Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of ar.y other tongue, and is therefore more used by Homer than by any other poet. I mean the lengthening of a phrase by the addition of words, which may either be inserted or omitted, as also by the extending or contracting of particular words by the insertion or omission of certain syllables. Milton has put in practice. this method of raising his language, as far as the nature of our tongue will permit, as in the passage above-mentioned, erenite for what is hermite in common discourse. If

f you

observe the measure of his verse, he has with great judgment suppressed a syllable in several words, and shortened those of two syllables into one, by which method, besides the above-mentioned advantage, he has given a greater variety to his numbers. But this

practice is more particularly remarkable in the names of persons and of countries, as Beelzebub, Hessebon, and in many other particulars, wherein he has either changed the name, or made use of that which is not the most commonly known, that he might the better depart from the language of the vulgar.

The same reason recommended to him several old words, which also makes 1 his poem appear the more venerable, and gives it a greater air of antiquity.

I must likewise take notice, that there are in Milton several words of his own coining, as Cerberean, miscreated, hell-doom'd, embryon atoms, and many others. If the reader is offended at this liberty in our English poet, I would recommend him to a discourse in Plutarch, which shows us how frequently Homer bas made use of the same liberty.

Milton, by the above-mentioned helps, and by the choice of the noblest words and phrases which our tongue would: afford him, has carried our language to a greater height than any of the Englis'ı poets have ever done before or after bim, and made the sublimity of his style equal to that of his sentiments.

I have been the more particular in these observations on Milton's style, because it is that part of him in which he apWhich also makes.] In this construction, the antecedent to which is

2

Better refer which to words, and read-make-and give. ? Before or after him.] Better expunge these words, and then the time will be left indefinite, as it should be; for the preter-perfect tense

have cannot be applied to before and after. Or else, point thushave ever done, before or after him—and then the expressicn will be right, because elliptical, and as if he had said—“ Whether they lived before of after him.”

reason.

VOL. III.

of

pears the most singular. The remarks I have here made upon the practice of other poets, with my observations out of Aristotle, will perhaps alleviate the prejudice which some have taken to his poem upon this account; though, after all, I must confess, that I think his style, though admirable in general, is in some places too much stiffened and obscured by the frequent use of those methods, which Aristotle bas prescribed for the raising of it.

This redundancy of those several ways of speech which Aristotle calls foreign language, and with which Milton has su very much enriched, and in some places darkened, the language of his poem, was the more proper for his use, because his poem is written in blank verse. Rhyme, without any other assistance, throws the language off from prose, and very often makes an indifferent phrase pass unregarded; but where the verse is not built upon rhymes, there pomp sound, and energy of expression, are indispensably necessary to support the style, and keep it from falling into the flatness of prose.

Those who have not a taste for this elevation of style, and are apt to ridicule a poet when he goes out of the common forms of expression, would do well to see how Aristotle has treated an ancient author, called Euclid, for his insipid mirth upon this occasion. Mr. Dryden used to call this sort of men his prose-critics.

I should, under this head of the language, consider Mil. ton's numbers, in which he has made use of several elisions, that are not customary among other English poets, as may be particularly observed in his cutting off the letter Y, when it precedes a vowel. This, and some other innovations in the measure of his verse, has varied his numbers, in such a manner, as makes them incapable of satiating the ear and cloying the reader, which the same uniform measure would certainly have done, and which the perpetual returns of rhyme never fail to do in long narrative poems.

I shall close these reflections upon the language of Paradise Lost, with observing that Milton has copied after Homer, rather than Virgil, in the length of his periods, the copiousness of his phrases, and the running of his verses into one another.

· Elisions.] He lcanied this secret from the Italian porte

No. 291. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2.

-Ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis
Offendar maculis, quas aut incuria fudit,
Aut humana parum cavit natura-

HOR. I HAVE now considered Milton's Paradise Lost under those four great heads of the fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language; and have shown that he excels, in general, under each of these beads. I hope that I have made several discoveries which may appear new, even to those who are versed in critical learning. Were I indeed to choose my readers, by whose judgment I would stand or fall, they should not be such as are acquainted only with the French and Italian critics, but also with the ancient and modern who have written in either of the learned languages. Above all, I would have them well versed in the Greek and Latin poets, without which a man very often fancies that he understands & critic, when in reality he does not comprehend his meaning

It is in criticism, as in all other sciences and speculations ; one who brings with him any implicit notions and observations which he has made in his reading of the poets, will find his own reflections methodized and explained, and perhaps several little hints that had passed in his mind perfected and improved in the works of a good critic; whereas one who has not these previous lights, is very often an utter stranger to what he reads, and apt to put a wrong interpretation

Nor is it sufficient, that a man who sets up for a judge in criticism, should have perused the authors above-mentioned, unless he has also a clear and logical head. Without this talent, he is perpetually puzzled and perplexed amidst his own blunders, mistakes the sense of those he would confute, or if he chances to think right, does not know how to convey his thoughts to another with clearness and perspicuity. Aristotle, who was the best critic, was also one of the best logicians that ever appeared in the world.

' Understands a critic, &c.] To understand a critic, and to comprehend his meaning, is the same thing. What he meant to say, was—" fancies that he confutes a critic, when in reality he does not comprehend his mean'ng."

upon it.

Mr. Locke's Essay on Human Understanding would be thought a very odd book for a man to make himself mas. ter of, who would get a reputation by critical writings; though at the same time it is very certain, that an author who has not learned the art of distinguishing between words and things, and of ranging his thoughts, and setting them in proper lights, whatever notions he may have, will lose him. self' in confusion and obscurity. I might further observe, that there is not a Greek or Latin critic who has not shown, even in the style of his criticisms, that he was a master of all the elegance and delicacy of his native tongue.

The truth of it is, there is nothing more absurd than for a man to set up for a critic, without a good insight into all the parts of learning; whereas many of those who have endeavour. ed to signalize themselves by works of this nature among our English writers, are not only defective in the above-mentioned particulars, but plainly discover by the phrases they make use of, and by their confused way of thinking, that they arr not acquainted with the most common and ordinary systems of arts and sciences. A few general rules extracted out of the French authors, with a certain cant of words, has sometimes set up an illiterate, heavy writer for a most judicious and formidable critic.

One great mark, by which you may discover a critic who has neither taste nor learning, is this, that he seldom ventures to praise any passage in an author which has not been before received and applauded by the public, and that his criticism turns wholly upon little faults and errors. This part of a critic is so very easy to succeed in, that we find every ordinary reader, upon the publishing of a new poem, has wit and ill-nature enough to turn several passages of it into ridicule, and very often in the right place. This Mr. Dryden has very agreeably remarked in those two celebrated lines,

Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;

He who would search for peari's, must dive below. A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than

" A true critic dwells, with more pleasure, upon the excellencies of the author he criticises, than upon his imperfections; but his duty is, to point out either as occasion serves. As to what is said of discharging this office, in the way of ridicule, and not of serious observation, that is an. oilier affair. One would reason with a good writer, and laugh at a bad 197

No. 291.

[ocr errors]

a

imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation. The most exquisite words and finest strokes of an author are those which very often appear the most doubtful and exceptionable, to a man who wants a relish for polite learning; and they are these, which a sour, undistinguishing critic generally attacks with the greatest violence. Tully observes, that it is very easy to brand or fix a mark upon what he calls verbum ardens, or, as it may be rendered into English,“ a glowing, bold expression,” and to turn it into ridicule by a cold, ill-natured criticism. A little wit is equally capable of exposing a beauty, and of aggravating a fault ; and though such a treatment of an author naturally produces indignation in the mind of an understanding reader, it has however its effect among the generality of those whose hands it falls into; the rabble of mankind being very apt to think that everything which is laughed at with any mixture of wit, is ridiculous in itself.

Such a mirth as this is always unseasonable in a critic, as it rather prejudices the reader than convinces him, and is capable of making a beauty, as well as a blemish, the subject of derision. A man who cannot write with wit on a

proper subject, is dull and stupid, but one who shows it in an improper place, is as impertinent and absurd. Besides, a man who has the gift of ridicule, is apt to find fault with anything that gives him an opportunity of exerting his beloved talent, and very often censures a passage, not because there is any fault in it, but because he can be merry upon it.

Such kinds of pleasantry are very unfair, and disingenuous, in torks criticism, in which the greatest masters, both an.

d modern, have always appeared with a serious and tive air I intend in my

to show the defects in Mil. Paradise Lost, I thought fit to premise these few particulars, to the end that the reader may know I enter upon it as on a very ungrateful work, and that I shall just point at the imperfections, without endeavouring to inflame them with ridicule. I must also observe with Longinus, that the productions of a great genius, with many lapses and inad

next
paper

Yet the rule is not without exceptions; the ridicule on Dryden, in the Rehearsal, was just as well placed, as the serious criticism of our au. thor on Milton, in his next paper.

one.

« AnteriorContinuar »