« PreviousContinue »
Such was Roscommon, not more learn'd than good, With manners gen'rous as his noble blood; 726
French critics, speaks of Milton, must be considered as proofs of his want of critical discernment, or of critical courage. I can recollect no performance of Buckingham, that stamps him a true genius. His reputation was owing to his rank. In reading his poems one is apt to exclaim with our author,
“ What woful stuff this madrigal would be,
And each exalted stanza teems with thought.” The best part of Buckingham's essay is that, in which he gives a ludicrous account of the plan of modern tragedy. I should add, that his compliment to Pope, prefixed to his poems, contains a pleasing picture of the sedateness and retirement proper to age, after the tumults of public life; and by its moral turn, breathes the spirit if not of a poet, yet of an amiable old man.
Ver. 725. Such was Roscommon,] An Essay on Translated Verse seems, at first sight, to be a barren subject; yet Roscommon has decorated it with many precepts of utility and taste, and enlivened it with a tale in imitation of Boileau. It is indisputably better written, in a closer and more vigorous style, than the last-mentioned essay. Roscommon was more learned than Buckingham. He was bred under Bochart, at Caen in Normandy. He had laid a design of forming a society for the refining and fixing the standard of our language; in which project, his intimate friend Dryden was a principal assistant. This was the first attempt of that sort; and, I fear, we shall never see another set on foot in our days; even though Mr. Johnson has lately given us so excellent a Dictionary.
It may be remarked, to the praise of Roscommon, that he was the first critic who had taste and spirit publicly to praise the Paradise Lost; with a noble encomium of which, and a rational recommendation of blank verse, he concludes his performance, though this passage was not in the first edition. Fenton, in his Observations on Waller, has accurately delineated his character. “His imagination might have probably been more fruitful and
But soon by impious arms from Latium chas'd, Their ancient bounds the banish'd Muses pass d. 710
praise of being one of the * first, if not the very first, pieces of criticism, that appeared in Italy, since the revival of learning ; for it was finished, as is evident from a short advertisement prefixed to it in the year 1520. It is remarkable, that most of the great poets, about this time, wrote an Art of Poetry. Trissino, a name respected for giving to Europe the first regular epic poem, and for first daring to throw off the bondage of rhyme, published at Vicenza, in the year 1529, Della Poetica, divisioni quattro, several years before his Italia Liberata. We have of Fracastorius, Naugerius, five de poetica dialogus, Venetiis, 1555. Minturnus, De Poeta, libri sex, appeared at Venice 1559. Bernardo Tasso, the father of Torquato, and author of an epic poem, entitled, L'Amadigi, wrote Raggionamento della Poesia, printed at Venice, 1562. And to pay the highest honour to criticism, the great Torquato Tasso himself wrote Discorsi del Poema Eroico, printed at Venice, 1587. These discourses are full of learning and taste. But I must not omit a curious anecdote, which Menage has given us in his Anti-Baillet; namely, that Sperone claimed these discourses as his own; for he thus speaks of them, in one of his Letters to Felice Paciotto; “ Laudo voi infinitamente di voler scrivere della poetica ; della quale interrogato molto fiate dal Tasso, e rispondendogli io libramente, si come soglio, egli n'a fatto un volume, e mandato al Signior Scipio Gonzago per cosa sua, e non mea : ma io ne chiarirò il mondo.”
Hence it appears, that our author was mistaken in saying, line 712, that“Critic-learning flourished most in France." For these critical works here mentioned, by so many capital writers in Italy, far exceed any which the French, at that period of time, had produced. “'Tis hard (said Akenside) to conceive by what means the French acquired this character of superior correctness. We have classic authors in English, older than in any modern language, except the Italian; and Spenser and Sidney wrote with the truest taste, when the French had not one great poet
* Victorius's Latin translation of Aristotle's Poetics, was published at Florence, 1560. Castelvetro's Italian one at Vienna, 1570.
Thence Arts o'er all the northern world advance,
they can bear to read. Milton and Chapelain were contemporaries; the Pucelle and Paradise Lost were in hand, perhaps frequently, at the self-same hour. One of them was executed in such a manner, that an Athenian of Menander's age would have turned his eyes from the Minerva of Phidias, or the Venus of Apelles, to obtain more perfect conceptions of beauty from the English Poet; the other, though fostered by the French court for twenty years with the utmost indulgence, does honour to the Leonine, and the Runic poetry. It was too great an attention to French criticism, that hindered our poets, in Charles the Second's time, from comprehending the genius, and acknowledging the authority, of Milton ; else, without looking abroad, they might have acquired a manner more correct and perfect, than French authors could or can teach them. In short, unless correctness signify a freedom from little faults, without inquiring after the most essential beauties, it scarce appears on what foundation the French claim to that character is established.”
Ver. 714. And Boileau still in right of Horace sways.] May I be pardoned for declaring it as my opinion, that Boileau's is the best Art of Poetry * extant. The brevity of his precepts, enlivened by proper imagery, the justness of his metaphors, the harmony of his numbers, as far as Alexandrine lines will admit, the exactness of his method, the perspicacity of his remarks, and the energy of his style, all duly considered, may render this opinion not unreasonable. It is scarcely to be conceived, how much is comprehended in four short cantos. He that has well digested these, cannot be said to be ignorant of any important rule of poetry. The tale of the Physician turning Architect, in the fourth canto, is told with true pleasantry. It is to this work Boileau owes his immortality; which was of the highest utility to this nation, in diffusing a just way of thinking and writing; banishing every species of false wit, and introducing a general taste for the manly simplicity of the ancients, on whose writings
. It was translated into Portuguese verse by Count d'Ericeyra.
To him the Wit of Greece and Rome was known,
sprightly, if his judgment had been less severe; but that severity, delivered in a masculine, clear, succinct style, contributed to make him so eminent in the didactical manner, that no man with justice can affirm, he was ever equalled by any of our own nation, without confessing, at the me time, that he is inferior to none. In some other kinds of writing, his genius seems to have wanted fire to attain the point of perfection; but who can attain it ?” Edit. 12mo. p. 136.
Ver. 729.] Several lines were here added to the first edition, concerning Walsh.
Ver. 729. Such late was Walsh—the Muse's judge and friend,] If Pope has here given too magnificent a eulogy to Walsh, it must be attributed to friendship rather than to judgment. Walsh was, in general, a flimsy and frigid writer. The Rambler calls his works, pages of inanity. His three letters to Pope, however, are well written. His remarks on the nature of pastoral poetry, on borrowing from the ancients, and against florid conceits, are worthy perusal. Pope owed much to Walsh ; it was he who gave him a very important piece of advice, in his early youth; for he used to tell our author, that there was one way still left open for him, by which he might excel any of his predecessors, which was, by correctness ; that though indeed, we had several great poets, we as yet could boast of none that were perfectly correct ; and that therefore, he advised him to make this quality his particular study.
Correctness is a vague term, frequently used without meaning and precision. It is perpetually the nauseous cant of the French critics, and of their advocates and pupils, that the English writers are generally incorrect. If correctness implies an absence of petty faults, this perhaps may be granted. If it means, that, because their tragedians have avoided the irregularities of Shakspeare, and have observed a juster economy in their fables, therefore the Athalia, for instance, is preferable to Lear, the notion is groundless and absurd. Though the Henriade should be allowed to be free from any very gross absurdities, yet who will dare to
To failings mild, but zealous for desert;
rank it with the Paradise Lost? Some of their most perfect tragedies abound in faults as contrary to the nature of that species of poetry, and as destructive to its end, as the fools or gravediggers of Shakspeare. That the French may boast some excellent critics, particularly Bossu, Boileau, Fenelon, and Brumoy, cannot be denied; but that these are sufficient to form a taste upon, without having recourse to the genuine fountains of all polite literature, I mean the Grecian writers, no one but a superficial reader can allow.
Ver. 741. Careless of censure,] These concluding lines bear a great resemblance to Boileau's conclusion of his Art of Poetry, but are perhaps superior.
“ Censeur un peu facheux, mais souvent necessaire ;
Plus enclin à blâmer, que scavant à bien faire.” Our author has not, in this piece, followed the examples of the ancients, in addressing their didactic poems to some particular person; as Hesiod to Perses ; Lucretius to Memmius ; Virgil to Mecænas ; Horace to the Pisos ; Ovid, his Fasti, to Germanicuis; Oppian to Caracalla. In later times, Fracastoriiis addrest P. Bembo ; Vida the Dauphin of France. But neither Boileau in his Art, nor Roscommon nor Buckinghamn in their Essays, nor Akenside nor Armstrong, have followed this practice. VOL. I.