The Minstrel; or, The Progress of Genius

Original Text: 
James Beattie, The Minstrel; or, The Progress of Genius (London: for E. and C. Dilly, and for A. Kincaid and J. Bell, Edinburgh, 1771).
2    The steep where Fame's proud temple shines afar!
3    Ah! who can tell how many a soul sublime
4    Hath felt the influence of malignant star,
5    And wag'd with Fortune an eternal war!
6    Check'd by the scoff of Pride, by Envy's frown,
7    And Poverty's unconquerable bar,
8    In life's low vale remote hath pin'd alone
9Then dropt into the grave, unpitied and unknown!
10      And yet, the languor of inglorious days
11    Not equally oppressive is to all.
12    Him, who ne'er listen'd to the voice of praise,
13    The silence of neglect can ne'er appal.
14    There are, who, deaf to mad Ambition's call,
15    Would shrink to hear th' obstreperous trump of Fame;
16    Supremely blest, if to their portion fall
17    Health, competence, and peace. Nor higher aim
18Had he, whose simple tale these artless lines proclaim.
19      This sapient age disclaims all classic lore;
20    Else I should here in cunning phrase display,
21    How forth The Minstrel far'd in days of yore,
22    Right glad of heart, though homely in array;
23    His waving locks and beard all hoary grey:
24    And, from his bending shoulder, decent hung
25    His harp, the sole companion of his way,
26    Which to the whistling wind responsive rung:
27And ever as he went some merry lay he sung.
28      Fret not yourselves, ye silken sons of pride,
29    That a poor Wanderer should inspire my strain.
30    The Muses Fortune's fickle smile deride,
31    Nor ever bow the knee in Mammon's fane;
32    For their delights are with the village-train,
33    Whom Nature's laws engage, and Nature's charms:
34    They hate the sensual, and scorn the vain;
35    The parasite their influence never warms,
36Nor him whose sordid soul the love of wealth alarms.
37      Though richest hues the peacock's plumes adorn,
38    Yet horror screams from his discordant throat.
39    Rise, sons of harmony, and hail the morn,
40    While warbling larks on russet pinions float;
41    Or seek at noon the woodland scene remote,
42    Where the grey linnets carol from the hill.
43    O let them ne'er with artificial note,
44    To please a tyrant, strain the little bill,
45But sing what Heaven inspires, and wander where they will.
46      Liberal, not lavish, is kind Nature's hand;
47    Nor was perfection made for man below.
48    Yet all her schemes with nicest art are plann'd,
49    Good counteracting ill, and gladness woe.
51    If bleak and barren Scotia's hills arise;
52    There plague and poison, lust and rapine grow;
53    Here peaceful are the vales, and pure the skies,
54And freedom fires the soul, and sparkles in the eyes.
55      Then grieve not, thou to whom th' indulgent Muse
56    Vouchsafes a portion of celestial fire;
57    Nor blame the partial Fates, if they refuse
58    Th' imperial banquet, and the rich attire.
59    Know thine own worth, and reverence the lyre.
60    Wilt thou debase the heart which God refin'd?
61    No; let thy heaven-taught soul to heaven aspire,
62    To fancy, freedom, harmony, resign'd;
63Ambition's groveling crew for ever left behind.
334      But who the melodies of morn can tell?
335    The wild brook babbling down the mountain-side;
336    The lowing herd; the sheepfold's simple bell;
337    The pipe of early shepherd dim descried
338    In the lone valley; echoing far and wide
339    The clamorous horn along the cliffs above;
340    The hollow murmur of the ocean-tide;
341    The hum of bees, and linnet's lay of love,
342And the full choir that wakes the universal grove.
343      The cottage-curs at early pilgrim bark;
344    Crown'd with her pail the tripping milkmaid sings;
345    The whistling plowman stalks afield; and, hark!
346    Down the rough slope the ponderous waggon rings;
347    Through rustling corn the hare astonish'd springs;
348    Slow tolls the village-clock the drowsy hour;
349    The partridge bursts away on whirring wings;
351And shrill lark carols clear from her aereal tower.
352      O Nature, how in every charm supreme!
353    Whose votaries feast on raptures ever new!
354    O for the voice and fire of seraphim,
355    To sing thy glories with devotion due!
356    Blest be the day I scap'd the wrangling crew,
358    And held high converse with the godlike few,
359    Who to th' enraptur'd heart, and ear, and eye,
360Teach beauty, virtue, truth, and love, and melody.
361      Hence! ye, who snare and stupefy the mind,
363    Greedy and fell, though impotent and blind,
364    Who spread your filthy nets in Truth's fair fane,
365    And ever ply your venom'd fangs amain!
366    Hence to dark Error's den, whose rankling slime
367    First gave you form! hence! lest the Muse should deign,
368    (Though loth on theme so mean to waste a rhyme),
369With vengeance to pursue your sacrilegious crime.
370      But hail, ye mighty masters of the lay,
371    Nature's true sons, the friends of man and truth!
372    Whose song, sublimely sweet, serenely gay,
373    Amus'd my childhood, and inform'd my youth.
374    O let your spirit still my bosom soothe,
375    Inspire my dreams, and my wild wanderings guide.
376    Your voice each rugged path of life can smooth;
377    For well I know, wherever ye reside,
378There harmony, and peace, and innocence, abide.


1] A second book was added in 1774. Beattie says in the Preface:
The design was to trace the progress of a Poetical Genius, born in a rude age, from the first dawnings of fancy and reason, till that period at which he may be supposed capable of appearing in the world as a Minstrel .... I have endeavoured to imitate Spenser in the measure of his verse, and in the harmony, simplicity and variety of his composition .... To those who may be disposed to ask, what could induce me to write in so difficult a measure, I can only answer, that it pleases my ear, and seems, from its Gothic structure and original, to bear some relation to the subject and spirit of the Poem.
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50] Chilian mountains: the Andes. Back to Line
350] turtle: the turtle-dove. Back to Line
357] Pyrrho: Greek philosopher of c. 300 B.C., founder of the philosophy of skepticism, the doctrine of the impossibility of attaining certainty of knowledge.
Epicurus: A Greek philosopher who held that pleasure was the highest good; this was corrupted by his followers into a precept for dissipation and indulgence, hence "sty." Back to Line
362] Sophists: teachers of rhetoric in ancient Greece, accused of making argument and disputation an end in itself, and hence of specious or fallacious argument. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1. 762; RPO 1996-2000.