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Relentless Time, destroying power,
Which stone, and brass obey,
To work some new decay. In the Alexandrine, when its power was once felt, some poems, as Drayton's Polyolbion, were wholly written ; and sometimes the measures of twelve and fourteen syllables were interchanged with one another, Cowley was the first that inserted the Alexandrine at pleasure among the heroick lines of ten syllables, and from him Dryden professes to have adopted it.
The Triplet and Alexandrine are not universally approved. Swift always çensured them, and wrote some lines to ridicule them. In examining their propriety, it is to be considered that the essence of verse is regularity, and its ornament is variety. To write verse, is to dispose syllables and sounds harmonically by some known and settled rule; a rule hou ever lax enough to substitute similitude for identity, to admit change without breach of order, and to relieve the ear without disappointing it. Thus a Latin hexameter is formed from dactyls and spodees differently combined; the English heroick admits of acute or grave syllables variously disposed. The Latin never deviates into seven feet, or exceeds the number of seventeen syllables; but the English Alexandrine breaks the lawful bounds, and surprises the reader with two syllables more than he expected.
The effect of the Triplet is the same: the ear has been accustomed to expect a new rhyme in every couplet; but is on a sudden surprized with three rhymes together, to which the reader could not accommodate his voice, did he not obtain notice of the change from the braces of the Margins. Surely there is something unskilful in the necessity of such mechanical direction. !". Considering the metrical art simply as a science, and consequently excluding all casuality, we must allow that Triplets and Alexandrines, inserted by caprice, are interruptions of that constancy to which science aspires. And though the variety which they produce may very justly be desired, yet, to make our poetry exact, there ought to be some stated mode of admitting them. · But till some such regulation can be formed, I wish them still to be retained in their present state. They are sometimes convenient to the poet. Fenton was of opinion, that Dryden was too liberal, and Pope too sparing, in their use.
The rhymes of Dryden are commonly just, and he valued himself for his readiness in finding them ; but he is sometimes open to objection.
It is the common practice of our poets to end the second line with a weak or grave syllable:
Together o'er the Alps methinks we fly,
Dryden sometimes puts the weak rhymes in the first :
Laugh, all the powers that favour tyranny,
And all the standing army of the sky, Sometimes he concludes a period or paragraph with the first line of a couplet, which, though the French seem to do it without irregularity, always displeases in English poetry.
The Alexandrine, though much his favourite, is not always very diligently fabricated by him. It invariably acquires a break at the sixth syllable ; a rule which the modern French poets never violate, but which Dryden sometimes neglected :
And with paternal thunder vindicates his throne. Of Dryden's works it was said by Pope, that he could select from them “ better specimens of every mode of poetry than any other English writer “ could supply.” Perhaps no nation ever prodced a writer that enriched his language with such variety of models. To him we owe thé the improvement, perhaps the completion of our metre, the refinement of our language, and much of the correctness of our sentiments. By him we were taught sa pere & fari,” to think naturally and express forcibly. Though Davis ha's reasoned in rhyme before him, it may be perhaps maintained that he was the first who joined argument with poetry. He shiewed us the true bounds of a translator's liberty. What was said of Rome, adorned by Augustus, may be applied by an easy metaphor to English poetry embellished by Dryden, “ late“ritiam invenit, marmoream reliquit.” He found it brick, and he left it mårble.
THE invocation before the Georgicks is here inserted from Mr. Milbourne's version, that, according to his own proposal, his verses may be compared with those which he censures.
What makes the richest tilth, beneath whát signs
Whose snowy heifers on her flow'ry plains
And thou, great Cæsar! though we know not yet
Mr. DRYDEN, having received from Rymer his Remarks on the Trage dies of the last Age, wrote observations on the blank leaves ; which, having been in the possession of Mr. Garrick, are by his favour communicated to the publick, that no particle of Dryden may be lost.
“ That we may the less wonder why pity and terror are not now the only
springs on which our tragedies move, and that Shakspeare may be more ex“cused, Rapin confesses that the French tragedies now all run on the tendre; “ and gives the reason, because love is the passion which most predominates in “our souls, and that therefore the passions represented become insipid, unless
they are conformable to the thoughts of the audience. But it is to be “ concluded, that this passion works not now amongst the French so strongly
as the other two did amongst the ancients. Amongst us, who have a
stronger genius for writing, the operations from the writing are much “stronger: for the raising of Shakspeare's passions is more from theexcellency “ of the words and thoughts, than the justness of the occasion; and, if he “ has been able to pick single occasions, he has never founded the whole rea“sonably: yet, by the genius of poetry in writing, he has succeeded.
Rapin attributes more to the dictio, that is to the words and discourse of a tragedy, than Aristotle has done, who places them in the last rank of beau" ties; perhaps, only lasț in order, because they are the last product of the " design, of the disposition or connection of its parts; of the characters, of " the manners of those characters, and of the thoughts proceeding from the “ manners. Rapin's words are remarkable: 'Tis not the admirable intrigue, " the surprising events, and extraordinary incidents, that make the beauty of “ a tragedy; 'tis the discourses, when they are natural and passionate; so " are Shakspeare's. “ The parts of a poem, tragick or heroick, are,
1. The fable itself. “2. The order or example of its contrivance, in relation of the parts to the « whole.
“ 3. The manners, or decency, of the characters, in speaking or acting “what is proper for them, and proper to be shewn by the poet.
“ 4. The thoughts which express the manners. “ 5. The words which express those thoughts,
“ In the last of these, Homer excels Virgil; Virgil all other ancient poets; “ and Shakspeare all modern poets.
“ For the second of these, the order: the meaning is, that a fable ought " to have a beginning, middle, and an end, all just and natural ; so that that
part, e.g. which is the middle, could not naturally be the beginning or end, “ and so of the rest : all depend on one another, like the links of a curious, “ chain. If terror and pity are only to be raised, certainly this author fol“ lows Aristotle's rules, and Sophocles' and Euripides's example: but joy
" may be raised too, and that doubly; either by seeing a wicked man punished, " or a good man at last fortunate; or perhaps indignation, to see wickedness
prosperous, and goodness depressed: both these may be profitable to the end “ of a tragedy, reformation of manners; but the last improperly, only as it “ begets pity in the audience: though Aristotle, I confess, places tragedies of
this kind in the second form.
“He who undertakes to answer this excellent critique of Mr. Rymer, in be« half of our English poets against the Greek, ought to do it in this manner. «Either by yielding to him the greatest part of what he contends for, which “ consists in this, that the púbas, i. e. the design and conduct of it, is more “ conducing in the Greeks to those ends of tragedy, which Aristotle and he
propose, namely, to cause terror and pity : yet the granting this does not « set the Greek above the English poets.
“ But the answerer ought to prove two things : first, that the fable is not “the greatest master-piece of a tragedy, though it be the foundation of it.
Secondly, That other ends as suitable to the nature of tragedy may be “ found in the English, which were not in the Greek.
“ Aristotle places the fable first; not quoad dignitatem, sed quoad fundamentum: for a fable, ever so movingly contrived to those ends of his, pity and “ terror, will operate nothing on our affections, except the characters, man
ners, thoughts, and words, are suitable.
“ So that it remains for Mr. Rymer to prove, that in all those, or the “ greatest part of them, we are inferior to Sophocles and Euripides : and this “ he has offered at, in some measure ; but, I think, a little partially to the « ancients.
“ For the fable itself, 'tis in the English more adorned with Episodes, and “ larger than in the Greek poets ; consequently more diverting. For, “ if the action be but one, and that plain, without any counterturn of
design or episode, i. e. under plot, how can it be so pleasing as the English, “ which have both under-plot and a turned design, which keeps the audience “in expectation of the catastrophe? whereas in the Greek poets we see through " the whole design at first.
“For the characters, they are neither so many nor so various in Sophocles “ and Euripides, as in Shakspeare and Fletcher; only they are more adapted " to those ends of tragedy with Aristotle commends to us, pity and terror.
“ The manners flow from the characters, and consequently must partake “ of their advantages and disadvantages.
“ The thoughts and words, which are the fourth and fifth beauties of tra
gedy, are certainly more noble and more poetical in the English than in the “Greek, which must be proyed by comparing them, somewhat more equitably than Mr Rymer has done.