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the Chess-play of Vida; the Bees of Rucellai ; the Syphilis of Fracastoro; the Capitoli of Berni and his followers; the Malmantile of Lippi; the Secchia of Tassoni; the Lutrin of Boileau; the Dispensary of Garth; the Rape of the Lock, by Pope; the Schoolmistress of Shenstone; the Task, by Cowper; the Deserted Village, by Goldsmith; the Cotter's Saturday Night, by Burns; and the humorous, or ludicrous compositions of Butler and of Swift. Instances sufficient to show, that “nothing is trifling in the hand of genius, and that importance itself becomes a bauble in that of mediocrity. The Shepherd's staff of Paris would have been an engine of death in the grasp of Achilles ; the ash of Peleus could only have dropt from the effeminate fingers of the curled archer !.”
We have been so often told that poetry exists in inanimate objects, that we seem to believe it, and thus become the dupes of our own phraseology. Thus we say, the mountains and the forests are poetical, and the skies are poetical, and the waves of the sea, and the winds, and the thunder, are all poetical ; forgetting that the poetry is in the mind that can conceive and express it, and not in the object of which we speak. We are finely told that there are
But it is only the contemplative, or in other words the poetical mind, that finds them; to the herd of mankind they are silent and useless, or if they impart an emotion, the creative energy is wanting that can
| Fuseli : Aphorisms on Art.
alone convey the feeling to the mind of another, and give life and animation to that which would otherwise have remained inert and dead.
“Wherever the appearances of the exterior world,” says an elegant writer, “are expressive to us of qualities which we love or admire ; wherever, from our education, our connexions, our habits, or our pursuits, its qualities are associated in our minds with affecting or interesting emotion, there the pleasures of beauty and sublimity (yes, and the feelings of joy and of sorrow, and of every sentiment and passion of the human mind) are felt, or at least are capable of being felt. Our minds, instead of being governed by the character of external objects, are enabled to bestow on them a character which does not belong to them: and even with the rudest or the commonest appearances of nature, to connect feelings of a nobler, or a more interesting kind, than any that the mere influences of matter can ever convey." —Alison's Essay on Taste.
The question, then, is not whether Pope, or any other author, has selected the most sublime, the most romantic, the most ludicrous, the most promising, or the most unfavourable subjects; whether he has drawn them from the works of nature or the works of art; but whether he has animated them with the living breath of his own genius-whether he has placed them before us in all the colours of reality-whether in unfolding the emotions of the mind, he
“ Has made us feel each passion that he feigns," and has been enabled to associate our sensations with objects that are in themselves the most indifferent, common, or contemptible.
The finest Landscape that Rubens perhaps ever painted, is the representation of a flat and uniform country in a shower of rain, and we equally participate in the feelings of the genuine poet, whether he represent to us the strife of heroes, or a game at ombre, whether he describe the launch of a ship amidst breathless crowds, or a mountain daisy turned up by the plough. In this respect he may truly be said to possess a spark of that attribute, which Pope has so beautifully described as characteristic of the divinity, and to be
“ As full, as perfect, in a hair, as heart !"
It has however been the practice of those who have attempted to depreciate the talents of Pope, to admit that he occasionally exhibited powers which placed him on an equality with the loftiest sons of song. Thus we are informed by one of his critics, that, “in his Epistle from Eloisa to Abelard, he appears on the high ground of the poet of nature,” and that “in his Rape of the Lock, where he gives a more poetical employment to the more dignified order of genii, he is equal to Shakespear?” After such passages, and many others of the same kind, which we meet with in the works of his critics, can it be allowed them to state these acknowledged excellences by way of exception only to the general tenour of the author's productions” ?
? Mr. Bowles.
Pope must be judged by the rank in which he stands ; amongst those of the French school, not the Italian ; amongst those whose delineations are taken more from manners than nature. When I
that this is his predominant character, I must be insensible to every thing exquisite in poetry, if I did not except instanter, the Epistle of Eloisa, &c." Bowles.
· As well might we deny (as has justly been observed) the strength of Milo, because he carried an ox but once,” or assert that Michelagnolo was no sculptor, except in his Móses, and Raffaelle no painter, except in his Transfiguration. Surely neither man nor elephant can be an exception to himself.
That the inventive powers of Pope were confined only to a few particular instances is, however, an assertion not founded on fact. Whether we apply that term to the construction of a fable, or continued narrative of imaginary and fictitious events, as in the Rape of the Lock, or the Dunciad, or to the illustration of any subject, whatever its nature may be, by the introduction of appropriate decoration, and beautiful figures of speech, as in his moral and didactic writings, it cannot be denied that Pope has displayed the powers of imagination in a degree which entitles him to rank with the most celebrated poets in any age or country. It may, indeed, be said, that as the principal Epic Poems of which the world so justly boasts, profess to be, and in some degree are founded on historical events, and are consequently a narrative of matter of fact, embellished, indeed, by the genius of the poet; so the allegorical poems of Pope, being founded chiefly on fiction, and introducing beings of a new and fanciful character in poetry, exbibit greater powers of imagination than are required for works of the former description, and entitle him to rank with those authors, who, like Shakespear and Spenser, have pictured out to us the forms of things unseen, and have given to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."
If ever any individual was born a poet it was Pope. Indications of this had manifested themselves as early as eight or nine years of age. In his early progress he refused to be led by the hand through long and thorny ways, but went to the living well and drank. As he approached, the great masters of former ages seem to have unfolded their works to him; and he read and enjoyed them at a time of life when others are employed only in acquiring the rudiments of learning. Such was the facility of his powers, and the quickness of his apprehension, that he extended himself over all subjects; and epic, and satiric, and tragic, and comic, and lyric poetry, were the playthings of his childhood. The perceptions he had of the peculiar manner and style of his predecessors were such, that he reflected them again as from a mirror, and his imitations, whilst they astonish us by their resemblance, convince us that he might have succeeded in any department to which he had chosen to devote his talents. Amongst his earliest favourites were Ovid and Statius, whose ostentatious qualifications naturally attracted his young mind, and when he applied
“ The loud Papinian trumpet to his lips,”
he showed at least how deeply he had imbibed the spirit of his author. In this enchanted land he did not however long remain, but entered with Virgil and with Homer into the true recesses of the Muses, guiding himself by their precepts, and founding himself on their example.
Of English authors, those to whom Pope stands the nearest related in genius and poetical character, are