"The Solitary Monk Who Shook The World"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The illegitimate son of a comedian, Robert Gomery, born at Bath, England, tried to give himself status by prefixing to his name the aristocratic "Mont." Inspired by the spirit of Byron, at the age of twenty he wrote a long poem, "The Stage Coach," full of his feelings while making a trip through England by coach, and ending with moralizing conclusions. In the frontispiece portrait he is dressed like Byron. "The Stage Coach" was followed by a two-part poetic satire on contemporary mankind, "The Age Reviewed." Both were several times reprinted, and they won commendations by such contemporaries as Wordsworth and Southey. Montgomery's friends compared him to Milton, especially after the publication of his Satan or Intellect Without God that, because of its appeal to the evangelistic party, ran through more editions than anything since the time of Byron. Macaulay, provoked by such success, tried to destroy Montgomery's reputation in an unfair review in poor taste that appeared in the April, 1830, number of Edinburgh Review. It called him "a poetaster whose work has gone into a dozen volumes and needs to be taken down." Instead, the review helped sell eight more editions of Satan in twelve years. Collected editions of his poems in six volumes appeared in 1840 and again in 1841, and in 1854, just before his death, the poet issued a volume of poetry "collected and revised by their author." Another poem, Omnipresence of God, had its twenty-eighth edition in 1858. Montgomery's most ambitious work was Luther, a poem in thirty-one cantos, first published in 1842. He declared it "An attempt to reflect in poetical form (blank verse), some permanent features and prevailing expressions in the life, character, and work of Martin Luther, viewed in historical connection with the Reformation of the sixteenth century." His Preface contains an apology for its imperfections, but none for the Christian Principles that it attempts to embody. A sixth edition, in 1851, contains some changes, but the 1854 edition, as its author declared, was "elaborately revised, extensively corrected, and in many places rewritten and newly arranged." Canto 7, "The Solitary Monk," maintains its position in all editions. Its first line, here quoted, was used on the titlepage of all subsequent printings. The section declares that the appearance of Martin Luther shook the Roman Catholic Church, forcing it to reappraise its doctrines, many of which were found faulty. An appendix, at the end of this hundred-page poem, lists and studies some of the teachings with which Protestants disagreed. This is the way the canto begins, in the seventh edition:

The solitary monk, who shook the World
From pagan slumber, when the gospel-trump
Thunder'd its challenge from his dauntless lips,
In peals of truth, round hierarchal Rome,
Till mitred Pomp, and cowl'd Imposture quail'd,
And each false priesthood, like a fiend unmask'd
And stripp'd of light fictitiously assumed,
By some detecting Angel, shrunk dismay'd
And shiver'd, in thy vast exposure seen,–
Thee would I image, thou colossal Mind.