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11. The living throne, the sapphire blaze. Antist. üi. 1.5.
IMITATION, For the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels, and above the firmament, that was over their heads, was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone-this was the appearance of the glory of the Lord.
Esekiel i. 20. 26. 28. G. 12. Clos'd his eyes in endless night. Antist. iii. l. 8.
Homer. Od. G. This has been condemned as a false thought, and more worthy of an Italian poet than of Mr.Gray. Count Algarotti, we have found in his letter to Mr. Howe, praises it highly; but as he was an Italian critic, his judgment, in this point, will not, perhaps by many, be thought to overbalance the objection. The truth is, that this fiction of the cause of Milton's blindness is not beyond the bounds of poetical credibility, any more than the fiction which precedes it concerning the birth of Shakspeare ; and therefore would be equally admissible, had it not the peculiar misfortune to encounter a fact too well known: on this account the judgment revolts against it. Milton himself has told us, in a strain of heart-felt exultation (see bis Sonnet to Cyriac Skynner), that he lost his eye-sight,
overply'd IN LIBERTY's Defence, his noble task;
Whereof all Europe rings from side to side; And when we know this to have been the true cause, we cannot admit a fictitious one, however sublimely conceived, or happily expressed. If, therefore, so lofty and unrivalled a description will not atone for this acknowledged defect in relation to matter of fact, all that the impartial critic can do, is to point out the reason, and to apologize for the Poet, who was necessitated by his subject to consider Milton only in his poetical capacity. 13. With necks in thunder cloth’d, and long-resounding pace.
Antist. iii. l. 12. IMITATION. Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Job. This verse, and the foregoing, are meant to express the stately march and sounding energy of Dryden's rhymes. G. 14. Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
Ep. ii. l. 4. IMITATION. Words that weep, and tears that speak. Cowley. G. 15. That the Theban eagle bear. Ep. iii. l. 9.
Alòs após opvixa Delov. Olymp. ii. Pindar compares
himself to that bird, and his enemies to ravens that croak and clamour in vain below, while its pursues its flight, regardless of their noise. G.
16. The critic, above quoted, concludes bis remarks on this Ode, which he had written after his observations on the Bard, in a manner which accounts, in my opinion, for the superior pleasure that it has given to him, and also to the geneality of readers. I quit,” says he, “ this Ode with the strongest conviction of
its abundant merit; though I took it up (for this last attentive perusal), persuaded that it was not a little inferior to the other. They are not the treasures of imagination only that bave so copiously enriched it: it speaks, but surely less feelingly than the Bard (still my favourite) to the heart. Can we in truth be equally interested, for the fabulous exploded gods of other nations (celebrated in the first half of this Ode) as by the story of our own Edwards and Henrys, or allusions to it? Can a description, the most perfect language ever attained to, of tyranny expelling the muses from Parnassus, seize the mind equally with the horrors of Berkley Castle, with the apostrophe to the tower ?
“ And spare the meek Usurper's holy head! “I do not mean, however, wholly to decry fabulous subjects or allusions, nor more than to suggest the preference due to historical ones, where happily the Poet's fertile imagination supplies him with a plentiful choice of both kinds, and he finds himself capable of treating both, according to their respective natures, with equal advantage.”
ODE VI. 1. I promised the reader, in the 193d page of the Memoirs, to give him, in this place, the original argument of this capital Ode, as its Author had set it down on one of the pages of his common-place book. It is as follows: “ The army of Edward I. as they march through a deep valley, are suddenly stopped by the appearance of a venerable figure seated on the summit of an inaccessible rock, who, with a voice more than human, reproaches the King with all the misery and desolation wbich he had brought on his country; foretels the misfortunes of the Norman race, and with prophetic spirit declares, that all his cruelty sball never extinguish the noble ardour of poetic genius in this island; and that men shall never be wanting to celebrate true virtue and valour in immortal strains, to expose vice and infamous pleasure, and boldly censure tyranny and oppression. His song ended, he precipitates himself from the mountain, and is swallowed up by the river that rolls at its foot.” Fine as the conclusion of this Ode is at present, I think it would have been still finer, if he could have executed it according to this plan; but unhappily for his purpose, instances of English poets were wanting. Spenser had that enchanting flow of verse which was peculiarly calculated to celebrate virtue and vulour ; but he chose to celebrate them, not literally, but in allegory. Shakspeare, who had talents for every thing, was undoubtedly capable of exposing vice and infamous pleasure ; and the drama was a proper vehicle for his satire: but we do not ever find that he professedly made this his object; nay, we know that, in one inimitable character, he has so contrived as to make vices of the worst kind, such as cowardice, drunkenness, dishonesty, and lewdness, not only laughable, but almost amiable; for with all these sins on his head, who can help liking Falstaff? Milton, of all our great poets, was the only one who holdly censured tyranny and oppression : but he chose to deliver this censure, not in poetry, but in prose. Dryden was a mere court parasite to the most infamous of all courts. Pope, with all his laudable detestation of corruption and bribery, was a Tory; and Addison, though a Whig and a fine writer, was unluckily not enough of a poet for his purpose. On these considerations Mr. Gray was necessitated to change his plan towards the conclusion : hence we perceive, that in the last epode he praises Spenser only for his allegory, Shakspeare for his powers of moving the passions, and Milton for his epic excellence. I remember the ode lay unfinished by him for a year or two on this very account; and I hardly believe that it would ever have had his last hand but for the circumstance of his hearing Parry play on the Welch harp at a concert at Cambridge, (see Letter XXV. Sect. IV.) which he often declared inspired him with the conclusion.
2. Mr. Smith, the musical composer and worthy pupil of Mr. Handel, had once an idea of setting this Ode, and of having it performed by way of serenata or oratorio. A common friend of his and Mr. Gray's interested himself much in this design, and drew out a clear analysis of the Ode, that Mr. Smith might more perfectly understand the Poet's meaning. He conversed also with Mr. Gray on the subject, who gave him an idea for the overture, and marked also some passages in the Ode in order to ascertain which should be recitative, which air, what kind of
air, and how accompanied. The design was, however, not executed; and therefore I shall only in order to give the reader a taste of Mr. Gray's, musical feelings) insert in this place what his sentiments were concerning the overture. “ It should be so contrived as to be a proper introduction to the Ode: it might consist of two movements; the first descriptive of the horror and confusion of battle, the last a march grave and majestic, but expressing the exultation and insolent security of conquest. This movement should be composed entirely of wind-instruments, except the kettle-drum heard at intervals. The da capo of it must be suddenly broke in upon, and put to silence by the clang of the harp in a tumultuous rapid movement, joined with the voice, all at once, and not ushered in by any symphony. The harmony may be strengthened by any other stringed instrument; but the harp should every where prevail, and form the continued running accompaniment, submitting itself to nothing but the voice.”
3. Ruin seize thee, ruthless King. Strophe i. 1. 1. On this noble exordium the anonymous critic, before-mentioned, thus eloquently expresses his admiration : "This abrupt execration plunges the reader into that sudden fearful perplexity which is designed to predominate through the whole. The irresistible violence of the prophet's passions bears him away, who, as he is unprepared by a formal ushering in of the speaker, is unfortified against the impressions of his poetical frenzy and overpowered by them, as sudden thunders strike the deepest." All readers of taste, I fancy, have felt this effect from the passage; they will be pleased, however, to see their own feelings so well expressed as they are in this note. 4. They mock the air with idle state. Strophe i. 1. 4.
Shaks. King John. G. 5. Such were the sounds, that o'er the crested pride.
Strophe i. l. 9. IMITATION. The crested adder's pride. Dryden's Indian Queen. G. 6. Loose his beard, &c. Antist. i. 1. 5. The image was taken from a well-known picture of Raphael, representing the Supreme Being in the vision of Ezekiel : there are two of these paintings, both believed to be originals; one at Florence, the other in the Duke of Orleans' collection at Paris. G.
Mr. Gray never saw the large Cartoon, done by the same divine hand, in the possession of the Duke of Montagu, at his seat at Boughton, in Northamptonshire, else I am persuaded he would have mentioned it in this note. The two finished pictures abroad (which I believe are closet-pieces) can hardly have so much spirit in them as this wonderful drawing; it gave me the sublimest idea I ever received from painting, Moses breaking the tables of the law, by Parmegiano, was a figure which Mr. Gray used to say came still nearer to his meaning than the picture of Raphael. 7. Dear, as the light that visits these sad eyes, Dear, as the ruddy drops that warm my heart,
Ep. i. . 12, 13.
8. No more I weep, &c. Ep. i. l. 15.
Here, says the anonymous critic, a vision of triumphant revenge is judiciously made to ensue, after the pathetic lamentation which precedes it. Breaks-double rhymes—an appropriated cadence and an exalted ferocity of language forcibly picture to us the uncontrollable tumultuous workings of the prophet's stimulated bosom.
9. Weave the warp, &c. Strophe ii. l. 1.
Can there be an image more just, apposite, and nobly imagined than this tremendous tragical winding-sheet? In the rest of this stanza the wildness of thought, expression, and cadence are admirably adapted to the character and situation of the speaker, and of the bloody spectres his assistants. It is not indeed peculiar to it alone, but a beauty that runs throughout the whole composition, that the historical events are briefly sketched out by a few striking circumstances, in which the Poet's. office of rather exciting and directing, than satisfying the reader's imagination, is perfectly observed. Such abrupt hints, resembling the several fragments of a vast ruin, suffer not the mind to be raised to the utmost pitch, by one image of horror, but that instantaneously a second and a third are presented to it, and the affection is still uniformly supported.--Anon. Critic.
10. Fair laughs the Morn, &c. It is always entertaining, and sometimes useful, to be informed how a writer frequently improves on his original thoughts; on this account I have occasionally set down the few variations which Mr. Gray made in his lyrical compositions. The six lines before us convey, perhaps, the most beautiful piece of imagery in the whole Ode, and were a wonderful improvement on those which he first wrote ; which, though they would appear fine in an inferior poet, are infinitely below those which supplanted them. I find them in one of his corrected manuscripts as follow:
A sigh, and envy oft thy happy grandsire's end. 11. Fill high the sparkling bowl. Epode ii, l. 1, &c. This stanza (as an ingenious friend remarks) has exceeding merit. It breathes in a lesser compass, what the Ode breathes at large, the bigh spirit of lyric enthu siasm. The transitions are sudden and impetuous; the language full of fire and force; and the imagery carried, without impropriety, to the most daring height. The manner of Richard's death by famine exhibits such beauties of personification, as only the richest and most vivid imagination could supply. From thence we are hurried, with the wildest rapidity, into the midst of battle; and the epithet kindred places at once before our eyes all the peculiar horrors of civil war. Immediately, by a transition most striking and unexpected, the Poet falls into a tender and pathetic address; which, from the sentiments, and also from the numbers, has all the melancholy flow, and breathes all the plaintive softness, of elegy. Again the scene changes ; again the bard rises into an allegorical description of carnage, to which the metre is admirably adapted : and the concluding sentence of personal punishment on Edward is denounced with a solemnity that chills and terrifies. i2. No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail. All hail, ye genuine kings, Britannia's issue, hail !
Strophe ii. l. 13, 14.
Triumphant tell aloud, another Arthur reigns.
Ant. iii. l. 1, 2.
With dazzling helm, and horrent spear. 14. Fierce War, and faithful Love. Ep. iii. 1. 2.
Spenser's Proëme to the Fairy Queen. G. 15, I cannot quit this and the preceding Ode without saying a word or two of my own concerning the obscurity which has been imputed to them, and the preference which, in consequence, has been given to his Elegy. It seems as if the persons, who hold this opinion, suppose that every species of poetry ought to be equally clear and intelligible : than which position nothing can be more repugnant to the several specific natures of composition, and to the practice of ancient art. Not to take Pindar and his Odes for an example (though what I am here defending were written professedly in imitation of him), I would ask, Are all the writings of Horace, bis Epistles, Satires, and Odes equally perspicuous? Amongst his Odes, separately considered, are there not remarkable differences of this very kind? Is the spirit and meaning of that which begins, “ Descende cælo, et dic, age, tibia," Ode 4. lib. 3. so readily comprehended as “ Persicos odi, puer, apparatus,” Ode 38. 1. 1. And is the latter a finer piece of lyrical composition on that account? Is • Integer vitæ, scelerisq; purus,” Ode 22. 1. 1. superior to “Pindaruin quisquis studet æmulari,” Ode 2. 1. 4. because it may be understood at the first reading, and the latter not without much study and reflection? Now between these Odes, thus compared, there is surely equal difference in point of perspicuity, as between the Progress of Poesy, and the Prospect of Eton; the Ode on the Spring, and the Bards :
these objectors, “ The end of poetry is universally to please. Obscurity, by taking off from our pleasure, destroys that end." I will grant that, if the obscurity be great, constant, and unsurmountable, thisis certainly true; but if it beonly found in particular passages, proceeding from the nature of the subject and the very genius of the composition, it does not rob us of our pleasure, but superadds a new one, which arises from conquering a difficulty; and the pleasure which accrues from a difficult passage, when well understood, provided the passage itself be a fine one, is always more permanent than that which we discover at the first glance. The lyric Muse, like other fine ladies, requires to be courted, and retains her admirers the longer for not having yielded too readily to their solicitations. This argument, ending as it does in a sort of simile, will, I am persuaded, not only have its force with the intelligent readers (the EYNETOI), but also with the men of fashion :: as to critics of a lower class, it may be sufficient to transcribe, for their improvement, an unfinished remark, or rather maxim, which I found amongst our Author's papers, and which he probably wrote on occasion of the common preference given to his Elegy. The Gout de Comparaison (as Bruyere styles it) is the only taste of ordiDary minds. They do not know the specific excellency either of an author or a composition: for instance, they do not know that Tibullus spoke the language of nature and love; that Horace saw the vanities and follies of mankind with the most pene. trating eye, and touched them to the quick ; that Virgil ennobled even the most common images by the graces of a glowing, melodious, and well-adapted expression; but they do know that Virgil was a better poet than Horace; and that Horace's Epistles do not run so well as the Elegies of Tibullus." * * *