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ever, the public ear has been excited to expect something better; and perhaps there never was à 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 vary his pauses.” It is dangerous to hazard conclusions with regard to the opinions of others, upon matters of which our own senses have but imperfectly informed 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 selflove, or disturbed the preconceived notions upon which he had rested himself. Without 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 con. temptuously,* it ought to be recollected, that the
* See particularly the life of Dryden, where he praises that excellent versifier for knowing how “ to vary his pauses and adjust his accents ;” and observes, that as “ the essence of verse is regularity," so “ its ornament is variety.",
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 down for the express purpose of calling Mr. Pope's admirers to a proper and smaller sense of his merits as a poet, were nevertheless equally agreed, that as a versifier his preeminence was not to be touched *. It was the
* See the Essay of Joseph Warton on his Genius and Writings. The Doctor seems to have had the same notions of poetic harmony as his brother Thomas, who thought that Milton, “ notwithstanding his singular skill in music," had
a very bad ear,” and of whose beau ideal in versification I
same indeed all over Europe. Voltaire, who
agreea. bly to the genius of the French stage discovered
may here 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 it's harmony 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 bis 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 had 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 moderas,
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 every where, 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
often vary, not only in the pause of the verse, but likewise in the accent of the word. Hence our poet does not write
Save lyons, beares, 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.".