1746
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Passions. An Ode for Music.

Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegorical Subjects.

William Collins


In William Collins's allegorical ode the Passions gather around the figure of Music, "Till once, 'tis said, when all were fir'd, | Fill'd with Fury, rapt, inspir'd, | From the supporting Myrtles round, | They snatch'd her Instruments of Sound." The following stanzas depict in memorable verse characters the passions of Fear, Anger, Despair, Hope, Revenge, Jealousy, Melancholy, Cheerfulness, and Joy. The Passions was the most popular and widely imitated of Collins's lyrics; in 1812 Isaac D'Israeli described it as "the most popular [ode] in the language" Works (1881) 5:180. Allegory has seldom been employed to better effect in a short poem. While some of the parodies were political in the manner of the related group burlesquing Dryden's Alexander's Feast, there was a series specifically concerned with the arts of music, painting, and drama. There was another series of imitations supplying the character of Love, pointed out as "missing" in John Langhorne's frequently-reprinted notes.

The Passions may have been inspired by a little-known poem by George Sewell, The Force of Musick, a Fragment after the Manner of Spenser, published in A New Collection of Original Poems (1720). Compare also John Gay's The Court of Death, in Fables (1727): "Next Gout appears with limping pace, | Pleads how he shifts from place to place" etc.

The ode was performed at Oxford: "the annual commemoration in the Sheldonian Theatre allowed a promising student to hear his verses sounded out by an orchestra, chorus and soloists before the assembled dignitaries: William Collins's ode, The Passions, was performed at the 1750 commemoration; and his friend [Thomas] Warton's Ode for Music the following year, both to settings by William Hayes, professor of music" David Fairer, "Oxford and the Literary World" in History of the University of Oxford vol. 5 (1986) 789.

John Langhorne's notes comment on the absence of Love in Collins's enumeration of the passions, and at least three attempts were made to supply the deficiency: one by Thomas Pentycross (1765 ca.), one by "Chloe" (1768), and one by John Taylor (1827). Walter Churchey published The Passions.... with considerable Additions (1804); in 1808 was published an anonymous imitation, The Senses: an Ode; in the Manner of Collins's Ode on the Passions. See also Thomas Stott's clever adaptation, "To the Memory of W. Collins" in Deadra (1825).

Philo-Lyristes: "let Dr. Johnson, with all his erudition, produce me another Lyric ode equal to Collins on the Passions: indeed the frequent public recitals of this last-mentioned poem are a mark of its universally acknowledged excellence. Lyric pieces are the more valuable, as few puny bards, in these degenerate days, are hardy enough to attempt any thing in that bold style" Gentleman's Magazine 52 (January 1782) 22.

William Bagshaw Stevens: "By the bye, what must we think of Dr. Johnson's heart or acumen, who could pass over this immortal production of his friend Collins with contemptuous silence? The good Doctor, when weighing in his critical scales the poetic merits of 'the man whom he loved,' such I think is his expression, has been most rigidly cautious that the words of justice should be overbalanced by the tender remembrance of friendship. But, in good truth, the unhappy Collins, doubly unhappy in his life and in his friend, is not much indebted either to the partiality of the man, or the decrees of the critic" Gentleman's Magazine 53 (November 1783) 932n.

New Haven Gazette: "The descriptions of Joy, Jealousy, and Revenge are excellent, though not equally so; those of Melancholy and Chearfulness are superior to every thing of the kind; and, upon the whole, there may be very little hazard in asserting that this is the finest ode in the English language" 1 (17 August 1786) 209.

Thomas Enort Smith: "Commenting on his Odes Allegorical and Descriptive, it is needless to enter into the minutiae of criticism, since they are without exception the noblest specimens of lyric composition which grace the bardic pages of Great Britain. That on the Passions has been accounted the highest and happiest effort of his genius, and many of the literati of the first eminence have adjudged it superior to those of either Dryden or Gray: it is however, to speak impartially, of unequal merit in its parts; for who can peruse his charming descriptions of Hope, Revenge, Melancholy, with those of Fear, Anger, Jealousy, and not witness a marvellous disparity in his pourtraitures of the latter passions" European Magazine 32 (December 1797) 413.

John Aikin: "It may seem extraordinary that Collins, in his Ode to Fear, has made little addition to the descriptive part of Spenser's personification: however, in his fine Ode on the Music of the Passions, he has denoted Fear by a striking circumstance of action, which was probably suggested to him by the stanza above quoted" ["But fear'd each shadow moving to and fro; | And his own arms when glittering he did spy" — Masque of Cupid, F.Q. iii. 12] "On Personification in Poetry" in Monthly Magazine 6 (July 1798) 15.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "Dr. Warton, in a note to Milton's Translation of the 5th Ode, Lib. i, of Horace, in his brother's edition of that poet, says 'In this measure, my friend and schoolfellow, Mr. William Collins, wrote his admired Ode to Evening; and I know he had a design of writing many more Odes without rhyme.' T. Warton goes on to say, that 'Dr. J. Warton might have added, that his own Ode, to Evening was written before that of his friend Collins; as was a poem of his, entitled The Assembly of the Passions; before Collins's favourite Ode on that subject.' Mr. Wooll has inserted a prose sketch on this subject; but no poem" Censura Literaria 3 (1807) 198n.

George Dyer: "Collins, it is to be observed, lays the scene of his admired Ode on the Passions in Greece; for it is a species of dramatic ode ... and he might accordingly with justice have made mythological personages, Apollo, with Clio, and Melpomene, and the other Muses, sustain each a proper character; and might thus have constituted his ode on classical principles: but no, he preferred being an inventor to being an imitator; and, relying on his own genius, wrote one of the finest lyrical performances in the English language" Poetics (1812) 2:150-51.

Anna Brownell Jameson: "He wrote an Ode on the Passions, in which, after dwelling on Hope, Fear, Anger, Despair, Pity, and describing them with many picturesque circumstances, he dismisses Love with a couple of lines, as dancing to the sound of the sprightly viol, and forming with joy the light fantastic round. Such was Collins's idea of love!" Loves of the Poets (1829) 2:311.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "The Ode to the Passions is, by universal consent, the noblest of Collins's productions, because it exhibits a much more extended invention, not of one passion only, but of all the passions combined, acting, according to the powers of each, to one end. The execution, also, is the happiest, each particular passion is drawn with inimitable force and compression" Essay on Collins (1830; 1865) xlvi.

Algernon Charles Swinburne: "the Ode on the Passions is a work of less equal sustentation and purity of excellence than, for example, is the Ode to Evening. Yet of course its grace and vigour, its vivid and pliant dexterity of touch, are worthy of all their long inheritance of praise; and altogether it holds out admirably well to the happy and harmonious end; whereas the very Ode to Liberty, after an overture worthy of Milton's or of Handel's Agonistes, a prelude that peals as from beneath the triumphal hand of the thunderbearer, steadily subsides through many noble but ever less and less noble verses, towards a final couplet showing not so much the flatness of failure as the prostration of collapse" The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 3:282.

Edmund Gosse: "The Passions suffers from the disadvantage of having been made a stock-exercise for elocutionists in successive generations. Its language is often exceedingly brilliant and effective, but the continuity of thought is broken, and simplicity is sacrificed to the desire of covering too large a canvas" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 233-34.

Oliver Elton: "The Passions, an Ode for Music, is his only quite irregular poem. It is on the familiar model of Alexander's Feast; it has more poetry in it, if less bravura, than that resounding work. It has no plan, except that the 'passions' are recited until the author can think of no more to present. Each of them, according to the approved pattern set by Dryden, chooses its own measure, and that with a sure instinct. The fiercer, Fear, Anger, Despair, and Jealousy, have each a rapid quatrain; Revenge, who interrupts Hope, but who is attended by Pity ('each dreary pause between'), has a longer stanza. But the happier figures, Hope and Melancholy, Cheerfulness and Joy, with Love and Mirth in attendance, and Sport and Exercise besides, are portrayed at more length, and more distinctly and beautifully seen, and inspire the more beautiful words and tunes. Spenser's gift of making such personifications live and move and shimmer before us is indeed revived" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:48-49.

John Langhorne's Observations:

"If the music, which was composed for this ode, had equal merit with the ode itself, it must have been the most excellent performance of the kind in which poetry and music have, in modern times, united. Other pieces of the same nature have derived the greatest reputation from the perfection of the music that accompanied them, having in themselves little more merit than that of an ordinary ballad: but in this we have the whole soul and power of poetry — Expression that, even without the aid of music, strikes to the heart; and imagery of power enough to transport the attention, without the forceful alliance of corresponding sounds! what, then, must have been the effect of these united!

"It is very observable, that though the measure is the same, in which the musical efforts of Fear, Anger, and Despair are described, yet, by the variation of the cadence, the character and operation of each is strongly expressed: thus particularly of Despair: 'With woful measures wan Despair— | Low, sullen sounds his grief beguiled, | A solemn, strange, and mingled air, | 'Twas sad by fits, by starts 'twas wild.' He must be a very unskilful composer who could not catch the power of imitative harmony from these lines!

"The picture of Hope that follows this is beautiful almost beyond imitation. By the united powers of imagery and harmony, that delightful being is exhibited with all the charms and graces that pleasure and fancy have appropriated to her: 'Relegat, qui semel percurrit; | Qui nunquam legit, legat.' 'But thou, O Hope, with eyes so fair | What was thy delighted measure! | Still it whisper'd promised pleasure | And bade the lovely scenes at distance hail! | Still would her touch the strain prolong, | And from the rocks, the woods, the vale, | She call'd on Echo still through all the song; | And where her sweetest theme she chose, | A soft responsive voice was heard at every close, | And Hope enchanted smiled, and waved her golden hair.' In what an exalted light does the above stanza place this great master of poetical imagery and harmony! what varied sweetness of numbers I what delicacy of judgment and expression! how characteristically does Hope prolong her strain, repeat her soothing closes, call upon her associate Echo for the same purposes, and display every pleasing grace peculiar to her! 'And Hope enchanted smiled, and waved her golden hair.' 'Legat, qui nunquam legit; | Qui semel percurrit, relegat.' The descriptions of joy, jealousy, and revenge are excellent, though not equally so, those of melancholy and chearfulness are superior to every thing of the kind; and, upon the whole, there may be very little hazard in asserting, that this is the finest ode in the English language" Poetical Works of Mr. William Collins (1765) 178-81.



When Music, Heav'nly Maid, was young,
While yet in early Greece she sung,
The Passions oft to hear her Shell,
Throng'd around her magic Cell,
Exulting, trembling, raging, fainting,
Possest beyond the Muse's Painting;
By turns they felt the glowing Mind,
Disturb'd, delighted, rais'd, refin'd.
Till once, 'tis said, when all were fir'd,
Fill'd with Fury, rapt, inspir'd,
From the supporting Myrtles round,
They snatch'd her Instruments of Sound,
And as they oft had heard a-part
Sweet Lessons of her forceful Art,
Each, for Madness rul'd the Hour,
Would prove his own expressive Pow'r.

First Fear his Hand, its Skill to try,
Amid the Chords bewilder'd laid,
And back recoil'd he knew not why,
Ev'n at the Sound himself had made.

Next Anger rushed, his Eyes on fire,
In Lightnings own'd his secret Stings,
In one rude Clash he struck the Lyre,
And swept with hurried Hand the Strings.

With woful Measures wan Despair
Low sullen Sounds his Grief beguil'd,
A solemn, strange, and mingled Air,
'Twas sad by Fits, by Starts 'twas wild.

But thou, O Hope, with Eyes so fair,
What was thy delightful Measure?
Still it whisper'd promis'd Pleasure,
And bade the lovely Scenes at distance hail!
Still would her Touch the Strain prolong,
And from the Rocks, the Woods, the Vale,
She call'd on Echo still thro' all the Song;
And, where Her sweetest Theme She chose,
A soft responsive Voice was heard at ev'ry Close,
And Hope enchanted smil'd, and wav'd Her golden Hair.

And longer had She sung, — but with a Frown,
Revenge impatient rose,
He threw his blood-stain'd Sword in Thunder down,
And with a with'ring Look,
The War-denouncing Trumpet took,
And blew a Blast so loud and dread,
Were ne'er Prophetic Sounds so full of Woe.
And ever and anon he beat
The doubling Drum with furious Heat;
And tho' sometimes each dreary Pause between,
Dejected Pity at his Side
Her Soul-subduing Voice applied,
Yet still He kept his wild unalter'd Mien,
While each strained Ball of Sight seem'd bursting from his Head.

Thy numbers, Jealousy, to nought were fix'd,
Sad Proof of thy distressful State,
Of diff'ring Themes the veering Song was mix'd,
And now it courted Love, now raving call'd on Hate.

With Eyes up-rais'd, as one inspir'd,
Pale Melancholy sate retir'd,
And from her wild sequester'd Seat,
In Notes by Distance made more sweet,
Pour'd thro' the mellow Horn her pensive Soul:
And dashing soft from Rocks around,
Bubbling Runnels join'd the Sound;
Thro' Glades and Glooms the mingled Measure stole,
Or o'er some haunted Stream with fond Delay,
Round an holy Calm diffusing,
Love of Peace and lonely Musing,
In hollow Murmurs died away.

But O how alter'd was its sprightlier Tone!
When Chearfulness, a Nymph of healthiest Hue,
Her Bow a-cross her Shoulder flung,
Her Buskins gem'd with Morning Dew,
Blew an inspiring Air, that Dale and Thicket rung,
The Hunter's Call to Faun and Dryad known!
The Oak-crown'd Sisters and their chast-ey'd Queen,
Satyrs and sylvan Boys were seen,
Peeping from forth their Alleys green;
Brown Exercise rejoic'd to hear,
And Sport leapt up, and seiz'd his Beechen Spear.

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 awak'ning 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 his 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 Odours from his dewy Wings.

O Music, Sphere-descended Maid,
Friend of Pleasure, Wisdom's Aid,
Why, Goddess, why to us deny'd?
Lay'st Thou thy ancient Lyre aside?
As in that lov'd Athenian Bow'r,
You learn'd an all-commanding Pow'r,
Thy mimic Soul, O Nymph endear'd,
Can well recall what then it heard.
Where is thy native simple Heart,
Devote to Virtue, Fancy, Art?
Arise as in that elder Time,
Warm, Energic, Chaste, Sublime!
Thy Wonders in that God-like Age
Fill thy recording Sister's Page—
'Tis said, and I believe the Tale,
Thy humblest Reed could more prevail,
Had more of Strength, diviner Rage,
Than all which charms this laggard Age,
Ev'n all at once together found,
Caecilia's mingled World of Sound—
O bid our vain Endeavors cease,
Revive the just Designs of Greece,
Return in all thy simple State!
Confirm the Tales Her Sons relate!

[pp. 46-52]