A Pindarick Ode on Painting Part 1

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A Pindarick Ode on Painting.

by Thomas Morrison.


The poem here reprinted has remained unread and, with a single exception, apparently unnoticed from the day it was published until the present. It is printed from a copy which I acquired many years ago at a London bookstore and which for a while I thought unique. I did not find it listed in the catalogues of the chief libraries of England or America, nor in the various books on anonymous publications. I have found no mention of it in the newspapers and magazines of the time, no mention of it in contemporary letters or diaries. The one man in England who took the trouble to record the ode for posterity was, as might be expected, Horace Walpole, who in his ma.n.u.script Books of Materials merely noted that the poem had been published in 176_8_ (_Anecdotes of Painting ... Volume the Fifth_, ed. Hilles and Daghlian, Yale University Press, 1937). When challenged to locate Walpole's copy of the ode, the greatest of modern collectors was able, after perhaps forty-five seconds, to say not only that it was in the Houghton Library at Harvard but that on the t.i.tle in Walpole's hand was the information that the poem was published on the sixteenth of May, a fact which would otherwise be unknown. A third copy was in the possession of the late Professor Heidbrink of Northwestern, inscribed in a contemporary hand "T. M., M.A." and thus, possibly, the author's own. There are, then, three known copies extant. Doubtless others will be found, bound up with pamphlets of the same vintage, as yet uncatalogued.

What Walpole did not know was the name of the author, and quite possibly the ode would have remained unread and unnoticed for another two centuries had Mr. Kirkwood not brought to light the letters which are first published in the introduction that follows. From these letters and a few known facts the history of the ode seems clear enough. Reynolds had a number of relatives living in Great Torrington. In the summer of 1762 when he and Dr. Johnson went to Devons.h.i.+re they were entertained by Morrison. Johnson's published letters prove that he did not forget Morrison, and Reynolds was soon painting the portrait of Morrison's daughter. In the summer of 1766 Morrison sent his ode to Reynolds. The following January he learned that Johnson, "as severe a Critic as old Dennis," praised it and ordered it to be published. Reynolds himself must have arranged for the publication.

The publisher selected was William Griffin, who a few years later was to bring out some of Sir Joshua's _Discourses_. The work of the printer was only moderately well done. It will be noted that _whose_ (second line of stanza V) is obviously a misprint for _whole_, that the second line has dropped out of stanza x.x.xIV (Mr. Kirkwood ingeniously suggests that Morrison wrote: "for every trifler's breast/Is by the hope of future fame possest"), and that in two places the number of a stanza has been omitted. And yet the ode, which is physically thinner as well as historically and aesthetically inferior to Gray's famous odes, is priced at 1/6, whereas the Strawberry Hill edition of Gray's _Odes_ (1757) sold for but a s.h.i.+lling.

Clearly Morrison was not influenced by, if familiar with, _The Progress of Poesy_ and _The Bard_. His ode is Pindaric in the late seventeenth-century sense. In his brief preface he explains that he has sought to please us "with a little variety of wild music," believing "that the perpetual recurrence of the same measure in such a multiplicity of stanzas would have been rather languid and fatiguing."

An examination of the poem shows that Morrison has carried his desire for variety to the extreme. The poem consists of thirty-five stanzas, not one of which repeats both the metrical pattern and rhyme scheme of any other. The stanzas range from six to eighteen lines in length, and the lines themselves from four short syllables to the long Alexandrine.

At times one has the feeling that this love of changing rhythms and rhymes has improperly warped the meaning of a given pa.s.sage.

The author shows his familiarity with the standard books on aesthetics.

In _Idler_ No. 76, published in 1759, Reynolds laughed at those who by mastering a few phrases posed as connoisseurs. He introduced a gentleman who had just returned from Italy, "his mouth full of nothing but the grace of _Raffaelle_,... and the sublimity and grand contorno of _Michael Angelo_." This gentleman criticised a Vandyck because it "had not the flowing line," and of "St. Paul preaching" said, "what an addition to that n.o.bleness could _Raffaelle_ have given, had the art of contrast been known in his time! but above all, the flowing line."

Morrison is familiar with the jargon, as is seen throughout the ode. At the beginning he displays wit in applying these phrases not to painting but to his verse:

With my easy flowing line To unite correctness of design.

And at the end he rather neatly twists the famous statement of Appelles into a justification for his writing a poem to add to the reputation of a great painter.

The ode falls into two roughly equal parts. In the first half the poet describes specific examples of what he calls History and Landskip. The battle painting sounds like something by Il Borgognone, the crucifixion perhaps by Guido Reni. The other painters are named--Vanderveld and, inevitably, Claude. The late Miss Manwaring would not have been surprised to learn that more s.p.a.ce is devoted to Claude than to the others. Then almost precisely at the half-way point a pleasing trance is interrupted by the portrait of a "h.o.a.ry sage," perhaps, Mr. Kirkwood suggests, the portrait Reynolds had recently completed of the Rev.

Zachariah Mudge, then seventy-two years of age, who had been since 1737 a fellow prebendary of Morrison's at Exeter, and whom Reynolds described as "the wisest man he had ever met." From this point on the poet addresses Reynolds and incidentally describes with skill two of his most popular portraits, "Lady Sarah Bunbury sacrificing to the Graces"

(exhibited in 1765) and "Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy" (exhibited in 1762). Garrick was then at the height of his fame, and this was the most notable of the many portraits painted of him. Lady Sarah, "the bright Lenox" of stanza XXIII, was equally celebrated in her sphere.

Among the bridesmaids at the wedding of George III she was, in Walpole's opinion, the "chief angel." "With neither features nor air, nothing ever looked so charming as Lady Sarah Lenox; she has all the glow of beauty peculiar to her family." She was the great granddaughter of Charles II; hence Morrison's _regal_. And in the poem as in the painting she is feeding the flame which does honor to the Graces.

Johnson's hostility to "our Pindarick madness" is well known. The "first and obvious defect" of Dryden's _Threnodia_ "is the irregularity of its metre." The "lax and lawless versification" of this type of poetry, he wrote in the _Life of Cowley_, "concealed the deficiencies of the barren, and flattered the laziness of the idle." One cannot but wonder therefore at his praise of Morrison's ode. To be sure, Reynolds quotes Johnson as p.r.o.nouncing it "superior to any Poem _of the kind_ that has been publish'd these many years," and Johnson may well have considered praise of this sort as he did lapidary inscriptions. It may be worth noting, however, that none of his recorded comments on Pindaric verse antedate the publication of this ode. Conceivably he himself was unaware of his hostility until, more than ten years later, he was forced to criticise the poets who made the English Pindaric popular.

Perhaps too by ordering its publication he was saying indirectly what he had already expressed in many of his writings, for example in _Rambler_ No. 23: "the publick, which is never corrupted, nor often deceived, is to pa.s.s the last sentence upon literary claims." If this is so, a series like the Augustan Reprints necessarily deals with literary failures. And yet Morrison's ode is well worth reading today as a pleasing example of what I somewhat fearsomely term the baroque, of what the cultured gentleman of that time regarded as a token of good taste. Long dormant, it is here given new life. Who knows but that the prophecy made by Morrison at the end of the poem may after all be fulfilled:

In the long course of rolling years, When all thy labour disappears, Yet shall this verse descend from age to age, And, breaking from oblivion's shade, Go on, to flourish while thy paintings fade.

Frederick W. Hilles

Yale University


Mr. Kirkwood has sent me information, too late to be incorporated in the preface, which adds to, and in an important way corrects, what I have written.

In the Print Room of the British Museum there is an engraving by James Watson "From an Original Picture by Vandevelde, in the Possession of Mr.

Reynolds." Every detail in the engraving tallies with Morrison's word-painting of the Vandevelde. Furthermore the description of a landscape by Claude (a View near Castle Gondolfo) in the sale of Sir Joshua's collection of paintings in 1795 suggests that this was the Claude Morrison had in mind when writing his ode. In other words, it is probable that all the paintings discussed in the poem had been seen by Morrison in Reynolds's house.

As to matters of fact, the ode, it turns out, was not unnoticed in its day. It was commented upon in both the _Critical_ and the _Monthly_--not in 1767 but in 1768. The reviewer in the _Critical_ (vol. 25, p. 393, in the monthly catalogue for May) wrote: "This is an elegant and ingenious descriptive poem. The author supposes himself viewing several pieces of historic, landskip, and portrait painting; and from thence takes occasion to represent the figures, prospects, and pa.s.sions, which the artist has exhibited. As the poet has touched upon various topics, he has very properly used many different kinds of metre." The review in the _Monthly_ (vol. 39, p. 316, in the monthly catalogue for October), written by John Langhorne, as Professor Nangle's _Index_ shows, was less favorable. "There is great variety in the numbers of this ode; but, in our opinion, they are not combined in such a manner as to produce a natural or agreeable harmony. There is sometimes, too, a falling off, not far removed from the Bathos. Thus, when the Author says his poetical ideas

Resistless on the rous'd imagination pour, And paint themselves as lively as before;

we cannot help feeling the weakness of the latter verse. Yet there is poetry, there is enthusiasm, there is energy in this piece, on the whole, though it is not without many defects." That these reviews appeared in May and October 1768 is compelling evidence for dating the pamphlet, in spite of Mr. Griffin, 1768. Walpole once more proves himself a reliable source. Why the publication was delayed for over a year will probably remain a mystery.

F. W. H.


Apart from the few papers relating to him that have survived since his death in 1778, little more is known of the Rev. Thomas Morrison of Great Torrington in Devon than the main facts of his life; among those papers, however, are some letters--written by Sir Joshua Reynolds and others--about his literary pursuits, in which Dr. Johnson was at one time briefly concerned.

He was born on March 26, 1705, at Midhurst in Suss.e.x, the elder son of Thomas Morrison of that place and Sarah Bridges. As to his ancestry, the family seems to have claimed kins.h.i.+p with the Morrisons of Ca.s.siobury Park in Hertfords.h.i.+re. At the age of twelve he was entered as a scholar upon the foundation at Winchester, where he remained until his election in 1723 to a probationary fellows.h.i.+p of New College, Oxford; his admission as a full fellow followed in 1725. Having received his Bachelor's degree in 1727, he became M.A. in 1731, took orders, and was presented to the college living of Steeple Morden in Cambridges.h.i.+re.

It may also have been in 1731, though possibly earlier, that he went down into Devon to act as tutor to John Ba.s.set of Heanton Court near Barnstaple--a step which was, as things turned out, to make him a resident of that county for the rest of his life. His pupil's father had died in 1721, leaving a widow, Elizabeth, the only daughter and eventual heiress of Sir Nicholas Hooper, Sergeant-at-Law. Sir Nicholas, who had represented Barnstaple in seven successive parliaments and was a man of considerable wealth, died in May, 1731; almost exactly a year later, in May, 1732, his daughter, then thirty-seven years of age and described in a letter written at that time as a lady much admired for her piety, prudence and good conduct, was married to Thomas Morrison, then twenty-seven. Three children were born of their marriage: Mary in 1734, Eleanora in 1736, and Hooper in 1737. In the year following the birth of their son Mrs. Morrison died, presumably at Bath as she is buried in the Abbey Church of that city; on the tablet he placed there to her memory her husband said that she had been the best of wives who, for the few years she lived with him, not only made him a much happier man, but a better man, since not only had her rational and endearing conversation been the perpetual delight of his heart, but her exemplary conduct had likewise been the pleasing rule and constant direction of his life.

Upon his marriage Morrison had necessarily resigned his fellows.h.i.+p of New College, and two years later he also gave up the college living in Cambridges.h.i.+re; the benefices that he afterwards held were all in the diocese of Exeter. In 1736 he was made a prebendary of Exeter and became Rector of Wear Giffard; the following year, after obtaining a dispensation to hold the two livings together, he was also inst.i.tuted to High Bickington, which, however, he resigned in 1742. In 1744 he became Rector of Littleham, soon afterwards resigning Wear Giffard; and finally, in 1758, after resigning Littleham in its turn, he was inst.i.tuted to Langtree, of which parish he continued Rector until his death twenty years later. The presentations to these livings were made as follows: to Wear Giffard by Lord Clinton, Lord Lieutenant of the county from 1721 to 1733, whose seat was at Castle Hill near Barnstaple; to High Bickington and to Littleham by John Ba.s.set of Heanton--who was patron of half a dozen livings; to Langtree by John Rolle Walter of Bicton in South Devon and Stevenstone House near Great Torrington, Member of Parliament for Exeter.

These parishes all lie within six miles of Great Torrington where Morrison appears to have been resident from at least as early as 1750.

In his answers to the Bishop's queries of 1744 he had, however, declared himself to be resident partly in Huntshaw, a parish adjoining Wear Giffard; and--for reasons of his health and the education of his children--partly at Westleigh on the mouth of the Torridge, a few miles off. In which intervening year he established himself at Great Torrington is not known.

Meanwhile, he had made two further marriages: in 1739 to Margaret, daughter of the Rev. Robert Ham and widow of John Ham of Widhays, who died in 1744; and in 1745 to Honour, daughter of Sir Thomas Bury and widow of the Rev. George Bussell, who died at Great Torrington in 1750.

Both these later marriages were childless.

Hooper Morrison followed his father into the Church and became Rector of Atherington near Barnstaple. In 1769 he bought the property of Yeo Vale, some five miles from Great Torrington. Eleanora Morrison, who never married and seems to have lived with her father until his death, sat to Reynolds in her younger days; the portrait then painted, which was formerly at Yeo Vale, shows her in profile and wearing a blue velvet mantle edged with ermine.

There was also among the portraits at Yeo Vale a three-quarter length of an agreeable-looking man, apparently between thirty and forty years of age, shown wearing a red velvet cap and an unusual coat, like a full-skirted ca.s.sock made of blue satin; this portrait, the work of Hudson, was believed to represent Thomas Morrison.

Coming now to the letters, the earliest of these, written in February, 1753, is from Morrison to the Bishop of Exeter, Dr. Lavington, who two years before had published the third part of his book, _The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared_. The letter is inscribed on the outside "Mr. Morrison's Ode," and must have been returned to its writer after the Bishop's death in 1762.

My Lord,

Since I had the honour of being with your Lords.h.i.+p in Exeter I have with great pleasure read over the third part of the Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists compar'd, and as by having my Boy at present under my own Care I have been oblig'd to renew my acquaintance a little with the Cla.s.sicks, I have endeavour'd to express my Sentiments of your Lords.h.i.+p's learned and acute performance in the following Ode, which if it should afford you a Quarter of an Hours Amus.e.m.e.nt will be no little pleasure to me--that your Lords.h.i.+p may read it with the more Indulgence think that the Scribbler of it has not attempted to write Latin verse for above twenty years, and believe me to be with the Highest Respect,

Your Lords.h.i.+p's most oblig'd and most obedient Humble Servant

T. Morrison.

My best Respects wait on your Lady and Miss Lavington.

Here follows the ode ("Reverendo admodum Episcopo Exoniensis in doctissimum adversus Methodistas Librum cui t.i.tulus etc.") which begins:

Verende praesul, praesul amabilis, Qui dulce rides, utiliter doces; Jucunda permiscens severis, Incolumi gravitate ludens,

A Pindarick Ode on Painting Part 1

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