« AnteriorContinuar »
taire, which we think might have been better suppressed; for though it is written with fire and spirit, and contains many judicious observations, it may subject Mr. Murphy to the censure of having made but an indifferent return to a man, whose sentiments and plan he has, in a great measure, thought proper to adopt. It
may be indeed considered as a just retribution on a Frenchman, who had served Shakspeare in the same manner; that is, adopted all his beauties, and then reviled him for his faults. Voltaire is entitled to particular regard from our countrymen, notwithstanding the petulance with which he has treated them on some occasions; for he was certainly the first who opened the eyes of Europe to the excellences of English poetry.
XIX.-DR, YOUNG ON ORIGINAL COMPOSITION.*
[From the Critical Review, 1760. “ Conjectures on Original
Composition ; in a letter to the Author of Sir Charles Grandison." 8vo.]
One of the oldest and bravest champions in the cause of literature, has here resumed the gauntlet; and Dr. Young, the only survivor of our age of writers, instead of growing languid with age, seems to gather strength by time, and kindles as he runs. Some imagery, frequent metaphor, and a glowing imagination, are generally the prerogatives of a youthful author ; however,
* [" Dr. Johnson told us, the first time he saw Dr. Young was at the house of Mr. Richardson, the author of Clarissa. He was sent for, that the Doctor might read to him his . Conjectures on Original Composition ;' which he did, and Dr. Johnson made his remarks; and he was surprised to find Young receive as novelties, what he thought very common maxims. He said he believed Young was not a great scholar, nor had studied regularly the art of writing”-Boswell, vol. iv. p. 301.)
the writer in view seems to invert the order of nature, and as he grows old, his fancy seems to grow more luxuriant. To say the truth, his metaphors are too thick sown; he frequently drives them too far, and often does not preserve their simplicity to the end; thus, when he speaks of men “ up to the knces in antiquity saluting the Pope's toe,” he mixes images that are in themselves inconsistent; but wherever he falls short of perfection, his faults are the errors of genius; his manner peculiarly his own ; and while his book serves, by precept, to direct us to original composition, it serves to impel us by example.
He begins by apologizing for his having, at his time of life, resumed the pen. There was need of an excuse from one whose genius still subsists in its energy, and whose very defects will have admirers. He proceeds to observe that there are two kinds of imitations, one of nature, the other of authors. The first we call originals, and confine the term imitation to the second ; an imitator of the last class he justly ranks infinitely beneath the former. An imitator shares his crown with the chosen object of his imitation ; but the original seizes reputation. Fame, fond of new glories, sounds her trumpet in triumph at his birth; but so few books have we dictated by original genius, that if all others were to be burnt, the lettered world would resemble some metropolis in flames, where a few incombustible buildings, a fortress, temple, or tower, lift their heads in melancholy grandeur, amid the mighty ruin. But why, continues he, are originals so few? Not because the writers' harvest is over, the great reapers of antiquity having left nothing to be gleaned after them, but because illustrious examples engross, prejudice, and intimidate. They engross our attention, and so prevent a due inspection of ourselves; they prejudice our judgment in favor of their abilities, and so lessen the sense of their own; they intimidate us with
the splendor of their renown: and thus, under diffidence, bury our strength.
He next asserts, that the truest way of writing like the ancients is to draw from nature. Let us build our compositions with the spirit, and in the taste of the ancients, but not with their materials. It is by a sort of noble contagion, from a general familiarity with the writings of the ancients, and not by any particular sordid theft, that we can be the better for those who went before us. Genius is a master workman, learning but an instrument; and an instrument, though most valuable, not always indispensable.
Oi genius there are two species, an earlier and a later ; or call them infantine and adult. An adult genius comes out of nature's hand, as Pallas out of Jove's head, at full growth and mature. Shakspeare's genius was of this kind ; on the contrary, Swift had an infantine genius, which, like other infants, must be nursed and educated, or it will come to nought. Men are often strangers to their own abilities; genius, in this view, is like a dear friend in our company under disguise, who, while we are lamenting his absence, drops his mask, striking us at once with equal surprise and joy. Few authors of distinction but have experienced something of this nature at the first beamings of their unsuspected genius, on the hitherto dark composition. Let not then great examples, or authorities, browbeat our reason into too great a diffidence of ourselves. Let us reverence ourselves, so as to prefer the native growth of our own minds to the richest imports from abroad, since such borrowed riches serve only to increase our poverty. Admiration of others depresses the admirer, in proportion as it lifts the object of our applause.
He proceeds, by complaining that Pope, who had a genius truly original, if he chose to exert it, was contented with being an humble imitator, and even boasted of his skill at imitation.
Swift, on the contrary, not sufficiently acquainted with himself, left truth, in order to be original only in the wrong; and has so satirized human nature, as to give a demonstration in himself, that it deserves to be satirized. The author then proceeds to characterize Shakspeare and Ben Jonson; by the by, paying his friend, the author of Sir Charles Grandison, some very pretty compliments. Dryden, he justly observes, was by no means a master of the pathos in tragedy. “He had a great, but a general capacity; as for a general genius, there is no such thing in nature. A genius implies the rays of the mind, concentred and determined to some particular point; when they are scattered widely they act feebly, and strike not with sufficient force to fire or dissolve the heart. As what comes from the writer's heart reaches ours, so what comes from his head, sets our brains at work and our hearts at ease."
He then makes a transition to Mr. Addison, whose tragedy of Cato is observed to be a fine, but not an affecting performance. But though this poet deserved a superiority over cotemporary claims, even by his writings, he infinitely surpassed his rivals for fame in the integrity of his life, and in a glorious circumstance attending his death. Perceiving his last moments to approach, and no help from his physicians, he sent for a youth nearly related to him, finely accomplished, and who felt the utmost distress at separation. The young man came,“ but life, now glimmering in the socket, the dying friend was silent: after a decent and proper pause, the youth said, “Dear Sir! you sent for me: I believe, and I hope that you have some commands; I shall hold them most sacred.' May distant ages not only hear, but feel the reply! Forcibly grasping the youth's hand, he softly said, 'See in what peace a Christian can die.' " *
[“ Tickell, in his excellent elegy on the death of Addison, alluded, in the
As Dr. Young's manner of writing is peculiarly his own, and has already secured him an ample share of fame, we hope to see some succeeding man of genius do justice to the integrity of his life, and the simplicity and piety of his manners; for in this respect not Addison himself was, perhaps, his superior. We would, in a word, be much better pleased to see the writers of the rising generation more fond of imitating his life than his writings; his moral qualities are transferable; his peculiarities, as a genius, can scarcely be imitated, except in their faults.
XX. BUTLER'S REMAINS, IN PROSE AND VERSE.
[From the Critical Review, 1759. “ The Genuine Remains, in
Prose and Verse, of Mr. Samuel Butler. Published from the Original Manuscripts, formerly in the possession of W. Longueville, Esq. ;* with Notes by R. Thyer, Keeper of the public Library at Manchester." In two vols. 8vo.]
When we consider Butler merely as a poet, and a party poet too, and reflect that poets, in our own time, have been known to excel in one species of composition, and yet have been useless in
following lines, as he told Dr. Young, to this moving interview with Lord Warwick :
• He taught us how to live; and, oh! too high
Johnson's Life of Addison.) [“ Mr. William Longueville was a conveyancing lawyer, and a bencher of the Inner Temple, and had raised himself from a low beginning to great eminence in that profession. He was the last patron and friend that poor old Butler, the author of Hudibras, had, and in his old age he supported him, otherwise he must have been literally starved. All that the poet could do to recompense him, was to make him his heir, that is, give him his Remains; but on loose paper, and undigested.”—Life of Lord Keeper Guilford, vol. ii. p. 189, edit. 1826.)