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FEAST OF THE POETS.
(1) I think-let me seemyes, it is, I declare,
As long ago non as that Buckingham there.
SHEFFIELD, Duke of Buckinghamshire, one of the licentious dabblers in wit who were educated in the court of Charles the Second. It would have appeared a great piece of insolence to this flimsy personage, who, in a posthumous edition of his works, is recommended to the care of "Time, Truth, and Posterity,” to be told, that at the distance of a hundred years, it would be necessary to say who he was. His grace, it is true, by favour of long standing, and of the carelesness or ignorance of compilers, still keeps his place in those strange medleys of good and bad, called collections of the English Poets; but very few persons know any thing of him ; and they who do will hardly object to the tone of contempt with which Apollo speaks of a grave coxcomb, who affected to care nothing for the honours of either literature or the world, when he was evidently ambitious of both. In his election of Poet Laureat, where Pope, Prior, and others, are among the candidates, he thus modestly introduces himself:
When Buekingham came, he scarce car'd to be seen,
And laugh'd at all suitors for places at court. I may here, by the way, take notice of a strange piece of carelesness which has escaped Mr. Walter Scott in his edition of Dryden, and which, unless he had made eighteen volumes of it, might be construed into an ignorance of his author; at least, it does not exhibit to advantage his familiarity with the poets either of that age or the succeeding one. As an additional argument to prove that Dryden had no hand in Buckingham's vulgar Essay on Satire, he asks in a note on that passage
To tell men freely of their foulest faults,
To laugh at their vain deeds and vainer thoughts, “Would Dryden have pardoned such a rhyme ?" It would appear so, for he used it repeatedly him.
self. Not to multiply instances, see the qd part of the Conquest of Grenada, Act 2. Sc. 1.--Act 3. Sc. 1.--and Act 5. Sc. 2.-three times in one play. It was also used after him by Pope, Swift, and others, who affected to be conscientious rhymers; and, in fact, there was nothing in it to startle them; for it appears by Johnson's Dictionary, that as late as fifty years back, the l in fault was not only dropt or retained at pleasure, but that “in conversation it was generally suppressed.” It is curious, that one of the authorities, in which the pronunciation is exemplified, should be another passage
from Dryden. (2) And Thomson, though best in his indolent fits,
Either slept himself weary, or bloated his wits.
In thinking it necessary to explain this passage, I only wish to deprecate all idea of disrespect to the memory of Thomson-a man of a most cordial nature as well as of genius. The 6 bloated his wits” alludes to the redundant and tumid character of much of his principal poem, and the “ slept himself weary,” to his Castle of Indolence, which certainly falls off towards the conclusion, though it is exquisite for the most part, particularly in the outset. I would rather take my idea of Thomson as a poet from this little production than from all the rest of his works put together. There is more of invention in it-more of unassisted fancy and abstract en
joyment; and in copying the simplicity together with the quaintnesses of a great poet, he became more natural, and really touched his subject with a more original freshness, than when he had his style to himself.
(3) But ever since Pope spoild the ears of the town
With his cuckoo-song verses half up and half down, &c.
The charge against Pope of a monotonous and cloying versification is not new; but his succes. sors have found the style of too easy and accommodating a description to part with it; and readers in general, it must be confessed, have more than acquiesced in their want of ambition. The late Dr. Darwin, whose notion of poetical music, in common with that of Goldsmith and others, was of the school of Pope, though his taste was otherwise different, was, perhaps, the first who, by carrying it to its extreme pitch of sameness, and ringing it affectedly in one's ears, gave the public at large a suspicion that there was something wrong in its nature. But of those who saw its deficiencies, part had the ambition without the taste or attention requisite for striking into a better path, and became eccentric in another extreme; while others, who saw the folly of both, were content to keep the beaten track, and set a proper example to neither. By these appeals, however, the public ear has been excited to expect something better; and perhaps there never was a more favourable time than the present for an attempt to bring back the real harmonies of the English heroic, and to restore to it half the true principle of its music-variety.
I am not here joining the cry of those who affect to consider Pope as no poet at all. He is, I confess, in my judgment, at a good distance from Dryden, and at an immeasurable one from such men as Spenser and Milton; but if the author of the Rape of the Lock, of Eloisa to Abelard, and of the Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady, is no poet, then are fancy and feeling no properties belonging to poetry. I am only considering his versification; and upon that point I do not hesitate to say that I regard him, not only as no master of his art, but as a very indifferent practiser, and one whose reputation will grow less and less in proportion as the lovers of poetry become intimate with his great predecessors, and with the principles of musical beauty in general. Johnson, it is true, objects to those who judge of Pope's versification “by principles rather than perception," treating the accusation against him as a cant, and suspecting that the accusers themselves "would have less pleasure in his works, if he had tried to relieve attention by studied discords, and affected to break his lines and
pauses." It isdangerous to hazard conclusions with regard to the opinions of others, upon matters of which our 'wn senses have but imperfectly informed