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such powers may be soon attained, cannot but grieve to think that life was ever after at a stand.
To mention the particular beauties of the essay would be unprofitably tedious: but I cannot forbear to observe that the comparison of a student's progress in the sciences with the journey of a traveller in the Alps is perhaps the best that English poetry can show. A simile, to be perfect, must both illustrate and ennoble the subject; must show it to the understanding in a clearer view, and display it to the fancy with greater dignity; but either of these qualities may be sufficient to recommend it. In didactic poetry, of which the great purpose is instruction, a simile may be praised which illustrates, though it does not ennoble; in heroics, that may be admitted which ennobles, though it does not illustrate. That it may be complete, it is required to exhibit, independently of its references, a pleasing image ; for a simile is said to be a short episode. To this antiquity was so attentive, that circumstances were sometimes added, which, having no parallels, served only to fill the imagination, and produced wbat Perrault ludicrously called “comparisons with a long tail.” In their similes the greatest writers have sometimes failed ; the ship-race, compared with the chariot-race, is neither illustrated nor aggrandised; land and water make all the difference : when Apollo, running after Daphne, is likened to a greyhound chasing a hare, there is nothing gained; the ideas of pursuit and flight are too plain to be made plainer; and a god and the daughter of a god are not represented much to their advantage by a hare and dog. The simile of the Alps has no useless parts, yet affords a striking picture by itself; it makes the foregoing position better understood, and enables it to take faster hold on the attention; it assists the apprehension and elevates the fancy. Let me likewise dwell a little on the celebrated paragraph in which it is directed that “the sound should seem an echo to the sense ; a precept which Pope is allowed to have observed beyond any other English poet.
This notion of representative metre, and the desire of discovering frequent adaptations of the sound to the sense, have produced, in my opinion, many wild conceits and imaginary beauties. All that can furnish this representation are the sounds of the words considered singly and the time in which they are pronounced. Every language has some words framed to exhibit the noises which they express, as thump, rattle, growl, hiss. These, however, are but few, and the poet cannot make them more, nor can they be of any use but when sound is to be mentioned. The time of pronunciation was in the dactylic measures of the learned languages capable of considerable variety; but that variety could be accommodated only to motion or duration, and different degrees of motion were perhaps expressed by verses rapid or slow, without much attention of the writer, when the image had full possession of his fancy : but our language having little flexibility, our verses can differ very little in their cadence. The fancied resemblances, I fear, arise sometimes merely from the ambiguity of words; there is supposed to be some relation between a soft line and soft couch, or between hard syllables and hard fortune. Motion, however, may be in some sort exemplified; and yet it may be suspected that in such resemblances the mind often governs the ear, and the sounds are estimated by their meaning. One of their most successful attempts Las been to describe the labour of Sisyphus
“ With many a weary step, and many a groan,
Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground." W10 does not perceive the stone to move slowly upward, and roll violently back? But set the same numbers to another sense :
“ While many a merry tale, and many a song,
Cheered the rough road, we wished the rough road long.
We have now surely lost much of the delay and much of the rapidity. But, to show how little the greatest master of numbers can fix the principles of representative harmony, it will be sufficient to remark that the poet who tells us that
“ When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labours, and the words move slow :
when he had enjoyed for about thirty years the praise of Camilla's lightness of foot, he tried another experiment upon sound and time, and produced this memorable triplet :
“Waller was smooth; but Dryden taught to join
The varying verse, the full resounding line,
Here are the swiftness of the rapid race, and the march of slow-paced majesty, exhibited by the same poet in the same sequence of syllables, except that the exact prosodist will find the line of swiftness by one time longer than that of tardiness. Beauties of this kind are commonly fancied, and, when real, are technical and nugatory, not to be rejected and not to be solicited,
To the praises which have been accumulated on the "Rape of the Lock” by readers of every class, from the critic to the waiting-maid, it is difficult to make any addition. Of that which is universally allowed to be the most attractive of all ludicrous compositions, let it rather be now inquired from what sources the power of pleasing is derived. Dr. Warburton, who excelled in critical perspicacity,
has remarked that the preternatural agents are very happily adapted to the purposes of the poem. The heathen deities can no longer gain attention; we should have turned away from a contest between Venus and Diana. The employment of allegorical persons always excites conviction of its own absurdity; they may produce effects, but cannot conduct actions; when the phantom is put in motion it dissolves ; thus Discord may raise a mutiny, but Discord cannot conduct a march nor besiege a town. Pope brought in view a new race of beings, with powers and passions proportionate to their operation. The Sylphs and Gnomes act at the toilet and the tea-table what more terrific and more powerful phantoms perform on the stormy ocean or the field of battle : they give their proper help and do their proper mischief. Pope is said, by an objector, not to have been the inventor of this petty notion, a charge which might with more justice have been brought against the author of the "
Iliad,” who doubtless adopted the religious system of his country; for what is there but the names of his agents which Pope has not invented ? Has he not assigned them characters and operations never heard of before ? Has he not, at least, given them their first poetical existence? If this is not sufficient to denominate his work original, nothing original ever can be written.
In this work are exhibited in a very high degree the two most engaging powers of an author. New things are made familiar, and familiar things are made new. A race of aërial people never heard of before is presented to us in a manner so clear and easy that the reader seeks for no further information, but immediately mingles with his new acquaintance, adopts their interests, and attends their pursuits, loves a Sylph, and detests a Gnome. That familiar things are made new every paragraph will prove. The subject of the poem is an event below the common incidents of common life; nothing real is introduced that is not seen so often as to be no longer regarded ; yet the whole detail of a female day is here brought before us, invested with so much art of decoration that, though nothing is disguised, everything is striking, and we feel all the appetite of curiosity for that from which we have a thousand times turned fastidiously away.
The purpose of the poet is, as he tells us, to laugh at “the little unguarded follies of the female sex.” It is therefore without justice that Dennis charges the “Rape of the Lock” with the want of a moral, and for that reason sets it below the “Lutrin," which exposes the pride and discord of the clergy. Perhaps neither Pope nor Boileau has made the world much better than he found it; but if they had both succeeded, it were easy to tell who would have deserved most from public gratitude. The freaks, and humours, and spleen, and vanity of women as they embroil families in discord, and fill houses with disquiet, do more to obstruct the happiness of life in a year than the ambition of the clergy in many centuries. It has been well observed that the misery of man proceeds not from any single crush of overwhelming evil, but from small vexations continually repeated. It is remarked by Dennis, likewise, that the machinery is superfluous ; that, by all the bustle of preternatural operation, the main event is neither hastened nor retarded. To this charge an efficacious answer is not easily made. The Sylphs cannot be said to help or oppose ; and it must be allowed to imply some want of art that their power has not been sufficiently intermingled with the action. Other parts may likewise be charged with want of connection--the game at ombre might be spared ; but if the lady had lost her hair while she was intent upon her cards it might have been inferred that those who are too fond of play will