The Spirit Of Discovery By Sea: Analysis.

A poem by William Lisle Bowles


Book The First.


The book opens with the resting of the Ark on the mountains of the great Indian Caucasus, considered by many authors as Ararat: the present state of the inhabited world, contrasted with its melancholy appearance immediately after the flood. The poem returns to the situation of our forefathers on leaving the ark; beautiful evening described. The Angel of Destruction appears to Noah in a dream, and informs him that although he and his family alone have escaped, the VERY ARK, which was the means of his present preservation, shall be the cause of the future triumph of Destruction.

In his dream, the evils in consequence of the discovery of America, the slave-trade, et cet., are set before him. Noah, waking from disturbed sleep, ascends the summit of Caucasus. An angel appears to him; tells him that the revelations in his dream were PERMITTED BY THE ALMIGHTY; that he is commissioned to explain everything; he presents to his view the shadow of the world as it exists; regions are pointed out; the dispersion of mankind; the rise of superstition; the birth of a SAVIOUR, and the triumph of Charity: that navigation shall be the means of extending the knowledge of GOD over the globe; and though some evils must take place, happiness and love shall finally prevail upon the earth.


Book The Second

Commences with an ardent wish, that as our forefather viewed the world clearly displayed before him in a vision, so we of these late days might be able, through the clouds of time, to look back upon the early ages of the globe; we might then see, in their splendour, Thebes, Edom, et cet.; but the early history of mankind is obscure, the only certain light is from the sacred writings. By these we are informed of the dispersion of earth's first inhabitants, after the flood. The descendants of HAM, after this dispersion, according to Bruce, having first gained the summits of the Ethiopian mountains, there form subterraneous abodes. In process of time they descend, people Egypt, build Thebes; obscure tradition of the Ark; first make voyages.

Ophir is not long afterwards discovered. This Bruce places, on most respectable authority, at Sofala; I have ventured to place it otherwhere, but still admitting one general idea, that when the way to it overland was attended with difficulties, an easier course was at last opened by sea. As to Ammon's exploits, I must shelter myself under the authority of Sir Isaac Newton. After a sacrifice by the Egyptians, the monsoon sets in. The ships follow its direction, as the mariners imagine a god leads them. Hence the discovery of so much of the world by sea. Reflection on commerce. The voyage of Solomon. A description of the glory of TYRE, the most commercial mart of the early world. Tyrian discoveries in the Mediterranean; voyages to the coast of Italy and Spain, to the Straits, and from thence to Britain.

Tyre is destroyed, and the thought naturally arises, that Britain, which, at the time of the splendour of the maritime Tyrians, was an obscure island, is now at the summit of maritime renown; while TYRE is a place where only "the fisherman dries his net." This leads to an EULOGIUM ON ENGLAND; and the book concludes with the triumphs of her fleets and armies on that very shore, on which science, and art, and commerce, and MARITIME RENOWN, first arose.

This digression, introducing the siege of Acre, appeared to the author not only natural, but in some measure necessary to break the uniformity of the subject.


Book The Third

Commences with the feelings excited by the conclusion of the last, by a warm wish that England may for ages retain her present elevated rank. This leads to the consideration of her NAVAL OPULENCE, which carries us back to the subject we had left--THE FATE OF TYRE.

The history of the empires succeeding Tyre is touched on: the fall of her destroyer, Babylon; the succession of Cyrus; the character of Cyrus, and his want of enlarged policy, having so many means of encouraging commerce; and his ill-fated expedition to the East Indies.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT first conceives the idea of establishing a vast MARITIME EMPIRE: in his march of conquest, he proceeds to the last river of the Punjab, the Hyphasis, which descends into the Indus, the sources of which are near the mountains of CAUCASUS, WHERE THE ARK RESTED.

The Indian account of the Deluge, it is well known, resembles most wonderfully the history of Moses. When Alexander can proceed no further, poetical fiction introduces the person of a Brahmin, who relates the history of the Deluge: viz., that one sacred man was, in this part of the world, miraculously preserved by an ark; the further march of the conqueror towards the holy spot is deprecated: his best glory shall be derived from the sea, and from uniting either world in commerce. Alexander is animated with the idea; and his fleet, under Nearchus, proceeds down the Indus to the sea. This forms a middle, connected with the account of the Deluge, book first.


Book The Fourth.

Nearchus' voyage being accomplished, and Alexandria now complete, Commerce is represented as standing on the Pharos, and calling to all nations. The tide of commerce would have flowed still in the track pointed out by the sagacity of Alexander, but that a wider scene, beyond THE ANCIENT WORLD, opens to the VIEW OF DISCOVERY. The use of the magnet is discovered; and Henry of Portugal prosecutes the plan of opening a passage along the coast of Africa to the East. One of his ships on its return from the expedition has been driven from Cape Bojador (the formidable boundary of Portuguese research) by a storm at sea. The isle afterwards called Porto Santo is discovered. The circumstance related; but the extraordinary appearance of a supernatural shade over the waters at a distance excites many fears and superstitions. The attempt, however, to penetrate the mystery, is resolved on. Zarco reaches the island of Madeira; tomb found; which introduces the episode. At the tomb of the first discoverer (whether this be fanciful or not, is nothing to poetry) the Spirit of Discovery casts her eyes over the globe; she pursues De Gama to the East; history of Camoens touched on; Columbus; sees with triumph the discovery of a new world, and from thence extends her ideas till the great globe is encompassed; after which she returns to the "tranquil bosom of the Thames," with Drake, the first circumnavigator, whose ship, after its various perils, being laid up in that river, gives rise to some brief concluding reflections.


Book The Fifth.

Hitherto we have described only the triumphs of Discovery; but it appears necessary that many incidental evils, special and general, should be mentioned. Fate and miserable end of some great commanders, of our gallant and benevolent countryman, Cook. After the natural feelings of regret, the mind is led to contemplate the great advantages of his voyages: the health of seamen; the accessions to geographical knowledge; the spirit of humanity and science; his exploring the east part of New-Holland; and being the first to determine the proximity of America to Asia. This circumstance leads us back from the point whence we set out--THE ARK OF NOAH; and hence we are partly enabled to solve, what has been for so many ages unknown, the difficulty{g} respecting the earth's being peopled from one family.

The poem having thus gained a middle and end, the conclusion of the whole is, that as this uncertainty in the physical world has been by DISCOVERY cleared up, so all the apparent contradictions in the moral world shall be reconciled. We have yet many existing evils to deplore; but when the SUPREME DISPOSER's plan shall have been completed, then the earth, which has been explored and enlightened by discovery and knowledge, shall be destroyed; but the MIND OF MAN, rendered at last perfect, shall endure through all ages, and "justify His ways from whom it sprung."

* * * * *

Such is the outline and plan of the following poem. I have felt myself obliged to give this hasty analysis, thinking that self-defence almost required it, lest a careless reader might charge me with carelessness of arrangement.

I must again beg it to be remembered, that History and Poetry are two things; and that the poet has a right to build his system, not on what is exact truth, but on what is, at least, plausible; what will form, in the clearest manner, a WHOLE; and what is most susceptible of poetical ornament.

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