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Fair to no purpose, arlful to no end,
The antithesis, so remarkably strong in these lines, was a very favourite figure with our poet : he has, indeed, used it but in too many parts of his works ; nay, even in his translation of the Iliad, † where it ought not to have been admitted, L
* Ver. 243.
+ Voltaire speaks thus of La Motte : so popular and acute a critic may, perhaps, be attended to.-Au-lieu d'échauffer son génie en tâchant de copier les sublimes peintures d'Homére, il voulut lui donner de l'esprit ; c'est la Manie de la plûpart des François ; une espéce de pointe qu'ils appellent un trait, une petite antithése, un léger contraste de mots leur suffit. The following lines are instances :
On offense les dieux, mais par
des sacrifices De ces dieux irrités on fait des dieux propices.
Tout le camp s'écria dans une joie extrême,
I must only just add, that La Motte, in all the famous dispute about the ancients, never said a thing so ill-founded, and so void of taste, as the following words of the same Voltaire :
and which Dryden has but rarely used in his Virgil. Our author seldom writes many lines together without an antithesis. It must be allowed sometimes to add strength to a sentiment, by an opposition of images; but too frequently repeated, it becomes tiresome and disgusting. Rhyme has almost a natural tendency to betray a writer into it. But the purest authors have de pised it, as an ornament pert, and puerile, and epigrammatic. Seneca, Pliny, Tacitus, and later authors, abound in it. Quintilian has sometimes used it with much success; as when he speaks of style ; Magna, non nimia; sublimis, non abrupta ; severa, non tristis ; læta, non luxuriosa; plena, non tumida. And sometimes Tully; as, Vicit pudorem libido, timorem audacia, rationem amentia. But these writers fall into this mode of speaking but seldom, and do not make it their
« Homere n'a jamais fait répandre de pleurs." Affectus quie dem vel illos mites vel hos concitatos, nemo erit tam indoctus qui non in suà potestate hunc auctorem habuisse fateatur. Quintilian, lib. 10. cap. 1. Had Voltaire ever read Quintilian? or rather, had he ever read Homer--in the original ? « If Boileau (said the Prince of Conti) does not write against Perrault, I will go myself to the Academy, and I will write upon his seat, Brutus, you are asleep."
constant and general manner. Those moderns who have not acquired a true taste for the simplicity of the best ancients, * have generally run into a frequent use of point, opposition, and contrast. They who begin to study painting, are struck at first with the pieces of the most vivid colouring; they are almost ashamed to own, that they do not relish and feel the modest and reserved beauties of Raphael. The exact proportion of St. Peter's at Rome, occasions it not to appear so great as it really is. Tis the same in writing; but, by degrees, we find that Lucan, Martial, Juvenal, Q. Curtius, and Florus, and others of that stamp, who abound in figures that contribute to the false florid, in luxuriant metaphors, in pointed conceits, in lively' antitheses, unexpectedly. darted forth, are contemptible for the very causes which once excited our admiration. 'Tis then we relish Terence, Cæsar, and Xenophon.
16. Kept dross for Duchesses, the world shall know it, To you gave sense, good-humour, and a poet.+
* See what Dionysius says of Isocrates, p. 99, v. 2, Edit. Sylb. There are no antitheses in Demosthenes.
+ Ver. 291.
The world shall know it—is an unmeaning expression, and a poor expletive, into which our poet was forced by the rhyme.*
Maudit soit le premier, dont la verve insensée,
Rhyme also could alone be the occasion of the following faulty expressions, taken too from some of his most finished pieces :
Not Cæsar's Empress would I deign to prove
can no wants endure
* La Rime gêne plus qu'elle n'orne les vers. Elle les charge d'Epithétes; elle rend souvent la diction forcée, & pleine d'une vaine parure. En allongant les discours, elle les affoiblit. Souvent on a recours à un vers inutile, pour en amener un bon. Fenelon to M. DE LA MOTTE. Lettres, p. 62. A Cambray, 26 Janvier, 1719.
+ Boileau. Sat. 2. v. 53.
Nay, half in hear'n except what's mighty odd
can have no flaw
And more instances might be added, if it were not disagreeable to observe these straws in amber. But if rhyme occasions such inconveniencies and improprieties in so exact a writer as our author, what can be expected from inferior versifiers ?* It is not my intention to enter into a trite and tedious discussion of the several merits of rhyme and blank verse. Perhaps rhyme may be properest for shorter pieces ; for lyric, elegiac, and satiric poems; for pieces where closeness of expression, and smartness of LS
* Our author told Mr. HARTE, that, in order to disguise his being the author of the second epistle of the Essay on Man, he made, in the first edition, the following bad rhyme :
A cheat! a whore! who starts not at the name,
And Harte remembered to have often heard it urged, in enquiries about the author, whilst he was unknown, that it was impossible it could be Pope's, on account of this very passage. Pope inserted many good lines in Harte's Essay on Reason.
* Ver. 205.