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XX., MR. GRAY TO DR, WHARTON.
Cambridge, March 9, 1755., I do not pretend to humble any one's pride; I love my own too well to attempt it. As to mortifying their vanity, it is too easy and too mean a task for me to delight in. You are very good in shewing so much sensibility on my account: but be assured my taste for praise is not like that of children for fruit; if there were nothing but medlars and black-berries in the world, I could be very well content to go without any at all. I dare say that Mason, though some years younger than I, was as little elevated with the approbation of Lord * and Lord *, as I am mortified by their silence.
With regard to publishing, I am not so much against the thing itself, as of publishing this Ode alone. I have two or three ideas more in my head; what is to come of them ? must they too come out in the shape of little sixpenny flams, dropping one after another till Mr. Dodsley thinks fit to collect them with Mr. This's Song, and Mr. Tóther's Epigram, into a pretty. volume? I am sure Mason must be sensible of this, and therefore cannot mean what he says; neither am I quite of your opinion with regard to strophe and antistrophe;t setting aside the difficulty of execution, methinks it has little or no effect on the ear, which scarce perceives the regular
17 His ode on the Progress of Poetry. # He often made the same remark to me in conversation, which led me to form the last ode of Caractacus in shorter stanzas : but we must not imagine that he thought the regular Pindaric method without its use; though, as he justly says, when formed in long stanzas, it does not fully succeed in point of effect on the ear: for there was nothing which he more disliked than that chain of irregular stanzas which Cowley introduced, and falsely called Pindaric; and which from the extreme facility of execution produced a number of miserable imitators. Had the regular return of strophe, antistrophe, and epode no other merit than that of extreme difficulty, it ought, on this very account, to be valued ; because we well know that "easy writing is no easy reading." It is also to be remarked, that Mr. Congreve, who (though without any lyrical powers) first introduced the regu. lar Pindaric form into the English language, made use of the short stanzas which Mr. Gray here recommends.
See bis Ode to the Queen: Works, vol. III. p. 438, Ed. Birm.
return of metres at so great a distance from one another: to make it succeed, I am persuaded the stanzas must not consist of above nine lines each at the most. Pindar has several such odes.
Mr. Gray intimates, in the foregoing letter, that he had two or three more lyrical ideas in his head : one of these was the BARD, the exordium of which was at this time, finished ; I say finished, because his conceptions, as well as his manner of disposing them, were so singularly exact, that he had seldom occasion to make many, except verbal emendations, after he had first committed his lines to paper. It was never his method to sketch his general design in careless verse, * he always finished as he proceeded; this, though it made his execution slow, made his compositions more perfect. I think, however, that this method wasonly calculated to produce
* I have many of his critical letters by me on my own compositions : letters which, though they would not much amuse the public in general, contain excellent lessons for young poets : from one of these I extract the following passage, which seems to explain this matter more fully: “Extreme conciseness of expression, yet pure, perspicuous, and musical, is one of the grand beauties of lyric poetry: this I have always aimed at, and could never attain. The necessity of rhyming is one great obstacie to it: another, and perhaps a stronger, is that way you have chosen, of casting down your first thoughts carelessly and at large, and then clipping them here and there at leisure. This method, after all possible pains, will leave behind it a laxity, a diffuseness. The frame of a thought otherwise well-invented, wellturned, and well-placed) is often weakened by it. Do I talk nonsense ? or do you understand me? I am persuaded what I say is true in my head, whatever it may be in prose; for I do not pretend to write prose.” Nothing can be more just than this remark : yet, as I say above, it is a mode of writing, which is only calculated for smaller compositions : but Mr. Gray, though he applied it here to an ode, was apt to think it a general rule. Now if an epic or dramatic poet was to resolve to finish every part of his work as highly as we have seen Mr. Gray laboured his first scene of Agrippina, I am apt to think he would tire of it as soon as our Author did ; for in the course of so multifarious a work, he would find himself obliged to expunge some of the best written parts, in order to preserve the unity of the whole. I know only one way to prevent this, and that was the method which Racine fol. lowed, who (as his son tells us, in that amusing life, though much zested with bigotry, which he has given us of his father) when he began a drama, disposed every part of it accurately in prose; and when he had connected all the scenes toge ther, used to say, “Ma tragedie est faite.” (See La Vie de Jean Racine, p. 117. See also his son's other works, tom. Zd, for a specimen in the first act of the Iphigenia in Tauris.). M. Racine, it seems, was an easy versifier in a language in which, they say, it is more difficult than in ours to versify. It certainly is so, with regard to dramatic compositions. I am on this account persuaded, that if the great poet bad written in English, he would have drawn out his first sketches,' not in prose, but in careless blank verse; yet this I give as mere matter of opinion.
such short works as generally employed his poetical pen; and that from pursuing it, he grew tired of his larger designs before he had completed them. The fact seems to justify my opinion. But my principal reason for mentioning this at present, is to explain the cause why I have not been scrupulous in publishing so many of his fragments in the course of these Memoirs. It would have been unpardonable in me to have taken this liberty with a deceased friend, had I not found his lines, as far as they went, nearly as high finished as they could have been, when completed : if I am mistaken in this, I hope the reader will rather impute it to a defect in my own judgment, than a want of respect to Mr. Gray's memory.
This consideration, however, emboldens me to print the following fragment of an Ode in this place, which was unquestionably another of the ideas alluded to in the preceding letter: since I find in his memorandumbook, of the preceding year, 1754, a sketch of his design as follows: “Contrast between the winter past and coming spring.—Joy owing to that vicissitude.—Many who never feel that delight.-Sloth.—Envy.-Ambition. How much happier the rustic who feels it, though he knows not how.” I print this careless note, in order that the reader may conceive the intended arrangement of the whole; who, I doubt not, will, on perusing the following beautiful stanzas, lament with me that he left it incomplete; nor will it console him for the loss, if I tell him that I have had the boldness to attempt to finish it myself, making use of some other lines and broken stanzas which he had written : but as my aim in undertaking this difficult task was merely to elucidate the poet's general meaning, I do not think that my additions are worthy to be inserted in this place; they will find a more fit situation if thrown amongst those notes which I shall put at the end of his poems.
A third of these ideas I find in his common-place book, on the same page with his argument for the BARD.* I do not believe that he ever even began to compose the Ode itself, but the thought is as follows:
“ All that men of power can do for men of genius is to leave them at their liberty, compared to birds that, when confined to a cage, do but regret the loss of their freedom in melancholy strains, and lose the luscious wildness and happy luxuriance of their notes, which used to make the woods resound.”
Those who are conversant in the arrangement of a lyrical composition, will easily perceive, from this short argument, that the Ode would have opened with a simile; which, when adorned with those thoughts that breathe and words that burn, that Mr. Gray's muse could so richly supply, would have been at once a fine exordium, and at the same time a natural introduction to the truth he meant to impress. This, however, could hardly have been done without some little aid borrowed from satire: for, however true his proposition may be, that“ all that men of power can do for men of genius is to leave them at their liberty ;" or, as I should put it,“ that their best patronage signifies nothing if it abridges them of that liberty;" yet the fact is, that neither of the parties are convinced of this truth till they have tried the experiment, and find some reason or other (no matter whether good or bad) to think they had better never have tried it. Mons. d'Alembert, who has written an excellent essay on this subject, which Mr. Gray greatly admired, and which perhaps gave him the first idea of this intended Ode, puts one of the more common of these reasons in so lively a manner, that it may not be amiss here to insert it.
“ Parmi les grands seigneurs les plus affables il en
* I sball insert this, with some remarks upon it, in my
additional notes to his Poems.