1749
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Isis.

London Evening Post (4 February 1749).

Rev. William Mason


This, the first published version of William Mason's Isis, an Elegy, appears in condensed form with a new conclusion added. The part of the poem in which Mason accuses the sister university of Jacobitism is excised. Instead, Oxford's River Isis complains, "See Granta's Senate by Inducements led, | Elects the wise Newcastle for their Head; | All, or in Church or State they now may claim, | Lawn, Furs, Posts, Pensions, wait the happy Cam." Mason used this newspaper publication of his poem as the pretext for publishing the original text, doubtless with some refinements added.

William Mason later attributed this alteration of his poem to John Byrom (1692-1763), a Cambridge Fellow and Jacobite. The London Evening Post was an Opposition paper edited by John Meres (1698-1761), a friend to the Jacobitical sentiments attacked in Mason's poem.

Headnote: "Sir, You are desired to insert the following Verses, though they are not meant to pass for Originals, nor are they here in their own native Dress. The Poem is the Production of a Cambridge Gentleman, who has appear'd in Print much to his Reputation, and, it is hoped, will oblige the Publick with more of his Performances. However, let an Admirer of his Genius take the Liberty to advise him to keep his Muse within the Rounds of good Nature, and restrain her from bearing hard upon a renowned University, which, at present, sufficiently (perhaps not so very deservedly) suffers under a sort of an Eclipse, by the malignant Interpretation of certain Bodies between her and the Royal Sunshine. Some Passages in the Original Poem are omitted, but its fine Images and Descriptions have not undergone any material Alterations, except that here, the Goddess Isis complains of Slights and Injuries from the Great, which is indeed directly contrary to the first Design of the Author; and perhaps, though the inserted Parts may not quite keep up the Spirit and Energy of the rest, yet one would imagine, that an impartial Reader will deem it more consistent with the Nature of a Divinity to adhere to Veracity, than to indulge poetical Licences. — 'Audentem dicere verum | Quis vetat?' — However, the Days may come when Oxford shall again shine forth in all its wonted Lustre; though even now she repines at the Happiness of her younger Sister, irradiated with C—t Favour; who, as she enjoys her Prosperity unenvied, should surely let others bear their Misfortunes without Insults. I am yours, &c. &c. Oxoniensis."



Close in her hollow'd Grot, where mildly bright,
The pointed Chrystals shot a trembling Light,
From humid Moss, where pearly Dew-drops fell,
Where Coral glow'd, where twin'd the wreathed Shell,
Pale Isis sat, and from her heaving Breast,
In careless Folds, loose flow'd her zoneless Breast,
Her languid Limbs along the Ground she spread,
Clos'd her dim Eye, and bow'd her sickly Head,
While her loose Tresses flutter'd round her Brow,
In all the solemn Negligence of Woe:
Her Urn sustain'd her Arm, that sculptur'd Vase,
Where Vulcan's Art had shewn its ev'ry Grace.
Here, big with Life, was Heaven-taught Science seen,
Known by the Laurel Wreath, and musing Mien;
There cloud-topp'd Fame, here Peace sedate and bland,
Swell'd the loud Trump, and wav'd the Olive Wand;
While tow'ring Domes, arch'd Shades, and Vistas green,
All duly distanc'd, crown the sacred Scene:
On these the Goddess cast an anxious Look,
Dropt a soft Tear, and then her Sorrows spoke.

"How oft could I, with pleas'd Attention, trace
The mimick Charms of this prophetick Vase;
Then lift my Head, and with enraptur'd Eyes,
View on yon Plain the real Glories rise:
Yes, Isis! oft has thou rejoic'd to lead
Thy liquid Treasures o'er you fav'rite Mead;
Oft hast thou staid thy pearly Carr to gaze,
While ev'ry Science nurs'd its growing Bays;
While each learn'd Youth, with Fame's strong Impulse warm,
Shone, deck'd with Wreaths, and ev'ry manly Charm,
E'en now fond Fancy leads th' ideal Train,
And ranks her Troops on Mem'ry's ample Plain;
See my firm sons along th' extended Line,
See Nobles, Prelates, Heroes, Patriots shine;
Each Soul, whom Truth could fire, or Virtue move;
Each Breast, still panting with its Country's Love;
All that to Albion lent the Heart or Head,
That wisely counsell'd, or that bravely bled;
All, all appear, on me they grateful smile,
The well-earn'd Prize of ev'ry virtuous Toil,
To me, with filial Rev'rence, they bring,
And hang fresh Trophies o'er my honour'd Spring.

"See! in that Shade, beneath the beachen Spray,
The British Muse there first tun'd his Lay:
'Twas there great Cato's Form first met his Eye,
Rob'd in the Pomp of charming Liberty:

"My Son! he cry'd, observe this Mien with Awe,
And in strong Lines, a full Resemblance draw;
The lofty strain shall strike each British Ear,
From British Eyes shall fall the Patriot Tear;
Each Youth shall rise t' assert fair Freedom's Cause,
And guard, with Cato's Zeal, Britannia's Laws.

"The Hero spoke, the Bard assenting bow'd,
The Lay to Liberty, and Cato flow'd;
Whilst Echo, as she rov'd the Vale along,
Caught the sweet Cadence of his Roman Song.

"Here many a Genius wrote; ev'n now I view
Exalted Wisdom on the studious Brow;
'Twas here that these a manly Zeal exprest,
And stript vain Falshood of her tawdry Vest:
As Emanations burst upon Mankind,
And plain evince to each impartial Eye,
That Nature's first, best Gift, is Liberty.
Proud of my worthy sons, sublime I stood,
While waving Surges swell my rising Flood;
Then, vain as Niobe, insulting cry'd;

"Now roll, Illisus! thy Athenian tide;
Tho' Plato's Steps oft mark'd thy neighb'ring Glade,
Tho' fair Lyceum lent its awful Shade;
Tho' ev'ry Academick Green imprest
Its Image full on thy reflecting Breast;
Yet my pure Stream shall boast as proud a Name,
Nor Britain's Isis yield to Attic Fame.
For English Monarchs then, in kindly Show'rs,
Distill'd rich Blessings on these sacred Bow'rs:
Eliza's too, and Anna's bounteous Hand,
Diffus'd their Favours o'er the Muse's Land.
But now, depriv'd of what I once could boast,
No Royal Sunshine chears old Isis Coast:
A giddy Few, indeed, some Follies wrought,
And all must suffer for a private Fault.
On me the Statesmen look in Anger down,
On me the courtly ductile P—tes frown;
With Party Rage attack their antient Home,
And Pupils once, now Patricides become.
The GREAT our Duty slights with sullen Scorn,
Unheard, rejected Delegates return;
Ev'n He must answer at a rigid Bar,
Who 'tends my Sons with true paternal Care;
Yet his mild Virtues ev'ry Heart engage,
And Wickham mourns the persecuted Sage.
Hither, alas! pack'd Visitors may come,
And soon new Jeff'ries vex each awful Dome.

"See Granta's Senate by Inducements led,
Elects the wise Newcastle for their Head;
All, or in Church or State they now may claim,
Lawn, Furs, Posts, Pensions, wait the happy Cam.
While my lov'd Sons, whom ev'ry Muse inspires,
Whom Pallas favours, and who Phoebus fires;
They who so largely all their Influence share,
Grac'd with their Gifts, and nurtur'd by my Care;
These must go forth from my maternal Hand,
To bear sad Insults thro' a servile Land.
Such just Complaints my refluent Waters daunt,
Make Echoes groan, and Dryads quit their Haunt.

"Yet Fate forbid! No! let each Flood that laves
Old Albion's Vales, join my indignant Waves;
In Isis' Cause, let each their Streams employ,
As Xanthus delug'd in the Cause of Troy.

"Is this deny'd? — then point some lonely Way,
Where slighted Isis may meand'ring stray:
Some unknown Chanel lend, where Nature spreads
Secreted Vales, and unfrequented Shades;
There where a Hind scarce tunes his rustick Strain,
Where scarce a Hermit treads the pathless Plain,
Silent I'll flow, forget that e'er my Tide
Saw yon majestick Structures grace its Side;
Forget that e'er my rapt Attention hung
Or on the Sage's, or the Poet's Tongue;
But all resign'd, my humble Lot embrace,
And calm, prefer Oblivion to Disgrace."

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