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L E T T E R V.
T is no incurious subject to enquire, what
is the spirit of lyric poetry ? Or, in what does its discrimination from other kinds of poetry consist? Those who have even pretended to write in this style have often betrayed perfect ignorance of the very principles of so exquisite a mode of composition.
The Greeks, the Greeks alone, my friend, are the masters, and their works the models of this kind of poetry.
If we examine these models with care, we shall perceive that this species of poetry divides itself, in resemblance of the works of nature, into two kinds, the sublime, and the beautiful. In the first clafs Pindar stood without a rival till Gray appeared. In the second Anacreon and Sappho still remain without equal competitors.
From these writers, therefore, the genuine
Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn,
thefe requifites in spite of Dryden's wonderful ode; which is of itself worth all that Pindar has written, as a large diamond is worth a vaft heap of gold, because that master-piece is a dithyrambic poem, not a lyric one. And that as well for its want of "regularity, as for its subject, which, being perfectly convivial as its title fpeaks, falls with much propriety into that clafs which the ancients called dithyrambic, and which were most commonly faered to Bacchus.
In the second division of lyric poetry the essentials are less easily fixed. Harmony of cadence, and beauty and warmth of sentiment, paffion, and expression, seem the principal. Above all, uncommon elegance in turns of
fanguage, and in transition, are fo vital to this kind of lyric poetry in particular, that I will venture to say they constitute its very soul; a particular that none of our lyric writers, before Gray, at all attended to. His mode of expresfion is truly lyrical; and has a claffîc brevity and terseness, formerly unknown in English, fave to Milton alone. Of which to produce a few instances from his very firft Ode: purple jear, fór flowers of Spring : infect youth, for young infects : honied spring, for hories of spring : liquid noon, for liquid air of noon, with many others, are all modes of expression of the genuine and uncommon lyric hue.
Hume has well observed, in his Éllay on Simplicity and Refinement, that no criticism can be instructive' which defcends not to Š particulars, and is not full of examples and
illustrations. It may be added to this very just remark, that the more minute criticism is, the more need it has of example, to give a kind of body töits evanescence. For this reason, fince I have spoken of transition as so material a form of the ode, I shall beg leave to consider a moment one of the best in any language with D 2
segard to this beauty in particular, namely Dr. Beattie's Ode on Lord Hay's birth-day: a production which that supreme judge of lyric poetry, Mr. Gray, praises with great justice for the lyric texture of the thoughts.
The opening of this fiue piece is however unhappy. A Muse for a poet is a violent and bad metaphor. The Muse in any good modero writer only means Poely personified by another
A Muse unftained is worse. Unftained is an inelegant epithet even when applied in its proper fenfe to garments, &c. as it gives au idea that they might have been stained. Unstained with art is a mixed metaphor, one of the worst faults of composition: but, leaving those painful remarks, these lines,
No gaudy wreath of flowers she weaves,
Thy cradle to adorn, are exquisite: the civic crown being of oak, the victor's of laurel. The image is beautiful to a degree of lyric perfection. But observe the transition to the next stanza, and pronounce it truly lyric:
For not on beds of gaudy flowers
This transition in prose were ridiculous; for what connexion between not giving a child a wreath of flowers, and the reason assigned, namely, because his ancestors did not recline on thern? Yet this want of connexion forms the beauty of this very lyric transition.
The next “ To hurl the dart,' &c. may be called a transition from a distance as the last was to a distance. It is equally claslic with the former.
In the 4th stanza the Muse is as happily introduced as she was unhappily brought in at first. It would require too much length to display the rest of the transitions in this ode, which are all of them fine; but none more so than that in this stanza, Yon castle's glittering towers', &c. which brings the very object before your eyes.
As such microscopic parts of criticism are rather fatiguing to the mental eye, I shall here conclude with affuring you, tho perhaps with a lyric transition in prose, that I am very truly, &c.