William Mason opens his Pindaric ode with the formula of Milton's companion poems, as Detraction is banished to Hell by Truth, led by Old England's Genius. A note informs us that the genealogy of Detraction alludes "to the well-known allegory of Sin and Death in the second Book of Paradise Lost" p. 5. In the first triad of stanzas Mason reviews the charge that the accusations against Admiral Keppel were mounted by a corrupt government itself responsible for defeat on the seas. In the second triad the Genius of the Ocean appears to deliver an encouraging oration to the navy; if Keppel is restored, victory against France is certain: "Give, to the Hero's full command, | Th' imperial Ensigns of thy naval power; | So shall his own bold auspices prevail, | Nor Fraud's insidious wiles, nor Envy pale | Arrest the force of his victorious hand" p. 8. Mason's title is perhaps intended to echo that of Mark Akenside's Ode to the Country Gentlemen of England (1758), written on a parallel occasion.
George Colman the Elder: "This occasional Pindaric is meant to deliver the political creed of its Author, at whose call the Genius of the Atlantic rises from the deep, and expostulates with his 'silver sovereign of the wave,' Britannia: counselling her to withdraw her fleets from America, and to send them, under the full command of Keppel, against France" Monthly Review 60 (April 1779) 316.
Critical Review: "In this Ode the author pursues the following train of thought: Truth descends, dispatches Detraction to the infernal regions, diffuses her influence through the nation, and animates the bosoms of those British commanders, who presided at the trial of admiral Keppel, or gave their evidence in his favour. Upon this occasion, he tells us, 'Hireling courtiers, venal peers, | View them with fastidious frown, | Yet the Muse's smile is their's, | Them her amaranthine crown.' In the mean time a gigantic deity, with great pomp and solemnity, ascends from the Atlantic ocean, reproves Britannia for her patricides, exhorts her to discontinue an 'ill-omened war,' and turn her arms against the 'insulting Gaul, her native enemy'" 47 (April 1779) 310-11.
Alexander Chalmers: "In 1779, he published his political creed in the shape of an animated Ode to the Naval Officers of Great Britain, written immediately after the trial of admiral Keppel in February of that year. Although attached to a retired life, he became tired of forbearance when the disappointments of the American war had incited the Whig party to discover the more distant or latent sources of national misfortune, and to propose remedies by which Britain should be always prosperous and always victorious. He was already one of those who thought the decision of parliament on the Middlesex election a violation of the rights of the people, and when the counties began, in 1779, to associate for parliamentary reform, he took an active part in assisting their deliberations, and wrote several patriotic manifestos, which raised him as high in the opinion of his own party, as they degraded him in the eyes of the other. He is even said to have given so much offence at court that he found it convenient to resign his chaplainship" Works of the English Poets (1810) 18:312.
Henry Francis Cary: "Mason wished to join what he considered the correctness of Pope with the high imaginative power of Milton, and the lavish colouring of Spenser. In the attempt to unite qualities so heterogeneous, the effect of each is lost, and little better than a caput mortuum remains. With all his praises of simplicity, he is generally much afraid of saying anything in a plain and natural manner. He often expresses the commonest thoughts in a studied periphrasis. He is like a man, who being admitted into better company than his birth and education have fitted him for, is under continual apprehension, lest his attitude and motions should betray his origin. Even his negligence is studied" "William Mason" in London Magazine 6 (July 1822) 15-16.
Duncan C. Tovey: "Gray recognised merit in Mason's Musaeus, a Monody on the death of Pope, spite of shells and coral floors; he liked, moderately, Elfrida and, immoderately, Caractacus, from which, in The Bard, he quotes an example of the sublime. His elegies and other verses it would be profitless to enumerate. They have no place in the history of our literature. He wrote political pasquinades of no great merit; but it may be reckoned to his credit that he was a consistent Whig, so that, on the accession of George III, he lost all chance of further preferment" Cambridge History of English Literature (1913) 10:153.
John W. Draper: "Mason's odes were not great; but they had a larger historical significance than any of his other minor poems except perhaps Musaeus. The revival of the true Pindaric form by a friend of Gray's as early as 1747, is of considerable interest, even though no influence on Gray by Mason can be proved. He was, however, an influence on Southey; and his effort at a more mellifluous verse stamps Mason as a humble forerunner of Kubla Khan, of Shelley, and of Poe" William Mason (1924) 162.
Mason's Ode to the Naval Officers was parodied in Ode to the Privateer Commanders of Great Britain (1779); Mason is also the subject of A Critical Ode, Addressed to Mr. Mason (1779).
Hence to thy Hell! thou fiend accurst,
Of Sin's incestuous brood, the worst
Whom to pale Death the spectre bore:
Detraction hence! 'tis Truth's command,
She launches, from her seraph hand,
The shaft that strikes thee to th' infernal shore.
Old ENGLAND'S Genius leads her on
To vindicate his darling son,
Whose fair, and veteran fame
Thy venom'd tongue had dar'd defile;
The Goddess comes, and all the isle
Feels the warm influence of her heav'nly flame.
But chief in those, their country's pride,
Ordain'd, with steady helm, to guide
The floating bulwarks of her reign,
It glows, with unremitting ray,
Bright as the orb that gives the day,
Corruption spreads her murky mist in vain;
To Virtue, Valour, Glory true,
They keep their radiant prize in view
Ambitious sterling aim;
They know that titles, stars, and strings,
Bestow'd by Kings on slaves of Kings,
Are light as air when weigh'd with honest fame.
Hireling Courtiers, venal Peers,
View them with fastidious frown,
Yet the Muse's smile is theirs,
Theirs her amaranthine crown.
Yes, gallant Train, on your unsullied brows,
She sees the genuine English spirit shine,
Warm from a heart where ancient Honour glows,
That scorns to bend that knee at Interest's shrine.
Lo! at your Poet's call,
To give prophetic fervor to his strain,
Forth from the mighty bosom of the main
A Giant Deity ascends;
Down his broad breast his hoary honours fall;
He wields the trident of th' Atlantic vast;
An awful calm around his Pomp is cast,
O'er many a league the glassy sleep extends.
He speaks; and distant Thunder, murmuring round,
In long-drawn volly rolls a symphony profound.
Ye Thunders cease! the voice of Heav'n
Enough proclaims the Terrors given
To Me the Spirit of the deep;
Tempests are mine, from shore, to shore,
I bid my billows when to roar,
Mine the wild whirlwind's desolating sweep.
But meek and placable I come
To deprecate Britannia's doom,
And snatch her from her fate;
Ev'n from herself I mean to save
My sister sov'reign of the wave;
A voice immortal never warns too late.
Queen of the isles! with empire crown'd,
Only to spread fair Freedom round
Wide as my waves could waft thy name,
Why did thy cold reluctant heart
Refuse that blessing to impart;
Deaf to great Nature's universal claim?
Why rush, through my indignant tide,
To stain thy hands with patricide?
—Ah, answer not the strain!
Thy wasted wealth, thy widows sighs,
Thy half-repentant embassys
Bespeak thy cause unblest, thy councils vain.
Sister sov'reign of the wave!
Turn from this ill-omen'd war:
Turn to where the truly brave
Will not blush thy wrath to bear;
Swift on th' insulting Gaul, thy native foe
(For he is Freedom's) let that wrath be hurl'd;
To his perfidious ports direct thy prow,
Arm every bark, be every sail unfurl'd;
Seize this triumphant hour,
When, bright as gold from the refining flame,
Flows the clear current of thy KEPPEL'S fame.
Give, to the Hero's full command,
Th' imperial Ensigns of thy naval power;
So shall his own bold auspices prevail,
Nor Fraud's insidious wiles, nor Envy pale
Arrest the force of his victorious hand.
The Gaul subdued, fraternal strife shall cease,
And firm, on Freedom's base, be fixt an Empire's Peace.