with me.

is to carry it farther on; and not only so, but to bear along in his head the troublesome sense of four lines together. For those who write correctly in this kind must needs acknowledge, that the last line of the stanza is to be considered in the composition of the first. Neither can we give our. selves the liberty of making any part of a verse for the sake of rhyme, or concluding with a word which is not current English, or using the variety of fe. male rhymes,* all which our fathers practised : and for the female rhymes, they are still in use amongst other nations ; with the Italian in every line, with the Spaniard promiscuously, with the French alternately; as those who have read the Alarique, the Pucelle, or any of their later poems, will agree

And besides this, they write in Alexandrines, or verses of six feet; such as amongst us is the old translation of Homer by Chapman; all which, by lengthening of their chain, makes the sphere of their activity the larger.

I have dwelt too long upon the choice of my stanza, which, you may remember, is much better defended in the preface to Gondibert; and therefore I will hasten to acquaint you with my endeavours in the writing. In general, I will only say, I have never yet seen the description of any naval fight in the proper terms which are used at sea : and if there be any such, in another language, as that Lucan in the Third of his Pharsalia, yet I could not avail myself of it in the English; the terms of art in every tongue bearing more of the idiom of it than any other words. We hear, in

* By 'female rhymes,' says Mr. Malone, Dryden means double rhymes. See his edition of Prose Works, vol. ii.

deed, among our poets, of the thundering of guns, the smoke, the disorder, and the slaughter ; but all these are common notions. And, certainly, as those who, in a logical dispute, keep in general terms, would hide a fallacy; so those, who do it in any po. etical description, would veil their ignorance.

[ocr errors]

Descriptas servare vices, operumque colores,
Cur ego, si nequeo ignoroque, Poeta salutor?

For my own part, if I had little knowledge of the sea, yet I have thought it no shame to learn ; and if I have made some few mistakes, 'tis only, as you can bear me witness, because I have wanted opportunity to correct them; the whole Poem being first written, and now sent you from a place, where I have not so much as the converse of any seamen. Yet, though the trouble I had in writing it was great, it was more than recompensed by the pleasure. I found myself so warm in celebrating the praises of military men, two such especially as the Prince and General, that it is no wonder if they inspired me with thoughts above my ordinary level. And I am well satisfied that, as they are incomparably the best subject I ever had, excepting only the Royal Family; so also, that this I have written of them is much better than what I have performed on any other. I have been forced to help out other arguments; but this has been bountiful to me ; they have been low and barren of praise, and I have exalted them, and made them fruitful; but here• Omnia sponte suå reddit justissima tellus. I have had a large, a fair, and a pleasant field; so fertile, that, without my cultivating, it has given me two harvests in a summer, and in both oppressed the

reaper. All other greatness in subjects is only counterfeit : it will not endure the test of danger; the greatness of arms is only real: other greatness burdens a nation with its weight; this supports it with its strength. And as it is the happiness of the age, so it is the peculiar goodness of the best of Kings, that we may praise his subjects without offending him. Doubtless it proceeds from a just confidence of his own virtue, which the lustre of no other can be so great as to darken in him; for the good or the valiant are never safely praised under a bad or a degenerate prince.

But to return from this digression to a farther account of my Poem. I must crave leave to tell you, that as I have endeavoured to adorn it with noble thoughts, so much more to express those thoughts with elocution. The composition of all poems is, or ought to be, of wit; and wit in the poet, or wit-writing (if you will give me leave to use a school-distinction) is no other than the faculty of imagination in the writer, which, like a nimble spaniel, beats over and ranges through the field of memory, till it springs the quarry it hunted after; or, without metaphor, which searches over all the memory for the species or ideas of those things which it designs to represent. Wit written is that which is well defined, the happy result of thought, or product of imagination. But to proceed from wit, in the general notion of it, to the proper wit of an heroic or historical poem, I judge it chiefly to consist in the delightful imaging of persons, actions, passions, or things. 'Tis not the jerk or sting of an epigram, nor the seeming contradiction of a poor antithesis,

(the delight of an ill-judging audience in a play of rhyme) nor the gingle of a more poor paranomasia; neither is it so much the morality of a grave sentence, affected by Lucan, but more sparingly used by Virgil; but it is some lively and apt description, dressed in such colours of speech, that it sets before your eyes the absent object as perfectly and more delightfully than nature. So then, the first happiness of the poet's imagination is properly invention, or finding of the thought; the second is fancy, or the variation, deriving or moulding of that thought, as the judgment represents it proper to the subject; the third is elocution, or the art of clothing and adorning that thought, so found and varied, in apt, significant, and sounding words: the quickness of the imagination is seen in the invention, the fertility in the fancy, and the accuracy in the expression. For the two first of these, Ovid is famous amongst the poets; for the latter, Virgil. Ovid images more often the movements and affections of the mind, either combatting between two contrary passions, or extremely discomposed by one: His words, therefore, are the least part of his care; for he pictures Nature in disorder, with which the study and choice of words is inconsistent. This is the proper wit of dialogue or discourse, and consequently of the drama, where all that is said is to be supposed the effect of sudden thought; which, though it excludes not the quickness of wit in repartees, yet admits not a too curious election of words, too fre. quent allusions, or use of tropes, or, in fine, any thing that shows remoteness of thought or labour in the writer. On the other side, Virgil speaks not

so often to us in the person of another, like Ovid, but in his own: he relates almost all things as from himself, and thereby gains more liberty than the other, to express his thoughts with all the graces of elocution, to write more figuratively, and to confess as well the labour as the force of his imagination. Though he describes his Dido well and naturally in the violence of her passions, yet he must yield in that to the Myrrha, the Biblis, the Althæa, of Ovid; for, as great an admirer of him as I am, I must acknowledge, that if I see not more of their souls than I see of Dido's; at least, I have a greater concernment for them: and that convinces me that Ovid has touched those tender strokes more delicately than Virgil could. But when action or persons are to be described, when any such image is to be set before us; how bold, how masterly, are the strokes of Virgil! We see the objects he presents us with, in their native figures, in their proper motions; but so we see them, as our own eyes could never have beheld them so beautiful in themselves. We see the soul of the poet, like that universal one of which he speaks, informing and moving through all his pictures :

-Totamqne infusa per artus
Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet.

We behold him embellishing his images, as he makes Venus breathing beauty upon her son Æneas:

Lumenque juventæ
Purpureum, et lætos oculis afflarat honores :
Quale manus addunt ebori decus, aut ubi flavo
Argentum, Pariusve lapis, circundatur auro.

« VorigeDoorgaan »