« PreviousContinue »
to conftitute beauty, variety, and order; and arife naturally out of the fubject treated of, and feem fo infeparable from it, that think he should have fo expreffed reader every it himself in fhort, though the thoughts were not obvious to the reader before, they should appear fo now; which, as Mr. Addifon obferves, is the true character of all fine writing. We come now to
Of the STYLE of POETRY.
FTER dwelling fo long on thoughts in poetry, little need be faid of the poetic ftyle; for the paffages we have felected to illuftrate the thoughts, may ferve as so many examples of ftyle alfo.
The beauty of ftyle in general confifts in a proper choice of words, fo connected that they may exprefs the conceptions of the mind clearly, and with a becoming dignity; for the ftyle is to be efteemed in proportion as it is expreffive of the thoughts it is defigned to convey.
As words are intended to express our thoughts, they ought to grow out of them. Since the moft natural are the beft, and proper expreffions are generally connected with the ideas themselves, and follow them as the shadow does the fubftance. Those who think clearly, therefore, will always write fo, provided they are mafters of the language, and have obtained for the memory a good stock of expreffions, by a conftant perufal of the best and most elegant anthors.
We are to obferve, however, that poetry has a language peculiar to itself, which is in many refpects very different from that of profe.-For as the poet's defign is principally to please, to move the paffions, and to infpire the foul with noble and fublime fentiments, he is allowed great latitude of language, and may ufe fuch bold expreffions and uncommon modes of speech, fuch frequent repetitions, free epithets, and extenfive and adorned descriptions, as are not to be admitted in profe. Thus, for inftance, in describing a lawn near to a grotto in a wood, the profe writer fays, Clofe to her grotto, which is shaded by a grove, there is a beautiful
lawn edged round with mojs. Which the poet would probably have described in this manner.
Close to her grott within the grove,
Poetry endeavours to exprefs things paraphraftically, or in fhort descriptions, rather than in fimple terms; and in thofe defcriptions, the profopopoeia is often ufed. Thus Milton, when defcribing the finging of the nightingale, fays, Silence was pleased; and that at the rifing of the fun, the hours unbarr'd the gates of light. Which office Homer affigns to the morning.
Soon as the Morn, in orient purple dreft,
The royal Pfalmift tells us, the clouds drop fatnefs, and the hills rejoice, that the fruitful fields fmile, and the vallies laugh and fing. And thefe fhort allegories and ima ges, which convey particular circumftances to the reader after an unusual and entertaining manner, have a fine effect in poetry, that delights in imitation, and endeavours to give to almost every thing, life, motion, and found; but these would in profe appear very ridiculous and pedantic. poetry likewife, we often put particulars for generals, and frequently diftinguish and allude to men, places, rivers, mountains, &c. by various names taken from any of their adjuncts, which profe will rarely admit of. In fhort, poetry is a fort of painting in words; the thoughts are the figures, and the words are the colours, the lights and shades with which they are cloathed and prefented to the imagination of the reader. The verfe therefore (though poetry delights in harmony, which excites a pleasure that makes its way directly to the foul) is not to be always harmonious, but should be fo contrived, as Mr. Pope observes, that the found may echo to the sense, and be rough or smooth, swift or flow, according to the idea or thought it is intended to elucidate. The following paffage from his Effay on Criticism (fome allowances being made for the fecond line and for the laft) is in this cafe both a precept and an example.
Soft is the ftrain when Zephyr gently blows,
But before we speak of the feveral forts of ftyle, it will be proper to take fome notice of the epithets, tropes and figures of which they are principally compounded; fince it is by thefe different modes of fpeech that the poet is enabled to vary a discourse almoft to infinity; to fhew the fame object in a thousand different forms, and all of them new; to prefent pleafing images to the fenfes and imagination, to address them in the language they love, to exprefs fmall matters with grace, and the greatest with a nobleness and fublimity equal to their grandeur and majefty.
Nothing contributes more to the beauty of the poetic ftyle than epithets properly employed; and Quintilian, and Rollin after him, obferves, that poets make use of them more frequently and more freely than orators. More frequently, be cause it is a great fault to overload a difcourfe in profe with too many epithets; whereas in poetry, they always produce a good effect, though in ever fo great a number. More freely, because with the poets it is enough that the epithet is fuitable to the word it is annexed to: But in profe, every epithet which produces no effect, and adds nothing to the thing spoken of, is vicious. Great deference fhould be paid to authors fo deservedly eminent in the literary world: we must however beg leave to observe, that the latitude they have given us for the use of Epithets, is a little too extenfive; fince nothing tires a reader more than too great a redundancy of them, and efpecially when they are ufelefs, and thrown in, as they too often are, to make out the measure of the verse. Epithets can never be admitted with propriety, unless they excite fome new idea, or give fome illuftration and ornament to the fubftantives to which they are annexed; and it is with this view that they are used in Milton, and our best poets; where we also find many that are compounded, fuch as bright-hair'd Vesta, smooth-fhaven green, cloud-capt towers, vale-dwelling lily, &c. which have a peculiar beauty when
properly applied, as indeed have those that are not compounded when they decorate and illuftrate the fubftantive, or raise some new idea in the mind; but how abfurd and ridiculous are many that we meet with in fome of the poets? fuch, for inftance, as watery floods, burning fire, cold ice, arrow-bearing quiver; which convey nothing to the mind of the reader, and when examined, carry no other meaning than watery water, hot heat, cold cold, arrow-bearing arrow-bearer. But even the best epithets may be fo frequently used as to overload a discourse, and make it heavy, languid, and difagreeable. A good poem, like a rich difh, confifts of many dainties fo judiciously mixed, as to form one compound that is perfect and pleafing; no ingredient should predominate; for too great a portion of any one, however palatable it may be in itself, will · rob the reft of their flavour. Befides, a luxuriancy of epithets tends to make the ftyle prolix and flaccid, and robs it of that ftrength and force with which every discourse fhould be animated; for the shorter and clofer the ftyle the ftronger. And even where fome of the paffions are concerned, or the fubject is preceptive, and intended to inform the judgment, they are to be ufed very fparingly; for a redundancy of epithets will here break in upon perfpicuity, and render that obfcure, which would have been otherwife very plain and intelligible. In confirmation of this opinion, I must beg leave to obferve, that the funeral oration of Mark Anthony in Shakespear's Julius Cafar, which is one of the most artful, pathetic, and best speeches that ever was penned in the English language, has hardly an epithet from the beginning to the end. There are indeed adjectives and participles to the fubftantives, but these are not to be called epithets, fince they make up the effential part of the description; whereas, what we call epithets, are added only by way of ornament and illuflration.
But this is faid not with an intention to leffen the reader's esteem for epithets, fince it is certain, that they are most admirably adapted to defcription, and fo effential, to poetry, that the beauty of its ftyle depends in a great meafure on their ufe, which Homer, Virgil, and the best poets were fo fenfible of, that their works abound with them. And in fome places many epithets are joined to the fame
substantive without any conjunction between them, and are often thus more elegant and expreffive.
An eyeless monster, hideous, vast, deform!
Immediately a place
Before his eyes appear'd, fad, noisome, dark.
And the plain ox,
That harmless, honest, guileless animal,
What therefore we contend for, is their proper application; we would have the poet, like a good architect, diftinguish ornament from ftrength, and put each in its proper place; for as nothing adds more beauty to a poem than juft and ornamental epithets, fo nothing gives more grace to a building than windows well decorated; but no man would for that reason stick his houfe full of them, and difplace those pillars which should support the fabric, to let in more light than is necessary.
The poet indeed, as Quintilian has obferved, is here greatly indulged, and may afe thefe bewitching ornaments more frequently and more freely than the orator; but both ought to take care that they are not too redundant, for elegance abhors a verbose luxuriance either in profe or verse.
We come now to speak of tropes and figures, materials which the poet handles very freely; but as we have treated largely of thefe in our volume of Rhetoric, we fhall not take up the reader's time with an illustration of them here befides, they are perhaps better and more eafily obtained from experience than precept; for every one who is converfant with the beft authors, and reads them with due attention, cannot be unacquainted with the figures of fpeech, and the art of applying them, though he never looked for them in the rhetoric of the