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terparts. Their beauty, of consequence, is like a picture to a blind man. How many of these peculiarities in poetry turn upon a knowledge of philosophy and history: and let me add, these latent beauties give the most delight to such as can unfold them.
I might launch out much farther in regard to the narrow limits of their apprehensions what I have said may exclude their infallibility; and it is my opinion they are seldom right. The academic spoke little, but to the purpose; asserting that all ranks and stations have their different spheres of judging: that a clown of native taste enough to relish Handel's Messiah, might unquestionably be so instructed as to relish it yet inore: that an author, before he prints, should not flatter himself with a confused expectation of pleasing both the vulgar and the polite; few things in comparison, being capable of doing both in any great degree: that he should always measure out his plan for the size of understanding he would fit. If he can content himself with the mob, he is pretty sure of numbers for a time. If he write with inore abundant elegance, it may escape the organs of such readers; but he will have a chance for such applause as will more sensibly affect him. Let a writer then in his first performances neglect the idea of profit, and the vulgar's applause entirely: let him address himself to the judicious few, and then profit and the mob will follow. His first appearance on the stage of letters will engross the politer compliments; and his latter will partake of the irrational huzza.
ON ALLOWING MERIT IN OTHERS, A certain gentleman was expressing himself as follows: 'I confess, I have no great taste for po. etry; but, if I had, I am apt to believe I should read no other poetry than that of Mr. Pope. The rest but barely arrive at a mediocrity in their art; and, to be sure, poetry of that stamp can afford but slender pleasure. I know not, says another, what may be the gentleman's motive to give this opinion : but I am persuaded, numbers pretend the same through mere jealousy or envy.
A reader considers an author, as one who lays claim to a superior genius. He is ever inclined to dispute it, because, if he happen to invalidate his title, he has at least one superior the less. Now tho' a man's absolute merit may not depend on the inferiority of another, yet his comparative worth varies in regard to that of other people. Self-love, therefore, is ever attentive to pursue the single point of admitting no more into the class of superiors, than it is impossible to exclude. Could it even limit the number to one, they would soon attempt to undermine him. Even Mr. Pope had been refused his honours, but that the very constraint, and even absurdity, of people's shutting their eyes grew as disagreeable to them, as that excellence, which, when open, they could not but discover. But self-love obtains it's wishes in another respect also. It hereby not only depresses the characters of many who have written, but stifles the genius of such as might hereafter rise from amongst our inferiors.
Let us not deny to Mf. Pope the praises which a person enamoured of
poetry would bestow on one that excelled in it: but let us consider Parnassus rather as a republic than a monarchy; where, altho' some may be in possession of a more cultivated spot, yet others may possess land as fruitful, on equal cultivation. On the whole, let iis reflect, that the nature of the soil, and the extent of it's fertility, must remain undiscovered, if the gentleman's desponding principle should meet with approbation, Mr. Pope's chief excellence lies in what I would term consolidating or condensing sentences, yet preserving ease and perspicuity. In smoothness of verse, perhaps, he has been equalled: in regard to invention, excelled.' Add, to this, if the writers of antiquity may be esteemed our truest models, Mr. Pope is much more witty, and less simple, than his own Horace appears in any of his writings. More witty, and less simple, than the modern Monsieur Boileau, who claimed the merit of uniting the style of Juvenal and Persius with that of Horace... Satire gratifies self-love. This was one source of his popularity; and he seems even so very conscious of it as to stigmatize many inoffensive characters.
The circumstance of what is called alliteration and the nice adjustment of the pause, have conspired to charm the present age, but have at the same time given his verses a very cloya ing peculiarity., But, perhaps, we must not expect to trace the flow of Waller, the landscape of Thomson, the fire of Dryden, the imagery of Shakespeare, the simplicity of Spenser, the courtliness of Prior, the humour of Swift, the wit of Cowley, the delicacy of Addison, the tenderness of Otway, and the invention, the spirit, and sublimity of Milton, joined in any single writer. The lovers of poetry, there
fore, should allow some praise to those who shine in any branch of it, and only range them into classes according to that species in which they shine.
“Quare agite, o juvenes!" Banish the self-debasing principle, and scorn the disingenuity of readers. Humility has depressed many a genius into a hermit; but never yet raised one into a poet of eminence.
The critics, however unable to fix the time which it is most proper to allow for the action of an epic poem, have universally agreed that some certain space is not to be exceeded. Concerning this, Aristotle, their great Lycurgus, is entirely silent. Succeeding critics have done little more than cavil concerning the time really taken up by the greatest epic writers: that if they could not frame a law, they might at least establish a precedent of unexceptionable authority. Homer, say they, confined the action of his “ Iliad,” or rather his action may be reduced, to the space of two months. His “Odyssey,” according to Bossu and Dacier, is extended to eight years. Virgil's “ Æneid” has raised very different opinions in his commentators. Tasso's poem includes a summer..But leaving such knotty points to persons that appear born for the discussion of them, let us endeavour to establish laws that are more likely to be obeyed than controverted. An epic writer, tho'limited in regard to the time of his action, is under no sort of restraint with regard to the time he takes to finish his poem. Far different is the case with a
writer of Impromptus. He indeed is allowed all the liberties that he can possibly take in his composition, but is rigidly circumscribed with regard to the space in which it is completed. And no wonder; for whatever degree of poignancy may be required in this composition, it's peculiar merit must ever be relative to the expedition with which it is produced. It appears indeed to me to have the nature of that kind of sallad, which certain eminent adepts in chemistry have contrived to raise, while a joint of mutton is roasting. We do not allow ourselves to blame it's unusual fatness and insipidity, but extol the little flarourit has, considering the time of it's vegetation. An extemporaneous poet, therefore, is to be judged as we judge a race-horse; not by the gracefulness of his motion, but the time he takes to finish his course. The best critic upon earth may err in determining his precise degree of merit, if he have neither a stop-watch in his hand, nor a clock within his hearing.
To be a little more serious. An extemporaneous piece ought to be examined by a compound ratio, or a medium compounded of it's real worth, and the shortness of the time that is employed in it's production. By this rule even Virgil's poem may be in some sort deemed extemporaneous, as the time he took to perfect só extraordinary a composition, considered with it's real worth, appears shorter than the time employed to write the distichs of Cosconius. On the other hand, I cannot allow this title to the flashes of my friend in the magazine, which have no sort of claim to be called verses, besides their instantaneity.
Having ever made it my ambition to see my writings distinguished for something poignant, unex