A POETRY OF INVOCATION:
A STUDY OF THE POEMS OF WILLTAM COLLINS AND THEIR TRADITION
PHILIP D. MARION
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
FOR MY MOTHER AND FATHER
who taught me to love books and beauty
To all the friends and mentors who gave generously of their time,
patience, learning and encouragement to assist me in the completion of
this study, I extend my heartfelt thanks. They never doubted (as I
often did) that the end would come.
In particular I am grateful to Professor Ben Pickard, who suffered
my anguish gracefully during weekly tennis matches; to Professors
Douglas Bonneville and Richard Brantley, who read the dissertation on
rather short notice and who gave me the benefit of their kind yer
unsparing suggestions in the final oral; and especially to Professor
Ira Clark, who taught me to read Milton, who painstakingly read the
manuscript chapter by chapter, and whose detailed, perceptive comments
helped shape the final version of each.
I am especially indebted as well to Professor Aubrey Williams, who
first taught me the pleasures and rewards of the historical method,
whose kindness to me has been unfailing, and whose straightforward
counsel has always been gladly given and gratefully received. His
suggestions for the improvement of my master's thesis contributed
significantly to the strength of the final argument of the dissertation.
I thank him too for reading and commenting on the dissertation, and for
participating in the final defense.
To my wife, Joanne, I owe thanks which a lifetime cannot repay;
she has supported and encouraged me without complaint during each of
the seven years which culminate in this study, while watching me
chase a star that always seemed to be fading in the west.
Finally, my deepest debt is to Professor Melvyn New, the director
of this dissertation from its earliest stages as a master's thesis.
He found my writing chaos, and left it with whatever grace it new
possesses. Since my first quarter in graduate school his energy and
discipline as both scholar and teacher have served as my guide, his
courage and wit as my example. He has shown me the path in ways too
numerous to count.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. . . . . . . . . . . . ... iii
ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vi
I. INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . .. . 1
NOTES. . . . . . . . . .. . . 14
II. THE INVOCATIVE TRADITION: SPENSER AND MILTON . . .. .20
NOTES. . . . . . . . . . . .. 54
III. COLLINS: THE EARLY POEMS . . . . . . . .. 61
NOTES. . . . . . . . . . . 105
IV. THE DILEMMA: ODES ON SEVERAL DESCRIPTIVE AND ALLEGORIC
SUBJECTS (1746) ... . . . . . .... .. . 113
NOTES. . . . . . . . . ... . .161
V. ODES (CONTINUED) AND FINAL ATTEMPTS . . . . . 166
NOTES . . . . . . . . . . ... 220
VI. COLLINS AND KEATS: THE MUTUAL DILEMMA. . . . .. 227
NOTES. . . . . . . . . . .... 263
APPENDIX: TWO POEMS OF DOUBTFUL ATTRIBUTION . . . ... 267
NOTES. .. . . . . . . . . . . .273
LIST OF WORKS CITED. . . . . . . .... . . . 274
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. . . . . . . . . . . .285
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Ruquirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
A Y OF NVOCATON A STUDY OF TINOC IO: POE !S OF WILLIAM COLLI,LIS
AND TIIETI TRADITION
Philip D). Marion
Chai i men-: Melvyn New
Major liepan,-tii:nt: Engli sh
Despite the disreepite into which the label "pre-romantic" las
gradual.n y falion in recent y8iars, and despite consequent attempts to
pro"vde neor precise re.iri .g o English poets of the mid eighteenth
century In their own tCcL,s, the distortion cad neglect fostered by the
" rc-ro,':::ntie" approach continued to domiuin .' critical treatncnti of their
work. And, as I demonstrate in chapter 1, the work of no important poet
of th.E period ias been more consisteni1y misread than that of W'l111iam
Collins. With too few (and usually only partial) exceptions, Collins'
poetic theory and practice have been analyzed piece-neal or judged
artbitrari y according to arrow "pre-romantic" standards. Moreover,
attempt. to correct this view invariably conclude just as arbitrarily
that Collins should be seen either as a last gasp of Augustan theory
and practice, or in formalist isolation from all poetic traditions.
Al. such notions have in common a steadfast refusal to heed the
clear siguposts to an understanding of his work which Collins himself
provides in his poems. If we are to apprehend his work more accurately,
then, we must begin not with romantic or Augustan criteria, but with
the standards Collins consistently imposes upon himself--standards
which are the abiding concerns of his poetry. My aim in this study,
therefore, is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the Collins canon in
which I avoid the arbitrary impositions of the past by following his own
signposts faithfully. Only after having done so can one begin to
reassess his relationship to the Romantics.
To follow Collins' lead is to become aware of several closely
interrelated elements in his work which form the basis of his theory of
poetry and which, in turn, rigidly control the structure of nearly all
his poems: his choice of Spenser and Milton as his chief poetic idols;
a crippling self-doubt caused by the dilemma in which that choice traps
him; and most important, the invocative stance by which he attempts to
surmount his doubt. Collins' determination to emulate Spenser and
Milton causes him to believe, I argue, that he must first attain the
same divine inspiration they claimed as central to their poetic vision
and achievement. At the same time, Collins finds himself unable to
believe that such inspiration remains available in his increasingly
secular era. This inspiratory dilemma is the key to the structure of
Collins' work: with very few exceptions his poems are frustrated
invocations to which the Muse gives no answer. For Collins the in-
vocation becomes, in effect, the poem, rather than a necessary prelude
to it as it was for Spenser and Milton. The invocative stance is
therefore, I maintain, central not only to our understanding of Collins'
own work, but to our perception of his relationship to his predecessors,
contemporaries and successors as well.
Accordingly in chapter II, after a brief survey of the invocative
tradition they inherited, I examine the invocative stances of Spenser
and Milton--stances I show to be virtually identical. In chapters III
through V I offer a close reading of the full Collins canon. And
finally in chapter VI, with the invocative tradition and Collins' place
in it in view, I inaugurate a reassessment of his relationship to the
Romantics by focusing on the invocative dilemma in Keats--who, I
conclude, both shares the Collins anguish and, significantly, is able
to transcend it by transforming his stance fitfully in his later work.
Because Collins' work occupies such a critical place in the decline of
the traditional invocative stance and the visionary poetry it makes
possible, it continues to warrant our careful attention.
When Wordsworth wrote a brief commemorative poem for William
Collins in 1789 entitled "Remembrance of Collins Composed upon the
Thames Near Richmond," in which he treated his predecessor reverently
as a kindred spirit, he unknowingly presaged what was to become the
prevailing critical approach to the poetry of Collins and most of his
contemporaries in the first half of the twentieth century: the "pre-
romantic." That approach, obviously, grew out of the attempt to trace
the origins of romantic poetry to the middle and later years of the
eighteenth century, as well as out of the larger, concomitant desire
to understand the transition in the premises of taste which was then
taking place.2 As Walter Jackson Bate has persuasively argued, perhaps
no similar change in aesthetic theory "has been more fundamental and
pervasive." And in our own century few literary matters have received
more criticall attention than the various aspects of this change, usually
considered under what Bate has accurately called the "arbitrary headings
of 'classicism' and 'romanticism'."
Such labels and their attendant assumptions are admittedly always
difficult to overturn or replace, if only because they become so
convenient. This is particularly true when the period in question is
indeed one of sweeping and complex changes, not only in aesthetics but
in every realm, from religion and philosophy to economics and politics.
Some oversimplification is bound to occur in order to make the discus-
sion of these changes manageable, and it is therefore not surprising
that the terms "classic," "Augustan" and "romantic" are still regularly
employed today in spite of widespread complaints about their accuracy.
What is difficult to understand is why the fallacies and distortions
inherent in the most pernicious (and least useful) of these labels,
"pre-romantic," persisted unquestioned for as long as they did. For
under its aegis nearly the whole body of English poetry written in the
middle years of the eighteenth century was relegated a priori to the
status, in effect, of nonentity. As Northrop Frye has said, the term
"has the peculiar demerit of committing us to anachronism before we
start, and imposing a false teleology on everything we study."5 When
the poems of the period were read at all, they were forced to support
whatever preconceived thesis a critic wished to defend. The poets were
thus seen almost exclusively as either poor imitators of the now gener-
ally rehabilitated Augustans, or, most often, as writers who haltingly
prepared the way for the coming of the Great Romantics. Their works
have either evidenced "romantic" qualities to the critic seeking to
show the rise of the romantic imagination, or they have provided exam-
ples of the last gasps of Augustan poetics to the critic seeking to
propound the values of the Augustan imagination.6 The result has been
that few of these poets have been respected or studied as significant
in their own right. Moreover, inevitably in such criticism important,
even central aspects of the individual poet's work are either slighted
or ignored while others are often amplified beyond recognition.
If these flaws were not apparent all along, they should be so by
now. Yet despite the gradual reappraisal in the past twenty-five years
of many of the traditional assumptions about the poetic theories and
practices which figure in the transition from "classic" to "romantic,"
and despite the disrepute into which the label "pre-romantic" has
generally fallen, much remains to be done if we are to complete the
rescue of individual poets from the distortions and misreadings imposed
upon them for so long. And the work of no important poet in this
period has been more, or longer, distorted and neglected as a result of
this approach than has that of Collins--nor is any canon more in need
of further rehabilitation if we are to begin to understand his poetry
in its own terms.
Just how sustained the distortion of Collins' work has been is
perhaps most apparent in the fact that even at the height of his fame
during the nineteenth century, well before the "pre-romantic" label
had come into fashion, he was most often praised in terms with implic-
itly romantic overtones: for the brilliance of his native genius or
the sublimity of his aspirations or the revolutionary freedom of his
imagination.9 Hazlitt, for example, typically singles out the "sterling
ore of genius" in Collins, along with his fervourr of imagination."10
A similar note was struck by Sir Egerton Brydges when he wrote of the
"Ode on the Poetical Character" that "its general conception is magni-
ficent, and beaming that spirit of inventive enthusiasm, which alone
can cherish the poet's powers, and bring forth the due fruits. Collins
never touched the lyre but he was borne away by the inspiration under
which he laboured." Even more revealing is the pronouncement with
which Brydges opens his essay: "Collins is the founder of a new school
of poetry...."2 Later in the century Swinburne, with characteristic
enthusiasm, echoed Colins' earlier critics (Brydges' "new school" notion
in particular) when he wrote that "Here, in the twilight which followed
on the splendid sunset of Pope, was at last a poet who was content to
sing out what he had in him--to sing and not to say, without a glimpse
of wit or a flash of eloquence.13
This pattern is not substantially altered when, near the turn of
the century, Walter C. Bronson suggests, in the introduction to his
influential edition of the poems, that while Collins "was a romanticist
by nature...elements of a true Classicism were deep within him.14 Of
course, the explicitly "pre-romanitc" argument essayed by Phelps was
coming to the fore during this period, and Bronson's comment seems
designed in part as a response to it. But instead of providing a more
balanced view, his statement merely introduces yet another distortion
fostered by the "pre-romantic" approach by arbitrarily and vaguely
compartmentalizing Collins' work. First of all, Bronson is never clear
as to the proportions of these modes within individual poems. And in
any case, his ultimate bias is best revealed by his insistence on a
developing romantic emphasis in Collins' odes--an argument difficult
to prove due to the uncertainty of their order of composition. More-
over, although he quite correctly points out that Collins "reveals his
poetical creed by his literary allusions," and that Spenser, Shakespeare,
Milton and Otway are Collins' "gods" in English poetry, he fails to
apply this insight to the poems and still insists that what he sees as
the absence of didacticism and intellectual subjects in them proves his
point: that the romantic aesthetic is dominant.
By the time George Saintsbury commented on Collins' poetry early
in this century, the "pre-romantic" penchant for rigid dichotomizing
was firmly established. Saintsbury, though he avoids the usual
terminology, is nevertheless clearly influenced by "pre-romantic"
prejudices, and imposes perhaps the most radical and unsound division
on Collins' work. He condemns the poet for all those aspects of his
work which seem to him to be indigenous to the period in which Collins
wrote, especially singling out what he terms his "ludicrous" and
otiosee" diction.17 At the same time Saintsbury lauds those aspects
of the poems which he feels are traceable to Collins' native genius
alone. In other words, he concludes, there are manifest in his work
"two writers--the Collins of eternity [the romantic Collins?] and the
Collins of his day," and the best way to read Collins is to ignore the
What these critics have in common is a tendency to attribute to
Collins and his work a number of vague, preconceived qualities which
one seldom if ever encounters in the poems themselves. Their conclu-
sions, moreover, are only possible because they neglect the single most
important aspect of Collins' poetry--namely, that his intentions as a
poet and his notion of his ability to filfill them are the central,
abiding concerns of his work. Once we recognize this fact the mis-
readings passed on by a critic like Brydges should become obvious.
For example, Collins' poems are actually the record of his frustrated,
career-long quest for the very inspiration Brydges credited him with
possessing fully from the start. Furthermore, far from seeing himself
as "the founder of a new school of poetry," Collins in fact longed
throughout his career to reestablish an old one via poems the form and
content of which pervasively reflect that longing. Finally, to the
general failure of these critics to perceive the real subject of
Collins' verse, and therefore to read him more accurately, must be
added their overall failure to support their sweeping conclusions with
careful readings of the poems; instead they have chosen isolated lines
or stanzas when they have quoted him at all, disregarding thereby the
full context of his work.
With the growing interest of the twentieth century in more detailed
examination of the works themselves came the first attempts to re-
evaluate prior estimates of Collins' poteic theory and achievement.
But if we turn to these attempts expecting significant advances over
previous views, we are bound to be somewhat disappointed. For unfor-
tunately, with the "pre-romantic" approach in full cry in the anthol-
ogies, a number of these efforts only compounded earlier errors. H.W.
Garrod, although he succeeds, in reaction to Swinburne's extravagant
praise, in demonstrating certain undeniable obscurities in Collins'
poems, also regards him merely as a precursor of the romantic period.
He argues, for example, that Collins "conceived poetry to have suffered
too long from a plethora of moral reflection. He wished to bring back
description."9 Garrod's notion of Collins' intent not only causes
him to neglect important aspects of the poet's works, but in addition
to find fault (as usual) with the poems because they fail to conform
to a standard to which Collins, in all likelihood, did not wish to
conform. To say that Collins believed poetry to have need of more
description and less moral reflection is both to leave what is meant
by "description" vague, and to ignore--just as Bronson had--the presence
of a continuing moral concern in almost all of his work.2
A prime example of Garrod's persistent condemnation of Collins'
poetry because it fails to measure up to the romantic theory of poetry
by which he arbitrarily judges it is the following remark about the
"Ode Occasion'd by the Death of Mr. Thomson":
Just as we might think that Collins was going to
say something from the heart, say something of him-
self and Thomson, he drifts into...frigidity....
Not Collins' tears, not a man's tears, nor a poet's.
But the tears of two goddesses, who have been
placed for the occasion in a real sailing-boat, on
a real 'excursion to Richmond by water'.21
Garrod here is unaware of, or is simply ignoring, the importance which
the eighteenth century attached to the portrayal of general nature and
the universal in art, as a means of personal statement.22
A.S.P. Woodhouse provides the earliest attempt at a comprehensive
survey of Collins' idea of the creative imagination. But he concludes
that Collins' theory and practice are essentially the same as those of
Joseph Warton, and that each poet represents a clear step in the direc-
tion of romanticism.23 Woodhouse, through a highly selective procedure,
compiles evidence for his belief that Collins' emphasis on the powers
of 'fancy' is the result of his admiration for that faculty of the mind
for its own sake. His position is perhaps most radically different
from the one I shall maintain in this study when, near the end of his
essay, he suggests: "The role of his 'persons' is imaginative and
pictorial, not ethical, and on no subject, save his art, is he willing
to advance a definite proposition in his poetry.24 Woodhouse contends,
then, that although Collins does make clear pronouncements about his
art within his poems, he has little or nothing to say about the abstrac-
tions which are the subjects of that art. My own argument is, in part,
that Collins not only propounds his own theory of poetry in his poems,
but that one of his central concerns is his ability to use his poetry
to make those abstractions concretely visible and thereby affecting to
the society of which he is a member. For him the creative imagination
is a means to that end, as well as what Woodhouse calls "a power which
can transcend the limits of the actual and the immediate, and can
create its own romantic world of freer and intense experience,"25
although Woodhouse's statement is undercut by his typically vague use
of the term "romantic" in its final clause.
More recent criticism of Collins has not greatly altered the
dominant romantic bias, despite the growing number of close readings
of at least some of the poems.2 Unfortunately many of the readings
provided in full-length studies of Collins are overshadowed either by
arguments concerning the details of his life, or by attempts to "place
him" in his age.27 Moreover, the few poems which have received detailed
analyses are consistently the same. The "Ode to Evening" has received
by far the most intense scrutiny, while the "Ode on the Poetical
Character" and the "Ode Occasion'd by the Death of Thomson" have each
received at least more attention than the remaining poems.2 (All
three are of course basic to arguments for Collins' "pre-romantic"
status.) But although these poems are without question important,
concentration on them alone has contributed by omission to the prevalent
failure to understand the range of Collins' meaning and achievement.
The first critic to do more than simply mention the crucial fact
that the subject of Collins' poems is nearly always his art itself was
Alan D. McKillop in his essay, "The Romanticism of William Collins."29
Its title suggests its weakness; nevertheless, McKillop's basic approach
to the problem of Collins' theory and practice is, I believe, the most
valid thus far--and one which deserves to be pursued. The essence of
this approach is the recognition, in McKillop's words, that the writing
of the kind of poetry Collins sought to create "was an enterprise which
was doomed to failure, and indeed no one could be more deeply conscious
of his failure than he was himself--no one felt more keenly the
impotence of British poetry in the middle of the eighteenth century."30
One need not agree with McKillop's insistence on what can only be
called a romantic aesthetic standard to grasp the value of his locating
the tension between intention and fulfillment in Collins' work within
the poems. The question is not what Collins wanted to do and did do
according to a critic's arbitrarily imposed view, but what Collins
himself wants his poetry to do and what he knows it does.
Of equal importance is McKillop's collateral recognition of how
many of Collins' poems "show more or less clearly that his mind reverted
inevitably to the idea that true poetry was remote from things present
and modern."31 However, this realization leads McKillop to a conclusion
which is not entirely legitimate: "The real subject of Collins' odes,
then, is the concept of poetry; Simplicity, Fear, Pity, and the rest
are only ancillary to an idea of inspiration which is conceived and
intensely desired, but never fully realized."32 That Collins often
despairs of his calling and the inspiration it requires is so; indeed,
the causes and results of that despair constitute the central theme of
the present study. But it is also true that the abstractions to which
he writes are the essence of that calling. It is because he believes
he can only make them palpable to his readers (his chief goal) by first
achieving this inspiration that he desires it at all.3
My aim in this study is therefore to furnish a close, comprehen-
sive analysis of Collins' poetic theory and practice, while assiduously
avoiding the distortions so habitually and arbitrarily visited upon
his work in the past. I eschew not only the dominant "pre-romantic"
reading, but also attempts to balance it which place the poet either
in a narrowly defined "post-Augustan" milieu or in formalist isolation
from all poetic traditions. All three approaches have fostered serious
misreading or neglect of what actually goes on in Collins' poems. Yet
understanding precisely what happens in them is especially crucial
because, as McKillop has suggested, it is there and there alone that
Collins' struggle for the fulfillment of his aspirations is both artic-
ulated and enacted. Also, the limitations of the Collins biography
and the scarcity of available letters only serve to augment the impor-
tance of the poems as the primary source for any study of the poet.
In other words, if we are ever to understand Collins' poetry, his place
in his own time, and, ultimately, the exact nature of his relationship
to the Romantics, we must begin by heeding much more carefully the
distinct signposts the poet himself provides abundantly throughout his
To do so is to become aware of several closely interrelated
elements of Collins' work which are the basis of his theory of poetry
and which, in turn, rigidly control the structure of most of his poems.
These components have not previously been examined in light of their
full causal relationships, nor has their pivotal correlation been
applied, as it needs to be, to a reading of the total Collins canon.
The key elements are: his choice of poetic idols; a crippling self-
doubt born of the dilemma in which that choice traps him; and the
poetic stance by which he attempts to surmount his doubt, but that
becomes itself a part of the trap. Together they constitute the prin-
cipal focus of my analysis.
First, when Collins thought about writing poetry, he nearly always
thought not of the future but of the past; when he thought about past
poets whose idea of the poet's function and the nature of poetry he
most wished to emulate, he nearly always thought of Spenser and Milton.35
This is what one must conclude, at any rate, from the overwhelming
evidence of the poems. Of course, idolizing Milton, and to some degree
Spenser as well, was not al all uncommon in the mid eighteenth cen-
tury.36 But there is an intensity and anguish in Collins' desire to
follow in the wake of his predecessors which calls special attention
to his attitude toward them, and, I believe, makes it imperative that
we understand as precisely as possible what it is that Collins seeks
in his forebears.
Linked inextricably in Collins' verse to his desire to follow his
great predecessors is his recurring certainty that he is unable to do
so. This certainty is accompanied by a pervasive self-consciousness
that seems to be in part caused by and in part a contributor to Collins'
self-doubt. In fact, it is difficult to determine which of these
elements in the poet's work prompted the other, so closely interwoven
are they through the canon. What is clear is the overriding dilemma
at the heart of these recurrent doubts and of his entire poetic output.
In itj simplest terms, that dilemma is the result of Collins' notion
that the achievements of Spenser and Milton were possible only because
they had prayed for and received a divine inspiration. Therefore it
follows that he must also receive it if he is to write the kind of
poetry they wrote. But the years between 1667 and 1740 had, as Collins'
predicament amply demonstrates, wrought extensive changes, and the
inspiration possessed by his idols seems hopelessly out of reach to
him despite his determined efforts.
But by far the most significant and instructive element in
Collins' peotry--and the most pervasive in its effects--is the mode
to which his inspiratory dilemma reduces him in the majority of his
works: what I shall term the invocative stance. For in his customary
posture Collins invokes the aid of a goddess who personifies an
abstract quality or idea, and prays vehemently for the ability (an
ability he believes Spenser and Milton to have been especially possessed
of) to embody that quality or idea poetically.37 Besides being indica-
tive of the extent of Collins' inhibiting self-consciousness, the stance
is the key to the structure of all but a very few of his works and, I
shall argue, to his relationship both to his predecessors, and to his
successors in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.38
We cannot begin to comprehend the latter accurately, however,
until the former has been thoroughly established. Therefore in chapter
II Isuggest a more detailed answer to the question of what exactly
Collins seeks in his forebears through a survey of the invocative
tradition as a whole, then an analysis in particular of the attitudes
of Spenser and Milton toward the Muse, invocation and inspiration, for
it is through these attitudes that their notions of the poet and his
function are revealed, especially as they relate to Collins' ubiquitous
invocative stance. It is, I shall try to show, the tension between
what Spenser and Milton think the poet should do and what they actually
do in their poems on the one hand, and what Collins, seeking to follow
them, wants to do but believes he cannot--and therefore does not--do on
the other, upon which we must focus in deciding their full meaning to
In chapters III through V I offer a close reading of the Collins
canon, concentrating primarily on his dilemma and invocative stance.
Then finally in chapter VI, with the invocative tradition and Collins'
place in it in mind, I attempt to initiate a reassessment of his
relationship to the Romantics, based not on the vague old preconcep-
tions, but rather on the more precise recognition of Keats's profound
sharing of his predecessor's dilemma, and especially his stance. Nor
is my choice of Keats an arbitrary one. He is clearly representative
of his time in his concern with the problem of establishing a claim to
inspired vision (Blake and Wordsworth come immediately to mind); but
even more important is the particularly striking proximity of his
struggle to Collins', a proximity which makes Keats's work the most
instructive starting point for a reassessment, as we shall see.
Collins' dilemma and his response to it can tell us much about
critical changes in the invocative tradition--changes with far-reaching
consequences not only for his poetry, but for poets down even to our
own day. The gulf between Milton's devout "Hail holy Light" and
Byron's scoffing "Hail, Muse! et cetera," is much wider than mere
chronology suggests. And as Collins knew only too well, the loss
for poetry would be both great and irreparable.
1For Wordsworth's poem, see The Poetical Works of William
Wordsworth, ed. E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1940-49), I, 41. As its title suggests, the poem
deliberately echoes Collins' own elegy for his friend and fellow poet,
The "pre-romantic" approach per se actually begins with William
Lyon Phelps's The Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement: A
Study in Eighteenth Century Literature (Boston: Ginn and Company,
1893). Believing himself to be the first to undertake such a study,
Phelps sums up what became the standard argument thus: "...that between
the years 1725 and 1765 the Romantic movement was a real, if quiet
force, and that in these forty years may be found the seeds which sprang
to full maturity in Scott and Byron, and in all the subsequent Romantic
literature of the nineteenth century" (p. vii). Also see Henry A.
Beers, A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century
(New York: Holt, 1910). The major teaching anthologies produced
during the next two decades (many of them still in widespread use)
perpetuated the approach, and, as Morse Peckham, "A Survey of Romantic
Period Textbooks," CE, 20 (1958), 49-53, demonstrates, few had altered
it even in much later revisions. In his "Preface" to the third edition
of his Anthology of Romanticism (New York: Ronald Press, 1948; orig.
pub. 1929), one of the most influential texts, Ernest Bernbaum recom-
mended a reading of his selections from the "Pre-Romantic Movement"
after those from the romantic period, "because the pre-romantic ones
will be of greater interest and significance to those readers who are
familiar with the characteristics of the main movement itself" (p. iv).
Nothing could be more certain to preserve the traditional prejudice.
Equally guilty (and equally influential) is Bernbaum's Guide through
the Romantic Movement, 2nd ed. (New York: Ronald, 1949), pp. 6-41.
Only very recently has this trend begun to reverse itself in the anthol-
ogies, as David Perkins' English Romantic Writers (New York: Harcourt,
1967) shows; he omits the "pre-romantic" category altogether.
From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-
Century England (1946; rpt. New York: Harper, 1961), p. vii.
5"Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility," ELH, 23 (1956), p. 144.
For an example of the former, see especially J.W. Mackail,
"Collins and the English Lyric in the Eighteenth Century," in Studies
of English Poets (London: Longmans, 1926), pp. 137-58, originally a
lecture given in 1920. For the idea that these poets weakly preserve
Augustan diction see Thomas Quayle, Poetic Diction: A Study of
Eighteenth-Century Verse (London: Methuen, 1924). And even Oliver
Sigworth, in the most recent full-length study of Collins' work,
William Collins (New York: Twayne, 1965), tends to overemphasize the
poet's Augustan heritage, distorting the poems in the process.
In addition to Bate, still of central importance on the transi-
tion as a whole is M.H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (1953; rpt.
New York: Norton, 1958). Key arguments for reevaluating tne standard
labels are: R.D. Havens, "Discontinuity in Literary Development: The
Case of English Romanticism," SP, 47 (1950), 102-11; Bertrand Bronson,
"Tne Pre-Romantic or Post-Augustan Mode," ELH, 20 (1953), rpt. in
Facets of the Enlightenment (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press,
1968), pp. 159-72; and Frye, "Defining an Age of Sensibility." Havens
and Frye argue forcefully for a reading of mid eighteenth-century poets
in terms of their own era and preoccupations. Neither, unfortunately,
provides very precise suggestions on how to proceed. With too few
exceptions, the general guidelines for a reappraisal which these critics
laid down in the 1950's have simply not been pursued in detail for
specific poets. The following attempts deserve mention: on Smart,
Sophia B. Blaydes, Christopher Smart as a Poet of His Time (The Hague:
Mouton, 1966), and Moira Dearnley, The Poetry of Christopher Smart
(New York: Barnes & Noble, 1969); on Goldsmith, Ricardo Quintana,
Oliver Goldsmith: A Georgian Study (New York: Macmillan, 1967), and
Robert Hopkins, The True Genius of Oliver Goldsmith (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins, 1969)--neither one of whom concentrates on the poetry; on
Thomson, Ralph Cohen, The Unfolding of the Seasons (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins, 1970); and on the Wartons, Joan Pittock, The Ascendency of
Taste: The Achievement of Joseph and Thomas Warton (London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1973).
Only Patricia Meyer Spacks, in what is probably the single most
valuable exception to the general neglect noted above, The Poetry of
Vision (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967), has dealt with Collins
closely. Often perceptive, her discussion is not, however, comprehen-
sive--she deals with four other mid-century poets as well--and it
suffers at times from the excesses of her formalist approach.
On the great respect accorded Collins' work during the later
years of his own century and throughout the nineteenth, see Edward Gay
Ainsworth's unusually balanced Poor Collins: His Life, His Art, and
His Influence (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1937), pp. 256-87.
10William Hazlitt, "On Gay, Swift, Young, Collins, & c.," in
Lectures on the English Poets, ed. William Carew Hazlitt (London:
George Bell & Sons, 1903), p. 154.
11"An Essay on the Genius and Poems of Collins," in The Poetical
Works of William Collins, The Aldine Edition of the British Poets
(London: William Pickering, 1853), p. xlviii. Brydges' essay was
originally published in the Aldine Edition of 1830.
12Ibid., p. xliii.
13Algernon Charles Swinburne, "William Collins," in The English
Poets, ed. T.H. Ward (New York: Macmillan, 1880), III, 279.
Swinburne's tone is perhaps best indicated when he bases his highest
praise on his unaccountable belief chat Collins was the first English
poet after Milton "to reannounce with the passion of a lyric and heroic
rapture the divine right and the godlike duty of tyrannicide" (p. 281).
1The Poems of William Collins, The Athenaeum Press Series
(Boston: Ginn and Company, 1898), p. xxxix.
15See P.L. Carver, The Life of a Poet: A Biography of William
Collins (New York: Horizon Press, 1967), pp. 110 ff.
16Bronson, p. xliv. For an example of how his bias prevents him
from seeing the full significance of this particular point, see his
discussion of the "Oriental Eclogues," p. Iviii.
17"Young, Collins and Lesser Poets of the Age of Johnson," in
The Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. A.W. Ward and A.R.
Waller (London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1913), X, 143. Saintsburv's
strictures cannot help but recall Wordsworth's objections to Gray's
diction in the "Preface" to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads.
1Collins (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1928), p. 105. This is
the first full-length study of Collins' poetry, and despite the author's
protestations to the contrary, it is essentially a fault-finding
analysis. The passage cited is a paraphrase of Joseph Warton'e pre-
face to his own volume of odes, published by Dodsley in 1746. He and
Collins apparently planned to publish their poems together, but the
scheme fell through. See Carver, pp. 72-73, 131-35.
2For a pertinent discussion of the relationship between moral
statement and "description" in Augustan verse, see Ralph Cohen, "The
Augustan Mode in English Poetry," ECS, 1 (1967), especially pp. 9-22.
Cohen's entire analysis is most important.
21Garrod, pp. 109-10.
22See Bate's discussion of the premise of general nature, From
Classic to Romantic, pp. 59-92.
23"Collins and the Creative Imagination: A Study in the
Critical Background of His Odes," in Studies in English by Members of
University College, Toronto, ed. Malcolm W. Wallace (Toronto: Univ.
of Toronto Press, 1931), pp. 59-130. Critics have commonly begun with
this assumption that Collins and Warton must have shared a similar
theory of poetry because of the projected joint publication of their
odes in 1746 (see n. 19 above). It is also typically assumed that
Warton's sentiments in his preface are those of Collins. The assumption
is, I believe, erroneous. The most complete, if also wrongheaded,
treatment of the link is that of Leo Thurman Dacus, "William Collins'
Poetry: Theory and Practice Compared with Joseph Warton's," Diss. East
Texas State 1970. Dacus' approach is thoroughly "pre-romantic."
2Woodhouse, p. 126.
25Ibid., pp. 128-29. See Woodhouse's later qualification of
several of his conclusions in this first essay, "The Poetry of Collins
Reconsidered," in From Sensibility to Romanticism: Essays Presented
to Frederick A. Pottle, ed. Frederick W. Hilles and Harold Bloom (New
York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 93-137. Despite some modifica-
tion of the Warton-Collins link, Woodhouse's insistence on regarding
Collins only as a poet caught in transition between Pope and Wordsworth
distorts the picture. In both essays, Woodhouse repeats the error
committed by so many of Collins' critics in the nineteenth century--
namely, he finds poems like the "Ode to Liberty" wanting because they
fail to meet the preconceived standards he imposes on Collins. See,
for example, pp. 118 ff. of the latter essay. Cf. Ainsworth, pp. 85-
106 and passim. Of the moral stance in Collins, Ainsworth comments at
one point: "Collins's greatest powers lie in fanciful and imaginative
themes, and after the 'Persian Eclogues' there is little moralizing in
his poetry" (p. 86). This view is typical, and incorrect.
2See the particularly important contribution made by Spacks,
The Poetry of Vision.
For an example of both tendencies see Sigworth, Collins. The
biographical instinct would be somewhat forgivable were it not for the
nearly impossible task which Collins' life presents the scholar. The
records are unsatisfactory to say the least.
The following have appeared on the "Ode to Evening" alone in
recent years: Alan D. McKillop, "Collins's 'Ode to Evening'--Background
and Structure," Tennessee Studies in Literature, 5 (1960), 73-83;
Merle E. Brown, "On William Collins' 'Ode to Evening,'" EIC, 11 (1961),
136-53; Henry Pettit, "Collins's 'Ode to Evening' and the Critics,"
SEL, 4 (1964), 361-69; and Martin Kallich, "'Plain in Thy Neatness':
Horace's Pyrrha and Collins' Evening," ELN, 3 (1966), 265-71. The
"Ode on the Poetical Character" is used all too often as the sole
basis for interpretations of Collins' poetics, even by critics who
should know better. See especially Harold Bloom's otherwise very
perceptive discussion in The Visionary Company, rev. and enl. ed.
(Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 7-15.
29SP, 20 (1923), 1-16. John Middleton Murry, "The Poetry of
William Collins," in Countries of the Mind (New York: Dutton, 1922),
recognizes that Collins is preoccupied with his art in his poems, but
the realization leads him to generalize about the man rather than to
analyze particular poems. See pp. 82-86.
30McKillop, pp. 6-7.
31Ibid., p. 14. Cf. Earl R. Wasserman, "Collins' 'Ode on the
Poetical Character,'" ELH, 34 (1967), 92-115. Wasserman links this
remoteness to the remoteness of man from God in a fallen world, a view
which deserves more attention than it has thus far received. For their
extremely valuable contributions to the general subject of poets'
growing lack of confidence, beginning in the late seventeenth century,
in their ability to match the achievements of the past, I am indebted
throughout this study to W.J. Bate's The Burden of the Past and the
English Poet (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1970), and Harold
Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973).
Neither Bate nor Bloom, however, makes more than passing reference to
McKillop, p. 15.
33McKillop also concludes that it "is by denying the presence of
poetry, by despairing of his calling, that Collins often becomes a
romantic poet" (p. 16). This, it seems to me, is a non sequitur,
particularly when it is stated in this manner.
34See Carver's biography.
35Collins' desire to emulate Milton and Spenser has often been
noted. The most comprehensive and helpful treatment of the relation-
ship to date is Ainsworth's in Poor Collins. See especially his
chapter, "Ars Poetica." Ainsworth's remains the best full-length study
of the poet, though it suffers lack of precision and detailed focus.
He vaguely locates Collins' problem in his having set his ideal too
high, whereas I will argue that his ideal is not only too high, it is
a nearly impossible one for a poet of his time. In addition to
Ainsworth, I am indebted to the provocative introductions and notes of
two recent editions of Collins' works which point to his extensive
allusion to and echoing of Spenser and Milton: Selected Poems of
Thomas Gray and William Collins, ed. Arthur Johnston (1967; rpt.
Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1970); and The Poems of
Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Roger Lonsdale
(1969; rpt. New York: Norton, 1972). The pervasiveness of these
echoes is a significant clue to the special importance of these two
poets among Collins' other idols.
36See R.D. Havens, The Influence of Milton on English Poetry
(Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1922), and Jewel Wurtsbaugh, Two
Centuries of Spenserian Scholarship (1609-1805) (Baltimore: Johns
3I am especially indebted to Johnston, Selected Poems, for his
suggestive discussion of what he calls the "forms" of prayer and in-
vocation in Collins. See his "Introduction," pp. 124-26, as well as
the discussion of Collins' abstractions and personifications, pp. 126-
27. Cf. Jean H. Hagstrum, The Sister Arts: The Tradition of Literary
Pictorialism and English Poetry from Dryden to Gray (Chicago: Univ.
of Chicago Press, 1958), pp. 268-69. In addition to a helpful, if
brief, discussion of the basic structure of Collins' odes, Hagstrum
accurately emphasizes that "the mood created is that of religious
devotion. The entire ode is usually presented as a prayer, which
becomes the unifying metaphor of the poem" (p. 269).
38In the most recent treatment of Collins' long recognized
self-consciousness, Martha Collins, "The Self-Conscious Poet: The
Case of William Collins," ELH, 42 (1975), 362-77, provides a perceptive
synthesis of critical commonplaces about the poet's focus on himself
and poetry as his primary subjects. In discussing Collins' obsessions
and their effects in his work, however, she mentions invocation as
only one facet of his poetic stance, whereas I argue that it governs
his entire oevre.
39n Paradise Lost, III, 1; and Don Juan, III, 1 respectively.
THE INVOCATIVE TRADITION: SPENSER AND MILTON
In his wide-ranging study of poetic inspiration, The White
Goddess, Robert Graves has gone so far as to assert that "The function
of poetry is religious invocation of the Muse; its use is the experi-
ence of mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites."
However thoroughly one can agree with such a sweeping declaration, it
is certain that from Homer to at least the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries (and further, I believe, to poets like Blake and Keats),
poets have often placed strong emphasis on their need for or relation-
ship to the Muse. She has been variously the subject of religious
devotion and fervent prayer (Pindar, Dante), the cause for extended
debate (Classical versus Christian), and occasionally the object of
ridicule and harsh attack (Hobbes).2 But whatever her treatment, for
poets she has more frequently than not been at the center of a stance,
both serious and difficult, whereby they have sought to speak as seers
and prophets, moral legislators and consciences, and to embody in their
poetry realms of value and feeling beyond the sight of ordinary men so
that those men, too, might see.
The poet's invocation of a Muse is by its very nature a self-
conscious gesture. As such it reveals more than has been widely
recognized about the poem in which it appears, as well as about the
poet who writes it. Aware of his limitations in undertaking the role
of poet, he seeks aid from a power or powers outside himself. Speaking
of the poet's reaction to the answered invocation and revealing how
such invocation significantly affects a poet's overall tone, C.M. Bowra
argues, "While such a fit is on him, the poet has a sense of inexhaust-
ible abundance and does not question that the visitation will give him
all, and more than all, that he needs for his task." Thus the poet's
belief in a successful invocation of a Muse can give him the confidence
and authority to undertake and complete his poem, no matter how long or
difficult the project might be. This, in addition to Graves' idea,
suggests how seriously a poet may take his invocative stance.
Even at its simplest and apparently most conventional the invoca-
tion focuses attention on the poet, the task he sets for himself in a
given poem, his notion of the abilities he will need to perform that
task, and his idea of the sources of these abilities. Thus even the
briefest of invocations rewards the reader's careful attention. When
Homer, for example, invokes the Muse at the start of the Iliad the
reader learns immediately that the poet requires the speical assistance
of an authority outside himself if he is to act as mediator between his
mortal audience and the immortal powers the Muse represents, as well as
between past and present: "Achilles' Wrath, to Greece the direful
Spring / Of Woes unnumber'd, heav'nly Goddess, sing!"5 The poem to
follow, then, is a joint venture between poet and goddess, and its
completion by the poet depends upon the existence and favor of the
world beyond men the Muse inhabits.
This duality also sets up the interaction between men and gods
that determines the action of the poem itself--the fate of Achilles, or
the war. The poet does not make his poem, nor does any character in
that poem exist, as an isolated individual. Each takes his identity
from being a part of a cosmic order. The poet, especially, if his
invocation is answered, can go on with the poem secure in the Muse's
help, and thus confident in his purpose and his abilities. Thus the
epic is possible for Homer: "Declare, 0 Muse! in what ill-fated Hour /
Sprung the fierce Strife..." (I, 9-10). The poet is only the Muse's
instrument: she will speak through him. Finally, Homer's stance seems
to obviate the sense of struggle that becomes more and more evident in
the Renaissance. He seems in other words, sure of himself and his Muse.
In contrast to Homer's invocative stance is Pindar's attitude
toward the Muse, an attitude that is especially significant because of
the emphasis Collins himself places on it. In the midst of his ninth
Olympian Ode Pindar halts to seek the Muses' aid: "Would I could find
me words as I move onward as a bearer of good gifts in the Muses' car;
would I might be attended by Daring and by all-embracing Power!" The
intensity revealed here in Pindar's repetition of the phrase "Would I,"
as well as the exclamatory tone, coupled with the conditional mode of
"I could" and "I might," lend this invocation, as well as the poem in
which it appears, an atmosphere of intense, emotional seeking and an
undercurrent of uncertainty about whether he can do in the poem what
he wishes so much to do. Pindar seems to exemplify Graves's "mixed
exaltation and horror," especially the fear of inadequacy. There is a
religious fervor that not only grows out of Pindar's notion of the poet
as a prophet-seer, but that also seems to be a part of his strong sense
of the personal burden this calling places upon the poet.
Bowra, in his full-length study of Pindar, argues that in holding
this notion of the poet's role and relationship to the Muses (really
one and the same), Pindar needs to be distinguished from other Greek
poets who invoke a Muse: "Hesiod [and Homer] presumably believed that
his main task was to pass on the actual words which the Muses gave him,
but Pindar knows that his task is more difficult and that he stands in
the same relation to the Muses as that in which a prophet stands to an
oracular god. He must receive their messages and then make them under-
stood by putting them into proper shape."8 Bowra then goes on to state
(again very significantly for an understanding of Collins) that the key
difference between Pindar's idea of the Muse and the poet's calling and
those of his contemporaries is that "Pindar makes it the centre of his
whole outlook on poetry."9
Another important facet of the invocative stance is its service as
a preface to a particularly difficult section of a poem. It is well
illustrated by Virgil, obviously a central model for later poets. In
the sixth book of the Aeneid the poet seeks the aid of the gods of the
underworld before he attempts to render visible sights not customarily
revealed to living human eyes:
Ye Realms, yet unreaveal'd to Human sight,
Ye Gods, who rule the Regions of the Night,
Ye gliding Ghosts, permit me to relate
The mystic Wonders of your silent State.11
Virgil's consciousness that in order to render an invisible, spiritual
domain to mortal sight he must rely on assistance from a source outside
his own talents as a poet, is a crucial tenet of the invocations of
later poets. This function clearly goes beyond Homer's hope, for
example, to be the medium through which the Muse herself retells the
story of Achilles.
Dante, who appropriates Virgil for his guide through the underworld,
blends pagan and Christian notions of invocation and inspiration; he
thereby takes a crucial step closer to Spenser and Milton, and, finally,
to Collins and the mid eighteenth century.2 In this blending, the
stance of Virgil as a poet desiring to portray an invisible world
becomes a part of the increasing burden the Christian poet takes upon
himself as a prophet granted special vision, special powers in order to
embody poetically what he sees.3 For Dante, in the Divine Comedy, all
depends upon his being granted both a special power to see what mortal
man sees on earth only in prophetic visions, and the ability to recall
and write of it in his poem. When the Christian poet seeks to write
about an incorruptible spiritual universe for a fallen, mortal audience,
his invocations and the imperative inspiration from his Muse become more
central, more important than ever to his stance as poet.
The repeated invocations through Dante's poem, as well as his
strong sense of his unworthiness to be granted such special vision,
testify both to his recognition of the difficulty of his task and to
his need for almost constant aid, be it from the Muse, Virgil or, ulti-
mately, Beatrice herself. About to begin the descent to Hell, Dante
invokes the Muses and confesses his lack of confidence to his guide,
0 Muses! 0 High Genius! Be my aid!
0 Memory, recorder of the vision,
here shall your true nobility be displayed!
Thus I began: "Poet, you who must guide me,
before you trust me to that arduous passage, 14
look to me and look through me--can I be worthy?
In his first invocation in the Paradiso Dante spends twenty-four lines
in a prayer for aid that he addresses to Apollo as the father of the
Muses.1 Its length alone suggests its importance to the poet, and the
dual elements of hope of succour and fear of inadequacy pervade it as
they do Dante's other invocations. Here, of course, the special needs
of the poet about to try to describe the farthest reaches of Heaven,
Even within such a brief survey of the invocative stance it is
readily apparent that inherent in the act of invocation, the appeal to
a source of power and inspiration outside the poet, is the poet's fear
that he is inadequate to the task. When, moreover, a poet undertakes
to describe an invisible spiritual world, as Dante does, his sense of
inadequacy is heightened, for the measure of performance is not sight
but vision. Finally, when the poet is a Christian as well, he is
further weighted down by the innate inadequacy of man, the fall from
grace which renders not only his poetry inadequate, but perhaps his
Nonetheless, in Homer, Virgil and Dante--but notably not in Pindar--
there is a strong sense, given the scope of their achievement, that
their invocations were sufficiently answered. Indeed, we seldom hear
them regret the quality of their achieved vision. Their invocations
are, in short, prayers that are answered, and the invocative stance is
revealed as an inherently religious one, which casts an aura of spiritu-
ality or otherworldliness on both the function of the poet and the source
of his poetry. For these poets invocation provides both a means of
establishing the exalted, difficult role they seek to fulfill, and a
ritualized stance from which to write with a measure of confidence and
authority as favorites of the Muse.
A brief look at Chaucer reveals one further mode of the poet's
invocation of his Muse. With his typical irony, Chaucer often uses the
invocation to create a self-deprecating persona who is merely telling
a story, and who is not to be held responsible for parts of the tale
which may displease the reader. He may pose as a man with little
experience who does not really comprehend what is going on in his poem,
or as a man so saddened by the tale that he needs help to go on with
it. On other occasions, however, he would seem to use the invocation
as a means of adopting the same stance we have been tracing. It has
been fairly convincingly argued that Chaucer's lines are seldom com-
pletely free from irony, whether in style or point of view about the
human condition or narrative tone of voice. Chaucer's invocations,
and the ironies which are attached to them offer another illustration
of how the poet's notion of his role, his ability to adopt it, and his
source of inspiration are legitimately discovered within his invocative
Troilus and Criseyde offers perhaps the best evidence of Chaucer's
ironic attitude when he invokes a Muse. He begins Book I with the con-
ventional statement of his subject, "The double sorwe of Troilus,"17
and proceeds to invoke Thesiphone to "help me for t'endite / Thise
woful vers, that wepen as I write" (11. 6-7). Thus the poet makes clear
his sympathy for Troilus. He goes on then with his invocation, and
further emphasizes his sorrow while he also asserts his humble stance
To the clepe I, thow goddesse of torment,
Thow cruwel Furie, sorwynge evere yn peyne,
Help me, that am the sorwful instrument,
That helpeth lovers, as I kan, to pleyne.
Having said this, the poet explains that he is attempting only to serve
the servants of the god of love, for he himself has not been successful
in love and thus knows little about it. The irony, of course, is
evident in the telling of the story itself, where the poet captures
every nuance of the love relationship and proves to be wiser about love
than this humble stance suggests. The pose enables the poet both to be
sympathetic to Troilus' double sorrow, and to remain distant enough
from his story to allow a certain balance of sympathies for and criti-
cism of the characters.
Chaucer maintains this distance from his poem in still another way
that he also sets up primarily via his invocative stance. His invocation
to the second book begins thus:
0 lady myn, that called art Cleo,
Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,
To ryme wel this book til I have do;
Me nedeth here noon other art to use.
Forwhi to every lovere I me excuse,
That of no sentement I this endite,
But out of Latyn in my tonge it write.
Here he excuses himself and emphasizes that his story is based on an
authority beyond the individual poet in the same breath. One is
reminded perhaps of Homer's invocative stance as a poet who asks merely
to be allowed to retell a story given to him by his Muse: both poets
use their invocations to place themselves in a tradition, and to remove
themselves from immediate involvement in the action. Chaucer continues
throughout much of the poem to use his invocations thus: they serve as
keys to his notion of his role, to his attitude toward his capacity for
that role, to his response to his subject and characters, and for
shifts in overall tone such as that opening the fourth book to the
sorrow of Troilus' loss of Criseyde.
Finally, to close his poem Chaucer assumes once more the invocative
stance, and this time it parallels Troilus' final vantage point as he
rises toward heaven. The poet prays now not to the classical Muses,
but to Christ,
Us from visible and invisible foon
Defende, and to thy mercy, everichon,
So make us, Jesus, for thi mercy digne,
For love of made and moder thyn benigne.
(V, 11. 1866-69)
Not only is his stance here appropriately parallel to Troilus' final
rejection of earthly love, but it also resolves the poet's previously
ironic tone as one not experienced in love by its focus on a love that
is not subject to the accidents, confusions and tragic finalities of
that earthbound love the poec speaks of in his earlier invocations.8
Such a resolution seems ultimately to be the poet's goal. Again, as in
Dante9 and, as I shall try to show, in Spenser and Milton, the poet
stands as a mediator between two systems of value and two worlds--the
spiritual and the material, the ideal and the real. He stands, too,
secure in his belief in the source and authority of his inspiration in
a tradition and a power that transcends individual poets and, indeed,
the material universe itself. That such mediation is the role these
poets set for themselves in their various ways is made clear in their
invocative stances, which illuminate as well their notions of their
ability to achieve that role, and of the inspiration they must be
granted before success is possible. Let us turn now to the invocative
tradition in the sixteenth century, particularly in Spenser.
Between Chaucer and Spenser the idea of a Christian Muse continued
to present itself to poets seeking to write poems on Christian themes.20
The Renaissance blending of pagan and Christian materials encouraged
the writers of epics to infuse the invocative stances of Homer and
Virgil with their own sense of prayer to the spirit of God. Tasso, in
the opening lines of Jerusalem Delivered, seeks to place his poem in
the tradition of the Classical epics, yet also to distinguish it from
them. He states his theme in the Classical manner, but then carefully
characterizes his Muse as a Christian, not a pagan one:
0 heavenly muse, that not with fading bays
Deckest thy brow by th' Heliconian spring,
But sittest, crown'd with stars' immortal rays,
In heaven, where legions of bright angels sing,
Inspire life in my wit, my thoughts upraise....
Such a distinction, is, of course, central to the overall conflict at
the heart of his poem between virtuous Christian warriors and evil pagan
ones, but it also exemplifies the defensive, apologetic situation in
which the poet in this tradition increasingly finds himself. He seems
to wish to build on the Classical foundation, yet to surpass it as
well; he must defend the use of the pagan frame in a poem for his
Christian audience about the higher truth of a Christian crusade.22
Just how apologetic and defensive Tasso feels becomes clear when
he continues his invocation: "My verse ennoble, and forgive the thing, /
If fictions light I mix with truth divine..." (11. 14-15). He follows
this with two further stanzas of explanation of his use of such Lictions,
and uses the commonplace argument that fallen men need such to move
their dull minds and feelings toward virtue. The dilemma that Tasso's
apology for employing poetic fictions so clearly demonstrates has had a
profound effect on poetry since his time. How can the poet embody
divine or moral truth in his verse when what he writes is by its very
nature a "fiction"? And, if what he writes is without truth, what is
the purpose of poetry at all? Tasso's defensive answer shows that he
was troubled believing what earlier poets had confidently done, in the
efficacy of divine inspiration.
The problem of defending poetry and poets engulfed England as well.
As Russell Fraser has recently shown,2 using Sidney as a central
example of the dilemma, the defense of poetry against narrow rationalist
or Puritan attacks places more and more weight on the poet's role: he
is a prophet, his truth transcends both philosophy and history, and so
on. Sidney also emphasizes the divine association traditionally applied
to the poet, and cites even Plato who, in Ion, "giveth high and rightly
divine commendation to poetry."24 Tracing the attack on poetry not
only to standard utilitarian (and Protestant) arguments but also to
the rise of empiricism and rationalism and to their emphasis on the
powers of the unaided individual mind, and seeing the defense increasing
the individual poet's responsibility, Fraser concludes that the
"reliance on the inner light, typified in Descarte's rejection of all
outer authority, begets a contempt for history and a belief in the
capacity of the individual man to stand as an individual.25 Thus, at
the very time when the possibility of divine inspiration (and divinity
itself) came under heavier attack from empirical and rationalistic
sources, the poet felt more driven to seek some "higher truth" to
justify himself and his poetry. As human self-sufficiency emerged as
a viable philosophical alternative to human dependence upon a higher
order, poetry paradoxically found it increasingly impossible to explain
itself on its own terms; poetry now more than before had to seek its
justification from the threatened supernatural. Though the seeds of
this paradox are clearly present in Spenser's time (and even before),
Spenser and Milton both manage to express and carry out--though not
without some struggle--the poet's transcendent role as a divinely
inspired mediator between the spiritual and the material, the ideal
and the imperfect. The dilemma, I would suggest, does not become a
crippling or obsessive one until the mid eighteenth century.2
Spenser himself is fully aware of the problem of assuming this
poetic role in his time. One need only glance through "The Teares of
the Muses" to see his concern and even anger about attacks on and
general neglect of poets. There, too, he makes his notion of the
sources of inspiration above and beyond man, and of the sacred calling
of the poet who depends on them, integral parts of the complaint.27
The device of asking the Muses to speak, "Rehearse to me, ye sacred
Sisters nine,"2 and then of withdrawing while they do so in their own
voices emphasizes the gap between the immortal ideal of the goddesses
and their neglect by mortals. Clio begins the lament with just this
assertion; she asks Jove, the "Father of the Gods" (1. 55), to "Behold
the fowle reproach and open shame, / The which is day by day unto us
wrought" (11. 61-62). And Urania, speaking of the human condition and
the present low state of poetry in Christian terms--of "fleshes frailtie
and deceipt of sin" (1. 492)--asks, "What difference twixt man and
beast is left, / When th' heavenlie light of knowledge is put out, /
And th' ornaments of wisdom are bereft?" (11. 487-89). The poem then
ends in pessimism; the Muses, having completed their lamentation, "all
their learned instruments did break" (1. 599).29
Yet Spenser, as we shall see, aspired throughout his career to
become one of those few who, in Polyhymnia's words, "this sacred skill
esteme" (1. 583) to be "lifted up above the worldes gaze" (1. 587).
His pervading poetic stance, in both his invocations and the resulting
poems, places him between the transcendent ideal and earthbound mortal,
between an invisible spiritual world and the one men daily inhabit.
The poet's role is close to that of the prophet; it is to make the
invisible visible, and by doing so to draw his audience emotionally
and intellectually from the lower to the higher plane. Since the poet
is mortal, he requires aid from above: this, with Spenser's awareness
of the attacks being made or poets generally, creates the tension be-
tween humility and confidence that lies at the heart of his invocative
stance, as well as at the center of the poems themselves.30 The role
Spenser seeks to adopt is perhaps best summarized by Michael Murrin
when, discussing the allegorical tradition of the poet as priest,
prophet and mediator inherited by the Renaissance from both the Clas-
sical and biblical past, he says the poet's "allegorical myths were
necessary to the very life of society, mirroring it in a magical
fashion which at the same time revealed value--the invisible standards
by which man lives in the visible cosmos,-once he realizes his own
Spenser's ideal for the poet, his portrayal of the poet's attempt
to reach this ideal, and the recurring despair of success, appears as
early as The Shepheardes Calender. In the "Argument" to the "October
Aeglogue" we are told,
In Cuddle is set out the perfect paterne
of a Poete, which, finding no maintenance
of his state and studies, complayneth of the
comtempte of Poetrie, and the causes thereof:
Specially having bene in all ages, and even
amongst the most barbarous always of singular
account and honor, and being indede so worthy
and commendable an arte: or rather no arte,
but a divine gift and heavenly instinct, not
to bee gotten by laboure and learning, but
adorned with both: and poured into the witte
by...celestiall inspiration.... (VIT, 95)
The poem portrays the central Spenserian conflict between the ideal of
the divinely inspired poet, and the anger and despair of both Piers
and Cuddie because poets are not honored. The conflict is finally
resolved in the Epilogue of the calendar, however, and the poem ends
on a hopeful note; despite neglect Spenser assumes his role with con-
fidence and determination:
Loe I have made a Calender for every year,
That steele in strength, and time in durance, shall outweare:
And if I marked well the starres revolution,
It shall continewe till the worlds dissolution,
To teach the ruder shepherd how to feede his sheepe,
And from the falsers fraud his folded flocke to keepe.
His aspiration to adopt successfully the role of the poet as
inspired teacher appears again in the letter to Raleigh in which Spenser
explains his purpose in The Faerie Queene: "The general end therefore
of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous
and gentle discipline.. ." (I, 167). He goes on in the letter to place his poem
in the tradition of the epic from Homer through Virgil, then on to the
romantic epics of Ariosto and Tasso, and accentuates his admiration of
them as poets: "By ensample of which excellent Poets, I labour to
pourtraict in Arthure, before he was king, the image of a brave knight,
perfected in the twelve private moiall vertues...." Already Spenser
sets forth his concept of his role as one who portrays a concrete
embodiment for his audience of abstract (and thus, in their pure form,
That this role as he conceives it necessitates successful media-
tion between the invisible and the visible via the aid of a Muse is
immediately apparent as he begins Book I. Here again he cites the
example of Virgil, this time focusing on his invocative example:32
Lo! I the man, whose Muse whilome did make,
As time her taught, in lowly Shephards weeds,
Am now enforst a far unfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to change mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses having slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad emongst her learned throng....
(Proem, 11. 1-8)
The humble stance that this high task enforces--a humility inherent
in the act of invocation itself and in the role of the poet who assumes
such a stance--receives continued emphasis as the poet begins his
Helpe then, O holy Virgin, chief of nyne,
Thy weaker Novice to perform thy will,
Lay forth out of thine everlasting scryne
The antique rolles, which there lye bidden still,
Of Faerie knights, and fayrest Tanaquill,
Whom that most noble Briton Prince so long
Sought through the world, and suffered so much ill,
That I must rue his undeserved wrong:
O helpe thou my weake wit, and sharpen my dull tong.
(Proem, 11. 10-18)33
The poet stands, then, a "weake" mortal before the "everlasting," and
because this is Spenser's concept of the poet's stance, aid from a
transcendent power is for him imperative.
In this the poet's status parallels the condition of man himself
as Spenser portrays it consistently through the poem. Arthure's
entrance at crucial moments to save faltering heroes like Redcrosse
and Guyon suggests man's need for external aid, as do intrusive remarks
by the poet about the general human condition like that with which he
credits God's grace through Arthure's saving of Redcrosse:
Ne let the man ascribe it to his skill,
That thorough grace hath gained victory.
If any strength we have, it is to ill,
But all the good is Gods, both power and eke will.
(I. x. 1)
Thus the poem's invocations embody Spenser's view of man and poet,
illuminating the position of both in relation to God. Spenser, in
The Faerie Queene as a whole, conflates the general human condition,
the status of the hero and the stance of the poet: all strive for an
ideal which their mortal natures prevent them from attaining perma-
nently or completely. We see this pattern notably in the poet's
statements of the general state of man, in the working out of the
actions of the various books so that the struggle to attain ideal
virtue never ends,34 and in the poet's invocations to his Muse.
The poet invokes his Muse repeatedly during the course of the
poem, and thus repeatedly calls attention to his stance. In noting
this, it is important, moreover, to recall Homer's request that the
Muse speak, then his apparent withdrawal while she herself utters the
poem. Spenser, on the other hand, seems all the more conscious of his
need for aid by the continual repetition of his prayer. He compares
his abilities to those of previous poets, and in doing so further
emphasizes his humility before his task: "How then shall I, Apprentice
of the skill / That whylome in divinest wits did raine, / Presume so
high to stretch mine humble quill?" (Proem, III. 3). Conscious of his
long and difficult task, the poet begins Book VI with a reference to
his "weary steps" (Proem, 1). He then notes that he nonetheless gains
strength from "this delightful land of Faery" (Proem, 1), in the next
stanzas reiterates his invocative stance, and combines his notion of
man and poet in an explanation of the ultimate source of his strength:
Such secret comfort and such heavenly pleasures,
Ye sacred imps, that on Parnasso dwell,
And there the keeping have of learning treasures,
Which doe all worldly riches farre excell,
Into the mindes of mortall men doe well,
And goodly fury into them infuse;
Guyde ye my footing, and conduct me well
In these strange waies, where never foote did use,
Ne none can find, but who was taught them by the Muse.
Revele to me the sacred nursery
Of vertue.... (Proem, 2-3)
Each time the poet thus invokes the Muse, and each time he refers
to his "weary steps," Spenser reminds his reader of the high calling of
the poet, of his humility before that calling, and of his determination
to carry on the task. The poet creates a balance between his humility
and his confidence through such reminders--a balance he reinforces by
attempting the difficult task for which he has begged the Muse's aid.
This sense of weakness balanced by determination and confidence is
imbedded in the poem proper. The poet expresses his fear, for example,
of attempting to describe the glories of the feast on Florimell's
wedding day, yet goes on, "But for so much as to my lot here lights, /
That with this present treatise doth agree, / True vertue to advance,
shall here recounted bee" (V, III, 3). Then he proceeds to describe
The pervasiveness of Spenser's invocative stance, with its placing
of the poet both in the imperfect world of man, and as a mediator
between the fallen and the perfect, is clear when it appears again as
a central aspect of the "Mutabilitie Cantos." Again the theme is the
real (here mutable) in conflict with the ideal (eternal). As the poet
prepares to write of the argument between the Titanesse and Jove before
Nature's court, he once more addresses his Muse because he hopes to
write of matters beyond the vision of men,
Ah! whither doost thou now thou greater Muse
Me from these woods and pleasing forests bring?
And my fragile spirit (that dooth oft refuse
This too high flight, unfit for her weake wing)
Lift up aloft, to tell of heavens King...?
and he continues in the next stanza to accept the task and ask for
Yet sith I needs must follow thy behest,
Doe thou my weaker wit with skill inspire,
Fit for this turne; and in my feeble brest
Kindle fresh sparks of that immortall fire,
Which learned minds inflameth with disire
Of heavenly things....
Important, too, in this invocation, is the poet's emphasis on his
feeling of responsibility--he must accept the Muse's call to follow
her, as well as pray for her assistance in the act of following. Having
completed his invocation, the poet plunges immediately, and with seeming
assurance, into the poem again: "Now, at the time that was before
agreed, / The Gods assembled all on Arlo hill..." (VII, 3). Although
his concept of the divinely inspired poet makes him feel his mortal
frailty all the more intensely, he presses on. Spenser's pervading
stance as poet is a humble one precisely because he seeks the ideal
world; yet his humility is balanced by a confidence that enables him
to write beyond his invocation, because he believes in the efficacy of
All that I have thus far argued about the centrality of Spenser's
invocative stance in his works can perhaps best be summarized by a
brief look at his Fowre Hymnes. Here the essence of the poet's
aspirations and of his ideal poet may be seen. For although the
abstract virtues Spenser embodies in The Faerie Queene are clearly of
a different, often lesser order than the heavenly Love and Beauty he
seeks ultimately to portray through these hymns (the latter are reali-
ties beyond fallen, mortal ken), his underlying concept of the poet's
role and the inspiration necessary for carrying it out remains
consistent with that in his other works. He invokes the aid of a Muse
at the start of each hymn,35 moving from his opening, earthly focus to
the closing heavenly one in the invocations as well as in the main
bodies of the hymns. From the earthly footing of the first two hymns,
the poet asks, as he begins "An Hymn of Heavenly Love," that Love
lift me up upon thy golden wings,
From this base world unto thy heavens hight.
Where I may see those admirable things,
Which there thou workest by thy soveraine might,
Farre above feeble reach of earthly sight,
That I thereof an heavenly Hymne may sing
Unto the god of Love, high heavens king.
The pivotal conflict we have seen so often is again present, as the poet
seeks aid in leaving behind his native, "base world," that he may see,
in order to write of, "those admirable things." Further affirming his
need for assistance, and his concept of the ideal poet as a man who,
having been granted a special vision, can then tell other men of what
he has seen, he soon halts his hymn to ask again for help:
Yet, 0 most blessed Spirit, pure lampe of light,
Eternall spring of grace and wisedome trew,
Vouchsafe to shed into my barren spright
Some little drop of thy celestiall dew,
That may my rymes with sweet infuse embrew,
And give me words equally unto my thought,
To tell the marveiles by thy mercie wrought.
Again, there is the conflation of man, the poet and the necessary grace
of God for both if they are to rise to the ideal and eternal.
Then, in his invocation for "An Hymne of Heavenly Beautie," the
poet provides what I would argue is the most emphatic and clearest
expression in the canon both of the invocative stance of mixed humility
and confidence he adopts throughout his works, and of the notion of the
poet's function which is inherent in that stance. He begins the hymn
in rapture over the sights he has already been enabled to view, ex-
presses his desire to go on to "tell the things that I behold" (1. 6),
but then is harshly reminded of his own mortality, and says, "[I] But
feele my wits to faile, and tongue to fold" (1.7). It is at this
point that he turns, in all humility, to his ultimate Muse:
Vouchsafe, then, O thou most almightie Spright,
From whom all guifts of wit and knowledge flow,
To shed into my breast some sparkling light
Of thine eternall Truth, that I may show
Some little beames to mortall eyes below,
Of that immortall beautie, there with thee,
Which in my weake distraughted mynd I see.
Here is the ideal, divinely inspired poet of the "October Aeglogue,"
the poet of the letter to Raleigh who aspires above all to show the
invisible, eternal truths to mortal men and thus to teach them virtue,
and the poet humbled by his ideal and his task; yet here also is the
poet who goes on immediately after he has completed his invocation to
Beginning then below, with th' easie vew
Of this base world, subject to fleshly eye,
From thence to mount aloft by order dew
To contemplation of th' immortall sky,
Of the soare faulcon so I learned to fly....
This is the continuing quest of the poet, as it is of Redcrosse, Guyon,
and Artegall, and finally of man in general, as Spenser portrays it in
Over and over, Spenser returns to his invocative stance as he
creates his poems. Repeatedly, he returns to the pattern of humility,
then of confident forging ahead with the poem. Clearly the poet
believes that his invocation is an essential act if he is to aspire
at all successfully toward his ideal. To be sure, not all poets who
invoke the Muse, however seriously, are rewarded with great poetry--not
even those who might deceive themselves into believing their prayers
are answered. To suggest such a thing would amount to a critical
absurdity. My point, however, is that Spenser's invocative stance as
a seeker after divinely inspired mediation between the material and
transcendent; and his belief in the possibility of such inspiration
and the efficacy of invoking it, shapes the form and meaning of his
poetry and is an integral part of it. Had Spenser not believed in the
existence of the ideal world, and had he not believed that he had been
graced, through his prayers, with the capacity to see and convey that
world, his poetry would be radically different from what it is. To
read Spenser's invocations in any other way drives a wedge between
belief and art which I find not only unpersuasive but untenable.
Edwin Greenlaw long ago argued persuasively for the kinship of
Milton to Spenser. In his first article on the subject, "A Better
Teacher than Aquinas,"36 Greenlaw traces the influence of Spenser on
Milton's philosophy, and then seeks to show, by a close analysis of
specific structures and incidents in Book II of The Faerie Queene and
Paradise Lost, how detailed were Milton's borrowings. He argues, for
example, that Adam learns of temperance and self-control by the same
pattern of testing, temptation, fall and restoration as do Guyon and
Redcrosse. But Greenlaw sees the relationship between the two poets
as even more pervasive, reaching to the heart of their concepts of the
function of poets and poetry: "...this material [structure and theme
in Book II and Paradise Lost] is presented in a way highly original
with Spenser, not merely because the Legend of Guyon is an admirable
example of philosophy made concrete through story, which expresses
Spenser's and Milton's fundamental conception of the province of poetry,
but also because the method of Spenser's allegory is unique in a sense
better understood by Milton than by some of Spenser's modern inter-
In a later article on the Spenser-Milton relationship Greenlaw
hopes "to contribute to literary history further illustration of an
extraordinary relationship between two minds of the first class, a
relationship almost without parallel...."38 In this essay, he sees
Milton's debt to Spenser as extending from the "fundamental thesis of
the justification of the ways of God to man" (p. 320), the idea cf the
poet's ethical role and the basic idea of the universe, to Spenser's
notion of the "riddle of human life--man's relation to the scheme of
things" (p. 354), and his "sense that this theme is too lofty for mortal
flight unaided" (p. 355). With this overall kinship between the two
poets in mind, I would like to look more closely at Milton's idea of the
poet and his invocative stance, especailly in Paradise Lost. I hope
such an analysis will serve to show that the invocative stances of the
two poets are virtually identical in detail, and, subsequently, why
Spenser and Milton, more than any others, are so centrally linked in
Collins' poetic theory and practice.3
Of course, paying heed to the compelling parallels between the
invocative stances of Spenser and Milton should not blur equally
important distinctions between the realms the two poets seek to depict
through those stances. Just as one needs to recognize the difference
between the realms portrayed by Spenser in The Faerie Queene and Fowre
Hymnes, so it is important to keep in mind that the invisible realm
Milton portrays in Paradise Lost differs from the sphere pictured in
The Faerie Queene. In Paradise Lost Milton envisions a reality that
once and always exists, though it is invisible since the fall, and parts
of which were invisible to man even before the fall; this is obviously
a different imagining from the abstract virtues Spenser seeks to depict
in The Faerie Queene. If anything it requires an inspired vision even
more difficult to attain than Spenser's. Nevertheless, when this con-
trast has been granted, the essential stances of the two poets as they
seek the Muse's aid remain so closely parallel to one another, as we
shall see, that it is not difficult to understand how they became the
all but inseparable idols of Collins' own search for an inspired vision.
One of Milton's clearest explanations of his idea of the poet and
the nature of poetic inspiration can be found in The Reason of Church
Government. There he draws together many of the facets of the tradi-
tion I have been discussing, from the overall notion of the poet as
inspired by God, to the association of Pindar's "magnific odes and
hymns" with the tradition,40 from the conflict between the Christian
Muse and the Classical nine (or the Psalms and Pindar's hymns), to the
idea that the central purpose of poetry is to teach man virtue and
truth by making them visible in precept and example. Because Milton's
summary of this theory is, as Merritt Hughes notes, a "classic statement
of the Renaissance faith in virtue and learning as the foundation of the
poetic character" (p. 670, n. 174), and because it stands at the heart
of Milton's idea of the inspired poet, I quote it in full. The poet's
"abilities," he explains,
wheresoever they be found, are the inspired gift of
God rarely bestowed, but yet to some (though most
abuse) in every nation; and are of power beside the
office of a pulpit, to inbreed and cherish in a
great people the seeds of virtue and public civility,
to allay the perturbations of the mind and set the
affections in right tune, to celebrate in glorious
and lofty hymns the throne and equipage of God's
almightiness, and what he works and what he suffers
to be wrought with high providence in his church,
to sing the victorious agonies of martyrs and saints,
the deeds and triumphs of just and pious nations
doing valiantly through faith against the enemies
of Christ, to deplore the general relapses of king-
doms and states from justice and God's true worship.
Lastly, whatsoever in religion is holy and sublime,
in virtue amiable or grave, whatsoever hath passion
or admiration in all the changes of that which is
called fortune from without,or the wily subtleties
and refluxes of man's thoughts from within, all
these things with a solid and treatable smoothness
to paint out and describe. (pp. 669-70, my emphasis)
It is an ambitious program for poetry that Milton thus sets out, as was
that of Sidney whose theory this so much resembles, and even more that
of Spenser, whose poetic theory and practice Milton emulates.
Milton's own recognition of the difficulty of adopting such a role
for the poet is clear when, a few lines later, he reiterates the need
for divine inspiration. The poem written in this manner, he tells us,
pointing as he does so often to his need for aid beyond what was
available to Classical poets, is not "to be obtained by the invocation
of Dame Memory and her Siren daughters, but by devout prayer to that
eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and
sends out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch
and purify the lips of whom he pleases" (p. 671). Within these same
pages, as he offers with such certainty his concept of poet and poem,
he also self-consciously explains his own promise to fulfill that role,
and his worry too that the reader will criticize him for not so far
producing anything of real worth. The basic conflict so often felt by
the poet who wishes to place himself in this invocative tradition is
thus again illustrated: Milton remains confident, yet recognizes with
deep humility what his chosen role requires.
When Milton finally adopts the role of the divinely inspired epic
poet in Paradise Lost and thus fulfills the promise he makes in Reason
cf Church Government, he places significant emphasis on his invocative
stance, beginning books I, III, VII and IX with extended invocations in
which he elaborates his notions of the poet, his inspiration and his
poem. These invocations are not only important for an understanding
of Paradise Lost, but for a full understanding of Milton's relation-
ship to Spenser and to later poets who, like Wordsworth, emphasize parts
of them, or like Collins, focus on the total stance they embody.41 An
analysis of these invocations in terms of the tradition we have been
tracing will therefore conclude the present chapter, and prepare the
way for a close analysis of Collins' own invocative stance.
Milton expresses the entire theory of his role and his ability to
assume it, as well as his notion of the theme and purpose of the poem
he hopes to write, in his opening invocation in Paradise Lost. We
learn there of the total poem in microcosm, along with the poet's total
sense of his function in the poem and the world. Milton initially
echoes the Classical invocations, then links these verbal echoes with
reference to Mosaic inspiration "on the secret top / Of Oreb, or of
Sinai," where the "Heav'nly Muse...didst inspire / That Shepherd, who
first taught the chosen Seed..." (I, 6-8). James Holly Hanford has
pointed out how important it seems to Milton to place himself in the
long line of inspired poets: "A recurrent motive in Milton's reflec-
tion rises from his sense of kinship with the great poets of the past....
Underlying this is the sense of sharing their genius and inspiration,
of being one with them in a long succession of poetic greatness."
Also important in his reference to Moses is his focus on Moses'
teaching role--a role Milton makes central to the remainder of his own
request for inspiration.
The poet continues his invocation by emphasizing his sense of the
difficulty of writing such a poem, "I thence / Invoke thy aid to my
advent'rous Song" (11. 12-13), a song in which he "pursues / Things
unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme" (11. 15-6). Addressing, then, the
Holy Spirit that "from the first / Wast present" (11. 19-20) with God
at the creation, Milton appeals for instruction, returning to his
teaching theme: "And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer / Before
all Temples th' upright heart and pure, / Instruct me, for Thou know'st"
(11. 17-19). This Spirit he associates with the creative impulse
whereby God infused life into the world,
Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant...
and in the invocative context hopes that a parallel creative impulse
will quicken his poetic re-creation, that the Spirit might answer his
prayer. He follows this parallel with the final announcement of his
purpose in the poem, in which he unites his sense of his own weakness
and need for aid from Heaven, and his notion of the poet as teacher as
What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support,
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
As he begins the poem proper, having thus completed the actual invoca-
tion, he once again speaks to the Muse, implying his own weakness and
further emphasizing sight: "Say first, for Heaven hides nothing from
thy view...what cause / Mov'd our Grand Parents" (11. 27-9).
Milton's plea for inspiration is thus a call for the Muse, who
sees what mortals cannot, first to teach the poet by showing him what
is invisible to men, so that he may then, again with the aid of divine
inspiration, make hidden causes visible to mankind and become a teacher
himself. This Milton combines with a pervasive and humble sense of his
own inability to perform so great a task unaided. Yet, in his tone
("Say first") there is also a confidence that his invocation has been
and will continue to be answered--a tone that is similar to Homer's
when he, too, exhorts his Muse to speak. Milton's invocative stance,
like Spenser's, is a balance between humility and confidence, between
earnest prayer and faith rewarded.
With the beginning of Book III the poet comes to one of his most
difficult tasks, and his invocation to Light in that book reveals his
struggle. Here he hopes to portray Heaven, and God himself. As we
examine Milton's prayer for the ability to accomplish this task, it is
especially important to keep in mind Spenser's invocation before his
almost identical effort in "An Hymn of Heavenly Beautie." First, this
is the longest invocation in the poem, which in itself suggests its
importance for the poet. Running through the prayer are numerous
references which show his recognition of how high he presumes. "May
I express thee unblam'd?" (1. 3), he asks, and notes that "God is
light, / And never but in unapproached Light / Dwelt from Eternity..."
(11. 3-5). He soon repeats the tone when he wonders whether he has
addressed his Muse correctly: "Or hear'st thou rather pure Ethereal
stream, / Whose Fountain who shall tell?" (11. 7-8).
The poet then alters his tone to one which, while still as humble
and conscious of his high presumption, demonstrates also his belief in
the possibility of success. Referring to the Muse he has already
successfully invoked for Books I and II, he asserts, "Thee I revisit
now with bolder wing" (1. 13), and recalls how he has
sung of Chaos and Eternal Night,
Taught by the heav'nly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to reascend,
Though hard and rare: Thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy sovran vital Lamp....
Immediately after, however, he plunges back into self-doubt, recalling
his own physical blindness (apt emblem of his view of man and poet),
when he invokes light itself as the essence of Heaven, God and the
Holy Spirit: "...but thou / Revisit'st not these eyes, that roll in
vain / To find thy piercing ray" (11. 22-4). For the next thirty or
so lines the poet moves with a series of qualifying conjunctions and
phrases ("But," "Yet," "Nor," "but not," "But...instead," "rather")
back and forth between self-doubt and confident prayer in what amounts
to a struggle not only with himself but with his Muse as well.
The pattern he thus sets up finally comes to rest with a hopeful
prayer; moreover, each moment of doubt before this conclusion has had
its answer. After his first reference to his blindness he continues,
"Yet not the more / Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt" (11. 26-7),
then proceeds to place himself once more in a tradition of past seers--
this time one of men physically blind who nonetheless were prophets
with spiritual sight. Thus he gains further strength for his own task
by standing among others who have succeeded, like "Tiresias and
Phineus Prophets old" (1. 36). After the next fourteen lines, in which
his self-doubt is expressed in terms of being cut off now from the
works of nature and "human face divine" (1. 44), and having had "wisdom
at one entrance quite shut out" (1. 50), the poet reaches the conclusion
of the invocation with a final qualification that becomes the consola-
tion and strength of the poet in a fallen world, and of Adam and Eve
themselves at the close of Book XII:
So much the rather thou Celestial Light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
This climax for Milton's longest and perhaps most anguished invocation
is especially significant for several reasons. First, it shows the
poet's ability, despite his awareness of the extreme difficulty of his
task and his own personal weakness as a blind poet, to remain confident
enough because of his clear belief in the efficacy of his invocations
to pursue the task. Second, he stresses again the role of the poet he
seeks to adopt: granted special vision, the poet shows what he sees
to the rest of mankind through his poetry. Finally, Milton's invoca-
tive stance is here virtually identical to Spenser's, especially, to
the latter's stance before his Muse in "An Hymn of Heavenly Beautie."
Both the humility and the confidence are there, as is the focus on
the poet as a mediator, with aid from his Muse, between the fallen
world of man and the invisible realms of good and evil in Heaven, Hell
and the world.
In his invocation to Urania in Book VII, the poet feels a
certain relief in returning "to my Native Element" (1. 16) after
describing the war in Heaven (by virtue of his Muse's constant aid).
He is still conscious here, though, of the dangers of his task--
"Half yet remains unsung" (1. 21)--and feels truly safe only when he
establishes his dependence on his Muse. In this invocation, too,
Milton stresses his own isolation both in his blindness, and as a poet
writing in times not conducive to such a poem:
More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang'd
To hoarse or mute, though fall'n on evil days,
On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues;
In darkness, and with dangers compast round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while thou
Visit'st my slumbers Nightly....
In these lines Milton expresses the anguish of the isolated poet in a
society where poets and poetry of the ideal are threatened; that
Milton obviously has reference to his own specific political misfortune
ought not distract us from the general implications of his position.
Like Spenser's complaint in "Teares of the Muses," there is the sense
of the poet as God's special envoy to a fallen world, the same awareness
of the difficulty of writing a poetry of inspiration to a public no
longer listening to God's word. The long tradition of unheeded
prophets, both biblical and Classical, is part of the invocative stance
of both poets.
Milton resolves the struggle, however, as he does in his invoca-
tion to Book III, with confidence in his Muse, and prays, "still govern
thou my Song, / Urania, and fit audience find, though few" (11. 30-1).
And in the final section of the invocation the poet reaffirms this
determination by asking the Muse to "drive far off the barbarous
dissonance / Of Bacchus and his Revellers" (11. 32-3) that destroyed
Orpheus, while at the same time asking her to be stronger than the
Classical Muse. It is a forceful, though also a humble, appeal: "So
fail not thou, who thee implores: / For thou art Heavn'ly, shee an
empty dream" (11. 38-9). Then once more he continues with strength,
"Say Goddess, what ensu'd" (1. 40), only because of the divine inspira-
tion granted by the Muse.
Milton's primary focus in the final invocation of the poem, at
the start of Book IX, is on his desire to transcend all previous epics.
In it he argues that his task in Paradise Lost is "Not less but more
Heroic" (1. 14) than Classical or other Renaissance epics. Yet even
as he makes this argument his personal struggle for the strength,
ability and confidence to complete his poem as it should be completed
continues in the forefront; as always for him, everything depends upon
whether his Muse answers his prayers. His hope for her aid, his deep
humility, plus a note of doubt are evident when he ends his argument
for his more heroic poem thus: he can accomplish his task only
If answerable style I can obtain
Of my Celestial Patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplor'd,
And dictates to me slumb'ring, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated Verse....
Here we see his doubt in the conditional phrasing, his humility in
diction like "deigns," and his belief, three-fourths of the way through
his poem, that his prayers have thus far been answered.
After a review of the "long choosing, and beginning late" (1. 26)
of his subject and his poem, Milton again reveals his determination to
supersede earlier epic subjects, but his anguish and uncertainty
remain. He worries still that if left to his own abilities alone, he
may never succeed:
Remains, sufficient of itself to raise
That name [Heroic], unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or Years damp my intended wing
Deprest; and much they may, if all be mine,
Not Hers who brings it nightly to my Ear.
The misgivings of the earlier invocations haunt him yet: perhaps in
this era it is no longer possible to write such a poem; perhaps his
age and condition disable him to fulfill his work. And he now even
worries that the climate is not conducive to his imagination. Finally,
he insists that he will certainly fail without his Muse's inspiration--
the blame will be on him alone, if he turns out to be unworthy of Her
help. Nevertheless, having thus recorded his anguish for the fourth
time, and having sought above all the necessary divine aid, the poet
continues and completes Books IX through XII.
Taken as a whole, Milton's invocative stance in Paradise Lost is
a sustained balance between humility and confidence, anguish and
determination. Overriding all is the necessity for divine inspira-
tion--without this, he is certain, no poem of this kind may be written
successfully. The notion of the poet's function that emerges from such
a theory is that he prays for a special vision so that he may then
teach men by making visible to them what he has seen with the Muse's
aid. The vision is a special one because this poet asks to see what
is usually invisible to mortal men. The poem itself then becomes the
concrete, visible embodiment of the invisible realm the poet has been
enabled to see.
How close Spenser is to this stance and the idea of poet and poem
it reveals should now be clear. Complaining from the beginning of the
neglect of poets in his time, yet turning to his Muse in as ambitious
and grand a design as Milton's, Spenser, too, asks for a special
vision of an invisible realm of abstract virtues, Heaven and Hell, so
that he may show it to mankind in his poetry. I will venture to
imagine Milton's firm approval of Spenser's stance at the close of the
second canto of "Mutabilitie":
But thence-forth all shall rest eternally
With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:
O that great Sabbaoth God graunt me that Sabaoths sight!
In the following chapters I shall attempt to explain what happened
to this invocative tradition, and to the theory and practice of poetry
it embodies, in the works of William Collins in the middle of the
eighteenth century. But underlying that attempt is a larger, and, it
seems to me, a crucial issue. In the concluding paragraph for his
second article on the Spenser-Milton relationship, Greenlaw speaks of
Copernicus, Galileo, Bruno, and Bacon as "laying the foundations for
a new era." This new view of the cosmos was to destroy the old one--
a loss, Greenlaw says, of which "Spenser and Milton were partly con-
scious, but their consciousness of it did not interfere with their
splendid summary of the old kingdom of the mind. Since that time they
have been influential. Many have repeated their formulas without
depth of meaning. Others--Wordsworth, Shelley, Emerson--have borne a
part in their tradition, have modified it to suit the gradual but
never-ceasing change. But never since their time has the old universe
of man and nature been rephrased with the authority of a divine revela-
tion.47 Collins, perhaps more acutely than any other poet in the
eighteenth century, feels the inhibiting effect of this change, and is
preoccupied with the loss of this authority. His struggle to recapture
it, to follow in the path set out by Spenser and Milton in order to
become the kind of poet he believed them to be, is the primary subject
of his poetry and the cornerstone upon which a firmer understanding
and appreciation of Collins can be built.
1The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, enl.
ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966), p. 14.
See, for example, his attack on the notion of supernatural
inspiration in Leviathan (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958), Part II,
p. 254. Also, cf. Swift's complex, often recondite treatment of the
Muse and inspiration in his early odes.
Surprisingly few studies have seemed to recognize the general
importance of the poet's invocative stance. In addition to a number
of rather narrowly focused arguments about the exact identities of the
Muses of Spenser and Milton (see notes 27 and 41 below), there are
several notable exceptions to this indifference: E.R. Curtius,
European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard Trask
(1953; rpt. New York: Harper, 1963 [orig. pub. 1948]); Herbert Read,
"The Poet and His Muse," British Journal of Aesthetics, 4 (1964),
99-108; Robert M. Durling, The Figure of the Poet in Renaissance Epic
(Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1965). To provide a comprehensive
survey of the tradition is beyond the scope of the present study; such
a study is, however, much needed. There are those, of course, who
treat all invocations as mere conventions. See, for example, Gilbert
Murray, The Classical Tradition in Poetry (Cambridge: Harvard Univ.
Press, 1927), and Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition: Greek and
Roman Influences on Western Literature (New York: Oxford Univ. Press,
1949). It is to me unjustified to assume that a poet's invocation to
a Muse, conventional though it may be, is either insincere or ironic
when neither its wording nor its context suggests this is so. One
must take a poet at his word unless there is evidence in the work to
encourage another interpretation.
Inspiration and Poetry (London: MacMillan & Co. Ltd., 1955),
I quote from the Pope translation, The Iliad of Homer, ed.
Maynard Mack, Vol. VII of The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of
Alexander Pope (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1967), 11. 1-2.
Pope's note from Eustathius for the lines following 9-10 is
instructive: "Here the Author who first invok'd the Muse as the
Goddess of Memory, vanishes from the Reader's view, and leaves her to
relate the whole Affair through the Poem, whose Presence from this
time diffuses an Air of Majesty over the Relation" (Twick. Ed., p. 86,
'The Odes of Pindar, trans. Sir John Sandys, The Loeb Classical
Library (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1937), 11. 80-83. This
invocative stance pervades Pindar's works; see, for instance, Olympian
Odes I, III, VI, and Nemean Odes III, V, VI. The lines quoted here
are used by Collins as the epigraph for his Odes on Several Descriptive
and Allegorical Subjects (1746). It is also significant, I think,
that Collins chooses the ode form for most of his poems--Pindar is
really the earliest of his idols. I will discuss the importance of
this choice of epigraph and genre in Chapter III.
C.M. Bowra, Pindar (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1964), p. 4.
See Bowra's entire initial chapter, "The Theory of Poetry," pp. 1-41,
for a detailed and useful discussion of Pindar's poetics, and especially
for his differences from Homer, Hesiod and Virgil. Both Bowra and
Sandys, incidentally, emphasize the seriousness of Pindar's invocative
stance and his sincere belief in the poet's need for divine assistance.
9bid. Though the contrast between Pindar and Homer is very
important for Collins' place in the tradition, I should add that in
such basic notions as that of the Muse as the necessary supernatural
aid for the mortal poet, Pindar and Homer are, of course, quite close
if not identical.
In addition to his influence on Dante, see, for example, Merritt
Y. Hughes, Virgil and Spenser (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press,
11Virgil's Aeneis, Vol. II of The Works of Virgil, 3rd ed., trans.
John Dryden (London: 1709), VI, 374-77.
12For the continuance of the Classical myths and gods (including
the Muses) into the Christian Middle Ages, see Jean Seznec, The
Survival of the Pagan Gods, trans. Barbara F. Sessions (1953; rpt.
New York: Harper, 1961 [orig. pub. 1940]). Cf. Curtius, European
Literature, and Don Cameron Allen's discussion of Virgil's survival
into the Renaissance in Mysteriously Meant (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins,
1970), pp. 135-62.
1For a brief discussion of the problem of balance between the
theory of divine inspiration and the role of the poet's own natural
abilities, see Murray, The Classical Tradition, pp. 46-7. I am
especially indebted throughout the remainder of this chapter to
Durling's discussion of the narrator in epic poetry in The Figure of
the Poet. He notes, of the pagan-Christian dilemma, that in the
Renaissance "It became less and less feasible to assume the pose of
an inspired Poet unless your subject was religious. The last great
traditional epic, Paradise Lost, was possible only because of Milton's
sublime faith that his prayers to the Spirit were in fact being ans-
wered" (p. 9). Durling also links Virgil to this pattern (pp. 8-9).
His main focus is on the poet as analogous to fictional narrator, and
he does not, unfortunately, maintain a focus on the problem of inspira-
tion itself beyond his introduction. See, however, his helpful
chapters on Chaucer and Spenser.
1The Inferno, trans. John Ciardi (New York: New American Lib.,
1954). II, 7-12.
1The Paradiso, trans. Ciardi (New York: New American Lib.,
1961), I, 24-36. Explaining these lines in the "Letter to Can Grande,"
Dante emphasizes his belief in the necessity for invocation and
inspiration when he says poets usually "utter a certain invocation.
And this is proper for them, since they have great need of an invocation,
because something contrary to the way of life common among men is to be
sought from the superior beings, as a sort of divine gift." See
Literary Criticism: Plato to Dryden, ed. Allan H. Gilbert (Detroit:
Wayne State Univ. Press, 1962), p. 205.
16See Charles Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition
(Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1957). Also note the discus-
sion of invocation and the narrator's persona in Chaucer in Durling,
The Figure of the Poet, pp. 44-66.
I, 1. All quotations from Chaucer are from Works, ed. F.N.
Robinson, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957). Subsequent
references appear in the text.
See Robinson's comments on the thematic appropriateness of this
final invocation, and on the "religious sincerity" of the closing
stanzas of the poem, pp. 389 and 837.
For Chaucer's indebtedness to Dante in the Troilus, see
Robinson, pp. 388-9 and notes, passim.
See Lily B. Campbell, "The Christian Muse," HLB, 8 (1935), rpt.
in Collected Papers of Lily B. Campbell (New York: Russell & Russell,
1968), pp. 237-78, for the tradition, especially as it applies to
Milton's Urania as a firmly established Christian Muse.
21Jerusalem Delivered, trans. Edward Fairfax (1600; rpt. New
York: Capricorn, 1963) I, 9-13. Collins knew and praised Tasso and
the Fairfax translation; see "Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the
Highlands of Scotland," 11. 188-213. He was advertised as having
written a poem praising the 1749 editor of this translation in The
General Advertiser, March 27, 1750; see comments on the lines in
Johnston (p. 220, n. 91) and Lonsdale (p. 516, nn. 188 ff.).
22Durling, The Figure of the Poet, deals with Tasso's problem,
23The Dark Ages and the Age of Gold (Princeton: Princeton Univ.
An Apologie for Poetrie, in Elizabethan Critical Essays, ed.
G. Gregory Smith (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1904), I, p. 192.
25 ser, p. 275.
Fraser, p. 275.
26Durling says of Spenser's relationship to later poets' stances,
that "he does not produce the limited reality of the humanly fashioned
analogue of the cosmos; he wishes to present that golden nature of
which Sidney spoke--nature illumined and transfigured by the light of
the transcendental. Spenser looks forward to Milton and ultimately
to Wordsworth and Yeats" (pp. 236-7).
27 am especially indebted here to Gerald Snare, "The Muses on
Poetry: Spenser's The Teares of the Muses," TSE, 17 (1964), 31-52.
Commenting on Spenser's overall presentation of the Muses and poetry
in the poem, Snare summarizes: "The Muses's votaries, those few poets,
by means of inspiration, after long intellectual discipline, perceive
the whole encyclopedia of truth in a harmonious and unified whole.
These are the initiated, the poets the Muses find have all but dis-
appeared. These also are the poets, the purveyors of knowledge and
wisdom, who defend civilization against the incursions of barbarism"
(p. 52). Others believe Spenser's attitude toward the Muses and
inspiration to be serious and central: see W.L. Renwick, Edmund
Spenser (London: Edward Arnold, 1925); Josephine Bennett, "Spenser's
Muse," JEGP, 31 (1932), 200-19; Frederick M. Padelford, "Robert Aylett,"
HLB, 10 (1936), 1-48 (also see his earlier article, "The Muse of the
Faerie Queene," SP, 27 , 111-24); C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of
Love (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1936); Joan Grundy, The Spenserian
Poets (London: Edward Arnold, 1969); Patrick 0. Spurgeon, "Spenser's
Muses," Renaissance Papers (1969), 15-23.
2The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition, ed. Edwin
Greenlaw, et al. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1932-57), VIII, 63. 1. 1.
All subsequent quotations from Spenser are taken from this edition, and
are cited in the text.
29Of this despair, Snare concludes that Spenser's concern is
primarily over his "realization that poetry might no longer affect men
as it used to" (p. 52). For a catalogue and view of Spenser's
ambiguities and seeming contradictions as a result of his uncertain
vision in the midst of a breakdown of the whole epic tradition, see
Michael West, "Spenser and the Renaissance Ideal of Christian Heroism,"
PMLA, 88 (1973), 1013-32. For other views of the paradox of Spenser's
sense of inadequacy and determination to complete his task, see Harry
Berger Jr., "The Prospect of Imagination: Spenser and the Limits of
Poetry," SEL, 1 (1961), 93-120, and "Archaism, Immortality, and the
Muse in Spenser's Poetry," Yale Review, 58 (1969), 214-31; Jerome S.
Dees, "The Narrator of The Faerie Queene: Patterns of Response,"
Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 12 (1971), 537-68. These
articles emphasize what is seen as the poet's increasingly introspective
stance--an emphasis which I think fails sufficiently to account for his
outward turning to the Muses throughout the canon.
30Angus Fletcher, in The Prophetic Moment: An Essay on Spenser
(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971), says, "The method of prophecy
is to hold the eternal and the ephemeral in simultaneous copresence,
balancing stable principle against unstable reality" (p. 5).
31The Veil of Allegory: Some Notes Toward a Theory of Allegoric
Rhetoric in the English Renaissance (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press,
1969), p. 51. Spenser's emphasis on visual representation has been
noted from another direction by Josephine Miles, Major Adjectives in
English Poetry From Wyatt to Auden (Berkeley: Univ. of California
Press, 1946), especially pp. 360-88. Commenting on the particularly
frequent use of sensory and visual adjectives in Spenser she speaks of
"the main Spenser-Milton-Collins-Keats line" (p. 385). Also see John
Bender, Spenser and Literary Pictorialism (Princeton: Princeton Univ.
3Cf. the opening lines of the Aeneid. In the invocative stance
the poets adopt, needs and purposes are, I think, almost identical,
with the exception of the added responsibility imposed by Spenser's
3For the running debate over exactly which Muse Spenser means
here, see the articles already cited by Padelford, Bennett, Spurgeon
Cf. William Nelson, The Poetry of Edmund Spenser (New York:
Columbia Univ. Press, 1963), p. 314: "For none of the books of The
Faerie Queene, therefore, is a true conclusion possible. The powers
of darkness may for a time be held prisoner, seen in their true horror
and rendered impotent, but since they are of earth's essence they will
again break free and threaten destruction, night, and chaos."
3For a discussion of the Hymnes which places them in a tradi-
tion of literary hymns both in antiquity and the Renaissance, and
where invocation is treated only as a convention by the author, see
Philip B. Rollinson, "A Generic View of Spenser's Four Hymns," SP, 68
(1971), 292-304. See also Enid Welsford's "Introduction" to her
edition of the Hymnes, Spenser, Fowre Hymnes, Epithalamion: A Study
of Edmund Spenser's Doctrine of Love (Oxford: Blackwell, 1967),
especially pp. 36-63.
SP, 14 (1917), 196-218. I am much indebted to Greenlaw's
discussion of these matters throughout this section. Since Greenlaw's
arguments of course, the shared Christian context of these poets has
become a commonplace of Renaissance studies. However, the close
parallel in their invocative stances has received little attention.
3Ibid., p. 202.
38"Spenser's Influence on Paradise Lost," SP, 17 (1920), p. 321.
3Greenlaw discusses the poets and their Muses briefly. My
analysis will essentially follow the broad lines he sets down, but
in more detail, and focused on Collins' interests.
Reason of Church Government, in John Milton: Complete Poems
and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press,
1957), p. 669. All subsequent quotations from Milton are taken from
this edition, and are cited in the text.
41Milton's invocations have received their share of attention,
from arguments about what they reveal about his theology by Maurice
Kelly, This Great Argument (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1941),
pp. 109-18 and passim, and Jackson Cope, "bilton's Muse in Paradise
Lost," MP, 55 (1957), 6-10, to close analyses that show how much about
the poem and the figure of the poet in it may be gleaned from them.
See, for instance. John S. Diekhoff, "The Function of the Prologues in
Paradise Lost," PMLA, 57 (1942), 697-704; R.W. Condee, "The Formalized
Openings of Milton's Epic Poems," JEGP, 50 (1951), 502-08; George W.
Whiting and Ann Gossman, "Siloa's Brook, the Pool of Siloai, and
Milton's Muse," SP, 58 (1961), 193-205; Anne Ferry, Milton's Epic
Voice (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1963); and John M. Steadman,
"Spirit and Muse: A Reconsideration of Milton's Urania," Archiv Fur
Das Studium Der Neuren Sprachen Und Literaturen, 200.5 (1963), 353-57.
Each of these contributes to an understanding of the importance of the
invocations, and I am indebted to them in a general way; however, of
more importance for my focus on the sense in Milton of his need for
aid, of the burden being the poet he seeks to be places upon him, and
of the predicament of such a poet isolated in times neither conducive
to his stance nor his purpose, are John Mulder, The Temple of the Mind
(New York: Pegasus, 1969), pp. 142 ff., and A.S.P. Woodhouse, The
Heavenly Muse, ed. Hugh MacCallum (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press,
1972), pp. 182, 184, 228, and especially p. 250 where Woodhouse
emphasizes how "thoughts of his own predicament crowd upon him," and
concludes that "once more he turns for consolation, for support, for
the possibility of achievement, to poetry--poetry inspired by the
Milton's invocative stance in Paradise Lost differs from that
in the total body of his works only in being more fully developed; the
stance pervades his canon just as Spenser's does his. See, for
examples: "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," 11. 15-28; "At a
Solemn Music"; "Lycidas," 11. 15-22; and Paradise Regained, I, 8-17.
Also, see Milton's defense of the poet and inspiration in "Ad Patrem,"
and note the invocative tone of "L'Allegro" and "II Penseroso." On
the overall unity of "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" with the rest of
Milton's works, particularly in their pointing toward a heavenly
vision, see D.C. Allen's illuminating analysis in The Harmonious Vision,
enl. ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1970), pp. 3-23. The latter two
poems, of course, have an especially strong influence on Collins. See
Havens, The Influence of Milton, pp. 454 ff. Havens' main emphasis is
on stylistic influences of Milton in the eighteenth century, whereas
I believe Collins was as pervasively influenced by Spenser and Milton
as Greenlaw argues Milton to have been by Spenser--particularly by the
3"That Shepherd who First Taught the Chosen Seed," UTQ, 8 (1939),
p. 413. Hanford also argues for Milton's sincerity and for the
centrality of these invocations to the poet's works: "It will not do
to dismiss these and similar passages as extraneous and incidental.
They are the essential Milton and the spirit which dominates them
extends the shadow of its wings over his later poetry as a whole"
(pp. 418-19). Hughes, in his introduction to Paradise Lost in Complete
Poems, argues similarly that we must believe it when Milton says he
prays for and needs heavenly revelation. See pp. 198 ff. of his
4Cf. Milton's inclusion of "Eternal Wisdom" in his invocation
to Urania in Book VII, "Wisdom thy Sister, and with her didst play /
In presence of th' Almighty Father..." (11. 9-11), where the poet also
seems intent on associating his own creative act with the knowledge of
the Creation imparted by God to Wisdom. See Hughes, pp. 345-6, n. 9,
and Ecclesiasticus, 1: 4-10; Proverbs, 3: 15-19, 8: 20-31; and
Wisdom of Solomon, 1: 6-7. Cf. Pope's inversion of this image in
The Dunciad, where, as Aubrey Williams has firmly established (Pope's
Dunciad: A Study of its Meaning [London: Methuen, 1955], especially
pp. 131 ff.), the poet juxtaposes echoes of Milton's invocation to the
Spirit (or Wisdom) as participant in the Creation via God's Word, with
the "uncreating word" of Dulness, and the abuse of the "word" by poets
in his own time. Pope thus portrays what he believes to be the decay
and finally the dissolution of traditional aesthetic and moral values
under the reign of Dulness--values Milton clearly embodies for Pope.
The Dunciad, then, provides a significant index to the atmosphere in
which Collins' early poems were written and published (the last two
editions of Pope's poem came out in 1742 and 1743). This was the
environment in which Collins attempted to follow the Spenser-Milton
tradition, a tradition that for Pope, at least, was everywhere breaking
down. Professor Williams sums up that environment thus: "Pope's war
with duncery could be called...a battle over words--over a destructive
use of the 'word', as the poet saw it, by the dunces in the most
important areas of human experience: literature, education, politics,
religion" (p. 156). And of course, there is Pope's own bleak conclu-
sion: "And Universal Darkness buries All" (IV, 656). This was an
atmosphere very much worsened even from that in which Milton felt so
4Cf. Michael's instruction of Adam: "...then wilt thou not be
loath / To leave this Paradise, but shall possess / A paradise within
thee, happier far" (XII, 585-7).
SP, 17 (1920), p. 359.
47Ibid. Of course, not merely the revolution in science caused
the shift Greenlaw has in mind. The intellectual, social and economic
history of the Renaissance and the eighteenth century, is a consistent
chronicle of the various means by which the old order changed, yielding
place to the new.
COLLINS: THE EARLY POEMS
The Collins canon is unusually small; even if we count poems
doubtfully ascribed to him, the total comes only to around thirty.
This is due in part, of course, to the brevity of Collins' writing
career. Although such a small canon has the advantage of facilitating
a comprehensive familiarity with the poet's work, there is a disadvan-
tage as well, especially for a poet as self-conscious as Collins usually
It is not uncommon to hear it argued of a poet who dies young (or
who, as in Collins' case, ceases to write before the age of thirty due
to illness ) that certain obscurities, technical lapses or feelings of
inadequacy apparent in his work may be the result merely of immaturity
and inexperience. The argument typically goes on to wish the poet had
lived longer, in hopes that maturity might have brought fulfillment of
his youthful promise. William Hazlitt illustrates this reaction to
Collins' career: "He is the only one of the minor poets of whom, if
he had lived, it cannot be said that he might not have done the greatest
things. The germ is there. He is sometimes affected, unmeaning, and
obscure; but he also catches rich glimpses of the bowers of Paradise,
and has lofty aspirations after the highest seats of the Muses.3 How-
ever accurate such a view of the poet's potentiality may be in part,
it seems to me that it distorts the fundamental dilemma of Collins'
theory and practice; and that it undercuts the import of the few poems
in which Collins appears to be neither "affected, unmeaning, and
obscure," nor inhibited by consciousness of failings, limitations, or
the achieved inspiration of his predecessors.
Collins' early poems are logically more subject to application of
the "immature poet" theory than any others. Yet of the four poems
known definitely to be Collins' work published in his early period,
between 1739 and the crucial volume of odes in 1746, three lack the
self-conscious invocative stance almost entirely. Absent with it is
his anguish over the poet's function, over the inspiration he believes
he needs to carry it out, and over his own ability, with or without
that inspiration, to follow poets like Spenser and Milton. In one of
these works, the Persian Eclogues of 1742, Collins almost totally
effaces himself under the guise of translating them from the Persian
poet "Mahamed." Moreover, with two of the others, the "Sonnet" (his
first published poem) and "A Song from Shakespear's Cymbelyne," he has
consistently and, I believe, correctly drawn high praise. Typical is
Arthur Johnston's judgement that the "Sonnet" is "perfect in its
expression of a poetic commonplace." But Johnston, apparently without
fully recognizing its significance, reveals the paradox inherent in the
"immature poet" explanation of Collins' career when he says first that
"from the age of seventeen [Collins] clearly had the ability to compose
perfect poems," and then goes on several lines later to describe the
poet's "growing awareness of what he lacks as a poet."
Rather than divide Collins' poetry arbitrarily into failures
resulting from immaturity and successes seen as mere foreshadowings of
potential greatness, I would offer an altogether different approach,
one which emphasizes the presence side by side through the canon of
what I shall term invocative and non-invocative poems. Close analysis
reveals that many of the difficulties (like obscurity) which charac-
terize Collins' work are often most obtrusive in his self-conscious
invocative poems, suggesting, it seems to me, a link between such
failings and the poet's frustrated search for inspiration. A pattern
emerges in Collins' work of an early prominence of non-invocative poems,
then obsession with invocation in by far the majority of his subsequent
Given this pattern, the poems in which he does not adopt a self-
conscious, self-deprecating stance take on special importance alongside
those in which his focus is almost entirely on his dilemma as a poet
seeking the inspiration he needs. There are only three other poems
("How Sleep the Brave," "Ode to a Lady," and "Ode on the Death of
Thomson") in his work from the 1746 odes to the close of his writing
career in 1749 where, as in the "Sonnet," Collins writes with unself-
conscious poise and becomes, momentarily, the poet he seeks to be in
his invocative poems. And in two of the remaining poems, thought they
are not fully invocative per se ("Ode on the Poetical Character" and
"Ode on the Popular Superstitions"), his confidence has so waned that
they too are filled with self-conscious pessimism and anguish about both
himself and poetry as he believes it should be written. Only if these
non-invocative and the invocative poems are taken together can we gain
the full picture of Collins' dilemma and its effects on the matter and
form of his poetry. In other words, the kind of poem he writes from
the non-invocative stance provides an important clue to what he seeks
via the invocative poems; the poems Collins writes from each stance
complement and illuminate one another, and demonstrate, as we shall
see, the consistency of his poetic theory and practice.
Hazlitt is certainly correct when he points out that Collins "has
lofty aspirations after the highest seats of the Muses." But the
poet's consciousness of these aspirations, and of his ability to ful-
fill them in his poems, should not be laid to immaturity, nor his
obscurities, inhibitions and insecurities to inexperience. He begins
confidently enough. The tension he feels at the heart of his poetry
between aspiration and achievement, theory and practice increases with
maturity--not the reverse--and is the result, I believe, of his deep
concern over the role of the inspried poet in his time. In the present
chapter I shall examine the early period of Collins' writing career,
and discuss first, what the "Sonnet" demonstrates about Collins'
ability, confidence and concept of the poet's function; second, despite
this initial accomplishment, his search for a form and voice in the
imitative, self-effacing Eclogues (perhaps a first, though cloaked,
signal of his later uncertainty); then, the inchoate realization of
his dilemma which informs the "Epistle to Hanmer"--with its focus on
poetry, the poet and the Muse setting the tone for the invocative
stance to come; and finally, the achievement of the "Song from Cymbelyne,"
where Collins once again demonstrates his early ability and certainty,
and reaffirms his concept of the poet's function by accomplishment
rather than anguished aspiration.8
Beyond the sort of vague, unqualified praise Collins' "Sonnet"9
drew from Johnston, little has been said about it.10 Yet a closer look
drew from Johnston, little has been said about it. Yet a closer look
reveals a finely controlled, delicately ironic love poem, remarkable
as a first published effort by a poet no older than eighteen. The
poet builds his embodiment of a paradox inherent in the onset of
youthful love around a series of contrasts and parallels between the
simple external event of meeting a young lady and his own internal
reaction to her, between the event as a particular moment and as an
aspect of universal experience, and between the personal myth the poet
himself creates and the traditional myth of Venus' birth.
Collins introduces the central situation abruptly: "When Phoebe
form'd a wanton smile, / My soul! it reached not here!" The brevity
of the poem's alternating tetrameter and trimeter lines accents this
opening suddenness, while the repeated exclamation marks signal the
emotional intensity of the remembered moment. One recalls such equally
startling plunges in medias res as Donne's "Goe, and catches a falling
starre," and "For Godsake hold your tongue, and let me love." Collins'
sudden introduction of poet and lady carries over into and emphasizes
the equally sudden change in the poet's reaction that occurs in lines
three and four, where the poet puzzles over the central paradox:
"Strange, that thy peace, thou trembler, flies / Before a rising tear!"
The suddenness of the poet's remembrance of his initial reaction to
the lady, then the suddenness of the change to his present love (a
change highlighted by the shift in tense in line three) are appropriate,
moreover, to the theme of the poem as a whole: a young man's initiation
to impetuous love. Thus briefly Collins sets up the central event of
the poem--a young man and a lady exchanging glances. And the poet
provides, in the process, the concrete, external level: the lady's
name, her smile, her tear.
But clearly Collins' primary focus in the stanza is on the irony
of the poet's internal, or psychological reactions, an irony paralleled
and caused by the two seemingly contradictory manifestations of the
lady's feelings, or what seem to be her feelings: the smile and the
tear. In line two the poet insists that the lady's smile did not
penetrate his outer defenses, while the inverted syntax, placing "My
soul!" in the strong beginning position, adds to the emphasis on his
innermost self. He appears to announce this with mixed triumph and
amazement, the latter the result of his present conquered condition.
The smile resulted from conscious artistry on the lady's part ("form'd"),
and suggested that she was both playful and forward in her intentions
("wanton"). Having asserted his successful resistance to this ploy,
including the morally suggestive reference to his "soul" in contrast
to the lady's wantonness, the poet goes on to record the change in his
reaction caused by the subsequent appearance of Phoebe's tear. Collins
emphasizes the change to puzzlement by placing "Strange" at the start
of line three, and adds to its sense of confused, halting thought by
interrupting the line with three commas. This contrasts directly with
the sudden introduction and the exclamatory tone of lines one and two.
Paradoxically and ironically, he has been moved to love not by the
artful smile, but by a tear. For the tear, however, the reader is not
told the lady's inner motives; the focus remains entirely on the poet's
discomfort as he speaks chastisingly to himself: "thy peace, thou
trembler, flies...." The imagery of the cowardly soldier appropriately
underlines his sense of confused defeat in the battle of the sexes.
Collins thus portrays both the external and internal elements of the
encounter in an extraordinarily dense four lines.
The young poet proves himself capable of even greater subtlety,
however, in his handling of myth in the poem, especially in the second
stanza. There, expanding the context of the first stanza, he weds the
personal experience recorded in those first four lines, to the universal
context of love embodied in the traditional myth of Venus' birth.
Before doing so, however, in one of the poem's most significant aspects,
particularly for his concept of the poet's function, Collins bridges
the gap between the personal and universal with his own parallel myth
in miniature for the birth of love: his love for the lady rises
suddenly like Venus, "From midst the drops, my love is born, / That
o'er those eyelids rove" (11. 5-6). This contextual shift from per-
sonal to universal comes effectively with the shift to a new stanza,
yet the two stanzas are tied together by the "rising" motif in the
poet's love born from the "rising tear" (1. 4) and the picture of
Venus, who "issued from a teeming wave" (1. 7). The poet also inten-
sifies the appropriateness of the two myths with the fertility theme
inherent in birth (and the birth of love), and particularly in his
choice of "teeming" to describe Venus' wave. Thus he enforces the
logical link between love and fruition. In addition, it is important
to note that in introducing the universal context of the Venus myth,
Collins places special emphasis on the abstract level when he refers
to Venus not by name, but as "The fabled queen of love" (1. 8). In
this way he holds the reader's focus both on Venus' long tradition
("fabled"), and on the universal theme of a young man's lesson in the
paradox and confusion of sudden love.
Finally, tying the poem's first to its last line is the function
of the lady's name on the mythic as well as the particular level.
Once Collins has established the mythic sphere with the Venus tradition
in lines seven and eight, the reader may easily recognize the added
though less well known dimensions of "Phoebe". There are actually two
goddesses in the poem: Phoebe at the start, Venus at the finish.
Their traditions effectively complement one another. "Phoebe" is often
associated in mythology with Artemis, whose chief roles link her to
childbearing, fertility, youth, and (fittingly paradoxical) virginity.
So Phoebe functions as the particularized young lady who charms him on
the level of Collins' own miniature myth, and on a level parallel to
"fabled" Venus. This excursion by Collins into the role of the poet
as myth-maker is of great importance for his subsequent works, where
such myth-making becomes a central facet in the poet's ideal vision of
his function as one who thus embodies transcendent reality.
It has not been the purpose of this discussion to make Collins'
"Sonnet" bear more weight of formal complexity and meaning than its
eight lines warrant, nor certainly to argue it is a "perfect" poem.
I have simply tried to demonstrate Collins' subtle artistry in fashion-
ing a coherent portrait of a young man's encounter with an earthly
goddess, his own vulnerability, and love. Especially important in that
portrait, as we have seen, is the poet's shrewd handling of mythic
possibilities. One cannot guess, of course, what agonies the poet may
have suffered in working out the subtleties of form and meaning con-
tained in the finished work; but what is most significant is that in
this poem Collins is neither inhibited by nor does he write about those
agonies. He adopts the role of myth-maker and love poet with apparent
ease and complete control.
In his "Preface" to the Persian Eclogues, one discovers a first
hint of Collins' uncertainty of his ability, accompanied by a kind of
retreat behind the mask of a mere translator, as well as a further
indication of the poetic role he aspires to play. His mask contributes
to the reader's sense that Collins, at least when writing the Eclogues,
must have begun to be dissatisfied with what he saw as the possibilities
of poetic achievement in England. This is apparent early in the
"Preface," when he contrasts the English poetic temperament to the
Persian: "...the Stile of my Countrymen is as naturally Strong and
Nervous, as that of an Arabian or Persian is rich and figurative."
Collins proceeds to expand briefly upon the comparison, leaving little
doubt as to which temper he wishes were his own: "There is an Elegancy
and Wildness of Thought which recommends all their Compositions; and
our Genius's are as much too cold for the Entertainment of such Senti-
ments, as our Climate is for their Fruits and Spices."2 In the
Eclogues Collins is clearly seeking a mode in which he will be freer
to write as he chooses.
Collins establishes his alleged role of translator by explaining
that he obtained the original poems from a merchant, that the poet's
name was "Mahamed," that Mahamed died, and so forth. Yet despite this
mask Collins concludes his "Preface" with an apology for whatever
infelicities he may have committed as translator: "Whatever Defects,
as, I doubt not, there will be many, fall under the Reader's Observa-
tion, I hope his Candour will incline him to make the following
Reflections: That the Works of Orientals contain many Peculiarities,
and that thro' Defect of Language few European Translators can do them
Justice." Thus the reader comes away from the "Preface" with two
strong impressions: first, Collins has serious enough doubts about
his own ability, or that of any English poet to write "rich and
figurative" poetry that he creates the rather elaborate ruse of
"translating" it from the Persian; and second, that even with the
protection of this ruse, he remains uneasy enough to apologize for
defects in his "translation." Of course, a translator's apology is
commonplace. However in view of Collins' later, profound awareness
of his limitations, such an apology may well be taken somewhat more
The ruse nevertheless seems successful for him in the Eclogues
themselves. They are, overall, as free from concern about the poet's
ability to perform and as free from the invocative stance as the
"Sonnet." They drew, interestingly, more attention and praise from
Collins' contemporaries than any of his other poems.3 Though they
are perhaps not so successful by modern aesthetic standards, the four
eclogues deserve more careful attention than they have thus far re-
ceived. Little more than passing mention has typically been given them
in either nineteenth or twentieth century appraisals. Waodhouse
expresses a common view when he says they are not Collins' "true
medium."14 Carver echoes, "In Persian Eclogues he was striving after
a style not genuinely his own."l5 Yet as the "Preface" demonstrates,
Collins is definitely striving for a voice in these poems that is the
sort of "rich and figurative" one he would like to adopt as his own.
Moreover, a closer examination of the Eclogues reveals a clearly
defined picture of the poet's function as Collins saw and obviously
endorsed it at this stage of his career. Indeed, it is this portrait
of the poet, along with technical elements such as the effective use of
scene and time to accentuate theme, and the common topic of virtue and
love, which draws the separate eclogues together into a successfully
unified work. The Eclogues are thus an indispensable source for an
understanding of Collins' developing ideal of the poet, and of the
manner in which this poet may accomplish his goals--an ideal, I shall
argue, he maintains throughout his career.6
The poet's function as it emerges consistently in the Eclogues is
that he is a teacher of moral truths via their embodiment in his works
as both precept and example.17 That Collins firmly and without apology
places the ideal poet in this traditional context is perhaps most
clearly evident in the first eclogue. Subtitling it "SELIM; or the
Shepherd's Moral," Collins immediately presents the poet's call for
the attention of the young maidens to his lesson: "Ye Persian Maids,
attend your Poet's Lays, / And hear how Shepherds pass their golden
Days" (11. 1-2). Selim then as forcefully announces the substance of
the lesson, and at the same time exhorts the ladies to believe in his
Not all are blest, whom Fortune's Hand sustains
With Wealth in Courts, nor all that haunt the Plains:
Well may your Hearts believe the Truths I tell;
'Tis Virtue makes the Bliss, where'er we dwell.
It is equally important to notice the poet's use of personification
(in line three especially) to add at least a slight visual adumbration
of the abstract world of value he seeks to communicate. Later in the
poem this device becomes predominant.
After this reminder that only virtue can bring lasting happiness,
Collins, as "Mahamed," describes the shepherd-teacher Selim carefully:
Thus Selim sung, by sacred Truth inspir'd;
No Praise the Youth, but her's alone desir'd:
Wise in himself, his meaning Songs convey'd
Informing Morals to the Shepherd Maid....
This is the ideal poet Collins seeks to be throughout the remainder of
his writing career. He portrays the source in inspiration, Truth, as
a "sacred" goddess who exists on a plane beyond the mundane lives of
most men. Only the true poet may, like Selim, attain the wisdom she
imparts; only he may gain her praise by successfully "Informing Morals."
Moreover, the focus of the eclogue is not only on the poet who communi-
cates on this transcendent plane. Rather, the lesson he teaches itself
develops a sustained conflict between things and ideas, material and
immaterial values. Selim "taught the Swains that surest Bliss to find, /
What Groves nor Streams bestow, a virtuous Mind" (11. 11-12). It is
important to point out the certainty, the confidence with which Collins
asserts Selim's reception of supernatural inspiration, "Thus Selim
sung...." We do not even see, as the start anyway, an invocation; it
has, one assumes, already been made and answered.
The entire poem from this point on is built around Selim's
teaching. "Well may they please," he asks, "the Morals of my Song"
(1. 20). He initially compliments the maidens' charms so thoroughly
that one wonders how they can ever put aside their vanity: "No fairer
Maids, I trust, than ye are found, / Grac'd with soft Arts, the
peopled World around!" (11. 21-22). Just as we are becoming convinced,
presumably along with the maidens, that physical beauty is enough to
insure love and happiness, Selim suddenly breaks the laudatory tone,
having trapped both reader and maidens momentarily: "Yet think not
these, all beauteous as they are, / The best kind Blessings Heav'n can
grant the Fair!" (11. 27-28). The praise is then fully undercut by
Selim's telling the listening maidens that they are the "Self-
flattering Sex!" (1. 35); and this, in turn, Selim follows with
additional exhortations to take the road of virtue, rather than vanity:
"Who seeks secure to rule, be first her Care / Each softer Virtue that
adorns the Fair" (11. 39-40).
Significantly, the poet then makes reference to the Golden Age
"when Wisdom held her Reign" (1. 43), and underlines its importance
by placing the reference in a stanza set apart by its brevity (only
four lines) from the preceding stanzas.9 The allusion implies the
moral decay of the present and the poet's role as one who may facilitate
the restoration of virtue. With his introduction of this theme, Selim
adopts the role of myth-maker to further his role as teacher. In the
myth he pictures the origin of those virtues he hopes the maidens will
embrace. After blessing the days when Wisdom dwelled on earth among
men, he speaks of how "With Truth she wedded in the secret Grove, /
The fair-eyed Truth, and Daughters bless'd their Love" (11. 45-6).20
In the next stanza--also set off from the others by its brevity--the
poet introduces an extended prayer to the "Daughters": "0 haste, fair
Maids! ye Virtues come away" (1. 47).21 The prayer itself supplicates
the various personified Virtues to return to earth, especially to the
maidens who are now his charges. The poet provides, by personifying
the Virtues, concrete details which make the abstractions more easily
visible as examples to his maidens of how they should behave, and what
they should believe.
Lost to our Fields, for so the Fates ordain,
The dear Deserters shall return again.
0 come, thou Modesty, as they decree,
The Rose may then improve her Blush by Thee.
Here make thy Court amidst our rural Scene,
And Shepherd-Girls shall own Thee for their Queen.
Modesty, associated with the rose and blushing, is followed by Chastity,
"A wise suspicious Maid" (1. 58), Faith, "whose Heart is fix'd on one
alone" (1. 64), Meekness, "with her down-cast Eyes" (1. 65), and Pity,
"full of tender Sighs" (1. 66). Love, perhaps because it encompasses
all the others, is left fully abstract.
After he has thus called for the return of the Virtues to earth,
Selim speaks once again to his charges, exhorting them in a final
instruction: "By these your Hearts approve, / These are the Virtues
that must lead to Love" (11. 67-68). "Mahamed" concludes the eclogue
with a final four-line stanza in which he asserts the success of Selin's
song, and links it, as at its beginning, to truth: "The maids of
Bagdat verify'd the Lay: / Dear to the plains, the Virtues came along, /
The Shepherds lov'd, and Selim bless'd his Song" (11. 70-73).
Collins' notion of the office of the poet is clear from this
portrait of Selim. The poet is first a moral teacher. In the first
eclogue we see this function fulfilled primarily by precepts uttered
by Selim to the maidens. But the poet has another function, also shown
clearly in this poem, without which he is unable to carry out the
first. With the aid of heaven-sent, "sacred" inspiration he stands
between the earthbound maidens and the transcendent domain of abstract,
pure virtues. Indeed, he is poised between the visible, material
universe and an invisible world inhabited by the unseen, though never-
theless, for Collins, real values, emotions, and ideas by which man has
guided and understood himself through the centuries. Paradoxically--
and at the heart of the poet's difficult mediatory role--while on the
one hand the personifications are Collins' means of making the abstract
visible to men, on the other his portrayal of them as unearthly
goddesses further insists on their distance from the mundane, man-made
conditions under which the maidens' vanity has prospered. They are
distant, that is, until the poet obtains inspiration and speaks.
Thus Selim the poet must speak not only to men and maidens, but
also, in a substantial portion of his poem, to the abstract, invisible
world.of the ideal represented by Modesty, Pity, and Love. He must do
so if he is to mediate successfully between the two spheres. And he
must do so, of course, precisely because Wisdom fled the world of man
with Truth and Virtue at the close of the Golden Age in Collins' mythic
scheme. Man is thus in need of the poet's teaching because he is, by
whatever myth one subscribes to, fallen and limited in Collins' world.
The poet's condition parallels man's as it does in Spenser and Milton:
as man requires aid, so the poet requires inspiration before he may
become "virtuous" by fulfilling his crucial visualizing and teaching
functions. As we shall see, both Collins' reliance on and his obsession
with this notion of the poet grow as he matures. Yet his belief in and
dependence on it early in his career are surely demonstrated by how
totally it pervades the first eclogue. In addition, we are already
beginning to see how Collins' concept of the poet's function determines
the form, as well as the matter, of his poems. This is notably apparent
in his use of personification, miniature myths amalgamated from Classi-
cal tradition and his own admixture, and prominent tones of exhortation
It is equally important to see how such a concept of the poet's
function controls each of the remaining three eclogues.24Ane inati
function controls each of the remaining three eclogues. An examination
of them helps fill in various facets of Collins' theory and practice
as they build on his central notion. The second eclogue, too, has as
its theme a lesson in the value of true love over material riches.
With its desert setting indicative of the inner thirst and pain suffered
by its main character and poet, Hassan, the poem serves as an exemplum
of the error of seeking wealth before love. In its initial ten lines
Mahamed provides a detailed picture of Hassan passing "In silent Horror
o'er the Desart-Waste" (1. 1).25 The world around him is barren, with
adjectives like "scanty" (1. 4), "scorching" (1. 6), "dusty" (1. 9),
"dreary" (1. 10), and desperatee" (1. 11) highlighting the physical
and psychological atmosphere. Then Hassan's own opening lines sum up
the lesson he feels he has learned: "Sad was the Hour, and luckless
was the Day, / When first from Shiraz' Walls I bent my Way" (11. 13-14).
This couplet serves, subsequently, as a refrain for the entire poem,
and is emphasized by its repetition at the conclusion of the next four
stanzas. The remainder of the poem is his explanation, in the midst
of his sufferings, of the error which causes him to utter this lament.
He alternates between a portrayal of those sufferings, his recollections
of what he has left behind and the folly that led him here. Typical of
the juxtaposition of the first two, are the lines in stanza two just
before the refrain:
In vain ye hope the green Delights to know,
Which Plains more blest, or verdant Vales bestow:
Here Rocks alone, and tasteless Sands are found,
And faint and sickly Winds for ever howl around.
The next stanza contains the core of Hassan's message. Having
provided the reader with his own sufferings as an example of the re-
sults of error, he launches into a tirade against man's, and especially
his own, folly: "Curst be the Gold and Silver which persuade / Weak
Men to follow far-fatiguing Trade!" (11. 31-32). His curse concluded
a few lines later, the poet laments the general human condition in a
series of questions again juxtaposing folly with joys up to now
Ah! why was Ruin so attractive made,
Or why fond Man so easily betray'd?
Why heed we not, whilst mad we haste along,
The gentle Voice of Peace, or Pleasure's Song?
In the following two stanzas Hassan returns to his present fears and
agonies, "When Thought creates unnumber'd Scenes of Woe" (1. 50), and
imagines himself destroyed by lions, wolves, tigers and even "the
silent Asp" (1. 61). After thus once more describing himself as the
chief example of human folly, he enunciates his moral lesson again as
well, continuing the pattern of alternating example and precept for
the reader's edification:
Thrice happy they, the wise contented Poor,
From Lust of Wealth, and Dread of Death secure!
They tempt no Desarts, and no Griefs they find,
Peace rules the Day, where Reason rules the Mind.
Conspicuous here too, as throughout the eclogue, is the abstract plane
upon which Collins constructs such lessons through personification:
Peace has a "gentle voice" and "rules the Day" for the wise who are
contented, though poor; Night is a "Mourner" (1. 54) with whose aid
"Death with Shrieks" (1. 57) leads the lion "By Hunger rous'd" (1. 55)
to prey on man.
Hassan fittingly ends his lament over his error with the most
painful recollection, perhaps, of all--he has, in his folly, left true
love behind: "0 hapless Youth! for she thy Love hath won, / The
tender Zara, will be most undone!" (11. 71-72). Remembering her last
words to him "When fast she dropt her Tears" (1. 74), Hassan prays,
O let me safely to the Fair return,
Say with a kiss, she must not, shall not mourn.
Go teach my Heart to lose its painful Fears,
Recall'd by Wisdom's Voice, and Zara's Tears.
Wisdom's appearance here, along with the love theme and overall method
of this second eclogue, helps to tie it firmly to the first poem of
the group. And as in Selim's lesson, the act of prayer plays a crucial
role in both the poet's and man's attempt to fulfill his function. Not
only does Hassan consummate his poem with the above prayer for his
return home (with Wisdom's help), but Mahamed is careful in his own
summation to underscore that Hassan finally calledd on Heav'n to bless
the day, / When back to Shiraz' Walls he bent his Way" (11. 85-6).
Again both man and poet in Collins' scheme depend upon the participa-
tion of the invisible world in their lives. By depicting two poets
here--one functioning as preceptor, the other as preceptor and example--
Collins places added emphasis on the poet's sharing in general human
weakness and error. This emphasis is, understandably, of central
importance in Collins' total poetics, along with the need for a prayer-
ful tone such weakness dictates to nim.
The third and fourth eclogues each present only slightly varied
versions of the patterns in the first two. In "Eclogue the Third"
Collins introduces the traditional contrast between the simple rural
life and "the Blaze of Courts" (1. 37). "Emyra" sings this time, "Of
Abra... / Who led her Youth with flocks upon the Plain" (11. 7-8).
The court is introduced when "Great Abbas" happens to meet Abra, and
"woo'd the rural Maid!" (1. 23). At the close of the third stanza the
poet begins, as in the second eclogue, to recite a refrain which,
predictably, carries the moral import of the story of these lovers:
"Be ev_'r Youth like Royal Abbas mov'd, / And ev'ry Georgian Maid like
Abra lov'd!" (11. 25-26). This exhortation is, like that in the
previous poem, repeated four times, appearing most emphatically as the
final couplet. Furthermore, of special significance in this refrain is
its stress, once again, on the poet's prayer-like statement as he
attempts to inculcate his moral. The tone the refrain carries through
the poem is thus compounded of both prayer for and exhortation to
The lovers serve as exemplars of the refrain throughout. Though
Abra leaves her flocks for the "golden Pow'r" (1. 32) of the court, she
goes also to be loved truly by Abbas. And more important to the moral
thrust of the poem, we are told that even at court, "Still with the
Shepherd's Innocence her Mind / To the sweet Vale, and flow'ry Mead
inclin'd" (11. 39-40). Abra not only maintains her own innocence
despite her elevated role, but she spreads her atmosphere among her
handmaidens, taking them with her to learn the simple rural pleasures,
where "With Joy the Mountain, and the Forest Rung" (1. 48). Perhaps
most important to the poem's moral center, however, is that Abra's
influence extends to the ruler Abbas as well; he joins his queen in
these simple ways, and "Sweet was his Love, and innocent his Bed"
(1. 60). As the poem draws to its conclusion, exhortation to virtue
comes to the fore again, this time directed especially at rulers them-
selves: "Let those who rule on Persia's jewell'd Throne, / Be fam'd
for Love, and gentlest Love alone" (11. 63-64). This penultimate
stanza concludes with an appropriate image of the hoped-for combination
of "The Lover's Myrtle, with the Warrior's Crown" (1. 66); thus Abra
and Abbas come to represent the universal as well as the particular in
the poem's moral.27
In the fourth and last eclogue Collins returns to a balance between
precept and exemplum. Organized around the traditional debate between
two shepherds, this eclogue is a return to the joining of shepherd-poet
and erring man Collins first develops with Hassan's lament in the
second eclogue. Secander and Agib are in flight from their homes to
escape the ruin caused by invading Tartars, but stop on a mountainside
to look back on what they have left behind. Secander tells Agib, "0
turn thee and survey, / Trace our sad Flight thro' all its length of
Way!" (11. 15-16). The shepherds proceed to describe the ravages they
see and recall on the plain below, then come to the heart of the poem's
moral in their castigation of the "Persian Lord" (1. 32), whose duty
is to protect their fields. Instead of hearing their cries for help,
he is "Far off in thoughtless Indolence resigned" (1. 35), and "'Midst
fair Sultanas lost in idle Joy" (1. 37).
Underlining the extent of his culpability throughout the poem is
the contrast between the "fair Circassia" (1. 1) before the invasion,
and now, when "Ruin spreads her baleful Fires around" (1. 52). This
contrast is made especially strong by Agib's remembrance that the Lord
himself has often enjoyed "these green Hills" (1. 39). Agib further
heightens the contrast by a series of clauses strung together by the
lament "No more" in which they enumerate all they have lost. And
Secander emphasizes their frustrating loss by repeating the phrase "In
vain": "In vain Circassia boasts her spicy Groves, / For ever fam'd
for pure and happy Loves" (11. 53-54).
Agib makes the final speech of the poem after these elegiac out-
pourings, and issues a warning to "Georgian Swains" to "learn from
far / Circassia's Ruin" (11. 59-60). If they wish to avoid a similar
fate they must prepare "To shield your Harvests, and defend your Fair"
(1. 62)--prepare, that is, better than Agib and Secander. Thus the
shepherd-poets themselves become exempla, in addition to fulfilling
their role as enunciators of moral judgement. This added role as
examples of human error and weakness also assumes an emphatic position
in the poem as a whole. Mahamed-Collins provides the reader with a
description in the last four lines (after the shepherds have fallen
silent) of fires coming nearer along the plain, and of the two men
renewing their escape in terror. In this way their actions as well as
their words, along with Mahamed's introductory and concluding lines,
work together to form yet another eclogue in which the poet as moralist
The Persian Eclogues offer ample, clear evidence of the early
importance the moral voice assumes in Collins' idea of the poet's func-
tion. They also provide, as we have seen, evidence of other, related
aspects of Collins' theory and practice, such as personification and
the attitude of prayer. Because of the dramatic framework whereby
Collins describes and then quotes other poets in his supposed "trans-
lation" of Mahamed, these elements are straightforward enough to require
little if any explication. Later, when Collins writes without the
protection of such a framework and speaks directly in his own voice as
poet, the poems become more complicated--both for Collins and his
reader. In such poems the invocative stance becomes the pivotal means
by which a further understanding of Collins' theory and practice may be
With "An Epistle: Addrest to Sir Thomas Hanmer on his Edition
of Shakespear's Works,"28 Collins first sketches directly the mode of
the fully invocative poems to come. In his relationship to the Muse
and to Shakespeare, his earliest avowed idol, Collins reveals a deepen-
ing of his personal dilemma only hinted at in the "Preface" to the
Eclogues. The "Epistle" is, significantly, the first of his poems to
be constructed entirely around this theme. Paying little heed to
precise chronology or historical fact, Collins employs the occasion
to develop a commentary on dramatic poetry in general, and to praise
an ostensibly maligned and neglected Shakespeare far more than Hanmer
as his editor. Throughout the poem Collins' interest is primarily in
the personal implications the new edition has for him, which makes the
"Epistle" more noteworthy as an index to his aspirations and ideas,
particularly his notion of inspiration, than as a statement on literary
history.29 In what appears initially to be a typical panegyric written
more to receive patronage than to give praise, Collins consistently
and, I believe, purposefully, transcends the immediate and particular
to focus on what are to become his abiding passions: the Muse, the
achievement of his predecessors, and his own (or anyone's) inability
to match that achievement in the present.3
Collins' obsession with his predecessors in the "Epistle" (in
both form and content) has more often than not been cause for rather
severe faultfinding by the few critics who have commented on the poem
at all. With an obvious bias toward defining the true Collins as a
forerunner of Romantic individualism, they quickly dismiss the poem
as an imitative or overly conventional failure. Bronson is anxious
to get on to the 1746 Odes after what he considers the convention-bound
early poems, and finds the "Epistle" to be the "least individual of
Collins' poems."31 Ainsworth argues the poem is proof of Collins'
allegiance to a poetic mode he is soon to break from.32 Sigworth finds
nothing either penetrating or original in it.3 And Woodhouse, echoing
the others, says it is evidence of Collins' one foot in the Augustan
tradition, but sees Collins' real significance in what he believes are
Collins' later, innovative developments. Sigworth makes a similar
comment on the "Song from Cymbelyne," wondering why Collins is foolish
enough to challenge comparison with Shakespeare. All are, I think,
missing the true center of his work. Collins seeks such comparison
because he knows no other way to write--to be a poet, for him, is to
write as his predecessors wrote, with the same inspiration and the
same effects on his readers.3
Collins wastes no time in getting to his fundamental issue in the
"Epistle to Hanmer." Throughout the poem he speaks of the Muse; she
is, in fact, the keystone of all the poet says to Hanmer or about
Shakespeare. The "Epistle" may be divided into six sections, all of
which focus on the Muse and Shakespeare, simultaneously revealing
Collins' fears of inadequacy and praise of his idol, and gradually
detailing the qualities he seeks to inherit from him as his ideal
dramatic poet. He opens the initial section (11. 1-16) with a con-
ventional direct address of praise to Hanmer, but quickly introduces
a more pervasive theme. All seems well at first. Hanmer is "born to
bring the Muse's happier Days" and "protects a Poet's Lays" (11. 1-2);
yet Collins refers to the Muse he has invoked for his own epistle with
a far different tone: "Excuse her Doubts, if yet she fears to tell /
What secret Transports in her Bosom swell" (11. 5-6). One recalls
his apology in the "Preface" to the Eclogues. Collins further stresses
this anxiety over whether or not his Muse will grant him inspiration
by portraying her as dazzled and shy: "With conscious Awe she hears
the Critic's Fame, / And blushing hides her Wreath at Shakespear's
Name" (11. 7-8). Thus the awe he registers through the picture he
provides of his Muse maintains the reader's awareness of his doubts,
while at the same time it underlines his praise of Hanmer and
Indeed, the entire stanza moves between the poles of exhilaration
and anxiety, praise and blame. Near the opening of the poem Collins
provides an image of fertility to underline his praise for Hanmer's
preservation of Shakespeare's works: "While nurst by you she [the
Muse] sees her Myrtles bloom, / Green and unwither'd o'er his honour'd
Tomb" (11. 3-4). But halfway through the stanza he turns from praising
poet and editor--amid his personal uncertainty--to assail the treatment
accorded Shakespeare before Hanmer. So "Hard was the Lot those injur'd
Strains endur'd" (1. 9) that "Fair Fancy wept; and echoing Sighs con-
fest / A fixt Despair in ev'ry tuneful Breast" (11. 11-12).
Collins' personification of "Fancy" as part of this attack, though
brief, is especially significant; with it he commences his delineation
not only of the neglect of his idol, but also of precisely that quality
he admires most in Shakespeare--imaginative vision. Fancy is, as we
shall see, central both to Collins' praise of Shakespeare in the
"Epistle," and to his poetic theory as a whole, for it is the faculty
which, when aided by inspiration, enables the poet to see and make
visible to the reader the abstract realm.
By thus introducing the broad themes of despairing poets and a
mourning Fancy, Collins begins to place his personal anxiety in the
larger context provided by the imagined mistreatment of Shakespeare
between his death and Collins' own time. It should be apparent that
the historical fact of how Shakespeare was treated is relevant to our
understanding of Collins' meaning in the poem; clearly this is how he
wants us to see the fate not only of Shakespeare, but of all poets
after Shakespeare, himself included. Finally, to conclude this implied
censure of the reading public and complete the stanza, Collins then
inverts the earlier imagery of fertility. Thus he further accentuates
the view presented in the second half of the poem that since Shakespeare
English soil has not nurtured great poets. Fancy wept and poets
despaired with grief, he tells us, equal to that of "th' afflicted
Swains... / When wintry Winds deform the plenteous Year" (11. 13-14).
The second section, beginning with stanza two, is the longest, and
takes us to the precise mid-point of the poem at line seventy-four.
In it, Collins surveys the history of the Muse's granting of her in-
spiration via the traditional 'progress' piece.37 The stanza begins,
like the first two lines of the poem, conventionally enough in its
statement of the progress theme: 'Each rising Art by just Gradation
moves, / Toil builds on Toil, and Age on Age improves" (11. 17-18).
The tradition Collins here calls to mind describes the progression of
art from east to west, specifically from Greece to Rome, then on to
Europe in an unborken succession down to the present. But, also like
the first stanza, Collins undercuts the progress theme immediately to
expand upon his notion of the poet's predicament in his own time. The
progress, at least in dramatic poetry, has not reached beyond
Shakespeare, and again, the Muse is the key to Collins' theory: "The
Muse alone unequal dealt her Rage, / And grac'd with noblest Pomp her
earliest Stage" (11. 19-20).38
This said, the poet proceeds to outline what progress has occurred
as he sees it. Beginning with Greek drama, Collins provides, in what
he praises, a significant clue to his own aspirations. One element
remains constant: the ability of the dramatist to move his audience
by the power of his visual representations. In Euripides "the speaking
Scenes" (1. 21) reveal Phaedra's sufferings, or they "paint the Curse"
(1. 23) in Sophocles' Oedipus. Such scenes are important to Collins
above all, as he shows at the end of the stanza, because of their
effect on the sympathies of the audience, an effect Collins habitually
tinges with moral significance: "With kind Concern our pitying Eyes
o'erflow, / Trace the sad Tale, and own another's Woe" (11. 25-26).
After praising Rome's prowess via "The Comic Sisters" (1. 28)--
again the Muse is omnipresent--Collins asserts that "ev'ry Muse essay'd
to raise in vain" (1. 31) an equal to Greece's tragic poets. Then he
continues to emphasize setbacks with mention of the fall of Rome, until
the progress rekindles under Pope Julius, who recalledd each exil'd
Maid' (1. 37) and re-established the Muse's dominion in Italy. Finally,
momentarily interrupting the chronological flow of the progress up to
Shakespeare himself, Collins returns to his earlier emphasis on what
for him makes a poet great. The Porvencal troubadors earn a place
because when they sung of love, "The gay Description could not fail
to move; / For, led by Nature, all are Friends to Love" (11. 43-44).
A description or a scene that moves the audience to a sense of shared
humanity emerges as a pivotal criterion for Collins.39
With the next stanza the progress reaches its pinnacle. While
he does not now fully interrupt his structure to provide details of
Shakespeare's greatness, Collins nevertheless highlights the moment
by making this noticeably the shortest of the poem's stanzas, only six
lines. More than an assertion of Shakespeare's perfect balance of the
virtues Collins sees in previous poets ("Of Tuscan Fancy, and Athenian
Strength," 1. 48), the stanza is an insistence firm and unequivocal of
the poet's dependence on a power beyond this world for his achievements.
Collins opens with this brief, emphatic declaration: "But Heav'n,
still various in its Works, decreed / The perfect Boast of Time should
last succeed" (11. 45-46). The rest of the stanza is Collins' ampli-
fication of that decree:
The beauteous Union must appear...
One greater Muse Eliza's Reign adorn,
And ev'n a Shakespear to her Fame be born!
(11. 47, 49-50)
The antecedant of "her" in line fifty is appropriately ambiguous,
suggesting the dramatist's birth honors both the Muse and Elizabeth.
Still more important is the allusion in line forty-nine. So far
as I am aware, no one has previously noticed the echo there of Milton's
opening announcement and assurance in Paradise Lost of Christ's
eventual coming: "...till one greater Man / Restore us..." (I, 4-5).40
This echo should be stressed for two reasons: first, it shows Collins'
early awareness of Milton, especially in a generally invocative con-
text; second, in its implied comparison of Christ's power of salvation
to the Muse's of inspiration, it underscores the reverence Collins has
already developed for the Muse.
Having reached this climax, Collins effectively continues with the
progress theme, an ironic "progress" that is now all downhill as it
moves closer to the poet's own time. We see the shift in direction
from the emphtic "Yet ah!" (1. 51), straight through the remaining
twenty-four lines of the stanza--and section. First he gives us
England itself, "In vain our Britain hop'd an equal Day!" (1. 52),
returning as he does so to the imagery of sterility with which he sug-
gests the same falling off after Shakespeare in stanza one: "No second
Growth the Western Isle could bear, / At once exhausted with too rich
a Year" (11. 53-54). As proof of his thesis the poet repeats the
commonplaces about Jonson's prowess in careful artistry, and mentions
Fletcher as capable of a limited scope in capturing the sufferings of
"the Female Mind" (1. 60). Collins returns to Shakespeare in the
stanza's conclusion, however, convinced that only he achieved true
greatness: "Drawn by his Pen, our ruder Passions stand, / Th'
unrival'd Picture of his early Hand" (11. 65-66). Moreover, Collins
continues to underline the import of Shakespeare's visualizing ability,
the pun on "Drawn" intimating the dramatist's achievement in making
the auditor both see the "Passions, and feel them by his drawing the
auditor to their representation.
Next, to complete the progress section, Collins moves quickly
through France's place in the progress, coming closer still to his own
century. He recycles the conventional view of the "correctness" of
French drama, but reserves limited praise for Corneille, who "with
"Lucan's spirit fir'd, / Breath'd the free Strain, as Rome and He
inspired" (11. 71-72), and for Racine. Still, these dramatists do
not begin to match Shakespeare, as Collins makes quite clear in the
next section. There is nevertheless one particularly significant notion
in the poet's commendation of Corneille that deserves mention. Collins
subsequently elaborates on what is here only suggested--that is, that
one inspired poet (in this case Lucan) may indeed inspire another. As
we shall see shortly, Collins comes to depend as heavily on such poets
as intermediaries between himself and the Muse as he does on direct
invocation. The indirect invocative stance actually forms the fourth
section of the "Epistle," where Shakespeare serves in this capacity for
Before the poet comes to that plea, however, he makes a final in-
version of the progress structure in the poem's third section (11. 75-
100) by detailing his admiration for Shakespeare after having carried
the progress beyond him. Though the English dramatist did not equal
the correctness of the French, "Yet He alone to ev'ry Scene could
give / Th' Historian's Truth, and bid the Manners live" (11. 77-78).
Continuing to underline the centrality of vision to his notion of the
ideal poet, Collins introduces examples of Shakespeare's powers in this
realm with the announcement, "Wak'd at his Call I view..." (1. 79),
then goes on to describe scenes he recalls from the plays. Collins'
previous emphasis on Shakespeare's imaginative vision forms the nucleus
of this section's second and concluding stanza, where Collins praises
his predecessor's ability to translate that vision to the mind of the
auditor: "Where'er we turn, by Fancy charm'd, we find / Some sweet
Illusion of the cheated Mind" (11. 93-94).
After thus further accenting what he admires in his idol, Collins
begins the key fourth section of the poem (11. 101-110) with an invoca-
tion in which he asks Shakespeare thus to inspire him: "0 more than
all in powerful Genius blest, / Come, take thine Empire o'er the willing
Breast!" (11. 101-102). Collins' fervor in this plea is clear in the
prominence of exclamation points; he ends five of the stanza's six
sentences with them. Apparently unsure of the efficacy of his direct
invocation, the poet seeks inspiration from Shakespeare as one whose
own works seem to Collins to result from a more successful relationship
with the Muse. As he does so, he provides an important summary of his
notion of the ideal poet's function, much as we have seen Spenser,
Milton and others do when they adopt the invocative stance. After his
initial plea Collins continues,
Whate'er the Wounds this youthful Heart shall feel,
Thy Songs support me, and thy Morals heal!
There ev'ry Thought the Poet's Warmth may raise,
There native Music dwells in all the Lays.
These lines reflect Collins' humility as a young poet speaking to the
old master, his emphasis on strong emotion as necessary in both poet and
auditor, his central concept of the poet's moral role, and his mixed
belief (and hope) that he himself is fertile ground for Shakespeare's
Collins returns in the conclusion of his invocation to Shakespeare
to his already established focus on the poet's visualizing ability.
And this time he adds to it his wish that poetry and painting might
join their related powers to even greater effects: "O might some Verse
with happiest Skill persuade / Expressive Picture to adopt thin Aid!"
(11. 107-108).41 Not only is Shakespeare again Collins' ideal poet for
the task, but Collins appears also to be wishing that his own may be
the verse that persuades, although he vaguely and uncertainly pleads
only, "might some Verse." His plea now reaches a crescendo in its
final two lines. Seeking a revitalizing of present by past achievement
through a partnership between Shakespeare, the poet who might induce
the painter to join with Shakespeare, and the painter, Collins utters
parallel exclamations of hope: "What wond'rous Draughts might rise
from ev'ry Page! / What other Raphaels Charm a distant Age!" (11. 109-
In a fifth section (11. 111-132) that amounts at least to a
partial answer to this invocation, Collins is able to envision the
possible result of such a partnership: "Methinks ev'n now I view some
free Design..." (1. 111). For the remainder of his and the following
stanza the poet imagines paintings (one to be based on Antony's funeral
oration in Julius Caesar, the other on Coriolanus) which might be the
concrete, visible representations of the human nature embodied by
Shakespeare in his plays. Particularly noteworthy in this section is
the recurrence of Collins' use of personification to accomplish his
own verbal embodiment of human passion. His closing portrayal of
Coriolanus best exemplifies the importance this device has for the
poet, especially in the overall context of vision, description and
finally painting that runs through the poem: "O'er all the Man con-
flicting Passions rise, / Rage grasps the Sword, while Pity melts the
Eyes" (11. 131-132). In this manner Collins, clearly doing his best
to emulate the genius of Shakespeare, "paints" the individual character,
Coriolanus, yet simultaneously suggests his participation in abstract
or universal human nature--particular and abstract are held in balance,
with the poet acting as the connecting rod.
Much of the final section (11. 133-148) is a return to the
original panegyric for Hanmer with which Collins began the "Epistle."
But, as its opening word suggests ("Thus"), it serves too as a summa-
tion of the poem's central themes. In this section, as in the poem as
a whole, it is on these themes rather than on praise of Hanmer that
one must focus. One such thematic statement is Collins' summary of his
notion of the inspiring power of a poet previously successful with the
Muse, as well as his lack of confidence in his own time: "Thus,
generous Critic, as thy Bard inspires, / The Sister Arts shall nurse
their drooping Fires" (11. 133-134). Completing his brief peroration,
Collins emphasizes vision as the key to Shakespeare's inspiration of a
rebirth, and repeats as he does so the fertility imagery of the first
two sections: "Each from his Scenes her Stores alternate bring, /
Blend the fair Tints, or wake the vocal String" (11. 135-136).
Clearly at this point Collins has some hope for poets generally,
and for himself. And as he completes the final stanza with further
praise for Hanmer's "restoration," one senses this upturn even more.
He compares Shakespeare's restoration to restorations of Homer's works,
and Collins' England to Athens, thus neatly bringing the references to
Greece early in the poem full circle, and further suggesting the poten-
tiality of the present. Indeed, encompassing Collins' ironic inversion
of the conventional progress structure and theme one may now discern a
variation of a larger pattern in the poem, following another tradi-
tional scheme--a pattern of glory, ruin and restoration.42 There is
first the glory of past dramatic poets, beginning with Greece and
progressing to Shakespeare (in Collins' view, at any rate); then the
falling off from Shakespeare's own day up to and including the present;
and finally the hoped for restoration that Hanmer's rescue of
Shakespeare makes possible.
Collins' joining of these resonant structures enables him to
provide a clear portrait of his personal ideals, frustrations, despair