Verse characters of Chaucer ("reverend Form"), Spenser ("fav'rite Swain of old"), Shakespeare ("Son of Nature"), and Milton ("imperial Bard") appear in a blank verse imitation of Collins's Ode to Evening. William Bagshaw Stevens not only mimics Collins' diction, but even overgoes his convoluted Miltonic syntax: "I mark'd the Hand | Of lowly Reverence, while each Brow | Crown'd the fair Wreath of Glory, lay | Upon your Goddess holy Shrine | Whatever not unaptly might express | The grateful Meed of Pow'rs unlike | From different Forms" p. 103. If this poem by the "Demy of Magdalen" looks back to Collins, the sequence of seven "Indian Odes" looks ahead to Oxford's Robert Southey.
Critical Review: "This miscellany in general affords that agreeable entertainment which usually results from the display of rural imagery and animated characters. The structure of the Odes, however, is not uniformly harmonious; and though we often find ourselves pleased with the melody of the cadence, we sometimes meet with lines which offend the ear, even amidst the diversity of the measure that is used. Let it be acknowledged at the same time, that the author discovers a lively imagination, and no inconsiderable talent for lyric verse" 40 (July 1775) 81.
Westminster Magazine: "This writer appears to be a scholar and a man of genius. His versification and imagery, however, are too laboured and artificial to please those who conceive poetry should be a chaste, tho' animated, picture of Nature" 3 (July 1775) 379.
John Langhorne: "These Indian Odes are tolerably spirited and poetical; affecting, though greatly inferior, the manner of Gray's Cambrian Odes. The miscellaneous pieces are less worth attending to" Monthly Review 53 (September 1775) 263.
Samuel Egerton Brydges: "In 1772 he was elected a demy of Magdalen College, in Oxford; where he soon became eminent for his poetical talents. It is probable, that the example of William Collins, who had formerly been a demy of the same college, and of whom Stevens entertained an enthusiastic admiration, stimulated his natural propensity to this art. In 1775 he published a quarto pamphlet of Poems consisting of Indian Odes and Miscellaneous Pieces. He was then only nineteen years old; and this publication was considered by his friends and acquaintance as a powerful proof of early talents. I have it not at hand to consult it; but I believe it contained poems of very extraordinary merit for so young a man; and raised expectations which were not afterwards entirely fulfilled" Censura Literaria 5 (1807) 389.
If ever yet with holy Vow
And suppliant Feet, O Maid of Soul,
Bending low before thy Shrine
The pensive Poet nurs'd the growing Flame;
If ever yet thou kindly shedst
Thy honied Dews upon his Head,
If ever heardst his holy Vow,
And welcom'st to thy Fane his suppliant Feet;
O breathe but once again the Strain
That lives within thy Cherub-Shell,
Whose rapt'rous Pow'r, and sovereign Airs
Lead to thy Will the Poet's tranced Thought,
Exalt the tow'ring Soul, and bear it high to Heav'n.
O say! at that inspiring Hour,
When Ev'ning sooth'd the sober Sense,
Say what Sounds of lordly Tone
Burst on the Ear, and with a Voice of Charm
Wak'd all th' ideal Warmth, and fed
Sublimer Thought? What Visions wild
Struck on the Sight, and what strange Forms
Pass'd to my wond'ring View? O Maid divine!
These were thy Works, and thine that Voice
Of Charm, and thine those holy Forms
That strongly floating on the Fields
Of better Air, impress'd upon the Soul,
The Magic of thy Scene, the Raptures of thy Song.
Ye Bards of louder Fame! the Boast
Of British Muses, and the Pride
Of Albion! ye whose lofty Song
Call'd from th' imperial Throne of Heav'n
The Soul of Transport, as the Verse
With passion'd Pow'rs sublimely roll'd
In Course majestic, and with Voice
Of Thund'ring rous'd whole Nations into War:
And ye of milder Name! whose Song
All simply sweet, in rural Strains,
Held softer Converse with the Nymphs
Of Wood or Stream, who melted the hard Heart
To Love of Peace, and sylvan Shades,
And gentle Joys: O all ye Bards
By Genius blest, by Fancy fir'd,
I saw you all! — In that inspiring Hour
I mark'd your secret Step, unseen
By vulgar Eye, to vulgar Thought
Unknown, with visionary Tread
Steal from the sacred Shade. I mark'd the Hand
Of lowly Reverence, while each Brow
Crown'd the fair Wreath of Glory, lay
Upon your Goddess holy Shrine
Whatever not unaptly might express
The grateful Meed of Pow'rs unlike
From different Forms: the tender Tear
Of Grief, the soft'ning Lay of Love,
And the loud Clamours from the Trump of War.
Blest be the Hand for due the Meed:
To you of favour'd Choice the Muse
Lent her own Airs and native Strains;
For you she wove the Flow'rs in Glory's Wreath,
And bade their Lustre live through every coming Age.
Wild whispering through the Vale of Time,
With solemn Swellings from the Harp
Of British Birth, the genuine Strains,
Touch'd by the pow'rful Hand of ancient Bards,
Roll'd their long Murmurs through the Air.
Wak'd by the Call, with hoary Beard,
But yet with Eye of Joy, with Cheek
All furrow'd o'er with Years, but yet with Smiles
Still roseate; slow, in Pilgrim Weeds,
First rose a rev'rend Form, and laid
His humble Offering at thy Shrine;
An aged Crutch he laid, by Teeth of Time
Wither'd and worn, yet sweetly wreath'd
By amorous Hand, with many a Twine
Of wanton Flow'rs, — but ah! what Need
Goddess, to thee their thousand Gifts recount!
Suffice it, that thy Poet saw
That chosen Flute which Fancy gave
Her fav'rite Swain of old, whose Voice
Sooth'd Shepherd Girls, or call'd with Fairy Pow'r
Fond Visions round th' Enthusiast Head.
And sure no vulgar Gift was thine,
Thou Son of Nature and thou Lord!
Joy, Grief, Revenge, and Terror, all that melt
Or steel the human Breast, by thee,
In Laurel Chains, subdu'd, thou ledst
No humble Vot'ry. By thy Side,
In Step majestic, hail'd by heav'nly Harps
And Angel-Sounds, th' imperial Bard
Sublimely march'd; and boldly brought
(What fab'lous Greece but fondly feign'd)
Th' etherial Flame, from Heav'ns high Altar stol'n,
That wak'd the Life of Song, and bless'd it with a Soul.
O hail ye sacred Shades! and hail
Thou awful Maid! whose Voice divine
Thy Poet heard. "Here O ye Bards!
Blest in your Vows, and by fair Fame
And Glory blest! ye Darlings of the Muse,
Here in these Seats sublime, in Triumph, dwell!
Lift ye high Portals, lift your golden Heads!
This is the Muses Fane." — And oh! if He
Whose Numbers, in more vent'rous Flight,
Now boldly soar upon no common Wing,
Who still to thee the pious Hand
Uplifts, to thee the daily-offer'd Vow,
With fuller Force at last by Thee inspir'd,
May win the lowest Seat within thy Fane;
Say, Goddess, with what Tribute Meed
Th' ungifted Youth shall fondly hope
Thy future Smile! for ah! to him belong
No wanton Flow'rs from fairer Bosoms borne
Of kinder Fields, no fancy-favour'd Lute,
No Pow'rs of Nature, and no Flames from Heav'n.
But oh! if now his warmest Pray'r
May soothe thee gentle to his Hope;
O deign accept, nor with forbidding Glance
Frown on the Youth whose artless Vow
Still trembles from his Tongue, O deign
Accept his lowly Meed! No higher Gift
Thy youthful Bard can boast; with fav'ring Smile
O take his proffer'd Soul, and stamp it for thy own!