William Jackson (of Exeter)
(1730 - 1803)

Jackson (of Exeter) : Vital spark of heavenly flame : illustration

Vital spark of heavenly flame
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Publ. 1766 in Jackson's Op. 5.

Pope's Ode "The dying Christian to his soul" was popular with Anglophone protestant congregations of all denominations, and is represented in psalmody by several settings, both in England and in North America. Jackson's setting may be for a different purpose. This piece, in full-blown rococo trio sonata style, is reminiscent of his own canzonets (themselves modelled on those of his tutor, John Travers of the Chapel Royal). Perhaps the intended use was for concert or domestic performance, by professional singers, such as the Linley sisters.

Jackson was most interested in discussing the aesthetics of his art (he corresponded with Thomas Gainsborough on this topic). In the frontispiece to this item he observed: " The Ode [text] is not altered in any respect from the original...it is sufficiently known and admired. Perhaps it may be worth remarking, that it is the only piece of Pope's fit for music, tho' never intended for it...I have aimed more at style, than composition. There is intended to be contrivance enough to engage, without perplexing the attention. I would be easily understood by the ignorant, but not so perfectly to discard art as to be despised by the skilful."
Lyrics: Alexander Pope

Vital spark of heav'nly flame!
Quit, O quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, ling'ring, flying,
Oh, the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Sister Spirit, come away!
What is this absorbs me quite,
Steals my senses, shuts my sight?
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav'n opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings! I mount, I fly!
O Grave, where is thy victory?
O Death, where is thy sting?