The Triumph of Isis

Sunday, 13 December, 2015

No, this is not a post about the victory (God forbid!) of the evil scourge that rules parts of Iraq and Syria and incites its hate-filled followers to slaughter concert-goers in Paris and workers in San Bernardino. Actually, The Triumph of Isis is a poem in praise of the University of Oxford and its students composed in 1749 by Thomas Warton, who was the Poet Laureate of England from 1785 to 1790. The Triumph of Isis rebutted William Mason’s Isis, an Elegy published the previous year, which was rather unflattering to Oxford. Warton’s language appears orotund and arcane to our eyes and ears today:

In vain the thunder’s martial rage she stood,
With each fierce conflict of the stormy flood;
More sure the reptile’s little arts devour,
Than waves, or wars, or Eurus’ wintry pow’r.

Anyway, it so happens that today, 13 December, marks the 231st anniversary of the death of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great English writer, biographer and lexicographer. Johnson was very witty, had a wicked sense of humour and could dispatch challengers and pretenders in style. He found Warton’s verses unbearably turgid and he disposed of the writer memorably in a mere eight lines Written in Ridicule of Certain Poems {of Thomas Warton} published in 1777:

Wheresoe’er I turn my view,
All is strange, yet nothing new;
Endless labour all along,
Endless labour to be wrong;
Phrase that time has flung away,
Uncouth words in disarray,
Trick’d in antique ruff and bonnet,
Ode, and elegy, and sonnet.

When it comes to ridicule, it’s hard to better “Endless labour all along, Endless labour to be wrong,” while “Phrase that time has flung away” is a perfect definition of cliché.

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