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« so grcat an honour and support to his family, fo.
a wife,” is a species of phraseology fo quaint and comic, that one would suppose her Ladyship in the midst of her affliction could not but smile irr weeping Some parts of this epistle, however, are very beautifully written ; and one passage in particular is so tender as wel} as elegant, that I cannot forbear to transcribe it, though foreign to my present purpose.“ After all, Madam, I think
your loss so great, that would all the passionate “ complaints, all the anguish of your heart, do any
thing to retrieve it; could tears water the lovely
plant, so as to make it grow again after once it “ is cut down; would fighs furnish new breath, or “ could it draw life and spirits from the wasting of “ yours; I am sure your friends would be fo far from “ accusing your passion, that they would encourage “ it as much, and share it as deeply, as they could; « but alasi the eternal laws of the creation extin
guilh all such hopes," &c. In general, I think, it may be laid down as a certain maxim, that to at. tain to an high degree of excellence in Style, requires not only great taste but real genius. The writers in our own language most celebrated for Style, are Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, Johnson, Swift, Addison, and Bolingbroke; all of them men of undoubted genius as well as taste. There is, indeed, another set of writers, who must. be allowed to posless' great merit, who, with a
considerable though inferior share of genius, coma bine an equal or fuperior degree of taste; and their Style is accordingly equal in elegance, but inferior in energy and felicity of expression. Of this class are Beattie, Blair, Chesterfield, Melmoth, Jenyns, Walpole, &c. I do not however deny that there are some writers, who, without a spark of genius, by means of a good ear, and a certain degree of resinement, which falls short of a just and correct taste, have attained to a polished and harmonious Style of composition, but then it is feeble, languid, and verbose ; and though often affectedly pompous, and crowded with ornament, equally destitute of the “ callida junctura" and the “ curiosa felicitas.”
Upon the whole we may venture to conclude, that beauty of Style, or the art of composition, depending upon a certain occult quality in language, or rather a certain inexplicable delicacy of perception, is not to be acquired by rules. Not that rules are entirely useless.
An author who writes by rule, as has been observed, will undoubtedly avoid gross errors; but he cannot by the mere observance of rules attain to positive beauties. Nothing short of true original genius, improved and cultivated by a correct taste, can hope successfully to attempt that bold and glowing Style of composition which we so much admire in the productions of the great masters of eloquence. The “ thoughts that breathe, and words that burn," do not fall to the lot of ordinary writers; P2
and it shows a great defect of judgment whenever they aspire to them. Let not such persons vainly pretend to snatch those graces which are beyond the reach of art. “ What then!" it may be said, “ are men of moderate talents to sit down in despair of ever being able to acquire the faculty of expressing their thoughts with ease, propriety, and ele
By no means. We have innumerable examples of such as, by care and attention alone, have in this respect excelled many far superior to themselves in natural understanding and genius, but who unhappily affected to despise and depreciate this study, as paying that regard to words which is due only to things. All that I contend for is this, that though a Style which merits approbation may be acquired by diligence, a Style which commands admiration cannot. I therefore think that men who have little or no pretension to genius, should not aspire to the higher graces of composition; for by so doing they often make themselves ridiculous; when by aiming at nothing more than purity, perspicuity, and simplicity, they might with much less effort appear in a light much more respectable. An acquaintance with the rules of composition is no doubt of considerable service; but I believe the best method of acquiring a taste for the beauties of Style and language, is by an attentive and repeated perusal of the best authors, by a careful comparison of the productions of different writers, and by imitating in our own performances the Style
and manner of those admired masters of compo. fition, so far as they are properly imitable by those who do not possess their superiority of genius.
I think experience fully evinces, that it is very possible for a man to possess an elegant and classical taste with respect to the beauties of Style and composition in one language, and to be utterly desti. tute of it in another. One can scarcely imagine, that if Ogilby, Hobbes, and Chapman, had not derived a sensible pleasure from the poems of Homer, or Milbourne and Trapp from those of Virgil, that they would have engaged in the laborious work of translating those divine authors; and it is well known that a very general taste for the beauties of the ancients prevailed long before the moderns had learned to express their ideas in their vernacular languages with grace or propriety; and indeed the languages themselves were most unjustly held in contempt, as little better than barbarous jargon, and supposed to be wholly undeserving of attention, and incapable of improvement. This prejudice is however greatly upon the decline; and it is generally allowed that the English language in particular may justly pretend to a rivality with the admired languages of antiquity. I make no scruple at least to place it upon a level with the Roman; and perhaps that very circumstance which is supposed by many to give to the Greek language so decided a superiority, I mean that wonderful copiousness which it derives from its variety of dialects, should rather be considered as a real disad
vantage : and I believe those who are most inclined to admire and magnify this uncommon property of the Grecian tongue, would think the English language little improved by blending it with our provincial dialects. Spenser has made fome attempts of this kind, with a degree of success which will scarcely encourage others to follow the example. In fact, the English language is sufficiently copious to express all our ideas with great force and elegance, and with a degree of precision to which the Latin tongue is a stranger, Its genius seems to resemble that of the people by whom it is spoken. The great characteristics of it are strength and energy, but it is very fusceptible of the gentler graces.' There is a softness, sweet- . ncís, and delicacy of Style to which several of our favourite writers, both in poetry and profe, have attained, which sufficiently rescue it from the reproach' of harshness or diffonance.
There is, moreover, a boldness and freedom in the idiom of our language which admits of the adoption of new terms, and new combinations of words, in a degree which perhaps no other language is capable of. The admirable powers and properties of the English language, as displayed in the whole ex. tent of Versification, might also with propriety be mentioned in this general sketch of its excellencies ; but this I reserve for the subject of a distinct Effay,