parker, recently made Lord Chancellor, showing that the possession of Wharton’s patronage did not prevent Young from fishing in other waters. He know nothing of Parker, but that did not prevent him from magnifying the new Chancellor’s merits; on the other hand, he did know Wharton, but this again did not prevent him from prefixing to his tragedy, “The Revenge,” which appeared in 1721, a dedication attributing to the Duke all virtues, as well as all accomplishments. In the concluding sentence of this dedication, Young naïvely indicates that a considerable ingredient in his gratitude was a lively sense of anticipated favors. “My present fortune is his bounty, and my future his care; which I will venture to say will always be remembered to his honor; since he, I know, intended his generosity as an encouragement to merit, through his very pardonable partiality to one who bears him so sincere a duty and respect, I happen to receive the benefit of it.” Young was economical with his ideas and images; he was rarely satisfied with using a clever thing once, and this bit of ingenious humility was afterward made to do duty in the “Instalment,” a poem addressed to Walpole:
“Be this thy partial smile, from censure free,
’Twas meant for merit, though it fell on me.”
It was probably “The Revenge” that Young was writing when, as we learn from Spence’s anecdotes, the Duke of Wharton gave him a skull with a candle fixed in it, as the most appropriate lamp by which to write tragedy. According to Young’s dedication, the Duke was “accessory” to the scenes of this tragedy in a more important way, “not only by suggesting the most beautiful incident in them, but by making all possible provision for the success of the whole.” A statement which is credible, not indeed on the ground of Young’s dedicatory assertion, but from the known ability of the Duke, who, as Pope tells us, possessed
“each gift of Nature and of Art,
And wanted nothing but an honest heart.”
The year 1722 seems to have been the period of a visit to Mr. Dodington, of Eastbury, in Dorsetshire — the “pure Dorsetian downs” celebrated by Thomson — in which Young made the acquaintance of Voltaire; for in the subsequent dedication of his “Sea Piece” to “Mr. Voltaire,” he recalls their meeting on “Dorset Downs;” and it was in this year that Christopher Pitt, a gentleman-poet of those days, addressed an “Epistle to Dr. Edward Young, at Eastbury, in Dorsetshire,” which has at least the merit of this biographical couplet:
“While with your Dodington retired you sit,
Charm’d with his flowing Burgundy and wit.”
Dodington, apparently, was charmed in his turn, for he told Dr. Wharton that Young was “far superior to the French poet in the variety and novelty of his bon-mots and repartees.” Unfortunately, the only specimen of Young’s wit on this occasion that has been preserved to us is the epigram represented as an extempore retort (spoken aside, surely) to Voltaire’s criticism of Milton’s episode of sin and death:
“Thou art so witty, profligate, and thin,
At once, we think thee Milton, Death, and Sin;”—
an epigram which, in the absence of “flowing Burgundy,” does not strike us as remarkably brilliant. Let us give Young the benefit of the doubt thrown on the genuineness of this epigram by his own poetical dedication, in which he represents himself as having “soothed” Voltaire’s “rage” against Milton “with gentle rhymes;” though in other respects that dedication is anything but favorable to a high estimate of Young’s wit. Other evidence apart, we should not be eager for the after-dinner conversation of the man who wrote:
“Thine is the Drama, how renown’d!
Thine Epic’s loftier trump to sound; —
But let Arion’s sea-strung harp be mine;
But where’s his dolphin? Know’st thou where?
May that be found in thee, Voltaire!”
The “Satires” appeared in 1725 and 1726, each, of course, with its laudatory dedication and its compliments insinuated among the rhymes. The seventh and last is dedicated to Sir Robert Walpole, is very short, and contains nothing in particular except lunatic flattery of George the First and his prime minister, attributing that royal hog’s late escape from a storm at sea to the miraculous influence of his grand and virtuous soul — for George, he says, rivals the angels:
“George, who in foes can soft affections raise,
And charm envenom’d satire into praise.
Nor human rage alone his pow’r perceives,
But the mad winds and the tumultuous waves,
Ev’n storms (Death’s fiercest ministers!) forbear,
And in their own wild empire learn to spare.
Thus, Nature’s self, supporting Man’s decree,
Styles Britain’s sovereign, sovereign of the sea.”
As for Walpole, what he felt at this tremendous crisis
“No powers of language, but his own, can tell,
His own, which Nature and the Graces form,
At will, to raise, or hush, the civil storm.”
It is a coincidence worth noticing, that this seventh Satire was published in 1726, and that the warrant of George the First, granting Young a pension of £200 a year from Lady-day, 1725, is dated May 3d, 1726. The gratitude exhibited in this Satire may have been chiefly prospective, but the “Instalment,” a poem inspired by the thrilling event of Walpole’s installation as Knight of the Garter, was clearly written with the double ardor of a man who has got a pension and hopes for something more. His emotion about Walpole is precisely at the same pitch as his subsequent emotion about the Second Advent. In the “Instalment” he says:
“With invocations some their hearts inflame;
I need no muse, a Walpole is my theme.”
And of God coming to judgment, he says, in the “Night Thoughts:”
“I find my inspiration is my theme;
The grandeur of my subject is my muse.”
Nothing can be feebler than this “Instalment,” except in the strength of impudence with which the writer professes to scorn the prostitution of fair fame, the “profanation of celestial fire.”
Herbert Croft tells us that Young made more than three thousand pounds by his “Satires”— a surprising statement, taken in connection with the reasonable doubt he throws on the story related in Spence’s “Anecdotes,” that the Duke of Wharton gave Young £2000 for this work. Young, however, seems to have been tolerably fortunate in the pecuniary results of his publications; and, with his literary profits, his annuity from Wharton, his fellowship, and his pension, not to mention other bounties which may be inferred from the high merits he discovers in many men of wealth and position, we may fairly suppose that he now laid the foundation of the considerable fortune he left at his death.
It is probable that the Duke of Wharton’s final departure for the Continent and disgrace at Court in 1726, and the consequent cessation of Young’s reliance on his patronage, tended not only to heighten the temperature of his poetical enthusiasm for Sir Robert Walpole, but also to turn his thoughts toward the Church again, as the second-best means of rising in the world. On the accession of George the Second, Young found the same transcendent merits in him as in his predecessor, and celebrated them in a style of poetry previously unattempted by him — the Pindaric ode, a poetic form which helped him to surpass himself in furious bombast. “Ocean, an Ode: concluding with a Wish,” was the title of this piece. He afterward pruned it, and cut off, among other things, the concluding Wish, expressing the yearning for humble retirement, which, of course, had prompted him to the effusion; but we may judge of the rejected stanzas by the quality of those he has allowed to remain. For example, calling on Britain’s dead mariners to rise and meet their “country’s full-blown glory” in the person of the new King, he says:
“What powerful charm
Can Death disarm?
Your long, your iron slumbers break?
By Jove, by Fame,
By George’s name,
Awake! awake! awake! awake!”
Soon after this notable production, which was written with the ripe folly of forty-seven, Young took orders, and was presently appointed chaplain to the King. “The Brothers,” his third and last tragedy, which was already in rehearsal, he now withdrew from the stage, and sought reputation in a way more accordant with the decorum of his new profession, by turning prose writer. But after publishing “A True Estimate of Human Life,” with a dedication to the Queen, as one of the “most shining representatives” of God on earth, and a sermon, entitled “An Apology for Princes; or, the Reverence due to Government,” preached before the House of Commons, his Pindaric ambition again seized him, and he matched his former ode by another, called “Imperium Pelagi, a Naval Lyric; written in imitation of Pindar’s spirit, occasioned by his Majesty’s return from Hanover, 1729, and the succeeding Peace.” Since he afterward suppressed this second ode, we must suppose that it was rather worse than the first. Next came his two “Epistles to Pope, concerning the Authors of the Age,” remarkable for nothing but the audacity of affectation with which the most servile of poets professes to despise servility.
In 1730 Young was presented by his college with the rectory of Welwyn, in Hertfordshire, and, in the following year, when he was just fifty, he married Lady Elizabeth Lee, a widow with two children, who seems to have been in favor with Queen Caroline, and who probably had an income — two attractions which doubtless enhanced the power of her other charms. Pastoral duties and domesticity probably cured Young of some bad habits; but, unhappily, they did not cure him either of flattery or of fustian. Three more odes followed, quite as bad as those of his bachelorhood, except that in the third he announced the wise resolution of never writing another. It must have been about this time, since Young was now “turned of fifty,” that he wrote the letter to Mrs. Howard (afterward Lady Suffolk), George the Second’s mistress, which proves that he used other engines, besides Pindaric ones, in “besieging Court favor.” The letter is too characteristic to be omitted:
“MADAM: I know his Majesty’s goodness to his servants, and his love of justice in general, so well, that I am confident, if his Majesty knew my case, I should not have any cause to despair of his gracious favor to me.
|} for his Majesty.|
These, madam, are the proper points of consideration in the person that humbly hopes his Majesty’s favor.
“As to Abilities, all I can presume to say is, I have done the best I could to improve them.
“As to Good manners, I desire no favor, if any just objection lies against them.
“As for Service, I have been near seven years in his Majesty’s and never omitted any duty in it, which few can say.
“As for Age, I am turned of fifty.
“As for Want, I have no manner of preferment.
“As for Sufferings, I have lost £300 per ann. by being in his Majesty’s service; as I have shown in a Representation which his Majesty has been so good as to read and consider.
“As for Zeal, I have written nothing without showing my duty to their Majesties, and some pieces are dedicated to them.
“This, madam, is the short and true state of my case. They that make their court to the ministers, and not their Majesties, succeed better. If my case deserves some consideration, and you can serve me in it, I humbly hope and believe you will: I shall, therefore, trouble you no farther; but beg leave to subscribe myself, with truest respect and gratitude,
“P.S. I have some hope that my Lord Townshend is my friend; if therefore soon, and before he leaves the court, you had an opportunity of mentioning me, with that favor you have been so good to show, I think it would not fail of success; and, if not, I shall owe you more than any.” — “Suffolk Letters,” vol. i. p. 285.
Young’s wife died in 1741, leaving him one son, born in 1733. That he had attached himself strongly to her two daughters by her former marriage, there is better evidence in the report, mentioned by Mrs. Montagu, of his practical kindness and liberality to the younger, than in his lamentations over the elder as the “Narcissa” of the “Night Thoughts.” “Narcissa” had died in 1735, shortly after marriage to Mr. Temple, the son of Lord Palmerston; and Mr. Temple himself, after a second marriage, died in 1740, a year before Lady Elizabeth Young. These, then, are the three deaths supposed to have inspired “The Complaint,” which forms the three first books of the “Night Thoughts:”
“Insatiate archer, could not one suffice?
Thy shaft flew thrice: and thrice my peace was slain:
And thrice, ere thrice yon moon had fill’d her horn.”
Since we find Young departing from the truth of dates, in order to heighten the effect of his calamity, or at least of his climax, we need not be surprised that he allowed his imagination great freedom in other matters besides chronology, and that the character of “Philander” can, by no process, be made to fit Mr. Temple. The supposition that the much-lectured “Lorenzo” of the “Night Thoughts” was Young’s own son is hardly rendered more absurd by the fact that the poem was written when that son was a boy, than by the obvious artificiality of the characters Young introduces as targets for his arguments and rebukes. Among all the trivial efforts of conjectured criticism, there can hardly be one more futile than the attempts to discover the original of those pitiable lay-figures, the “Lorenzos” and “Altamonts” of Young’s didactic prose and poetry. His muse never stood face to face with a genuine living human being; she would have been as much startled by such an encounter as a necromancer whose incantations and blue fire had actually conjured up a demon.
The “Night Thoughts” appeared between 1741 and 1745. Although he declares in them that he has chosen God for his “patron” henceforth, this is not at all to the prejudice of some half dozen lords, duchesses, and right honorables who have the privilege of sharing finely-turned compliments with their copatron. The line which closed the Second Night in the earlier editions —
“Wits spare not Heaven, O Wilmington! — nor thee”—
is an intense specimen of that perilous juxtaposition of ideas by which Young, in his incessant search after point and novelty, unconsciously converts his compliments into sarcasms; and his apostrophe to the moon as more likely to be favorable to his song if he calls her “fair Portland of the skies,” is worthy even of his Pindaric ravings. His ostentatious renunciation of worldly schemes, and especially of his twenty-years’ siege of Court favor, are in the tone of one who retains some hope in the midst of his querulousness.
He descended from the astronomical rhapsodies of his “Ninth Night,” published in 1745, to more terrestrial strains in his “Reflections on the Public Situation of the Kingdom,” dedicated to the Duke of Newcastle; but in this critical year we get a glimpse of him through a more prosaic and less refracting medium. He spent a part of the year at Tunbridge Wells; and Mrs. Montagu, who was there too, gives a very lively picture of the “divine Doctor” in her letters to the Duchess of Portland, on whom Young had bestowed the superlative bombast to which we have recently alluded. We shall borrow the quotations from Dr. Doran, in spite of their length, because, to our mind, they present the most agreeable portrait we possess of Young:
“I have great joy in Dr. Young, whom I disturbed in a reverie. At first he started, then bowed, then fell back into a surprise; then began a speech, relapsed into his astonishment two or three times, forgot what he had been saying; began a new subject, and so went on. I told him your grace desired he would write longer letters; to which he cried ‘Ha!’ most emphatically, and I leave you to interpret what it meant. He has made a friendship with one person here, whom I believe you would not imagine to have been made for his bosom friend. You would, perhaps, suppose it was a bishop or dean, a prebend, a pious preacher, a clergyman of exemplary life, or, if a layman, of most virtuous conversation, one that had paraphrased St. Matthew, or wrote comments on St. Paul. . . . You would not guess that this associate of the doctor’s was — old Cibber! Certainly, in their religious, moral, and civil character, there is no relation; but in their dramatic capacity there is some. — Mrs. Montagu was not aware that Cibber, whom Young had named not disparagingly in his Satires, was the brother of his old school-fellow; but to return to our hero. ‘The waters,’ says Mrs. Montagu, ‘have raised his spirits to a fine pitch, as your grace will imagine, when I tell you how sublime an answer he made to a very vulgar question. I asked him how long he stayed at the Wells; he said, ‘As long as my rival stayed; — as long as the sun did.’ Among the visitors at the Wells were Lady Sunderland (wife of Sir Robert Sutton), and her sister, Mrs. Tichborne. ‘He did an admirable thing to Lady Sunderland: on her mentioning Sir Robert Sutton, he asked her where Sir Robert’s lady was; on which we all laughed very heartily, and I brought him off, half ashamed, to my lodgings, where, during breakfast, he assured me he had asked after Lady Sunderland, because he had a great honor for her; and that, having a respect for her sister, he designed to have inquired after her, if we had not put it out of his head by laughing at him. You must know, Mrs. Tichborne sat next to Lady Sunderland. It would have been admirable to have had him finish his compliment in that manner.’ . . . ‘His expressions all bear the stamp of novelty, and his thoughts of sterling sense. He practises a kind of philosophical abstinence. . . . He carried Mrs. Rolt and myself to Tunbridge, five miles from hence, where we were to see some fine old ruins. First rode the doctor on a tall steed, decently caparisoned in dark gray; next, ambled Mrs. Rolt on a hackney horse; . . . then followed your humble servant on a milk-white palfrey. I rode on in safety, and at leisure to observe the company, especially the two figures that brought up the rear. The first was my servant, valiantly armed with two uncharged pistols; the last was the doctor’s man, whose uncombed hair so resembled the mane of the horse he rode, one could not help imagining they were of kin, and wishing, for the honor of the family, that they had had one comb betwixt them. On his head was a velvet cap, much resembling a black saucepan, and on his side hung a little basket. At last we arrived at the King’s Head, where the loyalty of the doctor induced him to alight; and then, knight-errant-like, he took his damsels from off their palfreys, and courteously handed us into the inn.’ . . . The party returned to the Wells; and ‘the silver Cynthia held up her lamp in the heavens’ the while. ‘The night silenced all but our divine doctor, who sometimes uttered things fit to be spoken in a season when all nature seems to be hushed and hearkening. I followed, gathering wisdom as I went, till I found, by my horse’s stumbling, that I was in a bad road, and that the blind was leading the blind. So I placed my servant between the doctor and myself; which he not perceiving, went on in a most philosophical strain, to the great admiration of my poor clown of a servant, who, not being wrought up to any pitch of enthusiasm, nor making any answer to all the fine things he heard, the doctor, wondering I was dumb, and grieving I was so stupid, looked round and declared his surprise.’”
Young’s oddity and absence of mind are gathered from other sources besides these stories of Mrs. Montagu’s, and gave rise to the report that he was the original of Fielding’s “Parson Adams;” but this Croft denies, and mentions another Young, who really sat for the portrait, and who, we imagine, had both more Greek and more genuine simplicity than the poet. His love of chatting with Colley Cibber was an indication that the old predilection for the stage survived, in spite of his emphatic contempt for “all joys but joys that never can expire;” and the production of “The Brothers,” at Drury Lane in 1753, after a suppression of fifteen years, was perhaps not entirely due to the expressed desire to give the proceeds to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The author’s profits were not more than £400 — in those days a disappointing sum; and Young, as we learn from his friend Richardson, did not make this the limit of his donation, but gave a thousand guineas to the Society. “I had some talk with him,” says Richardson, in one of his letters, “about this great action. ‘I always,’ said he, ‘intended to do something handsome for the Society. Had I deferred it to my demise, I should have given away my son’s money. All the world are inclined to pleasure; could I have given myself a greater by disposing of the sum to a different use, I should have done it.’” Surely he took his old friend Richardson for “Lorenzo!”
His next work was “The Centaur not Fabulous; in Six Letters to a Friend, on the Life in Vogue,” which reads very much like the most objurgatory parts of the “Night Thoughts” reduced to prose. It is preceded by a preface which, though addressed to a lady, is in its denunciations of vice as grossly indecent and almost as flippant as the epilogues written by “friends,” which he allowed to be reprinted after his tragedies in the latest edition of his works. We like much better than “The Centaur,” “Conjectures on Original Composition,” written in 1759, for the sake, he says, of communicating to the world the well-known anecdote about Addison’s deathbed, and with the exception of his poem on Resignation, the last thing he ever published.
The estrangement from his son, which must have embittered the later years of his life, appears to have begun not many years after the mother’s death. On the marriage of her second daughter, who had previously presided over Young’s household, a Mrs. Hallows, understood to be a woman of discreet age, and the daughter (a widow) of a clergyman who was an old friend of Young’s, became housekeeper at Welwyn. Opinions about ladies are apt to differ. “Mrs. Hallows was a woman of piety, improved by reading,” says one witness. “She was a very coarse woman,” says Dr. Johnson; and we shall presently find some indirect evidence that her temper was perhaps not quite so much improved as her piety. Servants, it seems, were not fond of remaining long in the house with her; a satirical curate, named Kidgell, hints at “drops of juniper” taken as a cordial (but perhaps he was spiteful, and a teetotaller); and Young’s son is said to have told his father that “an old man should not resign himself to the management of anybody.” The result was, that the son was banished from home for the rest of his father’s life-time, though Young seems never to have thought of disinheriting him.
Our latest glimpses of the aged poet are derived from certain letters of Mr. Jones, his curate — letters preserved in the British Museum, and happily made accessible to common mortals in Nichols’s “Anecdotes.” Mr. Jones was a man of some literary activity and ambition — a collector of interesting documents, and one of those concerned in the “Free and Candid Disquisitions,” the design of which was “to point out such things in our ecclesiastical establishment as want to be reviewed and amended.” On these and kindred subjects he corresponded with Dr. Birch, occasionally troubling him with queries and manuscripts. We have a respect for Mr. Jones. Unlike any person who ever troubled us with queries or manuscripts, he mitigates the infliction by such gifts as “a fat pullet,” wishing he “had anything better to send; but this depauperizing vicarage (of Alconbury) too often checks the freedom and forwardness of my mind.” Another day comes a “pound canister of tea,” another, a “young fatted goose.” Clearly, Mr. Jones was entirely unlike your literary correspondents of the present day; he forwarded manuscripts, but he had “bowels,” and forwarded poultry too. His first letter from Welwyn is dated June, 1759, not quite six years before Young’s death. In June, 1762, he expresses a wish to go to London “this summer. But,” he continues:
“My time and pains are almost continually taken up here, and . . . I have been (I now find) a considerable loser, upon the whole, by continuing here so long. The consideration of this, and the inconveniences I sustained, and do still experience, from my late illness, obliged me at last to acquaint the Doctor (Young) with my case, and to assure him that I plainly perceived the duty and confinement here to be too much for me; for which reason I must (I said) beg to be at liberty to resign my charge at Michaelmas. I began to give him these notices in February, when I was very ill; and now I perceive, by what he told me the other day, that he is in some difficulty: for which reason he is at last (he says) resolved to advertise, and even (which is much wondered at) to raise the salary considerably higher. (What he allowed my predecessors was 20l. per annum; and now he proposes 50l., as he tells me.) I never asked him to raise it for me, though I well knew it was not equal to the duty; nor did I say a word about myself when he lately suggested to me his intentions upon this subject.”
In a postscript to this letter he says:
“I may mention to you farther, as a friend that may be trusted, that in all likelihood the poor old gentleman will not find it a very easy matter, unless by dint of money, and force upon himself, to procure a man that he can like for his next curate, nor one that will stay with him so long as I have done. Then, his great age will recur to people’s thoughts; and if he has any foibles, either in temper or conduct, they will be sure not to be forgotten on this occasion by those who know him; and those who do not will probably be on their guard. On these and the like considerations, it is by no means an eligible office to be seeking out for a curate for him, as he has several times wished me to do; and would, if he knew that I am now writing to you, wish your assistance also. But my best friends here, who well foresee the probable consequences, and wish me well, earnestly dissuade me from complying: and I will decline the office with as much decency as I can: but high salary will, I suppose, fetch in somebody or other, soon.”
In the following July he writes:
“The old gentleman here (I may venture to tell you freely) seems to me to be in a pretty odd way of late — moping, dejected, self-willed, and as if surrounded with some perplexing circumstances. Though I visit him pretty frequently for short intervals, I say very little to his affairs, not choosing to be a party concerned, especially in cases of so critical and tender a nature. There is much mystery in almost all his temporal affairs, as well as in many of his speculative theories. Whoever lives in this neighborhood to see his exit will probably see and hear some very strange things. Time will show; — I am afraid, not greatly to his credit. There is thought to be an irremovable obstruction to his happiness within his walls, as well as another without them; but the former is the more powerful, and like to continue so. He has this day been trying anew to engage me to stay with him. No lucrative views can tempt me to sacrifice my liberty or my health, to such measures as are proposed here. Nor do I like to have to do with persons whose word and honor cannot be depended on. So much for this very odd and unhappy topic.”
In August Mr. Jones’s tone is slightly modified. Earnest entreaties, not lucrative considerations, have induced him to cheer the Doctor’s dejected heart by remaining at Welwyn some time longer. The Doctor is, “in various respects, a very unhappy man,” and few know so much of these respects as Mr. Jones. In September he recurs to the subject:
“My ancient gentleman here is still full of trouble, which moves my concern, though it moves only the secret laughter of many, and some untoward surmises in disfavor of him and his household. The loss of a very large sum of money (about 200l.) is talked of; whereof this vill and neighborhood is full. Some disbelieve; others says, ‘It is no wonder, where about eighteen or more servants are sometimes taken and dismissed in the course of a year.’ The gentleman himself is allowed by all to be far more harmless and easy in his family than some one else who hath too much the lead in it. This, among others, was one reason for my late motion to quit.”
No other mention of Young’s affairs occurs until April 2d, 1765, when he says that Dr. Young is very ill, attended by two physicians.
“Having mentioned this young gentleman (Dr. Young’s son), I would acquaint you next, that he came hither this morning, having been sent for, as I am told, by the direction of Mrs. Hallows. Indeed, she intimated to me as much herself. And if this be so, I must say, that it is one of the most prudent Acts she ever did, or could have done in such a case as this; as it may prove a means of preventing much confusion after the death of the Doctor. I have had some little discourse with the son: he seems much affected, and I believe really is so. He earnestly wishes his father might be pleased to ask after him; for you must know he has not yet done this, nor is, in my opinion, like to do it. And it has been said farther, that upon a late application made to him on the behalf of his son, he desired that no more might be said to him about it. How true this may be I cannot as yet be certain; all I shall say is, it seems not improbable . . . I heartily wish the ancient man’s heart may prove tender toward his son; though, knowing him so well, I can scarce hope to hear such desirable news.”
Eleven days later he writes:
“I have now the pleasure to acquaint you, that the late Dr. Young, though he had for many years kept his son at a distance from him, yet has now at last left him all his possessions, after the payment of certain legacies; so that the young gentleman (who bears a fair character, and behaves well, as far as I can hear or see) will, I hope, soon enjoy and make a prudent use of a handsome fortune. The father, on his deathbed, and since my return from London, was applied to in the tenderest manner, by one of his physicians, and by another person, to admit the son into his presence, to make submission, intreat forgiveness, and obtain his blessing. As to an interview with his son, he intimated that he chose to decline it, as his spirits were then low and his nerves weak. With regard to the next particular, he said, ‘I heartily forgive him;’ and upon ‘mention of this last, he gently lifted up his hand, and letting it gently fall, pronounced these words, ‘God bless him!’ . . . I know it will give you pleasure to be farther informed that he was pleased to make respectful mention of me in his will; expressing his satisfaction in my care of his parish, bequeathing to me a handsome legacy, and appointing me to be one of his executors.”
So far Mr. Jones, in his confidential correspondence with a “friend, who may be trusted.” In a letter communicated apparently by him to the Gentleman’s Magazine, seven years later, namely, in 1782, on the appearance of Croft’s biography of Young, we find him speaking of “the ancient gentleman” in a tone of reverential eulogy, quite at variance with the free comments we have just quoted. But the Rev. John Jones was probably of opinion, with Mrs. Montagu, whose contemporary and retrospective letters are also set in a different key, that “the interests of religion were connected with the character of a man so distinguished for piety as Dr. Young.” At all events, a subsequent quasi-official statement weighs nothing as evidence against contemporary, spontaneous, and confidential hints.
To Mrs. Hallows, Young left a legacy of £1000, with the request that she would destroy all his manuscripts. This final request, from some unknown cause, was not complied with, and among the papers he left behind him was the following letter from Archbishop Secker, which probably marks the date of his latest effort after preferment:
“DEANERY OF ST. PAUL’S, July 8, 1758.
“Good DR. YOUNG: I have long wondered that more suitable notice of your great merit hath not been taken by persons in power. But how to remedy the omission I see not. No encouragement hath ever been given me to mention things of this nature to his Majesty. And therefore, in all likelihood, the only consequence of doing it would be weakening the little influence which else I may possibly have on some other occasions. Your fortune and your reputation set you above the need of advancement; and your sentiments above that concern for it, on your own account, which, on that of the public, is sincerely felt by
“Your loving Brother,
The loving brother’s irony is severe!
Perhaps the least questionable testimony to the better side of Young’s character is that of Bishop Hildesley, who, as the vicar of a parish near Welwyn, had been Young’s neighbor for upward of twenty years. The affection of the clergy for each other, we have observed, is, like that of the fair sex, not at all of a blind and infatuated kind; and we may therefore the rather believe them when they give each other any extra-official praise. Bishop Hildesley, then writing of Young to Richardson, says:
“The impertinence of my frequent visits to him was amply rewarded; forasmuch as, I can truly say, he never received me but with agreeable open complacency; and I never left him but with profitable pleasure and improvement. He was one or other, the most modest, the most patient of contradiction, and the most informing and entertaining I ever conversed with — at least, of any man who had so just pretensions to pertinacity and reserve.”
Mr. Langton, however, who was also a frequent visitor of Young’s, informed Boswell —
“That there was an air of benevolence in his manner; but that he could obtain from him less information than he had hoped to receive from one who had lived so much in intercourse with the brightest men of what had been called the Augustan age of England; and that he showed a degree of eager curiosity concerning the common occurrences that were then passing, which appeared somewhat remarkable in a man of such intellectual stores, of such an advanced age, and who had retired from life with declared disappointment in his expectations.”
The same substance, we know, will exhibit different qualities under different tests; and, after all, imperfect reports of individual impressions, whether immediate or traditional, are a very frail basis on which to build our opinion of a man. One’s character may be very indifferently mirrored in the mind of the most intimate neighbor; it all depends on the quality of that gentleman’s reflecting surface.
But, discarding any inferences from such uncertain evidence, the outline of Young’s character is too distinctly traceable in the well-attested facts of his life, and yet more in the self-betrayal that runs through all his works, for us to fear that our general estimate of him may be false. For, while no poet seems less easy and spontaneous than Young, no poet discloses himself more completely. Men’s minds have no hiding-place out of themselves — their affectations do but betray another phase of their nature. And if, in the present view of Young, we seem to be more intent on laying bare unfavorable facts than on shrouding them in “charitable speeches,” it is not because we have any irreverential pleasure in turning men’s characters “the seamy side without,” but because we see no great advantage in considering a man as he was not. Young’s biographers and critics have usually set out from the position that he was a great religious teacher, and that his poetry is morally sublime; and they have toned down his failings into harmony with their conception of the divine and the poet. For our own part, we set out from precisely the opposite conviction — namely, that the religious and moral spirit of Young’s poetry is low and false, and we think it of some importance to show that the “Night Thoughts” are the reflex of the mind in which the higher human sympathies were inactive. This judgment is entirely opposed to our youthful predilections and enthusiasm. The sweet garden-breath of early enjoyment lingers about many a page of the “Night Thoughts,” and even of the “Last Day,” giving an extrinsic charm to passages of stilted rhetoric and false sentiment; but the sober and repeated reading of maturer years has convinced us that it would hardly be possible to find a more typical instance than Young’s poetry, of the mistake which substitutes interested obedience for sympathetic emotion, and baptizes egoism as religion.
* * * * *
Pope said of Young, that he had “much of a sublime genius without common-sense.” The deficiency Pope meant to indicate was, we imagine, moral rather than intellectual: it was the want of that fine sense of what is fitting in speech and action, which is often eminently possessed by men and women whose intellect is of a very common order, but who have the sincerity and dignity which can never coexist with the selfish preoccupations of vanity or interest. This was the “common-sense” in which Young was conspicuously deficient; and it was partly owing to this deficiency that his genius, waiting to be determined by the highest prize, fluttered uncertainly from effort to effort, until, when he was more than sixty, it suddenly spread its broad wing, and soared so as to arrest the gaze of other generations besides his own. For he had no versatility of faculty to mislead him. The “Night Thoughts” only differ from his previous works in the degree and not in the kind of power they manifest. Whether he writes prose or poetry, rhyme or blank verse, dramas, satires, odes, or meditations, we see everywhere the same Young — the same narrow circle of thoughts, the same love of abstractions, the same telescopic view of human things, the same appetency toward antithetic apothegm and rhapsodic climax. The passages that arrest us in his tragedies are those in which he anticipates some fine passage in the “Night Thoughts,” and where his characters are only transparent shadows through which we see the bewigged embonpoint of the didactic poet, excogitating epigrams or ecstatic soliloquies by the light of a candle fixed in a skull. Thus, in “The Revenge,” “Alonzo,” in the conflict of jealousy and love that at once urges and forbids him to murder his wife, says:
“This vast and solid earth, that blazing sun,
Those skies, through which it rolls, must all have end.
What then is man? The smallest part of nothing.
Day buries day; month, month; and year the year!
Our life is but a chain of many deaths.
Can then Death’s self be feared? Our life much rather:
Life is the desert, life the solitude;
Death joins us to the great majority;
’Tis to be born to Plato and to Cæsar;
’Tis to be great forever;
’Tis pleasure, ’tis ambition, then, to die.”
His prose writings all read like the “Night Thoughts,” either diluted into prose or not yet crystallized into poetry. For example, in his “Thoughts for Age,” he says:
“Though we stand on its awful brink, such our leaden bias to the world, we turn our faces the wrong way; we are still looking on our old acquaintance, Time; though now so wasted and reduced, that we can see little more of him than his wings and his scythe: our age enlarges his wings to our imagination; and our fear of death, his scythe; as Time himself grows less. His consumption is deep; his annihilation is at hand.”
This is a dilution of the magnificent image —
“Time in advance behind him hides his wings,
And seems to creep decrepit with his age.
Behold him when past by! What then is seen
But his proud pinions, swifter than the winds?”
“A requesting Omnipotence? What can stun and confound thy reason more? What more can ravish and exalt thy heart? It cannot but ravish and exalt; it cannot but gloriously disturb and perplex thee, to take in all that suggests. Thou child of the dust! Thou speck of misery and sin! How abject thy weakness! how great is thy power! Thou crawler on earth, and possible (I was about to say) controller of the skies! Weigh, and weigh well, the wondrous truths I have in view: which cannot be weighed too much; which the more they are weighed, amaze the more; which to have supposed, before they were revealed, would have been as great madness, and to have presumed on as great sin, as it is now madness and sin not to believe.”
Even in his Pindaric odes, in which he made the most violent efforts against nature, he is still neither more nor less than the Young of the “Last Day,” emptied and swept of his genius, and possessed by seven demons of fustian and bad rhyme. Even here his “Ercles’ Vein” alternates with his moral platitudes, and we have the perpetual text of the “Night Thoughts:”
“Gold pleasure buys;
But pleasure dies,
For soon the gross fruition cloys;
Though raptures court,
The sense is short;
But virtue kindles living joys; —
“Joys felt alone!
Joys asked of none!
Which Time’s and fortune’s arrows miss:
Joys that subsist,
Though fates resist,
An unprecarious, endless bliss!
And falsely gay!
Who bask forever in success;
A constant feast
Quite palls the taste,
And long enjoyment is distress.”
In the “Last Day,” again, which is the earliest thing he wrote, we have an anticipation of all his greatest faults and merits. Conspicuous among the faults is that attempt to exalt our conceptions of Deity by vulgar images and comparisons, which is so offensive in the later “Night Thoughts.” In a burst of prayer and homage to God, called forth by the contemplation of Christ coming to judgment, he asks, Who brings the change of the seasons? and answers:
“Not the great Ottoman, or Greater Czar;
Not Europe’s arbitress of peace and war!”
Conceive the soul in its most solemn moments, assuring God that it doesn’t place his power below that of Louis Napoleon or Queen Victoria!
But in the midst of uneasy rhymes, inappropriate imagery, vaulting sublimity that o’erleaps itself, and vulgar emotions, we have in this poem an occasional flash of genius, a touch of simple grandeur, which promises as much as Young ever achieved. Describing the on-coming of the dissolution of all things, he says:
“No sun in radiant glory shines on high;
No light but from the terrors of the sky.”
And again, speaking of great armies:
“Whose rear lay wrapt in night, while breaking dawn
Rous’d the broad front, and call’d the battle on.”
And this wail of the lost souls is fine:
“And this for sin?
Could I offend if I had never been?
But still increas’d the senseless, happy mass,
Flow’d in the stream, or shiver’d in the grass?
Father of mercies! Why from silent earth
Didst thou awake and curse me into birth?
Tear me from quiet, ravish me from night,
And make a thankless present of thy light?
Push into being a reverse of Thee,
And animate a clod with misery?”
But it is seldom in Young’s rhymed poems that the effect of a felicitous thought or image is not counteracted by our sense of the constraint he suffered from the necessities of rhyme — that “Gothic demon,” as he afterward called it, “which, modern poetry tasting, became mortal.” In relation to his own power, no one will question the truth of this dictum, that “blank verse is verse unfallen, uncurst; verse reclaimed, reinthroned in the true language of the gods; who never thundered nor suffered their Homer to thunder in rhyme.” His want of mastery in rhyme is especially a drawback on the effects of his Satires; for epigrams and witticisms are peculiarly susceptible to the intrusion of a superfluous word, or to an inversion which implies constraint. Here, even more than elsewhere, the art that conceals art is an absolute requisite, and to have a witticism presented to us in limping or cumbrous rhythm is as counteractive to any electrifying effect as to see the tentative grimaces by which a comedian prepares a grotesque countenance. We discern the process, instead of being startled by the result.
This is one reason why the Satires, read seriatim, have a flatness to us, which, when we afterward read picked passages, we are inclined to disbelieve in, and to attribute to some deficiency in our own mood. But there are deeper reasons for that dissatisfaction. Young is not a satirist of a high order. His satire has neither the terrible vigor, the lacerating energy of genuine indignation, nor the humor which owns loving fellowship with the poor human nature it laughs at; nor yet the personal bitterness which, as in Pope’s characters of Sporus and Atticus, insures those living touches by virtue of which the individual and particular in Art becomes the universal and immortal. Young could never describe a real, complex human being; but what he could do with eminent success was to describe, with neat and finished point, obvious types, of manners rather than of character — to write cold and clever epigrams on personified vices and absurdities. There is no more emotion in his satire than if he were turning witty verses on a waxen image of Cupid or a lady’s glove. He has none of these felicitious epithets, none of those pregnant lines, by which Pope’s Satires have enriched the ordinary speech of educated men. Young’s wit will be found in almost every instance to consist in that antithetic combination of ideas which, of all the forms of wit, is most within reach of a clever effort. In his gravest arguments, as well as in his lightest satire, one might imagine that he had set himself to work out the problem, how much antithesis might be got out of a given subject. And there he completely succeeds. His neatest portraits are all wrought on this plan. “Narcissus,” for example, who
“Omits no duty; nor can Envy say
He miss’d, these many years, the Church or Play:
He makes no noise in Parliament, ’tis true;
But pays his debts, and visit when ’tis due;
His character and gloves are ever clean,
And then he can out-bow the bowing Dean;
A smile eternal on his lip he wears,
Which equally the wise and worthless shares.
In gay fatigues, this most undaunted chief,
Patient of idleness beyond belief,
Most charitably lends the town his face
For ornament in every public place;
As sure as cards he to th’ assembly comes,
And is the furniture of drawing-rooms:
When Ombre calls, his hand and heart are free,
And, joined to two, he fails not — to make three;
Narcissus is the glory of his race;
For who does nothing with a better grace?
To deck my list by nature were designed
Such shining expletives of human kind,
Who want, while through blank life they dream along,
Sense to be right and passion to be wrong.”
It is but seldom that we find a touch of that easy slyness which gives an additional zest to surprise; but here is an instance:
“See Tityrus, with merriment possest,
Is burst with laughter ere he hears the jest,
What need he stay, for when the joke is o’er,
His teeth will be no whiter than before.”
Like Pope, whom he imitated, he sets out with a psychological mistake as the basis of his satire, attributing all forms of folly to one passion — the love of fame, or vanity — a much grosser mistake, indeed, than Pope’s, exaggeration of the extent to which the “ruling passion” determines conduct in the individual. Not that Young is consistent in his mistake. He sometimes implies no more than what is the truth — that the love of fame is the cause, not of all follies, but of many.
Young’s satires on women are superior to Pope’s, which is only saying that they are superior to Pope’s greatest failure. We can more frequently pick out a couplet as successful than an entire sketch. Of the too emphatic “Syrena” he says:
“Her judgment just, her sentence is too strong;
Because she’s right, she’s ever in the wrong.”
Of the diplomatic “Julia:”
“For her own breakfast she’ll project a scheme,
Nor take her tea without a stratagem.”
Of “Lyce,” the old painted coquette:
“In vain the cock has summoned sprites away;
She walks at noon and blasts the bloom of day.”
Of the nymph, who, “gratis, clears religious mysteries:”
“’Tis hard, too, she who makes no use but chat
Of her religion, should be barr’d in that.”
The description of the literary belle, “Daphne,” well prefaces that of “Stella,” admired by Johnson:
“With legs toss’d high, on her sophee she sits,
Vouchsafing audience to contending wits:
Of each performance she’s the final test;
One act read o’er, she prophecies the rest;
And then, pronouncing with decisive air,
Fully convinces all the town — she’s fair.
Had lonely Daphne Hecatessa’s face,
How would her elegance of taste decrease!
Some ladies’ judgment in their features lies,
And all their genius sparkles in their eyes.
But hold, she cries, lampooner! have a care;
Must I want common sense because I’m fair?
O no; see Stella: her eyes shine as bright
As if her tongue was never in the right;
And yet what real learning, judgment, fire!
She seems inspir’d, and can herself inspire.
How then (if malice ruled not all the fair)
Could Daphne publish, and could she forbear?”
After all, when we have gone through Young’s seven Satires, we seem to have made but an indifferent meal. They are a sort of fricassee, with some little solid meat in them, and yet the flavor is not always piquant. It is curious to find him, when he pauses a moment from his satiric sketching, recurring to his old platitudes:
“Can gold calm passion, or make reason shine?
Can we dig peace or wisdom from the mine?
Wisdom to gold prefer;”—
platitudes which he seems inevitably to fall into, for the same reason that some men are constantly asserting their contempt for criticism — because he felt the opposite so keenly.
The outburst of genius in the earlier books of the “Night Thoughts” is the more remarkable, that in the interval between them and the Satires he had produced nothing but his Pindaric odes, in which he fell far below the level of his previous works. Two sources of this sudden strength were the freedom of blank verse and the presence of a genuine emotion. Most persons, in speaking of the “Night Thoughts,” have in their minds only the two or three first Nights, the majority of readers rarely getting beyond these, unless, as Wilson says, they “have but few books, are poor, and live in the country.” And in these earlier Nights there is enough genuine sublimity and genuine sadness to bribe us into too favorable a judgment of them as a whole. Young had only a very few things to say or sing — such as that life is vain, that death is imminent, that man is immortal, that virtue is wisdom, that friendship is sweet, and that the source of virtue is the contemplation of death and immortality — and even in his two first Nights he had said almost all he had to say in his finest manner. Through these first outpourings of “complaint” we feel that the poet is really sad, that the bird is singing over a rifled nest; and we bear with his morbid picture of the world and of life, as the Job-like lament of a man whom “the hand of God hath touched.” Death has carried away his best-beloved, and that “silent land” whither they are gone has more reality for the desolate one than this world which is empty of their love:
“This is the desert, this the solitude;
How populous, how vital is the grave!”
Joy died with the loved one:
“The disenchanted earth
Lost all her lustre. Where her glitt’ring towers?
Her golden mountains, where? All darkened down
To naked waste; a dreary vale of tears:
The great magician’s dead!”
Under the pang of parting, it seems to the bereaved man as if love were only a nerve to suffer with, and he sickens at the thought of every joy of which he must one day say —“it was.” In its unreasoning anguish, the soul rushes to the idea of perpetuity as the one element of bliss:
“O ye blest scenes of permanent delight! —
Could ye, so rich in rapture, fear an end —
That ghastly thought would drink up all your joy,
And quite unparadise the realms of light.”
In a man under the immediate pressure of a great sorrow, we tolerate morbid exaggerations; we are prepared to see him turn away a weary eye from sunlight and flowers and sweet human faces, as if this rich and glorious life had no significance but as a preliminary of death; we do not criticise his views, we compassionate his feelings. And so it is with Young in these earlier Nights. There is already some artificiality even in his grief, and feeling often slides into rhetoric, but through it all we are thrilled with the unmistakable cry of pain, which makes us tolerant of egoism and hyperbole:
“In every varied posture, place, and hour,
How widow’d every thought of every joy!
Thought, busy thought! too busy for my peace!
Through the dark postern of time long elapsed
Led softly, by the stillness of the night —
Led like a murderer (and such it proves!)
Strays (wretched rover!) o’er the pleasing past —
In quest of wretchedness, perversely strays;
And finds all desert now; and meets the ghosts
Of my departed joys.”
But when he becomes didactic, rather than complaining — when he ceases to sing his sorrows, and begins to insist on his opinions — when that distaste for life which we pity as a transient feeling is thrust upon us as a theory, we become perfectly cool and critical, and are not in the least inclined to be indulgent to false views and selfish sentiments.
Seeing that we are about to be severe on Young’s failings and failures, we ought, if a reviewer’s space were elastic, to dwell also on his merits — on the startling vigor of his imagery — on the occasional grandeur of his thought — on the piquant force of that grave satire into which his meditations continually run. But, since our “limits” are rigorous, we must content ourselves with the less agreeable half of the critic’s duty; and we may the rather do so, because it would be difficult to say anything new of Young, in the way of admiration, while we think there are many salutary lessons remaining to be drawn from his faults.
One of the most striking characteristics of Young is his radical insincerity as a poetic artist. This, added to the thin and artificial texture of his wit, is the true explanation of the paradox — that a poet who is often inopportunely witty has the opposite vice of bombastic absurdity. The source of all grandiloquence is the want of taking for a criterion the true qualities of the object described or the emotion expressed. The grandiloquent man is never bent on saying what he feels or what he sees, but on producing a certain effect on his audience; hence he may float away into utter inanity without meeting any criterion to arrest him. Here lies the distinction between grandiloquence and genuine fancy or bold imaginativeness. The fantastic or the boldly imaginative poet may be as sincere as the most realistic: he is true to his own sensibilities or inward vision, and in his wildest flights he never breaks loose from his criterion — the truth of his own mental state. Now, this disruption of language from genuine thought and feeling is what we are constantly detecting in Young; and his insincerity is the more likely to betray him into absurdity, because he habitually treats of abstractions, and not of concrete objects or specific emotions. He descants perpetually on virtue, religion, “the good man,” life, death, immortality, eternity — subjects which are apt to give a factitious grandeur to empty wordiness. When a poet floats in the empyrean, and only takes a bird’s-eye view of the earth, some people accept the mere fact of his soaring for sublimity, and mistake his dim vision of earth for proximity to heaven. Thus:
“His hand the good man fixes on the skies,
And bids earth roll, nor feels her idle whirl,”
may, perhaps, pass for sublime with some readers. But pause a moment to realize the image, and the monstrous absurdity of a man’s grasping the skies, and hanging habitually suspended there, while he contemptuously bids the earth roll, warns you that no genuine feeling could have suggested so unnatural a conception. Again,
“See the man immortal: him, I mean,
Who lives as such; whose heart, full bent on Heaven,
Leans all that way, his bias to the stars.”
This is worse than the previous example: for you can at least form some imperfect conception of a man hanging from the skies, though the position strikes you as uncomfortable and of no particular use; but you are utterly unable to imagine how his heart can lean toward the stars. Examples of such vicious imagery, resulting from insincerity, may be found, perhaps, in almost every page of the “Night Thoughts.” But simple assertions or aspirations, undisguised by imagery, are often equally false. No writer whose rhetoric was checked by the slightest truthful intentions could have said —
“An eye of awe and wonder let me roll,
And roll forever.”
Abstracting the more poetical associations with the eye, this is hardly less absurd than if he had wished to stand forever with his mouth open.
A soul immortal is a mortal joy.”
Happily for human nature, we are sure no man really believes that. Which of us has the impiety not to feel that our souls are only too narrow for the joy of looking into the trusting eyes of our children, of reposing on the love of a husband or a wife — nay, of listening to the divine voice of music, or watching the calm brightness of autumnal afternoons? But Young could utter this falsity without detecting it, because, when he spoke of “mortal joys,” he rarely had in his mind any object to which he could attach sacredness. He was thinking of bishoprics, and benefices, of smiling monarchs, patronizing prime ministers, and a “much indebted muse.” Of anything between these and eternal bliss he was but rarely and moderately conscious. Often, indeed, he sinks very much below even the bishopric, and seems to have no notion of earthly pleasure but such as breathes gaslight and the fumes of wine. His picture of life is precisely such as you would expect from a man who has risen from his bed at two o’clock in the afternoon with a headache and a dim remembrance that he has added to his “debts of honor:”
“What wretched repetition cloys us here!
What periodic potions for the sick,
Distemper’d bodies, and distemper’d minds?”
And then he flies off to his usual antithesis:
“In an eternity what scenes shall strike!
Adventures thicken, novelties surprise!”
“Earth” means lords and levees, duchesses and Dalilahs, South–Sea dreams, and illegal percentage; and the only things distinctly preferable to these are eternity and the stars. Deprive Young of this antithesis, and more than half his eloquence would be shrivelled up. Place him on a breezy common, where the furze is in its golden bloom, where children are playing, and horses are standing in the sunshine with fondling necks, and he would have nothing to say. Here are neither depths of guilt nor heights of glory; and we doubt whether in such a scene he would be able to pay his usual compliment to the Creator:
“Where’er I torn, what claim on all applause!”
It is true that he sometimes — not often — speaks of virtue as capable of sweetening life, as well as of taking the sting from death and winning heaven; and, lest we should be guilty of any unfairness to him, we will quote the two passages which convey this sentiment the most explicitly. In the one he gives “Lorenzo” this excellent recipe for obtaining cheerfulness:
“Go, fix some weighty truth;
Chain down some passion; do some generous good;
Teach Ignorance to see, or Grief to smile;
Correct thy friend; befriend thy greatest foe;
Or, with warm heart, and confidence divine,
Spring up, and lay strong hold on Him who made thee.”
The other passage is vague, but beautiful, and its music has murmured in our minds for many years:
“The cuckoo seasons sing
The same dull note to such as nothing prize
But what those seasons from the teeming earth
To doting sense indulge. But nobler minds,
Which relish fruit unripened by the sun,
Make their days various; various as the dyes
On the dove’s neck, which wanton in his rays.
On minds of dove-like innocence possess’d,
On lighten’d minds that bask in Virtue’s beams,
Nothing hangs tedious, nothing old revolves
In that for which they long, for which they live.
Their glorious efforts, winged with heavenly hopes,
Each rising morning sees still higher rise;
Each bounteous dawn its novelty presents
To worth maturing, new strength, lustre, fame;
While Nature’s circle, like a chariot wheel,
Boiling beneath their elevated aims,
Makes their fair prospect fairer every hour;
Advancing virtue in a line to bliss.”
Even here, where he is in his most amiable mood, you see at what a telescopic distance he stands from mother Earth and simple human joys —“Nature’s circle rolls beneath.” Indeed, we remember no mind in poetic literature that seems to have absorbed less of the beauty and the healthy breath of the common landscape than Young’s. His images, often grand and finely presented — witness that sublimely sudden leap of thought,
“Embryos we must be till we burst the shell,
Yon ambient azure shell, and spring to life”—
lie almost entirely within that circle of observation which would be familiar to a man who lived in town, hung about the theatres, read the newspaper, and went home often by moon and starlight.
There is no natural object nearer than the moon that seems to have any strong attraction for him, and even to the moon he chiefly appeals for patronage, and “pays his court” to her. It is reckoned among the many deficiencies of “Lorenzo” that he “never asked the moon one question”— an omission which Young thinks eminently unbecoming a rational being. He describes nothing so well as a comet, and is tempted to linger with fond detail over nothing more familiar than the day of judgment and an imaginary journey among the stars. Once on Saturn’s ring he feels at home, and his language becomes quite easy:
“What behold I now?
A wilderness of wonders burning round,
Where larger suns inhabit higher spheres;
Perhaps the villas of descending gods!”
It is like a sudden relief from a strained posture when, in the “Night Thoughts,” we come on any allusion that carries us to the lanes, woods, or fields. Such allusions are amazingly rare, and we could almost count them on a single hand. That we may do him no injustice, we will quote the three best:
“Like blossom’d trees o’erturned by vernal storm,
Lovely in death the beauteous ruin lay.
* * * * *
“In the same brook none ever bathed him twice:
To the same life none ever twice awoke.
We call the brook the same — the same we think
Our life, though still more rapid in its flow;
Nor mark the much irrevocably lapsed
And mingled with the sea.”
* * * * *
“The crown of manhood is a winter joy;
An evergreen that stands the northern blast,
And blossoms in the rigor of our fate.”
The adherence to abstractions, or to the personification of abstractions, is closely allied in Young to the want of genuine emotion. He sees virtue sitting on a mount serene, far above the mists and storms of earth; he sees Religion coming down from the skies, with this world in her left hand and the other world in her right; but we never find him dwelling on virtue or religion as it really exists — in the emotions of a man dressed in an ordinary coat, and seated by his fireside of an evening, with his hand resting on the head of his little daughter, in courageous effort for unselfish ends, in the internal triumph of justice and pity over personal resentment, in all the sublime self-renunciation and sweet charities which are found in the details of ordinary life. Now, emotion links itself with particulars, and only in a faint and secondary manner with abstractions. An orator may discourse very eloquently on injustice in general, and leave his audience cold; but let him state a special case of oppression, and every heart will throb. The most untheoretic persons are aware of this relation between true emotion and particular facts, as opposed to general terms, and implicitly recognize it in the repulsion they feel toward any one who professes strong feeling about abstractions — in the interjectional “Humbug!” which immediately rises to their lips. Wherever abstractions appear to excite strong emotion, this occurs in men of active intellect and imagination, in whom the abstract term rapidly and vividly calls up the particulars it represents, these particulars being the true source of the emotion; and such men, if they wished to express their feeling, would be infallibly prompted to the presentation of details. Strong emotion can no more be directed to generalities apart from particulars, than skill in figures can be directed to arithmetic apart from numbers. Generalities are the refuge at once of deficient intellectual activity and deficient feeling.
If we except the passages in “Philander,” “Narcissa,” and “Lucia,” there is hardly a trace of human sympathy, of self-forgetfulness in the joy or sorrow of a fellow-being, throughout this long poem, which professes to treat the various phases of man’s destiny. And even in the “Narcissa” Night, Young repels us by the low moral tone of his exaggerated lament. This married step-daughter died at Lyons, and, being a Protestant, was denied burial, so that her friends had to bury her in secret — one of the many miserable results of superstition, but not a fact to throw an educated, still less a Christian man, into a fury of hatred and vengeance, in contemplating it after the lapse of five years. Young, however, takes great pains to simulate a bad feeling:
And indignation rival bursts I pour’d,
Half execration mingled with my pray’r;
Kindled at man, while I his God adored;
Sore grudg’d the savage land her sacred dust;
Stamp’d the cursed soil; and with humanity
(Denied Narcissa) wish’d them all a grave.”
The odiously bad taste of this last clause makes us hope that it is simply a platitude, and not intended as witticism, until he removes the possibility of this favorable doubt by immediately asking, “Flows my resentment into guilt?”
When, by an afterthought, he attempts something like sympathy, he only betrays more clearly his want of it. Thus, in the first Night, when he turns from his private griefs to depict earth as a hideous abode of misery for all mankind, and asks,
“What then am I, who sorrow for myself?”
he falls at once into calculating the benefit of sorrowing for others:
“More generous sorrow, while it sinks, exalts;
And conscious virtue mitigates the pang.
Nor virtue, more than prudence, bids me give
Swollen thought a second channel.”
This remarkable negation of sympathy is in perfect consistency with Young’s theory of ethics:
“Virtue is a crime,
A crime of reason, if it costs us pain
If there is no immortality for man —
“Sense! take the rein; blind Passion, drive us on;
And Ignorance! befriend us on our way. . .
Yes; give the pulse full empire; live the Brute,
Since as the brute we die. The sum of man,
Of godlike man, to revel and to rot.”
* * * * *
“If this life’s gain invites him to the deed,
Why not his country sold, his father slain?”
* * * * *
“Ambition, avarice, by the wise disdain’d,
Is perfect wisdom, while mankind are fools,
And think a turf or tombstone covers all.”
* * * * *
“Die for thy country, thou romantic fool!
Seize, seize the plank thyself, and let her sink.”
* * * * *
“As in the dying parent dies the child,
Virtue with Immortality expires.
Who tells me he denies his soul immortal,
Whate’er his boost, has told me he’s a knave.
His duty ’tis to love himself alone.
Nor care though mankind perish if he smiles.”
We can imagine the man who “denies his soul immortal,” replying, “It is quite possible that you would be a knave, and love yourself alone, if it were not for your belief in immortality; but you are not to force upon me what would result from your own utter want of moral emotion. I am just and honest, not because I expect to live in another world, but because, having felt the pain of injustice and dishonesty toward myself, I have a fellow-feeling with other men, who would suffer the same pain if I were unjust or dishonest toward them. Why should I give my neighbor short weight in this world, because there is not another world in which I should have nothing to weigh out to him? I am honest, because I don’t like to inflict evil on others in this life, not because I’m afraid of evil to myself in another. The fact is, I do not love myself alone, whatever logical necessity there may be for that in your mind. I have a tender love for my wife, and children, and friends, and through that love I sympathize with like affections in other men. It is a pang to me to witness the sufferings of a fellow-being, and I feel his suffering the more acutely because he is mortal — because his life is so short, and I would have it, if possible, filled with happiness and not misery. Through my union and fellowship with the men and women I have seen, I feel a like, though a fainter, sympathy with those I have not seen; and I am able so to live in imagination with the generations to come, that their good is not alien to me, and is a stimulus to me to labor for ends which may not benefit myself, but will benefit them. It is possible that you may prefer to ‘live the brute,’ to sell your country, or to slay your father, if you were not afraid of some disagreeable consequences from the criminal laws of another world; but even if I could conceive no motive but my own worldly interest or the gratification of my animal desire, I have not observed that beastliness, treachery, and parricide are the direct way to happiness and comfort on earth. And I should say, that if you feel no motive to common morality but your fear of a criminal bar in heaven, you are decidedly a man for the police on earth to keep their eye upon, since it is matter of world-old experience that fear of distant consequences is a very insufficient barrier against the rush of immediate desire. Fear of consequences is only one form of egoism, which will hardly stand against half a dozen other forms of egoism bearing down upon it. And in opposition to your theory that a belief in immortality is the only source of virtue, I maintain that, so far as moral action is dependent on that belief, so far the emotion which prompts it is not truly moral — is still in the stage of egoism, and has not yet attained the higher development of sympathy. In proportion as a man would care less for the rights and welfare of his fellow, if he did not believe in a future life, in that proportion is he wanting in the genuine feelings of justice and benevolence; as the musician who would care less to play a sonata of Beethoven’s finely in solitude than in public, where he was to be paid for it, is wanting in genuine enthusiasm for music.”
Thus far might answer the man who “denies himself immortal;” and, allowing for that deficient recognition of the finer and more indirect influences exercised by the idea of immortality which might be expected from one who took up a dogmatic position on such a subject, we think he would have given a sufficient reply to Young and other theological advocates who, like him, pique themselves on the loftiness of their doctrine when they maintain that “virtue with immortality expires.” We may admit, indeed, that if the better part of virtue consists, as Young appears to think, in contempt for mortal joys, in “meditation of our own decease,” and in “applause” of God in the style of a congratulatory address to Her Majesty — all which has small relation to the well-being of mankind on this earth — the motive to it must be gathered from something that lies quite outside the sphere of human sympathy. But, for certain other elements of virtue, which are of more obvious importance to untheological minds — a delicate sense of our neighbor’s rights, an active participation in the joys and sorrows of our fellow-men, a magnanimous acceptance of privation or suffering for ourselves when it is the condition of good to others, in a word, the extension and intensification of our sympathetic nature — we think it of some importance to contend that they have no more direct relation to the belief in a future state than the interchange of gases in the lungs has to the plurality of worlds. Nay, to us it is conceivable that in some minds the deep pathos lying in the thought of human mortality — that we are here for a little while and then vanish away, that this earthly life is all that is given to our loved ones and to our many suffering fellow-men — lies nearer the fountains of moral emotion than the conception of extended existence. And surely it ought to be a welcome fact, if the thought of mortality, as well as of immortality, be favorable to virtue. Do writers of sermons and religious novels prefer that men should be vicious in order that there may be a more evident political and social necessity for printed sermons and clerical fictions? Because learned gentlemen are theological, are we to have no more simple honesty and good-will? We can imagine that the proprietors of a patent water-supply have a dread of common springs; but, for our own part, we think there cannot be too great a security against a lack of fresh water or of pure morality. To us it is a matter of unmixed rejoicing that this latter necessary of healthful life is independent of theological ink, and that its evolution is insured in the interaction of human souls as certainly as the evolution of science or of art, with which, indeed, it is but a twin ray, melting into them with undefinable limits.
To return to Young. We can often detect a man’s deficiencies in what he admires more clearly than in what he contemns — in the sentiments he presents as laudable rather than in those he decries. And in Young’s notion of what is lofty he casts a shadow by which we can measure him without further trouble. For example, in arguing for human immortality, he says:
“First, what is true ambition? The pursuit
Of glory nothing less than man can share.
* * * * *
The Visible and Present are for brutes,
A slender portion, and a narrow bound!
These Reason, with an energy divine,
O’erleaps, and claims the Future and Unseen;
The vast Unseen, the Future fathomless!
When the great soul buoys up to this high point,
Leaving gross Nature’s sediments below,
Then, and then only, Adam’s offspring quits
The sage and hero of the fields and woods,
Asserts his rank, and rises into man.”
So, then, if it were certified that, as some benevolent minds have tried to infer, our dumb fellow-creatures would share a future existence, in which it is to be hoped we should neither beat, starve, nor maim them, our ambition for a future life would cease to be “lofty!” This is a notion of loftiness which may pair off with Dr. Whewell’s celebrated observation, that Bentham’s moral theory is low because it includes justice and mercy to brutes.
But, for a reflection of Young’s moral personality on a colossal scale, we must turn to those passages where his rhetoric is at its utmost stretch of inflation — where he addresses the Deity, discourses of the Divine operations, or describes the last judgment. As a compound of vulgar pomp, crawling adulation, and hard selfishness, presented under the guise of piety, there are few things in literature to surpass the Ninth Night, entitled “Consolation,” especially in the pages where he describes the last judgment — a subject to which, with naïve self-betrayal, he applies phraseology, favored by the exuberant penny-a-liner. Thus, when God descends, and the groans of hell are opposed by “shouts of joy,” much as cheers and groans contend at a public meeting where the resolutions are not passed unanimously, the poet completes his climax in this way:
“Hence, in one peal of loud, eternal praise,
The charmed spectators thunder their applause.”
In the same taste he sings:
“Eternity, the various sentence past,
Assigns the sever’d throng distinct abodes,
Sulphureous or ambrosial.”
Exquisite delicacy of indication! He is too nice to be specific as to the interior of the “sulphureous” abode; but when once half the human race are shut up there, hear how he enjoys turning the key on them!
The deed predominant, the deed of deeds!
Which makes a hell of hell, a heaven of heaven!
The goddess, with determin’d aspect turns
Her adamantine key’s enormous size
Through Destiny’s inextricable wards,
Deep driving every bolt on both their fates.
Then, from the crystal battlements of heaven,
Down, down she hurls it through the dark profound,
Ten thousand, thousand fathom; there to rust
And ne’er unlock her resolution more.
The deep resounds; and Hell, through all her glooms,
Returns, in groans, the melancholy roar.”
This is one of the blessings for which Dr. Young thanks God “most:”
“For all I bless thee, most, for the severe;
Her death — my own at hand — the fiery gulf,
That flaming bound of wrath omnipotent!
It thunders; — but it thunders to preserve;
. . . its wholesome dread
Averts the dreaded pain; its hideous groans
Join Heaven’s sweet Hallelujahs in Thy praise,
Great Source of good alone! How kind in all!
In vengeance kind! Pain, Death, Gehenna, save” . . .
i.e., save me, Dr. Young, who, in return for that favor, promise to give my divine patron the monopoly of that exuberance in laudatory epithet, of which specimens may be seen at any moment in a large number of dedications and odes to kings, queens, prime ministers, and other persons of distinction. That, in Young’s conception, is what God delights in. His crowning aim in the “drama” of the ages, is to vindicate his own renown. The God of the “Night Thoughts” is simply Young himself “writ large”— a didactic poet, who “lectures” mankind in the antithetic hyperbole of mortal and immortal joys, earth and the stars, hell and heaven; and expects the tribute of inexhaustible “applause.” Young has no conception of religion as anything else than egoism turned heavenward; and he does not merely imply this, he insists on it. Religion, he tells us, in argumentative passages too long to quote, is “ambition, pleasure, and the love of gain,” directed toward the joys of the future life instead of the present. And his ethics correspond to his religion. He vacillates, indeed, in his ethical theory, and shifts his position in order to suit his immediate purpose in argument; but he never changes his level so as to see beyond the horizon of mere selfishness. Sometimes he insists, as we have seen, that the belief in a future life is the only basis of morality; but elsewhere he tells us —
“In self-applause is virtue’s golden prize.”
Virtue, with Young, must always squint — must never look straight toward the immediate object of its emotion and effort. Thus, if a man risks perishing in the snow himself rather than forsake a weaker comrade, he must either do this because his hopes and fears are directed to another world, or because he desires to applaud himself afterward! Young, if we may believe him, would despise the action as folly unless it had these motives. Let us hope he was not so bad as he pretended to be! The tides of the divine life in man move under the thickest ice of theory.
Another indication of Young’s deficiency in moral, i.e., in sympathetic emotion, is his unintermitting habit of pedagogic moralizing. On its theoretic and perceptive side, morality touches science; on its emotional side, Art. Now, the products of Art are great in proportion as they result from that immediate prompting of innate power which we call Genius, and not from labored obedience to a theory or rule; and the presence of genius or innate prompting is directly opposed to the perpetual consciousness of a rule. The action of faculty is imperious, and excludes the reflection why it should act. In the same way, in proportion as morality is emotional, i.e., has affinity with Art, it will exhibit itself in direct sympathetic feeling and action, and not as the recognition of a rule. Love does not say, “I ought to love”— it loves. Pity does not say, “It is right to be pitiful”— it pities. Justice does not say, “I am bound to be just”— it feels justly. It is only where moral emotion is comparatively weak that the contemplation of a rule or theory habitually mingles with its action; and in accordance with this, we think experience, both in literature and life, has shown that the minds which are preeminently didactic — which insist on a “lesson,” and despise everything that will not convey a moral, are deficient in sympathetic emotion. A certain poet is recorded to have said that he “wished everything of his burned that did not impress some moral; even in love-verses, it might be flung in by the way.” What poet was it who took this medicinal view of poetry? Dr. Watts, or James Montgomery, or some other singer of spotless life and ardent piety? Not at all. It was Waller. A significant fact in relation to our position, that the predominant didactic tendency proceeds rather from the poet’s perception that it is good for other men to be moral, than from any overflow of moral feeling in himself. A man who is perpetually thinking in apothegms, who has an unintermittent flux of admonition, can have little energy left for simple emotion. And this is the case with Young. In his highest flights of contemplation and his most wailing soliloquies he interrupts himself to fling an admonitory parenthesis at “Lorenzo,” or to hint that “folly’s creed” is the reverse of his own. Before his thoughts can flow, he must fix his eye on an imaginary miscreant, who gives unlimited scope for lecturing, and recriminates just enough to keep the spring of admonition and argument going to the extent of nine books. It is curious to see how this pedagogic habit of mind runs through Young’s contemplation of Nature. As the tendency to see our own sadness reflected in the external world has been called by Mr. Ruskin the “pathetic fallacy,” so we may call Young’s disposition to see a rebuke or a warning in every natural object, the “pedagogic fallacy.” To his mind, the heavens are “forever scolding as they shine;” and the great function of the stars is to be a “lecture to mankind.” The conception of the Deity as a didactic author is not merely an implicit point of view with him; he works it out in elaborate imagery, and at length makes it the occasion of his most extraordinary achievement in the “art of sinking,” by exclaiming, à propos, we need hardly say, of the nocturnal heavens,
“Divine Instructor! Thy first volume this
For man’s perusal! all in CAPITALS!”
It is this pedagogic tendency, this sermonizing attitude of Young’s mind, which produces the wearisome monotony of his pauses. After the first two or three nights he is rarely singing, rarely pouring forth any continuous melody inspired by the spontaneous flow of thought or feeling. He is rather occupied with argumentative insistence, with hammering in the proofs of his propositions by disconnected verses, which he puts down at intervals. The perpetual recurrence of the pause at the end of the line throughout long passages makes them as fatiguing to the ear as a monotonous chant, which consists of the endless repetition of one short musical phrase. For example:
If not by guilt, yet wound us by their flight,
If folly bound our prospect by the grave,
All feeling of futurity be numb’d,
All godlike passion for eternals quench’d,
All relish of realities expired;
Renounced all correspondence with the skies;
Our freedom chain’d; quite wingless our desire;
In sense dark-prison’d all that ought to soar;
Prone to the centre; crawling in the dust;
Dismounted every great and glorious aim;
Enthralled every faculty divine,
Heart-buried in the rubbish of the world.”
How different from the easy, graceful melody of Cowper’s blank verse! Indeed, it is hardly possible to criticise Young without being reminded at every step of the contrast presented to him by Cowper. And this contrast urges itself upon us the more from the fact that there is, to a certain extent, a parallelism between the “Night Thoughts” and the “Task.” In both poems the author achieves his greatest in virtue of the new freedom conferred by blank verse; both poems are professionally didactic, and mingle much satire with their graver meditations; both poems are the productions of men whose estimate of this life was formed by the light of a belief in immortality, and who were intensely attached to Christianity. On some grounds we might have anticipated a more morbid view of things from Cowper than from Young. Cowper’s religion was dogmatically the more gloomy, for he was a Calvinist; while Young was a “low” Arminian, believing that Christ died for all, and that the only obstacle to any man’s salvation lay in his will, which he could change if he chose. There was real and deep sadness involved in Cowper’s personal lot; while Young, apart from his ambitious and greedy discontent, seems to have had no great sorrow.
Yet, see how a lovely, sympathetic nature manifests itself in spite of creed and circumstance! Where is the poem that surpasses the “Task” in the genuine love it breathes, at once toward inanimate and animate existence — in truthfulness of perception and sincerity of presentation — in the calm gladness that springs from a delight in objects for their own sake, without self-reference — in divine sympathy with the lowliest pleasures, with the most short-lived capacity for pain? Here is no railing at the earth’s “melancholy map,” but the happiest lingering over her simplest scenes with all the fond minuteness of attention that belongs to love; no pompous rhetoric about the inferiority of the “brutes,” but a warm plea on their behalf against man’s inconsiderateness and cruelty, and a sense of enlarged happiness from their companionship in enjoyment; no vague rant about human misery and human virtue, but that close and vivid presentation of particular sorrows and privations, of particular deeds and misdeeds, which is the direct road to the emotions. How Cowper’s exquisite mind falls with the mild warmth of morning sunlight on the commonest objects, at once disclosing every detail, and investing every detail with beauty! No object is too small to prompt his song — not the sooty film on the bars, or the spoutless teapot holding a bit of mignonette that serves to cheer the dingy town-lodging with a “hint that Nature lives;” and yet his song is never trivial, for he is alive to small objects, not because his mind is narrow, but because his glance is clear and his heart is large. Instead of trying to edify us by supercilious allusions to the “brutes” and the “stalls,” he interests us in that tragedy of the hen-roost when the thief has wrenched the door,
“Where Chanticleer amidst his harem sleeps
In unsuspecting pomp;”
in the patient cattle, that on the winter’s morning
“Mourn in corners where the fence
Screens them, and seem half petrified to sleep
In unrecumbent sadness;”
in the little squirrel, that, surprised by him in his woodland walk,
“At once, swift as a bird,
Ascends the neighboring beech; there whisks his brush,
And perks his ears, and stamps, and cries aloud,
With all the prettiness of feign’d alarm
And anger insignificantly fierce.”
And then he passes into reflection, not with curt apothegm and snappish reproof, but with that melodious flow of utterance which belongs to thought when it is carried along in a stream of feeling:
“The heart is hard in nature, and unfit
For human fellowship, as being void
Of sympathy, and therefore dead alike
To love and friendship both, that is not pleased
With sight of animals enjoying life,
Nor feels their happiness augment his own.”
His large and tender heart embraces the most every-day forms of human life — the carter driving his team through the wintry storm; the cottager’s wife who, painfully nursing the embers on her hearth, while her infants “sit cowering o’er the sparks,”
“Retires, content to quake, so they be warm’d;”
or the villager, with her little ones, going out to pick
“A cheap but wholesome salad from the brook;”
and he compels our colder natures to follow his in its manifold sympathies, not by exhortations, not by telling us to meditate at midnight, to “indulge” the thought of death, or to ask ourselves how we shall “weather an eternal night,” but by presenting to us the object of his compassion truthfully and lovingly. And when he handles greater themes, when he takes a wider survey, and considers the men or the deeds which have a direct influence on the welfare of communities and nations, there is the same unselfish warmth of feeling, the same scrupulous truthfulness. He is never vague in his remonstrance or his satire, but puts his finger on some particular vice or folly which excites his indignation or “dissolves his heart in pity,” because of some specific injury it does to his fellow-man or to a sacred cause. And when he is asked why he interests himself about the sorrows and wrongs of others, hear what is the reason he gives. Not, like Young, that the movements of the planets show a mutual dependence, and that
“Thus man his sovereign duty learns in this
Material picture of benevolence,”
or that —
“More generous sorrow, while it sinks, exalts,
And conscious virtue mitigates the pang.”
What is Cowper’s answer, when he imagines some “sage, erudite, profound,” asking him “What’s the world to you?”
“Much. I was born of woman, and drew milk
As sweet as charity from human breasts.
I think, articulate, I laugh and weep,
And exercise all functions of a man.
How then should I and any man that lives
Be strangers to each other?”
Young is astonished that men can make war on each other — that any one can “seize his brother’s throat,” while
“The Planets cry, ‘Forbear.’”
Cowper weeps because
“There is no flesh in man’s obdurate heart:
It does not feel for man.”
Young applauds God as a monarch with an empire and a court quite superior to the English, or as an author who produces “volumes for man’s perusal.” Cowper sees his father’s love in all the gentle pleasures of the home fireside, in the charms even of the wintry landscape, and thinks —
“Happy who walks with him! whom what he finds
Of flavor or of scent in fruit or flower,
Or what he views of beautiful or grand
In nature, from the broad, majestic oak
To the green blade that twinkles in the sun,
Prompts with remembrance of a present God.”
To conclude — for we must arrest ourselves in a contrast that would lead us beyond our bounds. Young flies for his utmost consolation to the day of judgment, when
“Final Ruin fiercely drives
Her ploughshare o’er creation;”
when earth, stars, and sun are swept aside,
“And now, all dross removed, Heaven’s own pure day,
Full on the confines of our ether, flames:
While (dreadful contrast!) far (how far!) beneath,
Hell, bursting, belches forth her blazing seas,
And storms suphureous; her voracious jaws
Expanding wide, and roaring for her prey,”
Dr. Young and similar “ornaments of religion and virtue” passing of course with grateful “applause” into the upper region. Cowper finds his highest inspiration in the Millennium — in the restoration of this our beloved home of earth to perfect holiness and bliss, when the Supreme
“Shall visit earth in mercy; shall descend
Propitious in his chariot paved with love;
And what his storms have blasted and defaced
For man’s revolt, shall with a smile repair.”
And into what delicious melody his song flows at the thought of that blessedness to be enjoyed by future generations on earth!
“The dwellers in the vales and on the rocks
Shout to each other, and the mountains tops
From distant mountains catch the flying joy;
Till, nation after nation taught the strain,
Earth rolls the rapturous Hosanna round!”
The sum of our comparison is this: In Young we have the type of that deficient human sympathy, that impiety toward the present and the visible, which flies for its motives, its sanctities, and its religion, to the remote, the vague, and the unknown: in Cowper we have the type of that genuine love which cherishes things in proportion to their nearness, and feels its reverence grow in proportion to the intimacy of its knowledge.
15 1. “Young’s Works.” 1767. 2. “Johnson’s Lives of the Poets.” Edited by Peter Cunningham Murray: 1854. 3. “Life of Edward Young, LL.D.” By Dr. Doran. Prefixed to “Night Thoughts.” Routledge: 1853. 4. Gentleman’s Magazine, 1782. 5. “Nichols’s Literary Anecdotes.” Vol. I. 6. “Spence’s Anecdotes.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54