1755
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Ode to Fancy.

A Collection of Poems in Four Volumes. By Several Hands. [Robert Dodsley, ed.]

Rev. James Merrick


An imitation of Milton's Il Penseroso that restricts itself to the gothic pleasures of the night, including a visit to the churchyard and a dance of the fairies. In the genealogy section "Fancy" is made the child of Mercury and Melancholy. The rhapsodic manner of this early romantic poem may be compared to similar Miltonic poems by Joseph and Thomas Warton. James Merrick was a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford where he was a scholarly associate of Thomas Warton and Robert Lowth.

William Shenstone thought highly of the Ode to Fancy: "I cannot help remarking that MILTON'S Il Penseroso has drove half our Poets crazy: it has, however, produced some admirable Odes to Fancy, amongst which, that of [Joseph] WHARTON (not in this volume [of Dodsley]) I think deserves the Preference; and after his [James] MERRICK's, [Francis Coventry's] PENSHURST, and the Ode on Solitude [by James Grainger] are of the same Tribe, and are good. The Pleasures of Melancholy [by Thomas Warton], and Marriott's Ode to Fancy, of the same Tribe, are indifferent" to Richard Graves, 21 March 1755 in Letters, ed. Williams (1939) 433.

John Aikin: "Another Ode to Fancy of considerable merit, by Mr. Merrick (Dodsley's Coll. iv.) is formed upon the same general notion of the character [as in Joseph Warton's 'Ode to Fancy'], though with a larger mixture of the wild and fantastic. She is made the daughter of Melancholy by Hermes; and is said in her appearance at times to resemble each parent. The objects with which she impresses the mind, are chiefly of the preternatural class; such as spectres, fairies, and the like shadowy beings. Thus a distinction is established between the suggestions of fancy, and the ordinary motions of a lively imagination; which perhaps is a more just, though less enlarged, conception of this faculty, than that of Warton's Ode" "Personification in Poetry" Monthly Magazine 7 (May 1799) 292.

W. Davenport Adams: "James Merrick, poet and Biblical critic (b. 1720, d. 1769), published Messiah: a Divine Comedy (1734); a translation of Tryphiodorus' Destruction of Troy (1740); A Metrical Version of the Psalms; A Dissertation on Proverbs; Poems on Sacred Subjects, and other works" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 390.



Fancy, whose delusions vain
Sport themselves with human brain;
Rival thou of Nature's pow'r,
Can'st, from thy exhaustless store,
Bid a tide of sorrow flow,
And whelm the soul in deepest woe:
Or, in the twinkling of an eye,
Raise it to mirth and jollity.
Dreams and shadows by thee stand,
Taught to run at thy command,
And along the wanton air,
Flit like empty Gossimer.
Thee, black Melancholy of yore
To the swift-wing'd Hermes bore:
From the mixture of thy line,
Different natures in thee join,
Which thou chusest to express
By the variance of thy dress.
Now like thy sire thou lov'st to seem
Light and gay with pinions trim,
Dipt in all the dyes that glow
In the bend of Iris' bow:
Now like thy mother drear and sad,
(All in mournful vestments clad,
Cypress weeds and sable stole,)
Thou rushest on th' affrighted soul.
Oft I feel thee coming on,
When the night hath reach'd her noon,
And darkness, partner of her reign,
Round the world hath bound her chain,
Then with measur'd step and slow,
In the church-yard path I go,
And while my outward senses sleep,
Lost in contemplation deep,
Sudden I stop, and turn my ear,
And list'ning hear, or think I hear.
First a dead and sullen sound
Walks along the holy ground;
Then thro' the gloom alternate break
Groans, and the shrill screech-owl's shriek.
Lo! the moon hath hid her head,
And the graves give up their dead:
By me pass the ghastly crowds,
Wrapt in visionary shrouds;
Maids, who died with love forlorn,
Youths, who fell by maidens' scorn,
Helpless sires and matrons old
Slain for sordid thirst of gold,
And babes who owe their shorten'd date
To cruel step-dames ruthless hate:
Each their sev'ral errands go,
To haunt the wretch that wrought their woe:
From their sight the caitiff flies,
And his heart within him dies;
While a horror damp and chill
Thro' his frozen blood doth thrill,
And his hair for very dread
Bears itself upon his head.
When the early breath of day
Hath made the shadows flee away;
Still possess'd by thee I rove
Bosom'd in the shelt'ring grove,
There, with heart and lyre new strung,
Meditate the lofty song.
And if thou my voice inspire,
And with wonted frenzy fire,
Aided by thee I build the rhyme
Such, as nor the flight of time
Nor wasting flame, nor eating show'r,
Nor lightning's blast can e'er devour.
Or if chance some moral page
My attentive thoughts engage,
On I walk, with silent tread,
Under the thick woven shade,
While the thrush, unheeded by,
Tunes her artless minstrelsy.
List'ning to their sacred lore,
I think on ages long past o'er,
When Truth and Virtue hand in hand
Walk'd upon the smiling land.
Thence my eyes on Britain glance,
And, awaken'd from my trance,
While my busy thoughts I rear,
Oft I wipe the falling tear.
When the night again descends
And her shadowy cone extends,
O'er the fields I walk alone,
By the silence of the moon.
Hark! upon my left I hear
Wild musick wand'ring in the air;
Led by the sound I onward creep,
And thro' the neighb'ring hedge I peep;
There I spy the Fairy band
Dancing on the level land,
Now with step alternate bound,
Join'd in one continu'd round,
Now their plighted hands unbind,
And such tangled mazes wind
As the quick eye can scarce pursue,
And wou'd have puzzled that fam'd clue,
Which led th' Athenian's unskill'd feet
Thro' the Labyrinth of Crete.
At the near approach of day,
Sudden the music dies away,
Wasting in the sea of air,
And the phantoms disappear.
All (as the glow-worm waxes dim)
Vanish like a morning dream,
And of their revels leave no trace,
Save the ring upon the grass.
When the elphin show is fled,
Home I haste me to my bed;
There, if thou with magick wand
On my temples take thy stand,
I see in mix'd disorder rise
All that struck my waking eyes;
So when I stand, and round me gaze,
Where the fam'd Lodona strays
On the woods and thickets brown,
That its sedgy margin crown,
And watch the vagrant clouds that fly
Thro' the vast desart of the sky,
When adown I cast my look
On the smooth unruffl'd brook,
(While its current clear doth run,
And holds its mirrour to the sun,)
There I see th' inverted scene
Fall, and meet the eye again.

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