To speak in metaphor, or simile, we are now arrived at a rich, highly cultivated, and beautiful territory of the muses. The region of Spenser was under the government of a luxuriant, and creative fancy; and its inhabitants; its edifices; its culture, and productions were characteristick of the genius of their master. This fairy-land, however, had its monstrous buildings; and its dark, and uncomfortable walks. — The kingdom of Shakespeare proclaimed the various, excursive, and astonishing mind of the great magician by whom its sceptre was swayed. You had, there, a full display of the operations of the gentle, and the violent passions; in all the stations, and situations, of human life: — you had, there, landscapes the most delightful; the serenity, and the peace of nature; — and you had the war of the elements; the whirlwinds of the earth; and the tumult of the skies. You had new, and strange, but interesting beings, by himself created. While you were in the boundless realms of Milton, you were under the influence of a more potent one of the magi. All the powers of the poet were at his command; he could melt you with elegy; he could charm you with description; he could ravish, and transport you into sentiments above those of mortality; with a sublimity, to which he soared, alone. The sallies, and atchievements of his soul were as boundless, and as awful, as the space which they pervaded. To him were pervious the anarchy, and uproar of chaos; his muse opened the adamantine gates of Erebus; and sailed, with steady pinions, "over the burning marle." She ascended with the rebel angels, and sung the exploits of the host of Heaven, in numbers worthy of its wars. She even described creation in strains which reflected the energy of Omnipotence. — From these heights it could not be unpleasing to us to descend; it could not be unpleasing to us to take our breath, in the domains of Dryden; which were more congenial with the general current of mortal minds; — extensive domains, which presented to our view an ample variety of hill, and dale; of heath, and lawn; of romantick vales, and luxuriant vegetation. Contiguous to this ground, lie the Elisian Fields of Pope; on which we are now going to enter, where we shall meet with every object that can soothe, and charm the mind; with every object that can excite its finest emotions; its noblest agitations. Here the judgement; the taste; the spirit of a great master, speaks, with united force, to your reason; to your sentiments; to your best affections; to your sublimest passions. Here is plan, and system, directing boldness, and fire, with an easy, happy, imperceptible controul.
Here you enjoy an exuberant variety; where all the objects give expression to one another; you powerfully feel the effect; but the design is not obtruded on you. You are not viewing some boasted prospect of Merionethshire or Caledonia; where the sterile predominates over the fruitful; and the wild, and rugand encroach on the beautiful, and the grand. No: — you are surveying the elegant; the glowing; the majestick diversity of Monmouth; of Pierce-field; or of Abergavenny: — whatever can delight the fancy, salutes the eye; the romantick view of cottages, villas, and venerable ruins, enliven, and dignify the scene; the Uske, or the Wye, wind round our hearts while they embrace the enchanting ground; the vale breathes odours; and the adjacent hills, and mountains, are so blooming with verdure, to their summits; that in the strong language of oriental personification, "they laugh and sing."
In every country, the arts, and sciences receive all their possible improvements, by degrees; arrive, in the beautiful, and the grand, as near to perfection, as the attainments of human nature will admit. The smaller any improvement is, the less vigorous hath been the mind by which it was made. And though the improvements to which I allude, may, in general be termed, the externals; the mechanism, as it were, of the arts and sciences; or, at most, the ornamental, and corroborating additions, which naturally, and apparently, spontaneously, grow out of their main stock, and substance; yet they are always indebted, for their prominent, and striking augmentations, and embellishments; to the judgement; to the taste; and to the force of genius. It has, indeed, sometimes fallen out, in the world, that the most astonishing progress has been made by a few great cotemporary men; or by one great man; such men have succeeded races of dwarfs; and have left nothing but dwarfs behind them. I flatter myself that this observation is very strongly verified, though not without exceptions (for what general observation is without them?) by the example of the eminent Italian writers, after the revival of letters; by the example of Peter the Great, in the royal, and imperial catalogue; of Newton, in the mathematical, and of Pope, in the poetical world, it is true, our poetical language, and our versification; indispensable constituents of all excellent poetry, had been marked, and distinguished, with epochas of improvement, before we were delighted with the harmonious soul of Pope; "Waller was smooth;" as the great poet says, to whom I wish that I could do justice; he softened the negligence, and ruggedness of our verse; he had not energy of mind to do more material service to our poetry. Immediately next to him, succeeded Dryden; a giant, in poetical dignity, and vigour. He gave to our poetry, a strength, an ardour; and a majestick flow, which were unknown before. The life of Pope was the aera of the perfection of English poetry. His generous heart often expressed a gratitude; a veneration; a filial kind of piety, to Dryden; his poetical father; which were similar to the sentiments which he felt for his natural, and worthy parents. He owed much to Dryden; but he owed more to himself. I may venture to think, that, on the whole, in fire, and force of genius, he was equal to Dryden; for even Johnson himself, the too complaisant panegyrist of Dr. Warton, in comparing the respective excellences of the two poets, gives the palm to Dryden, with hesitation. In natural elegance of mind and in taste, Pope was far the superiour poet. His judicious reading; his judicious thinking; and their practical consequences, at very early youth; are almost, if not altogether, without example. At the age of fourteen, he wrote English poetry with great energy; but so improved, and refined, as we might have supposed that it would have been, by inferiour poetical talents, in a century, from the days of his great master. When he was twenty years old, he showed that his reading, and reflexion, were only excelled by his genius. The accomplished scholar, and the masterly critick, came forth, at that age. The literary wisdom of Aristotle, of Longinus; of Quintilian; of Vida; and of himself, were combined, in well-arranged, and eloquent association:-poetical order, and harmony, and beauty, ratified; riveted the oracles of those different sages, in the heart and fancy.
Great talents, when they are contending against any unfortunate circumstances, cannot exert all their powers; and consequently, cannot earn all their glory. But when they have fair play, from fortune; from the world; and from themselves, they move regularly, yet rapidly, in their proper orbit; and shine with all their splendour. Great allowances will be made by every discerning, and humane critick, for the inequalities, and faults of Dryden. They are partly to be ascribed to his distresses; and consequently, to the negligence, and haste with which he must have written; and partly to the gross, and comparatively barbarous times of Charles the Second. If we except two very important evils, an unhappy frame, and a sickly constitution; Pope had much to support, and stimulate him, as a poet. He was born, and bred in easy circumstances; and he had the honour to improve them to affluence, by the exertions of his genius. Statesmen, who were far more illustrious, from their intellectual endowments, than from their titles, and high offices, were proud to be his companions, and his friends. He enjoyed a plenitude of fame; the applause of the liberal, and truly great; the clamours of the dull; the envious, and the malignant. He was the idol of the good; and the terrour of the worthless.
His external poetical aids, and inspirers, various, and active as they. were, were, at least, equalled by the strength, and fertility, of those internal faculties, which were inherent, and innate. He had the fervour, the copiousness; the flow; the rapidity of Dryden: but these glorious qualities were tempered, in Pope, with a rigorous attention; with a supreme elegance, and taste; with a tender, and pathetick nature; with a delicacy of soul; which Dryden, either wanted, or despised. There is nothing feeble; nothing superfluous, in the poetry of Pope; all is compressed; all is clear; all is polished; and it flames like the spear of Achilles. — He takes our hearts with a charming ambush; or his lines are arranged; they are marshalled for victory; he assails us with sentiments; with images; in firm, and splendid array. With his hereditary, natural, and acquired advantages, with his heroick forces, and with his consummate conduct; what was not to be expected; and what was not effected; what was not atchieved, by this poetical Alexander?
This gradual improvement of the vehicles, and ornaments, as I may call them, of the true spirit of our English poetry, which was completed; which was wrought up to its utmost possible lustre, and refinement, by Pope, has thrown innumerable succeeding writers into an errour, oppressive to the public; and, I should suppose, in the end, injurious to themselves. The very cultivated state of our language, and versification, has enabled any man of common sense mechanically to make verses. Hence, it is hastily concluded by the vain writers, and their superficial admirers, that in the smooth, or sonorous lines, not a particle of which rises to the spirit of poetry, that spirit is conveyed. They begin even to slight, or to pervert an advantage, of which they might avail themselves; that of elegant and classical language. Most of our present writers in verse, and prose, (and very many of both adventurers are continually pouring in upon us) vitiate, and corrupt their style with affected, nay, with ungrammatical phraseology; with what Johnson, using an expression as barbarous as any one of their own, would have termed the cant of newspapers; of fashion; nay even of parliamentary eloquence. Pope, in his remarks on Homer, asserts that, "our language is more susceptible of all the variety, and power of numbers than any of the modern; and second to none but the, Greek, and Roman." Cordially, and, I hope, without prejudice, I adopt this opinion. It is to be regretted that any degeneracy should weaken, and deform such a language: but it is to be feared, that our numerous Goths will prevail over our few Athenians. It is surprising what flimsy, what absurd productions, will take a short lived, but unmerited value, from the fortune; and from the situation, and connexions, of the authour. Here is another powerful source of deception to the writer, and to a dissipated, and credulous world: — "A world," says Pope, "who decide so often, and who examine so seldom; a world, who even in matters of literature, are almost, always, the slaves of authority." — Postscript to the Odyssey. — Should not I affront your good sense, if I presumed to give you reasons why this observation is far more applicable to the present times than to those in which our poet lived?
The sentiments which I have now ventured to communicate to you, bring to my recollection some verses of Pope. They illustrate, and enforce my observations; and I should suppose that the citation of them will not be altogether unentertaining.
He served a prenticeship who sets up shop;
Ward tried on puppies, and the poor, his drop.
Even Radcliff's doctors travel first to France;
Nor dare to practise till they've learned to dance.
Who builds a bridge that never drove a pile?
Should Ripley venture, all the world would smile.
But those who cannot write, and those who can,
All rhyme, and scrawl, and scribble, to a man.
Imitation of the Epistle to Augustus. v. 181.
In his Essay on Criticism, he observes that—
Some ne'er advance a judgement of their own;
But catch the spreading notion of the town.
They reason, and conclude, by precedent;
And own stale nonsense, which they ne'er invent.
Some judge of authours' names, not works; and then,
Not praise, nor blame, the writings, but the men.
Of all this servile herd, the worst is he
That, in proud dullness, joins with quality;
A constant critick at the great man's board,
To fetch, and carry nonsense for my lord.
What woeful stuff this madrigal would be,
In some starved, hackney sonnetteer, or me!
But let a lord once own the happy lines;
How the wit brightens; how the style refines!
Before his sacred name flies every fault;
And each exalted stanza teems with thought.
Essay on Criticism. v. 405.
Give me leave, by another quotation from our immortal poet, to contrast these criticks, and these poetasters:—
In vain bad rhymers all mankind reject;
They treat themselves with most profound respect:
'Tis to small purpose that you hold your tongue;
Each, praised within, is happy all day long.
But how severely with themselves proceed
The men who write such verse as we can read!
Their own strict judges, not a word they spare,
That wants or force, or light; or weight; or care;
Howe'er unwillingly it quits its place;
Nay, though at court, perhaps it may find grace.
Such they'll degrade; and sometimes, in its stead,
In downright charity, revive the dead;
Mark where a bold, expressive phrase appears;
Bright, through the rubbish of some hundred years;
Command old words, that long have slept, to wake;
Words that wise Bacon, or brave Raleigh spake;
Or, bid the new be English, ages hence;
(For use will father what's begot by sense;)
Pour the full tide of eloquence along;
Serenely pure; and yet divinely strong;
Rich with the treasures of each foreign tongue:
Prune the luxuriant; the uncouth refine;
But show no mercy to an empty line:
Then polish all with so much life, and ease,
You think 'tis nature, and a knack to please;
But ease in writing flows from art, not chance;
As those move easiest, who have learned to dance.
Imitation of the Epistle to Augustus. v. 153.
This is, to a certain degree, a deviation from the great object of my Lecture: but you will forgive it, if its tendency is evidently useful. It cannot be without its use; if it can but break through the mist of prejudices, and self-love. It would be my ambition to contribute, with however small a power, to restore a true, and impartial taste for poetry, among us; and consequently, to call forth, and stimulate; and properly protect, and respect, manly, and genuine poetical genius. When at any time, this great luminary shall shine, with all its native splendour, our little twinkling artificial stars will necessarily hide their diminished heads. But whatever may be the future fortune of English poetry, it is, I hope, enjoying an allowable pleasure, to throw out all that is in the mind, on subjects which afford a moral information; an elegant and interesting entertainment to our country. This satisfaction you will the more cheerfully grant me, when I assure you that what I have been advancing, was not at all dictated by any resentment, or asperity; but by a strong sense of momentous, and salutary truth. I have long practised (whenever I was maintaining a good cause) an unpopular openness of disposition; and I will practise it to the end. I foresee, with a merited contempt, many pedagogical, pedantick, and reviewing ferulas brandished before me; but surely the iron rod of the statesman is not yet impending over our literary freedom.
It is a pleasure to a feeling mind to pay its ingenuous homage to the great departed; to commemorate, and compare, congenial, though different excellence. Exactly such an aera as Pope made in the poetical, Garrick made in the theatrical world. He formed the art of playing, from fatiguing monotony; from absurd emphasis; from violent, and disgusting declamation; to a temperate, and proper elocution; flexibly, and accurately varied., as the occasion required; to a most expressive energy; to that fine enthusiasm in acting, which was the chaste, and happy personified counterpart of his poet. His guides were, Nature; and his full, and true sympathy with her laws. He was not only the inspiring genius, but the guardian of the stage; he repelled from it the rubbish with which it is now infested. Analogous were the conduct, and the atchievements of Pope, in his nobler, and more august deportment. Instead of feeble, uncouth, and harsh versification; instead of conceited, and forced antithesis; a false brilliancy; a turgid, and empty diction; a metaphysical perplexity, with which, if we make a few glorious exceptions; our lovers of poetry had been long persecuted; he gave us the mellifluous harmony of numbers; a corresponding flow of reason; of sentiment, and of passion; — he "turned the tuneful art" — from sounds to things; from fancy to the "heart." — He was our great moral poet; he excited in us the finest, and the sublimest emotions of our nature; he worked up in our bosoms, with his flame of electricity, an irresistible, and ardent sense of all our duties, social; civil; patriotick, and celestial. Our illustrious poet, and our unrivalled actor, were both (to speak in the language of the former) "correct with spirit;" they were "full, without a fault." Their correctness was never tedious; for it was in perfect unison with nature. They were both, "without o'erflowing, full;" for they never trespassed the bounds of the same nature; whom they constantly worshipped, with a right devotion. A great part of the substance of my present eulogy on Pope, in which I have collaterally payed a sincere tribute to the memory of Mr. Garrick, was given to our poet, in French verse, by Voltaire; who classes him far before his countryman, Boileau. This just, and honourable treatment of Pope is very remarkable, from a writer who was extremely prejudiced in favour of the literature of his country; and who, as a Frenchman, could know very little of poetry. Dr. Warton ought to have known better; who sinks Pope to a level with Boileau; not much to the credit of his discernment, as a critick; nor of his generosity as an Englishman.
In comparing, and estimating different poets of the first class, we ought to observe something like mathematical justice; we ought to weigh the whole aggregate of their respective merits. In making our comparative estimates, with this justice to Pope, we should find in him so many, and so apparently incompatible excellencies, that we should deem the possible, and eternal privation of his works as great a single loss as could happen to the republick of letters. Of what a melancholy, and irreparable chasm, among the poetical monuments of England, would feeling hearts be sensible, if the Abelard to Eloisa could be lost! This poem is quite unrivalled, in the ancient, and in the modern world. It consists of three hundred, and sixty six lines; and every line is superlatively elegant; harmonious, and pathetick. This observation is not applicable to any other poem of such a length; but this is not its only glorious singularity; the hopes; the fears; the wishes; the regrets; the descriptions; the raptures, and the agonies of love, were never so naturally, and forcibly impressed on the soul, by any other eloquence; if we except that of Rousseau. And yet this man, who had the command of all the interesting motions of the human heart, was pronounced by Dr. Warton, when he meant to give us his ruling, and essential characteristick, a didactick poet.
The productions of our divine poet have met with a fortune rather uncommon. They were unaffectedly, and warmly admired, while he lived, by a Congreve, an Atterbury, an Oxford, a Bolingbroke, and a Swift. His countrymen, in general, ardently corroborated these honourable testimonies; and by the cry of a Dennis, a Theobald, and their pack; the truth received an additional confirmation. All this is in order, all this is regular, and usual fame; it is in the established oeconomy of nature. But long after his death, it has been his poetical doom, to acquire an unusual, and eccentrical species of glory. Grave, and phlegmatick pedagogues, with an ostentatious and futile display of heavy learning, have profanely endeavoured to drag him from his high station on Parnassus, and to depress him down to the middle region of that holy mountain. Beings yet more contemptible, and more flippant have not merely pined with malice against his departed greatness; have not confined themselves to a sullen disapprobation; but they have thrown on his writings, and on his genius, torrents of abuse, and scurrility. Yet one would have thought that agreeably to the history of man, they might have been more temperate in their impotent wrath. For the presence, in this world, of one of the first of poets, no longer annoyed them. How expanded; how ardent must have been the rays of this meridian sun! — Since, even after they had sunk beneath our hemisphere, they shot a restless, and feverish heat into cold, and heavy bodies! — Since they even warmed, and illumined, the dark, and murky cave of envy; uncurled, and inflamed the snakes of the daemon; and raised a conflagration in her breast! we find, therefore, that the thought which Pope has taken, and improved, from Horace, is not applicable to himself:
All human virtue, to its latest breath,
Finds Envy never conquered, but by Death.
The great Alcides, every labour past,
Had still this monster to subdue, at last.
Sure fate of all, beneath whose rising ray
Each star of meaner merit fades away!
Oppressed, we feel the beam directly beat
These suns of glory please not till they set.
Imitation of the Epistle to Augustus. v. 15,
If Pope knows what is now transacting upon earth; and if he is not yet indifferent to poetical renown; he must be assured that his laurels will ultimately acquire a brighter verdure by the momentary, profanation which they suffer from the hands of dull pedants, transitory criticks; and illiterate poetasters.
I shall here beg your permission to quote a passage from a little book which I published many years ago, entitled, "An Inquiry into the Nature, and Genuine Laws of Poetry; including a particular defence of the writings, and genius of Mr. Pope." It was occasioned by Dr. Warton's Essay on this interesting subject. I hope that you will not think me arrogant, or ostentatious, if, at your tribunal, I endeavour to do some literary justice to myself, by communicating to you a curious, but rather mortifying anecdote. Dr. Johnson read the little book to which I refer, with more pleasure than I surely deserved from him, whose critical severity exceeded that of the Stagyrite. He afterwards gave me his promise that he would make a particular and honourable mention of my treatise, when he wrote the life of Pope. That promise, however, he sacrificed, with the unfortunate authour to whom it was made, to his unjust prejudices in favour of Dr. Warton. Thus he negatively, and ungenerously, damned what, I doubt not, was positively damned by a skulking nest of hornets, who are always able, but for a very short season, to save themselves from eternal death, and oblivion. But I would fain flatter myself, that the company whom I have now the honour to address, will, one day, be better acquainted with that vindication of Pope, from which, in the course of this Lecture, I shall, probably cite some passages; not from vanity; not from indolence; but because I shall think them as pertinent to the paragraphs with which they may be connected, as any topicks, or arguments that I could advance. I shall always publickly, and impartially, speak, and write of Johnson, as I should speak, or write of him, were he now living. They who know me best, will least doubt of the sincerity of this declaration. And my long, and obstinate adversity, as an authour, shall never make me cease to use my best efforts for literary reputation: therefore, it is not improbable, that, if I deserve it, it will sooner or later be established; above the power of malice. I am sure that you have liberality to pardon this digression.
I was speaking of ungenerous attacks, which, in later years, have been made on the genius of Pope. Relatively to them, there is the following passage in my book which I have mentioned. — "It is somewhat surprizing, that in an age of taste, and refinement, your men of mere erudition; your mechanical criticks, have presumed to publish their illiberal, and stupid remarks, on this great, and beautiful poet. That the systems of Newton, and Locke, are, in many parts, disputed, opposed, and rejected, are not extraordinary changes in the republick of knowledge; because the abilities of those great men were exerted on objects which will ever be controvertible; on the primary laws of matter, and of mind; which act in the remote, and deep recesses of nature. But that Pope should be attacked openly, and in form, by envy; or by those who assume consequence from mere learning, and singularity, after his glory had been thoroughly established by the admiration of his countrymen; and before luxury, and venality had ushered into England, another age of barbarism; are circumstances rather new, and capricious, in the posthumous fate of an illustrious poet. One would have thought that his fame would have been permanent, and sacred.; for he acquired it not by metaphysical subtleties; nor by deducing certain consequences from uncertain principles; but by addressing the common sense; the common feelings; the strong, and the noble sentiments of mankind." — Pages 3d. 4th.
Perhaps no great poet has been so severely accused of plagiarism as Pope. But I know not any poet who has written as much, to whom the charge is less applicable. The truth is, that writers, who are conscious of the vigour, and variety of their own minds, disdain to guard every little pass, through which a critick may creep; and with a noble negligence, leave him unobstructed avenues, for the exposure of his vanity; his dullness, and his erudition. The true poet sometimes takes from whatever he knows, that which will be happily pertinent to his present purpose; and which is sure to be improved by his hand, with force, and beauty. He means not pusillanimously to steal; therefore he fears not to be detected. He who takes a guinea, and returns a diamond, cannot, honestly be pronounced a thief. I wish that I could, by fair, and cogent reasoning, repell the rude onsets of the critical race; and crush the triumphs of those pigmy warriours. They who accuse Pope of plagiarism, may, with at least, equal justice bring the same accusation against his great predecessours, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden (if they are properly acquainted with their writings) on whom the palm of originality is more frankly bestowed. I can evince the truth of what I am asserting, from Shakespeare. It is, or ought to be, well, and generally known, that he inserted in his plays whole passages, whole speeches; — I may say whole pages, from the Greek, and Roman historians; and from the old English, and Italian tales, on which he founded his dramatick fables. Yet our ears are stunned with the plagiarisms of Pope. They are seldom or never wounded with the plagiarisms of Shakespeare. Because it is erroneously, I may venture to say, ignorantly supposed, that foreign aid was necessary to Pope; that he possessed not, like the other great men whom I have mentioned, a fervid, and expansive soul.
When I formerly vindicated Mr. Pope from Dr. Warton's disparagements of his poetical character, I thus addressed the Doctor. — "It may be objected by you, as it has been objected by other criticks, that Mr. Pope, in his capital amorous poem, is much indebted to Eloisa's Letters, for sentiment; for description; and energy. I deny the charge. By far the greater part of his Epistle to Abelard; its finest, and its noblest passages, are totally the productions of his own genius. She gives him, indeed, a few good hints; and as they are applied, enlarged, and embellished by the poet, they deserve not a stronger, and more extensive name. The stem of his generous, and luxurious thought, is, in two or three places, transplanted from the garden of Eloisa; but on that stem, Pope has ingrafted all its beauty, and glory; its diffusive, and romantick branches; the bright verdure of its foliage; the orient hues, and aromatick fragrance of its blossoms. His apposite use of a short combination of ideas, which another authour had formed; the augmentation, and lustre, with which it was adorned by him; and the nervous, and genial strains that flowed entirely from his own source; prove that he never adopted any sentiments from a poverty of imagination." — Pages 72, 73.
Permit me to give you another citation from my book on Pope, on this important poetical topick.
"The true poetical genius is a being of a different order." [from the cold, and dull plagiarist whom I had just described.] Penetration, and inquiry; fervour, and excursion, are his properties, and his pleasures. He takes nothing upon trust; he thinks for himself; and he thinks acutely, comprehensively, and accurately. Proportionably to his reasoning faculties are his feelings. While common mortals are but slightly affected with the beautiful, and the great objects of sense, and sentiment; they find instantaneous, admission to the innermost recesses of his plastick soul; and are blended with its essence. He prosecutes his literary exertions, as well as the enterprizes of his muse, with his constitutional ardour. He mollifies, and subdues the asperities of learning; he incorporates, and harmonizes it with his own thoughts. He acquires from books, and from his converse with the world, those ideas, and that imagery, which are selected by judgement, and adopted by fancy. He confines them not to the dreary limbo of inactive remembrance; that confused receptacle, in dunces, of the trivial, and the severe; of the elegant, and the grand. The just, and animated forms of the true; the fair; and the noble, expatiate, and wanton, and love to reside in his bright, and congenial mind; where they compleatly reflect their originals. Hence, the knowledge which he has gained from study; from observation; and from his intercourse with society, must be such as will be most instructive, entertaining, and interesting, to himself, and to mankind. And hence, as he has been long impressed with a great variety of poetical objects, a thought that has been anticipated by another poet, with whom he is conversant, may mix with the effusions of his own imagination; and he may be unconscious of its authour. Nor will it be surprising if, in some instances, men of a similar genius, naturally, and from their own mental fund, think, feel, and express themselves, in the same manner, on the same subjects. In each case, an arrogant critick, insatiable of reading, and remembering, will rashly, and presumptuously charge the later poet with plagiarism; to make a parade of his erudition; to enjoy a puny triumph. When the writer whom I am describing, takes a thought from his literary store, he applies it with a modest reserve to its authour's property; but he applies it without any fear. He is not anxious that the obligation should be concealed; for he works it into his poem, because it is extremely pertinent, and will have a most happy effect where he inserts it; and he is conscious that it will receive considerable advantages from the fire, or the polish; or from the fertility of his muse. He will breathe into it more spirit; or he will adorn it with more beauty; or he will extend it with a rich, and magnificent amplification. He is conscious too, that it will be evident from the whole composition, and from other proofs of his poetical powers, that he accepted not his little transient aid from a debility, or lassitude of genius."
"It was thus that Pope was entitled to borrow; and it is thus that he acquits himself, when he sometimes borrows from an ancient, or a modern authour. He always varies, or beautifies; he raises or aggrandizes, his adopted sentiment. He resembles, in one striking particular, the foolish Midas of poetical fable; whatever common metal he touches, he converts it into gold. In general, he works his prodigies, his 'speciosa miracula,' by the native impulse, and operation, of his own genius. I may mount my climax higher, and yet not deface it with the pompous insignificance, and falsehood of bombast. I may safely add, that his eye often rolls in a fine frenzy; — with the creative lightning of invention.
Darteth from Heaven to earth; from earth to Heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, our poet's pen
Turns them to shape; and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation, and a name.
But if he sometimes takes the suggestion of a preceding writer for his basis; from that basis, our poetical Archimedes plays his machinery, and moves the world.
"They, who, to restrain poets from plagiarism, would prohibit them from a judicious and moderate application of some striking, and expressive sentiments which they recollect, from books, and conversation, may, for the same reason, dispute their indispensable privilege to copy from the ample, and inexhaustible page of Nature. They may as well forbid them to paint the rose; to personify the zephyr; to describe the limpid, and meandering river; or the sounding, and impetuous cataract. They may as well prohibit them the use of sensation and reflection. They may as well insist that their poetry should be fraught with images which have no relation to material objects; or to the human passions, and conduct, and yet entertain mankind; that in the true poet, capacity, and knowledge, are the same endowments; archetypes, and resemblances, the same things; — that, in short, he makes a various, and interesting world from non-entity." — Pages 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85 86, 87. * * * "On such a poet I doubt not but the most fastidious hypercritick would confer the palm of originality, and invention; of which properties, Dr. Warton's ideas are, to me, almost as incomprehensible as the chimaera whom I have now exhibited. And such a poet, as the doctrine of innate ideas has been, long ago, exploded, would be infinitely more than a maker, in the temperate signification of the Greek name; he would be an absolute creator, in Dr. Warton's conception, and language; for he would make a universe out of nothing; he would rival the omnipotence of the Deity." — Pages 87, 88.
It seems to have been taken for granted (for no true critick will ever think of proving it) that Pope was a plagiarist; because it was supposed, and asserted, with an equal want of data, that he was not much indebted to nature for imagination; invention; originality. To this absurd, and illiberal injustice, I shall oppose a note of Dr. Warburton, on his authour's imitation of a satire of Horace. There are many passages, in Warburton, which offend, with their insolence; there are many which we reject, for their absurdity; but there are likewise many, to which too much attention, and veneration, cannot be payed. I think that the following passage is one of them. "It is observable" (says he) "in these imitations, that where our poet keeps to the sentiments of Horace, he rather piques himself in excelling the most finished touches of his original, than in correcting, or improving the inferiour parts. Of this elegance of ambition all his writings bear such marks, that it gave countenance to an invidious imputation, as if his chief talent lay in copying finely. But if there ever was an inventive genius in poetry, it was Pope's; but his fancy was so corrected by his judgement, and his imitation so spirited by his genius, that what he improved struck the vulgar eye more strongly than what he invented." — Note to the Imitation of the Second Satire of the Second Book of Horace's Satires.
But let us hear a position of Dr. Warton: I animadverted on it many years ago; let me make some observations on it once more. We are told by that gentleman that "Pope's close, and constant reasoning, had impaired, and crushed the faculty of imagination." — Good God! what a preposterous assertion is this! When many of our modern writers, without reading, and without reflecting, obtrude their sick men's dreams upon us, we take them as crudities that we might have expected; we are not surprized; nor do we feel resentment; if we throw an eye on their effusions, we can hardly be at the pains to despise them. But when men of talents; men, who have made a strenuous use of the advantages of the best education, throw off such incoherent ideas for profound discoveries; we feel a compassion for their folly, or a degree of indignation for the indirect insult which they offer to the better part of the human frame; to the wisdom and benevolence of the Deity. Can the beautiful, and exuberant, but inferiour faculties, in the mind of a great man, be crushed, or enfeebled, if he assiduously exercises, and exerts, his reason; the noblest faculty of his nature; in obedience to the divine oeconomy; if he makes it, as he ought, the controuler; the lord paramount; the monarch of them all? Must not the full play of our other powers, that scorn the pressure, and the dominion of matter; must not the enthusiastick, and poetical tumult of the soul, take their graceful, and luminous forms; their dignity; their sublimity; from the concomitant action, and energy of our reason; the emanation; the image of our God? Did keen reasoning chill the fancy of Rousseau? Yet many disputes, and theories of the authour of the New Eloisa, required of him a greater severity of reasoning than was generally demanded by the subjects of Pope. Did the complex knowledge of Milton; did his prodigious learning; did the many controversies in which he was engaged; and which must have called forth, and exercised all his reasoning, and argumentative efforts; — did these acquirements, and these persuits, deaden, or depress, his unparalleled imagination, and invention? What a beautiful excursive, ardent, and intrepid fancy was his? With what variety was it enriched; to what heights did it soar? Did the intense application to necessary, but complicated truth; did all his mathematical rigour, contract, and shrivel, the sublime imagination of Newton? Vast, and unbounded ideas; yet so congenial with poetry that they may be awfully impressed on minds which are not blessed with science, often throw an inexpressible grandeur around the philosophy of that astonishing man! As where he supposes that there may be stars whose incredibly rapid rays have not yet arrived at our globe, though they darted forth from their orbs, at the time of the, creation! In another part of his works; with a mind grasping immensity, with a Miltonian boldness of poetical imagery, he ventures to make space the "sensorium of the Godhead!" No, Dr. Warton; the reasoning faculty is the essence: the vigorous, and exalting stem, of the immaterial, and immortal man. Reason supplies the ambrosial nutrition, and the force, which produce the ramifications, and the blossoms of imagination. When this nutrition is parsimoniously supplied, the branches only bear vitiated excrescences, or a rank, and wild sterility. Persuing this argument, (and it is corroborated by the annals of poetry,) I am convinced that nature has always most liberally bestowed the intellectual, or reasoning powers, on the greatest poets. Why was Pope a far superiour poet to a Smart; to a Goldsmith; to an Akenside? Why was he superiour even to Young? even to Thompson? Because in him the reasoning, and judicious talent was more extensive more energetick; and more decisive, than in the other geniusses, whom I have mentioned; — all, TRUE; two of them, GREAT poets. This distinguishing, informing, and God-like talent, pervades, models; combines, and connects, every production of our accomplished poet; it directs the choice of his subject; arranges its plan; animates, and inspires its soul; bids his mild, and steddy light to rule alone; or his lightning to flash through the poetical region.
Dr. Johnson; Dr. Warton; and many inferiour; imitative, mechanical criticks, tax Pope, and other eminent poets, with plagiarism, and with defective genius, not on the smallest foundation of truth; but from their own injudicious ideas of poetry. I here only have my eye on some part of Dr. Johnson's criticism on Pope; of which I shall, hereafter, take a more deliberate view; for I must own, that he is, in general, very just, and very liberal, to this poet; he writes worthily of his own great, uncontaminated talents: his prejudices fall off; the rigour of the cynic relaxes, and basks, in the light, and warmth of meridian day. The criticism to which I have been referring, is always demanding of the poet something new; extraordinary; prodigious; something, for the basis of his sentiments, and imagery, which would, undoubtedly, stagger the reader, and puzzle him with a novelty, and a complexity, similar to those which involve the mind of the young mathematician. But I cannot too often repeat to you (as you may be misled by specious, and grave authorities) that it is the province; the heaven-descended prerogative of poetry, immediately, instantaneously, to move the affections; to agitate the passions; to electrify the heart; to strike the soul. But how are these charming, and rapturous effects to be produced; if the substance; if the essence; if the foundation of a poem is taken from those objects which are only familiar to men of complicated science, or of extensive erudition? There are two ways by which a poetical writer will assuredly miss what he should always have at heart; if he means to write nobly; and to keep his mind, by a generous ambition, elevated to a proper tone for noble writing; — immortal fame. He may miss it, by devoting his muse to temporary subjects, and persons; a department which is very favourable to transitory gain, and popularity; but very inauspicious to true, and lasting glory. Or he may lose it by imprudently departing from the lucid, and azure poetical sphere; and launching into the darkness, and the depths of the scientific, and metaphysical philosopher. Whatever is genuine poetry every person of a feeling frame, and of a common, decent education, will, in a moment, apprehend; in a moment, it will wake, and warm his affections. The Loves of the Plants have, not very long ago, been published by a very ingenious gentleman; he is a good versifier; nay, he has considerable poetical merit; we gratify that curiosity which is excited, and kept alive by an artful novelty; but we feel no poetical pleasure; we feel no poetical enthusiasm. Because the basis, and stamina of his poem prohibited him, (to adopt the just, and fine encomiastick language of Johnson on Richardson,) "from enlarging the knowledge of human nature, and teaching the passions to move at the command of virtue." — Such a production can only please as it is new, and curious; of it you can never say, "decies repetita placebit." It is no more poetry than an ingenious automaton is a man: the form, and the motions are wonderfully imitated; but the "haustus aethereus;" the soul is wanting. How different is this kind of novelty from that of the sylphs, and gnomes, in the Rape of the Lock! A mind that is stored but with common instruction reads the Loves of the Plants, with a cold, and quiescent state; or with a petty; with a puerile pleasure. I am not speaking with a profane contempt of any of the works, and operations of nature; I am speaking with reference to the active; to the exalted pleasure, which the reading of true poetry bestows. But with every line of the Rape of the Lock, the taste; the heart; the soul of the reader is interested, and charmed. There, all is elegance, brilliancy, and rapture; most exuberant imagination; most powerful, and creative invention; whether we consider the rich harmony of the versification; the beauty, and glow of the sentiments; or the action, and play, of the legitimate, and striking machinery. The sylphs and gnomes are new beings, in the provinces which are assigned to them by Pope; but we immediately recognize them, and mix with their agency. Why? — Because they are the genuine creatures of poetical fancy; the emphatical heralds of his thoughts; the keen archers of his wit; the original, and energetick powers of his genius. So is it with the machinery of Milton, and of Shakespeare: the machinery of both is highly interesting by their application of it; it is perspicuous, and striking, from the substance of which it is composed. The Palace of Pandaemonium; the persons of Sin, and Death; the infernal majesty, and the armour of Satan; the chariot of the Almighty; all, take their form and colour from objects with which we are well acquainted. A similar plan of creation is observed by the great god of Avon: we distinctly see the body, and the soul of Caliban, with a happy mixture of interest, and disgust; for the poet has described them both with objects that are familiar to us. Mankind were no strangers to the formal operations of the magick of Prospero; their fancy was habituated to the contemplation of his aerial spirits: the occult workings, by which they were under his command, they could imagine, sufficiently for their entertainment. For there is a mighty magick in a poet as well as in a Prospero. He sometimes, with design, leaves his grand pictures unfinished; even when it is easily in his power to compleat them; for the exercise of your imagination, and of his own. Thus he provides for you a solemn reverie; an awful pleasure; a delightful horrour. You endeavour to fill the strokes of the Michael Angelo; that you cannot fill them, you are pleased, at once, and pained. All within you is ardour, and conflict; and transport of fancy. You are more eagerly intent on your object; you are more rapturously absorbed by it; because it is indefinite; because it is infinite. A French poet would have completely tricked out the personified Death, of Milton; he would probably have made him a petit maitre; he would probably have dwindled him to a Frenchman. He would have had a head, I will answer for it; such a head as it would have been; perhaps "bien frisee, et bien poudree." But how does the pencil of Milton paint; a pencil that seems to be actuated by the soul of a divinity!
—The other shape [Death]
If shape it might be called, that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb;
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed.
(For each seemed either) black it stood as night:
Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell;
And shook a deadly dart; what seemed his head,
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.
Paradise Lost: B. IId. v. 666.
The authour of the Loves of the Plants, as I have no question that he is a candid, and liberal gentleman, will pardon the liberty which I have taken with his poem; if he forms a right judgement of the motives from which that liberty originated. I respect his character; I highly esteem his talents; and I have only differed from his poetical theory, from my pure zeal to discuss, and to establish literary truth. I wish that authours, who should be men of enlarged minds; and therefore, friendly, rather than hostile, to all ingenuous criticism, could, in general, and sincerely say, — "Hanc veniam petimusque, damusque vicissim." With regard to the writer, one of whose works I have here introduced to strengthen my poetical system, I can most unequivocally answer for myself; and declare, that I should be proud of his approbation, and respect his censure. Agreeably to some propositions which I have now advanced, and which, I must think, if they are well considered, will be found to be incontrovertible, I shall take a view of some of Dr. Johnson's remarks on the famous Essay on Man. — "This Essay" (says he) "affords an egregious instance of the predominance of genius; of the dazzling splendour of imagery; and the seductive powers of eloquence. Never was penury of knowledge, and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised. The reader feels his mind full, though he learns nothing; and when he meets it in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother, or his nurse. When these wonderworking sounds sink into sense, and the doctrine of the Essay, disrobed of its ornaments, is, left to the powers of its native excellence, what shall we discover? — That we are, in comparison with our Creator, very weak, and ignorant; that we do not uphold the chain of existence; and that we could not make one another with more skill than we are made. We may learn yet more; that the arts of human life were copied from the instinctive operations of other animals; that if the world be made for man, it may be said that man was made for geese. To these profound principles of natural knowledge are added some moral instructions equally new; that self-interest, well understood, will produce social concord; that men are mutual gainers by mutual benefits; that evil is sometimes balanced by good; that human advantages are unstable, and fallacious; of uncertain duration and doubtful effects; that our true honour is not to have a great part, but to act it well; that virtue only is our own; and that happiness is always in our power.
"Surely a man of no very comprehensive search may venture to say, that he has heard all this before; but it was never till now recommended with such a blaze of embellishment, or such sweetness of melody. The vigorous contraction of some thoughts; the luxuriant amplification of others; the incidental illustrations; and sometimes the dignity, sometimes the softness of the verses, enchain philosophy; suspend criticism; and oppress judgement by overpowering pleasure." — Pages 201, 202, 203.
When we err in morals, or in literature, it very often happens that our own defence condemns ourselves. The former part of this declamation only shows that Pope, in writing his Essay on Man, adhered to those topics which were proper for a poet; by the latter part we are convinced that he was one of the greatest of poets; that he could analyze, and simplify, and illuminate the abstruse; that he could diffuse the "purpureum lumen;" the "laetos honores," over grave, and awful objects; and that he could sweetly insinuate them into the inmost recesses of the soul, and fix them for ever there; "by magick numbers, and persuasive sound." — As to "the talk of our mothers, and our nurses," I would have every proud literary dictator to know, that very sensible women, without any great advantages of education, have often uttered those sentiments which only became charming as they were enforced by the arts, and ornaments of poetry. Moliere, one of the greatest geniuses of France, used to anticipate the fortune of his comedies, from the feelings, and applause of an old woman. Who will say that Horace was not a great poet? yet how easy would it be for a fastidious severity, to impoverish his merit, if it stripped him of his "curiosa felicitas;" of his "con amore" language; of the simple elegance; of the captivating force of his expressions? The general sentiments of man are in contact, and sympathy with the numbers of the poet; therefore, with immediate apprehensions and assent, they return those numbers; as the lyre of Memnon vibrated with musick, at the touch of the orient ray. All the evils of London, which Johnson strongly paints, while he enumerates them, in an excellent imitation of Juvenal, have often been the topicks of domestick, and coffee-house complaint, and conversation. And in his other imitation of that vigorous Roman satirist, on the vanity of human wishes; a vanity which the English writer displays, with the dignity, and majesty of the poet; such examples as he produces, had often been cited by common observers, in humble, and familiar; and therefore, comparatively, in uninteresting prose. Nothing could show the versatility, and transcendency of Mr. Pope's genius more than his great success on so unpoetical, and philosophical a subject. Had he treated it more profoundly, he would have quite deserted his poetical province, and deviated into the abstracted, metaphysical ground of a Clarke, or a Locke. Great allowances are to be made for a writer, whether in verse or prose; who treats on the objects of the Essay on Man. Of several of those objects the light of nature; the light of reason, give us but a distant, and a dubious prospect. We need not wonder, then, if the authour's theory is, sometimes, vague; and if his arguments are, sometimes, inconclusive. The muse, however, has finely smoothed; and burnished, the difficulties; the asperities of the logiclan; and the most beautiful, and sublime poetical illustrations of the divine oeconomy, and of our moral duties, have amply, and richly supplied the defects of an unsatisfactory, and precarious philosophy. Is it possible for us to be more powerfully, to be more effectually wrought up, to the most exalted habit of mind, to which human nature can aspire; is it possible for us to ascend, with the ardour of a finer enthusiasm; with the triumph of a more expanded reason, to the utmost heights of natural religion, than by the following lines?
All are but parts of one stupendous whole;
Whose body Nature is, and God, the soul:
That, changed through all, and yet in all, the same;
Great in the earth, as in the ethereal frame;
Warms in the sun; refreshes in the breeze;
Glows in the stars; and blossoms in the trees;
Lives through all life; extends through all extent;
Spreads, undivided; operates, unspent;
Breathes in our soul; informs our mortal part;
As full; as perfect, in a hair, as heart:
As full; as perfect, in vile man that mourns,
As the rapt seraph that adores, and burns:
To him, no high, no low; no great; no small;
He fills; he bounds; connects, and equals all.
Essay on Man: Epistle 1st. V. 267.
This is one of the finest; one of the sublimest passages that was ever composed by human ability. Yet every sentiment, every picture in it, are as clear, and obvious, as our thoughts, and exemplifications can be, when we exert our discursive faculties on the Godhead. Its ideas, and its images, may naturally be supposed to reside in the breast of the sensible, and reflecting swain; in the breast of the mother, and the nurse, if you please; in distinct, and picturesque miniature; in embryo, congenial, and sympathetick with the more expressive, and magnificent scenery of the poet. But when they conceive it, it is rude, uncultivated thought; when they communicate it, it is very humble prose; but by the genius of Pope it is raised to the sublime of poetry; hence, it moves; it dilates; it fills, and enraptures the soul.
I shall farther beg leave to observe that if the substance of several of the noblest passages, not only of Pope; but of Thomson; Young; Milton; is reduced to a sordid simplicity; or to a meagre contraction; or if it is distorted, or caricatured; (for thus injuriously hath Johnson treated the Essay on Man;) it will inevitably lose all its grace, and dignity; and appear insignificant, or ridiculous.
To the beautiful Essay on Man our supercilious literary dictator (perhaps from his acrimony against Bolingbroke) is particularly unjust. To a large encomium on this poem, which nature, and rectitude of sentiment, in spite of himself, extorted from him, he subjoins the following passage. — "This is true of many paragraphs, yet if I had undertaken to exemplify Pope's felicity of composition before a rigid critick, I should not select the Essay on Man; for it contains more lines unsuccessfully laboured; more harshness of diction; more thoughts imperfectly expressed; more levity without elegance; and more heaviness without strength, than will easily be found in all his other works." P. 203. — This is certainly a very exaggerated censure. I believe that it would be difficult for an impartial, and judicious critick to show me a line in the Essay on Man, in which any of the faults with which Dr. Johnson here charges it, are prominent. Indeed, there are, surely, very few lines in all the works of Pope, in which any one of these faults is conspicuous.
Dr. Johnson's cavilling, sneering, and very unfair sketch of the Essay on Man, which I have recited to you, reminds me of a similar poetical criterion of Dr. Warton, on which I took the liberty to animadvert in the following passage of my book on poetry, and on Pope. Among his other scholastick rules, he asserts, that to "estimate the merit of any poet, we must divest his thoughts of measure, and rhyme; and read, and weigh them, in a prosaick order; an assertion that shows that he is not sufficiently acquainted with poetry, either in judgement, or sentiment. True, and complete poetical excellence, results, not only from extensive knowledge; and from a sentimental, vigorous, and ardent mind; but likewise from a delicate sagacity, and accuracy; or, in other words, from taste, and elegance. Dr. Warton ought to have considered, that poetry is one; and by a long interval, the first of the fine arts; and that, therefore, the fire of the poet; if he would reach his aim; if he would strike irresistibly, and with all his force, must be modelled, and directed, by deliberation, and choice. Hence, while he is heated with the warmth of inspiration, he is attentive to propriety; to order, and embellishment; not only to the most pertinent selection of words, but likewise to their position; to the strength, and harmony, which are produced by their judicious, and fortunate arrangement. For these are indisputable, and powerful constituents of poetry. A particle may be so placed in a verse, that the sense of the authour may be clear; and the idiom of our language may not be violated; yet even that particle, by a happy transposition, might acquire life, and energy, and give more animation, and lustre to the line. In the productions of the fine arts, nothing is indifferent; the minutest parts have their great importance, and influence; they reflect proportion, and expression on the other parts; from which they, likewise, draw those advantages; and all the parts, as they are disposed, and compacted by the artist, form a striking whole. It is one of Dr. Warton's few just observations, that the late Dr. Hawkesworth, hath, in many papers of his Adventurer, shown a strong, and bright imagination, and invention; two essential poetical characteristicks; and yet that he was but an indifferent poet. This observation should have checked his mangling of our admired poet; it should have been a hint for him to find that a certain series; a certain rise, and flow of ideas, and language; that composition, symmetry, and harmony, are parts of poetry, as well as thought, and sentiment; and that vigorous, and transporting are the effects of 'magick numbers, and persuasive sound.' It is immutably in the nature of poetry, through the ear to captivate the soul. If I am told that this airy property does it no great honour, I answer, that it hath pleased the authour of our being, that we should be very strongly, and very nobly moved by sound; that all the various, and rapturous emotions which we receive from musick, are totally impressed by sound; and that musick is a fine, a sublime art; though far inferiour to poetry, in extent; in dignity; and in power.
"I may now venture to assert, that if we deem poetry, dissolved, and emasculated into prose, a criterion of poetical merit, we may as well mutilate the statue of a Phidias, and throw its fragments promiscuously around us, that we may be struck with the beauty of the work; and form a right judgement of the excellence of the artist. Or, to feel the musick of one of Handel's oratorios, and thence to estimate his genius, we may as well play all its notes; but not in his order, and combination." — Book on Pope, pages 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. — I trust that you will not think this quotation impertinent to the topicks, and arguments by which it is preceded. I will not quote from the writings of others, and certainly not from my own; unless I think that the citation is intimately connected with the subject of my immediate discussion; unless I think that it tends to unfold, illustrate, and enforce it.
But I can oppose to Dr. Warton's absurd criterion of poetical merit, a far greater authority than mine; that of Dryden. Though I have already given you the passage to which I refer, among several other quotations from the critical works of that great poet; I shall now take the liberty to quote it again; it is so pertinent to the natural, and almost evident theory, which I have been endeavouring to support. — "Virgil," (says Dryden) who never attempted the lyrick verse, is every-where elegant, sweet, and flowing, in his hexameters. His words are not only chosen, but the places in which he ranks them, for the sound. He who removes them from the station wherein their master set them, spoils the harmony. What he says of the Sibyl's prophecies, may be properly applied to every word of his; they must be read in order as they lie; the least breath discomposes; and somewhat of their divinity is lost." — Dedication of the Aeneid to Lord Mulgrave: see my remarks on Dryden; p. 371.
Dr. Warton, by having mistaken the regions which a poet should pervade (a gross mistake, which, I believe, I have proved that Dr. Johnson has committed) pronounces Pope essentially, and characteristically, a didactic poet. In the little book, to which I begin to fear that I have too frequently referred, I put the following questions to the critick who thus absurdly, and ungenerously attempted to depreciate a great, and splendid genius — "If I have marked, with any accuracy the sphere of the didactick [which, in the paragraph preceding that which I shall now quote, I had endeavoured to ascertain] "is our inimitable translator of Homer a didactick poet? should we characterize him, by that humble epithet, who left us many august monuments of genius; and who wrote but one poem to which that epithet can [with propriety] be applied; his Essay on Criticism; and certainly, one of the noblest didactick poems in the world? Were didactick talents the predominant abilities in him, who showed such inventive powers in his beautiful Rape of the Locke; who painted all the variety, and force of the passions, in such animated forms, and in such glowing colours? Is it not profane to pronounce him a didactick poet, who unfolded, and enforced all the relations, and duties of man; who, in the strain of so sublime a religion, connected the physical, and moral world with the Supreme Being; who looked, with so pervading, and rapturous an eye from Nature, up to Nature's God?" — Pages 133, 134, 135.
I fortunately recollect two passages from Mr. Pope himself, and from Addison, his rival, but by no means, in poetry, that correspond with the ideas of that divine art, which I have long entertained; which I have been endeavouring to establish; and which, I hope, will have your approbation. The authority of those great men will certainly give a powerful, a necessary sanction to my sentiments, and opinions. I wish that it may be calmly and respectfully considered by those perverse critical exactors, who are constantly blaming men infinitely superiour to themselves, for not distinguishing their productions with more invention; originality; novelty; poetical properties, which, if they were as absolute, and rigorous, as these critical inquisitors think that they ought to be; we should be no more interested in a poem composed agreeably to their visionary laws, than a blind man, is in colours. "All that is left us" (says Mr. Pope, in his preface to his Poems) "is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the ancients; and it will be found true, that, in every age, the highest character for sense, and learning, has been obtained by those who have been most indebted to them. For to say truth, whatever is very good sense, must have been common sense in all times; and what we call learning is but the knowledge of the sense of our predecessours. Therefore, they who say our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our fathers: and indeed it is very unreasonable that people should expect us to be scholars, and yet be angry to find us so."
Mr. Addison, in the 253d number of the Spectator, gives his tribute of praise to the Essay on Criticism. — "As for those observations" [in that Essay] (saith he) "which are the most known, and the most received, they are placed in so beautiful a light, and illustrated with such apt allusions, that they have in them all the graces of novelty, and make the reader who was before acquainted with them, still more convinced of their truth, and solidity. And here give me leave to mention, what Monsieur Boileau has so well enlarged upon in the preface to his works; that wit, and fine writing, do not so much consist in advancing things that are new, as in giving things that are known, an agreeable turn. It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality; or any art, or science, which have not been touched upon by others: we have little else left us, but to represent the common sense of mankind, in more strong; more beautiful, or more uncommon lights. If a reader examines Horace's Art of Poetry, he will find but few precepts in it, which he may not meet with in Aristotle, and winch were not commonly known by all the poets of the Augustan age, His way of expressing and applying them; not his invention of them is what we are chiefly to admire."
I shall now beg leave to pay some particular attention to the most remarkable, and celebrated poems of Pope. The early productions of a great genius will always be interesting to the heart, and mind. It is not only curious, but instructive; it enlarges the knowledge of human nature, to trace, and mark the progress of rare, intellectual powers; to persue their improvements in knowledge; in expansion; and in strength. Those astonishing efforts, when we consider the age of their authour, and the glory which they prognosticate, amply atone for their inferiority to absolute merit. Dr. Johnson observes that the earliest of Pope's productions is his Ode on Solitude; written before he was twelve; "in which," (adds the Doctor) "there is nothing more than other forward boys have attained, and it is not equal to Cowley's performances, at the same age." P. 8th. Here I differ in opinion, from Johnson, extremely; as I am obliged to differ from him, on more important occasions. I recollect nothing that Cowley wrote, at so early a period of life, that is equal to this ode; indeed most of his poems are disgusting, by their false taste; by their unnatural, and monstrous conceits. I believe that, in the annals of poetry, it is difficult to find so good a composition by a boy. I will venture to recite it, here: if you will keep in your minds that it was written by Pope, before he was twelve years old, perhaps you will think that I have not said too much in its favour; and you will forgive; you may possibly approve, its repetition.
Happy the man, whose wish, and care,
A few paternal acres bound;
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds, with milk; whose fields with bread;
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees, in summer, yield him shade;
In winter, fire.
Blest who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years, slide soft away,
In health of body; peace of mind;
Quiet by day.
Sound sleep, by night; study and ease;
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please;
Thus let me live, unseen; unknown;
Thus, unlamented, let me die;
Steal from the world; and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
There is great simplicity in these lines; but it is a poetical simplicity. They announce the future, and more finished harmony of Pope. The objects of rural tranquillity, and happiness, are well chosen, and well discriminated. The last stanza is altogether worthy of a manly poet. The two feeblest lines are,
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please;
The mixing together of study, and ease, betrays the boy:—
And innocence which most "does" please,—
has the joint aid of that feeble expletive, to which, however, the fervid soul of Dryden often had recourse; and which had been long naturalized, in English versification, when it was condemned, and exiled, by POPE.