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THE POET'S SUPPER,
Gardez-vous d'imiter ce rimeur furieux,
MR. BENJAMIN Briggs, the junior partner of a thriving Manchester warehouse in the city, had an unfortunate propensity for tagging rhymes when he ought to have been examining piece goods, knew much more of metaphors than muslins, arranged a distich with more interest than a diaper, and debased his faculties to tropes and similes, instead of giving up the whole force of his imagination to calicoes and cottons. Upon the disease first manifesting itself, his seniors gave him the best advice, warned him of the dismal consequences that would inevitably ensue, if he suffered it to get a-head, formally declared that the credit of their house would not allow them to retain any person convicted of so uncivic and anti-commercial an offence, and announced their intention of dissolving the partnership if he abandoned himself any longer to such idle courses. Prudence dictated a seeming submission, but nothing was farther from his thoughts than a final renunciation of the muse. He stole at intervals from the counting-house to Castalia, mounted Pegasus instead of his pulpit-desk, and absconded from the worship of Mammon to pay his secret adoration at the shrine of Apollo. The constraint to which he was subjected at home only made him the more communicative abroad.
He laboured under a perfect incontinence of poetry; pouring his stanzas into every ear of which he could
* Boileau here alludes to the French poet "Du Perrier, who finding him one day at church, insisted upon reciting to him an ade during the elevation of the host.
get possession, with such an unremitting copiousness, that his friends took alarm at his approach, and if they could not escape him altogether, generally forged some excuse for cutting him short in the midst of the most inimitable ode, or the very first scene of the most touching tragedy. Some he would slily draw aside upon 'Change under pretext of business, and make the blushing statue of Sir Thomas Gresham, or old Guy, privy to his inappropriate rhymes: others he would inveigle into an untenanted upper box of the play ; and, just as the ghost of Hamlet was describing how his murderer
poured juice of cursed hemlock in his ear," he would distil his own not less unwelcome strophes into his victim's auricle: while some again he would lure away on a Sunday from the Park promenade into the most lonely recesses of Kensington gardens; when, to their great horror and amazement, he would suddenly draw a tragedy from his pocket, and discharge the whole of its contents at their head.
All these expedients being exhausted, and a regular audience becoming utterly hopeless, he at last hit upon the happy suggestion of inviting a few acquaintance of approved literary taste to sup with him at his lodgings in Wych-street, when he might, as a fair set-off for his lobsters, nysters, punch, and port wine, demand their opinions upon a poem which he meant to offer to the Royal Literary Society, in hopes of obtaining the fifty guinea prize. “ As to attempting to write any thing,” said Benjamin to his assembled guests, upon such a subject as Dartmoor, which was the first they held out to public competition, I could not have bowed my genius to such a drudgery; you all know, gentlemen, what a blundering business was made of the second proposition, the Fall of Constantinople and death of Constantine ; but I have now submitted to their adoption a noble theme-the Capture of
Rome by Alaric the Destroyer; and, in the anticipation that they might select it, I have already composed a few hundred lines, upon which I wished you to do me the kindness of offering your remarks with all the freedom and judgment which I may reasonably expect from such approved friends and competent critics." Here he drew a large roll of paper from his coat-pocket, and a blank dismay instantly took possession of every face around him. Each saw the trap into which he had fallen, and each exerted himself to avert the threatened calamity. “My dear sir," exclaimed Mr. Jibe, “this is so kind of you-I am sure I may answer for all present,” (here he thrust his tongue into the cheek which was towards the company, and gave that side of his face a most lugubrious drag), “ that we are perfectly delighted at the opportunity of hearing any of your most exquisite verses ; but had you not better defer the reading for an hour or so, till the supper things are removed-till we have finished another bottle-till-" "In fact," interrupted Mr. M'Quill, "our worthy host evidently labours under so severe a cold, attended with a considerable oppression upon his chest, that I should submit the propriety of his deferring altogether, till a more favourable opportunity, the intellectual treat which he has been so good as to propose.”—", certainly, certainly,” cried the rest of the party! it would really be an imposition on our host's kindness happy to take a glass of wine with you, Mr. Briggs -this salad's excellent-capital lobster-famous punch-any one seen the Diorama ?-did you go to the new farce last night?” “Very considerate of
? you,” replied the poet; “I certainly have a little cold, and we will therefore defer the complete reading till another opportunity ; but in the mean time you must allow me just to recite a few select specimens, that you may form some notion of my plan." Objections, pleas, and rejoinders, were urged in
vain; the inexorable bard unfolded his scroll, and, after two or three preliminary “hems!” proceeded to develop the system upon which it was composed.
" It was my original intention, gentlemen, to have written in blank verse ; but I was alarmed by encountering the dictum of Dr. Johnson, limiting that mode of composition to such as think themselves capable of astonishing, while those who hope only to please, must condescend to rhyme.” “There would have been no doubt of your astonishing,' interrupted Mr. Jibe,“ had you thought proper to adopt that metre : you are really too modest.” Mr. Briggs bowed, and proceeded. “I was moreover anxious to try upon a more enlarged scale than Pope, (who, by the way has egregiously failed,) the principle of imitative harmony, of making the sound an echo to the sense, and of introducing a more general resemblance between the vocal sign and the thing signified, which I proposed to accomplish as much by changing the construction of the metre, as by the choice of expressive words. There can be no doubt that, in the origin of language, all terms bore some affinity to what they represented ; there could have been no other mode or motive of selection in the infancy of the world than in that of individuals. And what do we observe in children ? They invariably name animals from the noise which they make, calling a dog a bow-wow, a cat a mi-au, a cow a moo-cow, a lamb a baa-lamb, and a cock a cock-a-doodle-doo. This is the primitive language of nature, like crying, laughing, and certain interjections, common to all nations. The cuckoo, pewet, and other birds, obviously receive their denomination from their cry; and what can be more happy than Ronsard's imitation of the song of the skylark?
• Elle quindée du zephire,
Et y declique un joli cris,
Des esprits mieux que je n'écris.' There are numerous words which as unquestionably have been chosen from their resemblance to the noise they designate, such as rumble, coo, yell, crash, crack, hiss, hoot, roar, murmur, simmer, and the like. It is true that ideas do not admit of an exact echo
Which, however is no loss to you," interrupted Mr. Jibe. “Oh, none whatever," resumed Briggs, not perceiving the sneer that was conveyed, "since, if we admit that
• Music resembles poetry, in each
Are nameless graces which no rules can teach, it may be sufficient to remind you that Handel contrived to express accurately upon the organ that sublime command-God said, let there be light, and these was light;' and composed one of the Psalms with so happy a precision, that every separate verse was distinctly recognisable. I see, however, that you are impatient for a specimen of my poem, and I will therefore recite a few lines from the introduction, the metre of which is intended to represent the bustle and animation of a siege.
Now Alaric's standards are proudly unfurl'd
does a garlanded calf.”