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versation or writing much of what is called pure humour; it was always so much blended either with wit, fancy, or his own peculiar character, that it became equivocal, and hence not adapted to please generally: it had more of the manner of Congreve than Addison; and we know where one person relishes my Lady Wishfort, there are thousands that admire Sir Roger de Coverley: it will not, however, from hence follow, that Lady Wishfort is ill drawn; for my own part, I think it one of the most entertaining characters that ever was written. I know, however, that it is commonly thought extravagant and unnatural; and I believe it is true, that no women ever existed who had so much folly and affectation, and at the same time so much wit and fancy ; yet every one sees that were this fancy and wit taken away, her character would become insipid, in proportion as it became more natural; so that, in this and other instances, if Congreve's fools were fools indeed, they would, by being true characters, cease to be entertaining ones. It may be further observed on the subject of humour, that it may and ought to be divided into several species: there is one sort, that of Terence's, which simply pleases without forcing a smile ; another, like Mr. Addison's, which not only pleases, but makes us smile into the bargain. Shakspeare's, Swift's, Congreve's, and Prior's, usually goes further, and makes us laugh : I infer not, from hence, that this latter sort is the best : I only assert, that howsoever it may be mixed with other ingredients, it ought also to be called hu
The critic, however, who judges by rule, and who will not be pleased unless legitimately, will be apt to condemn this species of mixed humour; and the common reader will not always have either wit or imagination enough to comprehend or taste it. But I have said Mr. Gray not only mixed wit and fancy with his humour, but also his own particular character; and
being naturally delicate, and at times even fastidious, his humour generally took the same cast; and would therefore be only relished by such of his friends, who, concious of the superior excellencies, thought this defect not only pardonable but entertaining, which a character of this sort (being humorous in itself) always is, when it is not carried to any offensive extreme. Yet as this observation relates only to his conversation and familiar letters (for to these only it can be applied), I have no occasion to insist on it further; and shall only add, that whatever the generality of readers may think of Mr. Gray's talent in this way, there will always be some, and those far from the lowest class, to whom it will appear excellent: for humour may be true, when it ceases to be pure or unmixed, if the ingredients which go to its composition be true also. False wit and a wild fancy would debase the best humour in the world, as they frequently do in Rabelais and Sterne (without taking more exceptionable matters into consideration); but when genuine, they serve to heighten and embellish it.
A LONG STORY.
To raise the ceiling's fretted height,
Full oft within the spacious walls,
a The mansion-house at Stoke-Pogis, then in the possession of Viscountess Cobham. The style of building, which we now call Queen Elizabeth's, is here admirably described, both with regard to its beauties and defects; and the third and fourth stanzas delineate the fantastic manners of her time with equal truth and humour. The house formerly belonged to the Earls of Huntingdon and the family of Hatton.
b Sir Christopher Hatton, promoted by Queen Elizabeth for his graceful person and fine dancing. G.-Brawls. were a sort of figure-dance then in vogue, and probably deemed as elegant as our modern cotillions, or still more modern quadrilles.
His bushy beard, and shoe-strings green,
What, in the very first beginning!..
A house there is (and that's enough) :..
From whence one fatal morning issues
The first came cap-a-pee from France,
The other Amazon, kind heav'n'
To celebrate her eyes, her air
With bonnet blue and capuchine,
Fame in the shape of d Mr. P-t
Who prowl’d the country far and near,
My lady heard their joint petition,
The heroines undertook the task,
c The reader is already apprized who these ladies were; the two descriptions are prettily contrasted ; and nothing can be more happily turned than the compliment to Lady Cobham in the eighth stanza.
d I have been told that this gentleman, a neighbour and acquaintance of Mr. Gray's in the country, was much displeased at the liberty here taken with his ñame 3 yet, surely, without any great reason.
The trembling family they daunt,
Each hole and cupboard they explore,
Into the drawers and chiņa pry,
On the first marching of the troops,
So Rumour says: (who will, believe.), -.
Short was his joy. He little knew
The words too eager to unriddle,
• Fancy is here so much blended with the humour, that I believe the two stanzas, which succeed this line, are amongst those which are the least relished by the generality. The description of the spell, I know, has appeared to many persons absolutely unintelligible; yet if the reader adverts to that peculiar idea which runs through the whole, I imagine the obscurity complained of will be removed. An incident, we see, so slight as the simple matter of fact, required something like machinery to enliven it: accordingly the Author chose, with propriety enough, to employ for that purpose those notions of witchcraft, ghosts, and enchantment, which prevailed at the time when the mansion-house was built. He describes himself as a demon of the lowest class, a wicked imp who lamed the deer, &c. against whose malevolent power Lady Cobham (the Gloriana' of the piece) employs two superior enchantresses. Congruity of imagery, therefore, required the card they left upon the table to be converted into a spell. Now all the old writers, on these subjects, are very minute in describing the materials of such talismans. Hence, therefore, his grotesque idea of a composition of transparent bird-lime, edged with invisible chains, in order to catch and draw him to the tribunal. Without going further for examples of this kind of imagery than the Poet's own works, let me instance two passages of the serious kind, similar to this ludicrous one. In his Ode, intitled the Bard,
Above, below, the rose of snow, &c. And, again, in the Fatal Sisters,
“See the grisly texture grow." It must, however, be allowed, that no person can fully relish this burlesque, who iş not much conversant with the old romance-writers, and with the poets who formed themselves on their model.
So cunning was the apparatus,
'Yet on his way (no sign of grace,
The Godhead would have back'd his quarrel ;
The court was sate, the culprit there,
Such as in silence of the night
In peaked hoods and mantles tarnishid,
The Peeress comes. The audience stare,
The Bard, with many an artful fib,
But soon his rhetoric forsook him,
The humour of this and the following stanza is more pure, and consequently more obvious. It might have been written by Prior, and the wit at the end is much in his best manner.
8 Here fancy is again uppermost, and soars as high on her comic, as on another occasion she does on her lyric wing; for now a chorus of ghostly old women of quality come to give sentence on the culprit Poet, just as the spirits of Cadwallo, Urien, and Hoel join the bard in dreadful symphony to denounce vengeance on Edward I. The route of fancy, we see, is the same both on the humorous and sublime occasion. No wonder, therefore, if either of them should fail of being generally tasted. h The housekeeper. G.
The description is here excellent, and should think would please universally. k Groom of the chamber. G. 1 The steward. G.
m A famous highwayman hanged the week before. G.–This stanza is of the sort where wit rather than fancy prevails, consequently much in Prior's manner.