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My galligaskins, which have long withstood
By time subdu'd (what will not time subdue!) This is admirably pathetical, and shews very well the vicissitudes of sublunary things. The rest goes on to a prodigious height; and a man in Greenland could hardly have made a more pathetick and terrible complaint. Is it not surprising that the subject should be so mean, and the verse so pompous, that the least things in his poetry, as in a microscope, should grow great and formidable to the eye; especially considering that, not understanding French, he had no model for his style ? that he should have no writer to imitate, and himself be inimitable ? that he should do all this before he was twenty? at an age which is usually pleased with a glare of false thoughts, little turns, and unnatural fustian ? at an age, at which Cowley, Dryden, and I had almost said Virgil, were inconsiderable ? so soon was his imagination at its full strength, his judgment ripe, and his humour complete.
This poem was written for his own diversion, without any design of publication. It was communicated but to me : but soon spread, and fell into the hands of pirates. It was put out, vilely mangled, by Ben Bragge; and impudently said to be corrected by the author. This grievance is now grown more epidemical; and no man now has a right to his own thoughts, or a title to his own writings. Xenophon answered the Persian, who demanded his arms, “ We have nothing now left but our arms and our valour: if we surrender the one, how shall we make use of the other ?” Poets have nothing but their wits and their writings; and if they are plundered of the latter, I don't see what good the former can do them. To pirate, and publickly own it, to prefix their names to the works they steal, to own and avow the theft, I believe, was never yet
heard of but in England. It will sound oddly to posterity, that, in a polite nation, in an enlightened age, under the direction of the most wise, most learned, and most generous encouragers of knowledge in the world, the property of a mechanick should be better secured than that of a scholar! that the poorest mánual operations should be more valued than the noblest products of the brain ! that it should be felony to rob a cobler of a pair of shoes, and no crime to deprive the best author of his whole subsistence; that nothing should make a man a sure title to his own writings but the stupidity of them! that the works of Dryden should meet with less encouragement than those of his own Flecknoe, or Blackmore! that Tillotson and St. George, Tom Thumb and Temple, should be set on an equal foot! This is the reason why this very paper has been so long delayed ; and, while the most impudent and scandalous libels are publickly vended by the pirates, this innocent work is forced to steal abroad as if it were a libel.
Our present writers are by these wretches reduced to the same condition Virgil was, when the centurion seized on his estate. But I don't doubt but I can fix upon the Mæcenas of the present age, that will retrieve them from it. But, whatever effects this piracy may have upon us, it contributed very much to the advantage of Mr. Philips ; it helped him to a reputation which he neither desired nor expected, and to the honour of being put upon a work of which he did not think himself capable ; but the event shewed his modesty. And it was reasonable to hope, that he, who could raise mean subjects so high, should still be more elevated on greater themes; that he, that could draw such noble ideas from a shilling, could not fail upon such a subject as the duke of Marlborough, pahich is capable of heightening even the most low and
trifling genius. And, indeed, most of the great works which have been produced in the world have been owing less to the poet than the patron. Men of the greatest genius are sometimes lazy, and want a spur; often modest, and dare not venture in publick; they certainly know their faults in the worst things; and even their best things they are not fond of, because the idea of what they ought to be is far above what they are. This induced me to believe that Virgil desired his works might be burnt, had not the same Augustus, that desired him to write them, preserved them from de. struction. A scribbling beau may imagine a poet may be induced to write, by the very pleasure he finds in writing; but that is seldom, when people are necessitated to it. I have known men row, and use very hard labour, for diversion, which, if they had been tied to, they would have thought themselves very unhappy.
But to return to Blenheim, that work so much admired by some, and censured by others, I have often wished he had wrote it in Latin, that he might be out of the reach of the empty critick, who could have as little understood his meaning in that language as they do his beauties in his own.
False criticks have been the plague of all ages; Milton himself, in a very polite court, has been compared to the rumbling of a wheel-barrow: he had been on the wrong side, and therefore could not be a good poet. And this, perhaps, may be Mr. Philips's
But I take generally the ignorance of his readers to be the occasion of their dislike. People that have formed their taste upon the French writers can have no relish for Philips; they admire points and turns, and consequently have no judgment of what is great and majestick; he must look little in their eyes, when he soars so high as to be almost out of their view. I can
not, therefore, allow any admirer of the French to be a judge of Blenheim, nor any who takes Bouhours for a complete critick. He generally judges of the ancients by the moderns, and not the moderns by the ancients; he takes those passages of their own authors to be really sublime which come the nearest to it; he often calls that a noble and a great thought which is only a pretty and a fine one : and has more instances of the sublime out of Ovid de Tristibus, than he has out of all Virgil.
I shall allow, therefore, only those to be judges of Philips, who make the ancients, and particularly Virgil, their standard.
But, before I enter on this subject, I shall consider what is particular in the style of Philips, and examine what ought to be the style of heroick poety; and nexo inquire how far he is come up to that style.
His style is particular, because he lays aside rhyme, and writes in blank verse, and uses old words, and frequently postpones the adjective to the substantive, and the substantive to the verb ; and leaves out little particles, a, and the ; her, and his; and uses frequent appositions. Now let us examine whether these altêrations of style be conformable to the true sublime,
WILLIAM WALSH, the son of Joseph Walsh, esq. of Abberley in Worcestershire, was born in 1663, as appears from the account of Wood, who relates, that at the age of fifteen he became, in 1678, a gentleman commoner of Wadham college.
He left the university without a degree, and pursued his studies in London and at home; that he studied, in whatever place, is apparent from the effect, for he became in Mr. Dryden's opinion, the best critick in the nation.
He was not, however, merely a critick or a scholar, but a man of fashion, and, as Dennis remarks, ostentatiously splendid in his dress. He was likewise a member of parliament and a courtier, knight of the shire for his native county in several parliaments; in another the representative of Richmond in Yorkshire and gentleman of the horse to queen Anne, under the duke of Somerset.
Some of his verses show him to have been a zealous friend to the Revolution ; but his political ardour did not abate his reverence or kindness for Dryden, to whom he gave a dissertation on Virgil's Pastorals, in which, however studied, he discovers some ignorance of the laws of French versification.
In 1705. he began to correspond with Mr. Pope, in whom he discovered very early the power of poetry. Their letters, are written upon the pastoral comedy of the Italians, and those pastorals which Pope was then preparing to publish.