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Can there be an image more just, apposite, and nobly imagined than this tremendous tragical winding-sheet? In the rest of this stanza the wildness of thought, expression, and cadence are admirably adapted to the character and situation of the speaker, and of the bloody spectres, his assistants. It is not indeed peculiar to it alone, but a beauty that runs throughout the whole composition, that the historical events are briefly sketched out by a few striking circumstances, in which the Poet's office of rather exciting and directing, than satisfying the reader's ima gination, is perfectly observed. Such abrupt hints, resembling the several fragments of a vast ruin, suffer not the mind to be raised to the utmost pitch, by one image of horror, but that instantaneously a second and a third are presented to it, and the affection is still uniformly supported.
10. Fair laughs the morn, &c.
It is always entertaining, and sometimes useful, to be informed how a writer frequently improves on his original thoughts; on this account I have occasionally set down the few variations which Mr. Gray made in his lyrical compositions. The six lines before us convey, perhaps, the most beautiful piece of imagery in the whole Ode, and were a wonderful improvement on those which he first wrote; which, though they would appear fine in an inferior Poet, are infinitely below those which supplanted them. I find them in one of his corrected manuscripts as follow.
Mirrors of Saxon truth and loyalty,
Your helpless old expiring Mastér view!
They hear not: scarce Religion dares supply
Her mutter'd Requiems, and her holy dew.
Yet thou, proud boy, from Pomfret's walls shall send
A sigh, and envy oft thy happy grandsire's end.
11. Fill high the sparkling bowl.
Epode ii. l. 1. &t..
This Stanza (as an ingenious friend remarks) has exceeding merit. It breathes in a lesser compass, what the Ode breathes at large, the high spirit of lyric Enthusiasm. The Transitions are sudden, and impetuous; the language full of fire and force; and the Imagery carried, without impropriety, to the most daring height. The manner of Richard's death by Famine exhibits such beauties of Personification, as only the richest and most vivid Imagination could supply. From thence we are hurried, with the wildest rapidity, into the midst of Battle; and the epithet kindred places at once before our eyes all the peculiar horrors of Civil War. Immediately, by a transition most strik ing and unexpected, the Poet falls into a tender and pathetic Address; which, from the sentiments, and also from the num bers, has all the melancholy flow, and breathes all the plaintive softness, of Elegy. Again the Scene changes; again the Bard rises into an allegorical description of Carnage, to which the metre is admirably adapted: and the concluding Sentence of personal punishment on Edward is denounced with a Solemnity, that chills and terrifies.
12. No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail.
All hail, ye genuine Kings, Britannia's Issue hail!
Triumphant tell aloud, another Arthur reigns.
13. Girt with many a Baron bold,
Sublime their starry fronts they rear.
Ant. iii. l. 1, 2.
Youthful Knights, and Barons bold,
14. Fierce War, and faithful Love.
Ep. iii. 1. 2.
Fierce wars and faithful loves shall moralize my
Spenser's Proëme to the Fairy Queen. G.
15. I cannot quit this and the preceding Ode, without saying a word or two of my own concerning the obscurity which has been imputed to them, and the preference which, in conse quence, 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? Amongst his Odes, separately considered, are there not remarkable differences of this very kind? Is the spirit and meaning of that which begins, "Descende 66 cœlo, & dic, age, tibiâ,” Ode 4. lib. 3. so readily comprehended as "Persicos odi, puer, apparatus," Ode 38. I. 1. And is the latter a finer piece of lyrical composition on that account? Is "Integer vitæ, scelerisq; purus," Ode 22. 1. 1. superior to "Pin"darum quisquis studet æmulari,” Ode 2. 1. 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 perspi
cuity, as between the Progress of Poesy, and the Prospect of Eton; the Ode on the Spring, and the Bard. But, say these objectors, "The end of Poetry is universally to please. Obscu66 rity, by taking off from our pleasure, destroys that end." I will grant that, if the obscurity be great, constant, and unsurmountable, 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 permanent 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 ETNETOI), 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 excellency "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 ex
pression; but they do know that Virgil was a better poet than "Horace; and that Horace's Epistles do not run so well as the 66 Elegies of Tibullus.”
This Ode, to which, on the title, I have given the epithet of IRREGULAR, is the only one of the kind which Mr. Gray ever wrote; and its being written occasionally, and for music, is a sufficient apology for the defect. Exclusive of this, (for a defect it certainly is) it appears to me, in point of lyrical arrangement and expression, to be equal to most of his other Odes. It is remarkable that, amongst the many irregular Odes which have been written in our own language, Dryden's and Pope's, on St. Cecilia's Day, are the only ones that may properly be said to have lived. The reason is (as it is hinted in a note on Let. 20. sect. 4. of the Memoirs) that this mode of composition is so extremely easy, that it gives the writer an opening to every kind of poetical licentiousness: whereas the regularly repeated stanza, and still more the regular succession of strophe, antistrophe, and epode, put so strong a curb on the wayward imagination, that when she has once paced in it, she seldom chooses to submit to it a second time. 'Tis therefore greatly to be wished, in order to stifle in their birth a quantity of compositions, which are at the same time wild and jejune, that regular Odes, and these only, should be deemed legitimate amongst us.
The Cambridge edition (published at the expense of the University) is here followed; but I have added at the bottom of the page a number of explanatory notes, which this Ode seemed to want, still more than that which preceded it; especially when given not to the University only, but the Public in general, who may be reasonably supposed to know little of the particular founders of different Colleges and their history here alluded to. For the sake of uniformity in the page, I have divided the Ode into stanzas, and discarded the musical divisions of Recitative,