Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

ation of their fellow-writers, they must endeavour to sink it to their own pitch, if they would still keep themselves upon a level with them.

The greatest wits that ever were produced in one age, lived together in so good an understanding, and celebrated one another with so much generosity, that each of them receives an additional lustre from his contemporaries, and is more famous for having lived with men of so extraordinary a genius, than if he had himself been the sole wonder of his age. I need not tell my reader, that I here point at the reign of Augustus, and I believe he will be of my opinion, that neither Virgil nor Horace would have gained so great a reputation in the world, had they not been the friends and admirers of each other. Indeed all the great writers of that age, for whom singly we have so great an esteem, stand up together as vouchers for one another's reputation. But at the same time that Virgil was celebrated by Gallus, Propertius, Horace, Varius, Tucca, and Ovid, we know that Bavius and Mævius were his declared foes and calumniators.

In our own country a man seldom sets up for a poet, without attacking the reputation of all his brothers in the art. The ignorance of the moderns, the scribblers of the age, the decay of poetry, are the topics of detraction, with which he makes his entrance into the world: but how much more noble is the fame that is built on candour and ingenuity, according to those beautiful lines of Sir John Denham, in his poem on Fletcher's works!

But whither am I strayed ? I need not raise
Trophies to thee from other men's dispraise ;
Nor is thy fame on lesser ruins built,
Nor needs thy juster title the foul guilt
Of eastern kings, who, to secure their reign,

Must have their brothers, sons, and kindred slain. I am sorry to find that an author, who is very justly esteemed among the best judges, has admitted some strokes

, of this nature into a very fine poem, I mean “ The Art of

Some strokes of this nature.] If, by strokes of this nature, he meant strokes of personal detraction, it is certain that we now perceive no such strokes in the Art of Criticism. But I suppose that some general reflections in that poem were understood, at the time of its

tion, to be particular and personal ; or, the candour and gentleness of Mr. Addi. son's temper might take offence at general satire, when expressed with a certain force.

1

of

Criticise," which was published some months since, and is a master-piece in its kind. The observations follow ono 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,
While expletives their feeble aid do join,

And ten low words oft creep in one dull line. 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.
And afterwards,

'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blowe,
And the smooth stream in smoother number flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labours, and the words move slow :
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.

Και μην Σίσυφον εισείδον, κρατέρ' άλγε έχοντα,
Λάαν βαστάζοντα πελώνιον αμφοτέρησιν.
"Ήτοι ο μεν, σκηριπτόμενος χερσίν τε ποσίν τε,
Λάαν άνω ώθεσκε ποτί λόφον· αλλ' ότε μέλλοι
"Ακρον υπερβαλεειν, τότ' αποστρέψασκε κραταιάς

Αύτις, έπειτα πέδονδε κυλίνδετο λάας αναιδής. It would be endless to quote verses out of Virgil which have this particular kind of beauty in the numbers; but I

a

may take al 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. Hor. 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 invent. ed 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 prin. ciple 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 Same, or that he has saot enough range of thought to look out for

a

us.

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 suffici. ent 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

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 valne on them, lest they should raise him too high in his own imagination, and by consequence remove him to a greater distance from themselves.

« ПредишнаНапред »