Page images

Quæ faga, quis te folvere Thesalis
Magus venenis, quis poterit deus?
Vix illigatumte triformi
Pegasus expediet Chimera.

Horat. Carm. lib. 1. ode 27 Eighthly, If crowding figures be bad, it is ftill worse to graft one figure upon another : For instance,

While his keen falchion drinks the warriors lives.

Iliad, xi. 211.

A falchion drinking the warriors blood is a figure built upon resemblance, which is passable. But then in the expression, lives is again put for blood; and by thus grafting one figure upon another the expres. fion is rendered obscure and unpleasant.

Ninthly, Intricate and involved figures that can scarce be analysed, or reduced to plain language, are least of all tolerable :

Voris incendimus aras.

Æneid, iii. 279

Onerantque canistris
Duna laboratæ Cereris.

Eneid, viii. 180.

Vulcan to the Cyclopes :

Arma acri facienda viro : nunc viribus usus,
Nunc manibus rapidis, omni nunc arte magistra :
pracipitate moras.

Æneid, viii. 441.

Huic gladio, perque area suta
Per tunicam squalentem auro, latus haurit apertum.

Eneid, X. 313.

Semotique puris tarda necessitas
Lethi, corripuit gradum.

Horaf. Carm, lib. 1. ode 3.


Scribêris Vario fortis, et hoftium
Victor, Mæonii carminis alite.

Horat. Carm. lib. I. ode 6.

Else shall our fates be number'd with the dead.

Iliad, v. 294

Commutual death the fate of war confounds.

Iliad, viii. 85. and xi. 117.

Speaking of Proteus :

Instant he wears, elusive of the rape,
The mimic force of every savage shape.

Odysey, iv. 563

[ocr errors]

Rolling convulsive on the floor, is seen
The piteous object of a prostrate Queen.

Ibid. iv. 952.


The mingling tempest waves its gloom.

Autumn, 337

A various sweetness swells the gentle race.

Ibid. 640.

A sober calm fleeces unbounded ether,

Ibid. 967

The distant water-fall swells in the breeze.

Winter, 738.

In the tenth place, When a subject is introduced by its proper name, it is absurd to attribute to it the properties of a different subject to which the word is sometimes applied in a figurative sense :

Hear me, oh Neptune ! thou whose arms are hurld
From Thore to shore, and gird the solid world.

Odysey, ix. 617.


Neptune is here introduced personally, and not figa uratively for the ocean : the description therefore, which is only applicable to the latter, is altogether improper.

It is not sufficient, that a figure of speech be regu. larly constructed, and be free from blemish : it requires taste to discern when it is proper, when improper ; and taste, I suspect, is our only guide. One however may gather from reflection and experience, that ornaments and graces suit not any of the dispiriting pallions, nor are proper for expressing any thing grave and important. In familiar conversation, they are in some measure ridiculous : Profpero, in the Tempeft, speaking to his daughter Miranda, says,

The fringed curtains of thine eyes advance,
And say what thou feest yond.

No exception can be taken to the justness of the figure ; and circumstances may be imagined to make it proper ; but it is certainly not proper in familiar conversation.

In the last place, Though figures of speech have a charming effect when accurately constructed and properly introduced, they ought however to be scattered with a sparing hand: nothing is more luscious, and nothing consequently more satiating, than redundant ornaments of any kind.



Narration and Description.

HORACE, and many critics after him, exhort writers to choose a subject adapted to their genius. . Such observations would multiply rules of criticism without end ; and at any rate belong not to the present work, the object of which is human nature in general, and what is common to the species. But though the choice of a subject comes not under such a plan, the manner of execution comes under it ; because the manner of execution is subjected to general rules, derived from principles common to the species. These rules, as they concern the things expressed as well as the language or expression, require a division of this chapter into two parts ; first of thoughts, and next of words. I pretend not to justify this division as entirely accurate : for in discourfing of thoughts, it is difficult to abstract altogether from the words; and still more difficult, in discoursing of words, to abstract altogether from the thought.

The first rule is, That in history, the reflections ought to be chaste and solid ; for while the intent upon truth, it is little difpofed to the operations of the imagination. Strada's Belgic history is full of poetical images, which discording with the subject, are unpleasant, and they have a still worse effect, by giving an air of fiction to a genuine history. Such flowers ought to be scattered with a sparing hand, even in epic poetry and at no rate are they proper,

till VOL. II.


till the reader be warmed, and by an enlivened imagination be prepared to relish them : in that state of mind they are agreeable ; but while we are fedate and attentive to an historical chain of facts, we reject with disdain, 'every fi&ion. This Belgic history is indeed wofully yicious both in matter and in form : it is stuffed with frigid and unmeaning reflections ; and its poetical flashes, even laying aside their impropricty, are mere tinsel.

Second, Vida,* following Horace, recommends a modeft commencement of an epic poem ; giving for a reason, That the writer ought to husband his fire. This reason has weight ; but what is said above suggests a reason fill more weighty : bold thoughts and íguresare never relished till the mind be heated and thoroughly engaged, which is not the reader's case at the commencement. Homer introduces not a single simile in the first book of the Iliad, nor in the first boc': of the Odyssey. On the other hand, Shakespear leg,ins one of his plays with a sentiment too bold for the inost heated imagination :

Bedford. Ilung be the heav'ns with black, yield day to Comets, imprrting chance of times and states, Brandis your cryftal trifles in the sky, And with them fcour, the bad revolting stars, That have confenicu unto Henry's death! Henry the Fifth, too farious to live long! England ne'cr loit a king of fo much worth.

Firl Part, Henry VI. The paisage with which Strada begins his history, is too poetical ter a subject of that kind ; and at any rate too high for the beginning of a grave perform

A third reason ought to have no less influence than either of the former, That a man, who, upon


* Poet. lib. 2. 1. 30.


« PreviousContinue »