« PreviousContinue »
the universal prevalence of poetry; but I am afraid that the conclusion will not arise from the premises. The ca. verns of the North and the plains of Chili are not the residences of Glory and generous Shame. But that Poetry and Virtue go always together is an opinion so pleasing, that I can forgive him who resolves to think it true.
The third stanza sounds big with Delphi;' and 'Egean,' andIlisstus,' and 'Meander,'and hallowed fountains,' and
solemn sotund; but in all Gray's odes there is a kind of cumbrous splendour which we wish away. His position is at last false; in the time of Dante and Petrarch, from whom we derive our first school of Poetry, Italy was overrun by tyrant power;' and 'coward vice;' nor was our state much better when we first borrowed the Italian arts.
Of the third ternary, the first gives a mythological birth of Shakspeare. What is said of that mighty genius is true; but it is not said happily: the real effects of this poetical power are put out of sight by the pomp of machinery. Where truth is sufficient to fill the mind, fiction is worse than use. less; the counterfeit debases the genuine.
His account of Milton's blindness, if we suppose it caused by study in the formation of his poem, a supposition surely allowable, is poetically true, and happily imagined. But the car of Dryden, with his two coursers, has nothing in it peculiar; it is a car io which any other rider may be placed.
“The Bard' appears, at the first view, to be, as Algarotti and others have remarked, an imitation of the prophecy of Nereus. Algarotti thinks it superior to its original; and, if preference depend only on the imagery and animation of the two poems, his judgment is right. There is in The Bard' more force, more thought, and more variety. But to copy is less than to invent, and the copy has been unhappily produced at a wrong time. The fiction of Horace was to the Romans credible; but its révival disgusts us with apparent and unconquerable falsehood. Incredulús odi.
To select a singular event, and swell it to a giant's bulk by fabulous appendages of spectres and predictions, has little difficulty; for he that forsakes the probable may always find the marvellous. And it has little use; we are affected only as we believe; we are improved only as we
find something to be imitated or declined. I do not see that "The Bard' promotes any truth, moral or political.
His stanzas are too long, especially his epodes; the ode is finished before the ear has learned its measure, and con, sequently before it can receive pleasure from their consonance and recurrence.
Of the first stanza the abrupt beginning has been cele. brated: but technical beauties can give praise only to the inventor. It is in the power of any man to rush abruptly apon this subject, that has read the ballad of, Johody Armstrong,'
Is there ever a man in all Scotland The initial resemblances, or alliterations,‘ruin, ruthless, belm or hauberk,' are below the grandeur of a poem that endeavours at sublimity.
In the second stauza the Bard is well described; but in the third we have the puerilities of obsolete mythology. When we are told that Cadwallo hush'd the stormy main, and that ‘Modred made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloudtopp'd head,' attention recoils from the repetition of a tale that, even when it was first heard, was heard with scorn.
The weading of the winding sheet he borrowed, as he owns, from the Northern Bards: bat their texture, how. ever, was very properly the work of fendale powers, as the act of spinning the thread of life is another mythology, Theft is always dangerous ; Gray has made weavers of slaughtered bards by a fiction outrageous and incongruous. They are then called upon to ‘Weave the warp, and weave the woof, perhaps with no great propriety; for it is by crossing the woof with the warp that men weave the web or piece; and the first line was dearly bought by the admission of its wretched correspondent, 'Give ample room and verge enough.'* He has, however, no other line as bad.
The third stanza of the second teroary is commended, I think, beyond its merit. The personification is indistinct. Thirst and Hunger are not alike; and their features, to make the imagery perfect, should have been discriminated. We are told, in the same stanza, how' towers are fed. But
* I have a soul, that like an ample shield
I will no longer look for particular faults ; yet let it be observed that the ode might have been concluded with an action of better example; but suicide is always to be bad, without expense of thought.
These odes are marked by glittering accumulations of nograceful ornaments; they strike, rather than please; the images are magnified by affectation ; the language is laboured into harshness. The mind of the writer seems to work with unnatural violence. Double, double, toil and trouble.' He has a kind of strutting dignity, and is tall by walking on tiptoe. His art and his struggle are too visible, and there is too little appearance of ease and nature. *
To say that he had no beauties would be unjust; a man like him, of great learning and great industry, could not but produce something valuable. When he pleases least, it can only be said that a good design was ill-directed.
His translations of Northern and Welsh Poetry deserves praise; the imagery is preserved, perhaps often improved ; but the language is unlike the language of other poets.
In the character of his Elegy I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours. The 'Churchyard' abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo. The four stanzas beginning ‘Yet even these bones, are to me origioal: I have never seen the notions in any other place; yet be that reads them here persuades himself that he has always felt them. Had Gray written often thus, it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise him.
LYTTELTON. GEORGE LYTTELTON, the son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, of Hagley in Worcestershire, was born in 1709. He was educated at Eton, wbere he was so much distinguished, that his exercises were recommended as models to his schoolfellows.
* Lord Orford used to assert, that Gray never wrote any thing easily, but things of humour; and added, that humour was his natural and original turn.-C.
From Eton he went to Christ-church, where he retained the same reputation of superiority, and displayed his abilities to the public in a poem on ‘Blenheim.'
He was a vay early writer, both in verse and prose. His Progress of love,' and his Persian Letters,' were both written when he was very young; and indeed the character of a young man is very visible in both. The Verses cant of shepherds and flocks, and crooks dressed with flowers ; and the Letters have something of that indistinct and headstrong ardour for liberty which a man of genius always catches when he enters the world, and always suffers to cool as he passes forward. · He stayed not long in Oxford; for in 1728 he began his travels, and saw France and Italy. When he returned, he obtained a seat in Parliament, and soon distinguished him. self among the most eager opponents of Sir Robert Walpole, though his father, who was commissioner of the admiralty, always voted with the court. i For many years the name of George Lyttelton was seen in every account of every debate in the House of Commons. He opposed the standing army; he opposed the excise; he supported the motion for petitioning the King to remove Walpole. His 'zeal was considered by the courtiers not only as violent, but as acrimonious and malignant; and when Walpole was at last hunted from his places, every effort was made by his friends, and many friends he had, to ex. clude Lyttelton from the secret committee.
The Prince of Wales, being (1737)driven from St.James's, kept a separate court, and opened his arms to the opponents of the ministry. Mr. Lyttelton became his secretary, and was supposed to have great influence in the direction of his conduct. He persuaded his master, whose business it was Dow to be popular, that'he would advance his character by pa. tronage. Mallet was made under secretary with 2001.; and Thomson had a pension of 1001. a year. For Thomson, Lyttelton always retained his kindness, and was able at last to place him at ease.
Moore courted his favour by an apologetical poem, called • The Trial of Selim :' for which he was paid with kind words, which, as is common, raised great hopes, that were at last disappointed.
Lyttelton now stood in the first rank of opposition; and Pope, who was iocited, it is not easy to say how, to increase the clamour against the ministry, commended him among the other patriots. This drew upon him the reproaches of Fox, who, in the house, imputed to him as a crime his intimacy with a lampooner so unjust and licentious. Lyttel. ton supported his friend; and replied, that he thought it an honour to be received into the familiarity of so great a poet.
While he was thus conspicuous, he married (1741) Miss Lucy Fortescue of Devonshire, by whom he had a son, the late Lord Lyttelton, and two daughters, and with whom he appears to have lived in the highest degree of connubial felicity; but human pleasures are short; she died in child. bed about five years afterward; and he solaced himself by writing a long poem to her memory.
He did not, however, condemn himself to perpetual solj. tude and sorrow; for, after a while he was content to seek happiness again by a second marriage with the daughter of Sir Robert Rich;, but the experiment was unsuccessful.
At length, after a long struggle, Walpole gave way, and honour and profit were distributed among his
conquerors. Lyttelton was made (1744) one of the Lords of the Treasury; and from that time was engaged in supporting the schemes of the ministry.
Politics did not, however, so much engage him as to with. hold his thoughts from things of more importance. He had, in the pride of juvenile confidence, with the help of corrupt conversation, entertained doubts of the truth of Christian. ity; but he thought the time now come when it was no longer fit to doubt or believe by chance, and applied himself seriously to the great question. His studies being honest, ended in conviction. He und that religion was true; and what he had learned endeavoured to teach (1747) by 'Observations on the version of St. Paul; a treatise to which infidelity has ne er been able to fabricate a specious answer. This book his father had the happiness of seeing, and expressed his pleasure in a letter which deserves to be inserted.
'I have read your religious treatise with infinite plea. sure and satisfaction. The style is fine and clear, tbe arguments close, cogent, and irresistible. May the King of kings, whose glorious cause you have so well defended, reward
ar pious labours, and grant that I may be found worthy,