Imágenes de páginas

This defect our Author has, however, well supplied; and the picture he has drawn of that celebrated Hollander, is one of the most shining passages in the book :-to which we refer, and proceed with the Poem.

But see each Mufe in Leo's golden days
Starts from her trance, and trims her wither'd bays ;
Rome's ancient genius o'er its ruins spread

Shakes off the dust, and rears bis rev'rend head. The Critic, on this beautiful passage, adds, with justice, one age of learning to the four mentioned by Voltaire.

The first age is that of Philip and Alexander, the second that of Ptolomy Philadelphus King of Egypt, (this is the age added by our Author) the third is the age of Julius Cælar and Auguftus, the fourth is that of Julius II. and of Leo X. and the last is that of Lewis XIV. in France, and of King William and Q. Anne in England. In these several ages, the human mind exerted itself in an extraordinary manner, as literature and the fine arts then attained to a perfection not equalled in other periods. The Critic has given us a list of the extraordinary men who flourished in those ages, but in all of them has omitted some eminent names. We come now to the encomium on Mr. Walsh.

Such late was Walsh, the Muses judge and friend. Upon this he makes the following excellent remark.

If Pope has given too advantageous a character of Walsh, • it must be attributed to friendship rather than judgment. * Walsh was in general a frigid, Aimfy writer. But Pope owed

much to Walsh; it was he who gave him an important piece • of advice in his early youth; for he used to tell our author, that there was one way left him by which he might excel any

of • his predecessors ; which was by correctness: that though, in

deed, we had several great poets, we as yet could boast of

none that were perfectly correct, and that, therefore, he • advised him to make this quality his particular study.

Correctness is a vague term, frequently used without meaning and precision. It is perpetually the nauseous cant of " the French Critics and their pupils, that the English writers

are generally incorrect. If Correctness implies an absence of petty faults, this, perhaps, may be granted. If it means that because their tragedians have avoided the irregularities of Shakespear, and have observed a juster oeconomy in their Fables,

[ocr errors]

rance of the present, in a language which might extend farther than that in which the triíle (as he is pleased to call it) about Criticism was written,

[ocr errors]

« that therefore their Athalia is perferable to Lear, the notion

is absurd. The Henriad is free from any grofs' faults ; but $ who will dare to rank it with the Paradise Lost? The decla

mations with which some of their most perfect tragedies a« bound, may be reckoned as contrary to the nature of that

species of poetry, and as destructive of its end, as the fools

or grave-diggers of Shakespear. That the French may • boalt some excellent Critics, particularly Boffu, Boileau,

Fenelon, and Brumoy, cannot be denied; but that they are suficient to form a tasle upon, without having recourse to

the genuine fountains of all polite literature, I mean the Gres cian writers, no one but a superficial Sciolift can allow.

"I conclude these reflections with a remarkable fact. In

no polished nation, after Criticism has been much fudied, and < the rules of writing established, has any very extraordinary < work ever appeared. This has visibly been the case in Greece, « in Rome, and in France, after Aristotle, Horace, and Boi« leau, had written their Arts of Poetry. In our own coun

try, the rules of the drama, for instance, were never more compleatly understood than at present, yet what uninterefting, though faultless tragedies have we lately feen?'

We conceive this last observation is not historically true. Was ever critical knowlege more generally known than in the time of Ptolomy Philadelphus ? but did the poetical constellation that adorned that period produce no very extraordinary work? Has any age left us a more wonderful performance than Lycophron's Alexandra? If Shakespear and Lee are so much praised for hitting off the short character of a frantic person, what an atchievement was it to fill a whole poem with the single representation of a possessed woman? In drawing the image of common madness, it is enough to be handsomely absurd; but when the frenzy is supposed to be dia vine, and the fit to proceed from a miraculous transport, then there must be a dark consistency of speech as well as an appearing distraction; there must be the obscure certainty as well as the open fury of an oracle. This Lycophron has performed to admiration; and those who can read that poem must ackuowlege, that it is one of the most original pieces of antiquity. But further, is there nothing very extraordinary in Callimachus's Hymns, especially those to Jupiter, and Apollo.? nothing in the Idylliums of Theocritus ? Did not the latter invent and bring to perfection, a species of poetry, for which he will be admired for ever? Is there nothing very extraordinary in the Phanomena of Aratus, which Cicero took the trouble to translate? If the Critic means, by a very extra




ordinary work, an Epic Poem, he must go a little further back than the time of Aristotle, for we may venture to affirm, that Homer has exhausted all the great sources of heroic invention; so that nothing has been added by his poetical pofterity. The inventive faculties are much more circumscribed than is commonly supposed. A few simple ideas are all its exbauftless stores. Our Author has not sufficiently attended to this when he accuses Pope of barrennefs. He who inriches a work with a new moral sentiment, is as much an inventor as he who recites a tale of fancy. But what poet ever introduced so many new things, in that way, as Pope? If the Critic does not allow that there is any thing very extraordinary in Lucan, Statius, Silius Italicus, and Valerius Flaccus, he will not deny that epithet to Tallo's Gierusalemme Liberata? and yet

it is certain that Aristotle's Poetics had been published with an excellent Commentary by Castelvetro, (not to mention four Treatises on Poetry, and particularly one on Heroic Poetry, by Taflo's father) long before the Jerusalem was composed; and was not the Heroic Comic invented in that country but the last century? We recollect no poem a very traordinary nature produced in France before Boileau published his Art of Poetry. If any exception, be brought in favour of some of Corneile's pieces, we ask, was he ignorant of Ariftotle?

The fourth section is confined to observations on the Rape of the Lock. Here we have the most striking conviction, how much the Critic was pleased with his subject ; for he really inspires his readers with the satisfaction he felt. And in justice to this part of his work, we must observe, that where all is so excellent, extracts must prove inadequate to its merit; and therefore the original should be consulted.

The Heroic-comic Poem, the Author rightly observes, was unknown to the antients; and because more delicate in its reproof, and more engaging from its narrative nature, may justly be esteemed the most excellent kind of fatyr. And if the moderns have excelled the antients in any species of writing, it seems to be in this

Tasloni, (according to our Author) or Bracciolini, first introduced the heroi-comic into Italy, as Boileau * did into France; Garth + imitated him in England, and Pope surpassed them all. I

The Critic's account of the Secchia rapita, and of the Lue trin, is very entertaining; but we cannot help thinking, that he has allowed too little originality, (to use an expression of h In his Lutrin,

+ In bis Dispensary. * In his Rape of the Loc's.

bis own) to Dr. Garth's performance; nor can we conceive how he could venture to mention the Sangrado of Le Sage as a better satyr on Physicians than the Dispensary. But as an examination of these matters would lead us wide of our purpose, we shall only observe, that we think it no exaggerated panegyric to say, with him, that the Rape of the Lock is the best latyr extant ;-that it contains the trueft and livelieft • picture of modern life, and that the subject is of a more • elegant nature, as well as more artfully conducted than that

of any other heroi-comic poem. Pope here appears in the • light of a man of gallantry, and of a thorough knowlege • of the world; and, indeed, he had nothing in his carriage

of that affected fingularity, which has induced fome men of ' genius to despise, and depart from, the established rules of po« liteness and civil life.'

The Critic then praising the Splendid Shilling, the Muscipula, and the Scribleriad of Mr. Cambridge,* thus concludes.

• If some of the most candid among the French Critics begin to acknowlege, that they have produced nothing in point of • fublimity and majesty equal to the Paradise Lost, we may * also venture to affirm, that in point of delicacy, elegance,

fine turned raillery, on which they have so much valued • themselves, they have produced nothing equal to the Rape

of the Lock. It is in this composition that Pope principally appears a Poet, in which he has displayed more imagination

than in all his other works taken together. It should, however, be remembered, that he was not the first former of

those beautiful machines the Sylphs, on which his claim to • imagination is chiefly founded; he found them existing re

ally to his hand, but has, indeed, employed them with fingular judgment and artifice.

The fifth section contains observations on the Elegy to an unfortunate Lady, and the Epilogue to Jane Shore.

The first of these pieces, as it came from the heart, fo the Critic justly ftiles it, very tender and naturals more so than any other copy of verses, (to use a phrase he has not disdained to adopt) of our author. He praises the triking abruptness, and strong imagery, of the beginning, the execration on the Lady's

* In enumerating the mock-heroic poems of Englishmen, our Author takes no notice of Addison's Batile of the Pygmies and Cranes, his Machinæ Gefticulantes and Bowling Green in Latin, and of Mr. Somervile's Hobbinol, which has none of the faults impues ed by Mr. Cambridge to the Lutrin, the Difpenfary, the Rape of the Lock, and the Dunciad,

relations, relations, who had driven her to that deplorable extremity, the desolation of the family, for its lively circumstances and prosopopæia, the incident of her dying in a foreign country, and the poetical use he has made of her being denied the rite of sepulture, from the manner of her death.

What tho' no sacred earth allow thee room,
Nor hallow'd dirge be mutter'd o'er thy comb?
Yer shall thy grave with rising flow'rs be drett,
And the green turf lie lightly on thy breast :
There shall the Morn her earliest tears bestow,

There the first roses of the year shall blow. - If this Elegy be so excellent,' adds the Critic, it may be ascribed to this cause, that the occasion of it was real; • for it is an indisputable maxim, that nature is more powerful

than fancy, that we can always feel more than we can ima

gine; and that the most artful fiction must give way to 6 truth.'

There is some obscurity in this indifputable maxim. When a genius copies nature, yet engages his heroe in adventures which, though they never did happen to any one person, might have happened, may not our tears be as plentiful and genuine as those that are thed for any accident, however well attested by historians? For instance, do we not feel as much concern for Amyntor in the Hermit, as if his distresses had been founded in history! Nay, has not Fancy here the advantage of Truth? for, by selecting circumstances from the whole possible round of misery, the may engage the heroe of the piece in events, which never yet were the lot of one man, We willingly, indeed, allow that we are less interested in the distresses of mere imaginary Beings. Milkah* affects us less in her sufferings than Clarissa.

• Pope's Prologue to Addison's Cato is superior,' says our Author,. - to any of Dryden's Prologues. Those of Dryden • are satyrical and facetious, this of Pope is folemn and fus blime.

Dryden's contain general topics of wit and criti• cism, and may precede any play;. Pope's Prologue to Cato " is appropriated to the tragedy it was designed to introduce, " as the most striking images and allusions it contains, are < taken with judgment from some pallages in the life of Cato s himself.' Of this the Critic produces two fine instances. See the Essay itself.'

* The name of a Fairy in a beautiful poem of Tickel's, on Kenfington'garden. Rev. July, 1756.'

* With


« AnteriorContinuar »