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I add one other instance, which, beside the property under consideration, raises delicately our most tender sympathy.
Son of Fingal! dost thou not behold the darkness of Crothar's hall of shells? My soul was not dark at the feast, when my people lived. I rejoiced in the presence of strangers, when my son shone in the hall. But Ossian, he is a beam that is departed, and left no streak of light behind. He is fallen, son of Fingal, in the battles of his father. Rothmar, the chief of grassy Tromlo, heard that my eyes had failed; he heard that my arms were fixed in the hall, and the pride of his soul arose. He came towards Croma: my people fell before him. I took my arms in the hall, but what could sightless Crothar do? My steps were unequal; my grief was great. I wished for the days that were past: days! wherein I fought and won in the field of blood. My son returned from the chase; the fair-haired Fovar-gormo. He had not lifted his sword in battle, for his arm was young. But the soul of the youth was great; the fire of valor burnt in his eye. He saw the disordered steps of his father, and his sigh arose. King of Croma, he said, is it because thou hast no son? is it for the weakness of Fovar-gormo's arm that thy sighs arise? I begin, my father, to feel the strength of my arm; I have drawn the sword of my youth, and I have bent the bow. Let me meet this Rothmar, with the youths of Croma; let me meet him, O my father, for I feel my burning soul.
And thou shalt meet him, I said, son of the sightless Crothar! But let others advance before thee, that I may hear the tread of thy feet at thy return; for my eyes behold thee not, fair-haired Fovar-gorma! He went: he met the foe; he fell. The foe advances towards Croma. He who slew my son is near, with all his pointed spears.
If a concise or nervous style be a beauty, tautology must be a blemish: and yet writers, fettered by verse, are not sufficiently careful to avoid this slovenly practice; they may be pitied, but they cannot be justified. Take for a specimen the following instances, from the best poet, for versification at least, that England has to boast of.
High on his helm celestial lightnings play,
Th' unwearied blaze incessant streams supplies,
Strength and omnipotence invest thy throne.
ILIAD V. 5.
IBID. viii. 576.
So silent fountains, from a rock's tall head,
His clanging armor rung.
IBID. IX. 19.
IBID. xii. 94.
Fear on their cheek, and horror in their eye.
IBID. XV. 4.
The blaze of armor flash'd against the day.
IBID. xvii. 736.
As when the piercing blasts of Boreas blow.
IBID. XIX. 380.
And like the moon, the broad refulgent shield
No-could our swiftness o'er the winds prevail,
IBID. XIX. 460.
The humid sweat from ev'ry pore descends.
to does wat wy aur frotih del..
Redundant epithets, such as humid in the last citation, are by Quintilian disallowed to orators; but indulged to poets, because his favorite poets, in a few instances, are reduced to such epithets for the sake of versification.
As an apology for such careless expressions, it may well suffice, that Pope, in submitting to be a translator, acts below his genius. In a translation, it is hard to require the same spirit of accuracy, that is cheerfully bestowed on an original work.
I close this chapter with a curious inquiry. An object, however ugly to the sight, is far from being so when represented by colors or by words. What is the cause of this difference? With respect to painting, the cause is obvious: a good picture, whatever the subject be, is agreeable by the pleasure we take in imitation; and this pleasure, overbalancing the disagreeableness of the subject, makes the picture upon the whole agreeable. With respect to the description of an ugly object, the cause follows. To connect individuals in the social state, no particular contributes more than language, by the power it possesses of an expeditious
communication of thought, and a lively representation of transactions. But nature hath not been satisfied to recommend language by its utility merely; independent of utility, it is made susceptible of many beauties, which are directly felt, without any intervening reflection. And this unfolds the mystery; for the pleasure of language is so great, as in a lively description to overbalance the disagreeableness of the image raised by it. This, however, is no encouragement to choose a disagreeable subject; for the pleasure is incomparably greater, where the subject and the description are both of them agreeable.
The following description is upon the whole agreeable, though the subject described is in itself dismal:
Nine times the space that measures day and night
Lay vanquish'd, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Reserv'd him to more wrath; for now the thought
Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes
As one great furnace flam'd; yet from those flames
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
PARADISE LOST.-BOOK I. 1. 50.
An unmanly depression of spirits in time of danger, is not an agreeable sight; and yet a fine description or representation of it will be relished:
K. Richard. What must the king do now? must he submit?
My gorgeous palace for a hermitage;
RICHARD II.-ACT III. Sc. 6.
Objects that strike terror in a spectator have in poetry and painting a fine effect. The picture, by raising a slight emotion of terror, agitates the mind; and in that condition every beauty makes a deep impression. May not contrast heighten the pleasure, by opposing our present security to the danger of encountering the object represented?
The other shape,
If shape it might be call'd, that shape had none
And shook a dreadful dart.
PARADISE LOST.-BOOK II. 1. 666.
Now storming fury rose,
And clamor such as heard in heaven till now
PARADISE LOST.--Book VI. 1. 207.
But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
HAMLET. ACT I. Sc 8
Gratiano. Poor Desdemona! I'm glad thy father's dead:
Shore his old thread in twain. Did he live now,
OTHELLO.--ACT V. Sc. 8.
Objects of horror must be excepted from the foregoing theory; for no description, however lively, is sufficient to overbalance the disgust raised even by the idea of such objects. Every thing horrible ought therefore to be avoided in a description. Nor is this a severe law: the poet will avoid such scenes for his own sake, as well as for that of his reader; and to vary his descriptions, nature affords plenty of objects that disgust us in some degree without raising horror.
I am obliged, therefore, to condemn the picture of Sin in the second book of Paradise Lost, though a masterly performance: the original would be a horrid spectacle; and the horror is not much softened in the copy.
Iago's character, in the tragedy of Othello, is insufferably monstrous and satanical: not even Shakspeare's masterly hand can make the picture agreeable.
What is the first rule in the composition of history?-what are the reasons for it?
What is the second rule?--what are the reasons for it?
What is the effect of straining to make a figure at first?
How should the first sentences of a work be?
What is the third rule?
What is the fourth rule?
In what does the force of language consist?
What should the narrative in an epic poem resemble?
What is the criticism on Voltaire's Henriade?
How should circumstances be disposed of?
What is the effect of a well-chosen circumstance?