1797
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sappho.

Poems by William Mason, M.A. Vol.III. Now first published.

Rev. William Mason


William Mason's closet drama imitates Comus and has a character named "Lycidas." "A lyrical drama in three acts ... nothing more than a libretto" John W. Draper, William Mason (1924) 192. The libretto was translated into Italian in 1810, but Draper could find no record of a musical setting.

Mr. Burrington to Richard Polwhele: "I must inform you, that Mason, the father of modern poets, has lately been in my neighbourhood; but, alas! that eye, that was wont to 'glance from Earth to Heaven, from Heaven to Earth,' is now dimmed by age and infirmities. The silken chord is almost broken. He was, however, tolerably cheerful, and able to pursue his journey into Worcestershire, to visit his old College friend, the venerable Hurd!" 1796; Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:437.

Henry Francis Cary: "At Lichfield with Miss Seward. Read Sappho, and Curan and Argentile, two dramatic pieces, with some other new poems lately published by Mason" Literary Journal for 22 February 1797; in Memoir of the Rev. Henry Francis Cary (1847) 1:107.

John Aikin: "We should have been sorry, however, to have remained unacquainted with the two dramas, since, though they will not add to the fame of the author of Caractacus, and of Elfrida, they make an agreeable addition to what may be termed 'the poet's theatre.' The first of these is entitled Sappho, a lyrical drama in three acts. It is written in the manner of Metastasio, with airs or songs at the conclusion of each scene, several of them very harmonious and elegant.... Pleasing translations of Sappho's fragments are introduced; and the language and ideas in general seem dictated by a pure classical taste" Monthly Review NS 22 (April 1797) 439-40.

Anna Seward to Mrs. Jackson: "So Mason is no more! We should exclaim, "mourn all ye muses," if he had died ere he published his recent volume, exhibiting, amongst some poetic beauties, mortifying proof, on the whole, of genius chilled, and of judgment enfeebled by time. Mason had virtues, and to a very few friends was, I am told, frank and engaging; but in general, his manners were so haughty, cold, and repulsive, that numbers, who had adored the author, were disgusted with the man. To them, and to the world in general, he had shone remotely, like a star, whose light we perceive without feeling its warmth" 17 April 1797; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 4:333-34.

Richard Hurd: "With many other virtues he possessed a fine genius for poetry, and was indeed the best poet of his time, as appears from his Works of that sort published by himself at different times in three volumes" Commonplace Book entry (1808) in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 4:325.

Robert Southey: "When Sayers was preparing to come forward upon the theatre of public life [in the 1790s], Mason was considered as belonging to a former generation: his name was usually coupled with that of his friend Gray; and Gray having long been dead, Mason himself, out of the circle of his own friends, was hardly known to be among the living: they seemed to have taken leave of the world together" "Sayers's Works" in Quarterly Review 35 (1827) 197.

Raymond Dexter Havens: It "began as a masque in 1778 [and was] completed as a 'lyrical drama.' Sappho contains a character named Lycidas, and a scene in which 'the Naiad Arethusa rises from the stream, seated in a shell" The Influence of Milton (1922) 557.

Henry Neele: "Mason, and the Wartons, are the latest lyrical poets whom it will be consistent with my plan to mention. The first was certainly a man of considerable talent. His Elfrida, and Caractacus, notwithstanding the trammels in which he voluntarily chose to involve himself, show much dramatic power, and the choruses in the last, particularly that beginning 'Hark! heard ye not yon footstep dread?' venture almost on the pathless regions of sublimity. The Wartons, particularly Thomas Warton, were men of cultivated minds, and refined taste, but to original genius they had no pretensions" Russell Institution Lectures on English Poetry, 1827; in Remains (1829) 152-43.

George Saintsbury: Gray's "'very ineligible friend,' Mr. Mason, one of the paltriest and most pretentious poetasters who ever trespassed on the English Parnassus, need not delay us long. His couplets are tinsel; his blank verse is wood; his Hudibrastics are straw; and his odes are plaster. Four good lines stand to Mason's name at the end of twelve bad ones in the epitaph on his wife in Bristol Cathedral, and these four lines are Gray's" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:518n.



See! from her translucent bed
ARETHUSA brings thee aid.
Lo! she sprinkles on the breast
Vial'd drops, by fingers chaste
Cull'd from the caerulean deeps,
Where her coldest chrystal sleeps;
Where Alpheus dare not lave,
To mix with her's his amorous wave.
Thrice I lift my virgin hand,
Thrice I shed the vapors bland,
To clam thy soul; while I declare
The council I from Phoebus bear.
Know, by my voice, he bids his vot'ry fly
To where Leucate's cliff o'erhangs the main.
There shall she try
The last, the dangerous remedy
Of those, who love like her, and love in vain.
A voice divine proclaims thy cure:
Hear, SAPPHO, hear that voice divine.
To Phoebus haste with off'rings pure,
And lay them on his holy shrine:
Then from Leucate's frowning brow
(Resolved to perish or be free)
Rush to the wave that rolls below
And welcome Death or Liberty.
ARETHUSA DESCENDS.

[pp. 176-77]