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genius of the country, was founded principally on the poetry of Pope. That opinion was characteristic of a poet whose merits exceeded those of a mere imitator or translator. They could not agree with the construction put upon the question by the opener
It did not inquire whether there ever was a greater poet than Pope; for, it must be admitted, that he was inferior to Homer, to Milton, and Shakspeare; but, whether he was one of those poets to whom we should refer to establish the poetical fame of the country. Who was there who would refuse to place him in that illustrious list? They could not concede to many of the opinions which had been uttered with respect to the various works of Pope. If we seek for the thoughts that breathe, and the words that burn,” read that excellent poem of “ Eloisa to Abelard." There the highest display of passion is united with the most musical arrangement of harmonious versification. The ode on “St. Cecilia's Day” must be allowed to be inferior to the other works of Pope; still it is not altogether a failure, and is far from being defective in harmony. The following passage is peculiarly harmonious :
“ But when our country's cause provokes to arms,
How martial niusic every bosom warms!
Higb on the stern the Thracian rais'd his strain,
Descend from Pelion to the maio.
Inflam'd with glory's charms :
To arms! to arms! to arms !”
With respect to the opinion quoted from Mr. Coleridge, they had always heard that metaphysicians were the worst poets,-and did not think that the Institution should decide the question on their authority. If poetry was the exertion of
the highest intellect enthroned in the highest imagination," then certainly they conceived that the “ Essay on Man” was perfectly within the terms of the definition, it was full of beautiful sentiments, and fine passages, which were continually recurring to the memory: indeed, there were more passages in the recollection of the public from the productions of Pope than from any other poet who had ever written. The ma-, jority, at any rate, were in his favour. They thought that the Pastorals” had been unjustly classed; they were the productions of a very early age, and were looked on by the learned of the time as an earnest of his future greatness. The heroi-comic poetry of Pope was not amenable to the censure passed upon it by his impugner. The “ Rape of the Lock” does not degrade the great and beautiful thoughts of exalted genius, but merely excites the mirth of the reader, by giving to that which was mean an air of importance. The sylphs in that poem were certainly the creatures of Pope's imagination : here, at any rate, he might lay claim to originality.
To the genius of Milton all homage is due; nevertheless, they could not avoid thinking, that there was something like pedantry in the poem alluded to, something like burying the warmth of the subject under the coldness of allegory,-a fault not attributable to the writings of Pope.
Lastly,-in his translation of Homer's Iliad, there was a convincing and overpowering proof of the sublime talents of Mr. Pope. The difficulties of an attempt to render such an author as Homer, with the poetic fire and elegance displayed by Mr. Pope, must be evident from the number of unsuccessful attempts. The failure of Cowper was most egregious. Pope had succeeded where so many had failed, and had achieved a title to be ranked among poets of the first order. In their opinion, he had realized the description of a poet which had been given by Shakspeare
“ The poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
A local habitation and a name.” UPON THE OTHER HAND, it was replied, that had Pope realized this description, we should then have been spared the invidious task of opposing his title to an order which it is probable he never claimed for himself; and England might now have boasted another among the great poets, who have made her name harmonious and famous among the nations. -To characterize him as the man on whose talents the poetical fame of the country must depend, is such an outrage upon reason and taste, as almost sufficient to kindle our indig. nation and to urge us to pronounce that he was no poet at all ! Considered as the one upon whom the poetical fame of our country rests, he is not entitled to the denomination. Have there been no Shakspeares,-no Miltons ? Is Pope the poet who might supply their place, supposing that their names were wanting to our isle? In comparison with them, how does he shrink in degree, if not in kind! Having them to rely on, we want not him. But what nation is it in which Pope is considered to be essential to the poetical reputation of our country! The French! Why? Pope had flattered their vanity; he had borrowed from their writers, and formed his style
upon theirs : in extolling him, they only praised themselves in another. Did the poetical character of this country depend upon Pope, it must be inferior to that of France, as being an emanation from it; but, happily, it is far superior :it took its stand upon original ground, so high that our neighbours have never been able to approach it. Upon the Cons' tinent, Shakspeare is unrivalled,--Milton unequalled yet.
The French school of poetry is confessedly inferior to the English,—and the utmost merit of Pope is, that he engrafted the French mode upon the substance of English intellect, with considerable success. Thus, so far from the opinions of foreigners indicating a poet of considerable original power, it is founded altogether upon the fact of his being an imitator, and on nothing else.
We inquire not (continued the member who closed the discussion) whether Pope's merits be great, compared with others,—whether he may rank among the higher poets of England; but whether he possesses that superlative excellence, which justly entitles him to claim the rank of the first ? Every great and original poet creates an order for himself; he is a “star apart, " dwelling in his own intellectual identity, -surrounded with attributes, united only in himself. Thus Milton resideth alone, in his own unapproachable ideality, which absorbed every thing into its own essence; and Shakspeare hath a peculiar orb, whence his mind went forth 6
on strange quest,” and divided itself amongst all it saw, and became whatever it beheld. Pope, on the contrary, is never viewed but in connection with certain great names which preceded him, and to whom he was so immensely indebted,-andparticularly in connection with Dryden, whose disciple he was, and to whom he bears the same relation that Aristotle did to Plato-and with a crowd of imitators, imitating imitations, who availed themselves of his resources, and adopted the mechanism of his verse,--till the public ear, tired of eternal sing-song, was glad to submit to the extreme of the most desultory and extravagant versification, so that it were fairly rid of that perpetual monotony of sound, and recurrence of imagery, common to all subjects, and distinguishing none. This is a singularity in the poetical character of Pope, which argues against his individual energy, and results from his
inaptitude for original and independent exertion. Most assuredly, he was not of the order of Shakspeare, or of Milton. Whether or not he was at the head of his own order, we have not to determine. - Our question inquires of kind, not of degree. It might admit, however, a doubt, whether Dryden was not superior in degree. We ask, whether Shakspeare and Milton were not superior in kind ?
Our opponents are inimical to metaphysical distinctions. Had they been favourable to such analysis, they might have observed the fact just adverted to, and traced it to that exclusive predisposition of the faculties, in which peculiar genius consists, and that overpowering energy by which it is developed, Metaphysics appear to be essential to poetry; and, by consequence, to be metaphysical, is essential to a poet. Metaphysics have been termed the poetry of thought ; and, verily, they are not that dry; uninteresting study, which the merely physical would have us to believe: they withdraw our attention from the corporeal vicissitudes with which we are beset, and fix it upon the infinite,-- eternal,--and immutable ; the infinite, the eternal, the immutable, into which it is the peculiar office of the imagination to transmute every thing it touches. And I cannot conceive how-without knowledge of the operations of the mind, and of the modes by which the human spirit manifests itself in its different moods of passion or of apathy, it was possible for Shakspeare or Milton' to have produced those combinations of character and conduct, which have never since been equalled. Metaphysical science was absolutely necessary for the concoction of Paradise Lost;" and, from reference to his prose works, I cannot doubt for a moment that Milton was the most excellent metaphysician of his day. Shakspeare is the best metaphysician the world ever produced; and every character which he drew is an illustration, and a witness to the truth, of this remark !
But this objection to metaphysical distinctions came with an ill grace from the advocates of Pope's “ monotony in wire;" for they themselves were most metaphysical. It seems, the “Rape of the Lock” was not amenable to the censure passed upon burlesque poetry; it did not degrade, but it exalted; it raised a mean subject to importance, and invested the ridiculous with ideal distinction : it was not a step from the sublime to the ridiculous, but from the ridiculous to the sublime. But what will the advocates of Pope say for the following passage?
"Now Jove suspends his golden scales in air,
Weighs the men's wits against the lady's hair;
Compare this with the following extract from Homer, in his own translation:
“ But when the sun the height of heav'n ascends,
The sire of gods his golden scale suspends,
“The Rape of the Lock,' and “ the Dunciad,” are composed of parodies, managed in the wey which the passages just recited illustrate. Is there any one who is prepared to argue, that the sublime original, thus reduced to association with the ridiculous and little, and degraded to purposes so trivial and ludicrous, is not unfeelingly injured and violated ? I cannot conceive the writer to have sympathy or regard for the beauty and the greatness which he so abuses ! But yet more,
“ the Almighty-the God of Gods * !” is introduced as an agent active in this scene of ridicule and burlesque. Pope cannot excuse himself from the charge by the employment of the word “ Jove,” and pretend that the Heathen Mythology is fair game; he has himself taught us better,
« Father of all in every age,
In every clime ador'd,
Jehovah, Jove, or Lord !" One name with me is as hallowed as the other; and it avails him but little to say, that to propitiate his propensity for the burlesque, he has only profaned the name under which the sublime Plato, and the Stagyrite, and Homer, and the mighty and the philosophical intellects of the Heathen world, worshipped the great First Cause, least understood.”
But a classical mind associates these two passages, thus parodied, with two others wherewith they are parallel,- one from Milton, “ God's own poet;" the other from the Bible, God's own poem! Turn to the end of the fourth book of “Paradise Lost.”. Gabriel, drawing forth his bands of nightwatch to walk the round of Paradise, appoints two strong angels to Adam's bower, lest the evil spirit should be there doing some harm to Adam and Eve sleeping; there they find him at the ear of Eve, tempting her in a dream, and bring him, though unwilling, to Gabriel; by whom questioned, he scornfully answers, and prepares resistance.
* See Iliad, b. viii. 1. 22.