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It has, indeed, been advanced by Addison, as one of the characteristicks of a true critick, that he points out beauties rather than faults. But it is rather natural to a man of learning and genius to apply himself chiefly to the study of writers who have more beauties than faults to be displayed: for the duty of criticism is neither to depreciate, nor dig. nify by partial representations, but to hold out the light of reason, whatever it may discover; and to promulgate the determinations of truth, whatever she shall dictate.
NUMB. 94. SATURDAY, February 9, 1751.
Bunus atque fidus
Explicuit sua victor arma.
Perpetual magistrate is he
Who keeps strict justice full in sight;
H E resemblance of poetick numbers to the
subject which they mention or describe, may be considered as general or particular; as consisting in the flow and structure of a whole passage taken together, or as comprised in the sound of some emphatical and descriptive words, or in the cadence and harmony of single verses.
The general resemblance of the sound to the sense is to be found in every language which admits of
poetry, in every author whose force of fancy enables him to impress images strongly on his own mind, and whose choice and variety of language readily supply him with just representations. To such a writer it is natural to change his measure with his subject, even without any effort of the understanding, or intervention of the judgment. To revolve jollity and mirth necessarily tunes the voice of a poet to gay and sprightly notes, as it fires his eye with vivacity; and reflection on gloomy situations and disastrous events, will sadden his numbers, as it will cloud his countenance. But in such passages there is only the similitude of pleasure to pleasure, and of grief to grief, without any iinmediate application to particular images. The same flow of joyous versification will celebrate the jollity of marriage, and the exultation of triumph: and the same languor of melody will suit the complaints of an absent lover, as of a conquered king.
It is scarcely to be doubted, that on many occasions we make the musick which we imagine ourselves to hear, that we modulate the poem by our own disposition, and ascribe to the numbers the effects of the sense. We may observe in life, that it is not easy to deliver a pleasing message in an unpleasing manner, and that we readily associate beauty and deformity with those whom for any reason we love or hate. Yet it would be too daring to declare that all the celebrated adaptation of harmony are chimerical ; that Homer had no extraordinary attention to the melody of his verse when he described a nuptial festivity;
Νύμφας δ' εκ θαλάμων, δαίδων υπολαμπόμενάων,
Here sacred pomp, and genial feast delight,
that Vida was merely fanciful, when he supposed Virgil endeavouring to represent by uncommon sweetness of numbers the adventitious beauty of Æneas :
Os, humerosque Deo similis : namque ipse decoram
The Trojan chief appear’d in open sight,
or that Milton did not intend to exemplify the harmony which he mentions :
Fountains ! and
flow, Melodious murmurs ! warbling tune his praise.
That Milton understood the force of sounds well adjusted, and knew the compass and variety of the ancient measures, cannot be doubted, since he was both a musician and a critick; but he seems to have considered these conformities of cadence, as either not often attainable in our language, or as petty VOL. V.
excellencies unworthy of his ambition: for it will not be found that he has always assigned the same cast of numbers to the same objects. He has given in two passages very minute descriptions of angelick beauty; but though the images are nearly the same, the numbers will be found upon comparison very different :
And now a stripling cherub he appears,
Some of the lines of this description are reinarkably defective in harmony, and therefore by no means correspondent with that symmetrical elegance and easy grace which they are intended to exhibit. The failure, however, is fully compensated by the representation of Raphael, which equally delights the ear and imagination:
A seraph wing’d: six wings he wore to shade
The adumbration of particular and distinct images by an exact and perceptible resemblance of sound, is sometimes studied, and sometimes casual. Every language has many words formed in imitation of the noises which they signify. Such are Stridor, Balo, and Beatus, in Latin; and in English to growl, to buzz, to hiss, and to jar. Words of this kind give to a verse the proper similitude of sound, without much labour of the writer, and such happiness is therefore to be attributed rather to fortune than skill; yet they are sometimes combined with great propriety, and undeniably contribute to enforce the impression of the idea. We hear the passing arrow in this line of Virgil;
and the creaking of hell-gates, in the description by Milton;
But many beauties of this kind, which the moderns, and perhaps the ancients, have observed, seem to be the product of blind reverence acting upon fancy. Dionysius himself tells us, that the sound of Homer's verses sometimes exhibits the idea of
corporeal bulk : is not this a discovery nearly approaching to that of the blind man, who, after long inquiry into the nature of the scarlet colour, found that it