« AnteriorContinuar »
with Johnson's former assertion that "the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing ;'' nor will it show that of such an "easy" style vulgarity was the necessary companion. There can be no doubt that if such a poem has in it aught which savours of vulgarity, it cannot be incorrect to apply the term disgusting ;” but this epithet could alone be used if “Lycidas" were
vulgar,” and not because its form was that of a pastoral, nor because it was easy.” But the word vulgar” is utterly inappropriate when applied to “Lycidas." There is not a line in it but might be learnt by the most refined of Milton's countrywomen, not a passage which can on any ground be called common. Doubtless there are lines in “Lycidas" calculated to excite hostile criticism, but the faults of these passages are diametrically opposed to anything vulgar. There are faults of obscurity, of forced allusions to mythology, of blending in a confused manner the old heathen belief with the Christian faith ; and when Johnson complains of these things I can understand him, and, in some measure, sympathize with him, though I do not agree to condemn the poet for mingling, according to his critic, with these trifling fictions the most awful and sacred truths." I can find nothing of the kind in “ Lycidas.” Indeed, the passage to which I allude is not worthy of an answer. Let Johnson accuse Milton of irreverence if he will ! One word more and I have done. Johnson asks, “What image of tenderness can be excited by these lines ?« « We drove a-field, and both together heard,
What time the grey fly winds her sultry horn,
and adds, “We know that they never drove a-field, and that they had no flocks to batten ”—which reminds me of that amiable gentleman, Mr. Dick, who, when he had been told that his room was too small even to swing a cat in, gravely remarked to his young friend David : “You know, Copperfield, I don't want to swing a cat; I never do swing a cat."
HARTLEY. Truly, STANLEY, you have succeeded in doing well what has been done as well, if not better, before. Johnson on
Lycidas” is without doubt a failure. More's the pity! I do not like to think how often the assertions of that brave and good man—the ablest man of his century with the exception of Burke-can be refuted and torn to shreds by the critics of our day. Johnson was so great a man, and they are so small (I conclude our worthy selves in the category), that it grieves me to think how many unprotected points he has left in his critical harness. I cannot say that STANLEY has discovered any of them, but he has at least skilfully displayed some with which we were familiar before.
STANLEY. An ungenerous office, as you truly say, but one not the less needful. The greatest delusions are not unfrequently originated by the greatest men ; and Johnson's dogmatism, although accepted by his companions, cannot be tolerated now.
Talbot. His earnestness forced him to dogmatize, his profound love of truth led him to express his belief in the most forcible language he could command. Disagree with Johnson as we may, complain as some do of his bearishness, as others do of his intolerance, as almost all will of many of his literary judgments; yet are we not proud to mention his name as that of a true-born Englishman ? But a truce to any further discussion. The night is far advanced, and it is time to part.
The English muse loves the farm-yard, the lane, and market. She says, with De Staël, “I tramp in the mire with wooden shoes, whenever they would force me into the clouds.”
One long evening was spent, as I well remember, in discussing the merits or demerits of the English georgic; but I find, on referring to my tables, that our conversation on this subject was extremely barren of interest. Long and pertinent passages were read from old Tusser; and even Dyer's " Fleece," and Bloomfield's “Farmer Boy," ' were summoned before our bar. To tell the truth, however, we gained but little precious ore from digging in this mine; and it will be as much to my reader's satisfaction as to my own, if I turn over, without transcribing from, these pages of my note book.
On the following day, when we met according to our wont, STANLEY opened a volume of Pope's works, and, turning to the pastorals, read the poem dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Tempest, which concludes as follows :
“ Adieu ye vales, ye mountains, streams, and groves ;
Adieu ye shepherds' rural lays and loves ;
HARTLEY. Such poetry, if poetry it may be termed, gives one a low idea of the age in which it was produced
and applauded. Pope was a boy when he wrote his pastorals ; but grey-headed men found in them a proof of genius, and the poetasters of the day affected to read them with delight.
STANLEY. I have always regarded Pope as the most artificial poet in the language. Brilliant, satirical, witty, and keenly alive to his own reputation, he never forgot himself while engaged in his work. Too selfish to be enthusiastic, too careful in his composition to transgress poetical propriety, his great virtues as a poet are not allied to great faults. What he did, he did well. Yet he pretended to regard his poetry with contempt, although his one object in life was to gain from it money and fame.
TALBOT. Pope is an adept in the expression of halftruths, and in the terse, epigrammatic setting of well-known truisms; as far as his power of vision extended, his discrimination is exquisite. His versification, of which he was so proud, does not attract my ear. The "harsh numbers” of Lycidas have in them far more of true melody. I agree indeed with Leigh Hunt, that Pope's verse is "literally see-saw, like the rising and falling of a plank, with a light person at one end, who is jerked up in the briefer time, and a heavier one who is set down more leisurely at the other."
STANLEY. It is said that in early life Pope was recommended by Walsh to write a pastoral comedy; but he probably felt his incapacity for such an achievement. "It is singular,” says Mr. Darley, “ that such a work has not yet been produced among a people so agricultural, so devoted to rural pleasures, pursuits, and residence."
HARTLEY. A poem of that class was ill-adapted to the