« PreviousContinue »
on Dramatic Poetry, not to mention the French critics, I should be very glad to have the benefit of the discovery 15.'
He is followed (as in fame, so in judgment) by the modest and simple-minded
MR. LEONARD WELSTED,
who, out of great respect to our poet, not naming him, doth yet glance at his Essay, together with the Duke of Buckingham's, and the criticisms of Dryden and of Horace, which he more openly taxeth 16: As to the numerous treatises, essays, arts, &c. both in verse and prose, that have been written by the moderns on this groundwork, they do but hackney the same thoughts over again, making them still more trite. Most of their pieces are nothing but a pert insipid heap of commonplace. Horace has, even in his Art of Poetry, thrown out several things which plainly show he thought an Art of Poetry was of no use, even while he was writing one.'
To all which great authorities we can only oppose that of
< "The Art of Criticism,' saith he,' which was published some months since, is a masterpiece in its kind. The observations follow one another like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical regularity which would have been re
15 Essay on Criticism, in prose, octavo, 1728, by the author of the Critical History of England.
16 Preface to his Poems, p. 18, 53.
17 Spectator, No. 253.
quisite in a prose writer. They are some of them uncommon, but such as the reader must assent to, when he sees them explained with that ease and perspicuity in which they are delivered. As for those which are the most known, and the most received, they are placed in so beautiful a light, and illustrated with such apt allusions, that they have in them all the graces of novelty, and make the reader, who was before acquainted with them, still more convinced of their truth and solidity. And here give me leave to mention what Mons. Boileau has so well enlarged upon in the Preface to his Works; that wit and fine writing doth not consist so much in advancing things that are new, as in giving things that are known an agreeable turn. It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others; we have little else left us but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights. If a reader examines Horace's Art of Poetry, he will find but few precepts in it which he may not meet with in Aristotle, and which were not commonly known by all the poets of the Augustan age. His way of expressing and applying them, not his invention of them, is what we are chiefly to admire.
Longinus, in his Reflections, has given us the same kind of sublime, which he observes in the several passages that occasioned them: I cannot but take notice that our English author has, after the same manner, exemplified several of the precepts in the very precepts themselves.' He then
produces some instances of a particular beauty in the numbers, and concludes with saying, that There are three poems in our tongue of the same nature, and each a masterpiece in its kind; the Essay on Translated Verse, the Essay on the Art of Poetry, and the Essay on Criticism.'
Of Windsor Forest, positive is the judgment of the affirmative
MR. JOHN DENNIS,
18 That it is a wretched rhapsody, impudently writ in emulation of the Cooper's Hill of Sir John Denham; the author of it is obscure, is ambiguous, is affected, is temerarious, is barbarous.' But the author of the Dispensary,
in the Preface to his poem of Claremont, differs from this opinion: Those who have seen these two excellent poems of Cooper's Hill and Windsor Forest, the one written by Sir John Denham, the other by Mr. Pope, will show a great deal of candour if they approve of this.'
Of the Epistle of Eloisa, we are told by the obscure writer of a poem called Sawney, That because Prior's Henry and Emma charmed the finest tastes, our author writ his Eloisa in opposition to it, but forgot innocence and virtue: if you take away her tender thoughts, and her fierce desires, all the rest is of no value.' In which, methinks, his judgment resembleth that of a French tailor
18 Letter to B. B. at the end of the Remarks on Pope's Homer, 1717.
19 Printed 1728, p. 12.
is very fine; but take away the river, and it is good for nothing.'
But very contrary hereunto was the opinion of
himself, saying, in his Alma",
'O Abelard! ill-fated youth,
Dan Pope, for thy misfortune grieved,
A silken web; and ne'er shall fade
The mantle o'er thy sad distress,
And Venus shall the texture bless,' &c.
Come we now to his translation of the Iliad, celebrated by numerous pens; yet it shall suffice to mention the indefatigable
SIR RICHARD BLACKMORE, KNT.
who (though otherwise a severe censurer of our author) yet styleth this 'a laudable Translation".' That ready writer,
in his fore-mentioned Essay, frequently commends the same. And the painful
MR. LEWIS THEOBALD
thus extols it22: The spirit of Homer breathes all through this translation :—I am in doubt whe
20 Alma, canto 2.
21 In his Essays, vol. i. printed for E. Curl. 22 Censor, vol. ii. No. 33.
ther I should most admire the justness to the original, or the force and beauty of the language, or the sounding variety of the numbers; but when I find all these meet, it puts me in mind of what the poet says of one of his heroes, that he alone raised and flung with ease a weighty stone that two common men could not lift from the ground; just so one single person has performed in this translation, what I once despaired to have seen done by the force of several masterly hands.' Indeed the same gentleman appears to have changed his sentiment in his Essay on the Art of Sinking in Reputation, (printed in MIST'S JOURNAL, March 30, 1728,) where he says thus: In order to sink in reputation, let him take into his head to descend into Homer, (let the world wonder, as it will, how the devil he got there) and pretend to do him into English, so his version denotes the neglect of the manner how.' Strange variation! We are told in
MIST'S JOURNAL, JUNE 8,
That this translation of the Iliad was not in all respects conformable to the fine taste of his friend Mr. Addison; insomuch that he employed a younger Muse in an undertaking of this kind, which he supervised himself.' Whether Mr. Addison did find it conformable to his taste or not, best appears from his own testimony the year following its publication, in these words:
MR. ADDISON, FREEHOLDER, NO. 40. 'When I consider myself as a British freeholder, I am in a particular manner pleased with