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But let not the reader imagine we can find pleasure in thus exposing absurdities, which are too ludicrous for serious reproof. While we censure as critics, we feel as men, and could sincerely wish that those, whose greatest sin is, perhaps, the venial one of writing bad verses, would regard their failure in this respect as we do, not as faults, but foibles : they may be good and useful members of society, without being poets. The regions of taste can be travelled only by a few, and even those often find indifferent accommodation by the way. Let such as have not got a passport from nature be content with happiness, and leave the poet the unrivalled possession of his misery, his garret, and his fame.
We have of late seen the republic of letters crowded with some, who have no other pretensions to applause but industry, who have no other merit but that of reading many books, and making long quotations: these we have heard extolled by sympathetic dunces, and have seen them carry off the rewards of genius; while others, who should have been born in better days, felt all the wants of poverty, and the agonies of contempt. Who, then, that has a regard for the public, for the literary honours of our country, for the figure we shall one day make among posterity, that would not choose to see such humbled as are possessed only of talents that might have made good cobblers, had fortune turned them to trade? Should such prevail, the real interests of learning must be in a reciprocal proportion to the power they possess. Let it be, then, the character of our periodical endeavours, and hitherto we flatter ourselves it has ever been, not to permit an ostentation of learning to pass for merit, nor to give a pedant quarter upon the score of his industry alone, even though he took refuge behind Arabic, or powdered his hair with hieroglyphics. Authors thus censured may accuse our judgment, or our reading, if they please, but our own hearts will acquit us of envy or ill-nature, since we reprove only with a desire to reform.
But we had almost forgot that our translator is to be considered as a critic as well as a poet; and in this department he seems also equally unsuccessful with the former. Criticism at present is different from what it was upon the revival of taste in Europe; all its rules are now well known; the only art at present is, to exhibit them in such lights as contribute to keep the attention alive, and excite a favourable
audience. It must borrow graces from eloquence, and please while it aims at instruction: but instead of this, we have a combination of trite observations, delivered in a style in which those who are disposed to make war upon words, will find endless opportunities of triumph.
He is sometimes hypercritical. Thus, page 9. "Pope, in his excellent Essay on Criticism (as will, in its place, when you come to be lectured upon it, at full be explained,) terms this making the sound an echo to the sense. But 1 apprehend that definition takes in but a part, for the best ancient poets excelled in thus painting to the eye as well as to the ear. Virgil, describing his house-wife preparing her wine, exhibits the act of the fire to the eye.
Aut dulcis musti vulcano decoquit humorem,
“For the line (if I may be allowed the expression) boils over; and, in order to reduce it to its proper bounds, you must, with her, skim off the redundant syllable." These are beauties which, doubtless, the reader is displeased he cannot discern.
Sometimes confused: There is a deal of artful and concealed satire in what Oenone throws out against Helen; and to speak truth, there was fair scope for it, and it might naturally be expected. Her chief design was to render his new mistress suspected of meretricious arts, and make him apprehensive that she would hereafter be as ready to leave him for some new gallant, as she had before, perfidiously to her lawful husband, followed him."
Sometimes contradictory: thus, page 3. Style," says he," is used by some writers, as synonymous with diction, yet in my opinion, it has rather a complex sense, including both sentiment and diction." Oppose to this, page 135. "As to concord, and even style, they are acquirable by most youth in due time, and by many with ease; but the art of thinking properly, and chusing the best sentiments on every subject, is what comes later."
And sometimes he is guilty of false criticism : as when he says, Ovid's chief excellence lies in description. Description was the rock on which he always split: "Nescivit quod bene cessit relinquere," as Seneca says of him: when once
he embarks in description, he most commonly tires us before he has done with it. But to tire no longer the reader, or the translator, with extended censure, -as a critic, this gentleman seems to have drawn his knowledge from the remarks of others, and not his own reflection; as a translator, he understands the language of Ovid, but not his beauties; and though he may be an excellent schoolmaster, he has, however, no pretensions to taste.
EIDYLLIA; OR, MISCELLANEOUS POEMS.
By the Author of Animadversions upon the Rev. Dr Browne's three Essays on the Characteristics; and of a Criticism on the late Rev. Mr Holland's Sermons. 4to. Is. 6d. Edinburgh: Hamilton and Co. London: Noon, Payne, &c.
THE author endeavours, in his prefatory Hint to the British Poets, to prove that rhymes, or, as he chooses to call them, periodical reiterations of the same sound, are not only void of ornament, but a real defect in modern poetry; and that blank verse may be suited to every species of composition, from the highest sublime down to very chit-chat. But neither his arguments, nor his Eidyllia, which are written in support of them, have convinced us of the truth of either proposition. We must, indeed, confess, where the subject of a poem is extensive, and lofty in its nature, or where the greater passions, as Terror and Pity, are to be excited, that rhyme may, with great propriety, be dispensed with for, as Dryden observes, "It certainly is a constraint to the best poets; and those who write well in it, would write better in blank verse;" yet, in copies of verses, (as they are called,) sonnets, pastorals, eclogues, elegies, satires, and even odes, corresponding sounds seem essential in our language. But as no idea of colours can be conveyed to the blind, so there is no convincing an ill-tuned ear of the beauty of rhyme, which is not the object of reason, but of sensation, and can be estimated only by its impression on the sensorium, not by any speculative or general rules. However, be this question determined as it may, the following specimen will shew, that what no contemptible writer prophesied of Milton, viz. "That he should be for ever honoured as our deliverer from rhyme," will never be applied to our author:
Upon losing Milton's Paradise Lost, at Luss, situated upon Loch-Lomond, at the foot of Ben-Lowman, and a group of other vast mountains: an ODE.
Fool that I was! - My Milton lost!
Sun's 'livening ray ne'er pierce thy gloom;
Mouth of the hellish gulf be thou,
Crags other echo ne'er repeat
Mercury laugh'd and jeering cried,
Risum teneatis, Amici!
OPPRESSION DISPLAYED; OR, THE BARONET AND MILLER.
A TALE, IN FOUR CANTOS.
By a True-born Englishman. 4to.
A DULL tale, tediously told, in a sort of heavy, Daniel de Foe strain, of which the following will serve as a sufficient specimen :
But soon their doubts were hush'd, their fears were quell'd,
When they their benefactor Will beheld;
Who, eager to redress their grievous wrongs,
With haste to 'th midst 'oth crowded 'sembly throngs
What beautiful contractions! But the author is no less happy in his sentiments than in his expression. For instance,
when Will, the miller, harangues the Baronet, he makes the fellow talk as familiarly of Demosthenes, Cato, and Tully,* as if he had been a Miller scientific indeed! though he had previously represented Will only as an artful country fellow, cunning in his business, and a special huntsman.
The scene of the story is laid in Shropshire, and the incidents it recites are, briefly, the profligate behaviour of a country gentleman, who is ruined by his excesses, notwithstanding the cunning of his steward, who in vain racks the tenants, and ruins the estate, to supply his master's extravagances; while Will the miller, in imitation of his landlord, cheats his neighbours, in order to be revenged of the Baronet, by contributing to hasten the destruction of his tenants. In fine, there seems to be very little either of sense or moral in the whole performance. Perhaps, however, a Shropshire reader may discern some merit in the piece, which may have escaped the observation of a reviewer, who is not let into all the mystery the poem may contain; for it may be all very true, for ought we know of the matter, though not very excellent; and, with some readers, a dull truth may be more acceptable than a well devised fable, or even the finest fruit of the richest imagination. Thus we have known an old Gazette preferred to the Iliad; and have heard of your matter-of-fact men, who would prefer Ned Ward's rhyming history of the grand Rebellion, to all the exquisite fictions of Chaucer, Prior, and Swift.
* Oh! had I Cato's wisdom, Tully's art,
END OF VOL. II.
Printed by ANDREW SHORTREDE, Thistle Lane.