« ÎnapoiContinuați »
poets; the late Professor Porson, who was present, strenuously repelled the justice of the accusation; and, repeating the noble exordium of the third book, a passage which is at once pathetic and sublime in the highest degree, he asked to whom Milton was indebted for this fine example of the most perfect poetry. Nec aliud magis, (says a most elegant and finished scholar) ad Lucretii commendationem pertinet, quam quod Virgilius, tantus Poeta, illum tanti fecit, ut integros ejus versus, vix literis mutatis, in Carmina sua transferat. *
As far as my opinion is concerned, I must say that the original genius of Gray appears to me to be of the very highest order ; and that the combination of his images and the application of them to his subject, is at once the result of the profoundest thought, the finest taste, and the most creative imagination. A person, however, who still entertains sentiments of this kind, will do well, before he decides too positively on the want of originality in this, or that writer, to read what Sir Joshua Reynolds has written on this subject with regard to painting; and especially where he treats of the imitations of Raphael. I shall here content myself with transcribing one short passage from one of his Discourses. "It is indisputably evident (he says) that
* V. Ruhnkenii Ep. Crit. p. 201. On the imitations of Horace from the Greek, see Warton on Pope, ii. 349. Huntingford's Monostroph. p. 93. Martini Var. Lect. p. 104.
+ See Sir J. Reynolds's Discourses, vol. i. p. 28, ed. Ma
a great part of every man's life must be employed in collecting materials for the exercise of genius. Invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory. Nothing can come of nothing. He who has laid up no materials, can produce no combinations. The more extensive therefore your acquaintance with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers of invention; and, what may appear still more a paradox, the more original will be your conception.”
It may be remarked, that proficiency in the language, as in all other parts of poetry, must be acquired by study alone. In no case can it be called a gift, or sudden inspiration. The poet, like the prose-writer,* must take his words, as well as ideas from the writings of others. He will watch that slow, but perpetual change, that is always taking place in language; and his taste will enable him to decide, what he may draw from the recesses of antiquity, as well as reject, what, however good in itself, has been sullied by injudicious use, and
lone. If any apology should be necessary for quoting so often the discourses of a painter, to illustrate the sister-art of poetry, I should shelter myself under the remark of Mr. Harris ; that the Stagirite often illustrates his poetic ideas from painting. See Philological Inquiries, p. 208.
* See Hume's Essay on the Rise of the Arts and Sciences, xvii. p. 160, ed. London, 12mo. and Wordsworth's Preface to his Lyrical Ballads.
weakened by constant repetition. It is also to be observed, that the notes of commentators are chiefly confined to the phraseology of the poet; because, imitations of expression are much more easily traced, than imitations of thought. Of course, a poet like Spenser or Milton, though he may borrow much in his expression, may show great genius in the other constituents of his art, in the invention of the fable, in the disposition of the parts, in the framing of the characters, in the connexion and dependence of the incidents, in the loftiness of his conceptions, in the power of commanding all that is pathetic or sublime, and in the management and conduct of the whole poem, τοίς "Ήθεσιν ακριβούν, ý tà IIpáyuara ovvioraolau. The judgment, therefore, of the poet's originality from his diction alone, of course, must be fallacious. Every poet has some particular province of the art to which he attributes the greatest charms, and pays the chief attention. Though the phraseology be particularly studied by one, it is comparatively neglected by another; while something of greater importance in his eyes, supplies its room. We should know, for instance, what occupied the attention of Milton, by observing
Enfin, voulez-vous que je vous dise franchement mon petit sentiment sur M.M. de la Motte, et Rousseau ; M. de la M. pense beaucoup, et ne travaille par assez ses vers. Rousseau ne pense gueres, mais il travaille ses vers beaucoup mieux, le point seroit de trouver un poete qui pensoit comme la Motte, et qui écrivit comme Rousseau, v. Portef. de Voltaire, vol. i. p. 258.
the varied harmony, the inverted language, the flowing periods, and the foreign phraseology of the poem. In Dryden we should remark the power with which he commands all the native sources of the English language, the masculine vigour of his lines, the diversity of his idioms, the richness of his numbers, and the variety and beauty of his expression.* In Thomson, though on the one hand we should feel the heaviness and monotony of his versification, arising from his ignorance or neglect of the true structure of blank verse, yet we should find even that often giving way to the strength and vigour of his genius: we should admire that significant and emphatical language, which, at one touch, forms and completes the picture he intended to create; the promptitude with which his genius seizes upon the decisive parts of the composition, the vividness of his colouring, and the originality of his observation. The great harmony of Akenside's versification, we should find, was to be attributed to the frequency of the pause at the end of an unequal foot of the verse, particularly the seventh.
* See Dryden's account of his own style, in the Preface to Don Sebastian, vol. iii. p. 186, ed. Malone; where he speaks of “ some newnesses of English, translated from the beauties of Modern Tongues, as well as from the elegancies from the Latin; and here and there, some old words are sprinkled, which, for their significance and sound, deserve not to be antiquated, such as we often find in Sallust among the Roman authors; and in Milton's Paradise, amongst ours.
In the poems
The position of this pause was as much attended to, and admired by him, as that on the eighth foot by Milton, and the Hymn to the Naiads,* derives its chief harmony from this cause. of Goldsmith, we should acknowledge amidst some weakness of language and thought, what appear to be the artless, and the natural graces of composition. The subject, the phrase, the simple flow of the verse, the choice of images, the beautiful transitions, the sweet pathetic vein that runs through his poetry, and perhaps the very carelessness in the recurrence of the same rhyme, contribute to form a style of poetry by many preferred to that of any other; and able indeed to delight and refresh the mind with the softness of its thoughts, and the easiness of its expression.t Lastly, we
* As in the following lines :
-“ O’er ev'ry clime
ye, O Naiads ; | Arethusa fair,
Daughters of Tethys, I listen to your praise." These pauses are all on unequal feet; on the 7th, 5th, 7th, 3rd, 5th, 5th, 5th. For a curious mixture of Blank verse and Rhyme, see Roscommon's Transl. of Horace's Art of Poetry.
+ It has always appeared to me, that the frequent recurrence of the same rhymes in Goldsmith, was intended to assist the natural and unstudied appearance of his poetry i