« AnteriorContinuar »
history of Florence with so many harangues; if the classical bias, imperceptibly, it may be, to himself, had not hung on his mind?
Another example is remarkable. You have sometimes wondered how it has come to pass that the moderns delight so much in dialoguewriting, and yet that so very few have succeeded in it. The proper answer to the first part of your enquiry will go some way towards giving you satisfaction as to the last. The practice is not original, has no foundation in the manners of modern times. It arose from the excellence of the Greek and Roman dialogues, which was the usual form in which the ancients chose to deliver their sentiments on any subject.
Still another instance comes in my way. How happened it, one may ask, that Sir PHILIP SYDNEY in his Arcadia, and afterwards SPENSER in his Fairy Queen, observed so unnatural a conduct in those works ; in which the Story proceeds, as it were, by snatches, and with continual interruptions? How was the good sense of those writers, so conversant besides in the best models of antiquity, seduced into this preposterous method : The answer, no doubt, is, that they were copying the design, or disorder rather, of ARIOSTO, the favourite poet of that time.
III. Of near akin to this contrariety to the genius of a people is another mark which a careful reader will observe " in the representa“ tion of certain TENÊTS, different from those
which prevail in a writer's country or time.”
1. We seldom are able to fasten an imitation, with certainty, on such a writer as Shakespear. Sometimes we are, but never to so much advantage as when he happens to forget himself in this respect. When Claudio, in Measure for Measure, pleads for his life in that famous speech,
Ay, but to die, and go we know. not where;
The pendant worldIt is plain that these are not the Sentiments which any man entertained of Death in the scrutiny of the most original and most imitative writers. And, with all your partiality for me, can you, in earnest, think me capable of fulfilling the first of these conditions ; Or, if I were, do you imagine that, at this time o' day, I can have the leisure to perform the other ? My younger years, indeed, have been spent in turning over those authors which young men are most fond of; and among these I will not disown that the Poets of ancient and modern fame have had their full share in my affection. But you, who love me so well, would not wish me to pass more of my life in these flowery regions; which though you may yet wander in without offence, and the rather as you wander in them with so pure a mind and to so moral a purpose, there seems no decent pretence for me to loiter in them any longer.
Yet in saying this I would not be thought to assume that severe character; which, though sometimes the garb of reason, is oftner, believe, the mask of dulness, or of something worse. No, I am too sensible to the charms, nay to the uses of your profession, to affect a contempt for it. The great Roman said well, Haec studia adolescentiam alunt; senectutem oblectant. We make a full meal of them in our youth. And no philosophy requires so perfect a mortification as that we should wholly abstain from them in our riper years.
But should we invert the observation; and take this light food not as the refreshment only, but.. as the proper nourishment of Age; such a name as Cicero's, I am afraid, would be wanting, and not easily found, to justify the practice.
Let us own then, on a greater authority than His, “ That every thing is beautiful in its 66 season." The Spring hath its buds and blossoms : But, as the year runs on, you are not displeased, perhaps, to see them fall off; and would certainly be disappointed not to find them, in due time, succeeded by those mellow hangings, the poet somewhere speaks of.
I could alledge still graver reasons.
But I would only say, in one word, that has had his share in these amusements. I
may recollect with pleasure, but must never live over again
Pieriosque dies, et amantes carmina somnos. Yet something, you insist, is to be done; and, if it amount to no more than a specimen or slight sketch, such as my memory, or the few
notes I have by me, would furnish, the design, you think, is not totally to be relinquished.
I understand the danger of gratifying you on these terms. Yet, whatever it be, I have no power to 'excuse myself from any attempt, by which, you tell me at least, I may be able to gratify you. I will do my best, then, to draw together such observations, as I have sometimes thought, in reading the poets, most material for the certain discovery of Imitations. And I address them to you, not only as you are the properest judge of the subject; you, who understand so well in what manner the Poets are usd to imitate each other, and who yourself so finely imitate the best of them ; Brt as I would give you this small proof of my affection, and have perhaps the ambition of publishing to the world in this way the entire friendship, that subsists between us.
You tell me I have not succeeded amiss in explaining the difficulty of detecting Imitations. The materials of poetry, you own, lie so much in common amongst all writers, and the several ways of employing them are so much under the controul of common sense, that writings will in many respects be similar,