Ode XII. To an Antiquary.


John Pinkerton

Eight stanzas: a verse character of an antiquary inspired by the muse of Nonsense. John Pinkerton offers up the poets Skelton, Sidney, Drayton, Jonson, and Dryden to his antiquary. True poets like Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton deserve better editors than Warburton and Bentley: "Ne let sweet Spenser move thy ruthless power: | His feasts of fancy are no feasts for thee." Compare Mark Akenside's character of an antiquary, "The Virtuoso." John Pinkerton's own antiquarian enterprises might serve as an equally cautionary example!

Gentleman's Magazine: "RIMES are thus spelt in conformity to Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, &c. as derived from the Italian 'Rima,' or French 'Rime,' not from the Greek [Greek characters, Rythmos]. And instead of the obsolete Strophe, Antistrophe, and Epode, this author varies the measure of his Melodies, as he styles them, into Cadence, Antiphony, and Unison" 52 (February 1782) 131.

George Eyre-Todd: "Though Pinkerton is remembered as an antiquarian and historian, his fame has suffered from his peccadilloes as a writer of poetry. While extremely severe on others who ventured upon anything like literary deception, he was himself unable to resist the temptation of foisting some of his own compositions upon the public as antique. Thus in his Scottish Tragic Ballads in 1781 he printed a second part of 'Hardyknute,' for which he stated that he was 'indebted to the memory of a lady in Lanarkshire,' but which, later, in his Select Scottish Ballads and Ancient Scottish Poems he acknowledged to be his own composition. In the same way, in his Select Scottish Ballads, he printed the stanzas which follow as the old words of the beautiful and ancient air of 'Bothwell Bank.' The song when stripped of its pseudo-antique orthography stands confessedly modern. Both disguised in his antiquarian collections, and confessedly in his own Rimes and other volumes, he published a good deal of fair original poetry" Scottish Poetry of the Eighteenth Century (1896) 2:149.

Ryght lernit Clerk, styl mought thy reverend lore
To Fame's quaint house conducken thee aright;
Ne fire ne worme invade thy Gothique store,
Ne gleim of genie thy loved darkness light.
Mought sons of future daies in plesaunt horde
Thy high attempts relate and ceaseless glorie.

Styl in the pege of Skelton mought thou find
New charms arising fro the smuttie tale:
Styl in the pege of Sidney wit refined
Of sense's weight and fancy's fair avail:
With transport Drayton's wars and Albion scan,
But scorn his deft epistles lovelie plan.

Mought Jonson's sillie scene thy search invite,
To stamp his beauties with the critic note;
Mought Dryden's sillier scene thy praise incite,
But be the Ode of heavenly flame forgot.
And when thy Muse, grave Nonsense, wakes thy lay,
Mought Dulness round his uncouth capers play.

But never, never let a hapless line
Of holy Shakespeare meet thy rugged fyle;
For far, O far from every thought of thine
The treasures ly of his celestial style.
Thou meteor, can'st thou gild the day's bright flood!
Down to the dust! for thou art but of mud.

And to convince thee that not vain my song,
Behold even mitred Dulness try and fall.
How Taste did tremble as he marched along,
By Rashness led, and drest in Folly's pall!
Styl praising faults, and styl to beauties blind,
Because those equal, these surpass his mind.

Ne let sweet Spenser move thy ruthless power:
His feasts of fancy are no feasts for thee.
Ne awful Milton fro his blissful bower
Frown thy detested arrogance to see.
Ah spare them! Spare thyself! I thee entreat:
Soar not like Icarus to find thy fate.

Did not that man of every darksome spell,
Stupendous Bentley, waste his work and oil
Each blemish of his mighty strain to tell,
While proud Derision leered a scornful smile?
But Genius wept, wept every angry Muse,
To see base Learning their chief care abuse.

Then be thou warned; thy little soul confine
Within the narrow bounds that Nature gave.
The frog that weened to match the lofty kine
No other meed than shame and death could have.
To few, how few! the poet's skill is given;
To few, how few! his skill right to conceiven.

[pp. 86-87]