Jack, Ian. "Low Satire: Hudibras." In Augustan Satire: Intention and Idiom in English Poetry: 1600-1750. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952. Parker, Blanford. The Triumph of Augustan Poetics: English Literary Culture from Butler to Johnson. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Richards, Edward Ames. Hudibras in the Burlesque Tradition. New York: Octagon Books, 1972.
"HUNTING OF THE HARE, THE" Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle (1653)
Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle, gained a reputation based on the writing of often fantastic poetry filled with unpleasant metaphors, including the comparison of body parts to sewers and pipes in a city. However, she varies from her more common presentation of pseudoscientific and philosophical musing in her "The Hunting of the Hare" to consider the sad plight of a rabbit named Wat. She presents a narrative poem that describes Wat hiding by day "Betwixt two ridges of ploughed land." She describes his nose resting on his forefeet, as he glares "obliquely" with "great grey eyes," working to keep warm by turning himself into the wind to prevent the ruffling of his fur. Although described as "wise" in the ways of nature, Wat cannot compete with man and by the 14th line has been discovered "By huntsmen with their dogs who came that way." Fate brought death to Wat in the form of sport of which Cavendish apparently does not approve. She includes no excitement in her tone, rather renders a somewhat objective view of Wat's eventual destruction. The fact that it is eventual, following a lengthy terrifying pursuit, becomes a pivotal part of the story. Instinct spurs Wat to use his natural talents and run, but the dogs also exercise their instincts and talents to give chase, following his scent.
By the second stanza, Cavendish introduces a little more emotion, using figurative language to personify Wat, who hides "underneath a broken bough," where "every leaf what with the wind did shake / Did bring such terror, made his heart to ache." He eventually runs again, unable to remain in hiding, and traces a wandering path in hopes of slowing the hounds that must search for his scent. Wat grows weary, and the "snuffling" hounds find his track. Cavendish includes an interesting catalog of the various types of dogs who hunt in the pack. They include "the great slow hounds," whose voices are in the bass range; "the swift fleet hounds, as tenors next in place;" and "the little beagles," who add their treble voices to the mix. She thus compares the pack to a type of choir, although this group is bent on death and destruction. Finally Cavendish inserts what appears to be a note of judgment against the hunters, writing, "The horns kept time, the hunters shout for joy / and valiant seem, poor Wat for to destroy." That the hunters should spur their horses through water and over obstacles, unafraid, "to endanger life and limbs, so fast will ride, / Only to see how patiently Wat died" devalues their efforts. As the dogs mercilessly set "their sharp teeth" into Wat's body, he tumbles and with "weeping eyes, / Gives up his ghost, and thus poor Wat dies."
As a member of aristocracy and as wife to a master horseman, Cavendish would probably have witnessed such hunting scenes firsthand. Her sympathy unmistakably lies with the hare, while she expresses disdain for the hunters. She even seems to admire the dogs, who are merely instruments put to use for human entertainment. Her poem departs from a simple country tableau to become instead a proanimal statement. Never one to be without an opinion, Cavendish makes clear her attitude toward such activity and its misnomer as sport.
HYMN ON THE SEASONS, A James Thomson (1726-1730) James Thomson produced an extremely popular work in his lengthy poem "The Seasons," sometimes referred to as "A Hymn on the Seasons." He included several themes, all of which excited the imagination of his readers. As the Thomson biographer and critic Mary Jane W. Scott writes, The Seasons has many dimensions, "religious, philosophical, sociopolitical, neoclassical," all of which represent Thomson's "Scottishness." He considers man's place in nature, nature as a conduit for knowledge of God, country life as superior to city life, the idea of harmony between recent scientific claims by Newton and religious ideas, and the poet's duty to transmit God's word to readers, among other themes. However, support of religion remains Thomson's primary motivation in writing this poem. Critics claim that "The Seasons" served as a challenge to the artifice found in poetry by Alexander Pope, among others of the Augustan age; it would influence Thomas Gray and William Cowper, both forerunners of 19th-century romanticism. Thomson first published the poem over four years, "Winter" in 1726, "Summer" and "Spring" in each of the following two years, and "Autumn" in a collected edition published in 1730. However, the poem remained a living, breathing creation for Thomson, who would spend 16 years in continuous revision.
Known for his descriptive talent, Thomson incorporates detail about nature to support his claims that religion should prove a significant focus for man, and that man's place in nature is extremely important. He supports his claims with personal observation, as well as with biblical allusion and reference. The Psalms especially influence his praise style, while the Latin writer Virgil, the official poet of ancient Rome, informed his focus on geography, or place. In an example of that praise early in "Summer," Thomson writes,
Welcome, ye shades! Ye bowery thickets, hail!
Ye lofty pines! ye venerable oaks!
Ye ashes wild, resounding o'er the steep!
Thomson presents the time spent by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as a golden age, incorporating the classicism that informed his admiration of ancient Rome as one of man's greatest achievements. While doing so, he emphasizes nature's place as a backdrop for all of man's best efforts. His esteem for Rome and its leaders' abilities to unify many separate cultures into an empire inspired Thomson to imagine a united Britain, in real life as well as in references to unity included in "The Seasons." He calls to mind classical times in "Spring" when he writes that even those who "live / In luxury and ease, in pomp and pride" should keep in mind the importance to civilization of toil on the land. The speaker reminds readers, "Such themes as these the rural Maro sung / To wide-imperial Rome," whose "elegance and taste" had been "by Greece refined." Thomson recalls ancient verse in his format as he invites his audience to compare themselves to such civilizations which found greatness in their turning of the earth:
In ancient times the sacred plough employ'd The Kings, and awful fathers of mankind: And some, with whom compared your
Insect-tribes Are but the beings of a summer day. Have held the scale of empire, ruled the Storm of mighty war; then, with victorious hand, Disdaining little delicacies, seized The Plough, and, greatly independent lived, Scorned all the vile stores corruption can bestow. (58-66)
Later in "Summer" Thomson emphasizes the connection of his own culture to the land in a strong statement of nationalism. Although the farms yield "A simple scene," because of them Britannia observes a rise of "solid grandeur," allowing her to command "The exalted stores of every brighter clime," all due to her reaping of the sun's treasures. Because of that sacred land the country has become a leader in the world, building a mighty navy that already has allowed control of France and has affected the entire world:
Hence, fervent all with culture, toil, and arts, Wide glows her land: her dreadful thunder hence
Rides o'er the waves sublime, and now, even now,
Impending hangs o'er Gallia's humbled coast; Hence rules the circling deep, and awes the world. (427-431)
Continuing with his theme of the importance of nature and an understanding of its seasons to the development of a superior culture and philosophy, Thomson uses the "Winter" section to reflect on classic thought. He references Socrates, Solon, Lycurgus, Aris-tides, Cimon, leading up to a consideration of the "heroes," who include "Numa," "the Light of Rome." He expands consideration of those who contributed to the greatness of Rome, naming Servius, Camillus, Fabricius, Scipio, Tully, and others. Thomson con cludes with a reference to Brutus, noting that history and literature must give such heroes their due, "but who can count the stars of heaven / Who sing their influence on this lower world?" (528-529). The poet requests that such stars continue to visit his dreams, so he may pay tribute to their accomplishments. Winter, or death, may remove them from the earth, but others may study their lives in hopes of improving their own.
As Thomson writes of nature, he constantly makes the point that it yields both blessings and curses. He believed that while Eden represented man in perfect harmony with nature, man's fall from grace through sin represented a disturbance of nature, leading to his expulsion from the garden. Among the images of death and destruction in "Winter" he includes lines that offer hope to man. While winter challenges man, it also
Refines our spirits through the new-strung nerves
In swifter sallies darting to the brain Where sits the soul, intense, collected, cool, Bright as the skies, and as the season keen. (700-703)
As always Thomson sought to praise God, but also to seek God's truth through nature and his own art. He viewed his work as crucial to promoting man's understanding of God, holding that the poet served as an arbitrator, translating nature, much as one would a book's message, for his readers. Scott points to lines 192-196 in "Summer" as an example:
To me be Nature's Volume broad-display'd; And to peruse its all-instructing Page, Or, haply catching Inspiration thence, Some easy Passage, raptur'd, to translate, My sole Delight.
Also in "Summer" Thomson focuses on the sun as a life-giving force, but in addition as a threat to man through its powerful heat. He divides "Summer" into groupings of lines centered on the sun's description: "Sun-rising," "Hymn to the Sun," "Noonday," and "Sunset." The first portion focuses strongly on the order the sun's rising gives to the earth, as the speaker celebrates its arrival:
"But yonder comes the powerful king of day / rejoicing in the East" (81-82). He establishes the sun as a ruler, a metaphor he will use to reflect nature's majesty and connection to God throughout this season's section. However, in "Hymn to the Sun" he seems to focus on scientific, rather than religious, theory regarding the Sun's force and effect on Earth, drawing from Newton's Principia and his Optics. In reality Thomsons lines suggest that the cyclical order imposed by the sun results in a spiritual harmony, thus offering a balance of scientific theory and religious thought. In "Noonday" one most clearly sees the possible threat of the sun to earth, suggesting that God's creation may prove a blessing or a scourge to man, depending upon man's reception of it:
'Tis raging noon; and vertical the sun Darts on the head direct his forceful rays. O'er heaven and earth, far as the ranging eye Can sweep, a dazzling deluge reigns; and all From pole to pole is undistiguish'd blaze. (432-436)
The personification of the sun suggests a mythical connection, supporting the claim of some critics that Thomson incorporates the topic of deism. In "Sunset" the imagery again seems to support that claim, when Thomson ignores science to praise the sun in the colorful sky, as the clouds "in all their pomp attend his setting throne" (1622). Critics counter the claim of deism, by pointing out the fact that Thomson honors only one God during most of the poem. God's existence and interaction with man remain one aspect of Thomson's poem that does not change through its many stanzas, although Thomson's view of God's basic nature undergoes some transition. Because the poem took several years to complete, the reader can observe that transition. For instance in "Spring" beginning at line 1727, Thomson depicts God in the Old Testament manner, fully capable of showing his wrath and inflicting violent judgment on man. However, in later lines, he invokes a happier vision of a smiling God, one more benevolent, as in the New Testament characterization.
Thomson regarded God as active in man's world, rather than as a deity who merely observed man's fate, remaining removed from human activity, the classic watchmaker who winds the mechanism and then lets it run. He continuously emphasizes the revelation of God through nature, a theme common to most of his poetry. In "Winter" he writes:
Then is the Time, For those, whom Wisdom, and whom Nature charm,
To steal themselves from the degenerate Croud, And soar above this little Scene of Things: To tread low-thoughted Vice beneath their Feet: To lay their Passions in a gentle Calm, And woo lone Quiet, in her silent Walks. (33-39)
Clearly an escape into nature allows humans to escape sin, evident in the phrases degenerate Croud and low-thoughted Vice. Traditionally a physical move to a higher position, as indicated in the phrase And soar above, symbolizes a moral or spiritual ascent to a higher plane of recognition. However, nature's face changes, and man must learn to survive. Nature's place is to teach man, as seen when the wayfarer fights his way through a storm seeking shelter, crying out,
Father of Light, and Life! Thou Good Supreme! O! teach me what is Good! teach me thy self! Save me from Folly, Vanity and Vice, From every low Pursuit! and feed my Soul, With Knowledge, conscious Peace, and Vertue pure,
Sacred, substantial, never-fading Bliss! (217-222)
An additional crucial theme throughout "The Seasons" is whether the primitive, or rural, life is superior to that of the more cultured, or city, life. Because many British readers viewed the Scottish life, Thomson's background, as primitive, he took a self-conscious aspect to his approach. He remains ambivalent as to superiority, not adopting a black or white, bad or good, approach to either lifestyle. However, he does imply that country living proves more moral, or perhaps innocent, than city life. Thomson remains honest about the challenges of primitivism, including examples of the ways in which living things suffer from extreme weather. one example drawn from his own experience often referred to by critics is the description of the shepherd found dead in the snow in "Winter." Another is the evil that results in "Summer" from man's passion, which leads to violence. Cities also contained violence and vices not found in the wilds. Close living presented an opportunity for humans to hurt one another, the result of human nature's tendency toward greed and selfishness.
Virgil's influence caused Thomson to see both types of living as having advantages and disadvantages. Thomson himself had moved from small town life, to Edinburgh, then to London, a series of moves that he believed represented progress. His practice of Calvinism held that man should progress throughout his lifetime, mainly through God's influence. While a man could not earn a place in heaven, he could live a good and productive life while on earth. Such a progressive view he tempered in "The Seasons" with his attitude toward Scotland, an attitude at times conflicted. While he viewed Scotland's union with England as progress, he also remained concerned that his native country retain its uniqueness. With a strong nationalistic approach he praises the Scots' varying contributions to Europe, including their efforts at making war and peace and in forming a cultured society. In "Autumn" he issues a call for stronger leadership in Scotland, beginning with line 910:
oh is there not some Patriot, in whose Power That best, that godlike Luxury is plac'd, of blessing Thousands, Thousands yet unborn, Thro' later Posterity?
As noted by Scott, "Thomson's sociopolitical vision in The Seasons embraced human rights, individual and national liberty, nostalgic progressivism, involvement in Scottish affairs, and positive patriotism for both Scotland and Great Britain." A lengthy and carefully planned epic poem that thoughtfully considers a multitude of topics, only a few of which have been touched on in this entry, The Seasons remains a popular work for critical consideration.
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