« AnteriorContinua »
quality in life; even that of princes; but their quality is not represented by the poet, with direction that guards and waiters should follow them in every scene, but their grandeur appears in greatness of sentiment, flowing from minds worthy their condition. To make a character truly great, this author understands that it should have its foundation in superior thoughts and maxims of conduct. It is very certain, that many an honest woman would make no difficulty, though she had been the wife of Hector, for the sake of a kingdom, to marry the enemy of her husband's family and country; and, indeed, who can deny but she might be still an honest woman, but no heroine ? That may be defensible, nay laudable, in one character, which would be in the highest degree exceptionable in another. When Cato Uticensis killed himself, Cottius, a Roman of ordinary quality and character, did the same thing; upon which one said, smiling, “Cottius u might have lived, though Cæsar has seized the 6 Roman liberty." Cottius's condition might have been the same, let things at the upper end of the world pass as they would. What is further very extraordinary in this work, is, that the persons are all of them laudable, and their misfortunes arise rather from unguarded virtue than propensity to vice. The town has an opportunity of doing itself justice in supporting the representations of passion, sorrow, indignation, even despair itself, within the rules of decency, honour, and good-breeding; and since there is no one can flatler hinself his life will be always fortunate, they may here see sorrow as they would wish to bear it whenever it arrives.
( MR. SPECTATOR,
• I AM appointed to act a part in the new tragedy • called The Distressed Mother: it is the celebrated
grief of Orestes which I am to personate ; but I • shall not act it as I ought, for I shall feel it too inti
= 'mately to be able to utter it. I was last night
repeating a paragraph to myself, which I took to be an expression of rage, and in the middle of the sentence there was a stroke of self-pity which quite ( unmanned me. Be pleased, Sir, to print this letter, that when I am oppressed in this manner at such an interval, a certain part of the audience may not think I am out; and I hope, with this allowance, • to do it to satisfaction.
"I am, SIR,
6 GEORGE POWELL.'
AS I was walking the other day in the Park, I saw a gentleman with a very short face ; I desire to know whether it was you. Pray inform me as soon as you can, lest I become the most heroic • Hecatissa's rival. < Your humble servant to command,
• IT is nu: me you are in love with, for I was 'very ill and kept my chamber all that day.
(Your most humble servant, T
No. CCXCI. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2.
.......Ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis
But in a poem elegantly writ,
I HAVE now considered Milton's Paradise Lost under those four great heads, of the fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language; and have shewn that he excels, in general, under each of these heads. I hope that I have made several discoveries which may appear new, even to those who are versed in critical learning. Were I indeed to choose my readers, by whose judgment I would stand or fall, they should not be such as are acquainted only with the French and Italian critics, but also with the ancient and modern who have written in either of the learned languages. Above all, I would have them well versed in the Greek and Latin poets, without which a man very often fancies that he understands a critic, when in reality he does not comprehend his meaning.
It is in criticism as in all other sciences and speculations; one who brings with him any implicit notions and observations, which he has made in his reading of the poets, will find his own reflections methodized and explained, and perhaps several little hints that had passed in his mind, perfected and improved in the works of a good critic ; whereas one who has not these previous lights is very often an utter stranger to what he reads, and apt to put a wrong interpretation upon it.
Nor is it sufficient, that a man, who sets up for a judge in criticism, should have perused the authors
above-mentioned, unless he has also a clear and logical head. Without this talent he is perpetually puzzled and perplexed amidst his own blunders, mistakes the sense of those he would confute, or, if he chances to think right, does not know how to convey. his thoughts to another with clearness and perspi. cuity. Aristotle, who was the best critic, was also one of the best logicians that ever appeared in the world.
Mr. Locke's Essay on Human Understanding would be thought a very odd book for a man to make himself master of, who would get a reputation by critical writings; though at the same time it is very certain that an author, who has not learned the art of distinguishing between words and things, and of ranging his thoughts and setting them in proper lights, whatever notions he may have, will lose himself in confusion and obscurity. I might further observe, that there is not a Greek or Latin critic, who has not shewn, even in the style of his criticisms, that he was master of all the elegance and delicacy of his native tongue.
The truth of it is, there is nothing more absurd, than for a man to set up for a critic, without a good insight into all the parts of learning ; whereas many of those, who have endeavoured to signalize them. selves by works of this nature, among our English writers, are not only defective in the above-mentioned particulars, but plainly discover, by the phrases which they make use of, and by their confused way of thinking, that they are not acquainted with the most common and ordinary systems of arts and sciences. A few general rules extracted out of the French authors, with a certain cant of words, has sometimes set up an illiterate heavy writer for a most judicious and formidable critic.
One great mark, by which you may discover a critic who has neither taste nor learning, is this, that
he seldom ventures to praise any passage in an author which has not been before received and applauded by the public, and that his criticism turns wholly upon little faults and errors. This part of a critic is so very easy to succeed in, that we find every ordi. pary reader, upon the publishing of a new poem, has wit and ill-nature enough to turn several passages of it into ridicule, and very often in the right place. This Mr. Dryden has very agreeably remarked in these two celebrated lines,
“Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation. The most exquisite words and finest strokes of an author are those which very
the most doubtful and exceptionable to a man who wants a relish for polite learning; and they are these, which a sour undistinguishing critic generally attacks with the greatest violence. Tully observes, that it is very easy to brand or fix a mark upon what he calls verbum ardens, or, as it may be rendered in English, "a glowing bold “ expression, and to turn it into ridicule by a cold ill-natured criticism. A little wit is equally capable of exposing a beauty, and of aggravating a fault; and though such a treatment of an author naturally produces indignation in the mind of an understanding reader, it has however its effect
generality of those whose hands it falls into, the rabble of mankind being very apt to think that every thing which is laughed at, with any mixture of wit, is ridiculous in itself.
Such a mirth as this is always unseasonable in a critic, as it rather prejudices the reader than con. vinces him, and is capable of making a beauty, as