“The Hermit” by Dr. Thomas Parnell

parnell hermit
Thomas Parnell’s “Hermit” proved to be one of the more popular poems published in the eighteenth century.
“Thomas Parnell (11 September 1679 – 24 October 1718) was a poet and clergyman, born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, Dublin and was a friend of both Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift. He was one of the so-called “Graveyard poets”: his ‘A Night-Piece on Death,’ widely considered the first “Graveyard School” poem, was published posthumously in Poems on Several Occasions, collected and edited by Alexander Pope and is thought by some scholars to have been published in December of 1721 (although dated in 1722 on its title page, the year accepted by The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature; see 1721 in poetry, 1722 in poetry). It is said of his poetry ‘it was in keeping with his character, easy and pleasing, enunciating the common places with felicity and grace.
Oliver Goldsmith wrote a biography of Parnell which often accompanied later editions of Parnell’s works.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Parnell

See also his entry in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43 available at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Parnell,_Thomas_%28DNB00%29

“Irish poet Thomas Parnell (1679-1718) would be largely unknown except for a biography by Samuel Johnson and posthumous publication of his poems by Alexander Pope. “The Hermit” is about a hermit who ventures from his isolated dwelling to go wandering, encountering the world and himself. The poem is highly stylized, didactic, and sentimental, anticipating later romantic themes.”

“Mr. Parnell’s Tale of the Hermit, is conspicuous, throughout the whole of it, for beautiful Descriptive Narration. The manner of the Hermit’s setting forth to visit the world; his meeting with a companion, and the houses in which they are successively entertained, of the vain man, the covetous man, and the good man, are pieces of very fine painting, touched with a light and delicate pencil, overcharged with no superfluous colouring, and conveying to us a lively idea of the objects”
Rev. Hugh Blair (1718-1800) “Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres” (1785) 2:375.

The full text can be found at:

Some extracts follow:

Far in a Wild, unknown to publick View,
From Youth to Age a rev’rend Hermit grew;
The Moss his Bed, the Cave his humble Cell,
His Food the Fruits, his Drink the chrystal Well:
Remote from Man, with God he pass’d the Days,
Pray’r all his Bus’ness, all his Pleasure Praise.

A Life so sacred, such serene Repose,
Seem’d Heav’n it self, ’till one Suggestion rose;
That Vice shou’d triumph, Virtue Vice obey,
This sprung some Doubt of Providence’s Sway:
His Hopes no more a certain Prospect boast,
And all the Tenour of his Soul is lost:
So when a smooth Expanse receives imprest
Calm Nature’s Image on its wat’ry Breast,
Down bend the Banks, the Trees depending grow,
And Skies beneath with answ’ring Colours glow:
But if a Stone the gentle Scene divide,
Swift ruffling Circles curl on ev’ry side,
And glimmering Fragments of a broken Sun,
Banks, Trees, and Skies, in thick Disorder run.

To clear this Doubt, to know the World by Sight,
To find if Books, or Swains, report it right;
(For yet by Swains alone the World he knew,
Whose Feet came wand’ring o’er the nightly Dew)
He quits his Cell; the Pilgrim-Staff he bore,
And fix’d the Scallop in his Hat before;
Then with the Sun a rising Journey went,
Sedate to think, and watching each Event…

The Morn was wasted in the pathless Grass,
And long and lonesome was the Wild to pass;
But when the Southern Sun had warm’d the Day,
A Youth came posting o’er a crossing Way;
His Rayment decent, his Complexion fair,
And soft in graceful Ringlets wav’d his Hair.
Then near approaching, Father Hail! he cry’d,
And Hail, my Son, the rev’rend Sire reply’d;
Words followed Words, from Question Answer flow’d,
And Talk of various kind deceiv’d the Road;
‘Till each with other pleas’d, and loth to part,
While in their Age they differ, joyn in Heart:
Thus stands an aged Elm in Ivy bound,
Thus youthful Ivy clasps an Elm around….

Long had our pious Friend in Virtue trod,
But now the Child half-wean’d his Heart from God;
(Child of his Age) for him he liv’d in Pain,
And measur’d back his Steps to Earth again.
To what Excesses had his Dotage run?
But God, to save the Father, took the Son.
To all but thee, in Fits he seem’d to go,
(And ’twas my Ministry to deal the Blow.)
The poor fond Parent humbled in the Dust,
Now owns in Tears the Punishment was just.

But how had all his Fortune felt a Wrack,
Had that false Servant sped in Safety back?
This Night his treasur’d Heaps he meant to steal,
And what a Fund of Charity wou’d fail!

Thus Heav’n instructs thy Mind: This Tryal o’er,
Depart in Peace, resign, and sin no more.

On sounding Pinnions here the Youth withdrew,
The Sage stood wond’ring as the Seraph flew.
Thus look’d Elisha, when to mount on high,
His Master took the Chariot of the Sky;
The fiery Pomp ascending left the View;
The Prophet gaz’d, and wish’d to follow too.

The bending Hermit here a Pray’r begun,
Lord! as in Heaven, on Earth thy Will be done.
Then gladly turning, sought his antient place,
And pass’d a Life of Piety and Peace.
parnell angel
See also “The Legend of the Hermit and the Angel. I. Thomas Parnell’s Poem and Its More Recent Sources” in “Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review”, Vol. 1, No. 1, March, 1912 on-line at http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/30092418?uid=3737536&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21102716848391
Hermit Tabart
Parnell’s “Hermit” is also the basis for one of Benjamin Tabart’s rare movable books (London, 1810). Each ‘page’ is covered by two flaps which meet in the middle (horizontally) to form a whole new ‘page’. In other words, the reader is at first presented with what looks like a single page, but when each of the flaps are lifted, a new half page is revealed underneath. Engraved text and images appear on each page, the images being carefully hand-coloured. “The Hermit” was a poem by Dr. Thomas Parnell (1679-1718), Archdeacon of Clogher, first published in 1722. The poem told of an angel which visited the Earth in human form. All of its deeds appeared wicked, but ultimately, they each prevented a greater harm from occurring. Such a fable, according to Marjorie Moon, was to be found in both the Talmud and the Koran. Moon also comments that this ‘distorted moral … must have bewildered young readers’. This might well be true, but Tabart’s subject matter was presumably suggested by the physical form of the book, each page lifting to reveal what was initially hidden, just as the motivation of the angel’s actions had been obscure at first.


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