An Ode to the Genius of Scandal.

An Ode to the Genius of Scandal.


An allegorical ode beginning with an imitation of Milton's L'Allegro: "Haste thee, then, and with thee bring | Many a little venom'd sting: | Many a tale that no one knows | Of shall-be-nameless belles and beaux; | Just-imported curtain lectures, | Winks, and nods, and shrewd conjectures" p. 6. Coquetina invokes the Genius of Scandal, who dutifully appears before the maiden's over-stimulated imagination. The goddess is suddenly stricken, however, by the appearance of Candour, who proceeds to deliver a lecture to Coquetina, illustrated by the stories of a young woman and an old soldier whose lives have been ruined by calumny. The two-part structure of this anonymous ode, like so many Spenserian allegories, recalls the Choice of Hercules. The poem goes on rather too long for an ode, becoming an incipient allegorical narrative of the sort William Hayley handles much more adroitly in The Triumphs of Temper, also published in 1781.

An Ode to the Genius of Scandal, which originally appeared as private issue, was reprinted with additions as An Ode to Scandal (1814), and attributed to Richard Brinsley Sheridan whose School for Scandal had been produced in 1777. This later edition was reprinted as Sheridan's in the twentieth century, despite the number of lines that fail to scan and the hapless attempt to rhyme "gazes" to "daisies." But a copy of the 1781 edition survives in which the poem is attributed in a contemporary hand to "Mr. Tierney" — George Tierney (1761-1830), afterwards MP, Treasurer of the Navy, and president of the Board of Control. In 1803 it was reprinted in the Anti-Jacobin Review as Tierney's. In 1819 the Bath Chronicle had claimed the poem for Tierney, and reported that it had previously appeared in its pages. The ode is listed as apocrypha in Compton Rhodes' Plays and Poems of Sheridan (1928).

Preface: "The Author of the following ODE, intending it solely for the amusement of his intimate acquaintance, printed only the requisite number of copies. One who has long been happy in his friendship, and who was favoured with the poem, thought a more enlarged publication might prove beneficial to mankind, in correcting an evil of which every one complains. With this view he offers it to the world, and he hopes the intention will justify the act. If those who, with a taste for satire, possess the powers of ridicule, are, by the perusal, awakened to a sense of the unhappiness the indiscriminate exercise of that dangerous talent may possibly occasion to innocence and worth; and if the tranquility of an individual is preserved, the writer's wishes will be gratified. To the Author, no suitable excuse can be offered — but the motive. This, if his delicacy rejects, his heart must approve. To the Public no apology will be thought necessary; the spirit and elegance of the composition, the philanthropy it breathes, must recommend it to encomium, and secure to it the applause it so justly merits. Cambridge, Oct. 30, 1781" p. iii.

Morning Chronicle: "a production of no great length, but of more merit than is to be found in one in twenty of most of the modern poetical publications" (7 November 1781).

William Cartwright: "This rhapsodical performance is not without merit: the features of Scandal, though perhaps not delineated by the hand of a master, are yet sketched with a very lively pencil.... The dramatic air that is given to this piece, by the introduction of a young lady driven to distraction by the artifices of calumny; and of a veteran soldier by the same base arts rendered miserable and undone, has an interesting effect. We would recommend it, however, to this young Writer (for such we presume he is) to consider, whether he has not rather transgressed the bounds of probability, when, in describing the anguish of his warrior, he tells us, 'To wild impatience madly wrought, | With sudden stamp the ground he beats, | As Memory paints his former feats, | How once knee-deep in blood | Immovably he stood' &c. But, perhaps, it may be said in apology, that the old gentleman's imagination being bewildered, his memory deceived him. Be it so" Monthly Review 66 (March 1782) 235-36.

Westminster Magazine: "There is no such thing as a Genius of Scandal. 'Tis rather a want of genius that inclines people to detraction. If proceeds from envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. But we may surely pronounce this piece a most wretched performance, without being chargeable with any of those vices" 9 (Supplement, 1781) 707.

Headnote in Anti-Jacobin Review: "The following Ode has been put into our hands by a friend, and, never having seen it in print, we cannot resist the temptation of laying it before our readers, who, we think, will be as much pleased with the perusal of it, as we have been ourselves. Certainly the vices which it lashes are as prevalent now as at any former period; and the satire, therefore, could never be better applied. 'The little Tale of Woe' which it contains, says a fair critic, whose purity of taste can only be exceeded by the soundness of her principles, the solidity of her judgment, and the correctness of her conduct, 'strikes me as being related with a singular degree of elegant and pathetic simplicity'" 15 (May 1803) 97.

Monthly Review: "We are not informed by what authority the publisher is justified in attributing these productions [Ode to Scandal, Stanzas on Fire] to Mr. Sheridan; and if they did proceed from his pen, they were probably the production of an early period of his life, before his wit had attained its final polish. Yet, though they are evidently unequal to the lines to Miss Linley, and to the Prologue to the Rivals, — and though they have not the neatness and elegance even of the songs in the Duenna, — still they have considerable merit" NS 88 (February 1819) 210.

New British Lady's Magazine: "In these short poems we see little that can increase the literary reputation of the great genius whose name it bears [Sheridan]. The publisher asserts their authenticity; and as we cannot prove the contrary, we will take his word for it. He also tells us that the comedy of the School for Scandal was founded on the Ode: but it is a very slight foundation for such a lofty fabric.... The concluding lines have poetical merit; and the sentiment will harmonize with the feelings of our readers" 2 (February 1819) 80.

Oh! thou, whose all-consoling pow'r
Can soothe our cares to rest;
Whose touch in Spleen's most vap'rish hour
Can calm each female breast;
Thee I invoke! Great Genius hear—
Pity a lady's sighs;—
Without thy kind relief be near
Poor COQUETINA dies!
Haste thee, then, and with thee bring
Many a little venom'd sting:
Many a tale that no one knows
Of shall-be-nameless belles and beaux;
Just-imported curtain lectures,
Winks, and nods, and shrewd conjectures;
Half a dozen strange suspicions
Built on stranger suppositions;
Unknown marriages some twenty,
Private child-bed linen plenty;
And horns just fitted to some people's heads,
And certain powder'd coats, and certain tumbled beds!

Teach me, powerful Genius! teach
Thine own mysterious art,
Safe from Retaliation's reach,
How I may throw detraction's dart!
So shall my hand an altar raise
Sacred to thy transcendent praise,
And daily with assiduous care
Some grateful sacrifice prepare.

The first informations
Of lost reputations
As offerings to thee I'll consign,
And the earliest news
Of surpriz'd billet-doux
Shall constant be serv'd at thy shrine.

Intrigues by the score,
Never heard of before,
Shall the sacrifice daily augment;
And by each Morning Post
Some favourite Toast
A victim to thee shall be sent.

Heavens! methinks I see thy train
Softly tripping o'er the plain;
All the alphabet I view
Stepping forward two and two.
Hush! for as they coupled walk,
Sure I hear the letters talk!
Though lowly-fearful whisperings half smother
The well concerted tales they blab of one another:
"Lord! who'd have thought our cousin D
Could think of marrying Mrs. E!
True, faith! I pity Mr. L;
And was I he, the bride to vex,
I'd go and court my lady X.
Indeed they say that Charlotte U,
With Fanny M, and we guess who,
Occasion'd all — for you must know
They set their caps at Mr. O,
And as he courted Mrs. E,
They thought if she'd have cousin D,
That things might be, through Captain A,
Just brought about in their own way!"

Oh! how the pleasing style regales my ear—!
Heav'ns! what new forms are these which now appear?

See yonder, in the thickest throng,
Designing Envy sculks along,
Big with malicious Laughter!
Fiction and Cunning swell her train;
While, stretching far behind, in vain
Poor Truth comes panting after.

Now, now indeed, I burn with sacred fires—
'Tis SCANDAL'S self that ev'ry thought inspires!
I feel, all-potent Genius! now I feel
Thy working magic through each art'ry steal.

At thy command my fancy warms,
And sweetly paints the alter'd scene—
Her touch now ev'ry grace deforms,
And blackens ev'ry mien!

Each moment to my prying eyes
Some fresh disfigur'd beauties rise:
Each minute I perceive some flaw
That e'en Ill-nature's self ne'er saw.

Hark! some airy whisper hints,
In accents wisely faint,
That bright Cleora rather squints—
Rosetta uses paint—

That though some fops of Celia prate,
Yet be not her's the praise,
For if she should be passing straight—
Hem! — she may thank her stays!

Each fool of Delia's figure talks,
And celebrates her fame;
But, for my part, whene'er she walks,
I think she's rather lame.

And mind Ma'am Chloe toss her head!
Lord! how the creature stares!
Well! — I thank God it can't be said
I give myself those airs.

But soft! what figure's this I now see come?
His awful frown strikes even SCANDAL dumb—
Ah me! the blood forsakes my trembling cheek,
While sternly thus, methinks, I hear him speak:

Peace, snarling woman, peace!
'Tis CANDOUR bids thee cease—
CANDOUR — at whose insulted name
Even thy face should burn with shame!
Too long I've silent seen
The venom of thy spleen—
Too long, with secret pain,
Observ'd black SCANDAL'S reign;
But now, with indignation stung,
Justice demands my tongue,
And bids me drag the lurking fiend to light,
And hold her deeds of darkness up to sight.
Look on this prospect! and if e'er thy brow
Can feel Compunction's sick'ning blush, 'tis now.

Mark yonder weeping maid,
Sadly deserted laid
Beside that mournful willow!
There ev'ry day, in silent woe,
She bids her tears incessant flow;
And ev'ry night forlornly pining,
Mute on her lilly hand reclining,
Bedews her waking pillow.

Sweet girl! she was once most enchanting gay,
Each youth felt her charms, and acknowledg'd their sway;
No arts did she use to acquire a grace,
'Twas good humour alone that enliven'd her face;
Pure nature had leave in her actions to speak—
The wildness of youth gave the blush to her cheek,
And her looks uninstructed her thoughts would impart,
Since her eyes only flash'd from the warmth of her heart.
Herself undesigning, no schemes she suspected—
Ne'er dreaming of ambush, defence she neglected;
With the youth that she lov'd, at the moon's silver hour,
In confidence tender, she stole to the bow'r:
There he hop'd to have all his desires obtain'd,
But she spurn'd at the insult her virtue sustain'd;
And he, in revenge for his baffled endeavour,
Gave a hint, — 'twas enough — she was ruin'd for ever!

And now, sad innocent — alone—
Shunn'd as a pest she makes her moan,
And in unheard despair
Yields all resign'd to soul-consuming care.

Yet many a time her wand'ring brain
Turns with its fev'rish weight of pain,
And then a thousand childish things
The pretty mad one rudely sings;
Or mute on the ground she gazes,
And weeps as she scatters her daisies,
And then, in a strain more distractedly loud,
She chants the sad thoughts of her fancy,
And shivers and sings of her cold shrowd—
Ah poor Nancy!

Nay, weep not now! — 'tis now too late—
Thy friendship might have stopt her fate;
Rather now hide thy head in conscious shame—
Thy mouth too buzz'd the tale that stain'd her fame.

But come — again — turn here thine eyes,
And view another victim rise—
Observe that crested warrior! — his name
Could make whole hostile ranks disordered fly,
Victory follow'd where the hero came,
And conquest darted from his vengeful eye.
His was true courage on good prudence built—
An arm prepar'd to extirpate or save:
'Twas only rais'd to crush presuming guilt,
Or lend its vigour to the honest brave.

Yet e'en a man thus form'd,
With ev'ry nobler passion warm'd,
At Envy's infamous command,
Fell by dark SCANDAL'S secret hand.—
Lothario, dearest of his friends,
Wrong'd him — he scorn'd to ask amends—

In real valour calmness we admire,
'Tis your mock honour that's so soon on fire.
Souls truly great no rash resentments seek—
His friendship pardon'd e'er his rage could speak.
Yet, for a deed that challeng'd brightest fame,
SCANDAL bedamn'd him with a coward's name;
Nay, more secure her vengeance to pursue,
Proclaim'd the man that own'd him coward too.

And see! with proudly sullen air!
The injur'd hero stalks alone.
And, though his looks betray his care,
Disdains to vent a single groan:
Save when, by some distracting thought,
To wild impatience madly wrought,
With sudden stampt the ground he beats,
As Mem'ry paints his former feats.
How once knee-deep in blood
Immoveably he stood,
And in the howling battle's roar,
With gaping wounds all cover'd o'er,
His single arm durst firm oppose
A phalanx of assailing foes.
And mark! with starting rage possess'd,
Wildly he bares his furrow'd breast,
And as his scars he views with aching eyes,
"Oh! 'tis too much!" the fault'ring vet'ran cries—
Yet scorning still to let his pangs appear,
Bites hard his quiv'ring lip, and gulps the starting tear!

These are the triumphs SCANDAL claims—
Triumphs deriv'd from ruin'd names—
Such as, to generous minds unknown,
An honest soul would scorn to own.
Nor think, vain woman, while you sneer
At others faults, that you are clear;
No! — turn your back — you undergo
The self-same malice you to others show,
And soon by some malicious tale o'erthrown,
Like these shall fall, unpitied, and unknown!

Oh! then, ye blooming fair attend—
Oh! take kind CANDOUR for your friend,
Nor forfeit, for a mean delight,
That pow'r o'er man that's yours by right.

To woman ev'ry charm was giv'n,
Design'd by all indulgent Heav'n
To soften every care.
Yes! ye were form'd to bless mankind,
To harmonize and soothe the mind,
And guard us from despair.

But then from those sweet lips we hear,
Ill-nature's whisper, Envy's sneer,
Your pow'r that moment dies.
Each coxcomb makes your name his sport,
And fools when angry will retort
What men of sense despise.

Leave, then, such low pursuits as these,
And take a nobler road to please—
Let CANDOUR guide your way—
So shall you daily conquests gain,
And captives glorying in your chain,
Be proud to own your sway.

[pp. 5-18]