Page images
PDF
EPUB

the Georgics of Virgil, and see whether, by any process of critical chemistry, you can lower and reduce them to the tameness of prose. You will find that they will appear like Ulysses in his disguise of rags,

still a hero, though lodged in the cottage of the herdsman Eumæus.

The sublime and the pathetic are the two chief nerves of all genuine poesy. What is there transcendently sublime or pathetic in POPE? In his Works there is, indeed, “nihil inane, nihil arcessitum; puro tamen fonti quam magno flumini proprior;" as the excellent Quintilian remarks of Lysias. And because I am, perhaps, unwilling to speak out in plain English, I will adopt the following passage of Voltaire, which, in my opinion, as exactly characterizes Pope as it does his model Boi. leau, for whom it was originally designed: “ INCAPABLE PEUT-ETRE DU SUBLIME QUI ELEVE L'AME, ET DU SENTIMENT QUI L'AT. TENDRIT, MAIS FAIT POUR ECLAIRER CEUX A QUI LA NATURE ACCORDA L'UN ET L'AUTRE, LABORIEUX, SEVERE, PRECIS, PUR,

HARMONIEUX,

1

HARMONIEUX, IL DEVINT, ENFIN, LE POETE DE LA Raison.'

Our English Poets may, I think, be difposed in four different classes and degrees. In the first class I would place our only three sublime and pathetic poets ; SPENSER, SHAKESPEARE, Milton. In the second class should be ranked such as possessed the true poetical genius, in a more moderate degree, but who had noble talents for moral, ethical, and panegyrical poesy. At the head of these are Dryden, Prior, ADDISON, Cowley, WALLER, GARTH, Fenton, Gay, Denham, Parnell. In the third class may be placed men of wit, of elegant taste, and lively fancy in describing familiar life, though not the higher scenes of

may

be bered, BUTLER, Swift, Rochester, DONNE, DORSET, OLDHAM. In the fourth class, the mere versifiers, however smooth and melliflu. ous some of them may be thought, should be disposed. Such as Pitt, Sandys, FAIRFAX, BROOME, BUCKINGHAM, LANSDOWN. This enumeration is not intended as a complete catalogue of writers, and in their proper order,

, but

poetry. Here

num

but only to mark out briefly the different species of our celebrated authors. In which of these classes Pope deserves to be placed, the following Work is intended to determine.

I am,

DEAR SIR,

Your affectionate

1756.

And faithful Servant.

AN

ESSAY

ON THE

GENIUS AND WRITINGS

OP

POPE.

SECTION I.

OF THE PASTORALS, AND THE MESSIAH,

AN ECLOGUE.

PRINCES and Authors are seldom spoken of, during their lives, with justice and impartiality. Admiration and Envy, their constant attendants, like two unskilful artists, are apt to overcharge their pieces with too great a quantity of light or of shade ; and are disqualified happily to hit upon that middle colour, that mixture of error and

B

excellence,

VOL. I.

excellence, which alone renders every representation of man just and natural. This, perhaps, may be one reason, among others, why we have never yet seen a fair and candid criticism on the character and merits of our last great poet, Mr. Pope. I have therefore thought, that it would be no unpleasing amusement, or uninstructive employment, to examine at large, without blind panegyric, or petulant invective, the writings of this English Classic, in the order in which they are arranged in the nine volumes of the elegant edition of Dr. Warburton. As I shall neither censure nor commend, without alleging the reason on which my opinion is founded, I shall be entirely unmoved at the imputation of inalignity, or the clamours of popular prejudice.

It is somewhat strange, that in the pastorals of a young poet, there should not be found a single rural image that is new : but this, I am afraid, is the case in the PASTORALS before us. The ideas of Theocritus, Virgil

, and Spenser, are, indeed, here exhibited in language equally mellifluous and pure; but the descriptions and sentiments are trite and common.

That

« PreviousContinue »