« AnteriorContinua »
Ipfa furgentis papillas de Favonî spiritu
and a great deal more to the fame purpose, which every one recollects in the old claffic and in the Provencial poets.
But when we hear this languague from the more northern, and particularly our Englifh bards, who perhaps are shivering with the blafts of the north-east, at the very time their imagination would warm itfelf with thefe notions, one is certain this cannot be the effect of obfervation, but of a fportful fancy; enchanted by the native loveliness of these exotic images, and charmed by the secret infenfible power of imitation.
And to fhew the certainty of this conclufion, Shakefpear, we may obferve, who had none of this claffical or Provencial bias on his mind, always describes, not a Greek, or Italian, or Provencial, but an English Spring; where we meet with many unamiable characters; and, among the reft, instead of Zephyr or Favonius, we have the bleak north-eaft, that nips the blooming infants of the Spring.
But there are other obvious examples. In Cranmer's prophetic fpeech, at the end of HENRY VIII, when the poet makes him say of Queen Elizabeth, that,
"In her days ev'ry man fhall eat with fafety “ Under his own vine what he plants.
and of K. James, that
"He shall flourish
"And, like a mountain Cedar, reach his branches "To all the plains about him"
It is easy to fee that his Vine and Cedar are not of English growth, but transplanted from Judæa. I do not mention this as an impropriety in the poet, who, for the greater folemnity of his prediction, and even from a principle of decofum, makes his Arch-bifhóp fetch his imagery from Scripture. I only take notice of it as a certain argument that the imagery was not his own, that is, not fuggefted by his own observation of nature.
The cafe You fee, in these inftances, is the fame as if an English landfkip-painter fhould choose to decorate his Scene with an Italian sky. The Connoiffeur would say, he had copied this particular from Titian and not from Nature. I prefume then to give it for a certain note of Imitation, when the properties of one clime are given to another.
II. You will draw the fame conclufion whenever You find "The Genius of one people given to aǹ* other."
1. Plautus gives us the following true picture of the Greek manners.
-In hominum ætate multa eveniunt hujusmodi-
You are better acquainted with the modern Italian writers than I am; but if ever You find any of them transferring this placability of temper into an eulogy of his countrymen, conclude without hesitation, that the sentiment is taken.
2. The late Editor of Johnson's works obferves very well the impropriety of leaving a trait of Italian manners in his Ev'ry man in his humour, when he fitted up that Play with English characters. Had the scene been laid originally in England, and that trait been given us, it had convicted the poet of Imitation.
3. This attention to the genius of a people will fometimes fhew You, that the form of compofition, as well as particular fentiments, comes from Imitation. An inftance occurs to me as I am writing. The Greeks, You know, were great haranguers. So were the antient Romans, but in a lefs degree. One is not furpriz'd therefore that their hiftorians abound in fet fpeeches; which, in their hands, become the finest parts of their works. But when You find modern writers indulging in this practice of fpeech-making, You may guess from what fource the habit is deriv'd. Would Machiavel, for inftance, as little of a Scholar as, they fay, he was, have adorn'd his fine hiftory of Florence with so many harangues, if the claffical bias, imperceptibly, it may be, to himself, had not hung on his mind?
Another example is remarkable. You have sometimes wonder'd how it has come to pass that the moderns
derns delight fo much in dialogue-writing, and yet that so very few have fucceeded in it. The proper answer to the first part of your enquiry will go fome way towards giving you fatisfaction as to the laft. The practice is not original, has no foundation in the manners of modern times. It arofe from the excellence of the Greek and Roman dialogues, which was the usual form in which the antients chose to deliver their fentiments on any subject.
Still another inftance comes in my way. How happen'd it, one may afk, that SIR PHILIP SYDNEY in his Arcadia, and afterwards SPENSER in his Fairy Queen, obferv'd fo unnatural a conduct in thofe works; in which the Story proceeds, as it were, by fnatches, and with continual interruptions? How was the good fenfe of those writers, fo converfant befides. in the best models of antiquity, feduc'd into this prepofterous method? The answer, no doubt, is, that they were copying the design, or diforder rather, of ARIOSTO, the favourite poet of that time.
III. Of near akin to this contrariety to the genius of a people is another mark which a careful reader will obferve" in the representation of certain TENETS, different from those which prevail in a wri"ter's country or time."
1. We feldom are able to faften an imitation, with certainty, on fuch a writer as Shakespear. Sometimes we are, but never to fo much advantage as when he happens to forget himself in this refpect. When Clau
dio, in Measure for Measure, pleads for his life in that famous speech,
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
It is plain that these are not the Sentiments which any man entertain❜d of Death in the writer's age or in that of the speaker. We fee in this paffage a mixture of Chriftian and Pagan ideas; all of them very fufceptible of poetical ornament, and conducive to the argument of the Scene; but fuch as Shakespear had never dreamt of but for Virgil's Platonic hell; where, as we read,
aliæ panduntur inanes
Sufpenfæ ad ventos: aliis fub gurgite vafto,
Virg. L. vi.
2. A prodigiously fine paffage in Milton may furnish another example of this fort.
By unchaft looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,