Musaeus, an early and innovative imitation of Milton's Lycidas, was written at the time of Pope's death in 1744, while William Mason was an undergraduate, and first published in 1747. The device of having Pope's mourners speak in imitations of their own poetry, if not done well, was at least an idea that several later poets found worth imitating. Colin Clout appears and mourns Pope's passing in Spenser's stanza and diction. The poem was published with an engraving of Pope dying in his grotto as Chaucer, Milton, and a very histrionic Spenser appear before him.
Author's note: "Colin Clout.] i.e. Spenser, which name he gives himself throughout his works. The two first stanzas of this speech, as they relate to Pastoral, are written in the measure which Spenser uses in the first eclogue of the Shepherd's Calendar; the rest, where he speaks of Fable, are in the stanza of the Faery Queen."
Mason's use of archaisms in Musaeus was attacked in an article in the London Evening Post (13 July 1749): "Instead, therefore, of thus meanly borrowing their Dress, it would be but Justice to them and to Posterity, if we generously lent them our own." This drew rejoinders in the Gentleman's Magazine in November and December of 1749.
Richard Hurd to William Mason: "This piece has now had it's fate; and tho' you must have known it long since from other hands, I must have leave to say that ev'ry body here reads and admires it, nothing ever pleas'd so generally. It has caught all sorts of Readers from Heads of Colleges down to little Coffee-House Critics. If there be here and there a little Envy, it dares not so much as shew itself in faint praises. Ev'ry one is asham'd not to appear struck, with what charms ev'ry body. Don't suspect me of flattery: I am only making a true and faithful Report, which I do with the greater pleasure as I hope this early tast of honest fame, a motive which a Poet may freely avow and the noblest indeed that can excite to any Undertaking, will encourage you without further scruple to complete your other Imitations of Milton [Il Belicoso and Il Pacifico]" 7 May 1747; in Correspondence of Hurd and Mason (1932) 1.
William Mason to Robert Dodsley: "Sir, — I am told by the booksellers here that the Poem is sold off and that a second Edition is expected; I think if there had been any truth in the report I shou'd have heard from you concerning it, however, I write to you at present to desire that if you shou'd have any such intentions at any time, you wou'd please to give my notice beforehand for there is an Alteration or two that I cou'd wish to make in it. I am come to a resolution of publishing the other Imitations which will make I believe an eighteen penny pamphlet, but I have not given them the last revisal yet, let me know whether the beginning or latter end of the Winter will be the best time.... You forgot in your last to let me know what I stood indebted to you and I don't remember exactly how many copies I ordered; please to let me know in your answer to this, which I beg to have soon because I am going a journey into Derbyshire. Sir, Your very humble Ser: W. Mason. My Complements to Mr. Whithead" 16 August 1747; in Straus, Robert Dodsley (1910) 334-35.
George Lyttelton did not care for the poem, as Richard Hurd reported to his pupil, Edward Littelton: "It is unaccountable, yet, Mr. Lytelton could think so meanly of the Monody. It must proceed from some prejudice he had taken up against Imitations" 1 October 1750; Early Letters, ed. Sarah Brewer (1992) 220-21.
Anecdotes of Literature: "Mr. Mason's elegiac powers were fully displayed in the Monody to the memory of Mr. Pope; which is one of the most beautiful poems he ever wrote. He has imitated the several poetic styles of Chaucer, Spencer, and Pope, in a most admirable manner. That of Chaucer was easily hit off, but he has performed it in his manner and expressions. The imitation of Spencer is exact; but that of Milton is most inimitably performed" (1764) 2:140.
European Magazine: "the death of Mr. Pope, 30th May, 1744, gave occasion to that excellent performance, MUSAEUS, which fixed its author's reputation on the firmest basis, and was the means of introducing him to the notice of Mr. Gray" 4 (December 1783) 410.
Anna Seward to Mrs. Stoker: "Look, I implore, at his Monody, written at twenty, on the death of Pope — see it commanding the various styles of Spenser, Milton, and Pope, in the most graceful and spirited assumption; and forming those happy imitations into a beautiful funeral poem, upon a new plan!" 15 June 1797; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 4:363.
Hartley Coleridge: "There is some little originality in the plan of Mason's Musaeus. Instead of heathen Gods, or rivers, or abstract qualities in masquerade, Pope, or Musaeus, in the trance preceding his departure, is visited by the "vocal shadows" of Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton, each of whom confesses his own inferiority to the dying Swan, with no small extravagance. Vocal shadows ought not to flatter.
It would seem that these spirits of poets past came to convince Mr. Pope that he would have as little occasion for plain speaking in the world he was going to as in that he was leaving. Spenser is not happily characterized as 'the blithest lad that ever piped on plain,' for the prevailing hue of his poesy is melancholy tenderness. His Faerie Queen is the requiem of chivalry; a cenotaph of stainless marble, into which he invokes the shades of virtues that never lived 'But in the vision of intense desire.' Spenser, in Mr. Mason's allegorical procession, is Colin Clout; Chaucer is Tityrus, and is masked 'as a Palmer old,' no very appropriate habit for a writer who satirized the religious orders with so much severity, and who had no high opinion of the moral effect of pilgrimages. The style and obsolete language of these two poets are skilfully taken off, though, after all, their speeches are more like Pope's burlesque imitations, than their own original strains. It is rather too bad to state that Una and Florimel are drooping before the superior charms of Belinda. No two poems on earth can be more unlike than the Faerie Queen, and The Rape of the Lock" in "William Mason" Worthies of Yorkshire and Lancashire (1836) 401.
Robert Southey: "His Musaeus to an unnatural strain of poetry, which is that of Lycidas, adds a more unnatural pathos, and has yet the greater fault of making Spenser, Milton, and Chaucer address Pope as one who had excelled him" Common-Place Book (1849-51) 4:295.
Robert Southey: "In one of his first poems Mason had, in a puerile fiction, ranked Chaucer and Spenser and Milton below Pope, which is like comparing a garden shrub with the live oaks of the forest. but he would have maintained no such absurdity in his riper years, for Mason lived to perceive and correct both his errors of opinion and his faults of style" Life and Works of Cowper (1835-37) 2:177.
William Lyon Phelps: "The poet William Mason (1725-1797), who had little originality, but who imitated first Milton and then Gray in an almost servile fashion, does not belong to the regular Spenserian group, but in his Musaeus (written 1744, published 1747), he introduced a few stanzas in Spenser's style. Musaeus was a monody on the death of Pope, and written in imitation of Milton's 'Lycidas.' Different poets of Musaeus bewail Pope's death; Chaucer speaks in an imitation of old English, and Spenser speaks two stanzas after the metre of the Shepherd's Calendar and three stanzas in the style of the Fairy Queen. There is nothing remarkable about these imitations; they simply give Mason a slight connection with the movement. He figures in another branch of Romanticism" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 69.
Raymond Dexter Havens: "Chaucer speaks in a grotesque, ungrammatical jargon which shows how imperfectly Middle English was understood at the time; Spenser talks in a burlesque of his own language and meters; while Milton in blank verse praises the riming of the 'heav'n-taught warbler! last and best of all the Train!" The Influence of Milton (1922) 551.
Thomas Warton quotes Mason's line, "Then Una fair 'gan droop her princely mien" in Observations on the Faerie Queene (1754) 236. Musaeus is mentioned by Gray in Correspondence, ed. Toynbee (1971) Nos 144, 312, 314. Mason later presented a copy of a portrait of Spenser to Pembroke College; see Frushell, Edmund Spenser in the Early Eighteenth Century (1999) 229.
Sorrowing I catch the reed, and call the Muse;
If yet a Muse on Britain's plain abide,
Since rapt Musaeus tuned his parting strain:
With him they lived, with him perchance they died.
For who e'er since their virgin charms espied,
Or on the banks of Thames, or met their train
Where Isis sparkles, to the sunny ray?
Or have they deign'd to play
Where Camus winds along his broider'd vale,
Feeding each blue bell pale, and daisy pied,
That fling their fragrance round his rushy side?
Yet ah! ye are not dead, Celestial Maids;
Immortal as ye are, ye may not die:
Nor is it meet ye fly these pensive glades,
Ere round his laureate hearse ye heave the sigh.
Stay then a while, oh stay, ye fleeting fair;
Revisit yet, nor hallow'd Hippocrene,
Nor Thespiae's grove; till with harmonious teen
Ye sooth his shade, anti slowly dittied air.
Such tribute pour'd, again ye may repair
To what loved haunt ye whilom did elect;
Whether Lycaeus, or that mountain fair,
Trim Maenalus, with piny verdure deck'd.
But now it boots ye not in these to stray,
Or yet Cyllene's hoary shade to choose,
Or where mild Ladon's welling waters play.
Forego each vain excuse,
And haste to Thames's shores; for Thames shall join
Our sad society, and passing mourn,
The tears fast trickling o'er his silver urn.
And, when the Poet's widow'd grot he laves,
His reed-crown'd locks shall shake, his head shall bow,
His tide no more in eddies blithe shall rove,
But creep soft by with long drawn murmurs slow.
For oft the mighty master roused his waves
With martial notes, or lull'd with strain of love:
He must not now in brisk meanders flow
Gamesome, and kiss the sadly silent shore,
Without the loan of some poetic woe.
Say first, Sicilian Muse,
For, with thy sisters thou didst weeping stand
In silent circle at the solemn scene,
When Death approach'd and waved his ebon wand,
Say how each laurel droop'd its withering green?
How, in yon grot, each silver trickling spring
Wander'd the shelly channels all among;
While as the coral roof did softly ring
Responsive to their sweetly doleful song?
Meanwhile all pale tine' expiring Poet laid,
And sunk his awful head,
While vocal shadows pleasing dreams prolong;
For so, his sickening spirits to release,
They pour'd the balm of visionary peace.
First sent from Cam's fair banks, like Palmer old,
Came Tityrus slow, with head all silver'd o'er,
And in his hand an oaken crook he bore,
And thus in antique guise short talk did hold:
'Grete clerk of Fame' is house, whose excellence
Maie wele befitt thilk place of eminence
Mickle of wele betide thy houres last,
For mich gode wirke to me don and past.
For syn the days whereas my lyre ben strongen,
And deftly many a mery laie I songen
Old Time, which alle things don maliciously
Gnawen with rusty tooth continually
Gnattrid my lines, that they all cancrid ben,
Till at the last thou smoothen 'hem hast again;
Sithence full semely gliden my rimes rude,
As (if fitteth thilk similitude),
Whanne shallow brook yrenneth hobling on,
Ovir rough stones it makith full rough song;
But, them stones removen, this lite rivere
Stealith forth by, making plesaunt murmere:
So my sely rymes, whoso may them note,
Thou makist everichone to ren right sote
And in thy verse entunist so fetisely,
That men sayen I make trewe melody,
And speaken every dele to myne honoure.
Mich wele, grete clerk, betide thy parting houre!'
He ceased his homely rhyme;
When Colin Clout, Eliza's shepherd swain
The blithest lad that ever piped on plain,
Came with his reed soft warbling on the way,
And thrice he bow'd his head with motion mild,
And thus his gliding numbers 'gan essay.
'Ah! luckless swain, alas! how art thou lorn
Who once like me couldst frame thy pipe to play!
Shepherds devise, and cheer the lingering morn:
Ne bush, ne breere, but learnt thy roundelay
Ah plight too sore such worth to equal right!
Ah worth too high to meet such piteous plight!
'But I nought strive, poor Colin, to compare
My Hobbin's or my Thenot's rustic skill
To thy deft swains', whose dapper ditties rare
Surpass aught else of quaintest shepherd's quill.
E'en Roman Tityrus, that peerless wight,
Mote yield to thee for dainties of delight.
'Eke when in Fable's flowery paths you stray'd
Masking in cunning feints truth's splendent face
Ne Sylph ne Sylphid, but due tendance paid
To shield Belinda's lock from felon base,
But all mote nought avail such harm to chase.
Then Una fair 'gan droop her princely mien,
Eke Florimel, and all my faery race:
Belinda far surpass'd my beauties sheen,
Belinda, subject meet for such soft lay, I ween.
'Like as in village troop of birdlings trim,
Where Chanticleer his red crest high doth hold,
And quacking ducks, that wont in lake to swim,
And turkeys proud, and pigeons nothing bold;
If chance the peacock doth his plumes unfold,
Eftsoons their meaner beauties all decaying,
He glisteneth purple and he glisteneth gold,
Now with bright green, now blue, himself arraying.
Such is thy beauty bright, all other beauties swaying.
But why do I descant this toyish rhyme,
And fancies light in simple guise portray,
Listing to cheer thee at this rueful time,
While as black Death doth on thy heartstrings prey?
Yet rede aright, and if this friendly lay
Thou pathless judgest all too slight and vain,
Let my well-meaning mend my ill essay:
So may I greet thee with a nobler strain,
When soon we meet for aye, in yon starsprinkled plain.'
Last came a bard of more majestic tread,
And Thyrsis hight by Dryad, Fawn, or Swain,
Whene'er he mingled with the shepherd train;
But seldom that; for higher thoughts be fed;
For him full oft the heavenly Muses led
To clear Euphrates, and the secret mount,
To Araby, and Eden, fragrant climes,
All which the sacred bard would oft recount:
And thus in strain, unused in silvan shade,
To sad Musaeus rightful homage paid.
Thrice hail, thou heaventaught warbler! last and best
Of all the train! Poet, in whom eonjoin'd
All that to ear, or heart, or head, could yield
Rapture; harmonious, manly, clear, sublime.
Accept this gratulation: may it cheer
Thy sinking soul; nor these corporeal ills
Aught daunt thee, or appal. Know, in high heaven
Fame blooms eternal o'er that spirit divine
Who builds immortal verse. There thy bold Muse,
Which while on earth could breathe Maeonian fire,
Shall soar seraphic heights; while to her voice
Ten thousand hierarchies of angels harp
Symphonious, and with dulcet harmonies
Usher the song rejoicing. I, meanwhile,
To sooth thee in these irksome hours of pain,
Approach, thy visitant, with mortal praise
To praise thee mortal. First, for Rhyme subdued;
Rhyme, erst the minstrel of primeval Night,
And Chaos, Anarch old: She near their throne
Oft taught the rattling elements to chime
With tenfold din; till late to earth upborne
On strident plume, what time fair Poesie
Emerged from Gothic cloud, and faintly shot
Rekindling gleams of lustre. Her the fiend
Opress'd; forcing to utter uncouth dirge,
Runic, or Leonine; and with dire chains
Fetter'd her scarce-fledged pinion. I such bonds
Aim'd to destroy, hopeless that Art could ease
Their thraldom, and to liberal use convert.
This wonder to achieve Musaeus came;
Thou camest, and at thy magic touch the chains
Off dropp'd, and (passing strange!) soft-wreathed bands
Of flowers their place supplied: which well the Muse
Might wear for choice, not force; obstruction none,
But loveliest ornament. Wondrous this, yet here
The wonder rests not; various argument
Remains for me, uncertain, where to cull
The leading grace, where countless graces charm
Various this peaceful cave; this mineral roof;
This 'semblage meet of coral, ore, and shell,
These pointed crystals through the shadowy clefts
Bright glistering; all these slowly dripping rills,
That tinkling wander o'er the pebbled floor:
Yet not this various peaceful cave, with this
Its mineral roof, nor this assemblage meet
Of coral, ore, and shell; nor mid the shade
These pointed crystals, glistering fair; nor rills,
That wander tinkling o'er the pebbled floor,
Deal charms more various to each raptured sense,
Than thy mellifluous lay—'
'Cease, friendly swain
(Musaeus cried, and raised his aching head)
All praise is foreign, but of true desert;
Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart.
Ah! why recall the toys of thoughtless youth
When flowery fiction held the place of truth,
Ere sound to sense resign'd the silken rein,
And the light lay ran musically vain.
Oh! in that lay had richest fancy flow'd,
The Syrens warbled, and the Graces glow'd;
Had liveliest nature, happiest art combined,
That lent each charm, and this each charm refined;
Alas! how little were my proudest boast!
The sweetest trifler of my tribe at most.
'To sway the judgment, while he sooths the ear
To curb mad passion in its wild career;
To wake by sober touch the useful lyre,
And rule, with reason's rigour, fancy's fire;
Be this the poet's praise. And this possess'd,
Take, Dulness and thy dunces! take the rest.
'Come then that honest fame, whose temperate ray
Or gilds the satire or the moral lay;
Which dawns, though thou, rough Donne! hew out the line:
But beams, sage Horace! from each strain of thine.
Oh, if like these with conscious freedom bold,
One Poet more his manly measures roll'd,
Like these led forth th' indignant Muse to brave
The venal statesman and the titled slave;
To strip from frontless Vice her stars and strings,
Nor spare her basking in the smile of kings—
If grave, yet lively; rational, yet warm;
Clear to convince, and eloquent to charm;
He pour'd, for Virtue's cause, serene along
The purest precept in the sweetest song
If, for her cause, his heavendirected plan
Mark'd each meander in the maze of man;
Unmoved by sophistry, unawed by name,
No dupe to doctrines, and no fool to fame;
Led by no system's devious glare astray,
That meteorlike but glitters to betray—
Yes, if his soul to reason's rule resign'd,
And Heaven's own views fair opening on his mind,
Caught from bright nature's flame the living ray,
Through passion's cloud pour'd in resistless day;
And taught mankind, in reasoning Pride's despite,
That God is wise, and all that is is right—
If this his boast, pour here the welcome lays;
Praise less than this is mockery of praise.'
'To pour that praise be mine,' fair Virtue cried;
And shot, all radiant, through an opening cloud!
But ah! my Muse, how will thy voice express
Th' immortal strain, harmonious, as it flow'd?
Ill suits immortal strain a Doric dress:
And far too high already hast thou soar'd.
Enough for thee, that, when the lay was o'er,
The goddess clasp'd him to her throbbing breast.
But what might that avail? Blind Fate before
Had oped her shears, to cut his vital thread!
And who may dare gainsay her stern behest?
Now thrice he waved the hand, thrice bow'd the head,
And sigh'd his soul to rest.
Now wept the Nymphs; witness, ye waving shades!
Witness, ye winding streams! the Nymphs did weep:
The heavenly goddess too with tears did steep
Her plaintive voice, that echo'd through the glades;
And, 'cruel gods,' and 'cruel stars,' she cried:
Nor did the shepherds, through the woodlands wide
On that sad day, or to the pensive brook,
Or silent river, drive their thirsty flocks:
Nor did the wild goat browse the shrubby rocks:
And Philomel her custom'd oak forsook:
And roses wan were waved by zephyrs weak,
As Nature's self was sick:
And every lily droop'd its silver head.
Sad sympathy! yet sure his rightful meed,
Who charm'd all nature: well might Nature mourn
Through all her choicest sweets Musaeus dead.
Here end we, Goddess! this your shepherd sang,
All as his hands an ivy chaplet wove.
Oh! make it worthy of the sacred Bard;
And make it equal to the shepherd's love.
Thou too accept the strain with meet regard:
For sure, bless'd Shade, thou hear'st my doleful song;
Whether with angel troops, the stars among,
From golden harp thou call'st seraphic lays;
Or, for fair Virtue's cause, now doubly dear,
Thou still art hovering o'er our tuneless sphere;
And movest some hidden spring her weal to raise.
Thus the fond swain his Doric oate essay'd,
Manhood's prime honours rising on his cheek:
Trembling he strove to court the tuneful maid
With strippling arts, and dalliance all too weak,
Unseen, unheard, beneath a hawthorn shade.
But now dun clouds the welkin 'gan to streak;
And now down dropp'd the larks, and ceased their strain:
They ceased, and with them ceased the shepherd swain.
[British Poets (1822) 77:19-29]