William Hamilton Reid, “The Panic; or a Meditation supposed to be written upon the Discovery of the Plague”


“The Panic; or a Meditation supposed to be written upon the Discovery of the Plague


When the dire disease
Had on the first pale victim set its seal,
‘Twas horrid! Mute, aghast, his neighbours stood.—
The symptoms sure, the death-struck wretch they shun:
Precaution vain! like lightning flew his fate,                                      5
And guilt attractive scour’d each dark recess
Where vice couch’d low, meanly submissive grown
To sad suspension now on all impos’d.
Not ev’n the court the harsh alarm evades:
Spurning the guards, the messenger abrupt                                     10
Bursts on the throne: Nor Majesty itself,
Nor sycophants in courtly arts refin’d,
Such as who erst the Danish monarch urg’d
To curb the waves, could sooth the grating sound,
Or into silence bribe the dauntless truth—                                        15
Quite the reverse! their flight announc’d their fears:
Whilst on the crowd by desp’rate power restrain’d
“Grim Death grinn’d horrible:” flush’d with the hope
Of mortal festival.— ‘Tis now Despair
And Desolation stalk the once-throne’d streets.                               20
Hence Poverty, and all its squalid brood,
Work general ruin, till hecatombs
Of victims gasp, and scarce a parting sigh
Surviving wretches trust the treacherous air.
Meanwhile habitual Misery verges on                                                25
To damn soft Pity’s source: nor juvenile Love,
Nor th’ Amor Patriae, save Friendship none
(That gem celestial) braves the sullen power,
Or looks beyond the present gloomy bound;
For others, midst these chilling scenes of woe                                 30
Callous, distress the dying and the dead,
And, vainly hoping to outlive the storm,
Consign their treasures to the groaning earth.
Yet say, my Muse; can all the forms of Death,
That like fierce torrents sweep this mortal stage,—                         35
Can famine, war, or pestilence, compare
With keen reflection, edg’d with conscious guilt,
And time misspent, and suffering goodness scorn’d,
And dark futurity? No! This alone
Close view’d, can freeze the boiling blood of lust,                            40
And in a moment damp an age’s joy.—
Then let us hence contingences improve
By foresight prudent, and self-love refine:—
So shall true dignity adorn each brow,
Firm-footed peace with calm unruffled hours,                                 45
And mental freedom with immortal youth,
Renew the soul.—Then, saturated high
With beauty inexpressive, each great mind,
In faint resemblance of all-bounteous heaven,
Shall seize officious each occurring hour                                          50
To spread the joy, and raise a “groveling world.”


Title Plague The bubonic plague destroyed much of Europe in the Middle Ages.

13 the Danish monarch An allusion to Valdemar IV Atterdag. The title Atterdag roughly translates to “New Day,” a title bestowed because of his restoration of wealth to Denmark during his reign.

18 “Grim Death grinn’d horrible:” Reid is drawing from Book II of Milton’s Paradise Lost. He is synthesizing two passages, “Grim Death, my son and foe” (l. 804) and “Death/Grinn’d horrible a ghastly smile” (ll. 845-46), perhaps for alliterative effect.

22 hetacombs In ancient times, a reference to public sacrifice of 100 oxen for a religious ceremony. By the eighteenth-century, however, it meant a great number of people dying (OED).

27 Amors Patriae Latin for love of one’s country (OED).

34 Muse In poetry, the image of the Muse was often invoked as someone who aids the poet in writing.

42 contingences Variant spelling of the word contingencies.

51 “groveling world” Quotation not traced.

Source: The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 59 Pt. 2 (July 1789), pp. 650-651.

Edited by Burl S. Rices