« PreviousContinue »
words: and in this unadorned manner to
peruse the passage. If there be really in it a true poetical spirit, all your inversions and transpofitions will not disguise and extinguish it; but it will retain its lustre, like a diamond unset, and thrown back into the rubbish of the mine. Let us make a little experiment on the following well-known lines: “ Yes, you despise the man that is confined to books, who rails at humankind from his study; though what he learns, he speaks; and may, perhaps, advance some general maxims, or may be right by chance. The coxcomb bird, so grave and so talkative, that cries whore, knave, and cuckold, from his cage, though he rightly call many a passenger, you hold him no philofopher. And yet, such is the fate of all extremes, men may be read too much, as well as books. We grow more par. tial, for the sake of the observer, to observations which we ourselves make ; less so to written wisdom, because another's. Maxims are drawn from notions, and those from guess.” What shall we say of this passage? Why, that it is most excellent sense, but just as poetical as the “ Qui fit Mäcenas” of the author who recommends this method of trial.
Take ten lines of the Iliad, Paradise Lost, or even of
the Georgics of Virgil, and see whether, by any process of critical chemistry, you can lower and reduce them to the tameness of prose. You will find that they will
appear like Ulysses in his disguise of rags, still a hero, though lodged in the cottage of the herdsman Eumæus.
The sublime and the pathetic are the two chief nerves of all genuine poesy. What is there transcendently sublime or pathetic in Pope? In his Works there is, indeed, “nihil inane, nihil arcessitum; puro tamen fonti quam magno flumini proprior;" as the excellent Quintilian remarks of Lyfias. And because I am, perhaps, unwilling to speak out in plain English, I will adopt the following passage of Voltaire, which, in my opinion, as exactly characterizes Pope as it does his model Boi. leau, for whom it was originally designed : 66 INCAPABLE PEUT-ETRE DU SUBLIME QUI ELEVE L’AME, ET DU SENTIMENT QUI L'AT. TENDRIT, MAIS FAIT POUR ECLAIRER CEUX A QUI LA NATURE ACCORDA L'UN ET L'AUTRE, LABORIEUX, SEVERE, PRECIS, PUR,
HARMONIEUX, IL DEVINT, ENFIN, LE POETE DE LA RAISON.”
Our English Poets may,
I think, be disposed in four different classes and degrees. In the first class I would place our only three sublime and pathetic poets ; SPENSER, SHAKESPEARE, MILTON. In the second class should be ranked such as poffessed the true poetical genius, in a more moderate degree, but who had noble talents for moral, ethical, and panegyrical poesy. At the head of these are Dryden, Prior, Addison, Cowley, WalLER, Garth, Fenton, Gay, Denham, PARNELL. In the third class
be placed men of wit, of elegant taste, and lively fancy in describing familiar life, though not the higher scenes of poetry. Here may
be numbered, Butler, Swift, ROCHESTER, Donne, DORSET, OLDHAM. In the fourth class, the mere versifiers, however smooth and melliflu. ous some of them may be thought, should be disposed. Such as Pitt, Sandys, Fairfax, Broome, BUCKINGHAM, LANSDOWN. This enumeration is not intended as a complete catalogue of writers, and in their proper order,
but only to mark out briefly the different spécies of our celebrated authors. In which of these classes Pope deserves to be placed, the following Work is intended to determine.
And faithful Servant.