« ÎnapoiContinuați »
's Whose iron scourge, and torturing hour;"
-When the scourge Inexorably, and the torturing hour." Or else to mark those indirect imitations, in which the image bears a very strong resemblance to that used by another poet, as in the Elegy;
“Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries ;" from the Anthologia;
“Crede mihi vires aliquas Natura sepulchris
Adhibuit, tumulos vindicat umbra suos.” Or, thirdly, to trace an allusion, either in subject or style, made to ancient customs or expressions ; open
the sources from which the poet ornamented the productions of his fancy; to shew the materials which he connected for new combinations and fresh imagery; and to elucidate the allusions which he remotely made to the idioms, phrases, and images of foreign writers. The very first lines of the poem on the Spring, for instance, abound with allusions to the expressions of the ancient poets :*
the general picture of a child smiling, and stretching out its hands, in this instance appropriate, by the epithet “dauntless," and how admirably it characterizes the infant genius of Shakespeare.
* From Meleager's Hymn to Spring, see Sir W. Jones' Poes. Asiat. p. 410.
“ Lo! where the rosy-bosom'd Hours,
Fair Venus' train, appear,
And wake the purple year!
The Attic warbler pours her throat,” &c. The propriety and beauty of the expressions in these lines depend upon the reference which we make to the ancient authors who have used them. To the mere English writer, some must appear
inapplicable, as "purple year;” and others unintelligible, as “ Attic warbler.” The whole of the stanza has, indeed, quite the air of a Grecian hymn or ode: and might have been sung with propriety by an ancient poet, who was beholding an Athenian landscape brightening in the spring. Considered as a mere piece of English scenery, I think some of the images not peculiarly appropriate ; and perhaps, the expression ' purple year' is too florid and luxuriant, for anything but the splendour of an Asiatic vegetation.* But not to dwell on this trivial objection; perhaps the allusions to the ancient mythology with which the poem opens, might have been kept in view throughout; instead of being almost entirely confined to the commencement; and, on the whole, I have always thought there was a little defect in the change of scenery and expression which takes place in this
* See Sir W. Jones' description of an Asiatic Spring in his Prælect. Poes. As. p. 6, and its effect on the language of Poetry.
ode at the close of the first stanza. The charm, indeed, which is produced by the occasional insertion of a classical image, or an allusion to the mythology of the ancients; the associations which it brings with it, and the interesting picture which it creates in the mind, is too evident to require any proof. When, for instance, in the Hymn to Adversity, we meet with that fine invocation :
“Oh! gently on thy suppliant's head,
Dread goddess, lay thy chast’ning hand !
Not circled with the vengeful band”
what single epithet, what attribute could the poet have given to Terror, which could have produced an effect equal to that of this image ? Do we not immediately behold the figure of the goddess ;
“ Horrentem colubris, vultuque tremendam,
Gorgoneo ;"— and do we not reflect upon a period, when this image was not considered merely as part of an elegant fable, or as an ingenious personification : but when it brought with it the impression of its real presence, which was felt; and of its supernatural power, which was revered ?
When an allusion, and not an imitation, is intended to be pointed out, it is not always of consequence from what author, or what particular passage, the resemblance is drawn; and therefore it cannot be objected, that the one allusion which I
have marked, is needless ; because many others equally obvious could be brought from various quarters. An imitation perhaps must be confined to one or two passages; but an allusion may be illustrated by many.
It surely forms also a pleasing branch of criticism, to trace coincidences of thought between writers of genius; to see what particular taste has added to general expression; and to observe, how a graceful idiom, or a noble image, has been altered or enlarged by each succeeding poet; what new and unexpected lights have been cast by the fancy of one author, on the suggestions of another; and how a thought, by gradual expansion, or sudden addition, is at length perfected. We
may thus perceive from what slender associations, from what faint images and occasional turns of expression, a train of thought may shoot across the mind of the poet, and opening and enlarging itself, and gaining accessions of strength from all which the genius and learning of the mind can supply, at length appear with a lustre and beauty that never belonged to it in its early state, and under its original possessor.
In this manner we may form a correct notion how fine the fruit of native genius will be, when it is assisted by the wisdom of others : and when the poet, while indulging in a patient and liberal enquiry into the opinions of the enlightened, still preserves a consciousness of his own independence of thought, and of his native and original strength.-—“Poetry (says Milton) is the art of expert judgment, and the final work of a head filled by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims and copious invention."*
It will hardly be necessary, after what I have said, to take notice of the opinions of those, who think the fame of the poet lessened as the imitations, coincidences, or allusions are pointed out, and that his original genius is depreciated by exhibiting the quantity of his acquired : materials. It may be asked, however, if the reputation of Shakespeare or Milton has been at all diminished, by the illustrations collected by the industry of their commentators. + I remember when an opinion of this nature was once urged against Milton; and when it was asserted that the chief part of the materials which he used in his Paradise Lost, belonged to other
See the observations of la Bruyere, vol. iii. p. 193, ed. Cazin.
+ See Hurd on Imitation, vol. iii. p 39, 137. Censura Liter, vol. vii. p. 317. Pope's Letters, (Curl's ed.) vol. i. p. 57. The French Poets would seem to allow themselves an unusual license in this respect: “Molière prenoit quelquefois des scènes entières dans Cyrano de Bergerac, et disoit : Cette scène est bonne, elle m'appartient de droit, je reprend mon bien, partout ou je le trouve.” V. Portefeuille de Voltaire, ii. 32. J'oubliai le dire que j'ai pris deux vers, dans l'@dipe de Corneille, je n'ai point fait scrupule de voler ses deux vers, parceque ayant précisément la même chose à dire que Corneille, il m'étoit impossible de l' exprimer mieux, et j'ai mieux aimé de donner deux bons vers de lui que d'en donner deux mauvais de moi.-Voltaire de lui même, ed. p. 57.