1746
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Simplicity.

Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegorical Subjects.

William Collins


William Collins's models his stanza on Milton's Nativity Ode. The Spenserian diction of "Gauds, and pageant Weeds, and trailing Pall" evokes the courtliness to which Simplicity is opposed; the pastoral scene in the last stanza possibly alludes to the opening lines of Colin Clouts come home againe, in which the simplicity of those gathered about Colin would be a British equivalent to the Greek and Roman societies described earlier by Collins. For what seems almost an extended gloss on this ode, see Joseph Warton's essay on simplicity in The World No. 26 (28 June 1753) 154-59.

W. J. Courthope: "With Collins the inspiration of the Renaissance naturally shaped itself into Greek forms. His fancy, like that of Shelley, roamed freely through all the varieties of spiritual polytheism. 'He loved,' says Johnson, rather sarcastically, 'fairies, genii, giants, and monsters; he delighted to rove through the maenaders of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian Gardens.' Yet, amidst the profuse abundance of his impersonations, he aimed always at preserving the purity of Grecian outline" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:397.

Duncan C. Tovey: "If the title of Collins's 'Ode to Simplicity' were not misleading, we should find in it an embryo 'Progress of Poesy,' in which inspiration passes, as with Gray, from Greece to Italy and from Italy to England. The clue to the mystery of the title is found when we discover that, to Collins, 'simplicity' is 'nature,' as Pope had understood the word — nature identified with Homer, and with all her great poetic interpreters, who idealise but do not distort her" Cambridge History of English Literature (1913) 10:144.

Raymond Dexter Havens: "Collins changed the stanza [of Milton's Nativity Ode] so much by omitting its last two lines that, even if his Ode to Simplicity (1746) had attracted more attention, it would hardly have affected to vogue of Milton's poem. As might be expected, Collins handled his measure admirably, and in a poem to Simplicity he not unnaturally simplified the somewhat complex meter of the Nativity ode" Influence of Milton (1922) 566.

Oliver Elton: "The four odes written in short lines and in various six-line stanzas are those To Simplicity, To Pity, To Peace, and On the Death of Colonel Ross. They are somewhat formal in address, and three of them begin with an 'O thou!' The Ode to Simplicity is the least chequered and the most characteristic. To Pity and To Peace, though full of poetic phrase, are hampered by inversions and by some awkward phraseology. To Simplicity is by no means free from these drawbacks; but there are two verses, 'By all the honeyed store,' and 'By old Cephisus deep,' which Milton, who inspired their cadence, might well have owned. Collins here listens to the nightingales of Athens. He does not always attain the 'simplicity' that he wishes, but we see what he understands by it. It is not the simplicity of the Augustans — Roman elegance and point — but Greek simplicity of outline and purity of tint. At the moment he seems to prefer this to the charms of his not less loved Elizabethans" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:49-50.

An anonymous "Ode to Hope" written in imitation of Collins's "Ode to Simplicity" was published in the European Magazine 10 (December 1786) 458.

A copy of the first edition of Collins's odes appears in the 1859 sale catalogue of William Wordsworth's library; see A. N. L. Munby, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons (1971-75) 9:57.

John Langhorne's Observations:

"The measure of the ancient ballad seems to have been made choice of for this ode, on account of the subject, and it has, indeed, an air of simplicity, not altogether unaffecting: 'By all the honey'd store | On Hybla's thymy shore, | By all her blooms, and mingled murmurs dear, | By her whose love-lorn woe, | In evening musings slow, | Sooth'd sweetly sad Electra's poet's ear.' This allegorical imagery of the honeyed store, the blooms, and mingled murmurs of Hybla, alluding to the sweetness and beauty of the Attic poetry, has the finest and the happiest effect: yet, possibly, it will bear a question, whether the ancient Greek tragedians had a general claim to simplicity in any thing more than the plans of their drama. Their language, at least, was infinitely metaphorical; yet it must be owned that they justly copied nature and the passions, and so far, certainly, they were entitled to the palm of true simplicity; the following most beautiful speech of Polynices will be a monument of this, so long as poetry shall last [Greek passage]. 'But staid to sing alone | To one distinguish'd throne.' The poet cuts off the prevalence of simplicity among the Romans with the reign of Augustus, and indeed, it did not continue much longer, most of the compositions, after that date, giving into false and artificial ornament. 'No more, in hall or bower, | The passions own thy power, | Love, only love, her forceless numbers mean.' In these lines the writings of the Provencal poets are principally alluded to, in which simplicity is generally sacrificed to the rhapsodies of romantic love" Poetical Works of Mr. William Collins (1765) 155-57.



I.
O Thou by Nature taught
To breathe her genuine Thought,
In Numbers warmly pure and sweetly strong:
Who first on Mountains wild
In Fancy loveliest Child,
Thy Babe, or Pleasure's, nursed the Pow'rs of Song!

II.
Thou, who with Hermit Heart
Disdain'st the wealth of Art,
And Gauds, and pageant Weeds, and trailing Pall:
But com'st a decent Maid
In Attic robe array'd,
O chaste unboastful Nymph, to Thee I call!

III.
By all the honey'd Store
On Hybla's Thymy Shore,
By all her Blooms and mingled Murmurs dear;
By Her, whose love-lorn Woe
In Ev'ning Musings slow
Sooth'd sweetly sad Electra's Poet's Ear:

IV.
By old Cephisus deep,
Who spread his wavy Sweep
In warbled Wand'rings round thy green Retreat,
On whose enamel'd Side
When holy Freedom died
No equal Haunt allur'd thy future Feet.

V.
O Sister meek of Truth,
To my admiring Youth,
Thy sober Aid and native Charms infuse!
The Flow'rs that sweetest breathe,
Tho' Beauty cull'd the Wreath,
Still ask thy Hand to range their order'd Hues.

VI.
While Rome could none esteem
But Virtue's Patriot Theme,
You lov'd her Hills and led her Laureate Band:
But staid to sing alone
To one distinguish'd Throne,
And turn'd thy Face, and fled her alter'd Land.

VI.
No more, in Hall or Bow'r,
The Passions own thy Pow'r,
Love, only Love, her forceless Numbers mean:
For Thou hast left her Shrine,
Nor Olive more, nor Vine
Shall gain thy Feet to bless the servile Scene.

VIII.
Tho' Taste, tho' Genius bless
To some divine Excess,
Faints the cold Work till Thou inspire the whole;
What each, what all supply
May court, may charm our Eye,
Thou, only Thou can'st raise the meeting Soul!

IX.
Of these let others ask
To aid some mighty Task,
I only seek to find thy temp'rate Vale:
Where oft my Reed might sound
To Maids and Shepherds round,
And all thy Sons, O Nature, learn my Tale.

[pp. 10-13]