1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Ode to a Boy at Eton.

An Ode to a Boy at Eton, with three Sonnets, and one Epigram. By William Parsons, Esq.

William Parsons


Not seen.

John Aikin: "This small and elegant publication consists equally of prose and verse — of criticism and poetry. The occasion of writing the principal piece was friendship reflected from Mr. Greatheed, the father, to his son, a fellow-traveller with both on the continent at a very tender age. On his being sent to Eton, Mr. P. was led to consider Gray's well-known ode on that seminary of learning with respect to its tendency; and he justly thought that an useful lesson might be derived to his young friend, from an attempt to counteract the gloomy and desponding conclusions which that piece is calculated to inspire — the more dangerous, from the captivating vehicle in which they are conveyed. In the same measure and the same number of stanzas, but in the simple and natural language best suited to the age of the person whom he was addressing, Mr. P. has composed an ode, designed to give a more chearing view of human nature, and to stimulate to the pursuit of that virtue and happiness, the possible attainment of which must be supposed, before any means are employed for the cultivation of the heart and understanding. We think that he has executed his design with considerable success; and though his ode may not rank with that of Gray among the treasures of English poetry, yet it will afford pleasure in the perusal, and is worthy of being impressed on the memory of those for whom its precepts are principally calculated" Monthly Review NS 20 (May 1796) 100.

British Critic: "He seems to us to have misapprehended the sentiment of Gray's celebrated Ode to Eton College, which he represents to be, that we ought 'to leave boys in idleness, because their future lives must necessarily be miserable;' and its tendency 'to make boys idle, and men discontented.' The sentiment is surely no more than this, 'that we should let them enjoy their sports while they can, because sorrow will come soon enough.' Not that they should be always sporting. The moralist indeed views them with compassion, knowing how much every one of the must have to suffer in his progress through life; but of this nature has made them ignorant, and it is best they should continue so. The Ode of Mr. Parsons is controversial, intended to counteract what he considers as the poison of Gray's Ode; this is not favourable to his poetry; and though what he says is well meant, and true, it is not more true than the strains of his antagonist, and certainly by no means so captivating" 7 (May 1796) 548.

Critical Review: "We all view the scenery through a tinted glass, and each must chuse his own colour; but Mr. Gray's glass gives a mellow richness to the landscape, which we should in vain look for in a lighter tint. In short, though Mr. Parson's deductions may have more of good sense, Mr. Gray's are more poetic" NS 17 (August 1796) 415.

Analytical Review: "The writer of those pieces is much dissatisfied with the sentiments of Gray's Ode on Eton College, which he conceives to have no other tendency, than to encourage boys in idleness, from the dispiriting idea that their future lives must necessarily be miserable. The trite notion, that a school-boy's life is happier than that of a man, he thinks to be unfounded, and he ascribes Gray's gloomy picture to 'The moody and dull Melancholy, | Kinsman to grim and comfortless Despair.' This critic finds several faults in the composition of Gray's ode, and particularly insists upon the redundancy of it's epithets, and the laxity of it's rhimes. The ode which Mr. P. here presents to the public is a sort of parody of Gray's; it is written in the same measure, has the same number of stanzas, and borrows some of Gray's language, with a studious attention, however, to avoid the redundancy of expression, and confusion of metaphor into which many of his imitators have fallen. The writer's design being to counteract the impression made by a querulous though elegant and animated poet, and to combat the mistaken melancholy, which he has made it a fashion to effect, he has given an entirely different turn to the sentiment, and has endeavoured to inspire his young friend with the pleasure of chearful hope" 24 (August 1796) 176-77.