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He spoke; and headlong from the mountain's height Deep in the roaring tide he plung'd to endless
 The original argument of this Ode, as its author had set it down on one of the pages of his common-place book, was as follows: “ The
army of Edward I. as they march through a deep valley, are sudden
ly stopped by the appearance of a venerable figure seated on the “ summit of an inaccessible rock, who, with a voice more than human,
reproaches the king with all the misery and desolation which he had “ brought on his country; foretells the misfortunes of the Norman race, “ and with prophetic spirit declares, that all his cruelty shall never ex. “ tinguish the noble ardour of poetic genius in this island; and that 6 men shall never be wanting to celebrate true virtue and valour in “immortal strains, to expose vice and infamous pleasure, and boldly “ censure tyranny and oppression. His song ended, he precipitates “ himself from the mountain, and is swallowed up by the river that “ rolls at its foot."
“ Fine (says Mr. Mason) as the conclusion of this Ode is at present, I think it would have been still finer, if he could have executed it according to this plan; but, unhappily for his purpose, instances of English Poets were wanting. Spenser had that enchanting flow of verse which was peculiarly calculated to celebrate Virtue and Valour; but he chose to celebrate them, not literally, but in allegory. Shakespeare, who had talents for every thing, was undoubtedly capable of exposing Vice anil infamous Pleasure; and the drama was a proper vehicle for his satire: but we do not ever find that he professedly made this his object; nay, we know that, in one inimitable character, he has so contrived as to make vices of the worst kind, such as cowardice, drunkenness, dishonesty, and lewdness, not only laughable, but almost amiable; for with all these sins on his head, who can help liking Falstaff? Milton, of all our great Poets, was the only one who boldly censured Tyranny and Oppression: but he chose to deliver this censure, not in poetry, but in prose. Dryden was a mere court parasite to the most infamous of all courts. Pope, with all his laudable detestation of corruption and bribery, was a Tory; and Addison, though a Whig and a fine writer, was unluckily not enough of a Poet for his purpose. On these considerations Mr. Gray was necessitated to change his plan towards the conclusion: Hence we perceive, that in the last epode he praises Spenser only for his allegory, Shakespeare for his powers of moving the passions, and Milton for his epic excellence. I remember the Ode lay unfinished by him for a year or two on this very account; and I hardly believe that it would ever have had his last hand but for the circumstance of his hearing Parry play on the Welch harp at a concert at Cambridge, (see Letter xxv. sect. iv.) which he often declared inspired him with the conclusion.
“ Mr. Smith, the Musical Composer and worthy pupil of Mr. Handel, had once an idea of setting this Ode, and of having it performed by way of serenata or oratorio. A common friend of his and Mr. Gray's interested himself much in this design, and drew out a clear analysis of the Ode, that Mr. Smith might more perfectly understand the Poet's meaning. He conversed also with Mr. Gray on the subject, who gave him an idea for the overture, and marked also some passages in the Ode in order to ascertain which should be recitative, which air, what kind of air, and how accompanied. The design was, however, not executed; and therefore I shall only in order to give the reader a taste of Mr. Gray's musical feelings) insert in this place what his sentiments were concerning the overture. 66 It should be so contrived as to be a
proper introduction to the Ode; it might consist of two movements, 6 the first descriptive of the horror and confusion of battle, the last a “ march grave and majestic, but expressing the exultation and insolent “ security of conquest. This movement should be composed entirely “ of wind instruments, except the kettle-drum heard at intervals. The 6 da capo of it must be suddenly broke in upon, and put to silence 6 by the clang of the harp in a tumultuous rapid movement, joined “ with the voice, all at once, and not ushered in by any symphony. “ The harmony may be strengthened by any other stringed instrument; “ but the harp should everywhere prevail, and form the continued “ running accompanyment, submitting itself to nothing but the voice.”
“ I cannot (says Mr. Mason) quit this and the preceding Ode, without saying a word or two concerning the obscurity which has been imputed to them, and the preference which, in consequence, has been given to his Elegy. It seems as if the persons, who hold this opinion, suppose that every species of Poetry ought to be equally clear and intelligible: than which position nothing can be more repugnant to the several specitic natures of composition, and to the practice of ancient art. Not to take Pindar and his Odes for an example, (though what I am here defending were written professedly in iinitation of him) I would ask, Are all the writings of Horace, his Epistles, Satires, and Odes, equally perspicuous? Amongst his Odes, separately considered, are there not remarkable differences of this very kind? Is the spirit and meaning of that which begins, “ Descende cælo, & dic, age, tibia,” Ode 4. lib. 3. so readily comprehended as “ Persicos odi, puer, apparatus,” Ode 38. 1. 1. and is the latter a finer piece of lyrical composition on that account? Is “ Integer vitæ, scelerisq; purus,” Ode 22. 1. 1. superior to “ Pindarum quisquis studet æmulari,” Ode 2. l. 4. because it may be understood at the first reading, and the latter not without much study and reflection? Now between these Odes, thus compared, there is surely equal difference in point of perspicuity, as between the Progress of Poesy, and the Prospect of Eton; the Ode on the Spring, and the Bard. But, say these objectors, “ The end of Poetry is, universally to “ please. Obscurity, by taking off from our pleasure, destroys that 66 end.” I will grant that, if the obscurity be great, constant, and unsurmountable, this is certainly true; but if it be only found in particular passages, proceeding from the nature of the subject and the very genius of the composition, it does not rob us of our pleasure, but superadds a new one which arises from conquering a difficulty; and the pleasure which accrues from a difficult passage, when well understood, provided the passage itself be a fine one, is always more permanent than that which we discover at the first glance. The lyric Muse, like other fine Ladies, requires to be courted, and retains her admirers the longer for not having yielded too readily to their solicitations. This argument, ending as it does in a sort of simile, will, I am persuaded, not only have its force with the intelligent readers (the EYNETOI,) but also with the men of fashion; as to critics of a lower class, it may be sutticient to transcribe, for their improvement, an unfinished remark, or rather maxim, which I found amongst our Author's papers; and which he probably wrote on occasion of the common preference given to his Elegy. “ The Gout de Comparaison (as Bruyere styles it) is the only “ taste of ordinary minds. They do not know the specific excellency 66 either of an author or a composition: for instance, they do not know " that Tibullus spoke the language of Nature and Love; that Horace 6 saw the vanities and follies of mankind with the most penetrating eye, « and touched them to the quick; that Virgil ennobled even the most 66 common images by the graces of a glowing, melodious, and well6 adapted expression; but they do know that Virgil was a better poet b than Horace; and that Horace's Epistles do not run so well as the 66 Elegies of Tibullus.”
ODE FOR MUSIC.
[ This Ode was performed in the Senate-House at Cambridge, July 1,
1769, at the Installation of his Grace Augustus-Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton, Chancellor of the University. To give the reader an idea of its musical arrangement, we have printed it with the divisions adopted by the Composer, Dr. Randall, then Music Professor at Cambridge.]
HENCE, avaunt, ('tis holy ground)
“ Comus, and his midnight-crew, " And Ignorance with looks profound,
“ And dreaming Sloth of pallid hue, « Mad Sedition's cry profane, 66 Servitude that hugs her chain,
66 Nor in these consecrated bowers " Let painted Flatt'ry hide her serpent-train in
" Nor Envy base, nor creeping Gain, " Dare the Muse's walk to stain,