A poetical rhapsody on the pleasures of old romance in 21 quatrains. Gregory Lewis Way's slender volume consists of three elegies describing an unhappy love affair, his dissatisfaction with the world, and decision to embrace a life of literary retirement. In the first he adopts the name "Colin," and in an epitaph from Colin Clouts Come Home bewails a latter-day Rosalind. In The Delights of Fancy he describes the pleasures of reading Palamon and Arcite and the Faerie Queene, pleasures unknown to those condemned to "sturdy labour" or "a patron's will" — "these to few are giv'n: — unknown they lie, | Unsought, unhonor'd, by the venal herd" p. 18.
What makes this retirement ode interesting is that it is strictly autobiographical: Way really did turn his back on the world to pursue Christian theology and the study of medieval literature. He would later introduce some imitations of Spenser into his translations of Le Grand's Fabliaux, published with the assistance of George Ellis, a friend who shared Way's taste for scholarship, early literature, and retirement.
Critical Review: "This publication consists of four little poems in elegiac measure. The first is addressed to the memory of an unfortunate young man. In the second the author complains of the falshood of Delia. In the third, disclaims the profession of the law, contrary to his friends' advice; and in the fourth 'attempts' to paint 'the delights of fancy;' a subject that requires the most masterly hand. Not that we mean to express a disapprobation of these poems: though inferior to many elegies in pathos, and others in sublimity, yet they by no means deserve censure. The language is elegant, the sense perspicuous, and the lines easy and harmonious" 55 (May 1783) 409.
Edmund Cartwright: "To say that these poems were written by a gentleman, is, surely, saying nothing; every poet being a gentleman ex officio, even though he should fill up the intervals of his time in personating the bellman, or a mender of old shoes. And yet, if our Author's title to gentility rest only on his poetical compositions, it may be doubted whether the Parnassian herald's office will admit his pretensions. These poems, which are four in number, are all of the elegiac kind. The first is in memory of an unfortunate youth, 'a martyr to intemperate love;' in the second, the Author laments the ill fortune and worse conduct of Delia, to whom he had formerly an attachment; in the third, he replies to the exhortations of his friends, advising him to study the law with steadiness and application; and in the last, he expatiates on the delights of fancy. To the slender praise of mediocrity, it is to be feared, is the utmost that these effusions have a claim" Monthly Review 69 (November 1783) 436-37.
Again the summer shines! with mightier flame
The Sun exults his lengthen'd course to roll,
And wide diffuse through the human frame
A languid bliss that melts the poet's soul.
It melts the soul, but gives the pow'r to sing
Those visionary scenes itself inspires;
Tunes it to harmonies of noblest string,
And bids it glow with more than mortal fires.
Great Life of all the world, and Lord of day!
Best symbol of our common Maker's might!
Well might th' unguided heathen thee obey,
And prostrate hail thy orb's returning light;
For oft myself have felt the rapt'rous heat
Steal o'er my senses like a fairy dream;
Then, when my yielding limbs have sought retreat,
And sunk in silence near some shaded stream;
My soul, on Fancy's wing sublimely borne,
Hath mus'd of scenes too bright for mortal eye;
Hath seen white robes by saints and martyrs worn,
And heard th' eternal carols of the sky.
Oft too luxuriant Fancy reigns alone,
And calls from fablers old a varying band;
And scenes of bliss to waking life unknown,
Rise, change, and vanish, as she gives command.
Imagination works with all her pow'rs,
And gorgeous Knights in glitt'ring troops are seen,
And courteous squires, and dwarfs, and moated tow'rs,
And all the splendours of the gothick scene.
Bards too of other times resume their lyres!
The glorious tale that Chaucer's Knight hath told
Sounds in mine ears, and fills me with its fires:
And now the jousting warriours I behold,
And Palamon is to the stake convey'd:
Now from the earth upstarts th' infernal fiend;
Now dying Arcite wills the dear bought maid,
If she can ever love, to love his friend.
Anon prince Arthur's blazing shield o'erthrows
The giant conqueror of the Red Cross Knight;
Or ruthless Talus drives his host of foes
With unrelenting flail and iron might.
Dear scenes of blest delusion! golden dreams!
And always innocent, and always new!
Where oft with truths sublime the fiction teems,
And Virtues noblest patterns strike the view:
Ye feed the fancy, nor seduce the heart!
For from our reach remote your actions lie;
No youth can now assume Pyrochles' part,
No modern maid like poor Parthenia die.
Not so the spurious and destructive brood,
The graceless toys of more enlighten'd times,
That teach the child to languish to be woo'd,
Create her follies, and contrive her crimes:
These clear the paths to ruin and to shame:
Perhaps, by these poor Delia was undone!
Delia! whose lost and desolated fame
Friendship can only weep, and virtue shun!
But O! the gorgeous tales of earlier days,
Where fancy shines in mystick fiction bright;
Where chastity is woman's fairest praise,
And virtue's cause inspires the vent'rous knight;
Be these my choice! and who, by these refin'd,
Would bear the bus'ness of life's publick croud;
Would change these wand'rings of th' enchanted mind
For all the splendid slav'ry of the proud.
But these to few are giv'n: — unknown they lie,
Unsought, unhonour'd, by the venal herd
Where purseproud wealth can injur'd worth defy,
And poverty alone is shunn'd and fear'd.
Unknown they lie where sturdy labour lives
And earns with ceaseless care his scanty meal;
Oft too where chance the pow'rs of leisure gives,
Superior fate denies the pow'r to feel.
Yet some perchance, in this tempestuous time
Some still remain, and sure not meanly blest,
Whose rambling thoughts have reach'd this rapt'rous clime,
And view'd these scenes of fancy and of rest.
For them all nature breathes elysian grace,
And sweets ambrosial stream from every flow'r;
Fairies for them the green-sward ringlets trace,
And magick's mightiest influence guards their bow'r.
And should blest Competence from heav'n descend,
And from a patron's will their freedom save;
To such, congenial with myself, I'll bend,
And consecrate the verse these visions gave.