« PreviousContinue »
It is manifest that this kind of excellence cannot be attained without unremitting care and diligence; and no man ever bestowed more of these upon his productions than Pope.
The "Temple of Fame" is a composition of a very different kind. Poetry appears in it drest in that garb of fiction which may be called its holiday suit, but which by some has been represented as its proper and distinguishing habit. The writer has here borrowed the invention of an older poet; but he has so much improved the design, and filled it up with so many beauties of his own growth, that his work may almost claim the merit of an original. The idea of the Temple of Fame is an allegorical fiction; that is, a fable or story, formed upon the conversion of the abstract quality, Fame, into a person, and assigning her a local habitation, with attendants, votaries, and the like. You will hereafter find the poets abounding in such creations of the fancy, by which they gain the ad
vantage of entertaining their readers with novelties-with things, as Milton expresses
beyond this visible diurnal sphere," which gratify the natural passion for wonder, and produce scenes of splendour and sublimity superior to those presented by mere reality.
I do not mean to trouble you with a commentary on this piece, which, in fact, is less admirable for its allegorical justness, than for the particular beauties of its description. In the latter respect, very few works of poetry surpass it; and though it was a juvenile performance of the author's, it affords examples of his very best manner. You cannot pass over without admiration the simile of the ice-mountains, which presents a winter landscape of wonderful brilliancy :
So Zembla's rocks, the beauteous work of frost,
I know not whether you are sufficiently
advanced in general reading to judge of the figures of heroes, philosophers, and poets, with which his temple is so nobly decorated; but where you are acquainted with the characters, you will not fail of being struck with the spirit and justness of the portraitures. Homer, Virgil, and Pindar are drawn with singular force and skill. The conclusion of the piece, relative to his own views as a candidate for fame, is entirely his own, and moralizes with true dignity.
If, in addition to the works above pointed out, you will read the two beautiful translations from Ovid, "the Fable of Dryope," and "Vertumnus and Pomona," you will have acquired a full perception of the melody of versification, and the clearness and splendour of diction, which are some of the most essential qualities of fine poetry. And having gained this point, I think it advisable no longer to confine you to this one writer, lest, fascinated by his beauties, you fix your taste so exclusively upon him,
as to regard every deviation from his manner as a defect. You will therefore lay him down for the present, and in my next letter I will introduce you to one of his competitors in poetic fame.
PURSUING my first idea of habituating you to the numbers and the language of poetry as exhibited in the best models, I now, my dear Mary, carry you back to one who is regarded as the master of Pope, and whom many think his superior. This is the celebrated DRYDEN, a name scarcely second to any among the English poets, and the fertile author of compositions, many of which, from an unfortunate choice of topics, are almost sunk into oblivion, or are remembered chiefly by their titles. The seriousness of his temper, and strong party attachments, engaged him in political and religious controversy, and the necessities under which he laboured made him a venal trader in adulation. Hence he incurred a great waste of genius, and threw away upon temporary and unworthy topics, exertions which would have served to delight future ages.