Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

wholly confined to songs and pastorals; but we have in English, though the Greeks and Romans had not, a low and familiar style, which is applicable to subjects of humour and burlesque, where cant phrases, proverbs and ex. pressions peculiar to certain trades are introduced ; such is the poem of Hudibras, many of Swift's satirical pieces, the burletta of Midas, and many similar dramatic productions.

LETTER XXVI.

The Epigram and Epitaph. The Sonnet.-

Pastoral Poetry.--Theocritus. --Virgil.
Spencer.-Phillips.-Gay-Shenstone.

MY DEAR JOHN,

In treating of the different forms of poetical productions, I might have adopted a general division, similar to that in which I arranged compositions in prose. They might in general be classed under the didactic, and the narra. tive and descriptive; and I might shew that each of these requires a distinct style, as well as a different arrangement from the other. But as the different kinds of poetry have been, almost from the first cultivation of the art, distinguished by peculiar names, I shall be more generally understood if I adopt no new arrangement, and describe them under those characters by which they have been known for ages.

The antient critics enumerated seven distinct classes or kinds of poetry: the epigram, the clegy, the bucolic or pastoral, the lyric, the sa tiric, the dramatic, and the epic. It is won. derful that though they had the works of Hea siod before them, and afterwards the incomparable Georgics, and Art of Peetry of Horace, they should have omitted so important a class as the didactic. Of poetry professedly descriptive the antients had indeed almost none; nor till the time of Phædrus, scarcely any tales or fables in verse. The modern epitaph may also be considered as a new species of poetry, unless it may be regarded as a kind of short elegy; for it cannot properly class with the epigram, either according to the antient or modern acceptation. The sonnet is also an entire modern invention, unless it is regarded as a short ode.

I must therefore adopt a new classification, and as it has been usual to begin with the lighter and more triffing kinds of poetry, I shall treat of them in the following order : Ist. The epi. gram ; 2d. the epitaph ; 3d, the sonnet; 41h. pastoral ; 5th. didactic poetry; 6th. satire ; 7th. descriptive; 81h. elegy; Itb. lyric poetry; 10th. the drama ; and lastly, epic or heroic poetry.

1. The word EPIGRAM means an inscription, from the Greek preposition eft, upon; and ypa u , a writing ; having been generally engraven or written on pillars, porches, or the pedestals or bases of statues. The modern sense is somewhat different. It now means a short and witty poem, the point or humour of which is expressed in the latter lines. Yet even in the Greek epigrams (properly so called) or inscriptions, there was a terseness and point approaching to the modern idea. Such was the famous inscription on the statue of Venus by Praxitelesa

Γυμνην οιδι Παρις με, και Αγκισης, και Αδωνις,
Tus
τρεις

οιδα Morus, apačileans de mofey?

“ Thrice by three mortals was I naked seen,
“ But where unrob’d with this vile artist been"

Mr. Prior has very happily extended this thought in the following pretty little poem, which has the true spirit of the epigram

[ocr errors]

“When Chloe's picture was to Venus shewn;

Surpriz’d the goddess took it for her own. “ And what said she does this bold painter mean? “ When was I bathing thus, and naked seen? “Pleas'd Cupid heard, and check'd his mother's pride; "" And who's blind now, mamma? the urchin cried.

2

“ 'Tis Chloe's eye, and cheek, and lip and breast, “ Friend Howard's genius fancied all the rest.”

By the way, while I am speaking of inscriptions, I must mention a very good couplet, written I believe by Mr. Pope, and engraven on the collar of a dog belonging to the late Princess Dowager of Wales

“I am her Highness' dog at Kew

Pray, tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?"

Another extempore epigram by the same hand will give a good idea of this kind of poem. It was written on glass with the diamond pencil of the late Lord Chesterfield

Accept a miracle, instead of wit;
See two dull lines with Stanhope's pencil writ.”

Martial is the author among the antients whose poems approach the nearest to the modern idea of epigram. Those of Catullus I do not account such, though they go by that

Several of Martial's have wit, though many of them appear to be merely short complimentary poems, such as are many of Wal. ler, Cowley, Prior, and our other English poetæ minores, modern and antient.

name.

« ZurückWeiter »