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us. Johnson, by his own confession, had no ear; and on this subject, as well as graver ones, might be inclined to resent opinions which interfered with his self love, or disturbed the preconceived notions upon which he had rested himself. Witkout dwelling, therefore, upon the praises which he has elsewhere bestowed upon these very varieties, and which we may reasonably suspect him of having pronounced upon the strength of the rule which he treats so contemptuously,* it ought to be recollected, that the principles of an art are nothing but the results of a general agreement, to which the finest perceptions have come respecting it; and that the taste which could be content to do without variety in music or painting, would be thought very unfurnished for criticism upon it, either on the score of principle or perception.
The truth is, that perception has had nothing to do with the matter. The public ear was lulled into a want of thought on the subject; the words music and harmony came to be tossed about with an utter forgetfulness of their meaning; and so contented and uninquisitive had every body become on this head, that even those who sat dowr for the express purpose of calling Mr. Pope's admirers to a proper and smaller sense of his meyts as a poet, were nevertheless equally agreed, nat as a versifier his pre-eminence was not to be touched.* It was the same indeed all over Eu
* See particularly the life of Dryden, where he praises at ex. cellent versifier for knowing how “ to vary his pauses ap adjust his accents ;” and observes, that as “ the essence of vere is regularity," SO " its ornament is variety."
* See the Essay of Joseph Warton on his Genius and Writings. The Doctor seems to have had the same notions of poetic harmong as his brother Thomas, who thought that Milton, “ notwithstanding his singular skill in music," bad " a very bad ear," and of whose beau ideal in versification I may bere give an amusing instance. In the third book of the Faerie Queene, canto 1. st. 14, is the following passage:
At length they came into a forest wyde,
“This last verse," says Warton, “ would be improved in its barmony by reading,
Save lyons, beares, and buls, &c.
as would the following also, book 5. canto 2. st. 30.
Yet was admired much of fooles, women, and boys,
if we were to read
Yet was admired much of women, fooles, and boys."
But these corrections are made by the critic, upon a supposition that his author must have infallibly written what was best. The reader will recollect that these lines are in the course of a very long poem; yet so little hari Warton's ear profited by his acquaintance with the Greek and Italian writers, as well as those of his own country, that he had obtained no perception of what is musical beyond that of mere smoothness. Upon this note Mr. Upton very justly observes, that " as nothing is so tiresome as verse in the same unvaried measure and cadence, so the best poets, as Homer and Virgil among the ancients, Spenser and Milton among the moderos, often vary, not only in the
rope. Voltaire, who, agreeably to the genius of the French stage, discovered Addison to be our greatest dramatic writer, could not fail also, agreeably to the spirit of French verse in general, to pronounce that Pope was the most harmonious of our poets :—the Italians repeated the story, most likely from that want of information with which critics are too apt to be satisfied when they speak of the literature of other nations; and everywhere, in the writings of the last hundred years, we meet with nothing but the music and harmony of Pope; in versifiers, in critics, in philosophers, in historians, in small men and great, in the Mallets, the Hayleys, the Masons, the Johnsons, the Wartons, Adam Smiths, and the Humes. The latter description of writers, and indeed most of those who do not particularly cultivate a taste for poetry, as well as persons of every kind who are engaged in the busier pursuits of society, will most likely, for a long
the verse, but likewise in the accent of the word. Hence our poet does not write
Save lyons, beares, and buls,
Save beares, lyons, and buls. The reader may observe several of like sort, where the accent is varied and cadence changed, lest the ear should be tired with one unvaried sameness of measure, like a ring of bells without any changes."
time to come, adhere to their love of Pope's versification, from the very principle which it wants—that of contrast; they take up a poet for relaxation after their toils, are naturally guided to Pope by the tone of society which is mingled with his more poetical character, and find ing their ear at its ease in common with the rest of their faculties, are content with the indolence it enjoys, and care not to inquire why it is satisfied. Besides, it is to be remembered, that the rhetoricians as well as reasoners of the last century have in general formed their taste upon that of the French.
If the attention, however, of more poetical readers is once roused to this point, they will find our author not merely deficient on the score of harmony, but to a degree apparently so obvious, and, at the same time, so surprising, that they will be inclined to wonder how they could have endured so utter a want of variety, and will not be willing, in future, to listen to a poet of any pretensions, who shall come before them without a new stop or two to his lyre. To come to particulars: Let the reader take any dozen or twenty lines from Pope at a hazard, or, if he pleases, from his best and most elaborate passages, and he will find that they have scarcely any other pauses than at the fourth or fifth syllable, and both with little variation of accent. Upon these the poet is eternally dropping his voice, line after
line, sometimes upon only one of them for eight or ten lines together ; so that when Voltaire praised him for bringing down the harsh wranglings of the English trumpet to the soft tones of the flute,* he should have added, that he made a point of stopping every instant upon one or two particular notes. See, for instance, the first twenty lines of Windsor Forest, the two first paragraphs of Eloisa to Abelard, and that gorgeous misrepresentation of the exquisite moonlight picture in Homer. The last may well be quoted :
As when the moon-refulgent lamp of night,
* Dictionnaire Philosophique, Art. Pope. The reader will allow me to deprecate any application of these remarks on versification to the Feast of the Poets. The unambitious balladmeasure in which it is written, has not only had a particular time and tune annexed to it from time immemorial, so as to be led off like a kind of dance, but as the couplets are really made up of four lines thrown into two, may be allowed to appeal to its own laws. This, however, is a trifle not worth the settling. The chief merit which is expected in verses of this description is idiomatica! easiness.