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'In vain bad rhymers all mankind reject, They treat themselves with most profound respect; 'Tis to small purpose
result of their conversations : “ That language of ours may be called classical English, which is to be found in a few chosen writers inclusively from the times of Spenser till the death of Mr. Pope; for false refinements, after a language has arisen to a certain degree of perfection, give reasons to suspect that a language is upon the decline. The same circumstances have happened formerly, and the event has been almost invariably the same. Compare Statius and Claudian with Virgil and Horace; and yet the former was, if one may so speak, immediate heir at law to the latter.
“ I have known some of my contemporary poets, (and those not very voluminous writers,) who have coined their one or two hundred words a man; whereas Dryden and Pope devised only about threescore words between them; many of which were compound-epithets. But most of the words which they introduced into our language, proved in the event to be vigorous and perennial plants, being chosen and raised from excellent offsets. In
Proferet in lucem speciosa vocabula rerum,
deed, the former author revived also a great number of ancient words and expressions; and this he did (beginning at Chaucer) with so much delicacy of choice, and in a manner so comprehensive, that he left the latter author (who was in that point equally judicious and sagacious) very little to do, or next to nothing.
“Some few of Dryden's revived words I have presumed to continue; of which take the following instances : as, grideline, filamet, and curmine, (with reference to colours and mixture of colours,) cymar, eygre, trine, EYPHKA, paruclete, panoply, root, dorp, eglantine, orisons, aspirations, &c. I mention this lest any one should be angry with me, or pleased with me in particular places, where I discover neither boldness nor invention. I owe also to Fenton the participle meandered; and to Sir W. Davenant the Latinism of funeral ILICET.
“ As to compound-epithets, those ambitiosa ornamenta of modern poetry, Dryden has devised a few of them, with equal diffidence and caution; but those few are exquisitely beautiful. Mr. Pope seized on them as family diamonds, and added thereto an equal number, dug from his own mines, and heightened by his own polishing.
“Compound-epithets first came into their great vogue about the year 1598. Shakespear and Ben Jonson both ridiculed the ostentatious and immoderate use of them, in their Prologues to Troilus and Cressida, and to Every Man in his Humour. By the above named Prologues it appears that bombast grew fashionable about the same æra. Now in both instances an affected taste is the same as a false taste. The author of Hieronimo (who, I may venture to assure the reader, was one John Smith*) first led up the dance. Then came the bold and self-sufficient translator of Du Bartas,t who broke down all the flood-gates of the true
• John Smith writ also the Hector of Germany.
Or bid the new be English, ages hence,
stream of eloquence, (which formerly preserved the river clear, within due bounds, and full to its banks,) and, like the rat in the Low Country dikes, mischievously or wantonly deluged the whole land.”
Warton, Ver. 168. brade Raleigh spake;] The conclusion of his History of the World, is written with uncommon energy and elegance. Among other particulars, Aubrey, in his manuscript notes, relates, that he was accustomed to speak, though so great a master of style, in a broad Devonshire dialect. His voice was small. And he adds a remarkable anecdote, that, at a consultation held at Whitehall, among several considerable personages, just after Queen Elizabeth's death, Raleigh declared his opinion, that it was the wisest way for them to keep the staff in their own hands, and set up a commonwealth, and not to be subject to a needy, beggarly nation. This secret declaration of Raleigh was conveyed by one of the Cabal to King James, who never forgave Raleigh for uttering it.
Warton. Ver. 174. Prune the luxuriant, &c.] Our Poet, at fifteen, got acquainted with Walsh, whose candour and judgment he has celebrated in his Essay on Criticism. Walsh encouraged him greatly; and used to tell him, there was one road still open for distinction, in which he might excel the rest of his countrymen ; and that was correctness ; in which the English poets had been remarkably defective. For though we have had several great'geniuses, yet not one of them knew how to prune his luxuriancies. This, therefore, as he had talents that seemed capable of things worthy to be improved, should be his principal study. Our young author followed his advice, till habit made correcting the most agreeable, as well as useful, of all his poetical exercises : and the delight he
Vehemens, et liquidus, puroque simillimus amni,
Prætulerim scriptor delirus inersque videri, Dum mea delectent mala me, vel denique fallant,
took in it, produced the effect he speaks of, in the following lines:
“ Then polish all with so much life and ease,
“ You think 'tis nature, and a knack to please.” We are not commonly taught to expect this effect from correction; and it has been observed oftener to produce a heavy stiffness; which, by another image, the ancients called smelling of the lamp. And without doubt, this will be the consequence, when it is performed with pain, as it will be when it is discharged as a task. But when it becomes, by habit, an exercise of amusement, the judgment, lying no harder on the fancy than to direct its sallies, will preserve the life; and the fancy, lightening the judgment, will produce the ease here spoken of.
Warburton. Ver. 176. Then polish all, &c.] M. Voltaire, speaking, as I remember, of Mr. Pope, says: “L'art d'être éloquent en vers est de tous les arts le plus difficile, et le plus rare. On trouvera mille Génies qui sçauront arranger un ouvrage, et le versifier d'une manière commune ; mais le traiter en vrai poète, c'est un talent qui est donné à trois ou quatre hommes sur la terre.” Warburton.
Ver. 177. You think 'tis nature,] Inferior to the example Horace has here used for executing a difficulty with seeming ease, taken from a pantomime, who represents the rude and awkward and distorted gestures of a Cyclops, with apparent facility and grace, though these gestures cannot be performed without much real labour and previous discipline. The Cyclops of Euripides is alluded to; the only satiric drama that has remained of the ancients.
Warton. Ver. 178. But ease in writing, &c.] That species of writers, which Mr. Pope elsewhere calls
Then polish all, with so much life and ease,
'If such the plague and pains to write by rule
“ The mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease,” understood this quality of a poem to belong only to such as (a certain wit says) were easily written ; whereas our Poet supposes it to be the last, and hardly attained, perfection of a laboured work. But the gentleman writing, laughed at in the line above, and its opposite, which he somewhere calls prose run mad, are the two extremes of that perfect style, the idea of which he has here so well described from his own writings. As ease was the mode of the last age, which took Suckling for its pattern; so the imitation of Milton has introduced a pompous hardness into the affected writings of the present. Which last character, Quintilian describes very justly, and accounts as well for its success : “ Evenit nonnunquam ut aliquid grande inveniat, qui semper quærit quod nimium est; verum et raro evenit, et cætera vitia non pensat.” I remember once on reading a poem of this kind with Mr. Pope called Night Thoughts, where the Poet was always on the strain, and labouring for expression, he said pleasantly: This is a strange man; he seems to think with the apothecaries, that Album Græcum is better than an ordinary stool. He himself was never swelling or pompous : and if ever he inclined to hardness, it was not from attempting to say a common thing with magnificence, but from including a great deal in a little room.
Warburton. In point of correctness, of perspicuity of style, and propriety of sentiment, there cannot be, on the whole, any comparison betwixt Pope and Young But the strokes of the true sublime in the Night Thoughts, the sallies of wit in the Universal Passion, and the strong character of Zanga in the Revenge, are sufficient to preserve Young from the contempt flung upon him in this note of Dr. Warburton.