Imágenes de páginas

epithet or metaphor drawn from Nature ennobles Art; an epithet or metaphor drawn from Art degrades Nature. Gray is too fond of words arbitrarily compounded'. 'Many-twinkling' was formerly censured as not analogical; we may say manyspotted, but scarcely many-spotting. This stanza, however, has something pleasing.

Of the second ternary of stanzas the first endeavours to tell 36 something, and would have told it had it not been crossed by Hyperion; the second describes well enough the universal prevalence of poetry, but I am afraid that the conclusion will not rise from the premises. The caverns of the North and the plains of Chili are not the residences of 'Glory' and 'generous Shame.' But that Poetry and Virtue go always together is an opinion so pleasing that I can forgive him who resolves to think it true.

The third stanza sounds big with Delphi, and Egean, and 37 Ilissus, and Meander, and 'hallowed fountain' and 'solemn sound'; but in all Gray's odes there is a kind of cumbrous splendour which we wish away. His position is at last false: in the time of Dante and Petrarch, from whom he derives our first school of poetry, Italy was overrun by 'tyrant power' and 'coward vice'; nor was our state much better when we first borrowed the Italian arts.

Of the third ternary the first gives a mythological birth of 38 Shakespeare. What is said of that mighty genius is true; but it is not said happily: the real effects of this poetical power are put out of sight by the pomp of machinery. Where truth is

'Goldsmith says of 'Gray, Akenside, and other modern writers':'Their compounded epithets... seem evidently borrowed from Spenser.' Works, iv. 203.

'In the Comus and other early poems of Milton there is a superfluity of double epithets; while in the Paradise Lost we find very few, in the Paradise Regained scarce any. The same remark holds almost equally true of the Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, compared with the Lear, Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet of our great dramatist.' COLERIDGE, Biog. Lit. i. 3. For Coleridge's coinage of myriad-minded see ib. ii. 16.

2 To brisk notes in cadence beat


Glance their many-twinkling feet.' The Progress of Poesy, ll. 34, 35. Perhaps it had been censured when used by Thomson :

The many-twinkling leaves Of aspen tall.' Spring, 1. 157. Lyttelton had objected to Gray's use of it. Walpole wrote to him: 'In answer to your objection I will quote authority to which you will yield. As Greek as the expression is, it struck Mrs. Garrick; and she says that Mr. Gray is the only poet who ever understood dancing.' Walpole's Letters, iii. 97. Walpole described her in her youth as 'the finest dancer in the world.' Ib. ii. 48.

[blocks in formation]


sufficient to fill the mind, fiction is worse than useless; the counterfeit debases the genuine'.

His account of Milton's blindness, if we suppose it caused by study in the formation of his poem, a supposition surely allowable, is poetically true, and happily imagined. But the 'car' of Dryden, with his 'two coursers,' has nothing in it peculiar3; it is a car in which any other rider may be placed.

40 The Bard' appears at the first view to be, as Algarotti and others have remarked, an imitation of the prophecy of Nereus 6. Algarotti thinks it superior to its original', and, if preference depends only on the imagery and animation of the two poems, his judgement is right. There is in The Bard more force, more thought, and more variety. But to copy is less than to invent, and the copy has been unhappily produced at a wrong time. The fiction of Horace was to the Romans credible; but its revival disgusts us with apparent and unconquerable falsehood. 'Incredulus odi 3.'



To select a singular event, and swell it to a giant's bulk by fabulous appendages of spectres and predictions, has little difficulty, for he that forsakes the probable may always find the marvellous, And it has little use: we are affected only as we believe; we are improved only as we find something to be imitated or declined. I do not see that The Bard promotes any truth, moral or political 9.

His stanzas are too long, especially his epodes; the ode is finished

[blocks in formation]

before the ear has learned its measures, and consequently before it can receive pleasure from their consonance and recurrence 1.

Of the first stanza the abrupt beginning has been celebrated; 43 but technical beauties can give praise only to the inventor. It is in the power of any man to rush abruptly upon his subject, that has read the ballad of Johnny Armstrong,

'Is there ever a man in all Scotland— 3 ’

The initial resemblances, or alliterations, 'ruin,' 'ruthless,' 44 'helm nor hauberk,' are below the grandeur of a poem that endeavours at sublimity".

In the second stanza the Bard is well described; but in the 45 third we have the puerilities of obsolete mythology. When we are told that Cadwallo 'hush'd the stormy main ',' and that Modred 'made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-top'd head,' attention recoils from the repetition of a tale that, even when it was first heard, was heard with scorn.

The 'weaving' of the 'winding sheet' he borrowed, as he 46 owns, from the northern Bards'; but their texture, however, was very properly the work of female powers, as the art of spinning the thread of life in another mythology. Theft is always dangerous; Gray has made weavers of his slaughtered bards by a fiction outrageous and incongruous. They are then called upon to 'Weave the warp, and weave the woof,' perhaps with no great propriety; for it is by crossing the woof with the warp


Ante, AKENSIDE, 23. Gray wrote to Wharton in 1755:-'I am not quite of your opinion with regard to strophe and antistrophe; setting aside the difficulties, methinks it has little or no effect upon the ear, which scarce perceives the regular return of metres at so great a distance from one another. To make it succeed I am persuaded the stanzas must not consist of above nine lines each, at the most.' Letters, i. 261. In The Bard the strophe and antistrophe (the first and second stanzas of every ternary) consist of fourteen lines, and the epode (the third stanza) of twenty.

'Mr. Gray,' writes Walpole, 'had shackled himself with strophe, antistrophe, and epode (yet acquitting himself nobly). Letters, iii. 97.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]



[ocr errors]

that men weave the web or piece; and the first line was dearly bought by the admission of its wretched correspondent, Give ample room and verge enough'. He has, however, no other line as bad.

The third stanza of the second ternary is commended, I think, beyond its merit. The personification is indistinct. Thirst and Hunger are not alike 3, and their features, to make the imagery perfect, should have been discriminated. We are told, in the same stanza, how 'towers' are 'fed.' But I will no longer look for particular faults; yet let it be observed that the ode might have been concluded with an action of better example *: but suicide is always to be had without expence of thought 5.

These odes are marked by glittering accumulations of ungraceful ornaments: they strike, rather than please; the images are magnified by affectation; the language is laboured into harshness. The mind of the writer seems to work with unnatural violence. 'Double, double, toil and trouble". He has a kind of strutting dignity, and is tall by walking on tiptoe3. His art and his struggle are too visible, and there is too little appearance of ease and nature 9.

in The Critical Review, iv. 167, quoted in Mitford, i. Preface, p. 38.

Johnson, in his Dictionary, gives almost the same definition of each word-'Warp. That order of thread in a thing woven that crosses the woof. 'Woof. The set of threads that crosses the warp.'

Landor, quoting The thread is spun,' continues:-'The thread must have been spun before they began weaving.' Imag. Conver. iii. 383.

[ocr errors]

Boswell's Johnson, ii. 327.

"The manner of Richard's death by Famine exhibits such beauties of personification as only the richest and most vivid imagination could supply. Mason, i. 99.

3 Fell Thirst and Famine scowl

A baleful smile upon their baffled guest.' The Bard, 1. 81. 'Thirst and hunger mocking Richard II appear to me too ludicrously like the devils ['the strange Shapes'] in The Tempest, that whisk away the banquet from the shipwrecked Dukes.' WALPOLE, Letters, iii. 98.

[blocks in formation]

for me.' Ib.

5 Ante, YOUNG, 162.

'Gray,' said Johnson, 'was the very Torré of poetry. He played his coruscations so speciously that his steel-dust is mistaken by many for a shower of gold.' Torré let off fireworks. John. Misc. ii. 321.

'Talking of Gray's Odes, Johnson said: "They are forced plants raised in a hot-bed; and they are poor plants; they are but cucumbers after all." Boswell's Johnson, iv. 13. Macbeth, iv. I. 10.


'Whatever Prior obtains above mediocrity seems the effort of struggle and of toil.' Ante, PRIOR, 72.

8 'We meet with a similar thought in Quintilian (ii. 3):-"Prima est eloquentiae virtus perspicuitas; et quo quisque ingenio minus valet, hoc se magis attollere et dilatare conatur ; ut statura breves in digitos eriguntur, et plura infirmi minantur." PARR, Works, iv. 324.

9 'I think there is something very majestic in Gray's Installation Ode [Ode for Music]; but as to The Bard

To say that he has no beauties would be unjust: a man like 49 him, of great learning and great industry, could not but produce something valuable. When he pleases least, it can only be said that a good design was ill directed.

His translations of Northern and Welsh Poetry deserve praise: 50 the imagery is preserved, perhaps often improved; but the language is unlike the language of other poets'.

In the character of his Elegy I rejoice to concur with the 51 common reader; for by the common sense of readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours 2. The Church-yard abounds with images which find a mirrour in every mind 3, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo. The four stanzas beginning 'Yet

and the rest of his lyrics, I must say I think them frigid and artificial.' COLERIDGE, Table Talk, 1884, p. 264.

Gray was a singular instance of a man of taste, poetic feeling and fancy without imagination.' Ib. p. 275.

'Gray's Pindaric Odes are stately and pedantic, a kind of methodical borrowed frenzy.' HAZLITT, Lectures on the English Poets, 1819, p. 234.

'He failed as a poet, not because he took too much pains, and so extinguished his animation, but because he had very little of that fiery quality to begin with, and his pains were of the wrong sort. He wrote English verses as his brother Eton schoolboys wrote Latin, filching a phrase now from one author and now from another. I do not profess to be a person of very various reading; nevertheless, if I were to pluck out of Gray's tail all the feathers which I know belong to other birds, he would be left very bare indeed.' WORDSWORTH, R. P. Gillies's Memoirs, 1851, ii. 165.

Carlyle, writing of Goethe, describes Gray's poetry as a laborious mosaic, through the hard stiff lineaments of which little life or true grace could be expected to look.' Misc. (n.d.), i. 185.

[ocr errors]

Walpole wrote in 1761:-'Gray has translated two noble incantations from the Lord knows who, a Danish Gray, who lived the Lord knows when.' Letters, iii. 399. See

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

Coleridge (in his Literary Life) says that his friend Mr. Wordsworth had undertaken to show that the language of the Elegy is unintelligible: it has however been understood.' HAZLITT, Lectures on the English Poets, 1819, p. 234.

Professor Robison told how 'he was on the boat in which Wolfe went to visit some of his posts, the night before the battle [at Quebec]. As they rowed along, the General, with much feeling, repeated nearly the whole of the Elegy to an officer who sat with him in the stern, adding that he would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French to-morrow.' John Playfair's Works, 1822, iv. 126. 'JOHNSON. His Elegy has a happy selection of images, but I don't like what are called his great things.' Boswell's Johnson, i. 403.



See Appendix AA.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »