Page images
PDF
EPUB

Love of Fame the Universal Passion, by Dr. YOUNG, though mentioned under a preceding head is also entitled to a place among the best satirical productions of the age. The characters are, in general, well selected and ably drawn, the illustrations are happy, the sentiments just, the imagery correct and various, and the satire at once easy, vivacious and moral.

The satirical poetry of Dean Swift has various kinds and a high degree of poetic excellence; but delicacy is by no means one of its attributes. His wit is often extremely happy, and his ridicule just, lively, and powerful. “ His diction is correct, his numbers smooth, and his rhymes exact. There seldom occurs a laboured expression, or a redundant epithet. All his verses exemplify his own definition of a good style; they consist of proper words in proper places.' But the levity with which he frequently treats the most serious subjects is altogether unpardonable;w and the unnatural fondness which he manifests for coarse indelicacy, and for images drawn from every source of physical impurity, cannot but fill with disgust the mind of every virtuous reader.*

I know not,” says Dr. Beattie, “ whether this author is not the only human being who ever presumed to speak in ludicrous terms of the last judgment. His profane verses on that tremendous subject were not published, so far as I know, till after his death: for CHESTERFIELD's letter to VOLTAIRE, in which they are inserted, and spoken of with approbation, (which is no more than one could expect from such a critic) and said to be copied from the original in Swift's hand-writing, is dated in 1752. But this is no excuse for the author. We can guess at what was in his mind when he wrote them; and at what remained in his mind while he could have destroyed them, and would not. I mean not to insinuate that Swift was favourable to infidelity. There is good reason to believe he was not; and that, though many of his levities are inexcuseable, he could occasionally be both serious and pious. In fact, an infidel clergy. man would be such a compound of execrable impiety, and contemptible meanness, that I am unwilling to suppose there can be such a monster. The profaneness of this author I impute to his passion for ridicule, and rage of witticism; which, when they settle into a habit, and venture on liberties with what is sacred, never fail to pervert the mind, and harden the heart."

x Instances of this fault are so numerous and offensive in Swift's writings, that no further remarks are necessary either to explain or er. force the criticism.

The satires of CHURCHILL display great vigour both of thought and language; and though the boldness of their abuse, and the nature of their subjects were, in some measure, the ground of their popularity, while the author lived; yet they have certainly great strength, and possess no inconsiderable merit in their way. Vicious as was the character of the man, he knew how to expose and correct vice. The Rosciad, and the Prophecy of Famine may be regarded as the best of his poems. London, a poem in imitation of the third satire of JUVENAL, by Dr. JOHNSON, was one of the early displays of that genius which afterwards shone with such distinguished lustre, and filled so large a space in the literature of the age.

The Faust, of the celebrated GOETHE, of Germany, occupies a high place in the list of modern satirical writings. The Table Talk, the Progress of Error, and some other satirical pieces, by Cowper, in purity, humour, dignity and force, have seldom been exceeded in any language. The Baviad and Mæviad, of Mr. GIFFORD, have received much applause from some of the critics of Great-Britain. To these may be added The Pursuits of Literature, a satirical poem, published a few years ago, by an anonymous hand. In this work every friend of truth, virtue, and sound learning will find much to approve and admire. A large portion of the literary and moral opinions which it contains are doubtless entitled to the warmest approbation. But the judicious reader will also find much to condemn. The author discovers, on many occasions, a bitterness of prejudice, and a rage for satire, which frequently lead him astray, and which detract greatly both from the dignity and the value of his work. His pedantic fondness for quotation is indulged to a de, gree which disfigures his pages, and encumbers

And weakens his meaning; and after all, his notes are so much more spirited and valuable than his poetry, that the latter will seldom be read except as an introduction to the former.

Under the head of Satire falls that mock-heroic poetry, which is a species of composition almost wholly peculiar to modern times, and of which the last age has been abundantly prolific. Of this kind of poetry The Rape of the Lock, by Pope, is a specimen of first-rate excellence. In this work, novelty of imagery, fertility of invention, felicity of wit, and sweetness of versification, are combined in an exquisite degree. The Triumphs of Temper, by Mr. Hayley,

may be considered as belonging to the same class. And though far from being equal to the immortal production of Pope, it displays a degree of genius, taste, and humour highly honourable to the author.

The greater part of the poetry of a certain British satirist, who calls himself PETER PINDAR, also belongs to this class. His writings abound in humour, which, though frequently gross, indicates talents of no common grade; and in wit, which though generally eccentric, and frequently devoted to the worst purposes, manifests extent of learning and force of imagination. Aware that quaint phrases, whimsical allusions, and laughable conceits, when presented unmixed, will soon cease to please, he has taken care to infuse into

g The author of this singular work is still unknown. That he has great learning, and a comprehensive and vigorous mind, cannot be doubted; and that in prose he expresses himself with much force, vivacity, and taste, is no less evident. But I must be permitted, on many subjects, to call in question both the candour of his temper, and the rectitude of his judge ment; and as a poet, notwithstanding all the applause which has been heaped upon him, I must consider him far below the great masters among whom he affects to take his station, and with whom he has the presumption to compare himself. His work is one of those which derive their chief importance and popularity from the praise and aspersion of living characters with which they abound; and which, in a few years, must fall into obo hivion.

[ocr errors]

many of his pieces a considerable portion of sentiment and tenderness, and sometimes to elevate his reader by an unexpected stroke of the sublime.

Since the days of BUTLER many specimens of that burlesque poetry adopted by him in his Hudibrass, have been given to the public; but few of them are entitled to the praise of high excellence. Probably the most successful imitations of the Hudibrastic manner are to be found in the Alma of Prior, and the MFingal of Mr. TRUMBULL, a respectable poet of our own country. The merit of the former is so great, that Mr. Pope, with all his poetic fame, expressed a wish to have been the author of it; and the latter has been pronounced, by good judges, both in Europe and America, to be nearly equal to its great model.

M. GRESSETT, a French poet of high reputation, has shown, in his Vert-Vert, and in his Chartreuse, that between the heroic and the burlesque there is still another species of poetry, partaking in some degree of the characters of both. A kind of composition which, while it displays some of the attributes of moral and serious poetry, at the same time embraces the features of the satiric, the gay, and the refined comic, in a very pleasing degree.

About fifty years before the commencement of the century under review, began the fashion of imitating the great satirists of Rome, or adapting ancient poetry to modern characters and manners. This kind of poetical exercise has continued in vogue to the present day, and the number of those who have made trial of their genius in this way has greatly increased. Of this imitation the sa

% The real name of this writer is WALCOTT. While justice is done to his talents, which, in a certain line, are really great, his faults and vices ought not to pass without censure. His blasphemous impiety cannot be viewed by the christian without abhorrence; while the injustice and lignity displayed against private character, in many of his writings, must be regarded with cordial detestation by every honest man.

tires of HORACE, JUVENAL, and Persius, have all been the objects. And among these imitators are found the names of Pope, JOHNSON, GIFFORD, Lewis, and several other British poets.

DESCRIPTIVE POETRY.

In Descriptive poetry the last age may lay claim to the character of distinguished excellence. It not only produced more in quantity, but also much of a superior quality to that of which any preceding period can boast. The Tale of the Hermit, by Dr. PARNELL, deserves high praise for justness of sentiment, and delicacy and liveliness of colouring. The Windsor Forest of Pope also belongs to the same class, and for variety and elegance of description, and particularly for a happy interchange of the descriptive, the narrative, and the moral, possesses great merit. But the work entitled to the highest place in this department of poetry, is the Seasons, by THOMSON. This writer may be said to have created a new species of poetry. “ His mode of thinking and of expressing his thoughts is original. His blank verse is not the blank verse of Milton, or of any preceding poet. His numbers, his pauses, his diction, are of his own growth, without transcription, without imitation. He thinks in a peculiar strain; and he thinks always as a man of genius. He looks round on nature and life with the eye which nature bestow's only on a poet; the eye that distinguishes in every thing presented to its view, whatever there is on which imagination can delight to be detained; and with a mind that at once comprehends the vast, and attends to the minute. He leads us through the appearances of things as they are successively varied by the vicissitudes of the year; and imparts to us so much of his own en

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »