1785
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Probationary Odes No. VII. Irregular Ode. By Mr. Mason.

Probationary Odes for the Laureatship: with a Preliminary Discourse, by Sir John Hawkins, Knt. [Richard Tickell? and Joseph Richardson eds.]

Anonymous


A burlesque birth-day ode celebrating a supposed visit of the royal hunt to Oxford. The poem is not by William Mason, who is ridiculed along with his erstwhile competitor in university verse, Thomas Warton. Reference is made to Isis, an Elegy, in which Mason had excoriated Oxford for its Tory politics.

William Mason: "So long as there is a Laureate to lick, there will, undoubtedly, be witlings fond of having a lick at the Laureate: But I will venture to predict, that if Mr. T. Warton (more bold than his predecessor for lyrical expression, and hitherto more curious in lyrical arrangement) keeps his muse from over-stepping the modesty of panegyric, these scribblers will but exemplify the fate of their relation, the viper in Aesop, who, to his own cost only, amused himself with licking a file" Memoirs of Whitehead (1788) 92-93.

Richard Mant: "'The Laureates of our own country have ever been,' as Falstaff says, 'the occasion of wit in other men.' Mr. Warton however was peculiarly distinguished, shortly after his appointment, by the publication of Probationary Odes for the Laureatship; a work, of which it is but justice to say, that it not only possesses a very considerable portion of wit, but is also distinguished from attacks made on him upon other occasions, by a more innocent spirit of raillery. But in saying this, I would be cautious of being understood to express any approbation of such compositions. Personal satire must at all times expose its author to a suspicion of malignity; and for myself I must profess, that the circumstance of its being anonymous would have no trifling influence towards converting suspicion into conviction" Memoirs of Thomas Warton in Poems (1802) 1:lxxxiv-v.

Oliver Elton: "They are a series of poems supposed to be written in rivalry for the succession to the deceased William Whitehead, and contain some roguish parodies not only of Macpherson, who was now a ministerial penman, but of the expiring school of Gray. Mason and the two Wartons were on the Tory side, and they represented a style of elaborate verse that was still resented a style of elaborate verse that was still resented and mocked for its 'obscurity.' The attacks of Johnson on Gray are oddly echoed in those of Johnson's political foes upon Gray's disciples; and the sour 'Table of Instructions' given by the King to Thomas Warton, the nominated laureate ('seventhly and finally, that it may not be amiss to be a little intelligible'), is a curious item that marks the date (1785)" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 1:33.



I.
O! green-rob'd Goddess of the hallow'd shade,
Daughter of JOVE, to whom of yore
Thee, lovely Maid, LATONA bore,
Chaste virgin, Empress of the silent glade;
Where shall I woo thee? — Ere the dawn,
While still the dewy tissue of the lawn
Quivering spangles to the eye,
And fills the soul with nature's harmony!
Or 'mid that murky grove's monastic night,
The tangling net-work of the woodbine's gloom,
Each zephyr pregnant with perfume,—
Or near that delving dale, or mossy mountain's height.

II.
When Neptune struck the scientific ground,
From Attica's deep-heaving side,
Why did the prancing horse rebound,
Snorting, neighing all around,
With thundering feet and flashing eyes,—
Unless to shew how near allied,
Bright science is to exercise!

III.
If then the horse to wisdom is a friend,
Why not the hound! why not the horn!
While low beneath the furrow sleeps the corn,
Nor yet in tawny vest delights to bend!
For JOVE himself decreed,
That DIAN, with her sandall'd feet,
White-ankled Goddess, pure and fleet,
Should, with every Dryad lead,
By jovial cry o'er distant plain,
To England's Athens, Brunswick's sylvan train!

IV.
Diana, Goddess all-discerning!
Hunting is a friend to learning!
If the stag, with hairy nose,
In Autumn ne'er had thought of love!
No buck with swollen throat the does
With dappled sides had try'd to move,—
Ne'er had England's King, I ween,
The Muses seat, fair Oxford seen.

V.
Hunting, thus, is learnings friend!
No longer, Virgin Goddess, bend
O'er Endymion's roseate breast;—
Round his milk-white limbs divine!—
Your brother's car rolls down the East,
The laughing hours bespeak the day;
With flowery wreaths they strew the way!
Kings of sleep! ye mortal race!
For George with Dian, 'gins the Royal chase!

VI.
Visions of bliss, you tear my aching sight,
Spare, O spare your poet's eyes!
See every gate-way trembles with delight,
Streams of glory streak the skies!
How each College sounds,
With the cry of the hounds!
How Peekwater merrily rings!
Founders, Prelates, Queens, and Kings,—
All have had your hunting day!—
From the dark tomb then break away!
Ah! see they rush to Friar Bacon's tower,
Great George to greet, and hail his natal hour!

VII.
Radcliffe and Wolsey, hand in hand,
Sweet gentle shades there take their stand,
With Pomfret's learned Dame;
And Bodley join'd by Clarendon,
With loyal zeal together run,
Just arbiters of fame!

VIII.
That fringed cloud sure this way bends,—
From it a form divine descends,—
Minerva's self; — and in her rear,
A thousand saddled steeds appear!
On each she mounts a learned son,
Professor, Chancellor, or Dean;
All by hunting madness won,
All in Dian's livery seen.
How they despise the tim'rous Hare,
Give us, they cry, the furious Bear;
To chase the Lion how they long,
The Rhinoceros tall, and Tiger strong.
Hunting thus is learning's prop,
Then may hunting never drop;
And thus an hundred Birth-Days more,
Shall Heav'n to George afford from its capacious store.

[2nd edition; 27-30]