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Nothing can be more just than Mr Warton's observation that," in reading verse, it is better to rest on a general idea, resulting from the whole, when that idea is sufficiently seen, than to seek for the precise meaning of parts.” The author might, I think, have extended this rule to every work of imagination, whether in verse or prose.
I am charmed with that admirable sport of fancy, the pretended Continuation of Dr Johnson's Criticism on the Poenis of Gray *. I hope it will be generally read, exposing, as it does, in such exact imitation, the absurd, yet plausible sophistry, of that arrogant decider. It also shews the possibility of dissecting so minutely the ideas and images of one of the most perfect poems ever written, the Elegy in a Church-yard, as almost to persuade us that its excellence is not genuine.
No, indeed, my conviction of the high poetic merit of Mr Sargent's dramatic poem, the Mine, has lost none of its ardour. Mr Hayley says it is the worthy rival of Milton's Comus. Perhaps I do not rate its claim quite so high ; but I place it on a level with Mason's Caractacus. Judge, then, if I can subscribe to your friend's opinion, that it does not rise above mediocrity Why is it that people of fine understanding, and general accuracy
* Written by the very learned and ingenious Professor Young of Glasgow.
of taste, are so often blind to the irradiations of genius, on its first emerging ?-but let me reflect that the sweet effusions of Milton's, juvenile years, the Lycidas, Comus, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, &c. sunk, on their first appearance, into that oblivion out of which they did not emerge during seventy years. Are the following passages from the Mine of moderate beauty only?
“ Tis now three months
its sparry architrave began
66 When thou shalt inhale
“ Stern was his brow, and dark. As on his feet
66 Sooner could'st thou bid
And stricken steel ; for, in this noxious chasm,
Juliana awaking in the Cavern.
“ See, from yon crag she bends,
“ And canst thou then, thou poor afflicted creature,
" When I behold thee
“ Scarce can I pierce the air with labouring eye,
“ Hast thou not sat Motionless, while he delv'd the rifted rock? Or, when he sunk beneath the sultry toil, Brought the cool beverage, and, with gentle hand,
Wip'd from his pallid front faint nature's dew ?
“ I fain would do so,
Cannot this plenitude of beautiful sentiment, imagery, and description, induce men of taste unanimously to decree the palm of distinguished genius to their author ? For my part, I am more and more charmed with the Mine, though I hinted to Mr Hayley, that I thought it had some flat speeches, and several needlessly inharmonious lines; that it might have been more pathetic; and that the language of Conrad had too much purity and tenderness for his licentious character, his villainous designs, the murky scene, and unprotected situation of her whom he endeavours to seduce.
The first speech in blank verse of the Gnome is perfectly Miltonic; and I scarce know heroic rhymes more sublime than the ensuing :
« Of hoary fens exalt the stagnant breath,
And load the passing gale with plagues and death!
Thro' yelling gulfs outrageous whirlwinds urge,
But perhaps I ought to beg your pardon for thus drenching you perforce with Heliconian dews, springing up at Lavington, the seat of this other bard of Sussex, the emulous friend of the celebrated Hayley. My heart was in the subject, and the midnight clock has struck in vain. Adieu !
Rev. T. S. WHALLEY, then on the Continent..
Lichfield, April 7, 1785. Surely, dear friend, you do not reason like yourself upon the subject of literary fame, when