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the ruins of Persepolis formed a beautiful example of the Gothic style ; and we know that Horace Walpole dazzled his contemporaries with the gimcrack pinnacles of Strawberry Hill. We may see from Bentley’s frontispiece to the Elegy, where a stucco moulding is half torn away, and reveals a pointed arch of brick-work, that even among the elect the true principles of Gothic architecture were scarely understood. What Georgian amateurs really admired was a grotto with cockle-shells and looking-glass, such as the Greatheads made at Guy's Cliff, or such follies in foliage as Shenstone perpetrated at Leasowes. Gray strove hard to clear his memory of all such trifling, and to arm his reason against arguments such as those of Pococke, who held that the Gothic arch was a degradation of the Moorish cupola, or of Batty Langley, who invented five orders in a new style of his own. Gray's treatise on Norman architecture is so sound and learned that it is much to be regretted that he has not left us more of his architectural essays. He formed his opinions from personal observation and measurement. Among the Pembroke MSS. there are copious notes of a tour in the Fens, during which he jotted down the characteristics of all the principal minsters, as far as Crowland and Boston. It is not too much to say that Gray was the first modern student of the history of architecture. Norton Nicholls has recorded that when certain would-be people of taste were wrangling about the style in which some ancient building was constructed, Gray cut the discussion short by saying, in the spirit of Mr. Ruskin, “ Call it what you please, but allow that it is beautiful.” He did not approve of Walpole's Gothic constructions at Strawberry Hill, and frankly told him, when he was shown the gilding and the glass, that he had “ degenerated into finery."
THE PINDARIO ODES.
It is not known at what time Gray resolved on composing poems which should resemble in stanzaic structure the triumphal odes or epinikia of Pindar, but it is certain that towards the close of 1754 he completed one such elaborate lyric. On the 26th of December of that year
the finishing touches to an "ode in the Greek manner,” and sent it from Cambridge to Dr. Wharton, with the remark, “If this be as tedious to you as it is grown to me, I shall be sorry that I sent it you. .. I desire you would by no means suffer this to be copied, nor even show it, unless to very few, and especially not to mere scholars, that can scan all the measures in Pindar, and say the scholia by heart.” Months later, Mason was pleading for a copy, but in vain. The poem thrown off so indifferently was that now known to us as The Progress of Poesy, and it marked a third and final stage in Gray's poetical development. In the early odes he had written for his contemporaries; in the Elegy in a Country Churchyard he had written for all the world ; in the Pindaric Odes he was now to write for poets. In the Elegy he had dared to leave those trodden paths of phraseology along which the critics of the hour, the quibbling Hurds and Warburtons, could follow him step by step, but his
startling felicities had carried his readers captive by their appeal to a common humanity. He was now about to launch upon a manner of writing in which he could no longer be accompanied by the plaudits of the vulgar, and where his style could no longer appeal with security to the sympathy of the critics. He was now, in other words, about to put out his most original qualities in poetry.
That he could not hope for popularity, he was aware at the outset ; “be assured,” he consoled his friends, “ that my taste for praise is not like that of children for fruit; if there were nothing but medlars and blackberries in the world, I could be very well content to go without
at all;" he could wait patiently for the suffrage of his peers. The very construction of the poem was a puzzle to his friends, although it is one of the most intelligibly and rationally built of all the odes in the language. It is in point of fact, a poem of three stanzas, in an elaborately consistent verse-form, with forty-one lines in each stanza. The length of these periods is relieved by the regular division of each stanza into strophe, antistrophe, and epode, the same plan having been used by no previous English poet but Congreve, who had written in 1705 a learned and graceful Discourse on the Pindarique Ode, which Gray was possibly acquainted with. Congreve's practice, however, had been as unsatisfactory as his theory was excellent, and Gray was properly the first poet to comprehend and follow the mode of Pindar.
Mr. Matthew Arnold has pointed out that the evolution of The Progress of Poesy is no less noble and sound than its style. It is worthy of remark that the power of evolution has not been common among lyrical poets even of a high rank. Even in Milton it is strangely absent, and we feel that all his odes, beautiful as they are, do not bud and
branch and fall in fruit, closing with the exhaustion of their functions, but merely cease, because all poems must stop somewhere. The Nativity Ode does not close because the poet has nothing more to say, but merely because “ 'tis time our tedious song should here have ending." In Collins, surely, we find the same failing; the poem is a burst of emotion, but not an organism. The much-lauded Ode to Liberty, with its opening peal of trumpet-music, ends with a foolish abruptness, as if the poet had got tired of his instrument, and had thrown it away. Shelley, again, in his longer odes, seems to lose himself in beautiful meandering oratory, and to stop, as he began, in response to a mere change of purpose. Keats, on the other hand, is always consistent in his evolution, and so is Wordsworth at his more elevated moments; the same may even be remarked of a poet infinitely below these in intellectual value, Edgar Poe. Gray, however, is the main example in our literature of a poet possessing this Greek quality of structure in his lyrical work, and it is to be noted that throughout his career it never left him, even on occasions when he was deserted by every other form of inspiration. His poems, whatever they are, are never chains of consecutive stanzas ; each line, each group of lines, has its proper place in a structure that could not be shorter or longer without a radical re-arrangement of ideas.
The strophe of the opening stanza of The Progress of Poesy invokes that lyre of Æolian strings, the breathings of those Æolian flutes, which Pindar had made the symbol of the art of poetry, and the sources, progress, and various motion of that art, “ enriching every subject with a pomp of diction and luxuriant harmony of numbers,” are described under the image of a thousand descending streams.
The antistrophe returns to the consideration of the power of poetry, not now in motion, but an alluring and a soothing force around which the Passions throng and are subdued, a thought being here borrowed apparently from Collins; the epode continues and combines these two strains of thought, and shows that poetry, whether in motion or at rest, is working the good will of Love, who deigns herself to move in a rhythmic harmony, and be the slave of verse. In the second stanza, the strophe recalls the miserable state of man, relieved by the amenities of the heavenly Muse, who arms Hyperion against the sickly company of Night; the antistrophe shows us how the need of song arose in savage man, and illuminated “their feather-cinctured chiefs, and dusky loves ;" while the epode breaks into an ecstatic celebration of the advent of poetic art to Greece :
Woods, that wave o'er Delphi's steep,
Fields, that cool Ilissus laves,
Or where Mæander's amber waves
How do your tuneful echoes languish,
Mute, but to the voice of anguish!
Inspiration breathed around;
Murmured deep a solemn sound.
But the Muses, “in Greece's evil hour,” went to Rome, and “when Latium had her lofty spirit lost," it was to Albion that they turned their steps. The third strophe describes how the awful Mother unveiled her face to Shakespeare; the antistrophe celebrates the advent of Milton and Dryden, while the final epode winds the whole poem to a close with a regret that the lyre once held by