1760
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Two Odes. To Oblivion.

Two Odes. I. To Obscurity. II. To Oblivion.

Robert Lloyd


The second in the pair of odes by Robert Lloyd and George Colman the Elder ridicules the affections of antiquity in William Mason's tragedies (he had also composed an "Ode to Memory") and perhaps also those of the laureate William Whitehead: "What tho' the modern Tragick strain | For nine whole days protract thy reign, | Yet thro' the Nine, like whelps of currish kind, | Scarcely it lives, weak, impotent, and blind. | Sacred to thee the Crambo Rhime, | The motley forms of Pantomime" p. 21.

James Kirkpatrick: "The second Ode — to Oblivion — is played off still more closely against Mr. Mason's Ode to Memory. It contains the same number of stanzas, and even of lines; being in the same metre, and having its rhymes in the same stations. Mason's Note, and his authority from Africanus, for terming Memory the 'Mother of Wisdom,' is taken off by a burlesque Note of our Author's, giving the following drole authority of Lillaeus and Busbaeus — 'Verba obliviscendi regunt Genitivum' — for his calling Oblivion the 'Parent of Ease.' The very Testudo, the seven-stringed lyre, a small copper-plate of which is prefix'd to Mr. Mason's Odes in 4to, is exactly copied and prefixed to this Ode to Oblivion; tho' degraded here into a wooden cut, which is pregnant, perhaps, with some choice conceit" Monthly Review 23 (1760) 60.

Thomas Gray to William Mason: "Pray send to Sheffield for the last Monthly Review: there is a deal of stuff about us and Mr. Colman. It says one of us, at least, has always borne his faculties meekly. I leave you to guess which that is; I think I know. You oaf, you must be meek, must you? and see what you get by it!" 7 August 1760; Correspondence of Gray and Mason ed. John Mitford (1853) 218-19.

James Boswell: "The Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion, in ridicule of 'cool Mason and warm Gray,' being mentioned, Johnson said, 'They are Colman's best things.' Upon its being observed that it was believed these Odes were made by Colman and Lloyd jointly; — JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, how can two people make an Ode? Perhaps one made one of them and one the other.' I observed that two people had made a play, and quoted the anecdote of Beaumont and Fletcher, who were brought under suspicion of treason, because while concerting the plan of a tragedy when sitting together at a tavern, one of them was overheard saying to the other, 'I'll kill the King.' JOHNSON. 'The first of these Odes is the best: but they are both good. They exposed a very bad kind of writing.' BOSWELL. 'Surely, Sir, Mr. Mason's Elfrida is a fine Poem: at least you will allow there are some good passages in it.' JOHNSON. 'There are now and then some good imitations of Milton's bad manner'" Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 2:882-83.

Thomas Campbell: "The glittering and alliterative style of those four odes of Mason was severely parodied by Lloyd and Colman; and the public, it is said, were more entertained with the parodies than with the originals" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 654.

J. W. Croker: "Gray's odes are still on every table and in every mouth, and there are not, the editor believes, a dozen libraries in England which could produce these 'best things,' written by two professed wits in ridicule of them" Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831) 3:210n.

Robert Southey: "It was easy for Gray, in the consciousness of his own superiority, to smile at the cleverness with which his manner had been imitated in such burlesque.... The personal attack upon Mason was equally reprehensible, and unfounded; but his stilted style and obtrusive alliteration were not unfairly satirized; and this perhaps he felt, for his later poems were not characterized by the same faults" Life and Works of Cowper (1835-37) 1:52.

George Colman later wrote a vindication of the parodies printed in his Miscellaneous Works (1787).



I.
Parent of Ease! OBLIVION old,
Who lov'st thy dwelling-place to hold,
Where scepter'd Pluto keeps his dreary sway,
Whose sullen pride the shiv'ring ghosts obey!
Thou who delightest still to dwell
By some hoar and moss-grown cell,
At whose dank foot Cocytus joys to roll,
Or Styx' black streams, which even Jove controul!
Or if it suit thy better will
To chuse the tinkling weeping rill,
Hard by whose side the seeded poppy red
Heaves high in air his sweetly curling head,
While creeping in meanders slow,
Lethe's drowsy waters flow,
And hollow blasts, which never cease to sigh,
Hum to each care-struck mind their lulla-lulla-by!
A prey no longer let me be
To that gossip MEMORY,
Who waves her banners trim, and proudly flies
To spread abroad her bribble-brabble lies.
With Thee, OBLIVION, let me go,
For MEMORY'S a friend to Woe;
With thee, FORGETFULNESS, fair silent Queen,
The solemn stole of grief is never seen.

II.
All, all is thine. Thy pow'rful sway
The throng'd poetick hosts obey.
Tho' in the van of MEM'RY proud t' appear,
At thy command they darken in the rear.
What tho' the modern Tragick strain
For nine whole days protract thy reign,
Yet thro' the Nine, like whelps of currish kind,
Scarcely it lives, weak, impotent, and blind.
Sacred to thee the Crambo Rhime,
The motley forms of Pantomime:
For Thee from Eunuch's throat still loves to flow
The soothing sadness of his warbled woe:
Each day to Thee falls Pamphlet clean:
Each month a new-born Magazine:
Hear then, O GODDESS, hear thy vot'ry's pray'r!
And, if Thou deign'st to take one moment's care,
Attend Thy Bard! who duly pays
The tribute of his votive lays;
Whose Muse still offers at thy sacred shrine;—
Thy Bard, who calls THEE His, and makes Him THINE.
O sweet FORGETFULNESS, supreme
Rule supine o'er ev'ry theme,
O'er each sad subject, o'er each soothing strain,
Of mine, O GODDESS, stretch thine awful reign!
Nor let MEM'RY steal one note,
Which this rude hand to Thee hath wrote!
So shalt thou save me from the Poet's shame,
Tho' on the letter'd Rubrick DODSLEY post my Name.

III.
O come! with opiate poppies crown'd,
Shedding slumbers soft around!
O come! FAT GODDESS, drunk with Falstaff's sack!—
See, where she sits on the benumb'd Torpedo's back!
Me in thy dull Elysium lapt, O bless
With thy calm Forgetfulness!
And gently lull my senses all the while
With placid poems in the sinking stile!
Whether the Herring-Poet sing,
Great Laureat of the Fishes' King,
Or Lycophron prophetick rave his fill,
Wrapt in the darker strains of Johnny —;
Or, if HE sing, whose verse affords
A bevy of the choicest words,
Who meets his Lady Muse by moss-grown cell,
Adorn'd with epithet and tinkling bell:
These, GODDESS, let me still forget,
With all the dearth of Modern Wit!
So may'st Thou gently o'er my youthful breast,
Spread with thy welcome hand OBLIVION's friendly vest.

[pp. 19-23]