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I beg that you will not suffer your reverence either for Homer, or his translator, to check your continual examinations. I never knew with certainty, till now, that the marginal strictures I found in the Task-proofs were yours. The justness of them, and the benefit I derived from them, are fresh in my memory, and I doubt not that their uti lity will be the same in the present instance.
Weston, Oct. 30, 1790.
I am anxious to preserve this singular anecdote, as it is honourable both to the modest poet, and to his intelligent bookseller.
But let me recall the reader's attention to the Letter, in which the poet delivered so forcibly his own ideas of English versification. .
This Letter leads me to suggest a reason, why some readers imagine, that the rhyme of Cowper is not equal to his blank-verse. Their idea arises from his not copying the melody of Pope : but from this he deviated by design, and his character of Pope, in the poem of Table-Talk, may, when added to this Letter, completely unfold to us his reasons for doing so. The lines to which I allude are these :
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
Cowper conceived that Pope, by adhering too closely to the use of pure iambic feet in his verse, deprived himself of an advantage to be gained by a more liberal admission of other feet, and particularly spondees, which according to Cowper's idea, have a very happy effect in giving variety, dignity, and force. He exemplifies his idea by exclaiming in the following couplet of the same poem
Give me the line, that ploughs its stately course,
It is however remarkable, that Cowper, in his poem on the nativity, from the French of Madame Guion, seems to have chosen the style of Pope, which on other occasions he had rather tried to avoid. His versification in the poem just mentioned, affords a complete proof, that in ryhme, as in blank verse, he could at once be easy, forcible, and melodious.
Churchill had before objected to an excess of unvaried excellence in the verses of Pope. An objection that appears rather fastidious, than reasonable. Happy the poet, whose antagonist can only say of his language, that it is too musical, and of his fancy, that it is too much under the guidance of reason! Such are the charges by which even scholars and critics, of acknowledged taste, and good. nature, have from the influence of accidental prejudice, endeavoured to lessen the poetical eminence of Pope; a poet remarkably unfortunate in his numerous biographers! for Ruff head, whom Warburton employed in a task, which gratitude might have taught him to execute better himself, is neglected as dull; Johnson, though he nobly and eloquently vindicates the dignity of the poet, yet betrays a perpetual inclination to render him contemptible as a man: and Warton, though by nature one of the most candid, and liberal of critics, continues, as a biographer, to indulge that prejudice, which had early induced him in his popular essay on this illustrious poet, to endeavour to sink him a little in the scale of poetical renown; not, I believe, ftom any envious motive, but as an affectionate compliment to his friend Young, the patron to whom he inscribed his essay ! tators must laugh, indeed, at a bust of Homer enveloped in a wig, but the reader has not a disposition to laughter in reading the Iliad of Pope. On the contrary, in many, many, passages, where it deviates widely from the original, a reader of taste and candour admires both the dexterity, and the dignity of the translator, and if he allows the version to be unfaithful, yet with Mr. Twining, (the accomplished translator of Aristotle, who has justly and gracefully applied an expressive Latin verse to this glorious translation, so bitterly branded with the epithet unfaithful!) he tenderly exclaims
Of this continued prejudice, which this goodnatured critic was himself very far from perceiving, he exhibits a remarkable proof in his life of Pope, by the following facetious severity on the translation of Homer.
“ No two things can be so unlike, as the Iliad of Homer, and the Iliad of Pope ; to colour the images, to point the sentences, to lavish Ovidian graces on the simple Grecian, is to put a bag-wig on Mr. Townley's fine busto of the venerable old bard."
This sentence has all the sprightly pleasantry of my amiable old friend; but to prove that it is critically unjust, the reader has only to observe, that Pope is very far from having produced that ludicrous effect which the comparison of the critic supposes. Spec
Perfida, sed quamvis perfida, cara tamen.
, I have been induced, by a sense of what is due to the great works of real genius, to take the part of Pope against the lively injustice of a departed friend, for whose literary talents, and for whose social character, I still retain the sincerest regard. The delight and the improvement derived from such noble works as the Homer of Pope, ought to guard every scholar against any partialities of friendship, that can render him blind to the predominant merits, or severe to the petty imperfections of such a work. Predominant