« PreviousContinue »
Mr. Mafon has added, from his own knowledge, that though Gray was poor, he was not eager of money; and that, out of the little that he had, he was very willing to help the neceffitous.
As a writer he had this peculiarity, that he did not write his pieces firft rudely, and then correct them, but laboured every line as it arofe in the train of compofition; and he had a notion not very peculiar, that he could not write but at certain times, or at happy moments; a fantaftick foppery, to which my kindnefs for a man of learning and of virtue wishes him to have been fuperior.
GRAY's Poetry is now to be confidered; and I hope not to be looked on as an enemy to his name, if I confefs that I contemplate it with lefs pleasure than his life.
His ode on Spring has fomething poctical, both in the language and the thought; but the language is too luxuriant, and the thoughts have nothing new. There has of late arifen a practice of giving to adjectives derived from fubftantives, the termination of participles; fuch as the cultured plain, the deified bank; but I was forry to fee, in the lines of a fcholar like Gray, the honied Spring. The morality is natural, but too ftale; the conclufion is pretty.
The poem on the Cat was doubtless by its author confidered as a trifle, but it is not a happy trifle. In the first stanza the azure flowers that blow, fhew refolutely a rhyme is sometimes made when it cannot eafily be found. Selima, the Cat, is called a nymph, with fome violence both to language and fenfe; but there
is good ufe made of it when it is done; for of the two lines,
the first relates merely to the nymph, and the fecond only to the cat. The fixth ftanza contains a melancholy truth, that a favourite has no friend; but the last ends in a pointed fentence of no relation to the purpofe; if what gliftered had been gold, the cat would not have gone into the water; and, if he had, would not lefs have been drowned.
What female heart can gold defpife?
The Profpect of Eton College fuggefts nothing to Gray, which every beholder does not equally think and feel. His fupplication to father Thames, to tell him who drives the hoop or toffes the ball, is useless and puerile. Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself. His epithet buxom health is not elegant; he seems not to understand the word. Gray thought his language more poetical as it was more remote from common ufe: finding in Dryden honey redolent of Spring, an expreffion that reaches the utmost limits of our language, Gray drove it a little more beyond common apprehenfion, by making gales to be redolent of joy and youth.
Of the Ode on Adverfity, the hint was at first taken from O Diva, gratum quæ regis Antium; but Gray has excelled his original by the variety of his fentiments, and by their moral application. Of this piece, at once poetical and rational, I will not by flight objee. tions violate the dignity.
My procefs has now brought me to the wonderful Wonder of Wonders, the two Sifter Odes; by which, though either vulgar ignorance or common fenfe at
firft univerfally rejected them, many have been fince perfuaded to think themselves delighted. I am one of those that are willing to be pleased, and therefore would gladly find the meaning of the firft ftanza of the Progress of Poetry.
Gray seems in his rapture to confound the images of spreading found and running water. A ftream of mufick may be allowed; but where does Mufick, however Smooth and ftrong, after having visited the verdant vales, rowl down the steep amain, so as that rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar? If this be faid of Mufick, it is nonfenfe; if it be faid of Water, it is nothing to the purpose.
The second stanza, exhibiting Mars's car and Jove's eagle, is unworthy of further notice. Criticifm difdains to chafe a school-boy to his common-places.
To the third it may likewise be objected, that it is drawn from Mythology, though fuch as may be more easily affimilated to real life. Idalia's velvet-green has fomething of cant. An 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. compounded. Many-twinkling was formerly cenfured as not analogical; we may fay many-spotted, but scarcely many-spotting. This ftanza, however, has fomething pleafing.
Of the second ternary of ftanzas, the first endeavours to tell fomething, and would have told it, had it not been croffed by Hyperion: the fecond defcribes well enough the univerfal prevalence of Poetry; but I am afraid that the conclufion will not rife from the premifes. The caverns of the North and the plains of Chili are not the refidences of Glory and generous Shame.
But that Poetry and Virtue go always together is an opinion fo pleasing, that I can forgive him who refolves to think it true.
The third ftanza founds big with Delphi, and Egean, and Iliffus, and Meander, and bailored fountain and folemn found; but in all Gray's odes there is a kind of cumbrous fplendor which we wish away. His pofition is at laft falfe: in the time of Dante and Petrarch, from whom he derives our first school of Poetry, Italy was over-run by tyrant power and coward vice; nor was our state much better when we firft borrowed the Italian arts.
Of the third ternary, the firft gives a mythological birth of Shakspeare. What is faid of that mighty genius is true; but it is not faid happily: the real effects of this poetical power are put out of fight by the pomp of machinery. Where truth is fufficient to fill the mind, fiction is worse than useless; the counterfeit debafes the genuine.
His account of Milton's blindness, if we fuppofe it caused by study in the formation of his poem, a fuppofition furely allowable, is poetically true, and happily imagined. But the car of Dryden, with his two courfers, has nothing in it peculiar ; it is a car in which any other rider may be placed.
The Bard appears, at the first view, to be, as Algarotti and others have remarked, an imitation of the prophecy of Nereus. Algarotti thinks it fuperior 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 ta wrong time. The fiction of Horace was to the VOL. IV. X Romans
Romans credible; but its revival difgufts us with apparent and unconquerable falfehood. Incredulus odi.
To felect a fingular event, and fwell it to a giant's bulk by fabulous appendages of fpectres and predictions, has little difficulty; for he that forfakes the probable may always find the marvellous. And it has little ufe; we are affected only as we believe; we are improved only as we find fomething to be imitated or declined. I do not fee that The Bard promotes any truth, moral or political.
His ftanzas are too long, especially his epodes; the ode is finished before the ear has learned its measures, and confequently before it can receive pleasure from their confonance and recurrence.
Of the first stanza the abrupt beginning has been celebrated; but technical beauties can give praife only to the inventor. It is in the power of any man to rush abruptly upon his fubject, that has read the ballad of Johnny Armstrong,
Is there ever a man in all Scotland
The initial refemblances, or alliterations, ruin, ruthlefs, helm or hauberk, are below the grandeur of a poem that endeavours at fublimity.
In the fecond stanza the Bard is well defcribed; but in the third we have the puerilities of obsolete mythology. When we are told that Cadwallo bush'd the formy 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 fcorn.
The weaving of the winding fheet he borrowed, as he owns, from the northern Bards; but their texture, however, was very properly the work of female powers,