1746
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode I. To Fancy

Odes on Various Subjects. By Joseph Warton, B.A. of Oriel College, Oxon.

Rev. Joseph Warton


In the concluding lines of this much-admired Miltonic ode Joseph Warton proposes a turn to domestic literary models: "With native beauties win applause, | Beyond cold critic's studied laws: | O let each Muses's fame encrease, | O bid BRITANNIA rival GREECE!" p. 11. The Addison coterie had proposed a similar program a generation earlier with less success. Warton's lines on Spenser make a happy reference to Il Penseroso: "Then lay me by the haunted stream, | Wrapt in some wild, poetic dream, | In converse while methinks I rove | With SPENSER thro' a fairy grove." Warton seems to read the "lively portraiture display'd" in Milton's original as an allusion to Spenser's allegorical poetry, thus establishing, by means of visionary Fancy, a literary genealogy. Warton's ode was collected in William Enfield's The Speaker (1774) though which medium it would have been taught to several generations of children.

Henry Headley's notes on this poem include the following: "He addresses her thus: 'O! Nymph, with loosely-flowing hair, | With buskin'd leg, and bosom bare, | Thy waist with myrtle girdle bound, | Thy brows "with Indian feathers" crown'd.' See Spenser, Canto 12, B. 3, where Britomarte redeems Amoret, and sees Fancy in the inchanted chamber: 'His garment neither was of silke nor say, | But "paynted plumes" in goodly order dight, | Like as the sun-burnt "Indians" do affray | Their tawny bodies in their proudest plight, &c. &c.' In another part of the Ode, where the Beggar is described as taking shelter under the mouldering towers of an abbey, I am inclined to suspect, that the idea was first suggested to Dr. Warton by the description of Jealousy in Spenser, F. Queen, Canto 11, B. 3, and which he himself quotes, vol. II p. 98. 'Essay on Pope,' to 'shew the richness of Spencer's Fancy'" Fugitive Pieces (1785) 27-28.

John Aikin: "Of the more dignified pictures of Fancy, I find none so elegant and spirited, as that of Mr. Warton in his justly admired Ode to this imaginary being.... This is a portrait not less characteristical, than beautiful; the elegance, simplicity, and exalted power, of this ideal nymph, all correspond with that vivid glow of the imagination, that taste for the charms of nature, which are essential to poetical genius. Accordingly, the poet has not scrupled to confer on Fancy the title of 'Parent of the Muses, and Queen of Numbers,' and invokes her as the sole inspirer of genuine song. That this is a deviation from the original import of the term, will appear from the preceding quotations but it is a natural one, and has the sanction of great authority. Whether such an innovation in the established mythology of poetry, may not shock some rigid adherents to classical doctrine, I shall not presume to determine" "Personification in Poetry" Monthly Magazine 7 (May 1799) 292.

European Magazine: "Of these Odes, that to Fancy is pre-eminently the best. The others, in the latter part of his life, had but little of their author's regard" "Account of Joseph Warton" 37 (March 1800) 200.

Gentleman's Magazine: "His publications are but few: a small Collection of Poems, without a name, was the first of them, and contained the Ode to Fancy, which has been so much and so deservedly admired" 70 (March 1800) 287.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "The Odes it is impossible to avoid comparing with those of his friend and rival, Collins, which were published in the same year, at the same age; and it is equally impossible to be blind to their striking inferiority. The Ode to Fancy has much merit; but it seems to me to want originality; and to be more an effort of memory, than of original and predominant genius. The finest lines, consisting of 28, which begin at verse 59, were inserted subsequent to the first edition, a circumstance not noted by Mr. Wooll" Cesura Literaria 3 (1807) 197-98.

Nathan Drake: "Of the seventeen Odes, however, of which it is composed, there are but two entitled to an elevated rank for their lofty tone and high finish; the 'Odes To Fancy' and 'On reading Mr. West's Pindar'" and of these the first is much the superior. It abounds, indeed, in a succession of strongly contrasted and high-wrought imagery, clothed in a versification of the sweetest cadence and most brilliant polish" in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 2:117.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth: "'With Spencer through a fairy grove.' Spencer one of our earliest and best poets wrote a poem called the Fairy-queen — therefore he is spoken of here as wandering through a fairy grove.... 'Me goddess by the right hand lead.' This whole poem is an undisguised imitation of Milton's Allegro and Penseroso — the imitation is so exact as to determine by which hand the goddess should lead him. Milton, however, distinctly gives the right hand place with great civility to the mountain nymph sweet Liberty. But our poet takes the post of honour (the right hand) to himself. Hebe is the goddess of cheerfulness, her history may be found in Lempriere. She was cup-bearer to the gods, who drank nectar and eat ambrosia instead of wine" Readings in Poetry (1816) 44-45.

Thomas Campbell: "To his brother he is obviously inferior in the graphic and romantic style of composition, at which he aimed; but in which, it must nevertheless be owned, that in some parts of his Ode to Fancy he has been pleasingly successful" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1855) 701.

Henry Francis Cary: "His reputation as a critic and a scholar has preserved his poetry from neglect. Of his Odes, that to Fancy, written when he was very young, is one that least disappoints us by a want of poetic feeling. Yet if we compare it with that by Collins, on the Poetical Character, we shall see of how much higher beauty the same subject was capable. In the Ode to Evening, he has again tried his strength with Collins. There are some images of rural life in it that have the appearance of being drawn from nature, and which therefore please" "Joseph Warton" in London Magazine 5 (March 1822) 268.

George Gilfillan: "Warton, like his brother, did good service in resisting the literary despotism of Pope, and in directing the attention of the public to the forgotten treasures of old English poetry. He was a man of extensive learning, a very fair and candid, as well as acute critic, and his Ode to Fancy proves him to have possessed no ordinary genius" Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 3:312.

William Lyon Phelps: "This is an excellent example of what is meant by the 'literature of melancholy,' and of course its original inspiration from Il Penseroso is indisputable. In the same ode appears and allusion to Shakspere, where Warton is again thinking of Milton's expression, 'Fancy's child.' Milton's casual remark that Shakspere was the child of Fancy seemed to produce a profound impression on the Romanticists" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 91.

Myra Reynolds: "These poems mark a new phase in the feeling toward Nature, because with little description, with no theory to propound, no moral to teach, no human interest to exemplify, the poet with a rapt fervor and intensity cries out for solitary communion with Nature as a necessity of his own being. Warton is also, I think, the first of the romantic poets to advocate a return to Nature in the sense in which Rousseau used the phrase" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 141.

Eric Partridge: "In the Ode to Fancy Warton pictured various scenes evoked by Fancy, 'Parent of each lovely Muse,' — scenes that, forming a vivid series, partake largely of the qualities characterising the great writers of the Romantic Revolt. The spirit of the piece indicates the feeling, gradually on the increase among English poets of the Eighteenth Century, that verse must be written under the spur of emotion" Eighteenth-Century English Romantic Poetry (1924) 82.

Eleanor M. Sickels: "While the lilt of these octosyllabics and the phrasing of the first two lines quoted are indubitably Miltonic, the folded arms and the sigh [Goddess of the tearful eye, | That loves to fold her arms and sigh'] sound more like [John] Fletcher [Hence all vaine delights].... It would be interesting to believe that this pioneer of romanticism had in this matter also anticipated his age and gone back of Milton to the exquisite little Caroline lyric which has been thought to be Milton's source" Gloomy Egoist (1932) 43.

Oliver Elton: "In the Ode to Fancy Warton cries, 'O let Britannia rival Greece!' even as Collins does in the Passions, 'Revive the just designs of Greece!' Greece and Shakespeare, Shakespeare and Milton — on these names the changes are rung. The Ode to Fancy also celebrates the 'poets' poet': 'There lay me by some haunted stream, | Rapt in some wild poetic dream, | in converse while methinks I rove | With Spenser through a fairy grove.' There are images in this ode worthy of Spenser" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:39.

Richard Wendorf: "Thomas' own poems are perhaps the more extravagant example of this new poetic, and Collins' the most successful; but the primary elements here — spirits, imaginary scenes, personified abstractions — and the primary process — conception in the spirit in order to affact the imagination — are the innovative characteristics of Joseph's volume as well" Joseph Warton Odes on Various Subjects (Los Angeles: Augustan Reprint Society, 1979) xiv.



O parent of each lovely Muse,
Thy spirit o'er my soul diffuse,
O'er all my artless songs preside,
My footsteps to thy temple guide,
To offer at thy turf-built shrine,
In golden cups no costly wine,
No murder'd fatling of the flock,
But flowers and honey from the rock.
O Nymph, with loosely-flowing hair,
With buskin'd leg, and bosom bare,
Thy waist with myrtle-girdle bound,
Thy brows with Indian feathers crown'd,
Waving in thy snowy hand
An all-commanding magic wand,
Of pow'r to bid fresh gardens blow
'Midst chearless Lapland's barren snow,
Whose rapid wings thy flight convey
Thro' air, and over earth and sea,
While the vast, various landscape lies
Conspicuous to thy piercing eyes;
O lover of the desart, hail!
Say, in what deep and pathless vale,
Or on what hoary mountain's side,
'Midst falls of water you reside,
'Midst broken rocks, a rugged scene,
With green and grassy dales between,
'Midst forests dark of aged oak,
Ne'er echoing with the woodman's stroke,
Where never human art appear'd,
Nor ev'n one straw-rooft cott was rear'd,
Where NATURE seems to sit alone,
Majestic on a craggy throne;
Tell me the path, sweet wand'rer, tell,
To thy unknown sequester'd cell,
Where woodbines cluster round the door,
Where shells and moss o'erlay the floor,
And on whose top an hawthorn blows,
Amid whose thickly-woven boughs
Some nightingale still builds her nest,
Each evening warbling thee to rest;
Then lay me by the haunted stream,
Wrapt in some wild, poetic dream,
In converse while methinks I rove
With SPENSER thro' a fairy grove;
Till suddenly awak'd, I hear
Strange whisper'd music in my ear,
And my glad soul in bliss is drown'd,
By the sweetly-soothing sound!
Me, Goddess, by the right-hand lead,
Sometimes thro' the yellow mead,
Where JOY and white-rob'd PEACE resort,
And VENUS keeps her festive court,
Where MIRTH and YOUTH each evening meet,
And lightly trip with nimble feet,
Nodding their lilly-crowned heads,
Where LAUGHTER rose-lip'd HEBE leads;
Where ECHO walks steep hills among,
List'ning to the shepherd's song:
Yet not these flowery fields of joy,
Can long my pensive mind employ,
Haste, Fancy, from the scenes of folly
To meet the matron Melancholy,
Goddess of the tearful eye,
That loves to fold her arms and sigh;
Let us with silent footsteps go
To charnels and the house of Woe,
To Gothic churches, vaults, and tombs,
Where each sad night some virgin comes,
With throbbing breast, and faded cheek,
Her promis'd bridegroom's urn to seek;
Or to some Abby's mould'ring tow'rs,
Where, to avoid cold wint'ry show'rs,
The naked beggar shivering lies,
While whistling tempests round her rise,
And trembles lest the tottering wall
Should on her sleeping infants fall.
Now let us louder strike the lyre,
For my heart glows with martial fire,
I feel, I feel, with sudden heat,
My big tumultuous bosom beat;
The trumpet's clangors pierce my ear,
A thousand widows' shrieks I hear,
Give me another horse, I cry,
Lo! the base Gallic squadrons fly;
Whence is this rage? — what spirit, say,
To battles hurries me away?
'Tis Fancy, in her fiery car,
Transports me to the thickest war,
There whirls me o'er the hills of slain,
Where Tumult and Destruction reign;
Where mad with pain, the wounded steed
Tramples the dying and the dead;
Where giant Terror stalks around,
With sullen joy surveys the ground,
And pointing to th' ensanguin'd field,
Shakes his dreadful Gorgon-shield!
O guide me from this horrid scene
To high-archt walks and alleys green,
Which lovely LAURA seeks, to shun
The fervors of the mid-day sun;
The pangs of absence, O remove,
For thou can'st place me near my love,
Can'st fold in visionary bliss,
And let me think I steal a kiss,
While her ruby lips dispense
Luscious nectar's quintesscence!
When young-ey'd SPRING profusely throws
From her green lap the pink and rose,
When the soft turtle of the dale
To SUMMER tells her tender tale,
When AUTUMN cooling caverns seeks,
And stains with wine his jolly cheeks,
When WINTER, like poor pilgrim old,
Shakes his silver beard with cold,
At every season let my ear
Thy solemn whispers, Fancy, hear.
O warm, enthusiastic maid,
Without thy powerful, vital aid,
That breathes an energy divine,
That gives a soul to every line,
Ne'er may I strive with lips profane
To utter an unhallow'd strain,
Nor dare to touch the sacred string,
Save when with smiles thou bid'st me sing.
O hear our prayer, O hither come
From thy lamented SHAKESPEAR's tomb,
On which thou lov'st to sit at eve,
Musing o'er thy darling's grave;
O queen of numbers, once again
Animate some chosen swain,
Who fill'd with unexhausted fire,
May boldly smite the sounding lyre,
Who with some new, unequall'd song,
May rise above the rhyming throng,
O'er all our list'ning passions reign,
O'erwhelm our souls with joy and pain,
With terror shake, and pity move,
Rouze with revenge, or melt with love.
O deign t' attend his evening walk,
With him in groves and grottos talk;
Teach him to scorn with frigid art
Feebly to touch th'unraptur'd heart;
Like light'ning, let his mighty verse
The bosom's inmost foldings pierce;
With native beauties win applause,
Beyond cold critic's studied laws:
O let each Muse's fame encrease,
O bid BRITANNIA rival GREECE!

[pp. 5-11]