Edward Young.

Night thoughts on life, death and immortality online

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EDWARD YOUNG, the justly celebrated Au-
thor of the Night Thoughts, and other pieces,
was born in 1684, at Upham, in Hampshire.
His father, Edward Young, the rector of that
place, and dean of Sarum, was a learned and
judicious divine. Our Author, who was his
only son, received the early part of his educa-
tion at Winchester college ; and on the 13th
of October 1703, at the age of nineteen, was
elected on the foundation of New College,
Oxford. In this society his continuance was
short ; for before the end of the year he re-
moved to Corpus Christi, where he entered
himself a gentleman commoner.

In 1708, he was put into a law fellowship,
at All Souls, by archbishop Tennison. At this
college, in 1714, he took the degree of B. C. L.
and in 1719, that of D. C. L. In this year
he published Busiris, a tragedy; in 1721, the
Revenge ; and in 1723, the Brothers. About
this time he also published his poem on the

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Last Day, which being written by a layman,
gave the more satisfaction. He soon after sent
into the world the Force of Religion, or Van-
quished Love, a poem, which was also well re-
ceived by the public, and especially by the noble
family, for whose entertainment it was princi-
pally written. In both these poems, it has
been said there is a stiffness of versification ;
but they met with such success as to procure
their author the friendship of several of the
Hobility, and among the rest the patronage of
the Duke of Wharton, which greatly helped
him in his finances. By the recommendation
of his Grace he offered himself a candidate to
represent the borough of Cirencester, but did
not succeed. The Duke honoured him with
his company to All Souls, and through his in-
stance and persuasion was at the expence of
erecting a great part of the new buildings then
carrying on in that college. The turn of his
mind leading him to divinity, he quitted the
law, which he had never practised, and having
taken orders, in April 1728 was appointed
chaplain in ordinary to George the Second.

His Vindication of Providence, and his Es-
timate of Human Life, were published in this
year ; they have gone through several editions,
and are generally regarded as the best of his
prose compositions. In 1730, he was presented


by his college to the rectory of Welwyn in
Hertfordshire, worth about 300!. a year, be-
sides the lordship of the manor annexed to it.

He was married in 1731, to lady Betty Lee,
widow of colonel Lee, and daughter to the
earl of Litchfield (a lady of an eminent genius,
and great poetical talents); and it was not long
before she brought him a son and heir.

Some time before his marriage, the Doctor
walking in his garden at Welwyn, with this
lady and another, a servant came to tell him a
gentleman wished to speak to him. " Tell him/'
says the Doctor, " I am too happily engaged to
change my situation." The ladies insisted that
he should go, as his visitor was a man of rank,
his patron, and his friend ; and as persuasion
had no effect on him, they took him one by the
right hand, and the other by the left, and led
him to the garden gate. He laid his hand
upon his heart, and in that expressive manner
for which he was so remarkable, spoke the
following lines :

Thus Adam look'd when from the garden driv'n,
And thus disputed orders sent from Heav'n :
Like him I go, but yet to go am loth ;
Like him I go, for angels drove us both.
Hard was his fate, but mine still more unkind ;
His Eve went with him, but mine stays behind.

Notwithstanding he was in high esteem with
many of the first rank, he never rose to great pre-


ferment. He was a favourite of the late prince
of Wales, his present majesty's father, and for
some years before his death was a pretty
constant attendant at court; but upon the
prince's decease all his hopes of farther rising
in the church were at an end ; and towards
the latter part of his life his very desire of it
seemed to be laid aside; for in his Night
Thoughts he observes that there was one
(meaning himself)

" In Britain born, with courtiers bred,
Who thought ev'n wealth might come a day too late :"

However, upon the death of Dr. Hales, in 1761,
he was made clerk of the closet to the prin-
cess dowager of Wales.

About the year 1741 he had the unhappi-
ness to lose his wife, and both her children,
which she had by her first husband; a son
and daughter, very promising characters. They
all died within a short time of each other.
What affliction he felt for their loss, as well as
for that of his lady, may easily be perceived
by his fine poem of the Night Thoughts, occa-
sioned by it. This was a species of poetry
peculiarly his own, and has been unrivalled by
all who have attempted to copy him. His ap-
plause here was deservedly great. The un-
happy bard " whose griefs in melting num-
bers flow, and melancholy joys diffuse around,"


has been often sung by the profane as well as
pious. They were written, as before observed,
under the recent pressure of his sorrow for the
loss of his wife, and his daughter and son-in-
law ; they are addressed to Lorenzo, a man of
pleasure, and the world ; and who, it is ge-
nerally supposed (and very probably), was his
own son, then labouring under his father's
displeasure. His son-in-law is said to be
characterized by Philander, and his daughter
was certainly the person he speaks of under
the appellation of Narcissa. See Night iii.
line 62. In her last illness he accompanied
her to Montpelier in the south of France, at
which place she died soon after her arrival *.

Being regarded as a heretic, she was denied
Christian burial. This act of inhumanity is
justly resented in the same beautiful poem ;
see Night iii. line 165 ; in which his wife
also is frequently mentioned ; and he thus
laments the loss of all three in an apostrophe
to Death:

" Insatiate archer ! could not one suffice ?

Thy shaft flew thrice, and thrice my peace was flain ;

And thrice, ere thrice yon moou had fill'd her horn."

His Conjectures an Original Composition
were written when he was turned of eighty : If

* She died of a consumption, occasioned by her grief for
the death of her mother.


it has blemishes mingled with its beauties, it
is not to be wondered at, when we consider his
great age and the infirmities which generally
attend such an advanced period of life. However,
the many excellent remarks with which this
work abounds, have procured it no small degree
of celebrity. The Resignation, a poem, the
last and the least esteemed of all our Au-
thor's works, was published a short time be-
fore his death, and only served to manifest,
that the taper of genius, which had so long shone
with peculiar brightness in him, was now glim-
mering in the socket. He died in his parson-
age-house, at Welwyn, April 12th, 1765, and
was buried, according to his own desire (at-
tended by all the poor of the parish), under the
altar-piece of that church, by the side of his
wife*. This altar-piece is adorned with an
elegant piece of needle-work by the lady Betty
Young, and is deemed one of the most cu-
rious in the kingdom.

Some time before his death he ordered all his
manuscripts to be burnt. Those that knew how
much he expressed in small compass, and that
he never wrote on trivial subjects, will lament
both the excess of his modesty, and the irre-
parable loss to posterity ; especially when it

* The bell did not toll at his funeral, nor was any person al-
lowed to be in mourning.


is considered, that he was the intimate ac-
quaintance of Addison, and was himself one
of the writers of the Spectators.

During his lifetime he published two or three
sermons, one of which was preached before
the House of Commons. -He left an only son
and heir, Mr. Frederick Young, who had the
first part of his education at Winchester school,
* and becoming a scholar upon the foundation,
was sent, in consequence thereof, to New Col-
lege in Oxford; but there being no vacancy
(though the society waited for one no less
than two years), he was admitted in the
mean time in Baliol, where he behaved so
imprudently as to be forbidden the college.
This misconduct disobliged his father so much,

that he never would suffer him to come into his


sight afterwards : However, by his will he be-
queathed to him, after a few legacies, his
whole fortune, which was considerable.

Dr. Young, as a Christian and divine, might
be said to be an example of primeval piety; he
gave a remarkable instance of this one Sunday
when preaching in his turn at St. James's; for
though he strove to gain the attention of his
audience, when he found he could not prevail,
his pity for their folly got the better of all
decorum ; he sat back in the pulpit, and burst
into a flood of tears.



His turn of mind was naturally solemn;
and he usually, when at home in the country,
spent many hours in a day, walking among
the tombs in his own church-yard. His con-
versation, as well as writings, had all a reference
to a future life ; and this turn of mind mixed
itself even with his improvements in gardening :
He had, for instance, an alcove with a bench
so well painted in it, that at a distance it seemed
to be real, but upon a nearer approach the de-
ception was perceived, and this motto ap-
peared :


The things unseen do not deceive us.

Yet notwithstanding this gloominess of tem-
per, he was fond of innocent sports and amuse-
ments : He instituted an assembly and a bowl-
ing-green in his parish, and often promoted
the mirth of the company in person. His wit
was ever poignant*, and always levelled at
those who shewed any contempt for decency
and religion. His epigram spoken extempore
upon Voltaire is well known : Voltaire happen-
ing to ridicule Milton's allegorical personages

* In his last illness, a friend of the Doctor's calling to know
how he did, and mentioning the death of a person, who had
been in a decline a long time, said he was quite worn to a shell,
by the time he died ; Very likely, replied the Doctor, but what
is become of the kernel ?


of Death and Sin, Dr. Young thus addressed

Thou art so witty, profligate, and thin,
Thou seem'st a Milton with his Death and Sin.

As to his character as a poet, his composition
was instinct in his youth, with as much va-
nity as was necessary to excel in that art. He
published a collection of such of his works as
he thought the best, in 1761, in four volumes
duodecimo, and another has been published
since. Among these, his Satires, intitled the Love
of Fame, or the Universal Passion, are by most
considered as his principal performance. They
are finely characteristic of that excessive pride
or rather folly of following prevailing fashions,
and aiming to be more than we really are, or
can possibly be. They were written in early
life; and if smoothness of style, brilliancy of
wit, and simplicity of subject, can ensure ap-
plause, our author may demand it on this oc-

Dean Swift has observed, that if Dr. Young,
in his Satires, had been more merry or se-
vere, they would have been more generally
pleasing ; because mankind are more apt to
be pleased with ill-nature and mirth than with
solid sense and instruction. It is also observed
of his Night Thoughts, that though they are
chiefly flights of thinking almost super-human s

b 2


such as the description of Death, from his secret
stand, noting down the follies of a bacchana-
.lian society, the epitaph upon the departed
world, and the issuing of Satan from his dun-
geon ; yet these, and a great number of other
remarkably fine thoughts, are sometimes over-
cast with an air of gloominess and melancholy :
Yet it must be acknowledged that they evi-
dence a singular genius, a lively fancy, an
extensive knowledge of men and things, espe-
cially of the feelings of the hitman heart ; and
paint in the strongest colours the vanity of life,
with all its fading honours and emoluments, the
benefits of true piety, especially in the views of
death ; and contain the most unanswerable ar-
guments in support of the soul's immortality
and a future state.


NIGHT i. On Life, Death, and Immortality - Page i

. 2. On Time, Death, and Friendship 19

3. Narcissa - - 43

4. The Christian Triumph - - 61

5. The Relapse - - - 89

6. The Infidel Reclaimed, Parti. - - 125

7. Ditto, Part II. - " I 55

8. Virtue's Apology - 207

9. The Consolation - - - -253
NOTES - - - - "33^
IXDEX .... '- .


As the occasion of this Poem was real *, not
fictitious ; so the method pursued in it was ra-
ther imposed, by what spontaneously arose in
the Author's mind, on that occasion, than me-
ditated, or designed. Which will appear very
probable from the nature of it. For it differs
from the common mode of poetry, which is
from long narration to draw short morals.
Here, on the contrary, the narrative is short,
and the morality arising from it, makes the
bulk of the poem. The reason of it is, that
the facts mentioned, did naturally pour these
moral reflections on the thought of the writer.

* Occasioned by the death of Lady Betty Young, and her
son and daughter. See the Doctor's Life, page vi.





Night the First.

1 IR'D Nature's sweet restorer, balmy Sleep 1
He, like the world, his ready visit pays
Where Fortune smiles ; the wretched he forsakes :
Swift on his downy pinions flies from woe,
And lights on lids unsully'd with a tear. 5

From short (as usual) and disturbed repose
I wake : How happy they, who wake no more !
Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.
I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams
Tumultuous ; where my wreck* d desponding thought,
From wave two ave of fancy'd misery, n

At random drove, her helm of reason lost :

B 2


Though now restor'd, 'tis only change of pain j

(A bitter change !) severer for severe.

The day too short for my distress ; and Night, 15

Ev'n in the zenith of her dark domain,

Is sunshine, to the colour of my fate.

Night, sable goddess i from her ebon throne,
In rayless majesty, now stretches forth
Her leaden sceptre o'er a slumb'ring world. 20

Silence, how dead ! and darkness, how profound !
Nor eye, nor list'ning ear, an object finds ;
Creation sleeps. 'Tis as the gen'ral pulse
Of life stood still, and Nature made a pause;
An awful pause ! prophetic of her end. 25

And let her prophecy be soon fulfill'd :
Fate ! drop the curtain ; I can lose no more.

Silence and Darkness ! solemn sisters ! twjns
From ancient Night, who nurse the tender thought
To Reason, and on Reason build Resolve 30

(That column of true majefty in Man),
Assist me : I will thank you in the grave ;
The grave, your kingdom : There this frame shall fall
A victim sacred to your dreary shrine.
But what are ye ? 35

THOU, who didst put to flight
Primaeval Silence, when the morning stars,
Exulting, shouted o'er the rising ball ;
O THOU ! whose word from solid darkness struck
That spark, the sun, strike wisdom from my soul; 40
My soul, which flies to Thee, her trust, her treasure,
As misers to their gold, while others rest.

Through this opaque of Nature and of Soul,
This double night, transmit one pitying ray,

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To lighten, and to cheer. O lead my mind 45

(A mind that fain would wander from its woe),

Lead it through various scenes of life and death ;

And from each scene, the noblest truths inspire*

Nor less inspire my conduct than my song ;

Teach my best reason, reason ; my best will 50

Teach rectitude ; and fix my firm resolve

"Wisdom to wed, and pay her long arrear :

Nor let the phial of thy vengeance, pour'd

On this devoted head, be pour'd in vain.

The bell strikes One. We take no note of time, 55,
But from its loss. To give it then a tongue,
Is wise in man. As if an angel spoke,
I feel the solemn sound. If heard aright,
It is the knell of my departed hours :
Where are they? With the years beyond the flood. 60
It is the signal that demands despatch :
How much is to be done ? My hopes and fears
Start up alarm'd, and o'er life's narrow verge
Look down On what ? A fathomless abyss ;
A dread eternity ! how surely mine ! 65

And can eternity belong to me,
Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour ?

How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful, is Man !
How passing wonder HE, who made him such ! 7$
Who centred in our make such strange extremes !
From diff'rent natures marvellously mix'd,
Connexion exquisite of distant worlds !
Distinguish'd link in being's endless chain!
Midway from Nothing to the Deity ! 75

A beam ethereal, sully'd, and absorpt !


Though sully'd and dishonour'd, still divine !

Dim miniature of greatness absolute !

An heir of glory ! a frail child of dust !

Helpless immortal ! insect infinite ! 80

A worm ! a god ! I tremble at myself,

And in myself am lost ! At home, a stranger,

Thought wanders up and down, surpris'd, aghast,

And wond'ring at her own : How reason reels!

O what a miracle to Man is Man, 85

Triumphantly distressed ! what joy, what dread !

Alternately transported, and alarm' d !

What can preserve my life ? or what destroy ?

An angel's arm can't snatch me from the grave,

Legions of angels can't confine me there. 90

'Tis past conjecture ; all things rise in proof:
While o'er my limbs Sleep's soft dominion spreads,
What though my soul fantastic measures trod
O'er fairy fields; or mourn'd along the gloom
Of pathless woods ; or down the craggy steep 95

Hurl'd headlong, swam with pain the mantled pool j
Or scal'd the cliff; or danc'd on hollow winds,
With antic shapes ? wild natives of the brain !
Her ceaseless flight, though devious, speaks her nature
Of subtler essence than the trodden clod ; 100

Active, aerial, tow'ring, unconfm'd,
Unfetter'd with her gross companion's fall.
Ev'n silent Night proclaims rny soul immortal :
Ev'a silent Night proclaims eternal day.
For human weal, Heav'n husbands all events : 105
Dull Sleep instructs, nor sport vain dreams in vain.

Why then their loss deplore that are not lost ?
Why wanders wretched thought their tombs around,

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In infidel distress ? Are angels there ?

Slumbers, rak'd up in dust, ethereal fire ? no

They live ! they greatly live ! a life on earth
Unkindled, unconceiv'd ! and from an eye
Of tenderness, let heav'nly pity fall
On me, more justly number'd with the dead.
This is the desert, this the solitude: 115

How populous, how vital, is the grave !
This is creation's melancholy vault,
The vale funereal, the sad cypress gloom ;
The land of apparitions, empty shades !
All, all on earth is shadow, all beyond 120

Is substance : The reverse is Folly's creed :
How solid all, where change shall be no more !

This is the bud of being, the dim dawn,
The twilight of our day, the vestibule ;
Life's theatre as yet is shut, and Death, 125

Strong Death, alone can heave the massy bar,
This gross impediment of clay remove,
And make us embryos of existence free.
From real life, but little more remote
Is he, not yet a candidate for light, 130

The future embryo, slumb'ring in his sire.
Embryos we must be, till we burst the shell,
Yon ambient azure shell, and spring to life,
The life of gods, (O transport !) and of man.

Yet Man, fool Man ! here buries all his thoughts ;
Inters celestial hopes without one sigh. 136

Pris'ner of earth, and pent beneath the moon,
Here pinions all his wishes : Wing'd by Heav'n
To fly at infinite ; and reach it there,
Where seraphs gather immortality 140


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On Life's fair tree, fast by the throne of God,
What golden joys ambrosial clust'ring glow
In His full beam, and ripen for the just !
Where momentary ages are no more !
Where Time, and Pain, and Chance, and Death ex-
pire ! 145
And is it in the flight of threescore years,
To push eternity from human thought,
And smother souls immortal in the dust ?
A soul immortal, spending all her fires,
Wasting her strength in strenuous idleness, 15
Thrown into tumult, raptur'd, or alarm'd
At aught this scene can threaten, or indulge,
Resembles ocean into tempest wrought,
To waft a feather, or to drown a fly.

Where falls this censure ? it o'erwhelms myself; 155
How was my heart incrusted by the world !
O how self-fetter'd was my grov'ling soul !
How, like a worm, was I wrapt round and round
In silken thought, which reptile Fancy spun !
Till darkened Reason lay quite clouded o'er 1 60

With soft conceit of endless comfort here,
Nor yet put forth her wings to reach the skies !

Night-visions may befriend (as sung above) :
Our waking dreams are fatal. How I dreamt
Of things impossible! (could Sleep do more?) 165
Of joys perpetual in perpetual change !
Of stable pleasures on the tossing wave !
Eternal sunshine in the storms of Life !
How richly were my noontide trances hung
With gorgeous tapestries of pictured joys, 170

Joy behind joy, in endless perspective !


Till at Death's toll, whose restless iron tongue

Calls daily for his millions at a meal,

Starting I woke, and found myself undone.

Where's now my frenzy's pompous furniture? 175

The cobwebb'd cottage, with its ragged wall

Of mould'ring mud, is royalty to me.

The spider's most attenuated thread,

Is cord, is cable, to Man's tender tie

On earthly bliss ; it breaks at e'very breeze. 1 80

O ye blest scenes of permanent delight !
Full, above measure ! lasting, beyond bound !
A perpetuity of bliss, is bliss.
Could you, so rich in rapture, fear an end,
That ghastly thought would drink up all your joy, 185
And quite unparadise the realms of light.
Safe are you lodg'd above these rolling spheres ;
The baleful influence of whose giddy dance
Sheds sad vicissitude on all beneath.
Here teems with revolutions ev'ry hour j 190

And rarely for the better ; or the best,
More mortal than the common births of Fate.
Each moment has its sickle, emulous
Of Time's enormous scythe, whose ample sweep
Strikes empires from the root; each moment plays 195
His little weapon in the narrower fphere
Of sweet domestic comfort, and cuts down
The fairest bloom of sublunary bliss.

Bliss ! sublunary bliss ! proud words, and vain !
Implicit treason to divine decree ! 200

A bold invasion of the rights of Heav'n !
I clasp'd the phantoms, and I found them air j
O had I weigh'd it ere my fond embrace !



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What darts of agony had miss'd my heart !

Death! great proprietor of all! 'tis thine 205

To tread cut empire, and to quench the stars.

The sun himself by thy. permission shines ;

And, one day, thou shalt pluck him from his sphere.

Amidst such mighty plunder, why exhaust

Thy partial quiver on a mark so mean ? 210

Why thy peculiar rancour wreak' d on me ?

Insatiate archer ! could not one suffice ?

Thy shaft flew thrice; and thrice my peace was slain ;

And thrice, ere thrice yori moon had fill'd her horn.

Cynthia! why so pale? Dost thou lament 215
Thy wretched neighbour ? grieve to see thy wheel

Of ceaseless change outwhirl'd in human life ?
How wanes my borrow'd bliss! from Fortune's smile,
Precarious courtesy ! not Virtue's sure,
Self-given, solar, ray of sound delight. 220

In ev'ry vary'd posture, place, and hour,
How widow'd, ev'ry thought of ev'ry joy !
Thought, busy thought! too busy for my peace;
Through the dark postern of time long elaps'd,
Led softly, by the stillness of the night, 225

Led, like a murderer,, (and such it proves !)
Strays (wretched rover !) o'er the pleasing past ;
In quest of wretchedness perversely strays ;

Online LibraryEdward YoungNight thoughts on life, death and immortality → online text (page 1 of 24)