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the first relates merely to the nymph, and the second only to the cat. The sixth stanza contains a melancholy truth, that a favourite has no friend ; but the last ends in a pointed sentence of no relation to the purpose; if what glistered had been gold, the cat would not have gone into the water; and, if she had, would not less have been drowned.
The “Prospect of Eton College” 1 suggests nothing to Gray, which every beholder does not equally think and feel. His supplication to father Thames, to tell him who drives the hoop or tosses the ball, is useless and puerile. Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself. His epithet buxom health is not elegant; he seems not to understand the word. Gray thought his language more poetical as it was more remote from common use: finding in Dryden honey redolent of Spring, an expression that reaches the utmost limits of our language, Gray drove it a little more beyond common apprehension, by making gales to be redolent of joy and youth.
Of the “ Ode on Adversity,” ? the hint was at first taken from “O Diva, gratum quæ regis Antium;" } but Gray has
3 excelled his original by the variety of his sentiments, and by their moral application. Of this piece, at once poetical and rational, I will not by slight objections violate the dignity.
My process has now brought me to the wonderful Wonder of Wonders, the two Sister Odes ; by which, though either vulgar ignorand
unce or common sense at first univer1 Works, vol. i. p. 17. “Every boy who leaves Eton creditably is presented with a copy of the Works of Gray, for which everything has been done that the art of printers, bookbinders, and photographers can devise. This is one of the most curious instances of the triumphs of genius, for there is hardly a single figure in the gallery of Etonians who is so little characteristic of Eton as Gray.”—Arthur Benson, in Macmillan's Magazine, November, 1888. 2 Works, vol. i. p. 25.
Horace, Odes, i. 35.
sally rejected them, many have been since persuaded to think themselves delighted. I am one of those that are willing to be pleased, and therefore would gladly find the meaning of the first stanza of the “ Progress of Poetry.”
Gray seems in his rapture to confound the images of spreading sound and running water. A stream of musick may be allowed; but where does Musick, however smooth and strong, after having visited the verdant vales, rowl down the steep amain, so as that rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar ? If this be said of Musick, it is nonsense ;
if it be said of Water, it is nothing to the purpose.
The second stanza, exhibiting Mars's car and Jove's eagle, is unworthy of further notice. Criticism disdains to chase a schoolboy to his common places.
To the third it may likewise be objected, that it is drawn from Mythology, though such as may be more easily assimilated to real life. Idalia's velvet-green has something of cant. An epithet or metaphor drawn from Nature ennobles Art; an epithet or metaphor drawn from Art degrades Nature. Gray is too fond of words arbi. trarily compounded. Many-twinkling was formerly censured as not analogical; we may say many-spotted, but scarcely many-spotting. This stanza, however, has something pleasing
Of the second ternary of stanzas, the first endeavours to tell something, and would have told it, had it not been crossed by Hyperion: the second describes well enough the universal prevalence of Poetry; but I am afraid that the conclusion will not rise from the premises. The caverns of the North and the plains of Chili are not the residences of Glory and generous Shame. But that Poetry and Virtue go always together is an opinion so pleasing, that I can forgive him who resolves to think it true.
Works, vol. i. p. 29.
The third stanza sounds big with Delphi, and Egean, and Ilissus, and Meander, and hallowed fountain and solemn sound; but in all Gray's odes there is a kind of cumbrous splendour which we wish away. His position is at last false: in the time of Dante and Petrarch, from whom he derives our first school of Poetry, Italy was over-run by tyrant power and coward vice ; nor was our state much better when we first borrowed the Italian arts.
Of the third ternary, the first gives a mythological birth of Shakspeare. What is said of that mighty genius is true ; but it is not said happily : the real effects of this poetical power are put out of sight by the pomp of machinery. Where truth is sufficient to fill the mind, fiction is worse than useless; the counterfeit debases the genuine.
His account of Milton's blindness, if we suppose it caused by study in the formation of his poem, a supposition surely allowable, is poetically true, and happily imagined. But the car of Dryden, with his two coursers, nothing in it peculiar ; it is a car in which any other rider may be placed.
“ The Bard” appears, at the first view, to be, as Algarotti and others have remarked, an imitation of the prophecy of Nereus. Algarotti thinks it superior to its original; and, if preference depends only on the imagery and animation of the two poems, his judgement is right. There is in “ The Bard more force, more thought, and more variety. But to copy is less than to invent, and the copy has been unhappily produced at a wrong time. The fiction of Horace was to the Romans credible; but its revival disgusts us with apparent and unconquerable falsehood. Incredulus odi.“
To select a singular event, and swell it to a giant's bulk
See Gray's Ode on the Progress of Poesy, vol. i. p. 29. 2 Works, vol. i.
3 Horace, Odes, i. 15. • Horace, Ars Poet, 188.
by fabulous appendages of spectres and predictions, has little difficulty, for he that forsakes the probable may always find the marvellous. And it has little use; we are affected only as we believe; we are improved only as we find something to be imitated or declined. I do not see that “ The Bard” promotes any truth, moral or political.
His stanzas are too long, especially his epodes; the ode is finished before the ear has learned its measures, and consequently before it can receive pleasure from their consonance and recurrence.
Of the first stanza the abrupt beginning has been celebrated; but technical beauties can give praise only to the inventor. It is in the power of any man to rush abruptly upon his subject, that has read the ballad of “ Johnny Armstrong,”–
“ Is there ever a man in all Scotland"
The initial resemblances, or alliterations, ruin, ruthless, helm or hauberk, are below the grandeur of a poem that endeavours at sublimity.
In the second stanza the “ Bard” is well described ; but in the third we have the puerilities of obsolete mythology. When we are told that Cadwallo hush'd the stormy main, and that Modred made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-top'd head, attention recoils from the repetition of a tale that, even when it was first heard, was heard with scorn.
The weaving of the winding sheet he borrowed, as he owns, from the northern Bards; but their texture, however, was very properly the work of female powers, as the art of spinning the thread of life in another mythology. Theft is always dangerous; Gray has made weavers of his slaughtered bards, by a fiction outrageous and incongruous. They are then called upon to Weave the warp, and weave the woof, perhaps with no great propriety; for
' it is by crossing the woof with the warp that men weave the web or piece; and the first line was dearly bought by the admission of its wretched correspondent, Give ample room and verge enough. He has, however, no other line as bad.
The third stanza of the second ternary is commended, I think, beyond its merit. The personification is indistinct Thirst and Hunger are not alike; and their features, to make the imagery perfect, should have been discriminated. We are told, in the same stanza, how towers are fed. But I will no longer look for particular faults; yet let it be observed that the ode might have been concluded with an action of better example; but suicide is always to be had, without expence of thought.
These odes are marked by glittering accumulations of ungraceful ornaments; they strike, rather than please ; the images are magnified by affectation; the language is laboured into harshness. The mind of the writer seems to work with unnatural violence. Double, double, toil and trouble. He has a kind of strutting dignity, and is tall by walking on tiptoe. His art and his struggle are too visible, and there is too little appearance of ease and nature. To say
that he has no beauties, would be unjust: a man like him, of great learning and great industry, could not but produce something valuable. When he pleases least, it can only be said that a good design was ill directed.
His translations of Northern and Welsh Poetry deserve praise; the imagery is preserved, perhaps often improved ; but the language is unlike the language of other poets.
In the character of his Elegy ' I rejoice to concur with the
1 Works, vol. i. p. 73. The only existing copy of the Elegy in a Country Churchyard in the handwriting of the author was sold 4th August, 1854, for £131. It is written in his small neat hand (he wrote with a crowquill) on one half of a sheet of yellow foolscap folded in two.-P. CUNNINGHAM.