Abbildungen der Seite

making a great poet, there may be a thousand born capable of making as great generals, or ministers of state, as the most renowned in story."* There are, indeed, more causes required to concur to the formation of the former, than of the latter, which necessarily render its production more difficult.

2. True taste as seldom is the critic's share.f

La Bruyeke says very sensibly, "I will allow the good writers are scarce enough; but then, I ask, where are the people that know how to read?"

3. Let such teach others w^io themselves excel.
And censure freely who have written well.J

It is somewhere remarked by Dryden, I think, that none but a poet is qualified to judge of a poet. The maxim is, however, contradicted by experience. Aristotle is said, indeed, to have written one ode; but neither Bossu nor Hurd are poets. The penetrating author of the Reflections

* Miscell. Essay iv. part. 2. f Ver. 12. } Ver. 15.

tions on Poetry, Painting, and Music, will for ever be read with delight, and with profit, by all ingenious artists; " Nevertheless, (says Voltaire,) he did not understand music, could never make verses, and was not possessed of a single picture; but he had read, seen, heard, and reflected a great deal."* And Lord Shaftesbury speaks with some indignation on this subject: "If a musician performs his part well in the hardest symphonies, he must necessarily know the notes, and understand the rules of harmony and music. But must a man, therefore, who has an ear, and has studied the rules of music, of necessity, have a voice or hand? Can no one possibly judge a fiddle, but who is himself a fiddler? Can no one* judge a picture, but who is himself a layer of colours ?"f Quintilian and Pliny, who speak of the works of the ancient painters and statuaries with so much taste and sentiment, handled not themselves either the pencil or the chissel, nor Longinus and Dionysius the harp. But although such as have actually

* Louis XIV. p. 354.
f Characteristics. Vol. 3. p. 190. Edit. 12mo.

tually performed nothing in the art itself, may not, on that account, be totally disqualified to judge with accuracy of any piece of workmanship, yet, perhaps, a judgment will come with more authority and force from an artist himself. Hence the connoisseurs highly prize the treatise of Rubens concerning the imitation of antique statues, the Art of Painting by Leonardo da Vinci, and the Lives of the Painters by Vasari. As for the same reasons, Rameau's Dissertation on the thorough Bass, and the Introduction to a good Taste in Music, by the excellent, but neglected, Geminiani, demand a particular regard. The prefaces of Dryden would be equally valuable, if he did not so frequently contradict himself, and advance opinions diametrically opposite to each other. Some of Corneille's discourses on his own tragedies are admirably just. And one of the best pieces of modern criticism, the academy's observations on the Cid, was, we know, the work of persons who had themselves written well. And our author's own excellent preface * to his translation of the Iliad,


* Yet our author was not satisfied with this preface: he used to say it was too pompous and poetical; too much on the

great one of the best pieces of prose in the English language, is an example how well poets are qualified to be critics.

4. Some neither can for wits nor critics pass,
As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass;
Those half-learn'd witlings, numerous in our isle,
As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile;
Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call,
Their generation's so equivocal.*

These lines, and those preceding and following them, are excellently satirical; and were, I think, the first we find in his works, that give an indication of that species of poetry to which his talent was most powerfully bent, and in which, though not as we shall see in others, he excelled all mankind.The simile of the mule


great horse, was his expression; and preferred his postscript tot the Odyssey; and often talked of the excellence of Dryden's prose style.

* Ver. 3S.

f Atterbury and Bolingbroke had the very same opinion of the bent and turn of our author's genius. The former, on reading the famous character of Addison, wrote thus to his friend: Let. 12. "Since you now, therefore, know where

your heightens the satire, and is new; as is the application of the insects of the Nile. Pope never shines so brightly as when he is proscribing bad authors.

5. — In the soul while Memory prevails, I
The solid pow'r of Understanding fails: \
Where beams of bright Imagination play, \
The Memory's soft figures melt awaj",*

I hardly believe there is in any language, a metaphor more appositely applied, or more elegantly expressed, than this of the effects of the warmth of fancy. Locke, who has embellished his dry subject with a variety of pleasing similitudes and allusions, has a passage, relating to the retentiveness of the memory, so very like this before us, and so happily worded, that I cannot forbear giving the reader the pleasure of

Vol. i. I comparing

your real strength lies, I hope you will not suffer that talent to lie unemployed." And Bolingbroke, speaking of his didactic works, says to Swift, Let. 44, 1729, "This flatters my judgment; who always thought that, universal as his talents are, This is eminently and peculiarly His, above all writers I know, living or dead: I do not except Horace."

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »