1786
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Effusions on retiring from the University.

General Evening Post (21 October 1786).

Anonymous


An unsigned descriptive ode celebrating the proud history and visual splendor of Oxford university: "Oft have I view'd, immers'd in soothing thought, | Uprear'd by ancient hands the massy pile; | The Gothic turret high, the Saxon vault, | The painted window, and the lengthen'd aile." This poem marks an interesting formal shift: instead of the conventional Miltonic ode, the poet takes up the manner of Thomas Gray, treating the theme of the Eton College Ode in the measure of Gray's Elegy. The poem condemns monkish "superstition" however, pursuing the theme of progress instead of taking up the historicism that by 1780s was becoming the dominant mode in treatments of gothicism. This poem inspired a parody, "Reflections on leaving Oxford," published in the General Evening Post on November 26.

For points of comparison, see Thomas Warton's Gray imitation, "Written at Vale-Royal Abbey in Cheshire" (1777) celebrating the middle ages; Robert Southey's complaints about Oxford in "The Chapel Bell" (1794), and an anonymous imitation of Gray's Eton College Ode, A Farewell Ode on a distant Prospect of Cambridge, also published in 1794. The first "Oxford Elegy" was probably Henry James Pye's "Elegy written at — College, 1763."



Adieu ye sacred walls, ye lofty tow'rs,
Imperial Learning's venerable seats!
Reluctant now I quit your peaceful bow'rs,
Your happy mansions, and your lov'd retreats.

Here keen ey'd Science plumes her daring wing;
Ven'trous she here essays her noblest flights;
Here, in each classic grove, the Muses sing,
And fill the mind with innocent delights.

Grateful I venerate those honour'd names,
Who patronis'd fair Learning's infant cause;
Who nobly dar'd to vindicate her claims,
To just regard, distinction, and applause.

'Midst the illustrious groupe an Alfred shines;
Alfred the just, the virtuous, and the great;
Who mingled with the wreath that conquest twines,
The cares of Science, and the toils of State.

Tho' in these seats dim Superstition reign'd,
Clouding each mind unnerving ev'ry heart;
Tho' Monkish fraud its empire here maintain'd;
And wily priests have play'd th' impostor's part:

Tho' here dull Schoolmen vain debate pursu'd,
And the free mind to abject fetters bound;
Tho' with thin sophistry, and jargon rude,
All common sense they labour'd to confound:

Yet now the scene in diff'rent guise appear'd;
All former traces, like a dream, are fled;
Religion now a lib'ral aspect wears;
Now genuine Science lifts her tow'ring head.

Devious how oft in tranquil mood I've stray'd,
Where Cherwell's placid stream irriguous flows;
Where Isis, wandering thro' the dewy mead,
On the gay plains fertility bestows.

Oft have I view'd, immers'd in soothing thought,
Uprear'd by ancient hands the massy pile;
The Gothic turret high, the Saxon vault,
The painted window, and the lengthen'd aile.

Achaian models too I've frequent trac'd,
Where genius blazes in the grand design;
The structure with Corinthian columes grac'd,
Where Attic taste and harmony combine.

Where the high roof attracts the studious eye,
The roof with Bodley's rev'rend name inscrib'd;
Where num'rous tomes in classic order lie,
And plenteous stores of knowledge are imbib'd.

How oft, well pleas'd, I've turned the varied page,
My mind detach'd from ev'ry futile joy,
From giddy vanities that life engage,
Follies that vex, and sorrows that annoy.

Forgot each busy care of active life,
Forgot the turmoils of the public scene,
Forgot all envy, pride, and jealous strife,
The starts of passion, and the fits of spleen!

Adieu, ye groves, where erst I wont to rove,
Where health attends the clear salubrious air;
Retirement left, I seek a diff'rent home,
And to the gay metropolis repair.

[unpaginated]