Page images
PDF
EPUB

In a passage at the beginning of the 4th book of Telemachus, one feels a sudden bound upward without preparation, which accords not with the subject :

Calypso, qui avoite été jusqu'à ce moment immobile et transportée de plaisir en écoutant les avantures de Té émaque, l'interrompit pour lui faire prendre quelque repôs. Il est tems, lui dit-elle, qui vous alliez goûier la douceur du sommeil aprés tant de travaux. Vous n'avez rien à craindre ici ; tout vous est favorable. Abandonnez vous donc à la joye. Goutez la paix, et tous les autres dons des dieux dont vous allez être comblé. Demain, quand l'Aurore avec Jes doigts de rôles entr'ouvrira les portes dorées de l'Orient, et que le Chevaux du Soleil fortans de l'onde amére repandront les flames du jour, pour chajer devant eux toutes les etoiles du ciel, nous reprendrons, mon cher Télémaque, l'histoire. de vos malheurs.

This obviously is copied from a similar passage in the Æneid, which ought not to have been copied, because it lies open to the same censure; but the force of authority is great :

At regina gravi jamdudum faucia cura
Vulnus alit venis, et cæco carpitur igni.
Multa viri virius animo, muliufque recursat
Gentis honos : hærent infixi pectore vultus,
Verbaque : nec placidam membris dat cura quietem.
Poftera Phæbea luftrabat lampade terras,
Humentemque Aurora polo dimoverat rimbram;
Cum sic unanimein alloquitur malesana fororem,

Lib. iv. 1.

Take another example where the words rise above the subject :

Ainsi les peuples y accoururent bientôt en foule de toutes partes ; le commerce de cette ville étoit semblable au flux et au reflux de la mer. Les trésors y entroient comme les flots viennent l'un sur l'autre. Tout y étoit apporté et en

sortoit

ܪ

sortoit librement ; tout ce qui y entroit, étoit utile ; tout ce qui en sortoit, laifloit en sortant d'autres richesses en la place. La justice sevére presidoit dans le port au milieu de tant de nations. La franchise, la bonne foi, la candeur, sembloient du haut de ces superbs tours appeller les marchands des terres le plus éloignées : chacun de ces marchands, soit qu'il vint des rives orientales le soleil fort chaque jour du sein des ondes, soit qu'il fût parti de cette grande mer le soleil lafè de fon cours va eteindre ses feux, vivoit paisible et en sureté dans Salente comme dans la patrie !

Telemaque, l. 12. The language of Homer is suited to his subject, no less accurately than the actions and sentiments of his heroes are to their characters. Virgil, in that particular, falls short of perfection : his language is stately throughout; and though he descends at times to the simplest branches of cookery, roasting and boiling for example, yet he never relaxes a moment from the high tone. * In adjusting his language to his subject, no writer equals Swift. I can recollect but one exception, which at the same time is far from being grofs : The journal of a modern lady is composed in a style blending sprightliness with familiarity, perfectly suited to the subject : in one paffage, however, the poet deviating from that style, takes a tone above his subject. The passage I have in view begins, 1. 116. But let me now a while survey, &c. and ends

at I. 135

It is proper to be observed upon this head, that writers of inferior rank are continually upon the stretch to enliven and enforce their fubject by exaggeration and superlatives. This unluckily has an effect contrary to what is intended; the reader, difgusted with language that swells above the fubject, is led by contrast, to think more meanly of the subject

than * See Eneid. 116, i, 183.-919.

than it may possibly deserve. A man of prudence, beside, will be no less careful to husband his strength in writing than in walking : a writer too liberal of superlatives, exhausts his whole stock upon ordinary incidents, ard reserves no share to express, with greater energy, matters of importance.*

Many writers of that kind abound so in epithets, as if poetry consisted entirely in high-sounding words. Take the following instance.

When black-brow'd Night her dusky mantle spread,

And wrapt in folemn gloom the fable fky : When soothing Sieep her opiate dews had thed,

And seal'd in filken slumbers ev'ry eye : My wakeful thoughts admit no balmy reft,

Nor the sweet bliss of soft oblivion thare :
But watchful wo distracts my aching breast,

My heart the subject of corroding care :
From haunts of men with wand'ring steps and flow
I folitary tteal, and footh my penfive wo.

Here every substantive is faithfully attended to by some tumid epithet ; like young master who cannot walk abroad without having a lac'd livery man at his heels. -- Thus in reading without taste, an em. phasis is laid on every word ; and in singing without taste, every note is grac’d. Such redundancy of epithets, instead of pleafing, produce satiety and disgust.

The power of language to imitate thought, is not confined to the capital circumítances above mentioned : it reachreth even the flighter modifications.

Slow * Montaigne, refle&ting npon the then present modes, observes, that there never was at any 6ther time fo abject and servile prostitution of words in the addresses made by people of fafhion to one another; the humbleft tenders of life and soul, no professions under that of devotion and adoration; the writer constantly declaring himself a vasal, nay a flave : fo rhat when any more ferious occasion of friendship or gratitude requires more genuine profeffions, words are wagting to express them.

Slow action, for example, is imitated by words pronounced flow : labour or toil, by words harsh or rough in their sound. But this subject has been already handled.*

In dialogue-writing, the condition of the speaker is chiefly to be regarded in framing the expression. The sentinel in Hamlet, interrogated with relation to the ghost whether his watch had been quiet, answers with great propriety for a man in his station, “ not a mouse stirring."

I proceed to a second remark, no less important than the former. No person of reflection but mult be sensible, that an incident makes a stronger impression on an eye-witness, than when heard at second hand. Writers of genius, sensible that the

eye is the best avenue to the heart, represent every thing as paffing in our fight ; and, froin readers or hearers, transform us as it were into fpectators : a fkilful writer conceals himself, and presents his personages : in a word, every thing becomes dramatic as much as poslible. Plutarch de gloria Atheniensium, observes, that Thucydides makes his reader a fpectator, and inspires him with the same paflions as if he were an eye-witness : and the fame observation is applicable to our countryman Swift. From this happy talent arises that energy of style which is

pe. culiar to him : he cannot always avoid narration; but the pencil is his choice, by which he bestows life and colouring upon his obječts. Pope is richer

in • Ch. 18. fta. 3. + One can scarce avoid smiling at the blindness of a certain critic, who, with an air of self sufficiency, condemns this expression as low and vulgar. A French poet, says he, would express the same thought in a more sublime manner : “ Mais tout dort, et l'armée, et les vents, et Neptune." And he adds, The English poet may please at Lom don, but the French every where else."

[ocr errors]

in ornament, but poffefseth not in the same degree the talent of drawing from the life. A translation of the sixth fatire of Horace, begun by the former and finished by the latter, affords the fairest opportunity for a comparison. Pope obviously imitates the picturesque manner of his friend : yet every one of taste must be sensible, that the imitation, though fine, falls short of the original. In other initances, where Pope writes in his own style, the difference of manner is still more confpicuous.

Abstract or general terms have no good effect in any composition for amusement ; because it is only of particular objects that images can be formed. Shakespear's style in that respect is excellent : every article in his descriptions is particular, as in nature; and if accidentally a vague expression flip in, the blemish is difcernible by the bluntness of its impresfion. Take the following example : Falstaff, excusing himself for running away at a robbery, says,

I was

By the Lord, I knew ye as well as he that made ye. Why, hear ye, my mailers ; was it for me to kill the heirapparent ; should I turn upon the true prince? Why, thou knowelt, I am as valiant as Hercules; but beware instinct, the lion will not touch the true prince : instinct is a great malier.

a coward on instinct : I shall think the better of myself, and thee, during my life ; I for a violent lion, and thou for a true prince. But, by the Lord, lads, I am glad you have the money. Hostess, clap too the doors, watch to-night, pray to-mprrow. Gallants, lads, boys, hearts of gold, all the titles of good fellowship come to you! What, thall we be merry ? thall we have a play extempore?

-Fillet, Henry IV. ači 2. fc. 9.

The sentence I object to is, instinct is a great matter, which makes but a poor figure, compared with the liveliness of the rest of the speech. It was one of Ho

iner's

* See chap. 4.

« PreviousContinue »