1761
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Criticism.

Ode to Criticism. By a Gentleman of Oxford.

Michael Wodhull


A anonymously-published burlesque on the Oxford volume published to mark the death of George II: "When Autumn brought the lowering Year, | Fair ISIS mingled with BRITANNIA'S Woe; | Meanwhile thou taught'st her Classic Plaints to flow | O'er GEORGE'S Grief-stain'd Bier" p. 7. Michael Wodhull, an Oxford undergraduate, hints at the political circumstances surrounding the ambitious volume, which, if it will be of little interest to the King, "The Plan will suit at least a Patriot-Minister" p. 7. But the object of the burlesque is the academic poetry with its Miltonic fustian. Wodhull constructs his verse out of words and phrases lifted from the anthology, seizing on its Spenserian alliteration for especial ridicule: "Modulated Measures breathing; | A Coral Crown thy Bright Brow Binds, I ween, | And down devolves thy Sweeping Stole of Glossy Green" p. 6. Of course his swipe at the Monthly and Critical Reviews did not go unnoticed.

Monthly Review: "Having rendered justice to this Gentleman's moderate poetical merit, in spight of his impeaching our criticism, which has been far from giving us the spleen, we should be unjust, on the other hand, not to observe,that he is sometimes obscure, and not always consistent — But for this we may be termed dull perhaps, and be deemed inadequate to the full relish of a cloud-capt Ode. This may be; and we have outlived still severer criticisims" 24 (April 1761) 279-80

Critical Review [which had originally ignored the Ode]: "From some petulant efforts made by this angry bard, to retaliate upon the Critical Reviewers, we can easily perceive that he has smarted under the rod of correction. We shall, however, dismiss this poetical bantling, with honestly confessing that it is less deformed than we expected to see a production begot by conceit upon ignorance" review of Wodhull, Poetical Epistle to —; 12 (October 1761) 236.

Alexander Chalmers: "It was intended as an attack on certain peculiarities in the writings of Thomas Warton. Warton took a singular mode of avenging himself, by inserting the ode in The Oxford Sausage among poems of a very different sort. This proceeding may perhaps be considered as a proof of humour in the laureate; but it is to be regretted that it has been the means of perpetuating a composition which its author would long ago have consigned to oblivion" General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 32:231/

Edmund Gosse: "Michael Wodhull, of Brasenose, was the author of the Ode to Criticism, which ridicules The Triumph of Isis, a serious poem which Warton had published in 1749. But Wodhull was a famous book-collector, whose library contained black-letter treasures which Warton may have been anxious to consult. He is not so kind to all contempoary antiquaries, since a parody of the ballad of Chevy Chase pokes fun at Browne Willis, whose books about the English cathedrals are still of value" "The Oxford Sausage" in Collected Essays (1928) 174.



I.
Hail, mighty Goddess, whom of yore,
Where fam'd Cimmeria boasts her tenfold Gloom,
In those deep Caverns, from her lab'ring Womb
Imperial Dulness bore.
At the Signal of thy Birth,
O'er the Rue-besprinkled Earth
Slowly sullen Spleen advances,
Sneering Laughter joins the Dances,
Swift from her Den exulting Envy springs,
New trims her faded Torch, and sharpens all her Stings.

II.
Farewell, ye Visions light and vain,
The Delian Grove, with its enchanted Rill,
The cloven Summits of Parnassus' Hill,
Chimeras of the Brain.
No more such Follies I pursue—
Thee, sober-vested Queen, I woo;
Thy propitious Help imploring,
As by Midnight Taper poring,
With studious Care I mark some faulty Line,
Then curse the Theban Harp, or HOMER'S Work divine.

III.
Here in my hateful, lonesome Cell,
While Darkness spreads her murky Veil around,
When Pains corrode, and stormy Passions wound,
With thee I wish to dwell.
Tho' APOLLO bid despair,
Nor a Muse regards my Pray'r;
Still with ever constant Kindness,
Thou wilt sooth my votive Blindness;
I feel, I feel the maddening Influence reigns,
The black Bile rushes on, and revels in my Veins.

IV.
Borne on the rapid Wings of Thought,
E'en now I seem, in thy extensive Shade,
Where baleful Yews o'ercome the sickening Glade,
To quaff the plenteous Draught,
And behold thy Realms comprise
Learned, Ignorant, and Wise,
All alike with hot Devotion,
Swallowing thy embitter'd Potion.
Fearless I take my self-commission'd Stand,
To wield thy ruthless Sword with unrelenting Hand.

V.
Hear then, O hear my fond Request,
Whether, in poor Verona's hapless State,
Thou mourn'st thy SCALIGER'S neglected Fate,
With Anguish-laden Breast.
Or with Rapture lov'st to view
Sourly smiling each REVIEW;
Quickly haste to my Embraces,
Come, O come, in all thy Graces,
Where tuneful OXFORD hails thy just Domain,
Where at thy Shrine attend her delegated Train.

VI.
How shall I paint thy heavenly Charms!
In what high Praise my ardent Suit address!
Or how the glowing Flame shall I express
Which now my Bosom warms;
How describe the mazy Road,
Leading to thy blest Abode!
Where thou sit'st in State presiding,
Us ignoble Rhimers guiding
To where the Banks of LETHE'S silent Wave,
Before our passive Steps disclose an early Grave.

VII.
Yet shall my feeble Lays presume,
Wrapt in ideal Extacies, to trace
The winning Features of thy lovely Face,
And its primeval Bloom.
Thou, a Silver-Slipper'd Nymph,
Lightly tread'st the dimply Lymph,
With dank Sedge thy Tresses wreathing,
Modulated Measures breathing;
A Coral Crown thy Bright Brow Binds, I ween,
And down devolves thy Sweeping Stole of Glossy Green.

VIII.
Oft, in nocturnal Serenade,
Anxious I wake my Lyre's discordant Strings,
Till the responsive Echo loudly rings
With thee, immortal Maid!
Ah! perchance my Hopes are vain—
Can'st thou then, with harsh Disdain,
Spurn my too officious Duty,
Self-enamour'd of thy Beauty;
And close thy stern, inexorable Heart,
Slighting the Vow sincere, which wants the Gloss of Art?

IX.
Hence, idle Fears — thou still art kind:
Low at thy Footstool bends my trembling Knee;
I sue, O Goddess, and I sue to thee,
To thy Behests resign'd.
No rejected Votary's Moans
Taint the Air with feverish Groans.
Where we rest, thy Charms enjoying,
Ever tasted, never cloying,
Widely thou pour'st thy all-diffusive Rays,
Instant our kindling Souls with Fire congenial blaze.

X.
In RHEDYCINA'S favour'd Seat,
Where richest Verse thy smould'ring Altar feeds,
With him some chosen Sage obedient leads,
To give Thee Homage meet,
False Surmises, hidden Flaws,
Old Grammarians crabbed Laws;
At thy Impulse while elated,
By thy Pleasures he unsated,
With his fell Pen from thy Tribunal bends,
As on the mangled Lines the frequent Blot descends.

XI.
When Autumn brought the lowering Year,
Fair ISIS mingled with BRITANNIA'S Woe;
Meanwhile thou taught'st her Classic Plaints to flow
O'er GEORGE'S Grief-stain'd Bier.
How she mourn'd the Monarch dead,
Father of his Country fled,
Ill befits my trite Narration—
I in less exalted Station,
Stupidly nod o'er Poesy so fine,
Stretch'd on the lifeless Couch of Indolence supine.

XII.
That Part to Thee we consecrate
Of the huge Wreath forsooth, which all the Nine,
With Skill united have conspir'd to Twine.
A Fricassy of State!
'Twould make a Breakfast for a King;
Or should he feast on no such Thing
A See-saw Flattery, and his Spirit
Be coolly touch'd with so much Merit;
If he endure the Song with Look sinister,
The Plan will suit at least a Patriot-Minister.

XIII.
Full many a Youth, whose opening Shoot
Teem'd with poetic Foliage, o'er whose Head
Castalian Dews the gracious Muse has shed,
And promis'd riper Fruit;
Such the firm Decrees of Fate,
Such the Shortness of his Date,
With the Troop of Phantoms nameless,
In that pious Volume fameless,
Where the triumphant Clouds of Smoke aspire,
Sinks in Oblivion's Arms on the funereal Pyre.

XIV.
Far from the Terrors of thy Reign,
Curb'd by thy Frown, audacious Genius flies;
Or, if he impotently dares to rise,
Is level'd to the Plain:
Nought avails his magic Art
To avert thy vengeful Dart;
And his insolent emprising;
Thou his vaunted Pow'r despising,
Eager his blasted Glories to confound,
Strik'st him a breathless Corse, unpitying, to the Ground.

XIV.
When Swinging Slow with Sweepy Sway,
In one same constant Tenor run our Rhimes,
Like the sweet Musick of unvaried Chimes,
In distant due Delay;
Then our Vows thou deign'st to hear,
With a condescending Ear.
Aid, O Goddess, aid my Numbers,
Let me Share thy Sweetest Slumbers,
While from this Quill, as all along I doze,
In Apathy discreet the Stumbling Stanza flows.

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