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general subject. By inserting this letter, perhaps you will incur the censure a man would desire, whose business being to entertain a whole room, should turn his back to the company, and talk to a particular perSOn.
I am, Sir, &c.”
EAsy poetry is universally admired; but I know not whether any rule has yet been fixed, by which it may be decided when poetry can properly be called easy. Horace has told us, that it is such as, “every reader hopes to equal, but after long labour finds unattainable.” This is a very loose description, in which only the effect is noted; the qualities which produce this effect remain to be investigated.
Easy poetry is that in which natural thoughts are expressed without violence to the language. The discriminating character of ease consists principally in the diction; for all true poetry requires that the sentiments be natural. Language suffers violence by harsh or by daring figures, by transposition, by unusual acceptations of words, and by any licence which would be avoided by a writer of prose. Where any artifice appears in the construction of the verse, that verse is no longer easy. Any epithet which can be ejected without diminution of the sense, any curious iteration of the same word, and all unusual though not ungrammatical structure of speech, destroy the grace of easy poetry. The first lines of Pope’s Iliad afford examples of many licences which an easy writer must decline :
* Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Achilles’ wrath, to Greece the direful spring
In the first couplet the language is distorted by inversions clogged with superfluities, and clouded by a harsh metaphor; and in the second there are two words used in an uncommon sense, and two epithets inserted only to lengthen the line: all these practices may in a long work easily be pardoned, but they always produce some degree of obscurity and ruggedIncSS. Easy poetry has been so long excluded by ambition of ornament, and luxuriance of imagery, that its nature seems now to be forgotten. Affectation, however opposite to ease, is sometimes mistaken for it: and those who aspire to gentle elegance collect female phrases and fashionable barbarisms, and imagine that | style to be easy which custom has made familiar. Such was the idea of the poet who wrote the following verses to a countess cutting fiafter.
Pallas grew vap’rish once and odd,
Either for Goddess or for God,
Jove frown'd, and “ Use (he cried) those eyes
Do something exquisite and wise”—
This vexing him who gave her birth,
Pallas, you give yourself strange airs ;
The sense and taste of one that bears
Alas! one bad example shown,
See, madam see the arts o'erthrown
It is the prerogative of easy poetry to be understood as long as the language lasts; but modes of speech, which owe their prevalence only to modish folly, or to the eminence of those that use them, die away with their inventors, and their meaning, in a few years, is no longer known.
Easy poetry is commonly sought in petty compositions upon minute subjects; but ease though it excludes pomp, will admit greatness. Many lines in Cato's soliloquy are at once easy and sublime:
'Tis the Divinity that stirs within us;
Nor is ease more contrary to wit than to sublimity:.. the celebrated stanza of Cowley, on a lady elaborately dressed, loses nothing of its freedom by the spirit of the sentiment:
Cowley seems to have possessed the power of writing easily beyond any other of our poets; yet his pursuit of remote thought led him often into harshness of expression. Waller often attempted, but seldom attained it; for he is too frequently driven into transpositions. The poets, from the time of Dryden, have gradually advanced in embellishment, and consequently departed from simplicity and ease.
To require from any author many pieces of easy poetry, would be indeed to oppress him with too hard a task. It is less difficult to write a volume of lines swelled with epithets, brightened by figures, and stiffened by transpositions, than to produce a few couplets graced only by naked elegance and simple purity, which require so much care and skill, that I doubt whether any of our authors have yet been able, for twenty lines together, nicely to observe the true defimition of easy poetry.
I HAVE passed the summer in one of those places to which a mineral spring gives the idle and luxurious an annual reason for resorting, whenever they fancy themselves offended by the heat of London. What is the true motive of this periodical assembly, I have never yet been able to discover. The greater part of the visitants neither feel diseases nor fear them. What pleasure can be expected more than the variety of the journey, I know not ; for the numbers are too great for privacy, and too small for diversion. As each is known to be a spy upon the rest, they all live in continual restraint; and having but a narrow range for censure, they gratify its cravings by preying on one another. But every condition has some advantages. In this confinement, a smaller circle affords opportunities for more exact observation. The glass that magnifies its object contracts the sight to a point; and the mind must be fixed upon a single character to remark its minute peculiarities. The quality or habit which passes unobserved in the tumult of successive multitudes, becomes conspicuous when it is offered to the notice day after day; and perhaps I have, without any distinct notice, seen thousands like my late companions; for, when the scene can be varied at pleasure, a slight disgust turns us aside before a deep impression can be made upon the mind. There was a select step, supposed to be distinguished by superiority of intellects, who always passed the