Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

valleys, promontories, &c. of the sea, under “ its several aspects of turbulence, or serenity; o of the make and structure of ANIMALS, &c. “ it can rarely be affirmed, that they are co- pies of one another, but rather the genuine “ products of the same creating fancy, ope“ rating uniformly in them all.”

Yet, notwithstanding this identity of the subject-matter in natural description, there is room enough for true Genius to shew itself. To omit other considerations for the present, it will more especially appear in the manner of Representation ; by which is not meant the language of the poet, but simply the form under which he chuses to present his imagery to the fancy. The reader will excuse my adding a word on so curious a subject, which he will readily apprehend from the following instance.

Descriptions of the morning are very frequent in the poets. But this appearance is known by so many attending circumstances, that there will be room for a considerable variety, in the pictures of it. It may be described by those stains of light, which streak and diversify the clouds ; by the peculiar colour of the dawn; by its irradiations on the sea, or earth; on some peculiar objects, as trees, hills, rivers, &c. A difference also will arise from the situation, in which we suppose ourselves; if on the sea shore, this harbinger of day will seem to break forth from the ocean; if on the land, from the extremity of a large plain, terminated, it may be, by some remarkable object, as a grove, mountain, &c. There are many other differences, of which the same precise number will scarcely offer itself to two poets; or not the same individual circumstances; or not disposed in the same manner. But let the same identical circumstance, suppose the breaking or first appearance of the dawn, be taken by different writers, and we may still expect a considerable diversity in their representation of it. What we may allow to all poets, is, that they will impersonate the morning. And though this idea of it is metaphorical, and so belongs to another place, as respecting the manner of imitation only; yet, when once considered under this figure, the drawing of it comes as directly within the province of description, as the real, literal circumstances themselves. Now in descriptions of the morning under this idea of a . person, the very same attitude, which is made analogous to the circumstance before specified, and is to suggest it, will, as I said,

be represented by different writers very differently. Homer, to express the rise or appearance of this person, speaks of her as shooting forth from the ocean :

- ΑΠ ΩΚΕΑΝΟΙΟ ΡΟΛΩΝ NPNYO.

Virgil, as rising from the rocks of Ida.

Jamque jugis summae surgebat Lucifer Idae, Ducebatque diem.

Shakespear hath closed a fine description of the morning with the same image, but expressed in a very different manner.

- Look what streaks Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east : Night's candles are put out : and JOCUND DAY STANDS TIPTOE ON THE MISTY MOUNTAINS TOP.

The reader, no doubt, pronounces on first sight, this description to be original. But why? There is no part of it, which may not be traced in other poets. The staining of the clouds, and putting out the stars, are circumstances, that are almost constantly taken notice of in representations of the morning. And the last image, which strikes most, is not

essentially different from that of Virgil and Homer. It would express the attitude of a person impatient, and in act to make his appearance. And this is, plainly, the image suggested by the other two. But the difference lies here. Homer's expression of this impatience is general, SPNYO. So is Virgil's, and, as the occasion required, with less energy, SURGEBAT. Shakespear's is particular : that in patience is set before us, and pictured to the eye in the circumstance of standing tiptoe ; the attitude of a winged messenger, in act to shoot away on his errand with eagerness and precipitation. Which is a beauty of the same kind with that Aristotle so much admired in the ΡΟΔΟΔΑΚΤΥΛΟΣ of Homer. « This

“ image, says he, is peculiar and singularly .“ proper to set the object before our eyes. « Had the poet said $OINIKOAAKTYAOE, “ the colour had been signified too generally, “ and still worse by EPYOPOAAKTTADE. “ POAQAAKTYAOE gives the precise idea, “ which was wantingf.”

ess

- This, it must be owned, is one of the surest characteristics of real genius. And if we find it generally in a writer, we may almost venture to esteem him original without further scruple. For the shapes and appearances of things are apprehended, only in the gross, by dull minds. They think the see, but it is as through a mist; where if they catch but a faint glimpse of the form before them, it is well. More one is not to look for from their clouded imaginations. And what they thus imperfectly discern, it is not possible for them to delineate very distinctly. Whereas every object stands forth in bright sunshine to the view of the true poet. Every minute mark and lineament of the contemplated form leaves a corresponding trace on his fancy. And having these bright and determinate conceptions of things in his own mind, he finds it no difficulty to convey the liveliest ideas of them to others. This is what we call painting in poetry; by which not only the general natures of things are described, and their more obvious appearances shadowed forth ; but every single property marked, and the poet's own image set in distinct relief before the view of his reader.

f Arist. Rhet. lib. i. c. xi.

If this glow of imagery, resulting from clear and bright perceptions in the poet, be not a certain character of genius, it will be difficult, I believe, to say what is: I mean so far as descriptive poetry, which we are now considering,

« VorigeDoorgaan »