« AnteriorContinuar »
for I can prove the fact; my quiet is safe, for I meant well; and for any other safety, I am not used to be very solicitous.
I am always sorry when I see any being labouring in vain ; and in return for the Journalist's attention to my safety, I will confess some compassion for his tumultuous resentment; since all his invectives fume into the air, with so little effect upon me, that I still esteem him as one that has the merit of meaning well ; and still believe him to be a man whose failings may be justly pardoned for his virtues *.
* And of such a man it is to be regretted that Dr. Johnson was, by whatever motive, induced to speak with acrimony; but it is probable that he took up the subject at first merely to give play to his fancy. This answer, however, to Mr. Hanway's letter, is, as Mr. Boswell has reniarked, the only instance in the whole course of his life,when be condescended to oppose any thing that was written against him. C.
“ AN ESSAY ON THE
" WRITINGS AND GENIUS OF POPE."
THIS is a very curious and entertaining miscel
lany of critical remarks and literary history. Though the book promises nothing but observations on the writings of Pope, yet no opportunity is neglected of introducing the character of any other writer, or the mention of any performance or event in which learning is interested. From Pope, however, he always takes his hint, and to Pope he returns again from his digressions. The facts which he mentions, though they are seldom anecdotes in a rigorous sense, are often such as are very little known, and such as will delight more readers than naked criticism.
As he examines the works of this great poet in an order nearly chronological, he necessarily begins with his pastorals, which considered as representations of
kind of life, he very justly censures; for there is in them a mixture of Grecian and English, of ancient and modern, images. Windsor is coupled with Hybla, and Thames with Pactolus. He then compares some passages which Pope has imitated or translated with the imitation or version, and gives the preference to the originals, perhaps not always upon convincing arguments.
* From the Literary Magazine, 1756.
Theocritus makes his lover wish to be a bee, that he might creep among the leaves that form the chaplet of his mistress. Pope's enamoured swain longs to be made the captive bird that sings in his fair one's bower, that she might listen to his songs, and reward them with her kisses. The critick prefers the image of Theocritus as more wild, more delicate, and more uncommon.
It is natural for a lover to wish that he might be any thing that could come near to his lady. But we more naturally desire to be that which she fondles and caresses, than that which she would avoid, at least would neglect. The superiour delicacy of Theocritus I cannot discover, nor can indeed find, that either in the one or the other image there is any want of delicacy. Which of the two images was less common in the time of the poet who used it, for on that consideration the merit of novelty depends, I think it is now out of any critick's power to decide.
He remarks, I am afraid with too much justice, that there is not a single new thought in the pastorals; and with equal reason declares, that their chief beauty consists in their correct and musical versification, which has so influenced the English ear, as to render every moderate rhymer har. monious.
In his examination of the Messiah, he justly observes some deviations from the inspired author, which weaken the imagery, and dispirit the expression.
On Windsor-forest, he declares, I think without proof, that descriptive poetry was by no means the excellence of Pope ; he draws this inference from the few images introduced in this poem, which would not equally belong to any other place. He must inquire whether Windsorforest has in reality any thing peculiar.
The Stag-chase is not, he says, so full, so animated, and so circumstantiated as Somerville's. Barely to say, that one performance is not so good as another, is to criticise with little exactness. But Pope has directed that we should in every work regard the author's end. The Stagchase is the main subject of Somerville, and might therefore be properly dilated into all its circumstances; in Pope it is only incidental, and was to be despatched in a few lines.
He makes a just observation, “ that the description of the external beauties of nature is usually the first effect of a young genius, before he hath studied nature and passions. Some of Milton's most early as well as most exquisite pieces are his Lyci. das, l'Allegro, and Il Penseroso, if we may except his ode on the Nativity of Christ, which is indeed prior in order of time, and in which a penetrating critick might have observed the seeds of that boundless imagination which was one day to produce the Paradise Lost."
Mentioning Thomson and other descriptive poets, he remarks, that writers fail in their copies for want of acquaintance with originals, and justly ridicules those who think they can form just ideas of valleys, mountains, and rivers, in a garret of the Strand. For this reason I cannot regret with this author, that Pope laid aside his design of writing American pastorals; for as he must have painted scenes which he never saw, and manners which he never knew, his performance, though it might have been a pleasing amusement of fancy, would have exhibited no representation of nature or of life.
After the pastorals, the critick considers the lyrick poetry of Pope, and dwells longest on the ode of St. Cecilia's day, which he, like the rest of mankind, places next to that of Dryden, and not much below it. He remarks after Mr. Spence, that the first stanza is a perfect concert. The second he thinks a little flat; he justly commends the fourth, but without notice of the best line in that stanza or in the poem :
Transported demi.gods stood round,
And men grew heroes at the sound. In the latter part of the ode he objects to the stanza of triumph :
Thus song could reveal, &c. as written in a measure ridiculous and burlesque, and justifies his answer by observing that Addison uses the same numbers in the scene of Rosamond, between Grideline and Sir Trusty:
How unhappy is he, &c. That the measure is the same in both passages must be confessed, and both poets perhaps chose their numbers properly; for they both meant to express a kind of airy hilarity. The two passions of merriment and exultation are undoubtedly different; they are as different as a gambol and a triumph, but each is a species of joy; and poetical measures have not in any language been so far refined as to provide for the subdivisions of passion. They can only be adapted to general pur