« PreviousContinue »
of those who do not particularly cultivate a taste for poetry, as well as persons of every kind who are en. gaged in the busier pursuits of society, will most likely, for a long 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 finding their ear at it's ease in common with the rest of their faculties, are content with the indolence it enjoys, and care not to enquire 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 bring ing down the harsh wranglings of the English trum pet to the soft tones of the flute*, he should have added, that he made a point of stopping every instant
* 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 ballad-measure in which it is written, has not only had a par ticular 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 it's own laws. This however is a trifle not worth the settling. The chief merit which is expected in verses of this description is idiomatical easiness.
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,
Yet this is variety to the celebrated picture of Belinda in the Rape of the Lock
Not with more glories in th' ethereal plain
On her white breast-a sparkling cross she wore
This is a very brilliant description of a drawingroom heroine; but what are the merits of it's versification, which are not possessed by even Sternhold and Hopkins? Out of eighteen lines, we have no less than thirteen in succession which pause at the fourth syllable,—to say nothing of the four ies and the six os which fall together in the rhymes; and the accent in all is so unskilfully managed, or rather so evidently and totally forgotten, that the ear has an additional monotony humming about it,
Quick as her eyes,
It does not follow that the critic who objects to this kind of sing-song, should be an advocate for other extremes and for the affected varieties of which Johnson speaks. Let the varieties, like all the other beauties of a poet, be perfectly unaffected : but passion and fancy naturally speak a various language; it is monotony and uniformity alone that are out of nature. When Pope, in one of his happy couplets, ridiculed the old fashion of gardening, he forgot that on principles common to all the arts, he was passing a satire on himself and his versification
i for who can deny, that in the walks of his Muse
Grove nods at grove-each alley has it's brother,
As the present notes are written for the poem to which they belong, not the poem for the notes, it is high time to finish the one before me ; other wise I was much tempted to conclude it with some counter examples of real poetic harmony from the verses of Dryden, Spenser, and Milton ; not that the style of any great writer is to be imitated at a venture, or to be studied with any