« AnteriorContinuar »
When early clients thunder at the gate,
This ftyle, though intended to exprefs common things in a common manner, may sometimes be more courtly, and admit of compliment.
If virtue's felf were loft, we might
From your fair mind new copies write;
This ftyle agrees with comedy, fatires, paftorals and epiftles, and occasionally fills up the narration and under parts of other poems.
But the young student is here to be cautioned against defcending too low; elegance is to be preferved in every part of compofition, and where propriety of character does not demand vulgar expreffions, they are always to be avoided.
Between thefe, as a partition which ferves to separate and yet at the fame time unite the other two, is the mediate or middle ftyle; which is fuitable to every fpecies of poetry, as it admits of ornament fufficient to diftinguish it from the plain and humble, and yet is not animated enough to approach the fublime. Take an example from Oteway.
Wifh'd morning's come! and now upon the plains
And dress the grateful glebe that yields him fruits.
The chearful birds too, on the tops of trees,
There is also a fpecies of ftyle called the farcaftical or invective, which is peculiar to the fatire and the epigram; and when ftyle abounds with figurative expreffions, as the epic poem and fublimer ode more particularly do, we call it the florid ftyle.
A ftyle is alfo faid to be concife or diffufe, eafy or ftrong, clear or obfcure, brisk or flow, sweet, soft and fluent, or rough and unpleafant; all which are too obvious to need any explication. Abundant inftances of these are to be found in our poets, and they are all (except the obfcure) proper or improper, according to the nature and fubject of the poem in which they appear; but obscurity is never to be admitted; for as the ftyle that is clear is feldom faulty, the obfcure and uncouth will always be so, and, after perplexing the mind of the reader, leave him diffatisfied.
The rough ftyle, however disagreeable it may be when improperly applied, enters with grace into feveral of the fpecies of poetry, but efpecially into the epic poem and the tragedy; for where things rude and horrible are to be exprefied, fuch words must be used as will represent all their difagreeable and dreadful circumftances. The rough ftyle therefore appears often with majefty and grandeur in the epic and tragedy; where we find it frequently heightened by our best poets with a few antiquated words, which they apprehend adds a dignity and folemnity to the style but great judgment is here required; none but a masterly hand fhould make thefe bold attempts; for if too many obfolete terms are admitted, or improperly placed, instead of dignity and folemnity, dulnefs and obfcurity will fucceed.
But here we are to obferve, that the paffions have a style in a manner peculiar to themfelves; for fometimes the pathetic, and even the fublime (efpecially when united with pity and terror) is more emphatically expreffed by a feafonable filence, or a few plain words, than by a number of pompous periods. We fhall give one inftance out of a multitude in Shakespear. After a quarrel between Brutus and Caffius, in which the juftice and generous refentment of
Brutus, and the hafty choler and repentance of Caffius, with their reconciliation, is nobly expreffed; Brutus says, O Caffius, I am fick of many griefs.
Caffius. Of your philofophy you make no use,
Brutus. No man bears forrow better-Portia's dead,
Brutus. She is dead.
Caffius. How 'fcap'd I killing when I croft you fo?
Here the grief in Brutus, and the furprife in Caffius, is better expreffed than it could have been in a multitude of fine fpeeches; fince indeed both are inexpreffible in any other manner.
The paffions of anger, grief and joy, as we have already obferved, are not to be loaded with ftudied metaphors, fimiles and defcriptions, as they too frequently are in our English tragedies; for here they are highly improper, and therefore inelegant and unaffecting. Nature, in a tumultuous ftate, has not time to look round her for expreffions that are delicate and pretty, but thunders out fuch as the paffion has excited, and those often in broken and interrupted fentences. Thefe paffions therefore are, in general, better expreffed by fudden ftarts, fuppreffions, apoftrophes, exclamations, and broken and unconnected fentences, than by a forced and ftudied dignity. Nor in these need the writer be afraid of expreffing himfelf improperly, if he feels, as he ought to do, the paffion he would excite in others; for, as we have elsewhere observed, the mind is extremely ready in culling such phrases as are immediately for her purpose; and this is the reason why the common ignorant people, and even children, when under violent emotions of mind, so often exprefs themselves with force, propriety, and elegance.
The rules and cautions we have here laid down, will at all times be found useful; but none are fufficient to teach this art without daily practice, and a conftant perufal of the beft authors: to which let me add, that a fertile imaginanation, a clear conception, and a good ear, are indifpenfably neceffary.-Fancy is the foundation of poctry.Without a good imagination nothing can be new, and therefore not valuable; without a clear conception nothing can be clearly or elegantly expreffed; for where there is confufion in the head, perfpicuity can never flow from the
pen; and with regard to compofition and verfification, a good ear is beyond all the rules in the world.
We are now to speak of the laws and rules of the feveral kinds of poetry, as laid down by the beft critics, and to give fpecimens of fuch as will fall within the compass of our defign..
CHA P. VII.
Of the different SPECIES of POETRY.
HE writers on the art of poetry have ufually claffed the feveral forts of poems under the following heads, . the Epigram, the Elegy, the Paftoral, the Ode, the Satire, Comedy, Tragedy, and the Epic poem. This dif tribution, however, feems infufficient, and therefore we hope a deviation from the learned in this refpect will not appear arrogant or difagreeable; efpecially if the alterations we propofe fhould be found to have their basis in truth and right reason.
Every thing in nature, that is diftin&t and different from all others, fhould have a name, whereby it may be diftinguished without a tedious enumeration of its properties and adjuncts; fince a method of that kind would occafion infinite perplexity and confufion, which is ever to be avoided, and especially in matters of fcience; and, if on mature examination it be found, that there are poems of confiderable character which are effentially different from those we have already mentioned, and are not to be refolved into any of them, another distribution may be justified.
The Epitaph, on account, perhaps, of the epigrammatic point with which thofe little pieces are often clofed, has been usually claffed with the epigram; but as there are numberless epitaphs whofe excellency does not confift in thining thoughts and points of wit, (the characteristics of our modern epigrams) we fhall take the freedom to affign them a distinct place.
Epifles, defcriptive and preceptive poems, tales, fables, and allegorical poetry, deferve the fame diftinction; for as thefe methods of writing have obtained much of late, they are of too great confequence to be paffed over, and it feems impoffible
to treat of them under any other article without manifeft incongruity. It may be faid, indeed, that many of our epifles (especially thofe of Horace and Mr. Pope) partake of the fatire; but that is no reafon why others that are of a quite different nature fhould be placed under that head. The defcriptive poems of Milton, I mean his L'Allegro and Il Penferofo, as well as Denham's Cooper's Hill, Pope's Windfor Foreft, and others in our language, cannot be claffed under any of the ufual divifions of poetry; nor indeed can the preceptive poems with any degree of accuracy or fhew of reafon. Virgil's Georgics, Horace's Art of Poetry, the duke of Buckinghamshire's Efay, Roscommon on tranflated Verfe, Pope's Effay on Man, and his Effay on Criticism, are fo effentially different and diftinct from any of the ufual claffes, that the critics, with all their art, will never be able to discover any real agreement between them; nor will they deny, I fuppose, but that Virgil's Georgics, and Pope's Efay on Man, deferve as much efteem at leaft as their paftorals, though they have been thus neglected in their divifion of this art. If it be faid, that the other fpecies of poetry often partake of all thefe different kinds, I answer, that is no objection; for this they occafionally do of each other even the epic poem, with all its dignity, has fometimes the plaintive ftrain of the elegy, and the farcafm and afperity of fatire.
Tales and fables, indeed, when they are of any value, are in general either didactic or fatirical, and may therefore be refolved into the preceptive poem or the fatire; but as there is fomething peculiar in their compofition, we shall affign them a diflinct chapter, and deliver what we have farther to fay on this art under the following heads, viz. the Epigram, the Epitaph, the Elegy, the Paftoral, the Epiftle, the Defcriptive Poem, the Preceptive Poem, Tales and Fables, the Allegorical Poem, the Ode, the Satire, Comedy, Tragedy, and the Heroic poem, of which the Epic is the most exalted part, and requires the utmoft extent of human genius.