Thomas James Mathias (1753/4–1835)
1. Thomas James Mathias held the office of sub-treasurer to the queen,
vice-treasurer, and treasurer of the accounts of the queen’s
household. He was also a keen antiquary. Among his interests was the
poetry of the fictitious fifteenth-century monk Thomas Rowley, whose work was a
forgery by Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770). Mathias published Essay on the Evidence Relating to the Poems Attributed to
Thomas Rowley (1783), in which he reaches no definite conclusions.
Mathias was elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in early 1795,
and fellow of the Royal Society later the same year.
2. Mathias was also a prolific Italian scholar, who edited several Italian texts and
translated the poems of John Milton and other English writers into
Italian. Mathias visited Walter Scott at Naples in 1831–1832,
helping him collect local ballads. 
3. Mathias was most famous for his (at first anonymously published) satire Pursuits of Literature
(1794–1797). This hugely successful poem held up for censure
radical writers such as Thomas Paine, John Horne Tooke, and William
Godwin. But he also made accusations against the Gothic writing of Matthew
Lewis for its alleged licentiousness.
4. “An Incantation Founded on the Northern Mythology” was first
published as part of the collection Runic Odes: Imitated
from the Norse Tongue in the Manner of Mr. Gray (1781; repr.
1790, 1798, 1806). As it is clear from the title, the inspiration of Thomas
Gray’s Norse odes led Mathias to undertake research into the Norse
tradition. The interest in Gray led to the publication of an edition of
the poet’s work in two quarto volumes, with substantial prose extracts
from Gray’s manuscripts, in 1814.
5. The “Incantation” is connected with the two odes in the collection
adapted from the Poetic Edda
on the subject of Ragnarök. In these the main
speaker is a völva, a seeres. Mathias’s collection of
Runic Odes also contained an imitation of Ossian and an
imitation inspired by the antiquities published by the Welsh poet and
nationalist Evan Evans (Ieuan Brydydd Hir; 1731–1788) under the
title Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Antient Welsh
6. The poem invokes the imagery of magic incantations that were often mentioned in
writing on Norse mythology and the mysterious seers chanting these. In the
eighteenth century, renderings of incantations, spells were seen as a way
to renew the poetic idiom. There was also a new interest in sorceresses,
as we find it in William Mickle’s ballad “The Sorceress; or
Wolfwold and Ulla” (1781).
7. The speaker in Mathias’s poem is Thorbiorga, who is a prophetess mentioned
in Thomas Bartholin’s antiquarian work on old Scandinavia. However,
many of the names of demons referred to in the poem cannot be found in
Norse tradition. Peolphan is known as the Great Hunter of the North in the
writings of the French witch-hunter Nicolaus Remigius; Glauron is a Christian
angel, who can be invoked from the North; Coronzon is more or less
equivalent to Lucifer, originating with the sixteenth-century occultists
Edward Kelley and John Dee, and so on.
Source: Runic Odes: Imitated from the Norse Tongue in the Manner
of Mr. Gray (London: T. Payne et al., 1781), 27–9.
John Gibson Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, vol. 10 (Edinburgh:
R. Cadell, 1837), 147–8. BACK
The ancient symbol of the sunwheel (a
cross within a circle), which was also known as Odin’s
The four letters that spell the name of
the Hebrew god, usually transliterated as IHVH. Here, we should
probably think of “ODIN”. BACK