« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
try, without that methodical regularity which would have been requisite in a prose writer. Some of them are uncommon, but such as the reader must assent to, when he sees them explained with that elegance and perspicuity in which they are delivered. As for those 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, sell more convinced of their truth and solidity." He concludes by observing, that there are three poems in the English language which are all of the same nature, and each distinguished by superior excellence ;-the Essay on Criticism, by Pope; the Essay on the Art of Poetry, by Sheffield, Duke of Normanby; and the Essay on Translated Verse, by the Earl of Roscommon. This was a high compliment to Pope, whose juvenile performance was thas placed in an equal rank with the later and more finished productions of his two elder contemporaries..
To this Essay Dr. Johnson has also given his unqualified approbation, which is the more to be valued, as it was bestowed by one who was at all times cautious of giving praise, "One of Pope's greatest, though of his earliest, works, is the Essay on Criticism; which, if he had written nothing else, would have placed him among the first critics, as among the first poets; since it exhibits every species of excellence which can embellish or dignify didactic composition;-selection of matter, novelty of arrangement, justness of precept, splendour of illustration, and propriety of digression. It is a work which displays such extent of comprehension, such nicety of distinction, such acquaintance with mankind, and such knowledge both of ancient and modern learning, as are not often attained by the maturest age, and the longest experience." (Johnson's Life of Pope.) -A later writer, however, has been far less profuse in his commendation of this poem; and, indeed, has placed it's merits in a much lower scale than the opinions we have adduced would lead us to conclude. “As a didactic essay and a poem," he says, "it has
been much too greatly praised. Many of the precepts are trite and juvenile; and the diction aud versification are, in several places, uncommonly slovenly and incorrect." But he allows that, considering the writer's age, it must be deemed a very remarkable instance of an early acquisition of knowledge with regard to men and books; and that although it cannot be estimated as a secure critical guide, it must be acknowledged to exhibit frequent examples of just opinion and observation, expressed in language of peculiar brilliancy and precision. (Drake's Biographical Essays.)-Dr. Aikin's sentiments are of a similar description. "It is a work," says that author, “abounding in valuable literary precepts, expressed generally with neatness, and often with brilliancy. In poetical merit it stands bigh among didactic pieces, yet it has many marks of juvenility in the thoughts and incorrectness in the language; and cannot, by any means, be proposed as a guide in the critical art, with that authority which some have ascribed to it." (Letters on English Poetry.)-We may here perceive a striking opposition in these opinions. Not a word of censure has escaped from Addison or Johnson; whilst the two later critics have not only mentioned this poem with disapprobation, but have given to it a totally different character and complexion.
We now proceed to consider the author's design in writing the Essay on Criticism. This embraced two distinct objects; namely, to correct the many errors into which modern critics have fallen, by neglecting or transgressing those sound rules of criticism, which were established by the ancients, and by them transmitted to us as the only true criteria of judgment; and also to introduce a more certain method of ascertaining the merits and defects of literary compositions. He begins, therefore, with a lively satire on those vain pretenders to learning, who, without superior knowledge or judgment, and destitute of the qualities indispensably, requisite for a true critic, assume the character of censors, give their opinions on works of taste, and undertake to decide the merits of every
• Created afterwards Duke of Buckinghamshire, by Queen Anne.
production which may pass under their inspection. After severely censuring such unqualified arrogance and presumption, he proceeds to point out the rules to be observed, and the conduct to be pursued, by those who desire to excel in this important branch of literature. With this view, he advises them to ascertain the extent of their talents, and then enquire how far they are adapted to pursuits of this description. To those who feel a natural partiality for such studies, he recommends that they should first follow nature, and learn to form their judgment by that unerring guide; and, next, to apply those celebrated rules of the ancients, which have been so long and so universally adopted, That for the more effectual attainment of this object, the critic should study the classics; and, by a frequent and careful perusal of their works, become thoroughly acquainted with the genius, subject, country, language, religion, and characteristics of each; since, by these means, he would be enabled to discover the various hidden beauties of style and composition; and to ascertain many doubtful passages with the utmost certainty and precision. With respect to poetical license, of which the ancients so frequently availed themselves, he advises modern poets to be peculiarly cautious; since, though it may sometimes be judiciously introduced, an improper use of it would expose them to the animadversions of illiberal critics, and render their works amenable to the strict and impartial laws of criticism.
The second Part is a continuation of the instructions contained in the first; and enumerates the various causes which conspire to blind the judgment, and to prevent that cool and dispassionate reflection, without which the critic can never do adequate justice to his subject.* these, the principal are,-pride," the never-failing vice of fools;" insufficiency of learning, which prevents him from perceiving the full scope. and design of his author; narrowness of comprehension, or the practice of
estimating the merits of a work by parts only, and not by the tendency of the whole; and literary bigotry, or too strong an attachment to some particular principles, or individual mode of judging. To these may be added, a difficulty of being pleased, or too great readiness to admire; an undue preference for any peculiar style or class of poetry; a habit of forming ideas on works of taste solely from the opinions of others; a love of singularity in literary pursuits; indecision, inconstancy, envy, and partyspirit;-all which equally prevent the critic from obtaining a right judgment, and from acquiring that coolness of temper and clearness of perception which are so necessary in pursuits of this nature.†
The poet next proceeds to warn the candidates for critical fame against contention and dispute; but more especially against an indulgence of that invidious desire of taking away or depreciating the well-earned honours of a more successful rival, which is but too prevalent in those pursuits where emulation is excited. He then advises them in what instances to use severity, and points out the objects of their just censure; commanding them to attack freedom and licentiousness wherever they might appear, and to brand vice with the stamp of infamy and guilt; thus blending their duties as conservators of the public morals, with their characters as guardians of the privileges of literature. He here particularly alludes to those scenes of profligacy and immorality which marked the age of the second Charles, when every thing that could tend to corrupt the principles, vitiate the taste, and destroy all feelings of delicacy and virtue, was allowed to flourish in rank luxuriance;
"When love was all an easy monarch's care,
Seldom at council, never in a war;
Nay, wits had pensions, and young lords' had wit;
The fair sat panting at a courtier's play, And not a mask went unimproved away;
Baillet, in his "Jugemens des Savans," has enumerated the many errors which mislead the critic, and raise the passions against the judgment.—See also Dr. Johnson's excellent remarks on the prejudices and caprices of criticism, in No. 93 of the Rambler.
For the character of a good critic, and an account of the qualities essential to it's formation, see No. 291 of the Spectator, the elegant production of Addison.
The modest fan was lifted up no more, And virgius smiled at what they blush'd before."
The dissolute reign of this monarch justly deserved the severe proscription contained in these lines.
In the third Part of this Essay, various excellent rules are laid down for the guidance of the critic, and certain qualities are recommended, without which he can never exercise his talents with satisfaction to himself, or with justice to others. It is not sufficient that he possess learning, taste, and judgment; but that' truth and candour, a becoming modesty and politeness, sincerity of advice, and diffidence of censure, should accompany his pursuits. When all these are attained, the character of the critic is complete; and he may then safely undertake the arduous and important duties of a literary
The poet next gives a brief history of the early state of criticism, and of it's gradual improvement during the most flourishing periods of Athens and of Rome; at the same time delineating the characters of those celebrated crities, who so greatly contributed to it's advancement, by ordaining laws and repressing licentiousness. He then describes the invasion of Italy by the Northern nations,-the fall of the great Western Empire,-the sudden decay of learning and the arts in consequence of that event, their gradual revival during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and their subsequently rapid progress throughout all the civilized nations of Europe;-concluding with an account of the best critics who have flourished since that period.
Criticism, in common with the other branches of literature, fell into decay at the time when every thing connected with learning and the polite arts was overwhelmed by the barbarous nations which over-ran the Roman Empire (A.D. 476). Bigotry and fanaticism lent their aid to encrease the gloomy darkness which prevailed. Then, indeed, “ the Monks finish'd what the Goths began;" for a period ensued in which the most de
grading customs were adopted; and the most cruel tyranny, the grossest ignorance, and the blindest superstition, reigned without controul. Learning was disregarded, the sciences were neglected, and every thing bore the marks of rudeness and barbarism; - Divination, idolatry, and witchcraft, were universally practised, and the most flagrant violations of justice were committed with impunity. Nay, to so dreadful a height had this infatuation reached, that even parri→ cide was pardonable by absolution. In fact, men appeared to have lost not only the light of learning, but of their common reason.* This mental darkness, which overspread the whole of Europe for more than eight hundred years, first began to be dispelled in the time of Petrarch, A.D. 1340, by the study of ancient classic writers; and in proportion as an acquaintance with their works was disseminated, the human intellect was expanded, and knowledge became more general. Considerable advances were made at the commencement of the fifteenth century; till, at length, under the happy auspices of Lorenzo de Medici,† and of his son Pope Leo the Tenth, A.D. 1500, classical learning was fully reestablished; the fine arts were restored; and every thing resumed the appearance of refinement and cultivation. The age, in which these illustrious patrons of literature lived, was one continued blaze of glory; and gave birth to some of the brightest names that ever shone upon the page of history;-Ariosto, Tasso, Sannazarius, Vida, Erasmus, Guarini, Fracastorius, Cardinal Bembo, Sadolet, Machiavel, Guiccardini, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, and Bramante. Under these and other celebrated masters, poetry, painting, music, sculpture, and architecture, attained the very highest perfection. During the pontificate of Leo X. the greatest encouragement was given to the promotion of science; and the most liberal patronage was extended to men of learning and abilities. Many important discoveries were made; and many remarkable events
Vide Hallam's History of Europe in the Middle Ages ;-Berington's History of the Middle Ages;-Gibbon's Decline aud Fall of the Roman Empire ;-Sheppard's Life of Poggio Bracciolini ; --and Tiraboschi's History of Italian Literature.
+Vide Roscoe's elegant Life of Lorenzo de Medici; and History of the Age of Leo the Tenth.
took place, which have since produced the most advantageous changes in the state of human affairs. It was then that the arts and sciences began to flourish; "philosophy to be freed from the dust of barbarism, and criticism to assume a manly and rational appearance. The more immediate causes which brought about these desirable events were, the arrival of the illustrious Grecian exiles in Italy; the discovery of ancient manuscripts; the establishment of public libraries and seminaries of education; and, above all, the invention of the noble art of printing. No branch of science was cultivated with greater assiduity than classical literature. Under the patronage of Leo, and of some of the chiefs of other states in Italy, who imitated his liberality, eminent scholars engaged with incredible ardour and diligence in collating manuscripts, and ascertaining the genuine text of Greek and Latin authors; explaining their obscurities, illustrating them with commentaries, translating them into various languages, and imitating their beauties."
The age of Leo the Tenth may, then, unquestionably be considered as one of the æras in the history of the world, in which literature, the fine arts, and, in fact, every thing that tends to exalt the character and encrease the power and dignity of mankind, were brought to a degree of perfection unequalled at other periods;
"See! each muse, in Leo's golden days, Starts from her trance, and trims her wither'd bays; Rome's ancient Genius, o'er it's ruins spread,
Shakes off the dust, and rears his rev'rend head.
Then Sculpture and her sister arts revive;
Stones leap'd to form, and rocks began
With sweeter notes each rising temple
A Raphael painted, and a Vida sung."
Of those illustrious men whose talents and exertions contributed to the
restoration of classical learning, Petrafch is the first to whom it is indebted for it's revival in Europe, after a long night of darkness and barbarism.* He was the first among the moderns in whom the spirit of ancient literature began to revive; and he has, therefore, been justly called the Father of modern poetry." It was he who, in an age of gross and general ignorance, when not only the scarcity of books, but the prejudice of his contemporaries, opposed the cultivation of letters, surmounted those obstacles by the force of his native genius, and roused a passion for literary acquirements, which has had the happiest influence on succeeding times. To his efforts, united with those of Boccace, is to be ascribed the completion of the great work of polishing, and fixing the standard of, the Italian language. To Petrarch, also, has been attributed the merit of restoring the purity and elegance of the Latin tongue, especially in metrical composition. Scipio Maffei, however, in his Italian Theatre,† informs us, that this was not so much owing to Petrarch, as to Albertino Mussato, a native of Padua, who flourished nearly thirty years before Petrarch; - a man of learning and genius, whose merits, though amply rewarded by the honours which he received from his native city, do not appear to have been sufficiently appreciated by later times. He was at once an historian, a poet, of the reign of Henry VII. Emperor and a tragedian. His Latin history of Germany, to whom he was minister, is written with much judgment and regard to truth; and had the style been equal to the subject, he would have deserved the appellation which some have bestowed upon him, of the "second Livy of Padua." Of this history there are three books, in heroic verse, on the siege of that city by the Veronese in the year 1314,
under the command of their prince, the great Can Grande de la Scala.
For more minute particulars respecting the life and writings of this extraordinary man, see the Abbé Sade's "Memoires sur la Vie de François Petrarque;" and Lord Woodhoi selee's excellent "Historical and Critical Essay on the Life and Character of Petrarch," published in the year 1810.
+ In Verona, 1723, Vol. I. page 4.
‡ Scardonius' Antiquities of Padua, page 130.
of Seneca; and, in the opinion of an eminent critic, are the first perfect and regular dramas that are to be found since the barbarous and ob
scure ages. Besides these, he wrote some Eclogues, Elegies, Epistles in verse, and an Ovidian Cento. D. F. (To be continued.)
A DECEMBER TALE.
AT the latter end of the year 1819, I accepted an invitation to pass a week at the habitation of a friend in Scotland, and accordingly made all due preparations for the journey, and took my place in the vehicle, which commences it's periodical excursions from the small town containing the residence of your Correspondent. It is not needful to describe the busy preparation for the event, the fidgetting of my aunts, for I am blessed with three! the rising at four o'clock to set off at seven, and the endless train of etceteras which every traveller is well acquainted with. I departed in the Velocity, for so the vehicle was named, Incus a non lucendo I presume, in company with a French dancing-master, a Scotch merchant, and the wife of a Welsh curate. Nothing remarkable happened during the journey, which was performed in mute silence, except when an extraordinary jolt of the carriage drew forth an occasional ejaculation from my fellow-travellers; and I at last arrived at the place of my destination. My friend's house, a marvellous ill-fashioned edifice, stood upon the top of an eminence, at the foot of which a muddy pool, passing by the name of a pond, served as a school to initiate some young of the duck tribe in the art and mystery of swimming. The house itself, though completely void of all shape, was large, and the hospitable reception within made ample recompense for the uncouthness of the exterior. I was ushered by a servant in ancient livery into a parlour; where, seated around the fire, I found the Laird, Mr. M'Tarragon, his wife, and only daughter; two neighbouring gentlemen, Mr. Whappledoun and Mr. Baldermere; a young English lady, Miss Somerset, with her brother; and an elderly dame, Mrs. Tiverton; all of whom were, like myself, visitors. Being somewhat tired with my journey, and the evening far advanced, I retired early to rest, to sleep off the fatigues of the day.
The next morning I took a survey of my friend's castle. It was, as I Eur. Mag. Vol. 81, Jan, 1822.
have before said, not remarkable for it's elegance, or the harmonious proportion of it's parts. The body of the building had been originally of a square shape, but it abounded with wings which had been appended to it by succeeding occupiers: and was accommodated with numerous high and narrow apertures, filled with minute panes of glass, which served as an apology for windows: though the Architect seemed to have been perfectly ignorant of any such thing as regularity in their disposition. The roof was adorned with towers of all descriptions, some round, some square, and some of a shape which would have baffled the skill of the most experienced professor of octahedrons and polygons to give a name to, and which sprouted out in beautiful confusion, like the horns of the beast in the Revelations.
The day passed pleasantly in conversation and various amusements, for the weather prohibited all excursion beyond the walls, and in the evening we told stories; the first of which, related by Henry Somerset, the young Englishman, I here enclose.
"It was on the close of a fine day in July, that I walked out to enjoy an evening ramble. The day had been warm, and the breeze that rustled amongst the leaves with "cooling melody" was inexpressibly grateful. The sun was just sinking behind the mountains, whose dark masses bounded the view on the west, and lighted up the clouds that gathered round him with a blaze of glory, which glittered through the trees with the most delightful splendour. The inhabitants of the neighbouring villages had retired to rest, and no sound interrupted the silence which brooded over the scene, save the gentle murmurs of the wind, and the occasional bark of the distant watch-dog.
It is sweet to walk in places and at times like these; when the mind, loosened from the weight of subjects which have oppressed it during the busy day, springs with renovated buoyancy to commune with