« PreviousContinue »
velty, is the fuperlative qualification of poetry, and nothing can contribute more to procure it permanent admiration. Yet invention itself is inferior to ftrong fenfe even in poetry; for there are poems in which the invention is rich, yet difgufts by its futility; not being conducted by that acer animi vis, that keen force of mind, which always accompanies true genius.
"If good fenfe is therefore a praise fuperior to invention itself in poetry, we may with great fafety pronounce it one of the very firit qualities that enfures applaufe to compofition.
"A beautiful work of genius may be aptly compared to a beautiful woman. Good fenfe may be called its health, without which it cannot live, charming as its other powers may be. But though a woman has good health, it does not follow that flie is fair; nay we often applaud a morbidezza, or an appearance of fickly, delicacy, as an improver of female beauty; and in this the comparison fails. A work, as well as its prefent parallel, muft have the bloom and the features of beauty, with grace and elegance in its motions, to attract admiration. The bloom and fine features, the grace and elegance, of a work confift in its ftyle; which is the part that is most recommendatory of it, as outward beauty and grace are of a woman confidered as an object of fight.
"The bloom and the features of compofition lie in the verbage and figures of its style; the grace in the manner and movement of that
"A work, immoral and unwife, has yet been found to live by its ftyle, in fpite of thefe defects. Style is therefore a quality of writing equal, if not fuperior, to good fenfe: for the latter without the former will by no means preferve a work, though the reverfe of the rule is true. Indeed a fine ftyle is com
only joined with good fenfe; both being the offspring of the fame luminous mind."
"Can a work live long which is defective in ftyle? Impofiible. Homer's ftyle is the richest in the Greek language. Style has preferved Herodotus in fpite of his abfurdities. Every ancient, who has reached us, has an eminent ftyle in his refpec tive walk and manner. Style has faved all the Latin writers, who are only good imitators of the Greeks. Terence is only the tranflator of Menander; Salluft an imitator of Thucydides; Horace is an imitator and almost a tranflator in all his odes, as we may boldly pronounce on comparing them with fuch very minute fragments of Grecian lyric poetry as have reached us. Yet it was he who exclaimed
tre? Or is it fomething entirely different; fublimity of fentiment, boldness of figure, grandeur of defcription, or embellishment of imagination? Let us attend to the arguments, which may be offered on behalf of both thefe hypothefes.
"The characteristic nature of poetry, it may be faid, confifts, in elevation of thought, in imagery, in ornament."
Lowth, the metre or rhythm has not been exactly afcertained; and probably will not, because it does not exist. The harmony of numbers, of which every ear must be fenfible, arifes purely from the native impulfe of a foul, infpired with fentiments which it could not poffibly exprefs in any language but what was fervid and poetical.
"For, have there not been real poems formed, without the fhackle of regular verfe? Poems, which none, but a faftidious critic, would fcruple a moment to honour with that name? Is not Telemachus noble epic poem? For who would dare to degrade it to a lower character? Who would refuse the afpellation to the Death of Abel, which thofe, who understand the German language, fpeak of with fo much rapture? Or to the Incas of Marmontel, which the French celebrate, with equal enthusiasm of praise !
"By this theory, it may be said, we account for the common remark, that the original language of mankind was poetical: becaufe, in the infancy of the world, every thing would naturally excite admiration, and vehement paffion. Their rude and imperfect fpeech would bear infcribed upon it, the ftamp of ftrong and animated feeling. It would refemble the harangues of Indian orators, at this day, whose fpeeches are accompanied with tones and geftures, which, to a cultivated European, appear extravagantly pompous. Their lives were full of danger and variety. New fcenes were continually opening upon them. Growing arts and fciences were prefenting new objects of curiofity. Hence, their feelings were amazingly intenfe. And hence, their language was bold, and poctically fublime. Longinus, in the fragment of a treatife, which is unhappily loft, has this fentiment. "Meafure belongs properly to poetry, as it perfonates the paffions, and their language; it ufes fiction and fable, which naturally produce numbers and harmony."
"Does not elevation of fentiment produce modulation of language? The foul, infpired with great ideas, naturally treads with a lofty step. There is a dignity in all her movements. She declaims, with a measured, folemn, majeftic utterance. Her ftyle is fonorous, and fwelling. These attributes indicate; thefe conftitute the poet. They give strength and feeling to his compofitions. Where thefe are found, who would look for any higher claims, before he would con
fer the palm of poetic honours?" It may be added, in fupport of this definition, "That our own inimitable poet, than whom none feems more to have enjoyed the infpiration of the Mufe, defcribes the poet, as chiefly distinguished by the fervour of imagination. He does not, indeed, affign him the most honourable company; but he makes ample amends, by a defcription of
Where thefe are wanting, what other prope ties could give even the fhadow of a title ? Who would refufe the title of bard, to the great master of Hebrew fong? For what can be more truly fublime, or poetical, than many of the Pfalms of David? And yet, after the inge, nious labours of the learned Dr.
poetic fancy, wonderfully brilliant "Invenias etiam difjecti membra poeta!” and captivating.
"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
That is the madman: the lover, all as
Sees Helen's beanty on a brow of Egypt,
And, as imagination bodies forth
"To thefe arguments, it may be replied: "That the modeity of Horace, in excepting himieif from the rank and honours of poetic even with respect to thofe veries, character, will not be admitted,
as to which alone he made the exception. For, who has not in every age claffed the Epifiles and Satires of Horace, in the number poetic compofitions, though, as he lays, his ftyle only
"Pede certo Differt fermoni: fermo merus."
"If we adhere rigorously to this definition, fhall we not exclude many candidates, from whom we fhould be forry to pluck the wellearned wreath of poetic fame? All veries, where the subject is low or ridiculous, as the Hudibras of Butler; where it is fimple and narra ertive, as the fables of Gay; or even, where it is plaintive and melan choly, as the Church-Yard of Gray, must be banished from the region of the Mufe. Parnaffus must be, "all cliff," without a fir gle vale in all its circuit. None must then be deemed a poet, who cannot foar to its loftiest fummit,
epic, or heroic wing. If we fhould form an index expurgatorius upon this principle, what ha vock should we make among the minor poets? How many thould we exclude, whom every lover of the Mufe ranks, with graterul ve neration, in the number of her inspired votaries ?
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy
A local habitation and a name?
Who can forbear applying to the poct, what has been fo july applied to the great critic, lately quoted,
"He is himself the great fublime he draws!"
"Horace, likewife, feems to rank himself on this fide of the queftion, in the fourth Satire of his first book, where he endeavours to fettle the point of poetic characters. He, firit, excepts himfelf from the number of thofe, to whom he would allow the name of Poet; becaufe compofitions like his own, moni propriora," do not give a just claim to the appellation. He, then, defcribes the real bard;
Ingenium cui fit; cui mens divinior, atque os
Magna fonaturum, des nominis hujus ho
With respect to himfelf, and to Lucilius, he tells us, that if you take away the order and the measure, their verfes would become" ferma merus," mere profe. Not fo, if you take in pieces that line of Ennius,
The true poetic effence, then, confits in elevation, imagery, and grandeur; to which, nodulation is no more than an adjunct; neceffary, indeed, because it, in tome degree, neceflarily accompanies animated and poetic fentiment."
"Poftquam difcordia tetra Belli ferratos poftes, portafque refregit." For then, he exclaims,
ftory. I cannot but add, that Gray efembles Milton in many inftances. Among others, in their youth they
were both ftrongly attached to the cultivation of Latin poetry."
Whence MILTON drew fome HINTS for his COMUS.
[From the fame Work. ]
66 IN Fletcher's Faithful Shep- fpecies of entertainment.
recently published, Milton found many touches of paftoral and fuperftitious imagery, congenial with his own conceptions. Many of thefe, yet with the higheft improvements, he has transferred into Comus; together with the general caft and colouring of the piece. He catched alfo from the lyric rhymes of Fletcher, that Dorique delicacy, with which fir Henry Wootton was fo much delighted in the fongs of Milton's drama. Fletcher's comedy was coldly received the first night of its performance. But it had ample revenge in this confpicuous and indifputable mark of Milton's approbation. It was afterwards reprefented as a mask at court, before the king and queen on twelfthnight, in 1633. I know not, indeed, if this was any recommendation to Milton; who in the Paradife Loft fpeaks contemptuoutly of these interludes, which were among the chief diverfions of an elegant and liberal monarch. B. iv. 767.
Court amours, Mix'd dance, and wanton maík, or midnight-ball, &c.
I believe the whole compliment was paid to the genius of Fletcher. Yet it fhould be remembered that Milton had not yet completed his career of puritanism. In the mean time, it is true that Milton, as an author, gave countenance to this
mus, abound with Platonic recommendations of the doctrine of chaftity.
"The ingenious and accurate Mr. Reed has pointed out a rude outline, from which Milton feems partly to have sketched the plan of the fable of Comus. See Biograph. Dramat. ii. p. 441. It is an old play, with this title, "The Old Wives Tale, a pleafant conceited Comedie, plaied by the Queenes Maicfties players. Written by G. P. [i. e. George Peele.] Printed at London by John Danter, and are to be fold by Ralph Hancock and John Hardie, 1595." In quarto. This very fcarce and curious piece exhibits, among other parallel incidents, two brothers wandering in queft of their fifter, whom an enchanter had imprisoned. This ma gician had learned his art from his mother Meroe, as Comus had been inftructed by his mother Circe. The brothers call out on the lady's name, and Echo replies. The enchanter had given her a potion which fufpends the powers of reafon, and fuperinduces oblivion of herself. The brothers afterwards meet with an old man who is also
fkilled in magic; and by liftening to his foothfayings, they recover their loft fifter; but not till the enchanter's wreath had been torn from his head, his fword wrested from his hand, a glass broken, and a light
"In the mean time it must be confeffed, that Milton's magician Comus, with his cup and wand, is ultimately founded on the fable of Circe. The effects of both charac ters are much the fame. They are both to be oppofed at first with force and violence. Circe is fubdued by the virtues of the herb moly, which Mercury gives to Ulyffes, and Comus by the plant haemony, which the Spirit gives to the two brothers. About the year 1615, a masque called the Inner Temple Mafque, written by William Browne, author of Britannia's Paftorals, which I have frequently cited, was prefented by the ftudents of the Inner Temple. It has been lately printed from a manufcript in the library of Emanuel College: but I have been informed, that a few copies were printed foon after the prefentation. It is formed on the ftory of Circe, and perhaps might have fug gefted fome few hints to Milton. I will give fome proofs of parallelifm as we go along.
"The genius of the best poets is often determined, if not directed, by circumftances and accident. It is natural, that even fo original a writer as Milton fhould have been biaffed by the reigning poetry of the day, by the compofition moft in fashion, and by fubjects recently brought forward, but foon giv ing way to others, and almost as foon totally neglected and forgot ten."
a light extinguifhed. The names of fome of the characters, as Sacrapant, Chorebus, and others, are taken from the Orlando Furiofo. The hiftory of Meroe, a witch, may be feen in "The xi Bookes of the Golden Affe, containing the Metamorphofie of Lucius Apuleius interlaced with fundrie pleafant and delectable tales, &c. Tranflated out of Latin into English by William Adlington, Lond. 1566." See Chap. iii. "How Socrates in his returne from Macedony to Lariffa was fpoyled and robbed, and how he fell acquainted with one Meroc a witch." And Chap. iv. "How Meroe the witch turned diuers perfons into miferable beafts." Of this book there were other editions, in 1571, 1596, 1600, and 1639. All in quarto and the black letter. The tranflator was of University College. See alfo Apuleius in the original. A Meroe is mentioned by Aufonius, Epigr. xix. I referve a more distinct and particular view of Peele's play, with the ufe of which I have been politely favoured by Mr. Henderfon of Covent-garden theatre, for an appendix to the notes on Comus. That Milton had his eye on this ancient drama, which night have been the favourite of his early youth, perhaps it may be at least affirmed with as much credibility, as that he conceived the Paradife Loft, from feeing a Myftery at Florence, written by Andreini, a Florentine, in 1617, entitled Adamo.