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Criticism," which was published some months since, and is a master-piece in its kind. The observations follow one another like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical regularity which would have been requisite in a prose author. They are some of them uncommon, but such as the reader must assent to, when he sees them explained with that elegance and perspicuity in which they are delivered. As for those which are the most known, and the most received, they are placed in so beautiful a light, and illustrated with such apt allusions, that they have in them all the graces novelty, and make the reader, who was before acquainted with them, still more convinced of their truth and solidity. And here give me leave to mention what Monsieur Boileau has so very well enlarged upon in the preface to his works, that wit and fine writing doth not consist so much in advancing things that are new, as in giving things that are known an agreeable turn. It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or in any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others. We have little else left us, but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights. If a reader examines Horace's Art of Poetry, he will find but very few precepts in it, which he may not meet with in Aristotle, and which were not commonly known by all the poets of the Augustan age. His way of expressing and applying them, not his invention of them, is what we are chiefly to admire.
For this reason I think there is nothing in the world so tiresome as the works of those critics, who write in a positive, dogmatic way, without either language, genius, or imagination. If the reader would see how the best of the Latin critics writ, he may find their manner very beautifully described in the characters of Horace, Petronius, Quintilian, and Longinus, as they are drawn in the essay of which I am now speaking.
Since I have mentioned Longinus, who in his reflections has given us the same kind of sublime, which he observes in the several passages that occasioned them; I cannot but take notice, that our English author has after the same manner exemplified several of his precepts in the very precepts themselves. I shall produce two or three instances of this
kind. Speaking of the insipid smoothness which some readers are so much in love with, he has the following verses.
These equal syllables alone require,
Though oft the ear the open vowels tire,
The gaping of the vowels in the second line, the expletive do in the third, and the ten monosyllables in the fourth, give such a beauty to this passage, as would have been very much admired in an ancient poet. The reader may observe the following lines in the same view.
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main.
The beautiful distich upon Ajax in the foregoing lines, puts me in mind of a description in Homer's Odyssey. It is where Sisyphus is represented lifting his stone up the hill, which is no sooner carried to the top of it, but it immediately tumbles to the bottom. This double motion of the stone is admirably described in the numbers of these verses; as in the four first it is heaved up by several spondees, intermixed with proper breathing-places, and at last trundles down in a continued line of Dactyls.
Καὶ μην Σίσυφον εἰσεῖδον, κρατέρ ̓ ἄλγε ̓ ἔχοντα,
It would be endless to quote verses out of Virgil which have this particular kind of beauty in the numbers; but I
may take an occasion in a future paper to show several of them which have escaped the observation of others.
I cannot conclude this paper without taking notice, that we have three poems in our tongue, which are of the same nature, and each of them a master-piece in its kind; the Essay on Translated Verse, the Essay on the Art of Poetry, and the Essay upon Criticism.
No. 255. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 22.
Laudis amore tumes? sunt certa piacula quæ te Ter pure lecto poterunt recreare libello. THE Soul, considered abstractedly from its passions, is of a remiss and sedentary nature, slow in its resolves, and languishing in its executions. The use, therefore, of the passions, is to stir it up, and put it upon action, to awaken the understanding, to enforce the will, and to make the whole man more vigorous and attentive in the prosecution of his designs. As this is the end of the passions in general, so it is particularly of ambition, which pushes the soul to such actions as are apt to procure honour and reputation to the actor. But if we carry our reflections higher, we may discover further ends of Providence in implanting this passion in mankind.
It was necessary for the world, that arts should be invented and improved, books written and transmitted to posterity, nations conquered and civilized: now, since the proper and genuine motives to these and the like great actions would only influence virtuous minds; there would be but small improvements in the world, were there not some common principle of action working equally with all men. And such a principle is ambition, or a desire of fame, by which great endowments are not suffered to lie idle and useless to the public, and many vicious men overreached, as it were, and engaged contrary to their natural inclinations in a glorious and laudable course of action. For we may further observe, that men of the greatest abilities are most fired with ambition: and that, on the contrary, mean and narrow minds are the least actuated by it; whether it be that a man's sense of his own incapacities makes him despair of coming at fame, or that he has not enough range of thought to look out for
any good which does not more immediately relate to his interest or convenience, or that Providence, in the very frame of his soul, would not subject him to such a passion as would be useless to the world, and a torment to himself.
Were not this desire of fame very strong, the difficulty of obtaining it, and the danger of losing it when obtained, would be sufficient to deter a man from so vain a pursuit.
How few are there who are furnished with abilities sufficient to recommend their actions to the admiration of the world, and to distinguish themselves from the rest of mankind! Providence for the most part sets us upon a level, and observes a kind of proportion in its dispensations towards us. If it renders us perfect in one accomplishment, it generally leaves us defective in another, and seems careful rather of preserving every person from being mean and deficient in his qualifications, than of making any single one eminent or extraordinary.
And among those who are the most richly endowed by nature, and accomplished by their own industry, how few are there whose virtues are not obscured by the ignorance, prejudice, or envy of their beholders! Some men cannot discern between a noble and a mean action. Others are apt to attribute them to some false end or intention; and others purposely misrepresent or put a wrong interpretation on them.
But the more to enforce this consideration, we may observe that those are generally most unsuccessful in their pursuit after fame, who are most desirous of obtaining it. It is Sallust's remark upon Cato, that the less he coveted glory, the more he acquired it.
Men take an ill-natured pleasure in crossing our inclinations, and disappointing us in what our hearts are most set upon. When, therefore, they have discovered the passionate desire of fame in the ambitious man, (as no temper of mind is more apt to show itself,) they become sparing and reserved in their commendations, they envy him the satisfaction of an applause, and look on their praises rather as a kindness done to his person, than as a tribute paid to his merit. Others, who are free from this natural perverseness of temper, grow wary in their praises of one, who sets too great a value on them, lest they should raise him too high in his own imagination, and by consequence remove him to a greater distance from themselves.
But further, this desire of fame naturally betrays the ambitious man into such indecencies as are lessening to his reputation. He is still afraid lest any of his actions should be thrown away in private, lest his deserts should be concealed from the notice of the world, or receive any disadvantage from the reports which others make of them. This often sets him on empty boasts and ostentations of himself, and betrays him into vain, fantastic recitals of his own performances: his discourse generally leans one way, and whatever is the subject of it, tends obliquely either to the detracting from others, or the extolling of himself. Vanity is the natural weakness of an ambitious man, which exposes him to the secret scorn and derision of those he converses with, and ruins the character he is so industrious to advance by it. For though his actions are never so glorious, they lose their lustre when they are drawn at large, and set to show by his own hand; and as the world is more apt to find fault than to commend, the boast will probably be censured when the great action that occasioned it is forgotten.
Besides, this very desire of fame is looked on as a meanness and an imperfection in the greatest character. A solid and substantial greatness of soul looks down with a generous neglect on the censures and applauses of the multitude, and places a man beyond the little noise and strife of tongues. Accordingly we find in ourselves a secret awe and veneration for the character of one who moves above us in a regular and illustrious course of virtue, without any regard to our good or ill opinions of him, to our reproaches or commendations. As, on the contrary, it is usual for us, when we would take off from the fame and reputation of an action, to ascribe it to vain-glory, and a desire of fame in the actor. Nor is this common judgment and opinion of mankind ill founded: for certainly it denotes no great bravery of mind to be worked up to any noble action by so selfish a motive, and to do that out of a desire of fame, which we could not be prompted to by a disinterested love to mankind, or by a generous passion for the glory of him that made us.
Thus is fame a thing difficult to be obtained by all, but particularly by those who thirst after it, since most men have so much either of ill-nature or of wariness, as not to gratify and soothe the vanity of the ambitious man; and since this