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We examined also, in our progress, the various parts of the Bible which are praised, analysed, or referred to. This pleasing investigation engaged, through several weeks, the chief portion of my too scanty leisure for reading. I determined to complete it before I addressed you upon the pleasures it has given me. They will, I hope, be often renewed, since I have purchased the volumes, and consider them as one of the chief treasures of my book-shelves.
I often wonder how it is possible to accomplish the very transcribing such volumes as these, amidst the engrossing business, and society of a life like yours ;—but I congratulate you upon having completed a great work, useful and delightful to unborn ages. I hope the good Bishop saw a large part of it, at least, before the eyes of his understanding grew dim. If so, he must have felt great pleasure in perceiving the strength, the spirit, and grace of his work transfusing, with undiminished excellence, into his native language. I never saw a translation, which more perfectly possessed the dignity, the ease, the perspicuity, and glow of original composition.
The fine print of the Bishop, prefixed, is a treasure, augmenting, by the penetrating and be nevolent expression of the countenance, the delight with which we listen to the opinions of so learned, so wise, so great, so good a man, on a
subject universally interesting and important, where there is any taste for literature.
He has thrown a large quantity of new, and very brightening light upon the Hebraic poetry, which certainly abounds in pathetic and sublime passages ;---yet I must think our right reverend author considerably prejudiced, when he asserts, that, considered merely as poetry, nothing amongst the ancient and modern classics approaches it, as to pathos and sublimity; and very much indeed do I think him mistaken when he tells us, in the first lecture, that poetry, on any other than religious subjects, seems out of character. Is poetry out of character in the Plays of Shakespeare, the Epistles of Pope, and the Odes of Gray?
Poetry is doubtless well adapted to prophetic denunciation, and to promissory blessings, where he that breathes them believes himself inspired; to religious apostrophe, to deprecation, and to triumphant praise;—but surely it is not suited to the humble, chastised sensations with which prayers should be offered, and which ought to characterize a Christian's supplicatory devotion
Luxuriance of imagination is essential to poetry; and in these days that is surely out of place when it wantons with sacred subjects. The rational mind feels a sort of horror and disgust, in perusing the extravagant hymns of some of our Christian enthusiasts, even those of the pious Watts ;
and along the extended course of the mournful, and angry Night Thoughts, noble and sublime they are, through at least half their progress; till, by dwelling too long on the subject, important and fruitful as it was, pious ardour degenerated into rant and extravagance. We intuitively feel that ungoverned rapture, and ungoverned indignation violate alike that awe-struck deference, which ought to guard our adoration and our zeal.
Bishop Lowth justly extols the greatness of this promissory passage,
“ The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, And the light of the sun shall be seven-fold.”
Mr Henly, in a note upon it, says—“ Hence, perhaps, Milton adopted his
“ Another morn Risen on mid-noon.”
If indeed, which appears improbable from the slightness of the resemblance, and from the latter being a simile, which the first is not, Milton had the Scriptural passage in view, grand as it is, he has, in his imitation, much increased that grandeur. In the first instance, the access of splendour seems not wholly beyond conception; and there is, compared with Milton's idea, somewhat of tame preciseness in the additional quantity
of splendour being mathematically ascertained. But Adam's exclamation on the appearance of ihe angel Michael, presents an idea of ineffable beauty and resplendence, by a simile, of which we have no distinct perception; and which, from that very indistinctness, becomes abundantly more sublime than the description from which Mr Henly supposes it taken,
Learned and ingenious as Professor Michaelis appears, I feel more inclined to dissent from him than from any other annotator on these volumes. A note of his on the first lecture appears to me written upon a very mistaken idea, viz. that oratory and poetry demand talents so different, that he who is great in one of those arts, must have been naturally incapable of excelling in the other. Now the most essential excellence of each is incontrovertibly the same an empire over the passions. All the figures of rhetoric are, in nearly equal degree, useful and ornamental to both. Hence it seems impossible, that he, who is great in one line, should not have been equally so in the other, if a science so kindred had happened to have been the favourite pursuit.
Tautology, or even amplification, that throw not any new light upon the subject, are as disgusting in oratory as in poetry. Then, as to being on a level with the comprehension of the
populace, which he tells us is necessary to the excellence of the first, without being necessary to that of the latter, it is certain, the splendid orators of our day, the late Chatham, and his illustrious successor, with the brilliant opponents of that successor, Burke, Fox, and Sheridan, are as little intelligible to the mere populace, as the poetry of Beattie, Mason, and Hayley.
That great orators are seldom great poets, is accountable from their different habits, not from their different natures. The poet must devote the chief part of his time to study and sequestration, in which the graces of insinuating address, and extempore fluency of speech, rust in inaction. The orator must live in the busy haunts of men, nor has leisure to cultivate the arts of versification; which, when they are exquisite, are less spontaneous than they are imagined :-and, after all, the beautiful poetic effusions which have fallen from the pen of Mr Fox, and yet more copiously from that of Mr Sheridan, exemplify the total mistake of the Professor's assertion.
Equally erroneous are all the rules he lays down to defend that assertion : for instance, he maintains that brevity is the chief excellence of poetry, and copiousness of oratory--now, both in turn become the leading merits of each, as may easily be proved.