« VorigeDoorgaan »
tiality for me, can you, in earnest, think me capablo 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 amongst these I will not disown that the Poets of antient and modern fame have had their full share in my affection. But You, who love me so well, would not with me to pass more of my life in these flowery regions; which tho' 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, tho’ sometimes the garb of reason, is oftener, I believe, the mask of dullness, or of something worse. No, I am too sensible to the charms, nay to the uses of your profefsion, to affect a contempt for it. The great Roman said well, Haec ftudia adolefcentiam alunt ; feneEtutem oble&tant. 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 reverse 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 it's season.” The Spring hath it's buds and bloffoms : But, as the year runs on, You are not displeas’d, perhapsy 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 your friend has had his share in these amusements. I may recollect with pleasure, but must never live over again,
Pieriofque dies, et amantes carmina fomnos. Yet something, you insist, is to be done; and, if it amount to no more than a specimen or flight 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 belt, 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 us’d to imitate each other, and who yourself so finely imitate the beft of them; But 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 fubfifts between us.
You tell me I have succeeded not 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, where there is no thought or design of Imitating. I take advantage of this concession to conclude from it, That we can seldom pronounce with certainty of Imitations without some external proof to assist us in the discovery. You will understand me to mean by these external proofs, the previous knowledge we have, from confiderations not refpecting the Nature of the work itself, of the wri. ter's ability or inducements to imitate. Our first enquiry, then, will be, concerning the Age, Character, and Education of the suppos'd Imitator.
We can determine with little certainty, how far the principal Greek writers have been indebted to Imitation. We trace the waters of Helicon na higher than to their source. And we acquiesce, with reason, in the device of the old painter, You know of, who somewhat rudely indeed, but not absurdly, drew the figure of Homer with a fountain streaming out of his mouth, and the other poets watering at it.
Hither, as to their fountain, other Stars
Repairing, in their golden urns draw light. The Greek writers then-were, or for any thing we can say, might be Original.
But we can rarely affirm this of any other. And the reason is plain. When a taste for letters prevail'd in any country, if it arose at first from the efforts of original thinking, it was immediately cherilh'd and cultivated by the study of the old writers. You are too well acquainted with the progress of antient and modern wit to doubt of this fact. Rome adorn'd itself in the spoils of Greece. And both affifted in drefling up the later European poetry, What else do You find in the Italian or French Wits, but the old matter, work'd over again; only presented to us in a new form, and embellish'd perhaps with a conceit or two of mere modern inven. tion? But the English, You say, or rather your
fondness for Your Masters leads You to suppose, are original thinkers. 'Tis true, Nature has taken a pleasure to Thew us what she could do, by the production of ONE Prodigy. But the rest are what we admire them for, not indeed without Genius, perhaps with a larger share of it than has fallen to the lot of others, yet directly and chiefly by the discipline of art and the helps of Imitation.
There is however a distinction to be made. When the fathers of the English poefy appear’d, antient literature was not sufficiently known, and at another A4
period it was not sufficiently consider'd, to produce a strict and studied Imitation. But the first of these Poets, tho' You respect them for their age and for their real merits, are not your favourites. And the other you despise for writing so ill in their own way, when the models, they had in their hands, would have taught them to excell in a better.
To come then to the golden times of our two Queens, when the Muses, they say, went to court, and, which some may account the greater wonder, were not debauch'd there. Indeed the poetry of these Reigns is the nobleft we have to boast of. Invention was at it's height in the one ; and Correctness in the other. In both, the manners of a court refin’d, without either breaking or corrupting the spirit of our Poets. But do you forget that ELIZABETH read Greek and Latin almost as easily as our Professors ? And can you doubt that what she knew so well, would be known, admired, and imitated by every other or say, that the writers of her time were, some of them, ignorant enough of the learned languages to be inventors; can you suppose, from what you know of the fashion of that age, that their fancies would not be sprinkled, and their wits refreshed by the essences of the Italian poetry?
I scarcely need say a word of our other Queen, whose reign was unquestionably the æra of classic imitation and of classic taste. Even they, who had never been as far as Greece or Italy, to warm their imaginations or stock their memories, might do both to a tolerable degree in France ; which tho'it bow'd to