Hymn to Science

Mark Akenside was born on 9th November 1721 in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, which was also my birthplace. He attended the same school that I did too, the  Royal Grammar School, although I went about 250 years later. Akenside was a physician and political activist as well as a poet. I remembered his name when I was tidying up yesterday and found an old school magazine which mentioned him. This is called Hymn to Science. I hope you like it. I doubt if Simon Jenkins will.

Science! thou fair effusive ray
From the great source of mental day,
Free, generous, and refin’d!
Descend with all thy treasures fraught,
Illumine each bewilder’d thought,
And bless my lab’ring mind.

But first with thy resistless light,
Disperse those phantoms from my sight,
Those mimic shades of thee;
The scholiast’s learning, sophist’s cant,
The visionary bigot’s rant,
The monk’s philosophy.

O! let thy powerful charms impart
The patient head, the candid heart,
Devoted to thy sway;
Which no weak passions e’er mislead,
Which still with dauntless steps proceed
Where Reason points the way.

Give me to learn each secret cause;
Let number’s, figure’s, motion’s laws
Reveal’d before me stand;
These to great Nature’s scenes apply,
And round the globe, and thro’ the sky,
Disclose her working hand.

Next, to thy nobler search resign’d,
The busy, restless, human mind
Thro’ ev’ry maze pursue;
Detect Perception where it lies,
Catch the ideas as they rise,
And all their changes view.

Say from what simple springs began
The vast, ambitious thoughts of man,
Which range beyond control;
Which seek Eternity to trace,
Dive thro’ th’ infinity of space,
And strain to grasp the whole.

Her secret stores let Memory tell,
Bid Fancy quit her fairy cell,
In all her colours drest;
While prompt her sallies to control,
Reason, the judge, recalls the soul
To Truth’s severest test.

Let the fair scale, with just ascent,
And cautious steps, be trod;
And from the dead, corporeal mass,
Thro’ each progressive order pass
To Instinct, Reason, God.

Nor dive too deep, nor soar too high,
In that divine abyss;
To Faith content thy beams to lend,
Her hopes t’ assure, her steps befriend,
And light her way to bliss.

Then downwards take thy flight agen;
Mix with the policies of men,
And social nature’s ties:
The plan, the genius of each state,
Its interest and its pow’rs relate,
Its fortunes and its rise.

Thro’ private life pursue thy course,
Trace every action to its source,
And means and motives weigh:
Put tempers, passions in the scale,
Mark what degrees in each prevail,
And fix the doubtful sway.

That last, best effort of thy skill,
To form the life, and rule the will,
Propitious pow’r! impart:
Teach me to cool my passion’s fires,
Make me the judge of my desires,
The master of my heart.

Raise me above the vulgar’s breath,
Pursuit of fortune, fear of death,
And all in life that’s mean.
Still true to reason be my plan,
Still let my action speak the man,
Thro’ every various scene.

Hail! queen of manners, light of truth;
Hail! charm of age, and guide of youth;
Sweet refuge of distress:
In business, thou! exact, polite;
Thou giv’st Retirement its delight,
Prosperity its grace.

Of wealth, pow’r, freedom, thou! the cause;
Foundress of order, cities, laws,
Of arts inventress, thou!
Without thee what were human kind?
How vast their wants, their thoughts how blind!
Their joys how mean! how few!

Sun of the soul! thy beams unveil!
Let others spread the daring sail,
On Fortune’s faithless sea;
While undeluded, happier I
From the vain tumult timely fly,
And sit in peace with thee.

5 Responses to “Hymn to Science”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    This reminds me of a poem about cricket from the same era, with a first line that is essentially beyond parody,

    Hail cricket! Glorious, manly, English game…

  2. telescoper Says:

    This poem has its comical moments, but its nowhere near as naff as my old school song!

    For example

    Many a name on the scroll of fame,
    Is the heritage of our land,
    Collingwood and Armstrong, Eldon and Bourne,
    Akenside, Stowell and Brand,
    Strong in their wisdom, wise in their strength,
    Wielders of sword and of pen,
    Far went they forth from the school of the north,
    That mother and maker of men.

    PS. As well as Akenside, the song refers to Collingwood – another Old Novocastrian (as we’re called) – who was Nelson’s second-in-command at Trafalgar.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    A collection of school songs would be fun. What was the tune?

  4. telescoper Says:

    I remember the tune, but haven’t heard it in any other context and think it might have been an original. Next time I see you I’ll play it on period instruments for you.

    An amusing collection of awful school ditties, including the RGS one, can be found here:


  5. telescoper Says:

    ps. The chorus of the School song is the latin motto of the City of Newcastle, Fortiter Defendit Triumphans, which I translate as meaning something like “Triumphing through brave defence”. Any supporter of Newcastle United will be fully aware of the irony. It was usually sung by the boys in my class as “Forty quid to mend it, frying pans”.

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