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A PREFATORY ESSAY ON ELEGY.
In this it is probable they deviated from the original design of elegy; and it should seem, that any. kind of subjects, treated in such a manner as to diffuse a pleasing melancholy, might far better deserve the name, than the facetious mirth and libertine festivity of the successful votaries of love.
But not to dwell too long upon an opinion which may seem perhaps introduced to favour the following performance, it may not be improper to examine into the use and end of elegy. The most important end of all poetry is to encourage virtue. Epic and tragedy chiefly recommend the public virtues; elegy is of a species which illustrates and endears the private. There is a truly virtuous pleasure connected with many pensive contemplations, which it is the province and excellency of elegy to enforce. This, by presenting suitable ideas, has discovered sweets in melancholy which we could not find in mirth; and has led us with success to the dusty urn, when we could draw no pleasure from the sparkling bowl. As pastoral conveys an idea of simplicity and innocence, it is in particular the task and merit of elegy to show the innocence and simplicity of rural life to advantage: and that, in a way distinct from pastoral, as much as the plain but judicious landlord may be imagined to surpass his tenant both in dignity and understanding. It should also tend to elevate the more tranquil virtues of humility, disinterestedness, simplicity and innocence: but then there is a degree of elegance and refinement, no way inconsistent with these rural virtues; and that raises elegy above that merum rus, that unpolished rusticity, which has given our pastoral writers their highest reputation.
Wealth and splendour will never want their proper weight: the danger is, lest they should too much preponderate. A kind of poetry therefore which throws its chief influence into the other scale, that magnifies the sweets of liberty and independence, that endears the honest delights of love and friendship, that celebrates the glory of a good name after death, that ridicules the futile arrogance of birth, that recommends the innocent amusement of letters, and insensibly prepares the mind for that humanity it inculcates, such a kind of poetry may chance to please; and if it please, should seem to be of service. As to the style of elegy, it may be well enough determined from what has gone before. It should imitate the voice and language of grief, or if a metaphor of dress be more agrecable; it should be simple and diffuse, and flowing as a mourner's veil. A versification therefore is desirable, which, by indulging a free and unconstrained expression, may admit of that simplicity which elegy requires.
Heroic metre, with alternate rhyme, seems well enough adapted to this species of poetry; and, however exceptionable upon other occasions, its inconveniencies appear to lose their weight in shorter elegies; and its advantages seem to acquire an additional importance. The world has an admirable example of its beauty in a collection of elegies not long since published; the product of a gentleman5 of the most exact taste, and whose untimely death merits all the tears that Elegy can shed.
It is not impossible that some may think this metre too lax and prosaic: others, that even a more dissolute variety of numbers may have superior advantages. And, in favour of these last, might be produced the example of Milton in his Lycidas, together with one or two recent and beautiful imitations of his versification in that monody. But this kind of argument. I am apt to think, must prove too much; since the writers I have in view seem capable enough of recommending any metre they shall choose; though it must be owned also, that the choice they make of any, is at the same time the strongest presumption in its favour.
Perhaps it may be no great difficulty to compromise the dispute. There is no one kind of inetre that is distinguished by rhyines, but is liable to some objection or other. Heroic verse, where every second line is terminated by a rhyme, (with which the judgment requires that the sense should in some measure also terminate) is apt to render the expression either scanty or constrained. And this is sometimes observable in the writings of a poet lately deceased; though I believe no one ever threw so much sense together with so much ease into a couplet as Mr. Pope. But, as an air of constraint too often accompanies this metre, it seems by no means proper for a writer of elegy.
The previous rhyme in Milton's Lycidas is very frequently placed at such a distance from the folIowing, that it is often dropt by the memory (much better employed in attending to the sentiment) before it be brought to join its partner: and this seems to be the greatest objection to that kind of versification. But then the peculiar ease and variety it admits of, are no doubt sufficient to overbalance the objection, and to give it the preference to any other, in an elegy of length.
The chief exception to which stanza of all kinds is liable, is, that it breaks the sense too regularly, when it is continued through a long poem. And this may be perhaps the fault of Mr. Waller's excellent panegyric. But if this fault be less discernible in smaller compositions, as I suppose it is, I flat
5 Mr. Hammond.
ter myself, that the advantages I have before mentioned resulting from alternate rhyme (with which stanza is, I think, connected) may, at least in shorter elegies, be allowed to outweigh its imperfections. I shall say but little of the different kinds of elegy. The melancholy of a lover is different, no doubt, from what we feel on other mixed occasions. The mind in which love and grief at once predominate, is softened to an excess. Love elegy, therefore, is more negligent of order and design, and, being addressed chiefly to the ladies, requires little more than tenderness and perspicuity. Elegies that are formed upon promiscuous incidents, and addressed to the world in general, inculcate some sort of moral, and admit a different degree of reasoning, thought, and ardour.
The author of the following elegies entered on his subjects occasionally, as particular incidents in life suggested, or dispositions of mind recommended them to his choice. If he describes a rural landscape, or unfolds the train of sentiments it inspired, he fairly drew his picture from the spot; and felt very sensibly the affection he communicates. If he speaks of his humble shed, his flocks and his fleeces, he does not counterfeit the scene, who, having (whether through choice or necessity is not material) retired betimes to country solitudes, and sought his happiness in rural employments, has a right to consider himself as a real shepherd. The flocks, the meadows, and the grottos, are his own, and the embellishment of his farm his sole amusement. As the sentiments therefore were inspired by nature, and that in the carlier part of his life, he hopes they will retain a natural appearance: diffusing at least some part of that amusement, which he freely acknowledges he received from the composition of them.
There will appear perhaps a real inconsistency in the moral tenour of the several elegies; and the subsequent ones may sometimes seem a recantation of the preceding. The reader will scarcely impute this to oversight; but will allow, that men's opinions as well as tempers vary; that neither public nor private, active nor speculative life, are unexceptionably happy, and consequently that any change of opinion concerning them may afford an additional beauty to poetry, as it gives us a more striking representation of life.
If the author has hazarded, throughout, the use of English or modern allusions, he hopes it will not be imputed to an entire ignorance, or to the least disesteem, of the ancient learning. He has kept the ancient plan and method in his eye, though he builds his edifice with the materials of his own nation. In other words, through a fondness for his native country, he has made use of the flowers it produced, though, in order to exhibit them to the greater advantage, he has endeavoured to weave his garland by the best model he could find: with what success, beyond his own amusement, must be left to judges less partial to him than either his acquaintance or his friends.-If any of those should be so candid as to approve the variety of subjects he has chosen, and the tenderness of sentiment be has endeavoured to impress, he begs the metre also may not be too suddenly condemned. The public ear, habituated of late to a quicker measure, may perhaps consider this as heavy and languid; but an objection of that kind may gradually lose its force, if this measure should be allowed to suit the nature of elegy.
If it should happen to be considered as an object with others, that there is too much of a moral cast diffused through the whole; it is replied, that he endeavoured to animate the poetry so far as not to render this objection too obvious; or to risk excluding the fashionable reader: at the same time never deviating from a fixed principle, That poetry without morality is but the blossom of a fruit-tree. Poetry is indeed like that species of plants, which may bear at once both fruits and blossoms; and the tree is by no means in perfection without the former, however it may be embellished by the flowers which surround it.
He arrives at his retirement in the country, and takes occasion to expatiate in praise of simplicity.
TO A FRIEND.
For rural virtues, and for native skies,
I bade Augusta's venal sons farewell; Now, 'mid the trees, I see my smoke arise, Now hear the fountains bubbling round my cell. O may that genius which secures my rest,
Preserve this villa for a friend that 's dear! Ne'er may my vintage glad the sordid breast; Ne'er tinge the lip that dares be unsincere! Far from these paths, ye faithless friends, depart! Fly my plain board, abhor my hostile name! Hence the faint verse that flows not from the
But mourns in labour'd strains, the price of fame! Olov'd Simplicity, be thine the prize!
Assiduous Art correct her page in vain! His be the palm who, guiltless of disguise, Contemns the power, the dull resource to feign! Still may the mourner, lavish of his tears,
For lucre's venal mecd invite my scorn! Still may the bard, dissembling doubts and fears, For praise, for flattery sighing, sigh forlorn! Soft as the line of love-sick Hammond flows,"T was his fond heart effus'd the melting theme; Ah! never could Aonia's hill disclose
So fair a fountain, or so lov'd a stream. Ye loveless bards! intent with artful pains To form a sigh, or to contrive a tear, Forego your Pindus, and on- plains
Survey Canilla's charms, and grow sincere. But thou, my friend while in thy youthful soul Love's gentle tyrant scats his aweful throne, Write from thy bosom-Let not art control
The ready pen, that makes his edicts known.
Pleasing, when youth is long expir'd, to trace
Praise the soft hours that gave thee to her arms;
If in the grove Oenone lov'd to stray,
The faithful Muse shall meet thee in the grove.
ON POSTHUMOUS REPUTATION.
TO A FRIEND.
O GRIEF of griefs! that envy's frantic ire
To deck the cold insensate shrine with bays!
And fondly graces Hammond's mournful bier. Though weeping virgins haunt his favour'd urn, Renew their chaplets, and repeat their sighs; Though near his tomb Sabæan odours burn, The loitering fragrance will it reach the skies?
No, should his Delia votive wreaths prepare, Delia might place the votive wreaths in vain: Yet the dear hope of Delia's future care
Once crown'd his pleasures, and dispell'd his pain.
Shall then our youths, who fame's bright fabric raise,
Is it small transport, as with curious eye
You trace the story of each Attic sage, To think your blooming praise shall time defy? Shall waft like odours through the pleasing page?
To mark the day, when through the bulky tome, Around your name the varying style refines? And readers call their lost attention home,
Led by that index where true genius shines?
Ah! let not Britons doubt their social aim,
And patriot ardours, but with life, expire!
He lov'd the Muse; she taught him to complain;
The pensive prospect sadden'd all his strain.
I saw him faint! I saw him sink to rest!
Such Alcon fell; in meagre want forlorn!
Where were ye then, ye powerful patrons, where? Would ye the purple should your limbs adorn, Go, wash the conscious blemish with a tear.
ON THE UNTIMELY DEATH OF A CER-
Ir proud Pygmalion quit his cumbrous frame,
And blots the mournful numbers with a tear.
That odious art which Fortune's favourites know; Form'd to bestow, he felt the warmest heart, But envious Fate forbade him to bestow. He little knew to ward the secret wound;
He little knew that mortals could ensnare; Virtue he knew; the noblest joy he found,
To sing her glories, and to paint her fair! Ill was he skill'd to guide his wandering sheep; And unforeseen disaster thinn'd his fold! Yet at another's loss the swain would weep; And, for his friend, his very crook were sold. Ye sons of wealth! protect the Muse's train; From winds protect them, and with food supply; Ah! helpless they, to ward the threaten'd pain! The meagre famine, and the wintery sky! He lov'd a nymph :-amidst his slender store, He dar'd to love; and Cynthia was his theme: He breath'd his plaints along the rocky shore, They only echo'd o'er the winding stream. His nymph was fair! the sweetest bud that blows Revives less lovely from the recent shower; So Philomel, enamour'd, eyes the rose;
Sweet bird! enamour'd of the sweetest flower!
ELEGY IV. OPHELIA'S URN.
TO MR. GRAVES.
THROUGH the dim veil of evening's dusky shade, Near some lone fane, or yew's funereal green, What dreary forms has magic Fear survey'd ! What shrouded spectres Superstition seen! But you secure shall pour your sad complaint,
Nor dread the meagre phantom's wan array; What none but Fear's officious hand can paint, What none but Superstition's eye survey. The glimmering twilight and the doubtful dawn Shall see your step to these sad scenes return: Constant, as crystal dews impearl the lawn,
Shall Strephon's tear bedew Ophelia's urn! Sure nought unhallow'd shall presume to stray Where sleep the reliques of that virtuous maid: Nor aught unlovely bend its devious way,
Where soft Ophelia's dear remains are laid. Haply thy Muse, as with unceasing sighs
She keeps late vigils on her urn reclin'd, May see light groups of pleasing visions rise; And phantoms glide, but of celestial kind. There Fame, her clarion pendent at her side,
Shall seek forgiveness of Ophelia's shade; "Why has such worth, without distinction, died, Why, like the desert's lily, bloom'd to fade ?" Then young Simplicity, averse to feign,
Shall unmolested breathe her softest sigh; And Candour with unwonted warmth complain, And Innocence indulge a wailful cry. Then Elegance, with coy judicious hand,
Shall cull fresh flowrets for Ophelia's temb; And Beauty chide the Fates' severe command, That show'd the frailty of so fair a bloom!