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Of the BEAUTY of THOUGHT in POETRY.
preceding volume, under the article Rhetoric, this chapter and the ensuing may, perhaps, seem like a repetition, and be thought useless ; but it is to be considered, that though thoughts in poetry and prose differ but little, (except in pieces of fiction) a sublime thought being till the fame, whether expressed in profe or verse, yet as the di&tion of poetry is very different from that of prose, and as this volume is intended to stand alone, and to be read diAinctly from the other sciences, it will be here necessary to say something on these subjects, which are the foundation of elegance and sublimity.
Thoughts may, not improperly, be called the founda: tion or body of a poem, or discourse ; and the style, or diction, the dress with which they are decorated ; for the choicest and most brilliant expreffions will be looked upon as mere empty and contemptible sounds, unless they are. animated with good sense and propriety of thought : but on the contrary, a new and beautiful thought will affect us agreeably, though unadorned, because it strikes the imagination with its novelty, and carries with it some degree of information, which it has drawn from truth and nature.
Thoughts are the images of things, as words are the images of thoughts, and they are both, like other pictures and images, to be esteemed or despised, as the representation is just and natural, true or false.
The thoughts we find in the best authors are natural and. intelligible; they are neither affected to display wit, nor: far-fetched to discover learning ; but are such as arise, as it were spontaneously, out of the subject treated of, and' seem so inseparable from it, that we cannot conceive how it could have been otherwise express'd with so much propriety.
Were we inclined to give instances of false and unnatural thoughts, enough might be found in the works of our modern poets, and not a few even among the ancients, espé. cially in Ovid, Lucan and Seneca.
This celebrated paffage in Lucan,
The heav'ns entomb the man that wants an urn, which is apply'd to soldiers that are slain in the field and lie unburied, may, at first view, feem elegant and ingenious; but when we consider that the carcass of a horse, a kite, or a crow is entomb'd in the same manner, the appearance of wit will fabfide. For wit (in the sense it is used when apply'd to polite composition) is elegance of thought, which adds beauty to propriety, and not only pleases the fancy, but informs the judgment. It is amazing, that one of the best
poets this nation has produced should have been the aathor of the following wretched lines :
Thou shalt not wish ber thine, thou shalt nat dars
Thoughts are more or less just and true, as they are more or less conformable to their object; and entire conformity is, in this respeét, what we call the jusiness of a thought ; for thoughts are just and fit when they perfectly agree with the things they represent.
Thoughts in poetry, however, may be juft without being philofophically true ; for it is the poet's business to represent things not as they are, but as they seem to be. In describing the rainbow, for instance, he may with juftnefs dwell on the colours that seem to compose that beatiful phænomenon, though the philosopher should stand by with his prism, to prove that the whole of this appearance was occasioned only by the refraction of the rays of light. Nor are metaphors, hyperboles, ironies, or equivocal expreffions, when properly used, nor fietion or fable, any deviation from this rule of right thinking ; for there is a great difference between falshood and fiction, between that which is really false; and that which is only fo in appearance. Tropes, figures, and fi&tions, when they are of any value, are raised on the foundation of right reason ; they have truth for their basis, which is recommended and rendered more amiable by those airy disguises.
To think juftly, therefore, and to raise beautiful thoughts, it is not sufficient that they have nothing in them falje, for sometimes thoughts may become trivial by being only
When Cicero applauds Craffus on the subject of his thoughts, after observing that they were just and true, he also adds, that they were new and uncommon; that besides truth and justness to satisfy the inind, he had thrown in something more to captivate and furprise it. Truth, says father Bous hours, is to thoughts what foundations are to buildings, it fupports and gives thein folidity; but a building which has nothing to recommend it but folidity, will not please those who are filled in architecture. Besides solidity therefore, magnificence, beauty and delicacy are required ; and these allo must find a place in the thoughts of our poems, or they will be ever lifeless and unaffecting: Truth, which on other occasions pleases though unadorned, requires embellishment here : though this ornament is sometimes no more than placing a thovght, otherwise common and ordinary, in a new point of light, and giving it an agreeable turn.
Time fiays for no man is a very true and just thought, but is very plain and common. It is raised; however, and. made in a manner new by the following tuin:
Time in his full career keeps prening on,
So when you tell a slugga:d that he has lost an hour im the morning, which he can never recover, you tell hiin the truth, yet there is no beauty or wit in it, because ihe thought is trite and common; but in Sir ****'s remark on bis friend, that be loft an hour in the morning, and ran after it all day, there is wit.
But, as Longinus obferves, it is those elevated thoughts, which represent nothing but what is great to the mind, that principally heighten and animate our poems. The subli. mity and grandeur of a thought will always gratify and transport the foul, if it be just and conformable to the subject; but where that conformity is wanting, dignity will rather disguft than please. To dress up a mean subject with pomp and splendor, is like putting the robes of royal ty on a clown, which, instead of procuring him respect and esteem, will reduce him to the lowest degree of contempt and ridicule. The thoughts, therefore, as well as the style, must be suitable to the íubject, or the writer will ever miss of }; aim..
Sublime thoughts are no where to be found in such plenty, nor perhaps so well decorated, as in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament.—The Almighty's decking kimself with light as with a garment, Spreading out the heavens like a curtain, making tke clouds his chariot, and riding upon the wings of the wind, are thoughts amazingly majestic.
Homer also abounds with these strains of sublimity. The passages wherein he describes Jupiter shaking the heavens with a nod, and Neptune enraged at the destruction of the Grecians, are nobly conceived, but they fall sort of the preceding
He spoke, and awful bends his fable brows,
Mean time the monarch of the watry main
The thought with which he has described the speed of the celestial coursers is altogether as magnificent. He difdains all comparisons drawn from the wind, hail, whirlwinds and torrents, 'which he had before apply'd to express the swiftness and impetuosity of his combatants, and to give us an idea of the rapidity of these immortal horses, he measures their ftrokes, as Longinus observes, by the whole breadth of the horizon.
Far as a shepherd from some point on high
Milton's Paradise Lost is replete with these sublime thoughts; among which, the several descriptions he has given us of Satan are admirably adapted to raise terror in the imagination of the reader.
Thus Satan talking to his nearest maté,
-he, above the rest
As Homer has described Discord, and Virgil Fame, with their feet standing upon the earth, and their heads extended above the clouds, Milton, in imitation of them, has thus described Satan;
On th' other side, Satan alarm'd,
na horror plum'da