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“ A wit's a feather, and a chief a rod;
Were the first of these lines, or a line equally unmeaning, placed last, the couplet would have appeared execrable to a person of the most moderate taste.
It affords a strong confirmation of the foregoing observations, that the Poets of fome nations have delighted in the practice of alliteration, as well as of rhyme; and have even considered it as an essential cir. cumstance in versification. Dr. Beattie observes, that “ some antient English poems are more distinguished
by alliteration, than by any other poetical contri“ vance. In the works of Langland, even when no “ regard is had to rhyme, and but little to a rude “ fort of anapestic measure, it seems to have been a “ rule, that three words, at least, of each line should “ begin with the same letter.” A late author informs us, that, in the Icelandic poetry, alliteration is confi. dered as a circumstance no less essential than rhyme*. He mentions also several other restraints, which must add wonderfully to the difficulty of versification; and which appear to us to be perfectly arbitrary and capricious. If that really be the case, the whole plea.. fure of the reader or hearer arises from his surprise at the facility of the Poet's composition under these com
* “ The Icelandic poetry requires two things; viz. words « with the same initial letters, and words of the same found. It “ was divided into stanzas, each of which consisted of four “ couplets; and each of these couplets was again composed of “ two hemisticks, of which every one contained fix fyllables ; 6 and it was not allowed to augment this number, except in “ cases of the greatest mecellity.” See Van Troil's Letters on Iceland, p. 208.
plicated restraints; that is, from his surprise at the command which the Poet has acquired over his thoughts and expressions. In our rhyme, I acknowledge, that the coincidence of sound is agreeable in itself; and only affirm, that the pleasure which the ear receives from it, is heightened by the other consi. deration.
III. Of Poetical Fancy. THERE is another habit of association, which, in some men, is very remarkable ; that which is the foundation of Poetical Fancy : a talent which agrees with Wit in some circumstances, but which differs from it effentially in others.
The pleasure we receive from Wit, agrees in one particular with the pleasure which arises from poetical allusions ; that in both cases we are pleased with contemplating an analogy between two different subjects. But they differ in this, that the man of Wit has no other aim than to combine analogous ideas* ; where. as no allufion can, with propriety, have a place in serious poetry, unless it either illustrate or adorn the principal subject. If it has both these recommenda. tions, the allusion is perfect. If it has neither, as is often the cale with the allusions of Cowley and of Young, the Fancy of the Poet degenerates into Wit.
If these observations be well-founded, they suggest a rule with respect to poetical allufions, which has not always been sufficiently attended to. It frequently
I speak here of pure and unmixed wit, and not of wit, blended, as it is most commonly, with fome degree of humour.
happens, happens, that two subjects bear an analogy to each other in more respects than one; and where such can be found, they undoubtedly furnish the most favourable of all occasions for the display of Wit. But, in serious poetry, I am inclined to think, that however striking these analogies may be ; and although each of them might, with propriety, be made the foundation of a separate allusion; it is improper, in the course of the same allusion, to include more than one of them; as, by doing so, an author discovers an affectation of Wit, or a desire of tracing analogies, instead of illustrating or adorning the subject of his composition.
I formerly defined Fancy to be a power of affoci. ating ideas according to relations of resemblance and analogy This definition will probably be thought too general ; and to approach too near to that given of Wit. In order to discover the necessary limitations, we shall consider what the circumstances are, which please us in poetical allusions. As these allusions are suggested by Fancy, and are the molt striking instances in which it displays itself, the received rules of Critics with respect to them, may throw some light on the mental power which gives them birth.
1. An allusion pleases, by illustrating a subject comparatively obscure. Hence, I apprehend, it will be found, that allusions from the intellectual world to the material, are more pleasing, than from the material world to the intellectual. Mafon, in his Ode to Memory, compares the influence of that faculty over our ideas, to the authority of a general over his troops :
..“ thou, whose sway
Would the allusion have been equally pleasing, from a general marshalling his soldiers, to Memory and the succession of ideas?
The effect of a literal and spiritless translation of a work of genius, has been compared to that of the figures which we see, when we look at the wrong side of a beautiful piece of tapestry. The allusion is ingenious and happy; but the pleasure which we receive from it arises, not merely from the analogy which it presents to us, but from the illustration which it affords of the author's idea. No one, sure. ly, in speaking of a piece of tapestry, would think of comparing the difference between its fides, to that between an original composition and a literal translation!
Cicero, and after him Mr. Locke, in illustrating the difficulty of attending to the subjects of our consciousness, have compared the Mind to the Eye, which sees every object around it, but is invisible to itself. To have compared the Eye, in this respect, to the Mind, would have been absurd.
Mr. Pope's comparison of the progress of youthful curiosity, in the pursuits of science, to that of a tra. veller among the Alps, has been much, and justly, admired. How would the beauty of the allusion have been diminished, if the Alps had furnished the original subject, and not the illustration!
But although this rule holds, in general, I acknowledge, that instances may be produced, from our most celebrated poetical performances, of allusions from material objects, both to the intellectual and the moral worlds. These, however, are comparatively few in number, and are not to be found in descriptive or in didactic works; but in compositions written under the influence of some particular passion, or which are meant to express some peculiarity in the mind of the author. Thus, a melancholy man, who has met
many misfortunes in life, will be apt to moralize on every physical event, and every appearance of nature; because his attention dwells more habitually on human life and conduct, than on ihe material objects around him. This is the case with the banished Duke, in Shakespeare's As you like it ; who, in the language of that Poet,
“ Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
But this is plainly a distempered state of the mind; and the allusions please, not so much by the analogies they present, as by the picture they give of the character of the person to whom they have occurred.
2. An allusion pleases, by presenting a new and beautiful image to the mind. The analogy or the resemblance between this image and the principal subject, is agreeable of itself, and is indeed necessary, to furnish an apology for the transition which the writer makes, but the pleasure is wonderfully heightened, when the new image thus presented is a beautiful one.