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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

Both Wartons wrote odes To Solitude


the muse of their inspiration was not the tragic Titaness of Duerer's painting:

"The Melencolia that transcends all wit."[16]

rather the "mild Miltonic maid," Pensive Meditation.

There were various shades of somberness, from the delicate gray of the Wartons to the funereal sable to Young's "Night Thoughts" (1742-44) and Blair's "Grave" (1743). Goss speaks of Young as a "connecting link between this group of poets and their predecessors of the Augustan age." His poem does, indeed, exhibit much of the wit, rhetorical glitter, and straining after point familiar in Queen Anne verse, in strange combination with a "rich note of romantic despair."[17] Mr. Perry, too, describes Young's language as "adorned with much of the crude ore of romanticism. . . At this period the properties of the poet were but few: the tomb, an occasional raven or screech-owl, and the pale moon, with skeletons and grinning ghosts. . . One thing that the poets were never tired of, was the tomb. . . It was the dramatic--can one say the melodramatic?--view of the grave, as an inspirer of pleasing gloom, that was preparing readers for the romantic outbreak."[18]

It was, of course, in Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751), that this elegiac feeling found its most perfect expression. Collins, too has "more hearse-like airs than carols," and two of his most

heartfelt lyrics are the "Dirge in Cymbeline" and the "Ode on the Death of Mr. Thomson." And the Wartons were perpetually recommending such themes, both by precept and example.[19] Blair and Young, however, are scarcely to be reckoned among the romanticists. They were heavy didactic-moral poets, for the most part, though they touched the string which, in the Gothic imagination, vibrates with a musical shiver to the thought of death. There is something that accords with the spirit of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture, with Gray's "ivy-mantled tower"--his "long-drawn aisle and fretted vault"--in the paraphernalia of the tomb which they accumulate so laboriously; the cypress and the yew, the owl and the midnight bell, the dust of the charnel-house, the nettles that fringe the grave-stones, the dim sepulchral lamp and gliding specters.

"The wind is up. Hark! how it howls! Methinks Till now I never heard a sound so dreary, Doors creak and windows clap, and night's foul bird, Rocked in the spire, screams loud: the gloomy aisles, Black-plastered and hung 'round with shreds of scutcheons And tattered coats-of-arms, send back the sound, Laden with heavier airs, from the low vaults, The mansions of the dead."[20]

Blair's mortuary verse has a certain impressiveness, in its gloomy monotony, not unlike that of Quarles' "Divine Emblems." Like the "Emblems," too, "The Grave," has been kept from oblivion by the art of the illustrator, the well-known series of engravings by Schiavonetti from designs by Wm. Blake.

But the thoughtful scholarly fancy of the more purely romantic poets haunted the dusk rather than the ebon blackness of midnight, and listened more to the nightingale than to the screech-owl. They were quietists, and their imagery was crepuscular. They loved the twilight, with its beetle and bat, solitude, shade, the "darkening vale," the mossy hermitage, the ruined abbey moldering in its moonlit glade, grots, caverns, brooksides, ivied nooks, firelight rooms, the curfew bell and the sigh of the Aeolian harp.[21] All this is exquisitely put in Collins' "Ode to Evening." Joseph Warton also wrote an "Ode to Evening," as well as one "To the Nightingale." Both Wartons wrote odes "To Solitude." Dodsley's "Miscellanies" are full of odes to Evening, Solitude, Silence, Retirement, Contentment, Fancy, Melancholy, Innocence, Simplicity, Sleep; of Pleasures of Contemplation (Miss Whately, Vol. IX. p. 120) Triumphs of Melancholy (James Beattie, Vol. X. p. 77), and similar matter. Collins introduced a personified figure of Melancholy in his ode, "The Passions."

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