Thomas Gray's Installation Ode is one of very few examples of academic Miltonism to survive its occasion; the poet's reputation was such that it was reprinted in the London newspapers and became immediately subject to parody ("Hence! avaunt! 'tis venal Ground..."). The universities marked state occasions with much pomp and circumstance, with banquets, declamations in the learned languages, and odes set to music performed before the assembled dignitaries. The Duke of Grafton, a potent patron at court, was elected chancellor of Cambridge University in November 1768. Gray owed a particular debt to Grafton, who had recently nominated him for his sinecure position as Regius Professor of History.
Thomas Gray to Norton Nicholls: "My Ode has been rehearsed again and again, and the scholars have got scraps by heart: I expect to see it torn piece-meal in the North-Briton before it is born. If you come you shall see it, and sing in it amidst a chorus from Salisbury and Gloucester music meeting, great names there, and all well versed in Judas Maccabaeus. I wish it were once over; for then I immediately go for a few days to London, and so with Mr. Brown to Aston, though I fear it will rain the whole summer, and Skiddaw will be invisible and inaccessible to mortals" 24 June 1769; Poems of Mr. Gray, ed. Mason (1775) 347.
Thomas Gray to James Beattie: "The late ceremony of the Duke of Grafton's installation has hindered me from acknowledging sooner the satisfaction your friendly compliment gave me: I thought myself bound in gratitude to his Grace, unasked, to take upon me the task of writing those verses which are usually set to music on this occasion. I do not think them worth sending you, because they are by nature doomed to live but a single day; or, if their existence is prolonged beyond that date, it is only by means of news-paper parodies, and witless criticisms" 16 July 1769; Poems of Mr. Gray, ed. Mason (1775) 348-49.
Thomas Warton wrote to Richard Hurd: "I cannot finish my Letter, which I fear grows tedious, without telling you how much I am pleased with Mr. Gray's Installation Ode. It is too little to say, that it is far above the Strain of such Occasional Odes. It is indeed highly poetical, and strongly touched with the Marks of a Master" 26 July 1769; Correspondence of Thomas Warton, ed. Fairer (1995) 250.
John Hawkesworth: "This ode abounds with the beauties of poetry; the versification includes almost all the varieties of harmony, a new image arises in almost every line, fancy is regulated by judgment, and judgment enlivened by fancy" Monthly Review 41 (August 1769) 159.
Richard Hurd to Thomas Gray: "You did not send me a copy of the Installation Ode; which piqued me so much, that I was greatly disappointed when, with so good a disposition to find fault, I was obliged, with all the world, to commend and admire it" 4 December 1769; n Correspondence of Hurd and Mason (1932) 69.
Critical Review: "Some of Mr. Gray's odes are superior, we will venture to say, to any that antiquity can produce. He has the 'os profundum' mentioned by Horace, and his muse can soar and gaze upon the sun without endangering the texture of his wings; yet, after all, tho' we believe very, very, few authors could have written so good an ode as that before us; yet we are of the opinion, for the reason stated above assigned, that Mr. Gray might have written a better. — It is, however, fraught with beauties. The deep tones of the empyrean procession, the splendor of its appearance, and the happiness of its allusions, are the true emanations of genius. The burst of description which is so finely connected with the occasion of the ode, is so inexpressively poetical, that we understand it has given offence to minor poets and critics" 28 (September 1769) 233-34.
Joseph Cockfield to Weedon Butler: "The Installation Ode by Mr. Gray is a recent instance of flattery bestowed indiscriminately on the great, and will do no credit to that celebrated writer. One who has a taste for poetical criticism has given me his opinion that it is not equal in point of beauty or sublimity to many of Mr. Gray's former pieces" 27 July 1769; in John Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 5:797.
Percival Stockdale: "Let us compassionate the genius who found it his indispensable duty to stoop to an ignoble homage, on the exemption from which, he congratulates the shades of his humble swains: let us compassionate the man of delicate honour who ONCE 'heaped the shrine of luxury, and pride, with incense kindled at the Muse's flame' — who ONCE praised a Duke of Grafton" in An Inquiry into the Nature, and Genuine Laws of Poetry (1778) 109-10.
Robert Anderson: "On the Duke of Grafton being elected Chancellor of the University, in 1769, gratitude prompted Gray, unasked, to furnish an irregular Ode for Music, to be performed at his installation; and whatever the celebrated Junius (notwithstanding his compliment to Gray) might pretend, it was the offering of no venal muse. The ode in its structure is dramatic, and it contains nothing of the complimentary kind, which is not entirely suited to the characters employed. In point of lyrical arrangement and expression, it is equal to most of his other odes" British Poets (1795) 10:196.
Percival Stockdale: "On his ode for the installation of the Duke of Grafton, I cannot dwell with so much pleasure as on most of his other poems. It is by no means destitute of that lively, and expressive imagination, and of those pleasing, and affecting sentiments, which, whenever he wrote, were at his command. To this ode, however, an, objection may perhaps, be justly made, which, in some degree, is applicable to the Bard; that it has too many allusions to passages in our history, which are remote from common knowledge, and memory; and, therefore, do not strike, and affect, with that immediate impulse, and sympathy, which are the spontaneous, and genuine effects of true poetry. In some parts of it, likewise, it sinks to an elaborate languour. Flattery, a degradation of the mind, which, in general, Mr. Gray disdained, is one of its humbling characteristicks. For this imperfection a generous critick will find an apology which redeems it, in gratitude, and the occasion" Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets (1807) 2:620-21.
Thomas James Mathias: "When the late Duke of Grafton was elected Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, it is known that Mr. Gray, from an impulse of what he looked on as a species of duty, spontaneously offered to write the Ode for his Grace's Installation. He considered it nevertheless as a sort of task, as a set composition; and a considerable time passed before he could prevail upon himself, or rather before he actually felt the power, to begin it. But one morning after breakfast, Mr. Nicholls called on him, and knocking at his chamber door, Mr. Gray got up hastily, and threw it open himself, and running up to him, in a hurried voice and tone exclaimed, 'Hence, avaunt; 'tis holy ground!' — Mr. Nicholls was so astonished, that he thought his senses were deranged; but Mr. Gray in a moment after resumed his usual pleasant manner, and repeating several verses at the beginning of that inimitable composition, said — 'Well: I have begun the Ode, and now I shall finish it.' It would seem, by this interesting anecdote, that the genius of Gray sometimes resembled the armed apparition in Shakspeare's master-tragedy; 'He would not be commanded'" Works of Gray, ed. Mathias (1814) 2:599-600.
George Dyer: "Gray's Ode on the Installation of the Duke of Grafton possesses great poetical beauties, and would have been more admired, had it not been surpassed by his two masterpieces, the Bard, and the Progress of Poetry. It was set to music by Dr. Randall, Professor of Music at the time, and a very skilful organist. The Doctor, while composing it, regularly attended Gray for three months. Gray himself possessed a very accurate taste in music, had a very high opinion of musical expression, and weighed every note of the composition with the most critical exactness, that it might forcibly express his language and sentiments. Gray, having formed his taste after the Italian school, was no friend to the 'noise' of some great composers. The music therefore is formed rather on the Italian taste; but when the Doctor came to the chorus, Gray exclaimed — 'I have now done: — make as much noise as you please.' The score of this music in manuscript is still possessed by the Doctor's son, Mr. Edw. Randall, who resides in the town; and it is wished, and expected, that it will still be published, it having been suggested to him, that it would, doubtless, prove highly acceptable to persons of taste, and lovers of harmony. A sacrifice ought to be offered to the Muses for delaying the publication so long: 'For they are ladies of the sweetest nature; | But, if neglected, will become indignant'" Privileges of the University of Cambridge, Supplement (1824) 2:35-36.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "I think there is something very majestic in Gray's Installation Ode; but as to the Bard and the rest of his lyrics, I must say I think them frigid and artificial" 23 October 1833; in Table Talk (1884) 264.
Edward S. Creasy: "The extreme difficulty of the subject must be remembered in criticising this production. It is hardly possible to deal in panegyric to living statesmen without incurring at least the semblance of adulation: and it is very hard to recount the genealogical honours of existing personages and institutions without drawling into pedantic dulness. Gray has avoided both these faults in his justly celebrated stanzas. He has with admirable skill glanced at the brightest points in the character of each founder of Cambridge, and has made them pass before our eyes, as Hallam well expresses it, like 'shadows over a magic glass'" Memoirs of Eminent Etonians (1850) 317.
Edmund Gosse: "In 1760 and 1761 he was mainly giving his attention to early English poetry, of which he intended to write a history; and in the latter year his study of Icelandic and Celtic verse led to the composition of his Eddaic poems, The Fatal Sisters and The Descent of Odin. Henceforward the main events in Gray's life were his enthusiastic friendships with younger men, such as Nicholls and Bonstetten, and his summer excursions in search of romantic scenery. In 1768 he collected his Poems in the first general edition, and was appointed Professor of Modern History and Modern Languages at the University of Cambridge; he delivered no lectures. In 1769 Gray's latest poem, the Installation Ode, was published, and in the autumn of that year he took his famous journey among the English lakes, the Journal of which was posthumously published in 1775, and is the most finished of his prose writings. Gray died, in his rooms at Pembroke College, on the 30th of July 1771, and was buried, beside the body of his mother, in the romantic churchyard of Stoke Pogis" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 238.
Duncan C. Tovey: "The work proved the one exception to the fact that he never wrote well unless spontaneously. He lingered long before he began. At last, he startled Nichols by throwing open his door to his visitor and shouting, 'Hence, avaunt! 't is holy ground,' and the new ode was completed. A sort of heraldic splendour characterises this, his last great effort; in places, it seems to step out of a page of Froissart, and, notwithstanding the bile of Junius, the pomp and circumstance of the closing personal panegyric do not convey any impression of inappropriateness" Cambridge History of English Literature (1913) 10:149-50.
Oliver Elton: "Mason asserts of Gray that there 'was nothing which he more disliked' than the irregular ode. It might easily repel, with its 'uncharted freedom,' his sense of form and discipline. In the one poem in which he adopts it, the Installation Ode, he manages to give it an impress of unity, partly by his usual firm grasp of his idea, and also by the strictness of the musical divisions: the whole being divided into 'air,' 'recitative,' and chorus, with a 'grand chorus' as a finale. The model is thus thus Alexander's Feast [by Dryden], or the Passions [by Collins], and not the odes of Cowley. The actual title runs: Ode for Music. Although prompted by genuine gratitude to a patron, the ode is not one of Gray's happier works; it is an official affair, and his heart is hardly in it. We have to forgive, above all, the Star of Brunswick for 'gilding the horrors of the deep'; but forgive it we do, when we turn to the stanza where the mood of Il Penseroso may be echoed in a measure which is nearly that of the Nativity Ode, but where the poet is thinking of his own youth and is speaking for himself: 'Ye brown o'erarching groves . . .'" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:60-61.
Compare William Mason's 1749 installation ode collected in the fourth volume of Dodsley's Collection of Poems. See also Robert Southey's burlesque of the genre, "Written the Winter after the Installation at Oxford, 1793."
"Hence, avaunt, ('tis holy ground)
Comus and his midnight-crew,
And Ignorance with looks profound,
And dreaming Sloth of pallid hue,
Mad Sedition's cry profane,
Servitude that hugs her chain,
Nor in these consecrated bowers
Let painted Flatt'ry hide her serpent-train in flowers.
"Nor Envy base, nor creeping Gain
Dare the Muse's walk to stain,
While bright-eyed Science watches round:
Hence, away, 'tis holy Ground!"
From yonder realms of empyrean day
Bursts on my ear th' indignant lay:
There sit the sainted Sage, the Bard divine,
The Few, whom Genius gave to shine
Through every unborn age, and undiscovered clime.
Rapt in celestial transport they,
Yet hither oft a glance from high
They send of tender sympathy
To bless the place, where on their opening soul
First the genuine ardour stole.
'Twas Milton struck the deep-toned shell,
And, as the choral warblings round him swell,
Meek Newton's self bends from his state sublime,
And nods his hoary head, and listens to the rhyme.
"Ye brown o'er-arching Groves,
That Contemplation loves,
Where willowy Camus lingers with delight!
Oft at the blush of dawn
I trod your level lawn,
Oft woo'd the gleam of Cynthia silver-bright
In cloisters dim, far from the haunts of Folly,
With Freedom by my Side, and soft-ey'd Melancholy."
But hark! the portals sound, and, pacing forth
With solemn steps and slow,
High Potentates and Dames of royal birth
And mitred Fathers in long order go:
Great Edward with the lillies on his brow
From haughty Gallia torn,
And sad Chatillon, on her bridal morn
That wept her bleeding Love, and princely Clare,
And Anjou's Heroine, and the paler Rose,
The rival of her crown, and of her woes,
And either Henry there,
The murther'd Saint, and the majestic Lord,
That broke the bonds of Rome.
(Their tears, their little triumphs o'er,
Their human passions now no more,
Save Charity, that glows beyond the tomb).
All that on Granta's fruitful plain
Rich streams of regal bounty pour'd,
And bade these aweful fanes and turrets rise,
To hail their Fitzroy's festal morning come;
And thus they speak in soft accord
The liquid language of the skies.
"What is Grandeur, what is Power?
Heavier toil, superior pain.
What the bright reward we gain?
The grateful mem'ry of the Good.
Sweet is the breath of vernal shower,
The bee's collected treasures sweet,
Sweet music's melting fall, but sweeter yet
The still small voice of Gratitude."
Foremost and leaning from her golden cloud
The venerable Marg'ret see!
"Welcome, my noble Son, (she cries aloud)
To this, thy kindred train, and me:
Pleas'd in thy lineaments we trace
A Tudor's fire, a Beaufort's grace.
"Thy liberal heart, thy judging eye,
The flower unheeded shall descry,
And bid it round heaven's altars shed
The fragrance of it's blushing head:
Shall raise from earth the latent gem
To glitter on the diadem.
"Lo, Granta waits to lead her blooming band,
Not obvious, not obtrusive, She
No vulgar praise, no venal incense flings;
Nor dares with courtly tongue refin'd
Profane thy inborn royalty of mind:
She reveres herself and thee.
With modest pride to grace thy youthful brow
The laureate wreath, that Cecil wore, she brings,
And to thy just, thy gentle hand
Submits the Fasces of her sway,
While Spirits blest above and Men below
Join with glad voice the loud symphonious lay.
"Thro' the wild waves as they roar
With watchful eye and dauntless mien
Thy steady course of honor keep,
Nor fear the rocks, nor seek the shore:
The Star of Brunswick smiles serene,
And gilds the horrors of the deep."