Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub
[ocr errors]

former two, it will by no means hold with respect to the latter; for between him and Dryden there is a great similarity of writing, and a very striking coincidence of genius. It will not, perhaps, be unpleasing to our readers if we pursue this comparison, and endeavour to discover to whom the superiority is justly to be attributed, and to which of them poetry owes the highest obligations.

When Dryden came into the world he found poetry in a very imperfect state; its numbers were unpolished, its cadences rough, and there was noe thing of harmony or mellifluence to give it a graceful flow. In this harsh, unmusical situation, Dryden found it, (for the refinentents of Waller were but puerile and unsubstantial ;) he polished the rough diamond, he taught it to shine, and con. nected beauty, elegance, and strength, in all his poetical compositions. Though Dryden thus po. lished our English numbers, and thus harmonized versification, it cannot be said that he carried his art to perfection. Much was yet left undone ; his lines, with all their smoothness, were often rambling, and expletives were frequently introduced to complete his measures. It is apparent, there. fore, that an additional harmony might still be given to our numbers, and that cadences were yet capable of more musical modulation. To effect this purpose Mr. Pope arose, who with an ear elegantly delicate, and the advantage of the finest genius, so harmonized the English numbers, as to make them completely musical. His numbers are likewise so minutely correct, that it would be difficult to conceive how any of his lines can be altered to advantage. He has created a kind of mechanical versification ; every line is alike ; and though they are sweetly musical they want diver. sity; for he has not studied so great a variety of pauses, and where the accents may be laid gracefully. The structure of his verse is the best, and a line of his is more musical than any other line can

be made by placing the accents elsewhere ; but we are not quite certain whether the ear is not apt to be soon cloyed with this uniformity of elegance, this sameness of harmony. It must be acknow. ledged, however, that he has much improved upon Dryden in the article of versification, and in that part of poetry is greatly his superior. But though this must be acknowledged, perhaps it will not neces. sarily follow that his genius was therefore superior.

The grand characteristic of a poet is his invention, the surest distinction of a great genius. In Mr. Pope nothing is truly original as his Rape of the Lock, por discovers so much invention. In this kind of mock-heroic he is without a rival in our language, for Dryden has written nothing of the kind. His other work which discovers invention, fine desigoing, and admirable execution, is his Dunciad; which, though built on Dryden's Mac Flecknoe, is yet so much superior, that, in satiric writing, the palm must justly be yielded to him. In Mr. Dryden's Absalom and Ahithophel, there are indeed the most poignant strokes of satire, and characters drawn with the most masterly touches ; hut this poem, with all its excellencies, is much inferior to the Dunciad, though Dryden had advantages which Mr. Pope had not; for Dryden's characters are men of great eminence and figure in the state, while Pope has to expose men of obscure birth and unimportant lives, only distinguished from the herd of mankind by a glimmering of genius, which rendered the greatest part of them more emphatically contemptible. Pope's was the hardest task, and be has executed it with the greatest success. As Mr. Dryden must undoubtedly have yielded to Pope in Satiric writing, it is incumbeut on the partisans of Dryden to name another species of composition in which the former excels so as to throw the balance again upon the side of Dryden. This species is the Lyric, in which the warmest votaries of Pope must certainly acknowledge that he is much inferior, as an irresistible proof of this we * need only compare Mr. Dryden's Ode on St. Ce.

cilia's Day with Mr. Pope's ; in which the disparity is so apparent that we know not if the most finished of Pope's compositions has discovered such a variety and command of numbers.

It hath been generally acknowledged that the Lyric is a more excellent kind of writing than the Satiric, and, consequently, he who excels in the most ex. cellent species must undoubtedly be esteemed the greatest poet. Mr. Pope has very happily succeeded in many of his occasional pieces, such as Eloisa to Abelard, his Elegy on an unfortunate young Lady, and a variety of other performances deservedly celebrated. To these may be opposed Mr. Dryden's Fables, which though written in a very advanced age, are yet the most perfect of his works. In these Fables there is, perhaps, a greater variety than in Pope's occasional pieces : many of them, indeed, are translations, but such as are original shew a great extent of invention, and a large compass of genius.

There are not in Pope's works such poignant discoveries of wit, or such a general knowledge of the humours and characters of men, as in the Prologues and Epilogues of Dryden, which are the best records of the whims and capricious oddities of the times in which they are written.

When these two great geniuses are considered in the light of translators, it will, indeed, be difficult to determine into whose scale the balance should be thrown. That Mr. Pope had a more arduous province in doing justice to Homer, than Dryden with regard to Virgil, is certainly true; as Homer is a more various and diffuse poet than Virgil ; and it is likewise true, that Pope has even exceeded Dryden in the execution, and none will deny that Pope's Homer's Iliad is a finer poem than Dryden's Æneid of Virgil, making a proper allowance for the disproportion of the original authors. But then a candid critic should reflect, that as Dryden was

prior in the great attempt of rendering Virgil into English, so did he perform the task under many disadvantages which Pope, by a happier situation in life, was enabled to avoid ; and could not but improve upon Dryden's errors, though the authors translated were not the same: and it is much to be doubted if Dryden were to translate the Æneid DOW, with that attention which the correctness of the present age would force upon him, whether the preference would be due to Pope's Homer.

But supposing it to be yielded (as it certainly must) that the latter bard was the greatest translator, we are now to throw into Mr. Dryden's scale all his dramatic works ; which, though not the most excellent of his writings, yet as nothing of Mr. Pope's can be opposed to them, they have an undoubted right to turn the balance greatly in favor of Mr. Dryden. -When the two poets are considered as critics, the comparison will very imperfectly hold. Dryden's Dedications and Prefaces, besides that they are more numerous, and are the best models for courtly panegyric, shew that he understood poetry as an art beyond any man that ever lived; and he explained this art so well, that he taught his antagonists to turn the tables against himself; for he so illuminated the mind by his clear and perspicuous reasoning, that dulness itself became capable of discerning; and when at any time his performances fell short of his own ideas of excellence, his enemies tried him by rules of his own establishing; and though they owed to him the ability of judging, they seldom had candor enough to spare him.

Perhaps it may be true that Pope's works are read with more appetite, as there is a greater evenness and correctness in them ; but in perusing the works of Dryden, the mind will take a wider range, and be more fraught with poetical ideas. We admire Dryden as the greater genius, and Pope as the most pleasing versifier.-Cibber's Lives.

B%

HE.comes, he conues! bid every bard prepare

The song of triumph, and attend his car. Great Sheffield's muse the long procession heads, And throws a lustre o'er the pomp she leads; First gives the palm she fir'd him to obtain, Crowns his gay brow, and shews him how to reign. Thus young Alcides, by old Chiron taught, Was form'd for all the miracles he wrought : Thus Chiron did the youth he taught applaud, Pleas'd to behold the earnest of a god.

But hark! what shouts,what gath'ring crowds rejoice; Unstain'd their praise by any venal voice, Such as th' ambitious vainly think their due, When prostitutes or needy flatterers sue. And see the chief! before him laurels borne, Trophies from undeserving temples torn; Here rage enchain'd reluctant raves, and there Pale envy dumb, and sick’ning with despair, Prone to the earth she bends her loathing eye, Weak to support the blaze of majesty.

But what are they that turn the sacred page? Three lovely virgins, and of equal age; Intent they read, and all enamour'd seem, As he that met his likeness in the stream: The graces these ; and see how they contend, Who most shall praise, who best shall recommend.

The chariot now the painful steep asceuds, The pæans cease; the glorious labor ends. Here fix'd, the bright eternal temple stands, Its prospect an unbounded view commands : Say, wondrous youth, what column wilt thou chuse, What laurellid arch for thy triumphant muse? Though each great ancient court thee to his shrine, Though ev'ry laurel through the dome be thine (From the proud epic down to those that shade, The gentler brow of the soft Lesbian maid,) Go to the good and just, an awful train, Thy soul's delight, and glory of the fane; While thro' the earth thy dear remembrance flies, “ Sweet to the world and grateful to the skies."

« ПредишнаНапред »