« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
The following essay consists of prose and verse intermixed, a practice not very common at present, which may therefore require some explanation. Among the French writers, this mode has been much used in many celebrated productions ; in this country, the excellence of Cowley's mixed pieces has served rather to deter, than to invite imitation. I recollect only two essays written on this plan, the Polite Philosopher, and the Essay on Delicacy, the first by Mr. Forrest, and the late ter by Dr. Lancaster; but the poetry of those gentlemen differed so little from their prose, that the transition produced no remarkable effect. It seems favourable to an author's ex. ertions, that he should be obliged to proceed no farther in verse, than his poetical impulse determines him; and that upon a change of subject, or a total deficiency of poetical ideas, he should be permitted to betake himself to prose. The best poets are unequal, and are obliged to admit occasionally weak or insipid verses, for the purpose of connecting the better parts of their work. But it must be allowed, that many laborious productions would have been much improved, if only the happier passages had appeared in the poetical form, and the remainder had been printed as plain prose. Much fatigue would thus have been spared to the author, and much disgust to the reader. It must be owned that there is something im. posing in the appearance of verse; as a noted critic lately mis. took the nonsense-verses in Pope's Miscellanies for a serious love poem; but my proposal is intended for the relief of a class of writers very different from Pope,
MENIPPEAN ESSAY ON ENGLISH
Since English writers have discovered the secret of uniting elegance and interest with the narration of facts, historical compositions have multiplied greatly in the language. The avidity with which they are perused was indeed to be expected, at a time when the love of reading proceeds to a degree of dissipation. In these productions, the reader feels his understanding improved, and his taste gratified at the same time; and for the sake of those who can only be allured by the dainties of knowledge, some historians have condescended to adopt the style of novellists, and to relieve the asperities of negociation and war, by tender dialogue and luscious description. If some writers, envious of the treasures they mean to impart, have sullenly involved themselves in Latin, they are however not more difficult than those who present us with ænigmatical English.
It was very late, before the class of historians became a respectable department of our literature.
The natural reserve and coldness of our countrymen seems even to have influenced their publications, and to have made them sensible of the difficulty of telling the gravest story to the world. Meanwhile, tradition, corrupted by poetry, and other seductive causes, offered our own history to the reader, in a state more proper to exercise his critical powers, than to furnish him with either agrecable or useful information. From bards, inspir'd by mead, or Celtic beer, Burst forth the bloody feud, or vision drear, Till each attendant bagpipe squeak'd for fear :*
* At thy well-sharpen'd thumb, from shore to
shore The trebles squeak for fear, the bases roar.
They sung how Fin Mac Coul* controll'd the
fight, Or Merlin rav'd with more than second-sight. Down Time's long stream the dying music floats, And cheats th’impatient ear with broken notes. Lullid by the murmur, antiquarians snore, Of Highland-epics dream, and Druid-lore; Or on the seeming steep, and shadowy plain, Hunt the glass-castle, or Phenician fane.t
Next doleful ballads troll'd th'immortal theme, Sung to the car, or whistl'd to the team: Tho' wicked wits, from age to age,
refuse The homely ditties of the hob-nail-muse, Long tost, the sport of mountain-air and winds,ll These P-y comments, and these Edwards binds. Now from his store each restless rival draws Rhyme's tarnish'd flowers, blunt points, and rusty
saws, Till our bright shelves, in gilded pride, display The trash our wiser fathers threw away.
Our early hist'ry shuns the judging eye, In convents bred, the urchin learn'd to lie;
+ Glass-castle.) Vitrified forts in Scotland; and the celebrated ship-temples in Ireland. # Sung to the wheel, and sung unto the paile.
Hall's Virgidem. ! rapidis ludibria ventis.
White phantoms wave their palmsin golden meads, And the pale school-boy trembles as he reads,
The later chroniclers, with little skill, Darkling and dyll, drew round th' historic mill. In wild confusion strow'd, appear the feats Of shews and battles, duels, balls, and treats; Here the rich arms victorious Edward bore, There the round oaths which great Eliza swore : And quaint devices, justs, and knightly flames, And gay caparisons, and dainty dames.
The most striking defect in the present figure of history, is not meagreness, but inflation, which distorts her features, and confounds her proportions. Like the Roman, * who thought it increased his dignity to wear robes too long for his body, and shoes too large for his feet, some of our writers in this style have endeavoured to adapt huge words, and immeasurable periods to every trifling
Such tumid lines a failing age betray,
Some critics, fond of discovering analo
* Plin, Epistol.