Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

“ The beauties of this poem,” says Dr. Johnson,“ are well known ; its chief fault is the groft. ness of its images. But even this fault, offensive as it is, may be forgiven for the excellence of other passages; such as the formation and dissolution of Moore, the account of the Traveller, the misfortune of the Floris, and the crowded thoughts and ftately numbers which dignify the concluding paragraph."

The Ejay on Man, is a didactic poem written on metaphysical ideas, which he did not perfectly comprehend. His intentions were evidently good, to show men that the existçace of imperfection and evil is not inconfiftent with the wisdom and goodness of God. Many of the facts are true, many of the observations are just, but do not tend to establish the truth of the proposed system. The adaptation of human senses, passions, and reason, to their ends, the co-operation of the principles of self-love and benevolence, in producing happiness, the uncertainty of physical good, that man's supreme felicity consists in moral good, that we are very weak in comparison to our Creator, are all positions which are undoubtedly true, but do not prove that partial evil is univers fal good; that whatever is, is right. Pope, like Addison, had considered man chiefly in ađive life. When he exhibits him in a&ion, his exhibition is natural, beauciful, and just; but when he analyses his principles of thought, and of action, he is not always so successful. Voltaire ridiculed Pope's favourite position in his Candide. The consequences which Candide's application of the principle to various cases produces, are certainly such as Pope never intended, yet it must be acknow. ledged he did not fufficiently guard againk his interpretation.

“ This essay," says Dr. Johnson, “ is certainly not the happiest of Pope's performances. It effords an egregious instance of the predominance of genius, the dazzling fplendour of imagery, and the seductive powers of eloquence. Never were penury of knowledge, and vulgarity of sentiment fo happily disguised, or recommended by fuch a blaze of embellishments, or such sweetness of melody. The vigorous contraction of some thoughts, the luxuriant amplification of others, the incidental illustrations, and sometimes the dignity, sometimes the softness-of-che verses, enchain phiforophy, fufpend criticism, and oppress judgment, by overpowering pleafure."

“ This is true of many paragraphs; yet if I had undertaken to exemplify Popes felicity of composition before a rigid critic, I should not select the Effay on Mar: for it contains more lines onfuccessfully laboured, more harshness of diction, more thoughts imperfectly expressed, morc levity without elegance, and more heaviness without strength, thau will easily be found in all his other works.”

The Chara&ters of Men and Women, are the product of diligent speculation upon life and manners, and show a thorough knowledge of the human mind, engaged in action, and modificd by the mana ners of the times.

“ brecommend,” says Dr. Johnson, " a comparison of his Charallers of Women, with Boileau's fatire ; it will then be seen with how much more perspicacity female nature is investigated, and female excellence fele&ted. The Cbaraflers of Men, however, are written with more, if not with deeper thought, and exhibit many passages exquisitely beautiful. The Gem, and the Flower, will not easily be equalled. In the women's part are some defe&s; the character of Atoffa, is not so neatly finished as that of Clodio, and fome of the female characters may be found, perhaps, more frequently among men.”

Of his Epifle to Lord Batburst, the most valuable passage is, perhaps, the eulogy on Geod Sense; and of the Epifle 10 Iord Burlington, the end of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Of the Epifle to Arbutbrot, no part has more elegance, Spirit, or dignity, than the vindication of his own character. The meanest passage is the satire upon Sporus. The allufion to his mother is exquifitely beautiful and interesting. His translations from Ovid are rendered with faithfulness and elegance. The epiftle from Sappba to Ploon breathe such passionate and pathetic sentiments as are worthy of the exquifice fenlibility of the amorous Sappbo; and the versification is in point of melody next to that of the Pakorak.

On his Epitaphs, the minute criticism of Dr. Johnson, printed in the " Visitor," is acute, and well enforced; but his examination is too rigorous, and the general apinion is much more favourable.

His Imitations of Horace, display a great portion of wit, as well as argument. He has the hu. mnour, and almost the case of Horace, with more wit, and falls little short of the severity of Juvenal. da his Letters he is seen as connected with the other contemporary wits, and suffers no disgrace ir the comparison. Those of Asbuthnot are written with ease and a beautiful Gmplicity. Swift'e

alfo are onaffe&ed. Several of Bolingbroke's and Atterbury's are masterly. There is something more Audied and artificial in Pope's productions than the rest. His letters to ladies are full of affectation.

• Pope may be said,” says Dr. Johnson, “ to write always with his reputation in his head; Swife perhaps like a man who remembered that he was writing to Pope ; but Arbuthnot, like one who kets thoughts drop from his pen, as they risc into his mind.”

The compositions of Pope are perhaps a greater accession to English literature, than those of any other poet of our nation, except Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton. Of those poets who rank in the highest class after them, Dryden is generally allowed to be the first; but his claim to that difzinction is at least rendered doubtful by the pretensions of Pope, who learned his poetry from Drydeo, and whose character perhaps may receive fome illustration, if he be compared with his master.

To regulate the scale, by which the comparative merit of poetical pretensions is to be estimated, is one of the most difficult undertakings of criticism. ' Something of this kind, however, is attempted by Dr. Johnson in his parallel between Dryden and Pope, of which it is scarcely hyperbolical to affirm, that it is every way worthy of its subject, and such as perhaps the pen of Dr. Johnson only could have written,

" Integrity of understanding, and nicety of discernment, were not allotted in a less proportion to Dryden than to Pope. The recitude of Dryden's mind was sufficiently shown by the dismission of his poetical prejudices, and the reje&ion of unnatural thoughts, and rugged numbers. But Dryden never defired to apply all the judgment that he had. He wrote, and professed to write, merely for the people; and when he pleased others, he contented himself. Pope was not content to fatisfy; he defired to excel; and therefore always cadeavoured to do his best. He did not court the candour, but dared the judgment of his reader; and expecting no indulgence from others, he fhowed none to himself. For this reason, he kept his pieces very long in his hands, while he copLidered, and reconsidered them. It will seldom be found that he altered, without adding clearness, alegance and vigour. Pope had perhaps the judgment of Dryden, but Dryden certainly wanted the diligence of Pope.

“ In acquired knowledge, the superiority must be allowed to Dryden, whose education was more scholaftic. His mind has a larger range, and he collects his images and illudrations from a more exteosixe circumference of science. Dryden knew more of man in his general nature, and Pope in his local manners. The notions of Dryden were formed by a comprehensive speculation, and those of Pope by minute attention. There is more dignity in the knowledge of Dryden, and mose cersainty in that of Pope.

* Poetry was not the sole praise of either, for both excelled likewise in prose; but Pope did not borrow his prose from his predecessors. The style of Dryden is capricious and varied ; that of Pope is cautious and uniform. Dryden observes the motions of his own mind; Pope constrains his mind to bis own rules of composition. Dryden is sometimes vehement and rapid ; Pope is always smooth, uniform, and gentle. Dryden's page is a natural field, riling into inequalities, and diversified by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetation; Pope's is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and levelled by the roller.

“ Of genius, that power which constitutes a poet, that quality without which judgment is cold, and knowledge is inert; that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and animates, the fupefiority muk, with some hesitation, be allowed to Dryden. It is not to be inferred, that of this poetical vigour Pope had only a little, because Dryden had more, for every other writer since Milton must give place to Pope ; and even of Dryden it must be said, that if he has brighter paragraphs, he has not better poems. Dryden's performances were always hasty, either excited by some external occasion, or extorted by some domestic necessity; he composed without consideration, and published without correction. What his mind could supply at call, or gather in one excursion, was all that he sought, and all that he gavę. The dilatory caution of Pope enabled him to condense bis sentiments, to multiply his images, and to accumulate all that study might produce, or chance inight sopply. If the flights of Dryden therefore are higher, Pope continues longer on the wing. If of Dryden's fire the blaze is brighter, of Pope's the heat is more regular and constant. Dryden often surpasses expe&ation, and Pope never falle below it; Dryden is read with frequent altonilapreds, and Pope with perpetual delight.”

The subject of this truly excellent parallel has been controverted by Mr. Welon and Miss Seward, in the " Gentleman's Magazine” fur 1790. Both parties have fhown much critical ingepuity in maintaining the pretensions of their favourite poet. To give any adequate idea of the controversy, would much exceed the limits of this preface. Mr. Weston, with justice, cenfures the poetry of Pope, as too exquisitely polished, too uniformly musical, and as glutting the ear with unvaried sweetness. Judging perhaps by principles, rather than perception, he seems to think ftudied discords, varied pauses, triplets, expletives, and Alexandrines, effential to rhyme, because they have been used by Dryden. But the poctry of Pope, though perhaps less impregnated with enthuliasm, less enriched with clasical knowledge, less illumined by vivid imagination, and lefs diversified by variety of cadence, is certainly more elaborately corred, more regularly harmonious, marc delicately polished, and more fyftematically dignified, than that of Dryden,

He has even ventured to allert, that Pope was not a poet, but only an elegant verfifier. When he affirms that the author of the Rape of the Lock, of the Dunciad, of Eloisa to Abelard, and of the Englifh Iliad, was not a poet, he mut mean something by the term differeat from the general acceptation.

« If Pope be not a poet,” says Dr. Johnson, " where is poetry to be found ? To circumscribe poetry by a definition, will only show the narrowness of the definer, though a definition which shall cxclude Pope, will not easily be made. Let us look round upon the present time, and back opon the part ; let us inquire to whom the voice of mankind has decreed the wreath of poetry; let their produ&ions be cxamined, and their claims faced, and the pretenfionis of Pope will no more be disputed. Had he given the world only his version, the name of poet must have been allowed him; if the writer of the Iliad were to class his fucceffors, he would alsign a very high place to his transJator, without requiring any other evidence of genius."

A parallel, upon a more extensive scale, is given by Dr. Warton, in which the poetical qualifica. tions of Pope are as candidly examined, as they are judiciously discriminated.

“ Of Pope's works, the largest portion is of the didactic, moral, and satyric kind; and consequently not of the moft poetic species of poetry: whence it is manifeft, chat good sense and judgment were his characteristical excellencies, rather than fancy and invention ; not that the author of the Rape of be Lock and Eloisa can be thought to want imagination, but because his imagination was not his predominant talent ; because he indulged it not, and because he gave not so many proofs of this tajent as of the other. This turn of mind led him to admirc French models; he studied Boilcau attentively, formed hinıself upon him, as Milton formed himself upon the Grecian and Italian fons of Fancy. He gradually became one of the most correct, even, and exa& poets that ever wrote, poJishing his pieces with care and afliduity that no business or avocation ever interrupted; fo that if he does not frequently savish and transport his reader, yet he does not disguft him with unexpected inequalities and abfurd improprieties. Whatever poetical enthusiasm he adually possessed, he withheld and filed. The perufal of him affects not our minds with such strong emotions as we feel from Homer and Milton ; so that no man of a true poetical fpirit is master of himself while he scads them. Hence he is a writer fic for universal perusal, adapted to all ages and stations, for the old and for the young, the man of bufiness and the scholar. He who would think « Palamon and Arcite," " The Tempeft," or " Comus," childish and romantic, might relifh Pope. Sarely it is no narrow and niggardly encomium to say, that he is the great poet of reason, the firft of ethical authors in verse.

Where then shall we, with justice, be authorised to place oar admired Pope? Not assuredly in the same rank with Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton ; however jully we may applaud the Ekija and Rape of the Lock; but, considering the correctness, elegance, and utility of his works, the weight of sentiment, and the knowledge of man they contain, we may venture to assiga him a place next to Milton, and just above Dryden. Yet, to bring our minds steadily to make this decifion, we must forget for a moment the divine “ Music Ode" of Dryden, and may perhaps then be compelled to confess, that though Dryden be the greater gevius, yet Pope is the better artifi.

The preference here given to Pope above other Modern English Poets, it must be remember. ed, is founded on the excellencies of his works in general, and taken all together ; for there are parts and paflages in other modern authors, in Young and in Thomson for inftance, equal to any of Pope ; and be has written nothing in a drain so truly sublime as the " Bard of Gray.''

WORKS OF POPE.

EXTRACT FROM DR. WARBURTON'S ADVERTISEMENT

To the O&avo Edition of Mr. Pope's Works, 1751.

Mr. Pope, in his last illness, amused himself, a., thor's manuscript copies of these poems, commu. midst the care of his higher concerns, in prepar- nicated by him for this purpose to the editor. ing a corrected and complete edition of his writ- These, when he first published the prems to which ings; and, with his usual delicacy, was even for they belong, he thought proper, for various realicitous to prevent any share of the offence they fons, to omit. Some from the manuscript copy of might occafion, from falling on the friend whom the Essay on Man, which tended to discredit fate, he had engaged to give them to the public. and to recommend the moral government of God,

In discharge of this truft, the public has here a had, by the editor's advice, been restored to their com lete edition of his works, executed in such a places in the last edition of that poem. The rest, manier, as, I am persuaded, would have been to together with others of the like fort, from his maa his fatisfa&tion.

nuscript copy of the other Ethic Epistles, are here But it may be proper to be a little more parti- inserted at the bottom of the page, under the title cular concerning the fuperiority of this edition of Variations. above all the preceding ; so far as Mr. Pope him The fourth volume contains the Satires, with self was concerned. What the editor hath done, the their prologue, the epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, and reader must collect for himself.

epiloguc, the two poems, intitled M DCC Xxxvill. The firt volume, and the original poems in the The prologue and epilogue are here given with the second, are here printed from a copy corrected like advantages as the Ethic Epistles in the foregothroughout by the author himself, even to the ve-ing volume ; that is to say with the variations, or sy preface ; which, with several additional notes in additional verses, from the author's manuscripts. his own hand, he delivered to the editor a little The epilogue to the satires is likewise enriched before his death. The Juvenile Translations, in the with many and large notes, now first printed from other part of the second volume, it was never his the author's owo manuscript. intention to bring into this edition of his works, The fifth volume contains a correcter and comor account of the levity of some, the freedom of pleter edition of the Dunciad than hath been hiothers, and the little importance of any: but these therto published; of which, at present, I have only being the property of other men, the editor had it this farther to add, that it was at my request he not in his power to follow the author's intention. laid the plan of a fourth book. I often told him,

The third volume, all but the Essay on Man it was a pity fo fine a poem should remain disgrac(which, together with the Essay on Criticism, the ed by the meanness of its subject, the most infigauthor, a little before his death, had corrected and nificant of all dunces, bad rhymers, and malevopublished in quarto, as a specimen of his projected lent cavillers ; that he ought to raise and enoble edition), was printed by him in his last illnels (but it, by pointing his satire against the most pernicious never published) in the manner it is now given. of all, minute philosophers and freethinkers. I The disposition of the Epifle on the Characters of imagined too, it was for the interest of religion, to Men is quite altered; that on the Characters of have it known that so great a genius had a due abWomen, much enlarged; and the Epistles on Riches horrence of these pests of virtue and society. He and Talte, corrected and improved. To these came readily into my opinion; but, at the same advantages of the third volume, must be added a time, told nie it would create him man, enemies : great pumber of fine Verses, taken from the au he was not mistaken; for though the terror of hia

VOL. VIII.

pen kept them for some time in respect, yet on his The seventh, eighth, and ninth volumes, conlin death they rose with unrestrained fury, in nume- entirely of his Letters; the more valuable, as they rous coffee-house tales, and Grub-street libels. The are the only true models which we, or perhaps any plan of this admirable satire was artfully contrived of our neighbours have, of familiar epiftles. This to thew, that the follies and defects of a fashionable colleion is now made more complete by the adeducation naturally led to, and necessarily ended dition of several new pieces. Yet excepting a short in, freethinking; with design to point out the on- cxplanatory letter to Col. M. and the letters to Mr. ly remedy adequate to so fatal an evil. It was to A. and Mr. W (the latter of which are given to advance the same ends of virtue and religion, that thew the editor's inducements, and the engagethe editor prevailed on him to alter every thing in ments he was under, to intend the care of this edihis moral writings that might be suspected of hav. tion), excepting these, I say, the rest are all pubing the least glance towards fate, or naturalism; lished from the author's own printed, though not and to add what was proper to convince the world, published, copies, delivered to the editor. that he was warmly on the side of moral govern On the whole, the advantages of this edition, ment, and a revealed will : and it would be injur. above the preceding, are these : That it is the first tice to his memory, not to declare that he embrac- complete colle&ion which has ever been made of ed these occagons with the most unfeigned plea- his original writings; that all his principal poems, sure.

of early or later dare, are here given to the public The fixth volume consists of Mr. Pope's Mif- with his last corredions and improvements; that cellaneous Pieces, in verse and proset. Among the a great number of his verses are here first printed verse several fine poemş make now their first ap- from the manuscript copies of his principal poems pearance in his works : and of the prose, all that is of later date ; that many new notes of the author's good, and nothing but what is exquisitely so, will are here added to his poems; and, lastly, that sebc found in this edition.

veral pieces, both in prose and verse, make now

their firkt appearance before the public, + Thc profc is not within the plan of this edition,

« AnteriorContinuar »