Page images
PDF
EPUB

pear affected in prose, though in verse they are warranted by the very best authority.

Some late poets, particularly the imitators of Spenser, have introduced a great variety of un

the foilage of a tree is not a new idea, nor could there be any need of a new word or new phrase to express it: though a poet, no doubt, on account of his verse, or on some other account, might choose to express it by a figure, rather than by its proper name. Come sylvarum for folia, is neither less nor more than a metaphor, or, if you please, a catachresis; but Horace is speaking, not of figurative language, but of new words. Both these interpretations suppose, that the words of our poet are to be construed according to this order: Dixeris egregie, si callida junctura reddiderit notum verbum novum.

3. The best of all our poet's interpreters, the learned Dr. Hurd, construes the passage in the same manner, and explains it thus: “ Instead of framing new words, I “recommend to you any kind of artful management, by " which you may be able to give a new air and cast to "old ones.” And this explication he illustrates most ingeniously by a variety of examples, that throw great light on the subject of poetical diction. See his notes on the Ars Poetica.

I should ill consult my credit, if I were to oppose my judgment to that of this able critick and excellent author. Yet I would beg leave to say, that to me the poet seems, through this whole passage, from vers. 46. to vers. 72. to be speaking of the formation of new words; a practice whereof he allows the danger, but proves the necessity. And I find I cannot divest myself of an old prejudice common words, as certes, eftsoons, ne, whilom, transmew, moil, fone, losel, albe, hight, dight, pight, thews, couthful, assot, muchel, wend, arrear, &c. These were once poetical words, no doubt; but they are now obsolete, and to many readers unintelligible. No man of the present age, however conversant in this dialect, would naturally express himself in it on any interesting emergence; or, supposing this natural to the antiquarian, it would never appear so to the common hearer or reader. A mixture of these words, therefore, must ruin the pathos of modern language; and as they are not familiar to our ear, and plainly appear to be sought after and affected, will generally give a stiffness to modern versification. Yet in subjects approaching to the ludicrous they may have a good effect; as in the Schoolmistress of Shenstone, Parnel's Fairy Tale, Thomson's Castle of Indolence, and Pope's lines in the Dunciad upon Wormius. But this effect will be most pleasing to those who have least occasion to recur to the glossary.

in favour of another interpretation, which is more obvious and simple, and which I considered as the best, long before I knew it was authorized by that judicious annotator Joannes Bond, and by Dryden in his notes upon the Eneid, as well as by the Abbe Batteux in his commentary on Horace's Art of Poetry. “New words “ (says the poet) are to be cautiously and sparingly in“ troduced; but, when necessary, an author will do well “ to give them such a position in the sentence, as that “ the reader shall be at no loss to discover their mean

ing.” For I would construe the passage thus, Dixeris egregie, si callida junctura reddiderit novum verbum notum. But why, it may be said, did not Horace, if this was really his meaning, put novum in the first line, and notum in the second? The answer is easy. His verse would not admit that order: for the first syllable of novum is short, and the first syllable of notum long.

But why, it may be asked, should these old words be more pathetick and pleasing in Spenser, than in his imitators? I answer, because in him they seem, or we believe them to be, natural; in them we

are sure they are affected. In him there is an ease and uniformity of expression, that shows he wrote a language not materially different from what was written by all the serious poets of his time; whereas the mixed dialect of these imitators is plainly artificial, and such as would make any man ridiculous, if he were now to adopt it in conversation. A long beard may give dignity to the portrait or statue of a hero, whom we know to have been two hundred years in his grave;

but the chin of a modern European commander bristling with that antique appendage, would appear awkward and ridiculous. But did not Spenser himself make use of words that are known to have been obsolete, or merely provincial, in his time? Yes; and these words in Spenser have the same bad effect, that words now obsolete have in his imitators; they are to most readers unintelligible, and to those who understand them appear ludicrous or affected: some of his eclogues, and even some passages in the Fairy Queen, are liable to this censure. But what if Spenser had fixed the poetical language of England, as Homer did that of Greece? Would any of his old words in that case have appeared awkward in a modern poem? Perhaps they would not: but let it be observed, that, in that case, they would have been adopted by Milton, and Dryden, and Pope, and by all our serious poets since the age of Elizabeth; and would therefore have been perfectly intelligible to every reader of English verse; and, from our having been so long accustomed to meet with them in the most elegant compositions, would have acquired a dignity equal, or perhaps superiour, to that which now belongs to the poetical language of Pope and Milton.

grant, it is not always easy to fix the boundary between poetical and obsolete expressions. To many readers, lore, meed, behest, blithe, gaude, spray, thrall, may already appear antiquated; and to some the style of Spenser, or even of Chaucer, may be as intelligible as that of Dryden. This however we may venture to affirm, that a word, which the majority of readers cannot understand without a glossary, may with reason be considered as obsolete; and ought not to be used in modern composition, unless revived, and recommended to the publick ear, by some very eminent writer. There are but few words in Milton, as nathless, tine, frore, bosky, &c.; there are but one or two in Dryden, as falsify:* and in Pope, there are none at all, which of our poetry may not be supposed to understand: whereas in Shakspeare there are many, and in Spenser many more, for which one who knows English very well may be obliged to consult the dictionary. The practice of Milton, Dryden, or Pope, may therefore, in almost all cases, be admitted as good authority for the use of a poetical word. And in them, all the words above enumerated, as poetical, and in present use, may actually be found. And of such poets as may choose to observe this rule, it will not be said, either that they reject the judgment of Quin

every reader

[ocr errors]

Dryden in one place (Eneid ix. vers. 1095) uses falsified to denote pierced through and through. He acknowledges, that this use of the word is an innovation; and has nothing to plead for it but his own authority,

and that falsare in Italian sometimes means the same thing:

« PreviousContinue »