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His Difcourfe on the Dyfentery (1764) was conf dered as a very confpicuous fpecimen of Latinity, which entitled him to the fame height of place among the scholars as he poffeffed before among the wits; and he might perhaps have rifen to a greater elevation of character, but that his ftudies were ended with his life, by a putrid fever, June 23, 1770, in the forty-ninth year of his age.
AKENSIDE is to be confidered as a didactick and lyrick poet. His great work is the Pleafures of Imagination; a performance which, publifhed, as it was, at the age of twenty-three, raised expectations that were not afterwards very amply fatisfied. It has undoubtedly a juft claim to very particular notice, as an example of great felicity of genius, and uncommon amplitude of acquifitions, of a young mind ftored with images, and much exercifed in combining and comparing them.
With the philofophical or religious tenets of the author I have nothing to do: my bufinefs is with his poetry. The fubject is well-chofen, as it includes alt images that can strike or please, and thus comprises every fpecies of poetical delight. The only difficulty is in the choice of examples and illuftrations, and it is not eafy in fuch exuberance of matter to find the middle point between penury and fatiety. The parts seem artificially difpofed, with fufficient coherence, fo as that they cannot change their places without injury to the general defign.
His images are difplayed with fuch luxuriance of expreffion, that they are hidden, like Butler's Moon, by
Veil of Light; they are forms fantastically loft under fuperfluity of drefs. Pars minima eft ipfa Puella fui. The words are multiplied till the fenfe is hardly perceived; attention deferts the mind, and fettles in the ear. The reader wanders through the gay difufion, fometimes amazed, and fometimes delighted; but, after many turnings in the flowery labyrinth, comes out as he went in. He remarked little, and laid hold on nothing.
To his verfification justice requires that praise fhould not be denied. In the general fabrication of his lines he is perhaps fuperior to any other writer of blank verfe; his flow is fmooth, and his paufes are musical; but the concatenation of his verfes is commonly too long continued, and the full close does not recur with fufficient frequency. The fenfe is carried on through a long intertexture of complicated clauses; and as nothing is diftinguifhed, nothing is remembered.
The exemption which blank verfe affords from the neceffity of closing the fenfe with the couplet, betrays luxuriant and active minds into fuch felf-indulgence, that they pile image upon image, ornament upon ornament, and are not eafily perfuaded to close the fenfe at all. Blank verfe will therefore, I fear, be too often found in description exuberant, in argument loquacious, and in narration tirefome.
His diction is certainly poetical as it is not profaick, and elegant as it is not vulgar. He is to be commended as having fewer artifices of disgust than most of his brethren of the blank fong. He rarely either recalls old phrafes or twifts his metre into harfh inverhons. The fenfe however of his words is ftrained; when he views the Ganges from Alpine heights; that U 2
is, from mountains like the Alps. And the pedant furely intrudes, but when was blank verfe without pedantry? when he tells how Planets abfolve the ftated round of Time.
It is generally known to the readers of poetry that he intended to revise and augment this work, but died before he had completed his design. The reformed work as he left it, and the additions which he had made, are very properly retained in the late collection. He seems to have somewhat contracted his diffusion; but I know not whether he has gained in closeness what he has lost in fpendor. In the additional book, the Tale of Solon is too long.
One great defect of his poem is very properly cenfured by Mr. Walker, unless it may be faid in his defence, that what he has omitted was not properly in his plan. "His picture of man is grand and beauti"ful, but unfinished. The immortality of the foul, "which is the natural confequence of the appetites and "powers she is invefted with, is scarcely once hinted throughout the poem. This deficiency is amply "fupplied by the masterly pencil of Dr. Young; who, "like a good philofopher, has invincibly proved the
immortality of man, from the grandeur of his con"ceptions, and the meannefs and mifery of his ftate; "for this reafon, a few paffages are felected from the "Night Thoughts, which, with thofe from Akenfide, .. feem to form a complete view of the powers, fitua❝tion, and end of man." Exercises for Improvement in Elocution, p. 66.
His other poems are now to be confidered; but a fhort confideration will dispatch them. It is not eafy to guess why he addicted himself fo diligently to lyrick
poetry, having neither the eafe and airinefs of the lighter, nor the vehemence and elevation of the grander ode. When he lays his ill-fated hand upon his harp, his former powers feem to defert him; he has no→ longer his luxuriance of expreffion, nor variety of images. His thoughts are cold, and his words inelegant. Yet fuch was his love of lyricks, that, having written with great vigour and poignancy his Epifle to Curio, he transformed it afterwards into an ode difgraceful only to its author,
Of his odes nothing favourable can be faid; the fentiments commonly want force, nature, or ovelty; the diction is fometimes harsh and uncouth, the ftanzas ill-conftructed and unpleasant, and the rhymes diffonant, or unskilfully difpofed, too diftant from each other, or arranged with too little regard to established ufe, and therefore perplexing to the ear, which in a fhort compofition has not time to grow familiar with
To examine fuch compofitions fingly, cannot be required; they have doubtless brighter and darker, parts: but when they are once found to be generally dull, all further labour may be spared; for to what ufe can the work be criticised that will not be read?
HOMAS GRAY, the fon of Mr. Philip Gray, a fcrivener of London, was born in Cornhill, November 26, 1716. His grammatical education he received at Eton under the care of Mr. Antrobus, his mother's brother, then affiftant to Dr. George; and when he left fchool, in 1734, entered a penfioner at Peterhouse in Cambridge.
The tranfition from the fchool to the college is, to moft young fcholars, the time from which they date their years of manhood, liberty, and happiness; but Gray feems to have been very little delighted with academical gratifications; he liked at Cambridge neither the mode of life nor the fashion of study, and lived fullenly on to the time when his attendance on lectures was no longer required. As he intended to profefs the Common Law, he took no degree.
When he had been at Cambridge about five years, Mr. Horace Walpole, whofe friendship he had gained at Eton, invited him to travel with him as his companion. They wandered through France into Italy; and Gray's Letters con ain a very pleafing account of