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49. And Boileau still in right of Horace sways.*
May I be pardoned for declaring it as my opi-' nion, that Boileau's is the best f Art of Poetry extant? The brevity of his precepts, enlivened , by proper imagery, the justness of his-metaphors^ the harmony of his numbers, as far as alexandrine lines will admit, the exactness of his method, the perspicacity of his remarks, and the energy of his style, all duly considered, may render this opinion not unreasonable. It is scarcely to be conceived, how much is compre- . bended in four short cantos.% He that has well digested these, cannot be said to be ignorant of ~~i any important rule of poetry. The tale of the / physician turning architect, in the fourth canto,
* Ver. 714.
f It was translated into Portugueze Terse, by Count d'Ericeyra.
J It is remarkable, Boileau declared he had never read Vida; to whom, indeed, he is much superior. Patru, whom he always consulted on his works, dissuaded him from undertaking this subject; because he thought the French language incapable of delivering precepts of this sort with becoming elegance and grace.
is told with true pleasantry. It is to this work Boileau owes his immortality; which was of the highest utility to his nation, in diffusing .a just way of thinking and writing; banishing every speaies of false wit, and introducing a general taste for the manly simplicity of the ancients, on ^iphose writings this poet had formed his taste. Boileau's chief talent was the Dii>actic. His fancy was not the predominant faculty of his mind. Fontenelle has thus characterised him: "Il étoit grand & excellent versificateur, pourvu cependant que cette louange se renferme dans ses beaux jours, dont la différence avec les autres est bien marquée; & faisoit souvent dire Helas! & Hota! mais il n'étoit pas grand poëte, si l'on entend par ce mot, comme on le doit, celui qui
FAIT, qui INVENTE, quiCREE."*
50. Such was the muse, whose rules and practice tell,
This high panegyric procured to Pope the acquaintance, and afterwards the constant friendship,
* Œuvres de Fontenelle. Tom. iii. page 376. â Paris/1752. f Ver. 723.
ship, of the Duke of Buckingham; who, in his Essay here alluded to, has followed the method of Boileau, in discoursing on the various species of poetry in their different gradations, to no other purpose than to manifest his own inferiority. The piece is, indeed, of the satiric, ra- j \ ther than of the preceptive, kind. The cold- J ness and neglect with which this writer, formed only on the French critics, speaks of Milton, must be considered as proofs of his want of cri- i • tical discernment, or of critical courage. I can recollect no performance of Buckingham, that stamps him a true genius. His reputation was owing to his rank. In reading his poems, one is apt to exclaim, with our author,
What woeful stuff this madrigal would be,
But let a Lord Once Own the happy lines,
The best part of Buckingham's Essay, is that in which he gives a ludicrous account of the plan of modern tragedy. I should add, that his compliment to Pope, prefixed to his poems, con1 tains tains a pleasing picture of the sedateness and retirement proper to age, after the tumults of public life; and by its moral turn, breathes the spirit, if not of a poet, yet of an amiable old Man.
51. Such was Roscommon.*
An Essay on Translated Verse seems at first sight to be a barren subject; yet Roscommon has decorated it with many precepts of utility and taste, and enlivened it with a tale, in imitation of Boileau. It is indisputably better written, in a closer and more vigorous style, than the last-mentioned Essat. Roscommon was more learned than Buckingham. He was bred-under Bochart, at Caen, in Normandy. He had laid a design of forming a society for the refining, and fixing the standard of our language; in which project his intimate friend Dryden was a principal assistant. This was the first attempt of that sort; and, I fear, we shall never see another set on foot in our days: even though Mr. Johnson has lately given us so excellent a dictionary. It may be remarked, to the praise of Roscommon,
that he was the first critic who had taste and spirit enough,* publicly to praise the Paradise Vol. i. O Lost;
* The editors of Milton have been curious in endeavouring to search out who were the very first persons that brought the Paradise Lost into vogue and esteem. The following is, I believe, the very first passage in which any public notice was taken of its excellence. It was written by Edward Philips, Milton's nephew, and who had been,one of his scholars, in a treatise, entitled, Tractatulus de Carmine Dramatico Poetarum veterum; cui subjungitur cornpendiosa Enumeratio Poetarum. Londini, 1670. This was three years after the first publication of Paradise Lost. The words follow, "Iohannes Miltonus, praeter alia quae scripsit elegantissima turn Anglice turn Latine, nuper publici juris fecit Paradisum amissam, Poema, quod, sive Sublimitatem Argumenti, sive Leporem simul & Majestatem Styli, sive Sublimitatem Inventionis, sive Similitudines & Descriptiones quam maxime naturales respiciamus, vere Heroicum, ni fallor, audiet: Plurium enim suifragiis qui non nesciunt judicare, censetur Perfectionem hujus generis Poematis assecutum esse." From many circumstances in the same Treatise, particularly his censure of rhyme, his great commendations of the best Italian poets, and of Spenser, their true •son and disciple, (and father of Milton,) it is evident from .whence this'Philips imbibed his principles of criticism. So «afly as the year 1677, Dryden speaks thus,highly of Paradise Lost, in the preface to his State of Innocence: "Undoubtedly, it is one of the greatest, most noble, and most sublime Poems, which either this age or nation has produced." Again, in the year 1685, in the preface to the 2d vol. of the Miscellanies, he says, "Milton's Paradise Lost is admirable. But cannot I admire the heighth of his invention, and the strength of his expression, without defending his antiquated words?" Again, in