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Scaliger, Voltaire, and Grotius, were but eighteen years old when they produced, the two first their Edipuses, and the last his Adamus Exul. But the most extraordinary instance of early excellence is The Old Batchelor of Congreve, written at nineteen only; as comedy implies and requires a knowledge of life and characters, which are here displayed with accuracy and truth. Mr. Spence informed me that Pope once said to him, “ I wrote things, I am ashamed to say how soon ; part of my epic poem Alcander when about twelve. The scene of it lay in Rhodes, and some of the neighbouring islands; and the poem opened under the water, with a description of the court of Neptune ; that couplet on the circulation of the blood, which I afterwards inserted in the Dunciad,
As man's mæanders, to the vital spring
Roll all their tides, then back their circles bring, was originally in this poem, word for word.” After he had burnt this very early composition, Atterbury told him, he much wished some parts of it, as a specimen, had been more carefully preserved.
Quintilian, whose knowledge of human nature was consummate, has observed, that nothing quite correct and faultless is to be expected in very early years, from a truly elevated genius: that a generous extravagance and exuberance are its proper marks, and that a premature exa&ness is a certain evidence of future flatness and sterility. His words are incomparable, and worthy consideration. “ Audeat hæc ætas plura, et inveniat, et inventis gaudeat, fint licet illa non satis interim ficca et severa. Facile remedium eft ubertatis, fterilia nullo labore vincuntur. Illa mihi in pueris natura nimium fpei dabit, in quâ ingenium judicio præsumitur.--Materiam effe primum volo vel abundantiorem, atque ultra quam oportet fusam. Multum inde decoquant anni, multum ratio limabit, aliquid velut usu ipso deteretur, fit modo unde excidi poflit & quod exculpi :-erit autem, fi non ab initio tenuem laminam duxerimus, et quam cælatura altior rumpat.Quare mihi ne maturitas quidem ipfa feftinet, nec mufta in lacu ftatim austera fint; fic et annos ferent, et vestuftate proficient." This is very strong and masculine fense, expressed and enlivened by a train of metaphors, all of them elegant, and well preserved. Whether these early productions of Pope, would not have appeared
to Quintilian to be rather too finished, correct, and pure, and what he would have inferred concerning them, is too delicate a subject for me to enlarge upon. Let me rather add an entertaining anecdote. When Guido and Dominichino had each of them painted a picture in the church of Saint Andrew, Annibal Carrache, their master, was pressed to declare which of his two pupils had excelled. The picture of Guido represented Saint Andrew on his knees before the cross; that of Dominichino represented the flagellation of the fame Apoftle. Both of them in their different kinds were capital pieces, and were painted in fresco, opposite each other, to eternize, as it were, their rivalship and contention. “Guido (said Carrache) has performed as a master, and Dominichino as a scholar. But (added he) the work of the scholar is more valuable than that of the master. In truth, one may perceive faults in the picture of Dominichino that Guido has avoided, but then there are noble strokes, not to be found in that of his rival.” It was easy to discern a genius that promised to produce beauties, to which the sweet, the gentle, and the graceful Guido would never aspire,
The first sketches of such an artist ought highly to be prized. Different geniuses unfold themselves at different periods of life, In some minds the one is a long time in ripening. Not only inclination, but opportunity and encouragement, a proper subject, or a proper patron, influence the exertion or the suppression of genius. These stanzas on Solitude are a strong instance of that contemplation and moral turn, which was the distinguishing characteristic of our Poet's mind. An ode of Cowley, which he produced at the age of thirteen years, is of the same cast, and perhaps not in the least inferior to this of Pope. The voluminous Lopez de Vega is commonly, but perhaps incredibly, reported by the Spaniards to have composed verses when he was five years old; and Torquato Tasso, the second or third of the Italian poets, for that wonderful original Dante is the first, is said to have recited poems and orations of his own writing, when he was seven. It is however certain, which is more extraordinary, that he produced his Rinaldo in his eighteenth year, no bad precursor to the Gerusalemma Liberata, and no small effort of that genius, which was in due time to fhew, how fine an epic poem the Italian language, notwithstanding the vulgar imputation of effeminacy, was capable of supporting.
THE DYING CHRISTIAN TO HIS SOUL.
AL fpark of heav'nly flame!
Oh the pain, the bliss of dying !
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
With sounds seraphic ring :
O Death! where is thy Sting?
This Ode was written, we find, at the desire of Steele; and our Poet, in a letter to him on that occasion, says,—“ You have it, as Cowley calls it, just warm from the brain; it came to me the firft moment I waked this morning ; yet you'll see, it was not so absolutely inspiration, but that I had in my head, not only the verses of Hadrian, but the fine fragment of Sappho."
It is possible, however, that our Author might have had another composition in his head, besides those he here refers to : for there is a close and surprising resemblance between this ode of Pope, and one of an obscure and forgotten rhymer of the
of Charles the Second namely Thomas Flatman; from whose dunghill, as well as from the dregs of Crashaw, of Carew, of Herbert, and others, (for it is well known he was a great reader of all those poets), Pope has very judiciously collected gold. And the following stanza is, perhaps, the only valuable one Flatman has produced.
When on my fick bed I languish;
Be not fearful, come away! The third and fourth lines are eminently good and pathetic, and the climax well preserved, the very turn of them is closely copied by Pope ; as is likewise the striking circumstance of the dying man's imagining he hears a voice calling him away. .
Vital spark of heavenly flame