1779 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Mason

Philo-Musa, "A Critical Ode, addressed to Mr. Mason" Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (20 May 1779).



Well Sir, in Milton let us look,
Here is the poem, this the book,
And now without apology
I flatly shall affirm, no place
Can there be found from whence to trace
You heroic mythology.

From Satan's brain "all evil" came,
The various vices form'd "one Dame,"
And she was christin'd Sin:
A vice by Death from Sin proceed!—
This, Sir, was never Milton's creed;
So poorly you begin.

The crew of hell-hounds which she bore
To him upon the Stygian shore,
Were Fear, Remorse, Anxiety,
The dogs which conscience hourly tear,
Whose howlings guilt is doom'd to hear,
The terrors of impiety.

So far, so good. — "Truth launches" — What?
Orthography here smells a rat,
I thought a ship would follow;
But 'tis a "shaft." — O rare discharge!
So "launch," bold wight, thy ten-oar'd barge,
And beat all lyrists hollow.

The "flame" of truth pervades the isle,
This typifies in punsters stile,
Fires and illumination;
While these through country spread and city,
The poet a prey (O pity!)
To cold inanimation.

But let it be a mental fire,—
Our navel chiefs it should inspire—
To Pilots why confin'd?
What, though with "steady helm" they guide,
Our floating bulwarks o'er the tide?
Is theirs' th' enlighten'd mind?

"The orb that gives the day" — how tame!
Pshaw! rot this "murky mist," it came
And dimm'd the prospect round me;
Else, "light as air," had soar'd my wings,
But now these titles, stars, and string,
And Kings, and slaves, confound me.

"Hireling Courtiers, Venal Peers,"—
Nice epithets for nicer ears,
I deal in nothing common;
They're genuine English, whether new,
Or antient, what is that to you?
I'm an unbending Roman.

I'm both a "Prophet" and a "Poet,"
A juggler too, and now I'll show it,
I keep within my pocket
A "giant deity," — but sure,
You keep him there in miniature,—
L'ounue! — bless us! — 'tis a rocket.

Spirit of Camoens! from on high
Descend! exalt thy scourge on high
And lash this imitator!
Who in vile frigid copping deals,
Who turns, and twins, and cribs, and steals,
Nay steals from thy translator.

The rocket burst, the godhead spake,
For such a crack might well awake
The eyes of "glassy sleep;"
List'ning the "symphony profound,"
The roguish boys hallo around,
And the poor muses weep.

The tears, alas! run down their cheek,
At notes so "placable and meek,"
On such a glorious theme;
The "Epode" is in vain they see,
Vain "Strophe" and "Antistrophe,"
For dreamers can't but dream.

"Fair Freedom" here — "fair Fame" above—
Thy thoughts with "cold reluctance" move,
And true no-meaning theirs,
"Ah! answer not the strain!" —sad stuff—
Thy stanzas are "unblest" enough,
Tho' clipp'd with "Gard'ners'" sheers.

O brother of the grey-goose quill,
Turn off to where some other rill
Laves the Parnassian road;
Friend, and biographer of Gray,
O'erturn, and "keep thy distant way"
From this "ill omen'd" ode.

"The truly brave" — "the Gaul" is so—
But not th' American you know—
At least your words infer it,
Tho' I'll be hang'd, if thus you meant,
Why then explain not your intent?—
'Twill stink the more we stir it.

And so, God bless us, I have done,
Long live la bagatelle and fun,
And down with stiff starch buck-a-ram!
For he who seeks from such sad strains,
Aught pleasing to reward his pains,
As well might go and suck a ram.

But once word more — that "gold so bright"—
A thought thus stale, thus hack'd and trite,
E'en Whitehead would despise.
"Envy" and "Fraud" bum bailiffs are—
Now Heaven preserve each honest tar!
And make all poets wise!

'Tis well my Keppel that thy praise
Depends not on Pindaric lays;
Masons' and Taskers' muse
Have fail'd each suppliant Bards' desire,
The formers' frost, the latters' fire,
The subject but abuse.

Tho' of the two I must confess
The latters' careless loose-robed dress
Excells the prim ones' zone;
Irregularity with spirit,
At least hath some degree of merit,
Dull, quaint correctness, none.

So Keppel sit contented down,
Thy own pure heart the best renown,
Thy muse a peoples' love;
Virtues there are, all song which scorn,
And which no wreathe can more adorn,
Tho' e'en by Phoebus wove.