« VorigeDoorgaan »
interchanging description, narrative, and morality. The objection made by Dennis is the want of plan, of a regular subordination of parts terminating in the principal and original design. There is this want in most descriptive poems, because as the scenes, which they must exhibit successively, are all subsisting at the same time, the order in which they are shown must by necessity be arbitrary, and more is not to be expected from the last part than from the first. · The attention, therefore, which cannot be detained by suspense, must be excited by diversity, such as this poem offers to its reader. But the desire of diversity may be too much indulged ; the parts of “ Windsor Forest " which deserve least praise are those which were added to enliven the stillness of the scenethe appearance of Father Thames, and the transformation of Lodona. Addison had in his “ Campaign” derided the rivers that arise from their oozy beds” to tell stories of heroes ; and it is therefore strange that Pope should adopt a fiction not only unnatural, but lately censured. The story of Lodona is told with sweetness; but a new metamorphosis is a ready and puerile expedient; nothing is easier than to tell how a flower was once a blooming virgin, or a rock an obdurate tyrant.
The “Temple of Fame” has, as Steele warmly declared, a “thousand beauties.” Every part is splendid ; there is great luxuriance of ornaments ; the original vision of Chaucer was never denied to be much improved ; the allegory is very skilfully continued, the imagery is properly selected, and learnedly displayed ; yet, with all this comprehension of excellence, as its scene is laid in remote ages, and its sentiments, if the concluding paragraph be excepted, have little relation to general manners or common life, it never obtained much notice, but is turned silently over, and seldom quoted or mentioned with either praise or blame.
That the “Messiah" excels the “Pollio" is no great
praise, if it be considered from what original the improvements are derived.
The “Verses on the Unfortunate Lady” have drawn much attention by the illaudable singularity of treating suicide with respect; and they must be allowed to be written in some parts with vigorous animation, and in others with gentle tenderness; nor has Pope produced any poem in which the sense predominates more over the diction. But the tale is not skilfully told; it is not easy to discover the character of either the lady or her guardian. History relates that she was about to disparage herself by a marriage with an inferior ; Pope praises her for the dignity of ambition, and yet condemns the uncle to detestation for his pride ; the ambitious love of a niece may be opposed by the interest, malice, or envy of an uncle, but never by his pride. On such an occasion a poet may be allowed to be obscure, but inconsistency never can be right.
The “Ode for St. Cecilia's Day” was undertaken at the desire of Steele : in this the author is generally confessed to have miscarried, yet he has miscarried only as.compared with Dryden; for he has far outgone other com. petitors. Dryden's plan is better chosen; history will always take stronger hold of the attention than fable : the passions excited by Dryden are the pleasures and pains of real life, the scene of Pope is laid in imaginary existence; Pope is read with calm acquiescence, Dryden with turbulent delight; Pope hangs upon the ear, and Dryden finds the passes of the mind. Both the odes want the essential constituent of metrical compositions, the stated recurrence of settled numbers. It may be alleged that Pindar is said by Horace to have written numeris lege solutis ; but as no such lax performances have been transmitted to us, the meaning of that expression cannot be fixed; and perhaps the like return might properly be made to a modern Pindarist as Mr. Cobb received from
Bentley, who, when he found his criticisms upon a Greek exercise, which Cobb had presented, refuted one after another by Pindar's authority, cried out at last, “Pindar was a bold fellow, but thou art an impudent one."
If Pope's ode be particularly inspected, it will be found that the first stanza consists of sounds well chosen indeed, but only sounds. The second consists of hyperbolical commonplaces, easily to be found, and perhaps without much difficulty to be as well expressed. In the third, however, there are numbers, images, harmony, and vigour, not unworthy the antagonist of Dryden. Had all been like this—but every part cannot be the best. The next stanzas place and detain us in the dark and dismal regions of mythology, where neither hope nor fear, neither joy nor sorrow can be found: the poet, however, faithfully attends us; we have all that can be performed by elegance of diction or sweetness of versification ; but what can form avail without better matter? The last stanza recurs again to commonplaces. The conclusion is too evidently modelled by that of Dryden; and it may be remarked that both end with the same fault; the comparison of each is literal on one side and metaphorical on the other. Poets do not always express their own thoughts : Pope, with all this labour in the praise of music, was ignorant of its principles and insensible of its effects.
One of his greatest, though of his earliest works, is the Essay on Criticism," which, if he had written nothing else, would have placed him among the first critics and the first poets, as it exhibits every mode of excellence that can embellish or dignify didactic composition, selection of matter, novelty of arrangement, justness of precept, splendour of illustration, and propriety of digression. I know not whether it be pleasing to consider that he produced this piece at twenty, and never afterwards excelled it: he that delights himself with observing that
such powers may be soon attained, cannot but grieve to think that life was ever after at a stand.
To mention the particular beauties of the essay would be unprofitably tedious : but I cannot forbear to observe that the comparison of a student's progress in the sciences with the journey of a traveller in the Alps is perhaps the best that English poetry can show. A simile, to be perfect, must both illustrate and ennoble the subject; must show it to the understanding in a clearer view, and display it to the fanoy with greater dignity; but either of these qualities may be sufficient to recommend it. In didactic poetry, of which the great purpose is instruction, a simile may be praised which illustrates, though it does not ennoble; in heroics, that may be admitted which ennobles, though it does not illustrate. That it may be complete, it is required to exhibit, independently of its references, a pleasing image ; for a simile is said to be a short episode. To this antiquity was so attentive, that circumstances were sometimes added, which, having no parallels, served only to fill the imagination, and produced what Perrault ludicrously called “comparisons with a long tail.” In their similes the greatest writers have sometimes failed ; the ship-race, .compared with the chariot-race, is neither illustrated nor aggrandised ; land and water make all the difference : when Apollo, running after Daphne, is likened to a greyhound chasing a hare, there is nothing gained; the ideas of pursuit and flight are too plain to be made plainer; and a god and the daughter of a god are not represented much to their advantage by a hare and dog. The simile of the Alps has no useless parts, yet affords a striking picture by itself; it makes the foregoing position better understood, and enables it to take faster hold on the attention ; assists the apprehension and elevates the fancy. Let me likewise dwell a little on the celebrated paragraph in which it is directed that “the sound should seem an echo to the
sense;" a precept which Pope is allowed to have observed beyond any other English poet.
This notion of representative metre, and the desire of discovering frequent adaptations of the sound to the sense, have produced, in my opinion, many wild conceits and imaginary beauties. All that can furnish this representation are the sounds of the words considered singly and the time in which they are pronounced. Every langriage has some words framed to exhibit the noises which they express, as thump, rattle, grow!, hiss. These, however, are but few, and the poet cannot make them more, nor can they be of any use but when sound is to be mentioned. The time of pronunciation was in the dactylic measures of the learned languages capable of considerable variety; but that variety could be accommodated only to motion or duration, and different degrees of motion were perhaps expressed by verses rapid or slow, without much attention of the writer, when the image had full possession of his fancy : but our language having little flexibility, our verses can differ very little in their cadence. The fancied resemblances, I fear, arise sometimes merely from the ambiguity of words; there is supposed to be some relation between a soft line and soft couch, or between hard syllables and hard fortune. Motion, however, may be in some sort exemplified; and yet it may be suspected that in such resemblances the mind often governs the ear, and the sounds are estimated by their meaning. One of their most successful attempts Las been to describe the labour of Sisyphus
“ With many a weary step, and many a groan,
Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground." Who does not perceive the stone to move slowly upward, and roll violently back? But set the same numbers to another sense :