Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

how rarely they were employed in search injured women, into clamor, re- (170 of new thoughts.

proach, and denunciation; but Virgil had The warmest admirers of the great his imagination full of Ajax, and therefore Mantuan poet can extol him for little could not prevail on himself to teach more than the skill with which he has, (120 | Dido any other mode of resentment. by making his hero both a traveller and a If Virgil could be thus seduced by imiwarrior, united the beauties of the Iliad | tation, there will be little hope that comand the Odyssey in one composition: mon wits should escape; and accordingly yet his judgment was perhaps sometimes we find that, besides the universal and overborne by his avarice of the Homeric acknowledged practice of copying the treasures; and, for fear of suffering a ancients, there has prevailed in [180 sparkling ornament to be lost, he has

every age a particular species of fiction. inserted it where it cannot shine with its At one time all truth was conveyed in original splendor.

allegory; at another, nothing was seen but When Ulysses visited the infernal (130 in a vision; at one period, all the poets regions, he found among the heroes that followed sheep, and every event produced perished at Troy, his competitor Ajax, a pastoral; at another, they busied themwho, when the arms of Achilles were selves wholly in giving directions to a adjudged to Ulysses, died by his own painter. hand in the madness of disappointment. It is indeed easy to conceive why any He still appeared to resent, as on earth, fashion should become popular, by (190 his loss and disgrace. Ulysses endeavored which idleness is favored and imbecility to pacify him with praises and submis- assisted; but surely no man of genius can sion; but Ajax walked away without much applaud himself for repeating a reply. This passage has always been (140 tale with which the audience is already considered as eminently beautiful; be- tired, and which could bring no honor to cause Ajax, the haughty chief, the un- any but its inventor. lettered soldier, of unshaken courage, of There are, I think, two schemes of immovable constancy, but without the writing on which the laborious wits of the power of recommending his own virtues present time employ their faculties. One by eloquence, or enforcing his assertions is the adaptation of sense to all the [200 by any other argument than the sword, rhymes which our language can supply had no way of making his anger known to some word that makes the burden of but by gloomy sullenness and dumb the stanza; but this, as it has been only ferocity. His hatred of a man whom (150 used in a kind of amorous burlesque, can he conceived to have defeated him only scarcely be censured with much acrimony. by volubility of tongue, was therefore The other is the imitation of Spenser, naturally shown by silence, more con- which, by the influence of some men of temptuous and piercing than any words learning and genius, seems likely to gain that so rude an orator could have found, upon the age, and therefore deserves to and by which he gave his enemy no op- be more attentively considered. (210 portunity of exerting the only power in To imitate the fictions and sentiments which he was superior.

of Spenser can incur no reproach, for When Æneas is sent by Virgil to the allegory is perhaps one of the most pleasshades, he meets Dido, the queen of (160 ing vehicles of instruction. But I am Carthage, whom his perfidy had hurried very far from extending the same respect to the grave; he accosts her with tender- to his diction or his stanza. His style was ness and excuses; but the lady turns away in his own time allowed to be vicious, so like Ajax in mute disdain. She turns away darkened with old words and peculiarities like Ajax; but she resembles him in none of phrase, and so remote from common of those qualities which give either dig- use, that Jonson boldly pronounces (220 nity or propriety to silence. She might, him to have written no language. His without any departure from the tenor of stanza is at once difficult and unpleasing; her conduct, have burst out, like other tiresome to the ear by its uniformity, and to the attention by its length. It how to receive, or in what terms to acwas at first formed in imitation of the knowledge. Italian poets, without due regard to the When, upon some slight encour- (10 genius of our language. The Italians have agement, I first visited your Lordship, little variety of termination, and were I was overpowered, like the rest of forced to contrive such a stanza as might mankind, by the enchantment of your admit the greatest number of similar (230 address; and could not forbear to wish rhymes; but our words end with so much that I might boast myself Le vainqueur diversity, that it is seldom convenient for du vainqueur de la terre; that I might us to bring more than two of the same obtain that regard for which I saw the sound together. If it be justly observed world contending; but I found my atby Milton, that rhyme obliges poets to tendance so little encouraged, that neither express their thoughts in improper terms, pride nor modesty would suffer me (20 these improprieties must always be multi- to continue it. When I had once adplied as the difficulty of rhyme is increased dressed your Lordship in public, I had by long concatenations.

exhausted all the art of pleasing which The imitators of Spenser are in- (240 retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. deed not very rigid censors of themselves, I had done all that I could; and no man for they seem to conclude that, when they is well pleased to have his all neglected, have disfigured their lines with a few ob- be it ever so little. solete syllables, they have accomplished Seven years, my Lord, have now past, their design, without considering that since I waited in your outward rooms, they ought not only to admit old words, or was repulsed from your door; dur- [30 but to avoid new. The laws of imitation ing which time I have been pushing on are broken by every word introduced my work through difficulties, of which it since the time of Spenser, as the character

as the character is useless to complain, and have brought of Hector is violated by quoting Aris- (250 it, at last, to the verge of publication, totle in the play. It would indeed be without one act of assistance, one word difficult to exclude from a long poem all of encouragement, or one smile of favor. modern phrases, though it is easy to Such treatment I did not expect, for I sprinkle it with gleanings of antiquity. never had a Patron before. Perhaps, however, the style of Spenser The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acmight by long labor be justly copied; quainted with Love, and found him a [40 but life is surely given us for higher pur- native of the rocks. poses than to gather what our ancestors Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who have wisely thrown away, and to learn looks with unconcern on a man struggling what is of no value but because it has [260 for life in the water, and, when he has been forgotten.

reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been

pleased to take of my labors, had it been LETTER TO THE EARL OF early, had been kind; but it has been deCHESTERFIELD

layed till I am indifferent, and cannot

enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot (50 February 7, 1755. impart it; till. I am known, and do not TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARL want it. I hope it is no very cynical asOF CHESTERFIELD.

perity, not to confess obligations where no MY LORD,

benefit has been received, or to be unI have been lately informed, by the willing that the Public should consider proprietor of the World, that two papers, me as owing that to a Patron, which in which my Dictionary is recommended Providence has enabled me to do for to the public, were written by your Lord- myself. ship. To be so distinguished, is an honor, Having carried on my work thus far which, being very little accustomed to with so little obligation to any favorer (60 favors from the great, I know not well of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be the subsequent corrections. Such reliques possible, with less; for I have been long show how excellence is acquired: what we wakened from that dream of hope, in hope ever to do with ease, we may learn [20 which I once boasted myself with so much first to do with diligence. exultation,

Those who admire the beauties of this My Lord,

great poet, sometimes force their own Your Lordship's most humble judgment into false approbation of his Most obedient servant, little pieces, and prevail upon themselves SAM. JOHNSON. to think that admirable which is only

singular. All that short compositions can LETTER TO JAMES MACPHERSON commonly attain is neatness and elegance.

Milton never learned the art of doing MR. JAMES MACPHERSON,

little things with grace; he overlooked (30 I received your foolish and impudent the milder excellence of suavity and letter. Any violence offered me. I shall softness: he was a “lion” that had no do my best to repel; and what I cannot skill "in dandling the kid." do for myself, the law shall do for me. I

One of the poems upon which most hope I shall never be deterred from de- praise has been bestowed is Lycidas; of tecting what I think a cheat, by the which the diction is harsh, the rhymes menaces of a ruffian.

uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What would you have me retract? What beauty there is we must therefore I thought your book an imposture; I seek in the sentiments and images. It think it an imposture still. For this (10 is not to be considered as the effusion (40 opinion I have given my reasons to the of real passion; for passion runs not after public, which I here dare you to refute. remote allusions and obscure opinions. Your rage I defy. Your abilities, since

Passion plucks no berries from the myrtle your Homer, are not so formidable; and

and ivy, nor calls upon Arethuse and what I hear of your morals inclines me to Mincius, nor tells of “rough satyrs and pay regard not to what you shall say, but fauns with cloven heel.” Where there is to what you shall prove. You may print leisure for fiction there is little grief. this if you will.

In this poem there is no nature, for SAM. JOHNSON. there is no truth; there is no art, for there

is nothing new. Its form is that of a 150 THE LIVES OF THE ENGLISH pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disPOETS

gusting: whatever images it can supply From MILTON

are long ago exhausted; and its inherent

improbability always forces dissatisfacThe English poems, though they make tion on the mind. When Cowley tells of no promises of Paradise Lost, have this Hervey that they studied together, it is evidence of genius, that they have a cast easy to suppose how much he must miss original and unborrowed. But their the companion of his labors, and the peculiarity is not excellence: if they differ partner of his discoveries; but what image from verses of others, they differ for the of tenderness can be excited by these (60 worse; for they are too often distinguished | lines! by repulsive harshness; the combinations of words are new, but they are not pleas- What time the grey fly winds her sultry

“We drove afield, and both together heard ing; the rhymes and epithets seem to [10

horn, be laboriously sought, and violently ap- Battening our flocks with the fresh dews plied.

of night." That in the early parts of his life he wrote with much care appears from his We know that they never drove afield, manuscripts, happily preserved at Cam- and that they had no flocks to batten; bridge, in which many of his smaller works and though it be allowed that the repreare found as they were first written, with sentation may be allegorical, the true

meaning is so uncertain and remote, that writer of an epic poem, as it requires an it is never sought because it cannot (70 assemblage of all the powers which are be known when it is found.

singly sufficient for other compositions. Among the flocks and copses and Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with flowers appear the heathen deities, Jove truth, by calling imagination to the help and Phoebus, Neptune and Æolus, with of reason.

Epic poetry undertakes to a long train of mythological imagery, such teach the most important truths by the as a college easily supplies. Nothing can most pleasing precepts, and therefore less display knowledge, or less exercise relates some great event in the most invention, than to tell how a shepherd affecting manner. History must sup- (130 has lost his companion, and must now feed ply the writer with the rudiments of his flocks alone, without any judge (80 narration, which he must improve and of his skill in piping; and how one god exalt by a nobler art, must animate by asks another god what has become of dramatic energy, and diversify by retroLycidas, and how neither god can tell. spection and anticipation; morality must He who thus grieves will excite no sym- teach him the exact bounds and different pathy; he who thus praises will confer no shades of vice and virtue; from policy honor.

and the practise of life he has to learn This poem has yet a grosser fault. the discriminations of character, and the With these trifling fictions are mingled tendency of the passions, either single (140 the most awful and sacred truths, such or combined; and physiology must supply as ought never to be polluted with (90 him with illustrations and images. To such irreverent combinations. The shep- put these materials to poetical use, is herd likewise is now a feeder of sheep, required an imagination capable of paintand afterwards an ecclesiastical pastor, a ing nature and realizing fiction. Nor is he superintendent of a Christian flock. Such yet a poet till he has attained the whole equivocations are always unskilful; but extension of his language, distinguished here they are indecent, and at least ap- all the delicacies of phrase, and all the proach to impiety, of which, however, I colors of words, and learned to adjust believe the writer not to have been their different sounds to all the (150 conscious.

varieties of metrical modulation. Such is the power of reputation (100 justly acquired, that its blaze drives

The subject of an epic poem is naturally away the eye from nice examination. Surely no man could have fancied that

an event of great importance. That of

Milton is not the destruction of a city, he read Lycidas with pleasure, had he not known its author.

the conduct of a colony, or the foundation Of the two pieces, L'Allegro and I

of an empire. His subject is the fate of Penseroso, I believe opinion is uniform;

worlds, the revolutions of heaven and

of earth; rebellion against the Supreme every man that reads them, reads them with pleasure. The author's design is

King, raised by the highest order of not ... merely to show how objects [110 host and the punishment of their crime;

created beings; the overthrow of their (160 derive their colors from the mind, by

the creation of a new race of reasonable representing the operation of the same things upon the gay and the melancholy

creatures; their original happiness and

innocence, their forfeiture of immortality, temper, or upon the same man as he is differently disposed; but rather how,

and their restoration to hope and peace. among the successive variety of appearances, every disposition of mind takes Of his moral sentiments it is hardly hold on those by which it may be gratified. praise to affirm that they excel those of

all other poets; for this superiority he was

indebted to his acquaintance with the By the general consent of critics, the sacred writings. The ancient epic (170 first praise of genius is due to the (120 poets, wanting the light of Revelation,

*

*

*

*

were very

unskilful teachers of virtue: their Poetry may subsist without rhyme, principal characters may be great, but but English poetry will not often please; they are not amiable. The reader may nor can rhyme ever be safely spared but rise from their works with a greater degree where the subject is able to support itself. of active or passive fortitude, and some- Blank verse makes some approach to that times of prudence; but he will be able to which is called the lapidary style; has carry away few precepts of justice, and neither the easiness of prose, nor the none of mercy.

melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian (230

writers without rhyme, whom Milton In Milton every line breathes sanc-(180 alleges as precedents, not one is poputity of thought and purity of manners, lar; what reason could urge in its defence, except when the train of the narration has been confuted by the ear. requires the introduction of the rebellious But, whatever be the advantage of spirits; and even they are compelled to rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish acknowledge their subjection to God in that Milton had been a rhymer, for I such a manner as excites reverence, and cannot wish his work to be other than confirms piety.

it is; yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He (240

that thinks himself capable of astonishSomething must be said of his ver- ing, may write blank verse; but those sification. "The measure,” he says, “is that hope only to please, must condescend the English heroic verse without (190 to rhyme. rhyme.”

The highest praise of genius is original “Rhyme," he says, and says truly,

says truly, invention. Milton cannot be said to “is no necessary adjunct of true poetry. have contrived the structure of an epic But perhaps of poetry as a mental opera- poem, and therefore owes reverence to tion metre or music is no necessary ad- that vigor and amplitude of mind to which junct; it is however by the music of metre all generations must be indebted for 250 that poetry has been discriminated in all the art of poetical narration, for the texlanguages, and in languages melodiously ture of the fable, the variation of inciconstructed with a due proportion of dents, the interposition of dialogue, and long and short syllables, metre is (200 all the stratagems that surprise and sufficient. But one language cannot enchain attention. But of all the borcommunicate its rules to another; where rowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the metre is scanty and imperfect some help | least indebted. He was naturally a thinker is necessary. The music of the English for himself, confident of his own abilities, heroic line strikes the ear so faintly that it and disdainful of help and hindrance; is easily lost, unless all the syllables of he did not refuse admission to the (260 every line co-operate together; this co- thoughts or images of his predecessors, operation can only be obtained by the but he did not seek them. From his preservation of every verse unmingled contemporaries he neither courted nor with another, as a distinct system (210 received support; there is in his writings of sounds, and this distinctness is ob- | nothing by which the pride of other autained and preserved by the artifice of thors might be gratified, or favor gained; rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much no exchange of praise, nor solicitation boasted by the lovers of blank verse, of support. His great works were perchanges the measures of an English poet formed under discountenance, and in to the periods of a declaimer; and there blindness, but difficulties vanished at [270 are only a few skilful and happy readers his touch; he was born for whatever is of Milton, who enable their audience to arduous; and his work is not the greatest perceive where the lines end or begin. of heroic poems, only because it is not the "Blank verse," says an ingenious (220 first. critic, “seems to be verse only to the eye.”

« AnteriorContinuar »