William Collins

G., "Collins's Ode on the Passions" Port Folio [Philadelphia] NS 7 (June 1812) 543-45.


It has been remarked of the celebrated Ode on the Passions, that Love is not personified in it, and the author has not escaped repeated censure for his supposed omission. Dr. Langhorne's short sketch of the life of Collins, closes with the following paragraph: "It is observable that none of his poems bear the marks of an amorous disposition, and that he is one of those few poets who have sailed to Delphi, without touching at Cythera. The allusions of this kind that appear in his Oriental Eclogues were indispensable in that species of poetry; and it is very remarka ble that in his Passions, an Ode for Music, Love is omitted, though it should have made a principal figure there."

The writer of this article, with due deference to the opinions of those critics who have preceded him, must beg leave to differ from them: and while he attempts to prove that Collins has personified the passion of Love graphically, he will not assert that they have read him superficially; but on the contrary have been led into their opinion by an error in the grammatical construction of the sentence wherein Love is introduced. It may be well to analyze slightly the ode.

When Music was young, and exercised her art in early Greece, the Passions often thronged around her dwelling to listen to her strains. Such was their wonderful effect, that once they were inspired to madness, and snatching from the surrounding myrtles her tuneful instruments, each attempted to draw forth sounds expressive of his disposition or power. The first who seized the lyre was Fear — the next Anger, with his eye of fire — Despair succeeded — then Hope. Revenge becoming impatient threw down his sword, and taking the trumpet blew an awful blast. Pity with a dejected countenance sat at his side, and vainly endeavoured to soften his ferocity by her soul-subduing voice. The numbers of Jealousy were fixed to no one subject, but were perpetually changing. Melancholy sat retired, and poured through the mellow horn her pensive soul. Cheerfulness blew an inspiring air, which aroused the sprightly train of the woods, who came tripping along, delighted with the melody.

Last came the trial of Joy: he advanced to the pipe; but when he perceived the viol, whose voice he better loved, he awaked its entrancing notes. They who heard the strain would have thought that they saw in the vale of Tempe her native maids, dancing amidst the bowers to the music of some unwearied minstrel, whilst, as the fingers of Joy touched the strings, Love, in conjunction with Mirth, formed a gay circle: (composed of Dryads, &c.) the tresses of the latter were loose, her zone was unbound; and Love, amidst his frolic play, as if he would recompense Joy for the charming air, shook fragrance from his wings.

Here we find Love distinctly performing his part in the drama. It was not necessary to cause him to seize the lyre or the pipe, it was enough that his associate Joy was employed in the tuneful exercise, whilst he contributed to the general hilarity of the moment by the mirthful circle that they formed, and by the delight that his presence afforded.

Though love be a primary passion, and ought, in the opinion of many, to occupy a corresponding place in the ode, yet, in my opinion, the poet has judiciously touched on it last, and then very slightly. What could have been said of Love. That he was at times under the influence of Fear or Doubt, Despair, Hope, Jealousy, Melancholy, or Joy? These Passions have all in their turn been introduced as musicians, and have succeeded very well. Hence the author, to avoid a pleonasm, has represented Love as being so much delighted with the strains of Joy, that he shook odors from his wings. Or, in other words, he employed his divine powers in enlivening the desponding, soothing the turbulent, and encouraging the timorous.

A supplementary stanza to the ode on the Passions was composed by one who thought that the poem was deficient, and published in The Port Folio, new series, vol. 2, page 278. To those who are curious to behold an example of verbosity I refer the above mentioned stanza, in which, contrary to prescription, Love is personified in the feminine gender.

The writer of this article has somewhere seen another attempt at amending, but cannot recollect where.

The text may be thus read:

Last came Joy's ecstatic trial:
He, with viny crown advancing,
First to the lively pipe his hand addrest,
But soon he saw the brisk-awakening viol,
Whose sweet entrancing voice he lov'd the best.
They would have thought, who heard the strain
They saw in Tempe's vale her native maids,
Amidst the festal sounding shades,
To some unwearied minstrel dancing,
While, as "Joy's" flying fingers kiss'd the strings,
Love fram'd with Mirth a gay fantastic round;
Loose were her tresses seen, her zone unbound,
And he, amidst his frolic play,
As if he would the charming air repay,
Shook thousand odors from his dewy wings.