1744
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Il Bellicoso. MDCCXLIV.

A Collection of Poems in Four Volumes. By Several Hands. [George Pearch, ed.]

Rev. William Mason


Undergraduate verse by William Mason, after Milton's Il Penseroso: "Then let black clouds above my head, | With gleams of scarlet thick bespread, | With lightning's flash and thunder's growl, | Suit the spleen that shades my soul." Il Bellicoso did not appear with its companion ("Il Pacifico"), coming belatedly into print in 1770 in Pearch's Supplement to Dodsley's Collection of Poems. The lines were later revised with the assistance of Thomas Gray. Mason gave slightly differing accounts of its publication.

William Mason: "Il Bellicoso & il Pacifico. The latter of these I was persuaded to revise and publish in the Cambridge Collection of Verses upon the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, 1748. The former has since got into a Miscellany, printed by G. Pearch, from the indiscretion, I suppose, of some acquaintance who had a copy of it" Poems of Mr. Gray, ed. Mason (1775) 172n.

Mason later wrote: "This very juvenile imitation of the Allegro and Penseroso of Milton, and that which follows it, were written some time previous to that of the Lycidas. (See Poem i vol. I. [Musaeus].) A copy of the above was many years ago surreptitiously printed in a Magazine, and afterwards inserted in Perche's Miscellany. On this account, I thought it right to revise and now publish it. The counter-part to it was, with my assent, first printed in the Cambridge Verses on the Peace of Aix la Chapelle; and stands here as it did formerly" Poems (1797) 3:93.

Robert Southey: "There was a promise of higher excellence in his early productions than in any other compositions of that age, — a liveliness, and vigour, and aspiration, which might have produced great things,if, as his mind matured, he had thrown off his cumbrous and affected alliteration, his florid excrescences, and the trammels of his stiff and elaborate style. But Mason was not a happy man; he yielded to a splenetic disposition, and suffered his powers to waste away in discontent" "Hayley's Memoirs" Quarterly Review 31 (1824-25) 286.

Edward S. Creasy: "In 1747, Gray became acquainted with Mr. Mason, then a scholar of St. John's College, and afterwards Fellow of Pembroke Hall. Mr. Mason, who was a man of great learning and considerable taste for poetry, had written the year before, his "Monody on the death of Pope," and his "Il Bellicoso," and "Il Pacifico;" and Gray revised these pieces at the request of a friend. This laid the foundation of a friendship that terminated but with life: and Mr. Mason, after the death of Gray, collected his friend's works, and superintended their publication" Memoirs of Eminent Etonians (1850) 312.

W. J. Courthope: "William Mason was born in 1724. His father, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Kingston-upon-Hull, educated him at home till his matriculation at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1743, from which he took his B.A. degree in 1745 and his M.A. in 1749. In the latter year, through the influence of Gray, whose acquaintance he had made in 1747, he was elected Fellow of Pembroke, and composed an Ode in honour of the installation of the Duke of Newcastle as Chancellor of the University. He had already earned the name of a poet by his pastoral Monody, Musaeus, written in 1744 — while he was still an undergraduate — on the death of Pope; and his Whiggism was displayed in Isis (1748), a satire in which he attacked the Jacobite tendencies of the University of Oxford, comparing them with the orthodox sentiments of Locke, Hough, and Addison" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 6:25-26.

Mason's pair of Milton imitations were not collected in Anderson's or Chalmers's Poets. Pearch's four-volume supplement to Dodsley's Collection of Poems was edited, at least in part, by William Julius Mickle.



Hence, dull lethargic Peace;
Born in some hoary Beadsman's cell obscure,
Or in Circean bower,
Where Manhood dies, and Reason's vigils cease.
Hie to congenial climes;
Where some seraglio's downy tyrant reigns,
Or where Italian swains,
Midst wavy shades, and myrtle-blooming bowers,
Lull their ambrosial hours,
And deck with languid trills their tinkling rhymes.
But rouse, thou God by Furies drest,
In helm with Terror's plumed crest,
In adamantine steel bedight,
Glistering formidably bright,
With step unfix'd and aspect wild;
Jealous Juno's raging child,
Who thee conceiv'd in Flora's bower,
By touch of rare Olenian flower:
Oft the goddess sigh'd in vain,
Envying Jove's prolific brain,
And oft she stray'd Olympus round,
Till this specific held she found;
Then fruitful grown, she quits the skies,
To Thracia's sanguine plain she hies,
There teems thee forth, of nervous mold,
Haughty, furious, swift, and bold,
Names thee Mars, and bids thee call
The world from Pleasure's flowery thrall.
Come then, Genius of the war,
Roll me in thine iron car;
And as thy coursers pierce the sky,
Breathing fury as they fly,
Let Courage hurry swift before,
All stain'd around with purple gore,
And Victory follow close behind,
With wreath of palm and laurel join'd,
While high above, fair Fame assumes
Her place, and waves her eagle plumes.
Then let the trumpet swell the note,
Roaring rough thro' brazen throat;
Let the drum sonorous beat,
With thick vibrations hoarsely sweet;
Boxen hautboys too be found,
Nor be miss'd the fife's shrill sound,
Nor yet the bagpipe's swelling strain,
Solace sweet to Highland swain,
Whether on some mountain's brow,
Now squeaking high, now droning low,
He plays deft lilts to Scottish lass
Tripping it o'er the pliant grass,
Or whether in the battle's fray
He lively pipes a bolder lay;
The bolder lay (such magic reigns
In all its moving Phrygian strains)
Disperses swift to all the train,
Fury stern, and pale Disdain
Strikes every fire from every mind,
Nor leaves one latent spark behind.
Bear me now to tented ground,
Where gallant streamers wave around,
And Britain's ensigns high display'd,
Lend the earth a scarlet shade,
And pikes, and spears, and lances gay,
Glitter in the solar ray;
There to join the hardy crowd,
As they sport in gamesome mood,
Wrestling on the circled ground
Wreathing limbs with limbs around;
Or see them pitch the massy bar,
Or teach the disk to whizz in air;
And when the night returns, regale
With chat full blunt, and chirping ale;
While some voice of manly base
Sings my darling Chevy-Chace;
How the child, that's yet unborn,
May rue earl Percy's hound and horn;
How Witherington in doleful dumps,
Fought right valiant on his stumps;
And many a knight and 'squire full gay
At morn, at night were clad in clay;
While first and last, we join to sing,
"God prosper long our noble king!"
And when Midnight spreads around
Her sable vestments on the ground,
Hence I'll, for a studious seat
To some strong citadel retreat,
By ditch and rampart high ypent,
And battery strong and battlement!
There in some state-room richly dight
With maily coats and faulchions bright,
Emblazon'd shields quaint impress,
And a whole army's glittering dress,
While the taper burneth blue
(As Brutus once was wont to do),
Let me turn the ample page
Of some grave historic Sage;
Or in Homer's sacred song,
Mix the Grecian bands among,
Nestor wise with silver'd head,
And Ajax stern, and Diomed,
And many more, whose wonderous might
Could equal e'en the gods in sight;
Or list to Virgil's epic lyre,
Or lofty Lucan wrapp'd in fire;
But rather still let Shakespeare's Muse
Her genuine British fires diffuse;
And briskly with her magic strain
Hurry me to Gallic plain,
What time the gallant Talbot bleeds,
Or when heaven-prosper'd Harry leads
His troups with sevenfold courage steel'd,
To Agincourt's immortal field.
But when th' imbattled troops advance,
O Mars, my every thought intrance!
Guide me, thundering martial god,
Guide thro' Glory's arduous road!
While hailing bullets round me fly,
And human thunders shake the sky,
While crowds of heroes heap the ground,
And dying groans are heard around,
With armour clanking, clarions sounding,
Cannons bellowing, shouts rebounding;
Guide me, thundering, martial god,
Guide me thro' Glory's arduous road!
But should on land thy triumphs cease,
Still lead me far from hated Peace;
Me bear, dread Power, for warlike sport,
To some wave-incircled fort;
Or (if it yield more open sight)
To some hoar promontory's height,
Whose high arch'd brow o'erlooks the scene,
Where Tritons blue and Naiads green,
Sportive from their coral cave,
Through the fluid chrystal lave;
There eagerly I ken from far
All the waste of naval War,
And catch a sympathetic rage,
While the numerous fleets engage,
And every distant shore rebounds
To the cannons rattling sounds,
And the sulphurous fireship rends,
And thousand fates around her sends,
And limbs dissever'd hurl'd on high,
Smoke amid th' affrighted sky.
Then let black clouds above my head,
With gleams of scarlet thick bespread,
With lightning's flash and thunder's growl,
Suit the spleen that shades my soul.
There too let cranes, a numerous flight,
With beaks and claws rage bloody fight,
And airy knights from every cloud
Prick forth, their armour rattling loud;
With blazing swords, and comets drear,
Dragging a trail of flaming hair;
Such as diffus'd their baneful gleam
Over besieg'd Jerusalem,
Or hung o'er Rome e'er Julius fell,
And if old Sages rightly spell,
Were ever deemed to foreshow
Changes in our realms below.

And when at length cold creeping Age
Freezes the current of my rage,
Let me live amongst a crew
Of invalids, of kindred hue!
Of some main limb bereft by War,
Or blest with some deep glorious scar;
Scar, that endless glory draws
From Liberty and Albion's cause:
And oft well pleas'd with them retire,
To circle round a sea-coal fire,
And all our past campaigns recite,
Of Vigo's sack and Blenheim fight;
How valiant Rooke majestic trod,
How Marlbro' thunder'd; half a god!
And then, with sage prophetic eye,
In future battles to descry,
That Britain shall not fail to yield
Equal generals for the field;
That France again shall pour her blood,
And Danube roll a purpled flood.

And when my children round me throng,
The same grand theme shall grace my tongue;
To teach them, should fair England need
Their blood, 'tis theirs to wish to bleed;
And, as I speak, to mark with joy
New courage start in every boy;
And gladsome read in all their eyes,
Each will a future hero rise.
These delights if Mars afford,
Mars, with thee I whet my sword.

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