Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

ern language; and as they are not familiar to our ear, and plainly appear to be sought after and affected, will generally give a stiffness to modern versification. Yet in subjects approaching to the ludicrous they may have a good effect; as in the Schoolmistress of Shenstone, Parnel's Fairy Tale, Thomson's Castle of Indolence, and Pope's lines in the Dunciad upon Wormius. But this effect will be most pleasing to those who have least occasion to recur to the glossary.

But why, it may be asked, should these old words be more pathetick and pleasing in Spenser, than in his imitators? I answer, because in him they seem, or we believe them to be, natural; in them we are sure they are affected. In him there is an ease and uniformity of expression, that shows he wrote a language not materially different from what was written by all the serious poets of his time; whereas the mixed dialect of these imitators is plainly artificial, and such as would make any man ridiculous, if he were now to adopt it in conversation. A long beard may give dignity to the portrait or statue of a hero, whom we know to have been two hundred years in his grave; but the chin of a modern European commander bristling with that antique appendage, would appear awkward and ridicu-, lous. But did not Spenser himself make use of

words that are known to have been obsolete, or merely provincial, in his time? Yes; and these words in Spenser have the same bad effect, that words now obsolete have in his imitators; they are to most readers unintelligible, and to those who understand them appear ludicrous or affected: some of his eclogues, and even some passages in the Fairy Queen, are liable to this censure. But what if Spenser had fixed the poetical language of England, as Homer did that of Greece? Would any of his old words in that · case have appeared awkward in a modern poem? Perhaps they would not: but let it be observed, that, in that case, they would have been adopted by Milton, and Dryden, and Pope, and by all our serious poets since the age of Elizabeth; and would therefore have been perfectly intelligible to every reader of English verse; and, from our having been so long accustomed to meet with them in the most elegant compositions, would have acquired a dignity equal, or perhaps superiour, to that which now belongs to the poetical language of Pope and Milton.

I grant, it is not always easy to fix the boundary between poetical and obsolete expressions. To many readers, lore, meed, behest, blithe, gaude, spray, thrall, may already appear antiquated; and to some the style of Spenser, or even of Chau

cer, may be as intelligible as that of Dryden. This however we may venture to affirm, that a word, which the majority of readers cannot understand without a glossary, may with reason be considered as obsolete; and ought not to be used in modern composition, unless revived, and recommended to the publick ear, by some very eminent writer. There are but few words in Milton, as nathless, tine, frore, bosky, &c.; there are but one or two in Dryden, as falsify:* and in Pope, there are none at all, which every reader of our poetry may not be supposed to understand: whereas in Shakspeare there are many, and in Spenser many more, for which one who knows English very well may be obliged to consult the dictionary. The practice of Milton, Dryden, or Pope, may therefore, in almost all cases, be admitted as good authority for the use of a poetical word. And in them, all the words above enumerated, as poetical, and in present use, may actually be found. And of such poets as may choose to observe this rule, it will not be said, either that they reject the judgment of Quin

* Dryden in one place (Eneid ix. vers. 1095) uses falsified to denote pierced through and through. He acknowledges, that this use of the word is an innovation; and has nothing to plead for it but his own authority, and that falsare in Italian sometimes means the same thing:

tilian, who recommends the newest of the old words, and the oldest of the new, or that they are unattentive to Pope's precept,

Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.* We must not suppose, that these poetical words never occur at all, except in poetry. Even from conversation they are not excluded; and the ancient criticks allow, that they may be admitted into prose; where they occasionally confer dignity upon a sublime subject, or, for reasons elsewhere hinted atgt heighten the ludicrous qualities of a mean one. But it is in poetry only, where the frequent use of them does not savour of affectation.

Nor must we suppose them essential to this art. Many passages there are of exquisite poetry, wherein not a single phrase occurs, that might not be used in prose. In fact the influence of these words in adorning English verse is not very extensive. Some influence however they have. They serve to render the poetical style, first, more melodious; and, secondly, more solemn.

First, They render the poetical style more

* Essay on Criticism, vers. 335.
† Essay on Laughter, chap. 2. sect. 4.

melodious, and more easily reducible into measure. Words of unwieldy size, or difficult pronunciation, are never used by correct poets, where they can be avoided; unless in their sound they have something imitative of the sense. Homer's poetical inflections contribute wonderfully to the sweetness of his numbers: and if the reader is pleased to look back to the speci. men I gave of the English poetical dialect, he will find that the words are in general well sounding, and such as may coalesce with other words, without producing harsh combinations. Quintilian observes, that' poets, for the sake of their verse, are indulged in many liberties, not granted to the orator, of lengthening, shortening, and dividing their words:* and if the Greek and Roman poets claimed this indulgence from necessity, and obtained it, the English, those of them especially who write in rhyme, may claim it with better reason; as the words of their language are less musical, and far less susceptible of variety in arrangement and syntax.

Secondly, Such poetical words as are known to be ancient have something venerable in their appearance, and impart a solemnity to all around them. This remark is from Quintilian; who

* Instit. Orat. lib. 10. cap. 1. $ 4.

« PoprzedniaDalej »