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CHA P. V.
Of the BEAUTY of THOUGHT in POETRY.
S we have already treated of thoughts and ftyle in the preceding volume, under the article Rhetoric, this chapter and the enfuing may, perhaps, feem like a repetition, and be thought ufelefs; but it is to be confidered, that though thoughts in poetry and profe differ but little, (except in pieces of fiction) a fublime thought being ftill the fame, whether expreffed in profe or verfe, yet as the diction of poetry is very different from that of profe, and as this volume is intended to stand alone, and to be read difinaly from the other fciences, it will be here necessary to fay fomething on thefe fubjects, which are the foundationof elegance and fublimity.
Thoughts may, not improperly, be called the foundation or body of a poem, or difcourfe; and the ftyle, or diction, the drefs with which they are decorated; for the choiceft and moft brilliant expreffions will be looked upon as mere empty and contemptible founds, unless they are animated with good fenfe and propriety of thought: but on the contrary, a new and beautiful thought will affect us agreeably, though unadorned, because it ftrikes the imagination with its novelty, and carries with it fome degree of information, which it has drawn from truth and nature.
Thoughts are the images of things, as words are the images of thoughts, and they are both, like other pictures and images, to be efteemed or defpifed, as the reprefenta. tion is juft and natural, true or false.
The thoughts we find in the best authors are natural and intelligible; they are neither affected to difplay wit, nor far-fetched to difcover learning; but are fuch as arife, as it were spontaneoufly, out of the fubject treated of, and feem fo infeparable from it, that we cannot conceive how it could have been otherwife exprefs'd with fo much propriety.
Were we inclined to give inftances of falfe and unnatural thoughts, enough might be found in the works of our modern poets, and not a few even among the ancients, espéin Ovid, Lucan and Seneca.
This celebrated paffage in Lucan,
The heav'ns entomb the man that wants an urn, which is apply'd to foldiers that are flain in the field and lie unburied, may, at first view, feem elegant and ingenious; but when we confider that the carcass of a horse, a kite, or a crow is entomb'd in the fame manner, the appearance of wit will fubfide. For wit (in the fenfe it is ufed when apply'd to polite compofition) is elegance of thought, which adds beauty to propriety, and not only pleases the fancy, but informs the judgment.
It is amazing, that one of the beft poets this nation has produced fhould have been the author of the following wretched lines:
Thou shalt not wish her thine, thou shalt not dare
There's not a far of thine dares flay with thee,
Thoughts are more or lefs juft and true, as they are more or lefs conformable to their object; and entire conformity is, in this refpeet, what we call the juftnefs of a thought; for thoughts are juft and fit when they perfectly agree with the things they reprefent.
Thoughts in poetry, however, may be juft without being philofophically true; for it is the poet's bufinefs to represent. things not as they are, but as they seem to be. In defcribing the rainbow, for instance, he may with juftnefs dwell on the colours that feem to compofe that beatiful phanomenon, though the philofopher fhould ftand by with his prifm, to prove that the whole of this appearance was occafioned only by the refraction of the rays of light. Nor are metaphors, hyperboles, ironies, or equivocal expreffions, when properly used, nor fiction or fable, any deviation. from this rule of right thinking; for there is a great difference between falfhood and fiction, between that which is really falfe, and that which is only fo in appearance. Tropes, figures, and fictions, when they are of any value, are raised on the foundation of right reafon; they have truth for their bafis, which is recommended and rendered more amiable by thofe airy disguises.
To think juftly, therefore, and to raise beautiful thoughts, it is not fufficient that they have nothing in them falje, for fometimes thoughts may become trivial by being only
When Cicero applauds Craffus on the fubject of his thoughts, after obferving that they were juft and true, he alfo adds, that they were new and uncommon; that besides truth and juftnefs to fatisfy the mind, he had thrown in fomething more to captivate and furprise it. Truth, fays father Bouhours, is to thoughts what foundations are to buildings, it fupports and gives them folidity; but a building which has nothing to recommend it but folidity, will not please those who are skilled in architecture. Befides folidity therefore, magnificence, beauty and delicacy are required; and thefe alfo must find a place in the thoughts of our poems, or they will be ever lifeless and unaffecting. Truth, which on other occafions pleafes though unadorned, requires embellishment here: though this ornament is fometimes no more than placing a thought, otherwife common and ordinary, in a new point of light, and giving it an agreeable turn.
Time stays for no man is a very true and juft thought, but is very plain and common. It is raifed, however, and. made in a manner new by the following turn:
Time in his full career keeps preffing on,
So when you tell a flugga:d that he has loft an hour in the morning, which he can never recover, you tell him the truth, yet there is no beauty or wit in it, because the thought is trite and common; but in Sir ****'s remark on his friend, that he loft an hour in the morning, and ran after it all day, there is wit.
But, as Longinus obferves, it is thofe elevated thoughts, which reprefent nothing but what is great to the mind, that principally heighten and animate our poems. The fublimity and grandeur of a thought will always gratify and transport the foul, if it be juft and conformable to the fubject, but where that conformity is wanting, dignity will' rather difguft than pleafe. To drefs up a mean fubject with pomp and fplendor, is like putting the robes of royalty on a clown, which, inftead of procuring him refpect and efteem, will reduce him to the loweft degree of contempt and ridicule. The thoughts, therefore, as well as the style, must be suitable to the fubject, or the writer will ever mifs of his aim,
Sublime thoughts are no where to be found in fuch plenty, nor perhaps fo well decorated, as in the facred books of the Old and New Teftament.-The Almighty's decking himself with light as with a garment, Spreading out the heavens like a curtain, making the clouds his chariot, and riding upon the wings of the wind, are thoughts amazingly majestic.
Homer alfo abounds with thefe ftrains of fublimity. The paffages wherein he defcribes Jupiter fhaking the heavens with a nod, and Neptune enraged at the deftruction of the Grecians, are nobly conceived, but they fall fhort of the preceding.
He spoke, and awful bends his fable brows,
Mean time the monarch of the watry main
The thought with which he has defcribed the fpeed of the celeftial courfers is altogether as magnificent. He difdains all comparifons drawn from the wind, hail, whirlwinds and torrents, which he had before apply'd to express the swiftnels and impetuofity of his combatants, and to give us an idea of the rapidity of these immortal horses, he measures their ftrokes, as Longinus obferves, by the whole breadth of the horizon.
Far as a fhepherd from fome point on high
Milton's Paradife Loft is replete with thefe fublime thoughts; among which, the feveral defcriptions he has given us of Satan are admirably adapted to raise terror in the imagination of the reader.
Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate,
With head up-lift above the wave, and eyes
His fpear, to equal which the tallest pine
And in another place:
-he, above the reft
Shorn of his beams; or from behind the moon,
As Homer has described Discord, and Virgil Fame, with their feet standing upon the earth, and their heads extended above the clouds, Milton, in imitation of them, has thus defcribed Satan;
-On th' other fide, Satan alarm'd,
His ftature reach'd the sky, and on his crest