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Dryden observes thenotions of his own mind; Pope constrains his mind to his own rules of coposition. Dryden is sometimes vehement and rapid; Pope is always smoch, uniform, and gentle. Dryden's page is a natural field, rising into inqualities, and diversified by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetatior Pope's is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and levelled by the roller
Of genius, that puer which constitutes a poet; that quality without which judgment is cd, and knowledge is inert; that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, nd animates; the superiority must, with some hesitation, be allowed to)ryden. It is not to be inferred that of this poetical vigour Pope had only little, because Dryden had more ; for every other writer since Milto.. mt give place to Pope; and even of Dryden it must be said, that, if he had brhter paragraphs, he has not better poems. Dryden's performances were alvys hasty, either excited by some external occasion, or extorted by domestknecessity; he composed without consideration, and published withou correction. What his mind could supply at call, or gather in one excursis, was all that he sought, and all that he gave. The dilatory caution of Po enabled him to condense his sentiments, to multiply his images, and toecumnlate all that study might produce, or chance might supply. If the ghts of Dryden therefore are higher, Pope continues longer on the wing. lof Dryden's fire the blaze is brighter, of Pope's the heat is more regular nd constant. Dryden often surpasses expectation, and Pope never falls llow it. Dryden is read with frequent astonishment, and Pope with perpetil delight.
This parallel will, hope, when it is well considered, be found just; and if the reader should spect me, as I suspect myself, of some partial fondness for the memory of Dden, let him not too hastily condemn me; for meditation and enquiry mr; perhaps, shew him the reasonableness of my determination.
THE Works of Popare now to be distinctly examined, not so much with attention to slight faus or petty beauties, as to the general character and effect of each performace.
It seems natural for young poet to initiate himself by Pastorals, which, pot professing to iinitat real life, require no experience; and, exhibiting only the simple operatio of unmingled passions, admit no subtle reasoning or deep enquiry. Pope's pstorals are not however composed but with close thought; they have refeence to the times of the day, the seasons of the year, arzd the periods of uman life. The last, that which turns the attention upon age and death, vas the author's favourite. To tell of disappointment and misery, to thicken the darkness of futurity, and perplex the labyrinth of uncertainty, hasbeen always a delicious employment of the poets. His preference was probably just. I wish, however, that his fondness had not overlooked a line in which the Zephyrs are made to lament in silence.
To charge these pastorals with want of invention, is to require what was never intended. The imitations are so ambitiously frequent, that the writer evidentiy means rather to shew his literature than his wit. It is surely sufficient for an author of sixteen not only to be able to copy the poems of antiquity with judicious selection, but to have obtained sufficient power of language, and skill in metre, to exhibit a series of versification, which had in English poetry no precedent, nor has since had an imitation.
The design of “Windsor Forest” is evidently designed from “ Cooper's
Hill,” with some attention to Waller's poem on “ The Park;” but Pope cannot be denied to excel his masters in variety and elegance, and the art of interchanging description, narrative, and morality. The objection made by Dennis is the want of plan, of a regular subordination of parts terminating in the principal and original design. There is this want in nost descriptive poems, because as the scenes, which they must exhibit successively, are all subsisting at the same time, the order in which they are shewn, must by necessity be arbitrary, and more is not to be expected from the last part than from the first. The attention, therefore, which cannot be detained by suspence, must be excited by diversity, such as his poem offers to its reader.
But the desire of diversity may be too much indulged; the parts of i Windsor Forest” which deserves least praise are those which were added to enliven the stillness of the scene, the appearance of Father Thaines, and the transforination of Lodona. Addison had in his “ Campaign” derided the Rivers that “rise from their oozy beds” to tell stories of heroes; and it is therefore strange that Pope should adopt a fiction not only unnatural, but lately censured. The story of Lodona is told with sweetness; but a new metamorphosis is a ready and puerile expedient; nothing is easier than to tell how a Hower was once a blooming virgin, or a rock an obdurate tyrant.
The “ Temple of Fame” has, as Steele warmly declared, “ a thousand beauties.” Every part is splendid; there is great luxuriance of ornaments; the original vision of Chaucer was never denied to be much improved, the allegory is very skilfully continued, the imagery is properly selecied, and learnedly displayed: yet, with all this comprehension of excellence, as its scene is laid in remote ages, and its sentiments, if the concluding paragraph be excepted, have little relation to general manners or common lise, it never obtained much notice, but is turned silently over, and seldom quoted or mentioned with either praise or blame.
That the “ Messiah" excels the « Pollio" is no great praise, if it be considered from what original the improvements are derived.
The “ Verses on the Unfortunate Lady" have drawn much attention by the illaudable singularity of treating suicide with respect; and they must be
allowed to be written in some parts with vigorous animation, and in others with gentle tenderness; nor has Pope produced any poem in which the sense predominates more over the diction. But the tale is not skilfully told; it is not easy to discover the character of either the Lady or her Guardian. History relates that she was about to disparage herself by a marriage with an inferior; Pope praises her for the dignity of ambition, and yet condemns the uncle to detestation for his pride ; the ambitious love of a niece may be opposed by the interest, malice, or envy of an uncle, but never by his pride. On such an occasion a poet may be allowed to be obscure, but inconsistency never can be right*.
The “Ode for St. Cecilia's Day" was undertaken at the desire of Steele: in this the author is generally confessed to have 'miscarried, yet he has miscarried only as compared with Dryden; for he has far outgone other com. petitors. Dryden's plan is better chosen; history will always take stronger hold of the attention than fable; the passions excited by Dryden are the pleasures and pains of real life, the scene of Pope is laid in imaginary existence; Pope is read with calm acquiescence, Dryden with turbulent delight; Pope hangs upon the ear, and Dryden finds the passes of the mind.
Both the odes want the essential constituent of metrical.compositions the stated recurrence of settled numbers. It may be alledged, that Pindar is said by Horace to have written numeris lege solutis ; but as no such lax performances have been transmitted to us, the nieaning of that expression cannot be fixed : and perhaps the like return might properly be made to a modern Pindarist, as Mr. Cobb received from Bentley, who, when he found his Criticisms upon a Greek Exercise, which Cobb had presented, refuted one after another by Pindar's authority, cried out at last, “ Pindar was a bold fellow, but thou art an impudent one."
If Pope's ode be particularly inspected, it will be found that the first Stanza consists of sounds well chosen indeed, but only sounds.
The second consists of hyperbolical common-places, easily to be found, and perhaps without much difficulty to be as well expressed.
In the third, however, there are numbers, images, harmony, and vigour, not unworthy the antagonist of Dryden. Had all been like this—but every part cannot be the best.
• The account herein before given of this Lady and her catastrophe, cited by Johnson from Ruffhead with a kind of acquiescence in the truth thereof, seems no other than might have been cxtracted from the verses themselves. I have in my possession a letter to Dr. Johnson, containing the name of the Lady, and a reference to a gentleman well known in the literary world for her history. Him I have seen; and from a memorandum of some particulars to the purpose communicated to him by a lady of quality, he informs me, that the unfortunate lady's name was Withonbury, corruptly pronounced Winbury; that she was in love with Pope, and would have married him; that her guardian, though she was deformed in her person, looking upon such a match as beneath her, sent her to a convent, and that a noose, and not a sword, put an end to her life.' H,
The next stanzas place and detain us in the dark and dismal regions of mythology, where neither hope nor fear, neither joy nor sorrow, can be found: the poet however faithfully attends us; we have all that can be pera) formed by elegance of diction, or sweetness of versification, but what can form avail without better matter?
The last stanza recurs again to cominon-places. The conclusion is too' evidently modelled by that of Dryden; and it may be remarked that both end with the same fault; the comparison of each is literal on one side, and metaphorical on the other.,
Poets do not always express their own thoughts: Pope, with all this labour in the praise of Musick, was ignorant of its principles, and insensible of its effects.
One of his greatest though of his earliest works, is the “ Essay on Criti- : “cism,” which, if he had written nothing else, would have placed him among the first criticks and the first poets, as it exhibits every mode of excellence that can embellish or dignify didactick composition, selection of matter, novelty of arrangement, justness of precept, splendour of illustration, and propriety of digression. I know not whether it be pleasing to consider that he produced this piece at twenty, and never afterwards ex-" celled it; he that delights himself with observing that such powers may be · soon attained, cannot but grieve to think that life was ever after at a stand.
To-mention the particular beauties of the Essay would be unprofitably tedious; but I cannot forbear to observe, that the comparison of a student's progress in the sciences with the journey of a traveller in the Alps, is perhaps the best that English poetry can shew. A similie, to be perfect, mụst both illustrate and ennoble the subject; must shew.it to the understanding in a clearer view, and display it to the fancy with greater dignity : but. either of these qualities may be sufficient to recommend it. In didactick poetry, of which the great purpose is instruction, a simile may be praised which illustrates, though it does not ennoble; in heroicks, that may be admitted which ennobles, though it does not illụstrate. That it may be complete, it is required to exhibit, independently of its references, a pleasing image; for a simile is said to be a short episode. To this antiquity was so attentive, that circumstances were sometimes added, which, having no parallels, served only to fill the imagination, and produced what Perrault ludicrously called “comparisons with a long tail.” In their similies the greatest writers have sometimes failed; the ship-race, compared with the chariotrace, is neither illustrated nor aggrandised; land and water make all the difference : when Apollo, running after Daphne, is likened to a greyhound chasing a hare, there is nothing gained; the ideas of pursuit and flight are too plain to be made plainer; and a god and the daughter of a god are not represented much to their advantage by a hare and dog. The simile of the 4 C 2
Alps has no useless parts, yet affords a striking picture by itself; it makes the foregoing position better understood, and enables it to take faster hold on the attention; it assists the apprehension, and elevates the fancy.
Let me likewise dwell a little on the celebrated paragraph, in which it is directed that the “ sound should seem an echo to the sense;" a precept which Pope is allowed to have observed beyond any other English poet.
This notion of representative metre, and the desire of discovering frequent adaptations of the sound to the sense, have produced, in my opinion, many wild conceits and imaginary beauties. All that can furnish this representation are the sounds of the words considered singly, and the time in which they are pronounced. Every language has some words framed to exhibit the noises which they express, as thump, rattle, growl, hiss. These however are but few, and the poet cannot make them more, nor can they be of any use but when sound is to be mentioned. The time of pronunciation was in the dactylyck measures of the learned languages capable of considerable variety; but that variety could be accommodated only to motion or daration, and different degrees of motion were perhaps expressed by verses rapid or slow, without much attention of the writer, when the image had full possession of his fancy; but our language having little flexibility, our verses can differ very little in their cadence. The fancied resemblances, I fear, arise sometimes merely from the ambiguity of words ; there is supposed to be some relation between a soft line and soft couch, or between hard syllables and hard fortune.
Motion however, may be in some sort exemplified; and yet it may be suspected that in such resemblances the mind often governs the ear, and the sounds are estimated by their meaning. One of their most successful attempts has been to describe the labour of Sisyphus :
With many a weary step, and many a groan,
The huge round stone, resulting with a bound,,
Thunders impetuous down, and smoaks along the ground. Who does not perceive the stone to move slowly upward, and roll violently back? But set the same numbers to another sense.
While many a merry tale, and many a song,
The rough road then, returning in a round,
Mock'd our impatient steps, for all was fairy ground. We have now surely lost much of the delay, and much of the rapidity.
But, to shew how little the greatest master of numbers can fix the principles of representative harmony, it will be sufficient to remark that the poet who tells us, that