« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
kind, than those which date their origin from the ca. prices of our own age are ever likely to be. An admiration for the classical remains of antiquity is, at present, not less general in Europe, than the advantages of a liberal education : and such is the effect of this admiration, that there are certain caprices of Taste, from which no man who is well educated is entirely free. A composition in a modern language, which should sometimes depart from the ordinary modes of expresfion, from an affectation of the idioms which are con. fecrated in the classics, would please a very wide circle of readers, in consequence of the prevalence of classical affociations; and, therefore, such affectations, however absurd, when carried to a degree of fingularity, are of a far fuperior class to those which are adapted to the fashions of the day. But still the general principle holds true, That whatever beauties derive their original merely from casual association, must appear capricious to those to whom the association does not extend ; and that the fimplest style is that which continues longest to please, and which pleases most universally. In the writings of Mr. Harris, there is a certain claslical air, which will always have many admirers, while antient learning continues to be cultivated; but which, to a mere English reader, appears somewhat unnatural and ungraceful, when compared with the composition of Swift or of Addison.
The analogy of the arts of statuary and painting, may be of use in illustrating these remarks. The influence of ancient times has extended to these, as well as to the art of writing; and in this case, no less than in the other, the transcendent power of 7
genius has established a propriety of choice in matters of indifference, and has, perhaps, consecrated, in the opinion of mankind, some of its own caprices.
“ Many of the ornaments of art,” (says Sir Joshua Reynolds,) “ those at least for which no reason can be
given, are transmitted to us, are adopted, and ac- quire their consequence, from the company in which “ we have been used to see them. As Greece and 66 Rome are the fountains from whence have flowed * all kinds of excellence, to that veneration which they “ have a right to claim for the pleasure and knowledge " which they have afforded us, we voluntarily add our " approbation of every ornament and every custom " that belonged to them, even to the fashion of their s dress. For it may be observed, that, not satisfied “ with them in their own place, we make no difficul
ty of dressing statues of modern heroes or fenators c in the fashion of the Roman armour, or peaceful “ robe; and even go so far as hardly to bear a statue “ in any other drapery.
“ The figures of the great men of those nations “ have come down to us in sculpture. In sculpture “ remain almost all the excellent specimens of ancient r art. We have so far associated personal dignity to “ the persons thus represented, and the truth of art
to their manner of representation, that it is not in “ our power any longer to separate them. This is not “ so in painting : because, having no excellent antient “ portraits, that connection was never formed. In“ deed, we could no more venture to paint a general “ officer in a Roman military habit, than we could “ make a statue in the present uniform. But since we “ have no antient portraits, to shew how ready we are “ to adopt those kind of prejudices, we make the best “ authority among the moderns serve the same pur
pose. The great variety of excellent portraits with “ which Vandyke has enriched this nation, we are “ not content to admire for their real excellence, but “ extend our approbation even to the dress which hap“ pened to be the fashion of that age. By this means, " it must be acknowledged, very ordinary pictures ac“quired something of the air and effect of the works “ of Vandyke, and appeared therefore, at first fight, “ better pictures than they really were.
They appeared so, however, 'to those only who had the means of making this association *.”
The influence of affociation on our notions concerning language, is still more strongly exemplified in poetry than in prose. As it is one great object of the poet, in his serious productions, to elevate the imagination of his readers above the grossness of sensible objects, and the vulgarity of common life, it becomes peculiarly necessary for him to reject the use of all words and phrases which are trivial and hackneyed. Among those which are equally pure and equally perspicuous, he, in general, finds it expedient to adopt that which is the least com. mon. Milton prefers the words Rhene and Danaw, to the more common words Rhine and Danube :
“ A multitude, like which the populous North
REYNOLDS's Discourses, p. 313, et seq. + Paradise Lost, book i. 1. 351.
In the following line,
“ Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme,” how much more suitable to the poetical style does the expression appear, than if the author had said,
“ Things unattempted yet in prose or verse." In another passage, where, for the sake of variety, he has made use of the last phrase, he adds an epithet, to remove it a little from the familiarity of ordinary discourse,
« in prose or numerous verse*.” In consequence of this circumstance, there arises gradually in every language a poetical diction, which differs widely from the common diction of prose. It is much less subject to the vicissitudes of fashion, than the polite modes of expression in familiar conversation; because, when it has once been adopted by the poet, it is avoided by good prose-writers, as being too elevated for that species of composition. It may there. fore retain its charm, as long as the language exists ; nay, the charm may increase, as the language grows older.
Indeed, the charm of poetical diction must increase to a certain degree, as polite literature advances. For when once a set of words has been confecrated to poetry, the very found of them, independently of the ideas they convey, awakens, every time we hear it, the agreeable impressions which were connected with it when we met with them in the performances of our faTourite authors. Even when strung together in fentences * Paradise Loft, book i. I. 150. See Newton's Edit.
which convey no meaning, they produce fome effect on the mind of a reader of sensibility: an effect, at least, extremely different from that of an unmeaning sentence
Languages differ from each other widely in the copiousness of their poetical diction. Our own possesses, in this respect, important advantages over the French : not that, in this language, there are no words appropriated to poetry, but because their number is, comparatively speaking, extremely limited.
The scantiness of the French poetical diction is, pro. bably, attended with the less inconvenience, that the phrases which occur in good prose-writing are less degraded by vulgar application than in English, in consequence of the line being more distinctly and more strongly drawn between polite and low expressions in that language than in ours. Our poets, indeed, by having a language appropriated to their own purposes, not only can preserve dignity of expression, but can connect with the perusal of their compositions, the pleasing impressions which have been produced by those of their predecessors. And hence, in the higher forts of poetry, where their object is to kindle, as much as possible, the enthufiasm of their readers, they not only avoid, studiously, all expressions which are vulgar, but all such as are borrowed from fashionable life. This certainly cannot be done in an equal degree by a poet who writes in the French language.
In English, the poetical diction is to extremely co. pious, that it is liable to be abused; as it puts it in the power of authors of no genius, merely by ringing changes on the poetical vocabulary, to give a certain