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But foon by impious arms from Latium chas'd, Their antient bounds the banilh'd Muses pass'd. 710
Thence NOTES. praise of being one of the * first, if not the very first, pieces of criticism, that appeared in Italy, since the revival of learning ; for it was finished, as is evident from a short advertisement prefixed to it, in the year 1520. It is remarkable, that most of the great poets, about this time, wrote an Art of Poetry. Trifono, a nanie respected for giving to Europe the first regular epic poem, and for firit daring to throw off the bondage of rhyme, published at Vicenza, in the year 1529, Della Poetica, divisioni quattro, several years
before his Italia Liberata. We have of Fracastorius, Naugerius, five de poetica dialogus, Venetiis, 1555. Minturnus, De Poeta, libri sex, appeared at Venice 1559. Berriardo Taffo, the father of Torquato, and author of an epic poem, entitled, L'Amadigi, wrote Raggionamento della Poesia, printed at Venice, 1562. And to pay the highest honour to criticism, the great Torquato Tasso himself wrote Discorfi del poema Eroico, printed at Venice, 1587. These discourses are full of learning and taste. But I must not omit a curious anecdote, which Menage has given us in his Anti-Baillet ; namely, that Sperone claimed these discourses as his own; for he thus speaks of them, in one of his Letters to Felice Paciotto; “ Laudo voi infinitamente di voler scrivere della poetica ; della quale interrogato molto fiate dal Taffo, e rispondendogli io libramente, fi cɔme foglio, egli n'a fatto un volume, e mandato al Signior Scipio Gonzago per cosa sua, e non mea : ma io ne chiarirò il mondo.”
Hence it appears, that our author was mistaken in saying, line 712, that “ Critic-learning flourished most in France.” For these critical works here mentioned, by so many capital writers in Italy, far exceed any which the French, at that period of time, had produced. “ 'Tis hard (faid Akenfide) to conceive by what means the French acquired this character of superior correctness. We have classic authors in English, older than in any modern language, except the Italian ; and Spenser and Sidney wrote with the truelt taste, when the French had not one great poet
* Victorius's Latin translation of Aristotle's Poetics, was published at Florence, 1560. Castelvetro's Italian one at Vienna, 1570.
Thence Arts o'er all the northern world 'advance,
Fierce NOTES. they can bear to read. Milton and Chapelain were contemporaries ; the Pucelle and Paradise Lost were in hand, perhaps frequently, at the self-fame hour. One of them was executed in such a manner, that an Athenian of Menander's age would have turned his eyes from the Minerva of Phidias, or the Venus of Apelles, to obtain more perfect conceptions of beauty from the English Poet; the other, though fostered by the French court for twenty years with the utmost indulgence, does honour to the Leonine, and the Runic poetry. It was too great an attention to French criticism, that hindered our poets, in Charles the Second's time, from comprehending the genius, and acknowledging the Authority of Milton ; else, without looking abroad, they might have acquired a manner more correct and perfect, than French authors could or can teach them. In short, unless correctness fignify a freedom from little faults, without enquiring after the most essential beauties, it scarce appears on what foundation the French claim to that character is established.”
VER: 714. And Boileau fill in right of Horace fways.] May I be pardoned for declaring it as my opinion, that Boileau's is the best 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 perfpicacity 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 comprehended in four short cantos. He that has well digested these, cannot be said to be ignorant of any important rule of poetry. The tale of the Physician turning Architect, in the fourth canto, is told with
* It was translated into Portuguese verse by Count d’Ericeyra.
Fierce for the liberties of wit, and bold,
Such NOTES. true pleasantry. It is to this work Boileau owes his immortality ; which was of the highest utility to this nation, in diffusing a just way of thinking and writing ; banishing every species of false wit, and introducing a general taste for the manly fimplicity of the åncients, on whose writings this poet had formed his taste. Boileau's chief talent was the didactic. His fancy was not the predominant faculty of his mind. Fontenelle has thus characterised him; “ Il étoit grand & excellent versificateur, pourvû cependant que cette louange se renferme dans ses beaux jours, dont la différence avec les autres est bien marquée, & faifoit souvent dire Helas ! & Hola! mais il n'etoit pas grand poëte, fi l'on entend par ce mot, comme on le doit, celui qui Fait, qui Invente, qui Cree.” It has become fashionable among the late French writers, to decry Boileau ; Marmontel, Diderot, D'Alembert, have done it. The chief fault of Boileau seems to be his decrying the great poets of Italy, and particularly Tasso; but M. Maffei informs us, that the elder son of Racine assured him, that his friend Boileau did not understand Italian, and had not read Tasso. The high encomium Taffo gave to Ariosto does him great honour, and shews him to be superior to envy. Ver.723. Such was the Muse, whose rules and practice tell,
“ Nature's chief Mafter-piece is writing well.” This high panegyric, which was not in the first edition, procured to Pope the acquaintance, and afterwards the constant friendship 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,
Such was Roscommon, not more learn’d than good, With manners gen’rous as his noble blood; 726
To NOTES. indeed, of the fatyric, rather than of the preceptive, kind. The coldness and neglect with which this writer, formed only on the French critics, speaks of Milton, must be considered as proofs of his want of critical discernment, or of critical courage. I can recollect no performance of Buckingham, that ftamps 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 ftuff this madrigal would be,
In some ftarv'd hackney sonneteer, or me?
And each exalted stanza teems with thought.” 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, contains a pleasing picture of the fedateness 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.
Ver.725. 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 essay. Roscommon was more learned than Buckingham. He was bred under Bochart, at Caen in Normandy. He had laid a design of forming a fociety 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 publickly to praise the Paradise Loft; with a noble encomium of which, and a rational recommendation of blank verse, he concludes his performance, though this passage was not in the first edition. Fenton, in his
To him the Wit of Greece and Rome was known,
Το NOTES. Observations on Waller, has accurately delineated his character. “ His imagination might have, probably, been more fruitful, and sprightly, if his judgement had been less severe ; but that severity, delivered in a masculine, clear, succinct style, contributed to make him so eminent in the didactical manner, that no man, with justice, can affirm, he was ever equalled by any of our own nation, without confeffing, at the same time, that he is inferior to none. In some other kinds of writing, his genius seems to have wanted fire to attain the point of perfection; but who can attain it?” Edit. 12 mo. p. 136.
VER. 729.] Several lines were here added to the first edition, concerning Walsh.
Ver. 729. Such late was Walb--the Mufe's judge and friend,] If Pope has here given too magnificent an eulogy to Walsh, it must be attributed to friendship, rather than to judgement. Walth was, in general, a flimsy and frigid writer. The Rambler calls his works, pages of inanity. His three letters to Pope, however, are well written, His remarks on the nature of pastoral poetry, on borrowing from the ancients, and against florid conceits, are worthy perusal. Pope owed much to Walsh; it was he who gave him a very important piece of advice, in his early youth ; for he used to tell our author, that there was one way till left open for him, by which he might excel any of his predecessors, which was, by correctness; that though, indeed, we had several great poets, we as yet could boast of none that were perfectly correct; and that therefore, he advised him to make this quality his particular study.
Correctness is a vague term, frequently used without meaning and precision. It is perpetually the nauseous cant of the French critics, and of their advocates and pupils, that the English writers are generally incorrect. If correctness implies an absence of petty faults, this perhaps may be granted. If it means, that, because their tragedians have avoided the irregularities of Shakespeare, and have observed a juster ceconomy in their fables, therefore