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Pope excelled, he is superior to all mankind : and I only say, that this species of poetry is not the most excellent one of the art.
We do not, it should seem, fufficiently attend to the difference there is betwixt a MAN OF wit, a MAN OF SENSE, and a TRUE POET. Donne and Swift were undoubtedly men of wit, and men of sense; but what traces have they left of PURE POETRY? It is remarkable, that Dryden says of Donne, “ He was the greatest wit, though not the greatest poet,
of this nation. Fontenelle and La Motte are entitled to the former character ; but what can they urge to gain the latter? Which of these characters is the most valuable and useful, is entirely out of the question : all I plead for, is, to have their several provinces kept distinct from each other; and to impress on the reader, that a clear head, and acute understanding, are not sufficient, alone, to make a POET; that the most solid observations on human life, expressed with the utmost elegance and brevity, are MORALITY, and not POETRY; that the EPIstles of Boileau in RHYME, are no more poetical, than the CHARACTERS of La Bruyere
in Prose; and that it is a creative and glowing IMAGINATION, acer spiritus ac vis,” and that alone, that can stamp a writer with this exalted and very uncommon character, which so few possess, and of which so few can properly judge.
For one person who can adequately relish and enjoy a work of imagination, twenty are to be found who can taste, and judge of, observations on familiar life, and the manners of the age. The Satires of Ariosto are more read than the Orlando Furioso, or even Dante. Are there so many cordial admirers of Spenser and Milton, as of Hudibras, if we strike out of the number of these supposed admirers, those who appear such out of fashion, and not of feeling ? Swift's Rhapsody on Poetry is far more popular than Akenside's noble Ode to Lord Huntingdon.
The EpiSTLES on the Characters of Men and Women, and your sprightly Satires, my good friend, are more frequently perused, and quoted, than L'Allegro
and Il Penseroso of Milton. written only these Satires, you would, indeed, have gained the title of a man of wit, and a
man of sense; but, I am confident, would not insist on being denominated a POET MERELY on their account.
NON SATIS EST PURIS VERSUM PERSCRIBERE VERBIS.
It is amazing this matter should ever have been mistaken, when Horace has taken particular and repeated pains to settle and adjust the opinion in question. He has more than once disclaimed all right and title to the name of POET on the score of his ethic and satiric pieces.
NEQUE ENÍM CONCLUDERE VERSUM
are lines often repeated, but whose meaning is not extended and weighed as it ought to be. Nothing can be more judicious than the method he prescribes, of trying whether any composition be essentially poetical or not; which is, to drop entirely the measures and numbers, and transpose and invert the order of the .
words: and in this unadorned manner to peruse the passage. If there be really in it a true poetical spirit, all your inversions and transpositions will not disguise and extinguish it; but it will retain its lustre, like a diamond unset, and thrown back into the rubbish of the mine. Let us make a little experiment on the following well-known lines: “ Yes, you despise the man that is confined to books, who rails at humankind from his study; though what he learns, he speaks; and may, perhaps, advance Some general maxims, or may be right by chance. The coxcomb bird, fo grave and so talkative, that cries whore, knave, and cuckold, from his cage, though he rightly call many a passenger, you hold him no philofopher. And yet, such is the fate of all extremes, men may be read too much, as well as books. We grow more partial, for the sake of the observer, to observations which we ourselves make ; less so to written wisdom, because another's. Maxims are drawn from notions, and those from guess.” What shall we say of this passage? Why, that it is most excellent sense, but just as poetical as the “ Qui fit Mæcenas” of the author who recommends this method of trial.
Take ten lines of the Iliad, Paradise Lost, or even of
the Georgics of Virgil, and fee whether, by any process of critical chemistry, you can lower and reduce them to the tameness of prose. You will find that they will appear like Ulysses in his disguise of rags,
still a hero, though lodged in the cottage of the herdsman Eumæus.
The sublime and the pathetic are the two chief nerves of all genuine poesy. What is there transcendently sublime or pathetic in PopeIn his Works there is, indeed, " nihil inane, nihil arcessitum; puro tamen fonti quam magno flumini proprior;" as the excellent Quintilian remarks of Lyfias. And because I am, perhaps, unwilling to speak out in plain English, I will adopt the following passage of Voltaire, which, in my opinion, as exactly characterizes POPE as it does his model Boileau, for whom it was originally designed : 66 INCAPABLE PEUT-ETRE DU SUBLIME QUI ELEVE L’AME, ET DU SENTIMENT QUI L'ATTENDRIT, MAIS FAIT POUR ECLAIRER CEUX A QUI LA NATURE ACCORDA L'UN ET L'AUTRE, LABORIEUX, SEVFRE, PRECIS, PUR,