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TOTALLY controvert your opinion that our
language has arrived at its highest pitch of refinement : so far from that, I know of no writer before Gray whose works are of classic correctness, except Milton.
HUME, I remember, tells us very gravely that the language of Pope is too much refined, as the language of some other writer, whom he names, is too little so: but he gives Parnell as a standard author between the two extremes. This distinction is truly ridiculous, and worthy of a critic of the French school, for it has unluckily been discovered that Pope improved the language of almost every' line of Parnell, so that he is almost as much the author of Paranell's poems as Parnell himself.
By refinement here I mean a manner of writing more pure, and of more exquisite figures, than the run of even good composition. Milton's poetry is almost universally such, but far less equally than that of Gray; who uses not a single word without a due value being stamped on it. This is classic refinement, in which not one word, one syllable, is superfluous or improper.
Pope's works are superabundant with superfluous and unmeaning verbage; his translations are even replete with tautology, a fault which is to refinement as midnight is to noon day. What is truly surprizing is, that the fourth book of the Dunciad, his last publication, is more full of redundancy and incorrectness than his Pastorals, which are his first.
But of any works which have obtained considerable applause, Thomson's poem of The Seasons is the most incorrect.
Any reader who understands grammar and classic composition, is disgusted in every page of that poem by faults, which, tho in themselves minute, yet to a refined eye hide and obscure every
beauty however great, as a very small intervening object will intercept the view of the fun. This reason makes me very much suspect the fame of the Seasons will not be of long existence'; for I know of no work that has inherited long reputation which is deficient in style, as the Seasons undoubtedly are to a most remarkable degree. The fact is, that the poem on which the future celebrity of Thomson will be founded is, by a strange fatality, almost totally neglected at this day. That is, his Caille of Indolence: a poem which has higher beauties than the Seasons, without any of the faults which disgrace that work; tho the conclusion even of this is most absurd, and unhappy; and could never have occurred to a writer of taste except in a frightful dream.
By the bye, Mr. Gray has closely imitated a ftanza, or two, of the Castle of Indolence, in his Elegy; as you will judge from comparing the exquisite description of the manner in which the poet is supposed to pass his time,
Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn, &c.
with these lines of Thomson not less exquisite:
Of all the gentle tenants of the place
To noontide Mades incontinent he ran,
When I speak of refinement as a perfection of writing, you must observe I by 110 means recommend an affected and foolish refinement; such as that of the Spanish poets, than which the most gross want of corre&ness is more allowable. The refinement I would applaud is such as is truly clasic; such as we admire in
the superior Greek and Roman authors; such a refinement as is perfectly compatible with an elegant fimplicity: for you must observe, my friend, that the simplicity of the ancients is a refined simplicity. The purity of their language, and that of every good writer, refembles that of wine, which requires labour and time to effect; not that of water, which is common and of no price.