« PreviousContinue »
the village without stirring a foot for it; and another of them tossing to and fro in his bed and burning with resentment, to a piece of flesh broiled on the coals. This particular failure in the ancients, opens a large field of raillery to the little wits, who can laugh at an indecency, but not relish the sublime in these sorts of writings. The present emperor of Persia, conformable to this eastern way of thinking, amidst a great many pompous titles, denominates himself “the sun of glory,' and the nutmeg of delight.' In short, to cut off all cavilling against the ancients, and particularly those of the warmer climates, who had most heat and life in their imaginations, we are to consider that the rule of observing what the French call the biènseance in an allusion, has been found out of later years, and in the colder regions of the world; where we would make some amends for our want of force and spirit, by a scrupulous nicety and exactness in our compositions. Our countryman, Shakspeare, was a remarkable instance of this first kind of great geniuses.
I cannot quit this head without observing that Pindar was a great genius of the first class, who was hurried on by a natural fire and impetuosity to vast conceptions of things and noble sallies of imagination. At the same time, can any thing be more ridiculous than for men of a sober and moderate fancy to imitate this poet's way of writing in those monstrous compositions which go among us under the name of Pindarics? When I see people copying works, which, as Horace has represented them, are singular in their kind, and inimitable; when I see men following irregularities by rule, and by the little tricks of art straining after the most unbounded flights of nature, I cannot but apply to them that passage
in Terence: VOL. VIII.
Incerta hæc si tu postules
Eün. Act. 1. Sc. 1.
You may as well pretend to be mad and in your senses at the same time, as to think of reducing these uncertain things to any uncertainty by reason.
In short, a modern Pindaric writer, compared with Pindar, is like a sister among the Camisars* compared with Virgil's Sibyl: there is the distortion, grimace, and outward figure, but nothing of that divine impulse which raises the mind above itself, and makes the sounds more than human.
There is another kind of great geniuses which I shall place in a second class,
not as I think them inferior to the first, but only for distinction's sake, as they are of a different kind. The second class, of great geniuses are those that have formed themselves by rules, and submitted the greatness of their natural talents to the corrections and restraints of art. Such among
the Greeks were Plato and Aristotle : among the Romans, Virgil and Tully; among the English, Milton and Sir Francis Bacon. The genius in both these classes of authors
may be equally great, but shews itself after a different
In the first it is like a rich soil in a happy climate, that produces a whole wilderness of noble plants rising in a thousand beautiful landscapes without any certain order or regularity. In the other it is the same rich soil under the same happy climate, that has been laid out in walks and parterres, and cut into shape and beauty by the skill of the gardener.
* More commonly known by the name of the French Prophets, a set of enthusiasts originally of the Cevennes in France, who came into England about the year 1707, and had at first a considerable number of votaries. A fuller account of the rise and progress of this strange sect may be gained from two pamphlets; one in French, intitled, Le Theatre sacre de Cevennes, ou Recit de diverses Merveilles nouvellement operees dans cette Partie de la Province de Languedoc. Lond. 1707, 12mo.' The other in English, viz. "Ă Brand plucked from the Burning; exemplify'd in the unparalleled Case of Samuel Keimer, &c. London, 1718. 12mo.
The great danger in the latter kind of geniuses is, lest they cramp their own abilities too much by imitation, and form themselves altogether upon models, without giving the full play to their own natural parts. An imitation of the best authors is not to compare with a good original; and I believe we may observe that very few writers make an extraordinary figure in the world, who have not something in their way of thinking or expressing themselves, that is peculiar to them, and entirely their own.
It is odd, to consider what great geniuses are sometimes thrown away upon trifles.
I once saw a shepherd,' says a famous Italian author, 'who used to divert himself in his solitudes with tossing up eggs and catching them again without breaking them : in which he had arrived to so great a degree of perfection, that he would keep up four at a time for several minutes together playing in the air, and falling into his hands by turns. I think, says the author, • I never saw a greater severity than in this man's face ; for by his wonderful perseverance and application, he had contracted the seriousness and gravity of a privy-counsellor; and I could not but' reflect with myself, that the same assiduity and attention, had they been rightly applied,
might** have made him a greater mathematician than Archimedes.
* "Would.' Spect. in folio.
N° 161. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1711.
Ipse dies agitat festos: Fususque per herbam,
VIRG Georg. ii. 527.
Himself, in rustie pomp, on holy-days,
I am glad that my late going into the country has increased the number of my correspondents, one of whom sends me the following letter:
• Though you are pleased to retire from us so soon into the city, I hope you will not think
the affairs of the country altogether unworthy of your inspection for the future. I had the honour of seeing your short face at Sir Roger de Coverley's, and have ever since thought your person and writings both extraordinary. Had you staid there a few days longer, you would have seen a country wake, which you know in most parts of England is the eve-feast of the dedication of our churches. I was last week at one of these assemblies which was held in a neighbouring parish ; where I found their green covered with a promiscuous multitude of all ages and both sexes, who esteem one another more or less the following part of the year, according as they distinguish themselves at this
time. The whole company were in their holiday clothes, and divided into several parties, all of them endeavouring to shew themselves in those exercises wherein they excelled, and to gain the approbation of the lookers on.
• I found a ring of cudgel-players, who were breaking one another's heads in order to make some impression on their mistresses' hearts. I observed a lusty young fellow, who had the misfortune of a broken pate; but what considerably added to the anguish of the wound, was his overhearing an old man, who shook his head, and said, “ That he questioned now if Black Kate would marry him these three
years.” I was diverted from a farther observation of these combatants by a foot-ball match, which was on the other side of the green : where Tom Short behaved himself so well, that most people seemed to agree, “ it was impossible that he should remain a bachelor until the next wake.” Having played many a match myself, I could have looked longer on this sport, had I not observed a country girl, who was posted on an eminence at some distance from me, and was making so many odd grimaces, and writhing and distorting her whole body in so