1749
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode occasion'd by the Death of Mr. Thomson.

Ode occasion'd by the Death of Mr. Thomson. By Mr. William Collins.

William Collins


Eleven elegiac quatrains. As William Collins implies, the death of his neighbor James Thomson did not attract the numerous tributes and public attention recently accorded to Alexander Pope. The poem is dedicated to Thomson's friend and patron, George Lyttelton. Collins's note: "The scene of the following stanzas is supposed to lie on the Thames near Richmond." The first stanza alludes to Thomson's best-loved works, the Seasons and the Castle of Indolence (where the "druid wight" appears in the second canto). Collins's handsome elegies were much imitated later in the eighteenth century.

Robert Burns to the earl of Buchan : "Your Lordship hints at an ode for the occasion: but who would write after Collins? I read over his verses to the memory of Thomson, and despaired" (1790); in Letters, ed. Roy (1985) 2:102.

Henry Kett: "One of the most beautiful figures in poetry is the Prosopopoeia, or personification, which ascribes personal qualities and actions to inanimate and fictitious beings. The genius of our language enables the English poet to give the best effect to this figure, as the genders of nouns are not arbitrarily imposed but may be varied according to the nature of the subject. Thus the poet can establish the most striking distinction between verse and prose, and communicate to his descriptions that spirit and animation, which cannot fail to delight every reader of taste, in the following passages. Thus Collins, in his Ode on Thomson, who was buried at Richmond, in a train of imagery at once beautiful and original, declares that 'Remembrance oft shall haunt the shore [...]' Milton thus personified Wisdom, 'Wisdom's self | Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude [...]' And Warton describes the advance of Evening: 'While Evening veil'd in shadows brown | Puts her matron mantle on [...].' But the fullest display of this figure occurs in the Fairy Queen of Spenser, which abounds in the continued personification of abstract ideas" Elements of General Knowledge (1802, 1805) 1:92-93.

George Gregory: "There is a poem of Collins on the Death of Thomson, which, though not exactly in the measure which we have appropriated to this description of poem, bears all the true characteristics of elegy — softness, sweetness, melancholy, and harmony. I have always admired beyond any thing of the kind the following stanzas — 'Remembrance oft shall haunt the shore, | When Thames in summer wreaths is drest...'" in Letters on Literature, Taste, and Composition (1808) 2:198.

Edmund Gosse: "He was a republican and a Hellenist and a collector of black-letter poetry, in an age that equally despised what was Greek and what was Gothic. It may perhaps be allowed to be an almost infallible criterion of a man's taste for the highest forms of poetic art to inquire whether he has or has not a genuine love for the verses of Collins" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 235.

George Saintsbury: "'The Passions' and 'The Death of Thomson' and the 'Popular Superstitions of the Highlands' and 'Fidele,' — who that has any sense of the music of words can speak unbribed of these? Perhaps the famous first is not improved by its having been written directly for setting; as in all pieces of the kind, from Dryden's downwards, the transitions and variations are sometimes not strictly prosodic, but tampered with to suit the composer's convenience. In all, the conventional diction appears, and we could no doubt do with less Personification; though I rather doubt whether Personification is so deadly as the first Romantic school thought. But in all the four that command over words to make them musical, that fingering, that vivifying of dead schemes into live measures which is what we are questing for through this long history, makes its appearance. The symphonic variety of the 'Passions'; the ineffable sweetness of the octasyllabic quatrain in the 'Thomson' and 'Fidele'; the stately decasyllabics, woven into the statelier stanzas, of the 'Highlands,' — we may travel indeed from its China to its Peru — without finding such prosodic delights in diction and measure together" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:515-16.

Oliver Elton: "In the quatrains On the Death of Mr. Thomson there is some luggage of convention and personification; but it is appropriate to Thomson and enhances rather than spoils the note of gentle regret" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:50.

John Langhorne's Observations:

"Mr. Collins had skill to complain. Of that mournful melody and those tender images which are the distinguishing excellencies of such pieces as bewail departed friendship, or beauty, he was an almost unequaled master. He knew perfectly to exhibit such circumstances, peculiar to the objects, as awaken the influences of pity; and while, from his own great sensibility, he felt what he wrote, he naturally addressed himself to the feelings of others....

"The Ode on the Death of Thomson seems to have been written in an excursion to Richmond by water. The rural scenery has a proper effect in an ode to the memory of a poet, much of whose merit lay in descriptions of the same kind; and the appellations of 'Druid,' and 'meek Nature's child,' are happily characteristic. For the better understanding of this ode, it is necessary to remember, that Mr. Thomson lies buried in the church of Richmond" Poetical Works of Mr. William Collins (1765) 183-84.

A Latin translation of the Ode was published in the Monthly Anthology [Boston] 5 (June 1808) 621.



In yonder grave a DRUID lies
Where slowly winds the stealing Wave!
The Year's best Sweets shall duteous rise
To deck it's POET's sylvan Grave!

In yon deep Bed of whisp'ring Reeds
His airy Harp shall now be laid,
That He, whose Heart in Sorrow bleeds,
May love thro' Life the soothing Shade.

Then Maids and Youths shall linger here,
And, while it's Sounds at distance swell,
Shall sadly seem in Pity's Ear
To hear the WOODLAND PILGRIM's Knell.

REMEMBRANCE oft shall haunt the Shore
When THAMES in Summer-wreaths is drest,
And oft suspend the dashing Oar
To bid his gentle Spirit rest!

And oft as EASE and HEALTH retire
To breezy Lawn, or Forest deep,
The Friend shall view yon whit'ning Spire,
And 'mid the varied Landschape weep.

But Thou, who own'st that Earthy Bed,
Ah! what will ev'ry Dirge avail?
Or Tears, which LOVE and PITY shed
That mourn beneath the gliding Sail!

Yet lives there one, whose heedless Eye
Shall scorn thy pale Shrine glimm'ring near?
With Him, Sweet Bard, may FANCY die,
And JOY desert the blooming Year.

But thou, lorn STREAM, whose sullen Tide
No sedge-crowned SISTERS now attend,
Now waft me from the green Hill's Side
Whose cold Turf hides the buried FRIEND!

And see, the Fairy Valleys fade,
Dun Night has veiled the solemn View!
—Yet once again, Dear parted SHADE,
Meek NATURE's CHILD again adieu!

The genial Meads, assign'd to bless
Thy Life, shall mourn thy early Doom,
Their Hinds, and Shepherd-Girls shall dress
With simple Hands thy rural Tomb.

Long, long, thy Stone and pointed Clay
Shall melt the musing BRITON's Eyes,
O! VALES, and WILD WOODS, shall He say
In yonder Grave Your DRUID lies!

[pp. 5-8]