Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

lawn edged round with moss. Which the poet would probably have described in this manner.

Close to her grott within the grove,

A carpet's laid that nature wove;

Which time extended on the ground,

And tuff'd with moss the selvage round. Poetry endeavours to express things paraphrastically, or in short descriptions, rather than in simple terms; arid in those descriptions, the prosopopœia is often used. Thus Milton, when describing the singing of the nightingale, says, Silence was pleased; and that at the rising of the sun, the hours unbars d the gates of light. Which ossice Hinur assigns to the morning.

Soon as the Morn, in orient purple drest,
Unbarr'd the portals of the roseate east.

The royal Pfalmist tells us, the clouds drop fatness, and the hills rejoice, that the fruitsul sields smile, and the vallies laugh and sing. And these short allegories and images, which convey particular circumstances to the reader after an unusual and entertaining manner, hare a sine esfect in poetry, that delights in imitation, and endeavours to give to almost every thing, life, motion, and sound; but these would in prose appear very ridiculous and pedantic. In poetry likewise, we often put particulars for generals, and frequently distinguish and allude to men, places, rivers, mountains, isfe. by various names taken from any of their adjuncts, which prose will rarely admit of. In short, poetry is a sort of painting in words; the thoughts are the sigures, and the words are the colours, the lights and shades with which they are cloathed and presented to the imagination of the reader. The verse therefore (though poetry delights in harmony, which excites a pleasure that makes its way directly to the soul) is not to be always harmonious, but should be so contrived, as Mr. Pope observes, that the found may echo to the sense, and be rough ot smooth, swift or flow, according to the idea or thought it is intended to elucidate. The following passage from his Essay on Criticism (some allowances being made for the second line and for the last) is in this case both a precept and an example.

Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,

And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;

But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,

The hoarse rough verse should like the torrent roar.

When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,

The line too labours, and the words move flow;

Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,

Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main.

But before we speak of the several sorts of style, it will be proper to take some notice of the epithets, tropes and sigures of which they are principally compounded; since it is by these disserent modes of speech that the poet is enabled to vary a discourse almost to insinity; to shew the fame object in a thoufand disserent forms, and all of them new; to present pleasing images to the senses and imagination, to address them in the language they love, to express small matters with grace, and the greatest with a nobleness and sublimity equal to their grandeur and majesty.

'Nothing contributes more to the beauty of the poetic style than epithets properly employed; and Quintilian, and Rollin after him, observes, that potts make use of them more frequently and tr.ore freely than orators. More frequently, he . cause it is a great fault to overload a discourse in prose with tot many epithets; whereas in poetry, they always produce et

food effed, though in ever so great a number. More freely, ecause with the poets it is enough that the epithet is suitable to the tuord it is annexed to: But in prose, every epithet ivhich produces no effeS, and adds nothing to the thing spoken of, is vicious. Great deserence should be paid to authors lo deservedly eminent in the literary world: we must however beg leave to observe, that the latitude they have given us for the use of Epithets, is a little too extensive; since nothing tires a reader more than too great a redundancy of them, and especially when they are useless, and thrown in, as they too often are, to make out the measure of the verse. Epithets can never be admitted with propriety, unless they excite some new idea, or give some illustration and ornament to the substantives to which they are annexed ; and it is with this view that they are used in Milton, and our best poets; where we also sind many that are compounded, such as bright-hair'dVesta, finooth-shaven green, cloud-capt towers, vale-dwelling lily, &c, which have a peculiar beauty when properly applied, as indeed have those that are not compounded when they decorate and illustrate the substantive, or raise some new idea in the mind; but how absurd and ridiculous are many that we meet with in some of the poets? such, for instance, as watery sloods, burning sire, cold ice, arrcm/j-bearing quiver; which convey nothing to the mind of the reader, and when examined, carry no other meaning tha^ ncatery water, hot heat, cold cold, arrow-bearing arrow-bearer. But even the best epithets may be so frequently used as to overload a discourse, and make it heavy, languid, and difagreeable. A good poem, like a rich dish, consists of many dainties so judicioufly mixed, as to form one compound that is persect and pleasing; no ingredient should predominate; for too great a portion of any one, however palatable it may be in itself, will rob the rest of their slavour. Besides, a luxuriancy of epithets tends to make the style prolix and flaccid, and robs it of that strength and force with which every discourse should be animated; for the shorter and closer the style the stronger. And even where some of the passions are concerned, or the subject is preceptive, and intended to inform the judgment, they are to be used very sparingly; for a redundancy of epithets will here break in upon perspicuity, and render that obscure, which would have been otherwise very plain and intelligible. In consirmation of this opinion, I must beg leave to observe, that the suneral oration of Mark Antbtny in Shake/pears Julius Ca/ar, which is one of the most artsul, pathetic, and best speeches that ever-was penned in the English language, has hardly an epithet from the beginning to the end. There are indeed adjectives and participles to the substantives* but these are not to be called epithets, since they make up the essential part of the description ; whereas, whatwe call epithets, are added only by way of ornament and illustration.

But this is faid not with an intention to lessen the reader's esteem for epithets, since it is certain, that they are most admirably adapted to description, and so essential to poetry, that the beauty of its style depends in a great measure on their use, which Homer, Virgil, and the best poets were so sensible of, that their works abound with them. Aftd in some places many epithets are joined to the. fame. substantive without any conjunction between them, and are often thus more elegant and expressive.

An eyeless monster, hideous, vast, desorm!

Virgil.

Immediately a place

Before his eyes appear'd, fad, noisome, dark.

Milton.

1 And the plain ox,

That harmless, honest, guileless animal,
In what has he osfended? He, whose toil,
Patient, and ever ready, cloaths the sields
With all the pomp of harvest; shall he bleed,
And wrestling groan beneath the cruel hands
Even of the clowns he feeds?

Thomson.

What therefore we contend for, is their proper application ; we would have the poet, like a good architect, distinguish ornament from strength, and put each in its proper place; for as nothing adds more beauty to a poem than just and ornamental epithets, so nothing gives more grace to a building than windows well decorated; but no man would for that reason stick his house sull of them, and displace those pillars which should support the fabric, to let in more light than is necessary.

The poet indeed, as Qsintilian has observed, is here greatly indulged, and may use these bewitching ornaments more frequently and more freely than the orator; but both ought to take care that they are not too redundant, for elegance abhors a verbose luxuriance either in prose or verse.

We come now to speak of tropes and sigures, materials which the poet handles very freely; but as we have treated largely of these in our volume of Rhetoric, we (hall not take up the reader's time with an illustration of them here: besides, they are perhaps better and more easily obtained from experience than precept; for every one who is converfant with the best authors, and reads them with due attention, cannot be unacquainted with the sigures of speech, and the art of applying them, though he never looked for them in the rhetoric of the schools, or ever heard so much as a dessinition of their names. Nor will this appear at all mysterious, when we consider, that the works of the antient poets and orators are the gardens from whence these flowers were taken.

Those which the young student will be most liable to err in, are the metaphor, the simile, and the description, and therefore a sew cautions respecting these may be necessary.

Metaphors are always agreeable, and have a good efsect when they are drawn from nature, and connect ideas that have a due relation to each other; but when they are forced, foreign, and obscure, they are altogether as insipid, absurd and ridiculous.

In similes or comparisons, the chief and essential parts should bear an exact and true proportion. A small disagreement in a less considerable circumstance, will not indeed spoil the sigure; but the more exact the parallel is in every particular, the more persect and lively it will be; and therefore similes are generally best when short; for, besides that tediousness tires, by running into minute circumstances, you are in danger of discovering some unpleasing disproportion. Similes need not be always drawn from lofty subjects ; for those taken from common things are signisicant and agreeable, if they are doathed with proper expressions, and paint in strong and lively colours the things we intend they should represent. In grand subjects, similes that are drawn from lesser things relieve and refresh the mind.

Descriptions, which by historians and orators are used cautioufly and through necessity, either to describe persons, things and places, or to affect the passions, are often in poetry introduced only by way of decoration, and that with success. Great judgment, however, is required in the distribution of this sigure. Whether it be intended to move the passions, or to please the fancy, it must answer the end proposed; and therefore it is never to be admitted but when some point can be obtained. A little wit never betrays himself more than when by attempting to display his genius, he throws in desciiptions that have no connection with the subject in hand, and are therefore a dead weight to it. These versisiers are likewise too apt to lay hold of every hint that presents itself, and to run out into long common-places; whereas the man of real genius and

« AnteriorContinuar »