Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

serious poet; and in this differs from Chaucer and Shakespear, and resembles Spenser. He has sublimity in the highest degree: beauty in an equal degree; pathos in a degree next to the highest; perfect character in the conception of Satan, of Adam and Eve; fancy, learning, vividness of description, stateliness, decorum. He seems on a par with his subject in Paradise Lost; to raise it, and to be raised with it. His style is elaborate and powerful, and his versification, with occasional harshness and affectation, superior in harmony and variety to all other blank verse. It has the effect of a piece of fine music.' His smaller pieces, Lycidas, L'Allegro, N Penseroso, the Sonnets, &c. display proportionable excellence, from their beauty, sweetness, and elegance.

COWLEY is a writer of great sense, ingenuity, and learning, but as a poet, his fancy is quaint, far-fetched, and mechanical, and he has no other distinguishing quality whatever. To these objections his Anacreontics are a delightful exception. They are the perfection of that sort of gay, unpremeditated, lyrical effusion. They breathe the very spirit of love and wine. Most of his other pieces should be read for instruction, not for pleasure.

MARVELL is a writer almost forgotten: but undeservedly so.

His poetical reputation seems to have sunk with his political party. His satires were coarse, quaint, and virulent; but his other productions are full of a lively, tender, and elegant fancy. His verses leave an echo on the ear, and find one in the heart. See those entitled BERMUDAS, To his Coy MISTRESS, ON THE Death of a Fawn, &c.

BUTLER (the author of Hudibras) has undoubtedly more wit than any other writer in the language. He has little besides to recommend him, if we except strong sense, and a laudable contempt of absurdity and hypocrisy. He has little story, little character, and no great humour in his singular poem. The invention of the fable seems borrowed from Don Quixote. He has however prodigious merit in his style, and in the fabrication of his rhymes.

Sir JOHN DENHAM'S fame rests chiefly on his Cooper's Hill. This poem is a mixture of the descriptive and didactic, and has given birth to many poems on the same plan since. His forte is strong, sound sense, and easy, unaffected, manly verse.

[ocr errors][merged small]

DRYDEN stands nearly at the head of the second class of English poets, viz. the artificial, or those who describe the mixed modes of artificial life, and convey general precepts and abstract ideas. He had invention in the plan of his Satires, very little fancy, not much wit, no humour, immense strength of character, elegance, masterly ease, indignant contempt approaching to the sublime, not a particle of tenderness, but eloquent declamation, the perfection of uncorrupted English style, and of sounding, vehement, varied versification. The Alexander's Feast, his Fables and Satires, are his standard and lasting works.

ROCHESTER, as a wit, is first-rate: but his fancy is keen and caustic, not light and pleasing, like Suckling or Waller. His verses cut and sparkle like diamonds.

ROSCOMMON excelled chiefly as a translator; but his translation of Horace's Art of Poetry is so unique a specimen of fidelity and felicity, that it has been adopted into this collection.

POMFRET left one popular poem behind him, The Choice; the attraction of which may be supposed to lie rather in the subject than in the peculiar merit of the execution.

Lord DORSET, for the playful ease and elegance of his verses, is not surpassed by any of the poets of that class.

J. PHILIPS'S SPLENDID Shilling makes the fame of this poet-it is a lucky thought happily executed.

HALIFAX (of whom two short poems are here retained) was the least of the Minor poets-one of “the mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease."

The praise of PARNELL'S poetry is, that it was moral, amiable, with a tendency towards the pensive; and it was his fortune to be the friend of poets.

PRIOR is not a very moral poet, but the most arch, piquant, and equivocal of those that have been admitted into this collection. He is a graceful narrator, a polished wit, full of the delicacies of style amidst gross allusions.

[blocks in formation]

POPE is at the head of the second class of poets, viz. the describers of artificial life and manners. His works are a delightful, never-failing fund of good sense and refined taste. He had high invention and fancy of the comic kind, as in the Rape of the Lock; wit, as in the Dunciad and Satires; no humour; some beautiful descriptions, as in the Windsor Forest; some exquisite delineations of character (those of Addison and Villiers are master-pieces); he is a model of elegance every where, but more particularly in his eulogies and friendly epistles; his ease is the effect of labour; he has no pretensions to sublimity, but sometimes displays an indignant moral feeling akin to it; his pathos is playful and tender, as in his Epistles to Arbuthnot and Jervas, or rises into power by the help of rhetoric, as in the Eloisa, and Elegy on the Death of an Unfortunate Lady; his style is polished and almost faultless in its kind; his versification tires by uniform smoothness and harmony. He has been called “ the most sensible of poets :" but the proofs of his sense are to be looked for in his single observations and hints, as in the Essay on Criticism and Moral Epistles, and not in the larger didactic reasonings of the Essay on Man, which is full of verbiage and bombast.

If good sense has been made the characteristic of Pope, good-nature might be made (with at least equal truth) the characteristic of GAY. He was a satirist without gall. He had a delightful placid vein of invention, fancy, wit, humour, description, ease and elegance, a happy style, and a versification which seemed to cost him nothing. His Beggar's Opera indeed has stings in it, but it appears to have left the writer's mind without any.

The Grave of BLAIR is a serious and somewhat gloomy poem, but pregnant with striking reflections and fine fancy.

SWIFT'S poetry is not at all equal to his prose. He was actuated by the spleen in both. He has however sense, wit, humour, ease, and even elegance when he pleases, in his poetical effusions. But he trifled with the Muse. He has written more agreeable nonsense than any man. His Verses on his own Death are affecting and beautiful.

AMBROSE PHILIPS'S Pastorals were ridiculed by Pope, and their merit is of an humble kind. They may be said rather to mimic nature than to imitate it. They talk about rural objects, but do not paint them. His verses descriptive of a NORTHERN Winter are better.

[blocks in formation]

THOMSON is the best and most original of our descriptive poets. He had nature; but, through indolence or affectation, too often embellished it with the gaudy ornaments of art. Where he gave way to his genuine impulses, he was excellent. He had invention in the choice of his subject (the Seasons), some fancy, wit and humour of a most voluptuous kind; in the Castle of Indolence, great descriptive power. His elegance is tawdriness ; his ease slovenliness; he sometimes rises into sublimity, as in his account of the Torrid and Frozen Zones; he has occasional pathos too, as in his Traveller Lost in the Snow; his style is barbarous, and his ear heavy and bad.

COLLINS, of all our Minor poets, that is, those who have attempted only short pieces, is probably the one who has shewn the most of the highest qualities of poetry, and who excites the most intense interest in the bosom of the reader. He soars into the regions of imagination, and occupies the highest peaks of Parnassus. His fancy is glowing, vivid, but at the same time hasty and obscure. Gray's sublimity was borrowed and mechanical, compared to Collins's, who has the true inspiration, the vivida vis of the poet. He heats and melts objects in the fervour of his genius, as in a furnace. See his Odes to Fear, On the Poetical Character, and To Evening. The Ode on the Passions is the most popular, but the most artificial of his principal ones. His qualities were fancy, sublimity of conception, and no mean degree of pathos, as in the Eclogues, and the Dirge in Cymbeline.

DYER'S GrongAR Hill is a beautiful inoral and descriptive effusion, with much elegance, and perfect ease of style and versification.

SHENSTONE was a writer inclined to feebleness and affectation : but when he could divest himself of sickly pretensions, he produces occasional excellence of a high degree. His SCHOOL-MISTRESS is the perfection of naïve description, and of that mixture of pathos and humour, than which nothing is more delightful or rare.

MALLET was a poet of small merit-but every one has read his Edwin and Emma, and no one ever forgot it.

AKENSIDE is a poet of considerable power, but of little taste or feeling. His thoughts, like his style, are stately and imposing, but turgid and gaudy. In his verse less is meant than meets the ear." He has

[blocks in formation]

some merit in the invention of the subject (the Pleasures of Imagination) his poem being the first of a series of similar ones on the faculties of the mind, as the Pleasures of Memory, of Hope, &c.

YOUNG is a poet who has been much over-rated from the popularity of his subject, and the glitter and lofty pretensions of his style. I wished to have made more extracts from the Night-Thoughts, but was constantly repelled by the tinsel of expression, the false ornaments, and laboured conceits. Of all writers who have gained a great name, he is the most meretricious and objectionable. His is false wit, false fancy, false sublimity, and mock-tenderness. At least, it appears so to me.

GRAY was an author of great pretensions, but of great merit. He has an air of sublimity, if not the reality. He aims at the highest things; and if he fails, it is only by a hair's-breadth. His pathos is injured, like his sublimity, by too great an ambition after the ornaments and machinery of poetry. His craving after foreign help perhaps shews the want of the internal impulse. His Elegy in a Country Church-yard, which is the most simple, is the best of his productions.

CHURCHILL is a fine rough satirist. He had sense, wit, eloquence, and honesty.

GOLDSMITH, both in his verse and prose, was one of the most delightful writers in the language. His verse flows like a limpid stream. His ease is quite unconscious. Every thing in him is spontaneous, unstudied, unaffected, yet elegant, harmonious, graceful, nearly faultless. Without the point or refinement of Pope, he has more natural tenderness, a greater suavity of manner, a more genial spirit. Goldsmith never rises into sublimity, and seldom sinks into insipidity, or stumbles upon coarseness. His Traveller contains masterly national sketches. The Deserted Village is sometimes spun out into a mawkish sentimentality; but the characters of the Village Schoolmaster, and the Village Clergyman redeem a hundred faults. His Retaliation is a poem of exquisite spirit, humour, and freedom of style.

ARMSTRONG'S Art of Preserving Health displays a fine natural vein of sense and poetry on a most unpromising subject.

« PreviousContinue »