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song ended, he precipitates himself from the mountain, and is swallowed up by the river that rolls at its foot."
“ Fine (says Mr. Mason) as the conclusion of this ode is at present, I think it would have been still finer, if he could have executed it according to this plan; but, unhappily for his purpose, instances of English poets were wanting. Spenser had that enchanting flow of verse which was peculiarly calculated to celebrate virtue and valour; but he chose to celebrate them, not literally, but in allegory. Shakespeare, who had talents for every thing, was undoubtedly capable of exposing vice and infamous pleasure; and the drama was a proper vehicle for his satire; but we do not ever find that he professedly made this his object ; nay, we know that, in one inimitable character, he has so contrived as to make vices of the worst kind, such as cowardice, drunkenness, dishonesty, and lewdness, not only laughable, but almost amiable; for with all these sins on his head, who can help liking Falstaff ? Milton, of all our great poets, was the only one who boldly censured tyranny and oppression: but he chose to deliver this censure, not in poetry, but in prose. Dryden was a mere court parasite to the most infamous of all courts. Pope, with all his laudable detestation of corruption and bribery, was a Tory; and Addison, though a Whig, and a fine writer, was unluckily not enough of a poet for his purpose. On these considerations Mr. Gray was necessitated to change his plan towards the conclusion: hence we perceive, that in the last epode he praises Spenser only for his allegory, Shakespeare for his powers of moving the passions, and Milton for his epic excellence. I remember the ode lay unfinished by him for a year or two on this very account; and I hardly believe that it would ever have had his last hand, but for the circumstance of his hearing Parry play on the Welsh harp at a concert at Cambridge, (see Letter xxv. sect. iv.) which he often declared inspired him with the conclusion.
“ Mr. Smith, the musical composer and worthy pupil of Mr. Handel, had once an idea of setting this ode, and of having it performed by way of serenata or oratorio. A common friend of his and Mr. Gray's interested himself much in this design, and drew out a clear analysis of the ode, that Mr. Smith might more perfectly understand the poet's meaning. He conversed also with Mr. Gray on the subject, who gave him an idea for the overture, and marked also some passages in the ode, in order to ascertain which should be recitative, which air, what kind of air, and how accompanied. This design was, however, not executed; and therefore I shall only in order to give the reader a taste of Mr. Gray's musical feelings) insert in this place what his sentiments were concerning the overture. It should be so contrived as to be a
proper introduction to the ode; it might consist of two movements, the first descriptive of the horror and confusion of battle, the last a march grave and majestic, but expressing the exultation and insolent security of conquest. This movement should be composed entirely of wind instruments, except the kettle-drum heard at intervals. The da capo of it must be suddenly broke in upon, and put to silence by the clang of the harp in a tumultuous rapid movement, joined with the voice, all at once, and not ushered in by any symphony. The harmony may be strengthened by any other stringed instrument; but the harp should every where prevail, and form the continued running accompaniment, submitting itself to nothing but the voice.'
“I cannot (adds Mr. Mason) quit this and the preceding ode, without saying a word or two concerning the obscurity which has been imputed to them, and the preference which, in consequence, has been given to his Elegy. It seems as if the persons, who hold this opinion, suppose that every species of poetry ought to be equally clear and intelligible : than which position nothing can be more repugnant to the several specific natures of composition, and to the practice of ancient art. Not to take Pindar and his odes for an example, (though what I am here defending were written professedly in imitation of him,) I would ask, are all the writings of Horace, his Epistles, Satires, and Odes, equally perspicuous ? Among his odes, separately considered, are there not remarkable differences of this very kind ? Is the spirit and meaning of that which begins, •Descende coelo, et dic, age, tibiâ,” Ode iv. lib. 3, so readily comprehended as · Persicos odi, puer, apparatus,' Ode xxxviii. lib. 1. And is the latter a finer piece of lyrical composition on that account? Is · Integer vitæ, scelerisque purus,' Ode xxii. lib. 1, superior to · Pindarum quisquis studet æmulari,' Ode ii. lib. 4 ; because it may be understood at the first reading, and the latter not without much study and reflection? Now between these odes, thus compared, there is surely equal difference in point of perspicuity, as between the Progress of Poesy, and the Prospect of Eton College; the Ode on the Spring, and the Bard.
But,' say these objectors, the end of poetry is universally to please. Obscurity, by taking off from our pleasure, destroys that end. I will grant that if the obscurity be great, constant, and insurmountable, this is certainly true; but if it be only found in particular passages, proceeding from the nature of the subject and the very genius of the composition, it does not rob us of our pleasure, but superadds a new one, which arises from conquering a difficulty; and the pleasure which accrues from a difficult passage, when well understood, provided the passage itself be a fine one, is always more perma
nent than that which we discover at the first glance. The Lyric Muse, like other fine ladies, requires to be courted, and retains her admirers the longer for not having yielded too readily to their solicitations. This argument, ending as it does in a sort of simile, will, I am persuaded, not only have its force with the intelligent readers (the EYNETOI), but also with the men of fashion: as to critics of a lower class, it may be sufficient to transcribe, for their improvement, an unfinished remark, or rather maxim, which I found amongst our author's papers; and which he probably wrote on occasion of the common preference given to his Elegy. « The Gout de comparaison (as Bruyere styles it) is the only taste of ordinary minds. They do not know the specific excellence either of an author or a composition: for instance, they do not know that Tibullus spoke the language of nature and love; that Horace saw the vanities and follies of mankind with the most penetrating eye, and touched them to the quick; that Virgil ennobled even the most common images by the graces of a glowing, melodious, and well-adapted expression : but they do know that Virgil was a better poet than Horace, and that Horace's Epistles do not run so well as the Elegies of Tibullus.'”
ODE FOR MUSIC.
This Ode was performed in the Senate-House at Cambridge,
July 1, 1769, at the installation of His Grace Augustus Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton, Chancellor of the University. (This Ode is printed with the divisions adopted by the Composer, Dr. Randall, then Professor of Music at Cambridge. On Dr. Burney's disappointment that he did not set this Ode to music, see Miss Burney's Mem. i. 212; and Cradock's Mem. i. p. 107.)
“ HENCE, avaunt, ('tis holy ground)
Comus, and his midnight-crew, And Ignorance with looks profound,
And dreaming Sloth of pallid hue, Mad Sedition's cry profane, Servitude that hugs her chain, Nor in these consecrated bowers Let painted Flatt'ry hide her serpent-train in
Nor Envy base, nor creeping Gain,
V. 1. So Callim. H. in Apoll. ver. 2: 'Ekàs ÉkdÇ Õotis åhetpos. Virg. Æn. vi. 258: “Procul, O procul este profani.” Stat. Sylv. iii. 3: “Procul hinc, procul ite nocentes.” Claud. Rap. Pros. i. 3: “Gressus removete profani.” V. 2. “ Meanwhile welcome joy, and feast,
Midnight shout, and revelry,
Tipsy dance, and jollity.” Milt. Com. 102. W. “Though he and his cursed crew.” Milt. Com. 653. V. 7. “ Near to her close and consecrated bower.”
Mids. N. Dr. act iii. sc. 2. W. V. 9. “ Base Envy withers at another's joy.” Thomson. Spring. Also, “Safe pursuits and creeping cares.” Liberty, p. iv. Luke.
Dare the Muse's walk to stain,
From yonder realms of empyrean day
Bursts on my ear th' indignant lay: There sit the sainted sage, the bard divine,
The few, whom genius gave to shine Thro'
every unborn age, and undiscover'd clime. Rapt in celestial transport they : Yet hither oft a glance from high They send of tender sympathy
V. 13. “ From your empyreal bowers, and from the realms of everlasting day.” G. West's Poems.
V. 15. There sit] Surely a better word than this, "sit,” in pronunciation and imagery could have been found. V. 17. “ Nations unborn your mighty name shall sound, And worlds applaud that must not yet be found.'
Pope. Essay on Criticism, 193. W. V. 26. “E'en mitred Rochester would nod the head." Pope. Prol. to the Sat. 143. W. See Warton. Milt. p. 4. V. 27. “ To arched walks of twilight groves, And shadows brown that Sylvan loves."
Il Penser. 133. W. And so Pope, in his Transl. of the Odyssey : “Brown with o'erarching shades."
This stanza, supposed to be sung by Milton, is very judiciously written in the metre which he fixed upon for the stanza of his Christmas Hymn : “ 'Twas in the winter wild," &c. Mason.
“Nought have we here but willow-shaded shore,
Hall. Sat. b. i. sat. i. V. 30. Wakefield has justly remarked that this stan za is indebted to the following passage in the Il Pens. of Milton, ver. 61: