Page images
PDF
EPUB

but only to mark out briefly the different species of our celebrated authors. In which of these classes Pope deserves to be placed, the following Work is intended to determine.

I am,

Dear Sir,

Your affectionate

1756.

And faithful Servant.

AN

ESSAY

ON THE

GENIUS AND WRITINGS

OP

POPE.

SECTION I.

OF THE PASTORALS, AND THE MESSIAH,

AN ECLOGUE.

PRINCES and Authors are seldom spoken of, during their lives, with justice and impartiality. Admiration and Envy, their constant attendants, like two unskilful artists, are apt to overcharge their pieces with too great a quantity of light or of shade; and are disqualified happily to hit upon that middle colour, that mixture of error and

B

excellence,

VOL. I.

excellence, which alone renders every representation of man just and natural. This, perhaps, may be one reason, among others, why we have never yet seen a fair and candid criticism on the character and merits of our last great poet, Mr. POPE. I have therefore thought, that it would be no unpleasing amusement, or uninstructive employment, to examine at large, without blind panegyric, or petulant invective, the writings of this English Classic, in the order in which they are arranged in the nine volumes of the elegant edition of Dr. Warburton. As I shall neither censure nor commend, without alleging the reason on which my opinion is founded, I shall be entirely unmoved at the imputation of inalignity, or the clamours of popular prejudice.

It is somewhat strange, that in the pastorals of a young poet, there should not be found a single rural image that is new: but this, I am afraid, is the case in the PASTORALS before us. The ideas of Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser, are, indeed, here exhibited in language equally mellifluous and pure ; but the descriptions and sentiments are trite and common.

That

That the design of pastoral poesy is, to represent the undisturbed felicity of the golden age, is an empty notion, which, though supported by a Rapin and a Fontenelle, * I think, all rational critics have agreed to extirpate and explode. But I do not remember, that even these, or any critics, have remarked the circumstance that gave origin to the opinion, that any golden age was intended. Theocritus, the father and the model of this enchanting species of composition, lived and wrote in Sicily. The climate of Sicily was delicious, and the face of the country various and beautiful: its vallies and its precipices, its grottos and cascades, were SWEETLY INTERCHANGED, and its flowers and fruits were lavish and luscious. The poet described what he saw and felt; and had no need to have recourse to those artificial assemblages of pleasing objects, which are not to B 2

be

* In the dissertation annexed to his Pastorals, in which he made his first attempt to depreciate the ancients. Among his papers, after his death, was found a discourse on the Greek, Tragedians; which Trublet, his relation, gave to Diderot, that he might insert it in the Encyclopedie; which, however, Diderot refused to do, because, he said, he could not possibly insert in that work, a treatise that tended to prove, that Eschylus was a madman.

be found in nature. The figs and the honey, which he assigns* as a reward to a victorious shepherd, were in themselves exquisite, and are therefore assigned with great propriety : and the beauties of that luxurious landscape, so richly and circumstantially delineated in the close of the seventh idyllium, where all things smelt of summer, and smelt of autumn,

Παν' ωσδεν θερεος μαλα σιονς, ωσδε δ' οπωρης,

were present and real. Succeeding writers, supposing these beauties too great and abundant to be real, referred them to the fictitious and imaginary scenes of a golden age.

A mixture of British and Grecian ideas

may justly be deemed a blemish in the PASTORALS of POPE: and propriety is certainly violated, when he couples Pactolus with Thames, and Windsor with Hybla. Complaints of immoderate heat, and wishes to be conveyed to cooling caverns, when uttered by the inhabitants of Greece, have a decorum and consistency, which they totally

lose

* Idyll. i. ver. 146.

+ Ver. 133.

« PreviousContinue »