« PreviousContinue »
luftre. The poet therefore fhould imitate nature, who has diverfified the world with vales and mountains, rocks and lawns, trees, fruits, flowers, fmiling fields and dreary deferts, purling ftreams and horrible cascades; and, like nature too, he should place them in fuch due oppofition, that they may embellish and fet off each other.
There is a third fpecies of thoughts, whofe agreeablenefs, beauty, and merit, is owing to their delicacy, and which it is easier to conceive than defcribe. A delicate thought is a most excellent production, and as it were the very quinteficence of wit. Thefe thoughts have the property of being comprised in a few words, and the whole meaning is not at firft fo obvious, but seems partly concealed, that the mind of the reader might be gratified in the discovery. This little myftery, fays father Bouhours, is as it were the foul of delicate thoughts; and those that have nothing myfterious either in their foundation or turn, but discover themselves at first fight, are not of the delicate kind, however ingenious they may be in other refpects.
Cicero, in his oration for Ligarius, tells Cæfar, that 'tis ufual for him to forget nothing but injuries.
Dr. Garth, in his dedication to Mr. Henley, fays, A man of your character can no more prevent a dedication, than he would encourage one; for merit, like a virgin's blushes, is fill moft difcovered, when it labours most to be concealed.
'Tis hard, to think well of you should be but juftice, and to tell you fo fhould be an offence: thus, rather than violate your modefty, I must be wanting to your other virtues; and to gratify one good quality, do wrong to a thousand.
Compliments that are thrown obliquely, and under the difguife of a complaint, are extremely delicate and pleafing.
Which I was born to introduce,
If they have mortified my pride,
If with fuch talents heav'n has bleft 'em
Let humble Allen, with an aukward shame,
But befides thefe delicate thoughts which have an inge nious turn, there are others whofe beauty depends folely on the delicacy of fentiment; as when the poet says, that the evening dews are the tears of the sky for the loss of the fun.
I have attempted (fays a young gentleman in a letter to his miftrefs) to pursue your advice, and divert myself by the fubject you recommend to my thoughts: but it is impoffible, 1 perceive, to turn off the mind at once from an object, which it has long dwelt upon with pleasure. My heart, like a poor bird which is hunted from her neft, is fill returning to the place of its affections, and, after fome vain efforts to fly off, fettles again where all its cares and all its tendernesses are FITZOSBORN'S LETTERS.
But of this fort of delicate thoughts, enough may be feen in the paffages we have extracted from Milton, who abounds with every kind of beauty.
One true characteristic of delicate thoughts (especially of those first mentioned) is, that they are not capable of being tranflated out of one language into another, without lofing great part of their true fpirit or effential quality. And this is the cafe alfo with what we call true humour, which is like those delicate flowers that will lofe their beauty, if not their being, when tranfplanted into a foreign climate.
The inimitable character Shakespear has drawn of Falfaff, might be understood perhaps in any other language, but would fail of the effect it has in the original; as would the defcription Butler has given us of Honour, and many other parts of his celebrated poem.
He that is valiant, and dares fight,
Honour in the breech is lodg'd,
She too might have poifon'd the joys of my life,
But as humour is the offfpring of nature only, and not to be taught, or perhaps cultivated, by any rules, it does not fall within our compafs; for to attempt any directions for obtaining that which nature alone can bestow, would be abfurd and ridiculous.
Befides the thoughts we have already mentioned, there are others called brilliant thoughts, whofe excellency confifts in a fhort and lively expreffion, and which are made pleafing by a point of wit that ftrikes us by its boldness and novelty, and charms us with its ingenious and uncommon turn. Thefe thoughts may be admitted into most of the fpecies of poetry, when introduced cautiously and with propriety; but their peculiar provinces feem to be the fatire and the epigram; of which laft they are the very ef fence and indeed moft of thofe fhining and ftriking thoughts which we find in our beft fatires, have, when abftractedly and separately confidered, all the effential properties of the epigram, viz. brevity, beauty, and point of wit. We fhall give a few inftances in confirmation of what we have advanced from the fatires of Dr. Young, and more may be found in the fubfequent part of this volume, in the fatires of Mr. Dryden, Mr. Pope, and others.
Let high birth triumph! what can be more great?
The man who builds and wants wherewith to pay,
Is thy ambition fweating for a rhyme,
Nothing exceeds in ridicule no doubt
The fylvan race our active nymphs purfue;
But these thoughts, however pleasing, should never be introduced where the paffions are concerned; nor indeed are descriptions and fimilies there to be admitted, unless they are extremely short, and fuch as may be naturally thrown out by the conflicts of the foul, and help to exprefs its paffion and furprise: for to put points of wit, luxuriant defcriptions, and beautiful fimilies into the mouths of perfons agitated by paffion, or labouring under the agonies of death, as is too frequently done in our trage dies, is offering violence to nature. Joy, grief, and anger are most naturally expreffed by exclamations, fudden starts,
and broken fentences; and even when nature is thus difturbed and agitated, a feeming incoherence may be pardonable; but ftudied decorations can never be admitted.
There is another fault which young people are mighty apt to give into, and that is what may be called, running down a thought. When they have started a thought which is in itfelf beautiful, and would dignify their work, they never know when to part with it, but keep tricking it up till they have turned the fine gentleman into a fop, and rendered that which was ineftimable, of no manner of value.- Seafonable filence has its emphafis.- 'Tis not in these works of genius prudent to be over explicit; for it not only borders on vanity, and carries with it a fuppofition, that nobody can difcern a beauty except yourself, but deprives the reader also of the pleasure he would otherwife have of employing his own fagacity. In short, the writer fhould never fay so much, but that the reader may perceive he was capable of faying more; for the hunting down a thought, and tiring the reader with a repetition of tedious particulars, is ever the mark of a little trifling genius.
And here we are alfo to observe, that the too frequent ufe of wit, or, in other words, the filling any difcourse or poem with too many of thofe thoughts we have been defcribing, is not to be tolerated.
Another fault which often does befall,
A poem, like a dinner or a defert, may be made too rich, and, instead of gratifying, difguft. Poetry indeed admits of more ornament than profe; but true taste and right reafon abhors luxury in both. Befides, there are other thoughts to be introduced into every work which neither ftrike us with their grandeur, beauty, delicacy, or pointed wit, but which are fraught with good fenfe and folidity; that carry weight in their meaning, and fink deep in the understanding: thefe, therefore, and common thoughts, are to be confidered as the bafis and superstructure, and the other as the ornamental parts of the work; which should not be forced in to difplay wit and finery, but introduced
A 1901 33
Duke of Puckingham's Edy on Poetry.