« PreviousContinue »
but omits to mention the
on Silence, como posed, I think, as early, with much greater elegance of diction, music of numbers, extent of observation, and force of thought. If he had happened to think on Baillet's chapter of Enfans celebres, he might have made on this occasion a very entertaining dissertation on early excellence.
He comes next to the Essay on Criticism, the stupendous performance of a youth not yet twenty years old; and after having detailed the felicities of condition, to which he imagines Pope to have owed his wonderful prematurity of mind, he tells us that he is well informed this essay was first written in prose. There is nothing improbable in the report, nothing indeed but what is more likely than the contrary; yet I cannot forbear to hint to this writer and all others, the danger and weakness of trusting too readily to information. Nothing but experience could evince the frequency of false information, or enable any man to conceive that so many groundless reports should be propogated as every man of eminence may hear of himself. Some men relate what they think as what they know; some men of confused memories and habitual inaccuracy ascribe to one man what belongs to another; and some talk on without thought or care.
A few men are sufficient to broach falsehoods, which are afterwards innocently diffused by successive relatere. He proceeds on examining passage after pas
essay ; but we must pass over all these criticisms to which we have not something to add or to object, or where this author does not differ from the general voice of mankind. We cannot agree with him in his censure of the comparison of
sage of this
a student advancing in science with a traveller passing the Alps, which is perhaps the best simile in our language; that in which the most exact resemblance is traced between things in appearance utterly unrelated to each other. That the last line conveys no new idea, is not true ; it makes particular what was before general. Whether the description which he adds from another author be, as he says, more full and striking than that of Pope, is not to be inquired. Pope's description is relative, and can admit no greater length than is usually allowed to a simile, nor any other
particulars than such as form the correspondenee.
Unvaried rhymes, says this writer, highly disgust readers of a good ear. It is surely not the ear but the mind that is offended. The fault arising from the use of common rhymes is, that by reading the past line the second
guesséd, and half the composition loses the grace of novelty
On occasion of the mention of an alexandrine, the critick observes, that “ the alexandrine may be thought a modern measure, but that Robert of Gloucester's wife is an alexandrine, with the addition of two syllables ; and that Sternhold and Hopkins translated the psalms in the same measure of fourteen syllables, though they are printed otherwise.”
This seems not to be accurately conceived or expressed: an alexandrine with the addition of two syllables, is no more an alexandrine than with the deti action of two syllables. Sternhold and Hopkins did generally write in the alternate measure of eight and six syllables ; but Hopkins com
monly rhymed the first and third, Sternhold only the second and fourth : so that Sternhold may
be considered as writing couplets of long lines ; but Hopkins wrote regular stanzas.
From the practice of printing the long lines of fourteen syllables in two short lines, arose the licence of some of our poets, who, though professing to write in stanzas, neglected the rhymes of the first and third lines.
Pope has mentioned Petronius among the great names of criticism, as the remarker justly observes, without any critical merit. It is to be suspected that Pope had never read his book, and mentioned him on the credit of two or three sentences which he had often seen quoted, imagining that where there was so much there must necessarily be more. Young men in haste to be renowned, too frequently talk of books which they have scarcely seen.
The revival of learning mentioned in this poem, affords an opportunity of mentioning the chief periods of literary history, of which this writer reckons five ; that of Alexander, of Ptolemy Philadelphus, of Augustus, of Leo the Tenth, of queen Anne.”
These observations are concluded with a remark which deserves great attention : “ In no polished nation, after criticism has been much studied, and the rules of writing established, has any very extraordinary book ever appeared.”
The Rape of the Lock was always regarded by Pope as the highest production of his genius. On occasion of this work, the history of the comick hero is given ; and we are told that it descended from Fassoni to Boileau, from Boileau to Garth' and from Garth to Pope. Garth is mentioned per
haps with too much honour; but all are confessed to be inferior to Pope. There is in his remarks on this work no discovery of any latent beauty, nor any thing subtle or striking; he is indeed com. monly right, but has discussed no difficult question.
The next pieces to be considered are the Verses to the Memory of an unfortunate Lady, the Prologue to Cato, and Epilogue to Jane Shore. The first piece he commends. On occasion of the second he digresses, acording to his custom, into a learned dissertation on tragedies, and compares the English and French with the Greek stage. He justly censures Cato for want of action and of characters; but scarcely does justice to the sublimity of some speeches, and the philosophical exactness in the sentiments. “ The simile of mount Atlas, and that of the Numidian traveller smothered in the sands, are indeed in character,” says the critic, “ but sufficiently obvious.” The simile of the mountain is indeed common ; but of that of the traveller I do not remember. That it is obvious is say, and easy to deny. Many things are obyious when they are taught.
He proceeds to criticise the other works of Addison, till the epilogue calls his attention to Rowe, whose character he discusses in the same manner with sufficient freedom and sufficient candour.
The translation of the epistle of Sapphoto Phaon is next considered: but Sappho and Ovid are more the subjects of this disquisition than Pope. We shall therefore pass over it to a piece of more importance, the Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard, which may justly be regarded as one of the works on which the reputation of Pope will stand in future times.
*The critick pursues Eloisa through allthechanges of passion, produces the passages of her letters to which any
allusion is made, and intersperses many agreeable particulars and incidental relations. There is not much profundity of criticism, because the beauties are sentiments of nature, which the learned and the ignorant feel alike. It is justly remarked by him, that the wish of Eloisa for the happy passage of Abelard into the other world, is formed according to the ideas of mystic devotion.
These are the pieces examined in this volume: whether the remaining part of the work will be one volume or more, perhaps the writer himself cannot yet inform us. This piece is, however, a complete work, so far as it goes; and the writer is of opinion that he has dispatched the chief part of his task: for he ventures to remark, that the reputation of Pope as a poet, among posterity, will be principally founded on his Windsor-Forest, Rape of the Lock, and Eloisa to Abelard; while the facts and characters alluded to in his late writings will be forgotten and unknown, and their poignancy and propriety little relished; for wit and satire are transitory and perishable, but nature and passion are eternal.
He has interspersed some passages of Pope's life, with which most readers will be pleased. When Pope was yet a child, his father, who had been a merchant in London, retired to Binfield. He was taught to readbyan aunt; and learned to write without a master, by copying printed books. His father used to order him to make English verses, and would oblige him to correct and retouch them over and over, and at last could
« These are good © rhymes."