« AnteriorContinua »
he has fecured the fenfe, while the spirit of his author escapes him.
Look, how a flower that clofe in clofes grows,
It many youths, and many maids defire;
The fame, when cropt by cruel hand is wither'd, No youths at all, no maidens have defir'd.
It was not thus, you remember, that Ariofto and Pope have tranflated these fine verses. But to return to our purpose:
To this confideration of the Age of a writer, you may add, if you please, that of his EDUCATION. Tho' it might not, in general, be the fashion to affect learning, the habits acquired by a particular writer might difpofe him to do fo. What was lefs efteemed by the enthusiasts of Milton's time (of which however he himself was one of the greateft) than prophane or indeed any kind of learning? Yet we, who know that his youth was spent in the study of the beft writers in every language, want but little evidence to convince us that his great genius did not difdain to ftoop to imitation. You affent, I dare fay, to Dryden's compliment, tho' it be an invidious one, "That no man has fo copiously tranflated Homer's "Grecisms, and the Latin elegancies of Virgil." Nay, don't you remember, the other day, that we were half of a mind to give him up for a fhameless
plagiary, chiefly because we were sure he had been a great reader?
But no great writer, it will be faid, has flourished out of a learned age, or at least without fome tincture of learning. It may be fo. Yet every writer is not difpofed to make the most of these advantages. What if we pay fome regard then to the CHARACTER of the writer? A poet, enamoured, of himself, and who fets up for a great inventive genius, thinks much to profit by the fenfe of his predeceffors, and even when he fteals, takes care to diffemble his thefts and to conceal them as much as poffible. You know I have instanced in fuch a poet in Sir William D'Avenant. In detecting the imitations of fuch a writer one must then proceed with fome caution. But what if our concern be with one, whofe modefty leads him to revere the fenfe and even the expreffion of approved authors, whofe tafte enables him to felect the finest paffages in their works, and whose judgment determines him to make a free use of them? Suppose we know all this from common fame, and even from his own confeffion? Would you fcruple to call that an imitation in him, which in the other might have pafs'd for refemblance only?
As the character is amiable, you will be pleased to hear me own, there are many of the modern poets to whom it belongs. Perhaps, the first that occurred to my thoughts was Mr. Addifon. But the obfervation holds of others, and of one, in particular, very much his fuperior in true genius. I know not whe
ther you agree with me, that the famous line in the Effay on man;
"An honeft man's the nobleft work of God,
is taken from Plato's, Πάντων ἱερώτατόν ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος ayalós. But I am fure you will, that the ftill more famous lines, which fhallow men repeat without un. derstanding,
"For modes of Faith let gracelefs zealots fight, "His, can't be wrong whofe life is in the right." are but copied, tho' with vaft improvement in the force and turn of expreffion, from the excellent, and let it be no difparagement to him to fay, from the or. thodox Mr. Cowley. The poet is fpeaking of his friend CRASHAW,
"His Faith perhaps in fome nice tenets might "Be wrong; his life, I'm'fure, was in the right."
Mr. Pope who found himself in the fame circumftances with Crashaw, and had fuffered no doubt from the like uncharitable conftructions of graceless zeal, was very naturally tempted to adopt this candid sentiment, and to give it the further heightening of his own fpirited expreffion.
Let us fee then how far we are got in this inquiry. We may fay of the old Latin poets, that they all came out of the Greek fchools. It is as true of the moderns in this part of the world, that they, in general, have had their breeding in both the Greek and
Latin. But when the question is of any particular writer, how far and in what inftances you may prefume on his being a profefs'd imitator, much will depend on the certain knowledge you have of his Age, Education, and Character. When all these circumstances meet in one man, as they have done in others, but in none perhaps fo eminently as in B. Johnfon, wherever you find an acknowledged likeness, you will do him no injustice to call it imitation. Yet all this, you fay, comes very much short of what you require of me. You want me to fpecify thofe peculiar confiderations, and even to reduce them into rule, from which one may be authorised in any inftance to pronounce of imitations. It is not enough, you pretend, to say of any paffage in a celebrated poet, that it most probably was taken from fome other. In your extreme jealoufy for the credit of your order, you call upon me to fhew the diftinct marks which convict him of this commerce.
In a word, You require me to turn to the poets; to gather a number of those paffages I call Imitations and to point to the circumstances in each that prove them to be fo. I attend you with pleafure in this amufing search. It is not material, I fuppofe, that we obferve any flrict method in our ramblings. And yet we will not wholly neglect it. You know there is one who fays,
"Il y a d'addreffe à bien cüeiller des Rofes.
Perhaps then we shall find undoubted marks of Imitation, both in the SENTIMENT, and EXPRESSION of great writers.
To begin with fuch confiderations as are moft
I. An identity of the fubject-matter of poetry is no fure evidence of Imitation; and leaft of all, perhaps, in natural defcription. Yet where the local peculiarities of nature are to be described, there an exact conformity of the matter will evince an imitation,
Descriptive poets have been ever fond of lavishing all the riches of their fancy on the Spring. But the appearances of this prime of the year are fo diverfified with the climate, that descriptions of it, if taken directly from nature, muft needs be very different. The Greek and Latin, and fince them, the Frovencial poets, when they infift, as they always do, on the indulgent softness of this season, its genial dews and foftering breezes, speak nothing but what is agreeable to their own experience and feeling.
It ver; et venus; et veneris prænuntius antè
Venus, or the fpirit of love, is represented by thofe poets as brooding o'er this delicious season ;
Rura fœcundat voluptas: rura VENEREM fentiunt, Ipfa gemmas purpurantem pingit annum floribus.