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See how the World its Veterans rewards!
Ver. 244. A Youth of Frolics,] The antithesis, so remarkably strong in these lines, was a very favourite figure with our Poet: he has indeed used it but in too many parts of his Works; nay, even in his translation of the Iliad, where it ought not to have been admitted, and which Dryden has but rarely used in his Virgil. Our Author seldom writes many words together without an antithesis. It must be allowed sometimes, to add strength to a sentiment by an opposition of images: but, too frequently repeated, it becomes tiresome and disgusting. Rhyme has almost a natural tendency to betray a writer into it: but the purest authors have despised it, as an ornament pert and puerile, and epigrammatic. Seneca, Pliny, Tacitus, and later authors, abound in it. Quintilian has sometimes used it with much success, as when he speaks of style; magna, non nimia; sublimis, non abrupta; severa, non tristis; læta, non luxuriosa; plena, non tumida." And sometimes Tully; as, "vicit pudorem libido, timorem audacia, rationem amentia.' But these writers fall into this mode of speaking but seldom, and do not make it their constant and general manner. Those moderns, who have not acquired a true taste for the simplicity of the best ancients, have generally run into a frequent use of point, opposition, and contrast. They who begin to study painting, are struck at first with the pieces of the most vivid colouring; they are almost ashamed to own that they do not relish and feel the modest and reserved beauties of Raphael. The exact proportion of St. Peter's at Rome occasions it not to appear so great as it really is. It is the same in writing; but by degrees we find that Lucan, Martial, Juvenal, Q. Curtius, and Florus, and others of that stamp, who abound in figures that contribute to the false florid, in luxuriant metaphors, in pointed conceits, in lively antitheses, unexpectedly darting forth, are contemptible for the very causes which once excited our admiration. It is then we relish Terence, Cæsar, and Xenophon.
Ah! Friend! to dazzle let the Vain design; 249 To raise the Thought, and touch the Heart, be thine! That Charm shall grow, while what fatigues the Ring, Flaunts and goes down, an unregarded thing; So when the Sun's broad beam has tir'd the sight, All mild ascends the Moon's more sober light, Serene in Virgin Modesty she shines,
And unobserv'd the glaring Orb declines.
Oh! blest with Temper, whose unclouded ray
Spleen, Vapours, or Small-pox, above them all,
Ver. 249. Advice for their true Interest.
Ver. 253. So when the Sun's] There are not perhaps, in the whole compass of the English language, four lines more exquisitely finished; not a syllable can be altered for the better; every word seems to be the only proper one that could have been used. So pure and pellucid is the style,
Ver. 268. though China fall.] Addison has touched this subject with his usual exquisite humour, in the Lover, No. 10. p. 291 of his Works, 4to. quoting Epictetus to comfort a lady that labours under this heavy calamity.
And yet, believe me, good as well as ill,
Blends, in exception to all gen'ral rules,
Be this a Woman's Fame: with this unblest, Toasts live a scorn, and Queens may die a jest. This Phoebus promis'd (I forget the year) When those blue eyes first open'd on the sphere; Ascendant Phoebus watch'd that hour with care, Averted half 'your Parents' simple Pray'r;
Ver. 269. The picture of an estimable woman, with the best kind of contrarieties created out of the Poet's imagination; who therefore feigned those circumstances of a husband, a daughter, and love for a sister, to prevent her being mistaken for any of his acquaintance. And having thus made his Woman, he did, as the ancient Poets were wont, when they had made their Muse, invoke and address his poem to her. W.
Ver. 270. a Contradiction still.] So also has he shewn Man to be in the Essay.
Ver. 280. And produces-You.] The turn of these lines is exactly the same with those of Mrs. Biddy Floyd: Swift's Miscellanies, vol. iv. p. 142.
"Jove mix'd up all, and his best clay employ'd,
Then call'd the happy composition-Floyd,"
Mrs. Patty Blount was always, at first, supposed to be the lady here addressed“ produces You.”
And gave you Beauty, but deny'd the Pelf
Ver. 291. The world shall know it.] This is an unmeaning expression, and a poor expletive, into which our Poet was unfortunately forced by the rhyme.
"Maudit soit le premier, dont la verve insensée
Voulut avec la rime enchaîner la raison."
Boileau, Sat. ii. v. 53.
Rhyme also could alone be the occasion of the following faulty expressions; taken, too, from some of his most finished pieces:
"Not Cæsar's empress would I deign to prove”.
"If Queensberry to strip there's no compelling"
Rapt into future times the bard begun”
"Know all the noise the busy world can keep"
"If true, a woful likeness, and if lies”.
Nothing so true as what you once let fall”"For Virtue's self may too much zeal be had"
"Nay half in Heav'n except what's mighty odd”
on such a world we fall".
-"take scandal at a spark”
"do the knack, and-do the feat"
And more instances might be added, if it were not disagree. able to observe these straws in amber. But if rhyme occasions such inconveniences and improprieties in so exact a writer as our Author, what can be expected from inferior versifiers? It is not my intention to enter in a trite and tedious discussion of the several merits of rhyme and blank verse. Perhaps rhyme may be properest for shorter pieces; for lyric, elegiac, and satiric, poems; for pieces where closeness of expression and smartness of style are expected; but for subjects of a higher order, where
any enthusiasm or emotion is to be expressed, or for poems of a greater length, blank verse is undoubtedly preferable. An epic poem in rhyme appears to be such a sort of thing as the Æneid would have been if it had been written like Ovid's Fasti, in hexameter and pentameter verses; and the reading it would have been as tedious as the travelling through the one long, strait avenue of firs that leads from Moscow to Petersburgh. I will give the reader Mr. Pope's own opinion on this subject, and in his own words, as delivered to Mr. Spence : "I have nothing to say for rhyme; but that I doubt if a poem can support itself without it in our language, unless it be stiffened with such strange words as are likely to destroy our language itself. The high style that is affected so much in blank verse would not have been supported even in Milton, had not his subject turned so much on such strange and out-of-the-world things as it does." May we not, however, venture to observe, that more of that true harmony, which will best support a poem, will result from a variety of pauses, and from an intermixture of those different feet (iambic and trochaïc particularly) into which our language naturally falls, than from the uniformity of similar terminations. "There can
be no music," says Cowley, "with only one note." See Mr. Webb's excellent Observations on Rhyme and Blank Verse, in his Beauties of Poetry.
Dr. Adam Smith, as well as Fontenelle, thought that much of the pleasure we receive from the imitative arts arose from the difficulty of imitation. Voltaire also, in the preface to his Edipus, talks of the pleasure arising from the difficulté surmontée with respect to rhyme. But Smith, with whom I lived many years in a state of intimacy, was always a lover of French poetry, as was his friend David Hume. After all, we cannot subscribe to the authoritative decision of a certain noted critic, "that our epic compositions are found most pleasing when clothed in rhyme: And that the generality of readers, if left to themselves, and were not prejudiced by their admiration of the Greek and Latin languages, would be more delighted with Milton, if, besides his various pause and measured quantity, he had enriched his numbers with rhyme." This may remind us of the opinion of another learned prelate, who says, "that Paradise Lost was much admired, though the author affected to write it in blank verse." Burnet's Hist. vol. i.