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unjust to deny that he was an excellent versifier; his lines are smooth and sonorous and his diction is select and elegant. His rhymes are sometimes unsuitable; in his Melancholy, he makes breath rhyme to birth in one place, and to earth in ano. ther. Those faults occur but seldom; and he had such power of words and num bers as fitted him for translation; but, in his original works, recollection seems to have been his business more than invention, His imitations are so apparent, that it is a part of his reader's employment to recal the verses of some former poet. Sometimes he copies the most popular writers, for he seems scarcely to endeavour at concealment; and sometimes he picks up fragments in obscure corners. His lines to Fenton,
Serene, the sting of pain thy thoughts beguile,
And make afflictions objects of a smile,
brought to my mind some lines on the death of queen Mary, written by Barnes, of whom I should not have expected to find an imitator;
But thou, O Muse! whose sweet nepenthean tongue,
To detect his imitations were tedious and useless. What he takes he seldom makes worse; and he cannot be justly thought a mean man, whom Pope chose for an associate, and whose co-operation was considered by Pope's enemies as so important, that he was attacked by Henley with this ludicrous distich:
Pope came off clean with Homer; but they say
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
LORD VISCOUNT TOWNSHEND;
LATE ONE OF HIS MAJESTY'S PRINCIPAL Secretaries oF STATE, AND KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER, &c.
I BEG leave to publish the following poems under your patronage: a present, I confess, unworthy of it, and of little value, excepting what gratitude gives it but, I fear, it may be esteemed a boast rather than an acknowledgment, or at best, an ostentatious kind of gratitude, to tell the world that I have received the highest obligations from the lord Townshend: it is an honour to be regarded by a person of so distinguished a character: I am proud of it, and, not being of a nature to be content with a silent gratitude, am not deterred from owning it, though it be liable to be miscalled vanity.
You have, my lord, the happiness to enjoy what that great statesman Walsingham, who held the same office which you fill with so much honour, frequently wished, but never obtained; a retirement from business in the declension of life, to enjoy age in peace and tranquillity this last action speaks you truly great; for that person, who, by a voluntary retreat, could industriously renounce all the grandeur of the world, must evidentły have a soul above it.
Tully in his Tusculum was never more happy, than the lord Townshend in his Rainham,
Where majestically plain
Pure Nature reigns, where varied views from views
And all the gay horizon smiles around
Of its great master, rising, overlooks
The subject regions, and coinmands the charms
Wave their proud tops, and form of stateliest view
Pours forth profuse, o'er hill, o'er vale, o'er lawn,
The dancing wave! while o'er th' adjoining lawns
Wide-spreading graze, or starting bound away
When man, imparadis'd, convers'd with God'.
This, my lord, is but a faint picture of the place of your retirement, which no one ever enjoyed more elegantly: no part of your life lies heavy upon you; there is no uneasy vacancy in it; it is all filled up with study, exercise, or polite amusement: here you shine in the most agreeable, though not most strong and dazzling light in your public station you commanded admiration and honour; in your private, you attract love and esteem: the nobler parts of your life will be the subject of the historian; and the actions of the great statesman and patriot will adorn many pages of our future annals: but the affectionate father, the indulgent master, the condescending and benevolent friend, patron, and companion, can only be described by those, who have the pleasure and happiness to see you act in all those relations: I could with delight enlarge upon this amiable part of your character, but am sensible that no portion of your time is so ill spent as in reading what I write. I will therefore only beg the honour to subscribe myself,
AM very sensible that many bard circumstances attend all authors: if they write ill, they are sure to be used with contempt; if well, too often with envy. Some men, even while they improve themselves with the sentiments of others, rail at their benefactors, and while they gather the fruit, tear the tree that bore it. I must confess, that mere idleness induced me to write; and the hopes of entertaining a few idle men, to publish. I am not so vain as not to think there are many faults in the ensuing poems; all human works must fall short of perfection; and therefore to acknowledge it is no humility however, I am not like those authors, who, out of a false modesty, complain of the imperfections of their own works, yet would take it very ill if the world should believe them: I will not add hypocrisy to my other faults, or act so absurdly as to invite the reader to an entertainment, and then tell him, that there is nothing worth his eating; I have furnished out the table according to my best abilities, if not with a splendid elegance, yet at least with an innocent variety.
But since this is the last time that I shall ever, perhaps, trouble the world in this kind, I will beg leave to speak something not as a poet, but a critic; that if my credit should fail as a poet, I may have recourse to my remarks upon Homer, and be pardoned for my industry as the annotator in part upon the Iliad, and entirely upon the Odyssey.
I will therefore offer a few things upon criticism in general, a study very necessary, but fallen into contempt through the abuse of it. At the restoration of learning, it was particularly necessary; authors had been long buried in obscurity, and consequently had contracted some rust through the ignorance and barbarism of preceding ages: it was therefore very requisite that they should be polished by a critical hand, and restored to their original purity. In this consists the office of critics; but, instead of making copies agreeable to the manuscripts, they have long inserted their own conjectures; and from this licence arise most of the various readings, the burthens of modern editions: whereas books are like pictures, they may be new varnished, but not a feature is to be altered; and every stroke that is thus added destroys in some degree the resemblance; and the original is no longer an Homer or a Virgil, but a mere ideal person, the creature of the editor's fancy. Whoever deviates from this rule, does not correct, but corrupt his author: and therefore, since most books worth reading have now good impressions, it is a folly to devote too much time to this branch of criticisin; it is ridiculous to make it the supreme business of life to repair the ruins of a decayed word, to trouble the world with vain niceties about a letter, or a syllable, or the transposition of a phrase, when the present reading is sufficiently intelligible. These learned trifiers are mere weeders of an author; they collect the weeds for their own use, and permit others to gather the herbs and flowers: it would be of more advantage to mankind, when once an author is faithfully published, to turn our thoughts from the words to the sentiments, and make them more casy and intelligible. A skill in verbal criticism is in reality but a skill in guessing, and consequently he is the best critic who guesses best: a mighty attainment! And yet with what pomp is a trivial alteration ushered into the world! Such writers are like Caligula, who raised a mighty army, and alarmed the whole world, and then led it to gather cockle-shells. In short, the question is not what the author might have said, but what he has actually said; it is not whether a different word will agree with the sense, and turn of the period, but whether it was used by the author; if it was, it has a good title still to maintain its post, and the authority of the manuscript ought to be followed rather than the fancy of the editor: for can a modern be a better judge of the language of the purest of the ancients, than those ancients who wrote it in the greatest purity? or if he could, was ever any author so happy, as always to choose the most proper word ? Experience shows the impossibility. Besides, of what use is verbal criticism when once we have a faithful edition? It embarrasses the reader instead of giving new light, and hinders his proficiency by engrossing his time, and calling off the attention from the author to the editor: it increases the ex