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precates perdition upon the bloody Edward; and, seized with prophetick enthusiasm, foretels in the most alarming strains, and typifies by the most dreadful images, the disasters that were to overtake his family and descendents. If perspicuity and simplicity be natural in the songs of Anacreon, as they certainly are, a figurative style and desultory composition are no less natural in this inimitable performance of Gray. And if real prophecy must always be so obscure, as not to be fully understood till it is accomplished, because otherwise it would interfere with the free agency of man, that poem which imitates the style of prophecy, must also, if natural, be to a certain degree obscure; not indeed in the images of words, but in the allusions. And it is in the allusions only, not in the words or images, (for these are most emphatical and picturesque) that the poem partakes of obscurity; and even its allusions will hardly seem obscure to those who are acquainted with the history of England. Those criticks, therefore, who find fault with this poem, because it is not so simple as the songs of Anacreon, or the love verses of Shenstone and Waller, may as well blame Shakspeare, because Othello does not speak in the sweet and simple language of Desdemona. Horace has no where attempted a theme of such animation and sublimity, as this of Gray; and yet Horace, like his master Pindar, is often bold in his transitions, and in the style of many of his odes extremely figurative.-But this we not only excuse, but applaud, when we consider, that in those odes the assumed character of the speaker is enthusiasm, which in all its operations is somewhat violent, and must therefore give a peculiar vehemence both to thought and to language.
On what principle, then, it may be said, are we to look for simplicity and exact arrangement, in the style of an epick poem? Why is not the language of the Iliad and Eneid as figurative as that of Pindar? To this I answer, first, That the assumed character of the epick poet is calm inspiration, the effects whereof upon the mind must be supposed to be very different from those produced by enthusiasm or prophetick rapture; regularity and composure being as essential to the former, as wildness and vehemence are to the latter: and, secondly, That a very figurative style continued through a long uwork becomes tiresome; aud therefore, that all poems of great length ought to be methodical in the plan, and simple in the execution. Abrupt transition, boldness of figure, and thoughts elevated almost to extravagance, may please in a short poem, as the dainties of a banquet, and the splendour of a triumph, may. amuse for a day: but much feasting destroys health, and perpetual glare and tumult stupify the senses; and the high lyrick style continued through many pages would fatigue the attention, confound the judgment, and bewilder the fancy.
Of the Sound of Poetical Language.
It is folly to prefer sound to sense. Yet the ear, like every other perceptive faculty, is capable of gratification; and therefore to the sound of words some regard is to be had, even in prose. For ill sounding language can never be agreeable, either to the hearer or to the speaker; and of different modifications of well sounding language some will be found to be more agreeable than others. It is the business of the poet to make his style as agreeable, and consequently as pleasing to the ear, as the nature of the subject will allow. And to the harmony of language it behooves him, more than any other writer, to attend; as it is more especially his concern to render his work pleasurable. In fact we find, that no poet was ever popular who did not possess the art of harmonious composition.
What I have to say on the subject of poetical harmony may be referred to one or other of these heads: sweetness, measure, and imitation.
I. In order to give sweetness to language, either in verse or prose, all words of harsh sound, difficult pronunciation, or unwieldy magnitude, are to be avoided as much as possible, unless when they have in the sound something peculiarly emphatical; and words are to be so placed in respect of one another, as that discordant combinations may not result from their union. But in poetry this is more necessary than in prose; poetical language being understood to be an imitation of natural language improved to that perfection which is consistent with probability. To poetry, therefore, a greater latitude must be allowed than to prose, in expressing, by tropes and figures of pleasing sound, those ideas whereof the proper names are in any respect offensive, either to the'ear or to the fancy.*
II. How far versification or regular measure may be essential to this art, has been disputed by critical writers; some holding it to be indispensably necessary, and some not necessary at all. Without recapitulating what has been said by others, I shall only deliver my own opinion, which, if I mistake not, will be found consistent with the principles already established.
* See part 2. chap. 1. sect. 3. § 1,2. Vol. VI I