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Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently błows,
But before we speak of the feveral forts of style, it will be proper to take fome notice of the epithets, tropes and figures of which they are principally compounded ; fince it is by these different modes of speech that the poet is enabled to vary a discourse almost to infinity ; to shew the fame objećt in a thousand different forms, and all of them new; to present pleafing images to the fenses and imagination, to address them in the language they love, to express fmall matters with grace, and the greatest with a nobleness and fublimity equal to their grandeur and majesty.
Nothing contributes more to the beauty of the poetic style than epithets properly employed; and Quintilian, and Rollin after him, observes, that poets make ufe of them more frequently and more freely than orators. More frequently, be.
too many epithets; whereas in poetry, they akways produce a good effeći, though in ever fo great a number. More freely, because with the poets it is enough that the epithet is fuitable to the word it is annexed to : But in profe, every epithet which produces no effeći, and adds nothing to the thing spoken of, is Great deference should be paid to authors fo deservedly eminent in the literary world : we must however beg leave to observe, that the latitude they have given us for the use of Epithets, is a little too extensive ; fince nothing tires a reader more than too great a redundancy of them, and especially when they are useless, and thrown in, as they too often are, to make out the measure of the verse. Epithets can never be admitted with propriety, unless they excite fome new idea, or give fome illustration and ornament to the substantives to which they are annexed ; and it is with this view that they are used in Milton, and our best poets; where we also find many that are compounded, such as bright-hair'd Vesta, /mooth-/baven green, cloud-capt towers, vale-dwelling lily, Sfc. which have a peculiar beauty when properly applied, as indeed have those that are not compounded when they decorate and illustrate the fubstantive, or raife fome new idea in the mind ; but how absurd and ridiculous are many that we meet with in fome of the poets ? fuch, for instance, as watery floods, burning fire, cold ice, arrow-bearing quiver; which convey nothing to the mind of the reader, and when examined, carry no other meaning than watery water, hot heat, cold cold, arrow-bearing arrow-bearer. But even the best epithets may be fo frequently used as to overload a difcourse, and make it heavy, languid, and difagreeable. A good poem, like a rich dish, confists of many dainties fo judiciously mixed, as to form one compound that is perfect and pleafing ; no ingredient should predominate ; for too great a portion
of any one, however palatable it may be in itself, will ·
rob the rest of their flavour. Besides, a luxuriancy of epi-
fubstantive without any conjunction between them, and are often thus more elegant and exprestive.
An eyeless monster, hideous, vast, deform ! '
– Immediately a place
What therefore we contend for, is their proper application ; we would have the poet, like a good architect, di- · stinguish ornament from strength, and put each in its proper place; for as nothing adds more beauty to a poem than just and ornamental epithets, so nothing gives more grace to a building than windows well decorated ; but no man would for that reason stick his house full of them, and displace those pillars which should support the fabric, to let in more light than is necessary.
The poet indeed, as Quintilian has observed, is here greatly indulged, and may mfe these bewitching ornaments more frequently and more freely than the orator ; but both ought to take care that they are not too redundant, for e abhors a verbose luxuriance either in profe or . VErie, i ' ,
We come now to speak of tropes and figures, materials which the poet handles very freely; but as we have treated largely of these in our volume of Rhetoric, we fhall not take up the reader's time with an illustration of them here: besides, they are perhaps better and more easily obtained from experience than precept ; for every one who is converfant with the best authors, and reads ' them with due attention, cannot be unacquainted with the figures of speech, and the art of applying them,
though he never looked for them in the rhetoric of the ***
fchools, or ever heard fo much as a definition of their # names. Nor will this appear at all mysterious, when | we confider, that the works of the antient poets and | orators are the gardens from whence thefe flowers were taken. Those which the young student will be most liable to err S in, are the metaphor, the fimile, and the description, and therefore a few cautions respećting thefe may be necessary. | Metaphors are always agreeable, and have a good ef- : fećt when they are drawn from nature, and connećt ideas that have a due relation to each other ; but when they are | forced, foreign, and obscure, they are altogether as insipid, abfurd and ridiculous. In fimiles or comparifons, the chief and effential parts ; fhould bear an exaćt and true proportion. A fmall dif- Ä agreement in a less confiderable circumstance, will not indeed fpoil the figure ; but the more exact the parallel is in every particular, the more perfećt and lively it will be ; and | therefore fimiles are generally best when short ; for, befides : that tediousness tires, by running into minute circum- a: ftances, you are in danger of discovering fome unpleafing difproportion. Similes need not be always drawn from lofty subjećts ; for those taken from common things are fignificant and agreeable, if they are cloathed with proper : expressions, and paint in strong and lively colours the things we intend they should represent. In grand subjećts, | fimiles that are drawn from leffer things relieve and re- ti, fresh the mind. Descriptions, which by historians and orators are used : cautiously and through necessity, either to describe persons, : things and places, or to affećt the pastions, are often in poetry introduced only by way of decoration, and that | with success. Great judgment, however, is required in the k distribution of this figure. Whether it be intended to move h the pastions, or to please the fancy, it must answer the end | t proposed ; and therefore it is never to be admitted but i when fome point can be obtained. A little wit never be- i trays himself more than when by attempting to display į his genius, he throws in descriptions that have no connec- | tion with the subject in hand, and are therefore a dead | weight to it. These versifiers are likewife too apt to lay : hold of every hint that presents itself, and to run out into , |
A“ common-places ; whereas the man of real genius and . |
judgment confiders that many things must be left to gratify the imagination of the reader, and therefore cuts off all superfluities, however pleasing, and rejećts every thing that would seem abrupt and foreign to his subjećt. He discards likewife all low and vulgar circumstances, and employs his genius in beautifying the effential and more noble parts. That painting as well as poetry fo much affećts us, is chiefly owing to the justness and elegance of description. Pieces of portraiture and history, as well as landscapes, if the figures are nobly defigned, and finely executed, if the perspective be good, the lights and shades just and natural, and the whole bold and free, will always please ; and so it is with poetry, the descriptions in Homer, Wirgil, Milton, and Shakespear, will live for ever, and, like the pieces of Raphael, always feed the imagination with pleasure. The power of description in poetry is very great, and there is more ufe made of it than is generally imagined; for however the modes of exprestion have been multiplied, many of them will be found to be little more than descriptions : thus images are descriptions only heightened and animated ; allusions and fimiles, descriptions placed in an opposite point of view ; epithets are generally descriptions of the fubstantives they precede, or fome of their properties ; every metaphor is a short defcription and comparison united; and the hyperbole is often no more than a description carried beyond the bounds of probability ; and it is chiefly owing to their descriptive power that thefe figures strike the imagination fo forcibly, and impress fuch lively images On the mind. We are now to speak of the different forts of style, which have been usually divided into the plain, mediate, and fub
lime. Virgil may be pointed out as a perfect pattern in each,
that is to say, his Bucolics have been esteemed for the plain ftyle, his Georgics for the mediate, and the Æneid for the sublime. Though in many parts of each, examples may be feen of them all; for there are few poems of any merit that can be wrote in the plain or mediate style only, withogt partaking of the other ; nor are there any that are in all places fublime. Even the epic poem and the tragedy have their under parts; common things as well as great