philosopher, exalted to the skies, attain a view of the whole hemisphere at once. But whether he is to ascend by the mere inflation of his person, as hinted above, or whether in a sort of bandbox, supported upon balloons, is not yet apparent, nor -- I suppose -- even in his own idea perfectly decided. .


November 30, 1783. Let our station be as retired as it may, there is no want of playthings and avocations, nor much need to seek them, in this world of ours. Business, or what presents itself to us under that imposing character, will find us out even in the stillest retreat, and plead its importance, however trivial in reality, as a just demand upon our attention. It is wonderful how, by means of such real or seeming necessities, my time is stolen away. I have just time to observe that time is short, and by the time I have made the observation, time is gone. I have wondered in former days at the patience of the antediluvian world, - that they could endure a life almost millenary, with so little variety as seems to have fallen to their share. It is probable that they had much fewer employments than we. Their affairs lay in a narrower compass; their libraries were indifferently furnished; philosophical researches were carried on with much less industry and acuteness of penetration; and fiddles, perhaps, were not even invented. How then could seven or eight hundred years of life be supportable? I have asked this question formerly, and been at a loss to resolve it; but I think I can answer it now. I will suppose myself born a thousand years before Noah was born or thought of. I rise with the sun; I worship; I prepare my breakfast; I swallow a bucket of goat's milk, and a dozen good sizable cakes. I fasten a new string to my bow, and my youngest boy, a lad of about thirty years of age, having played with my arrows till he has stripped off all the feathers, I find myself obliged to repair them. The morning is thus spent in preparing for the chase, and it is become necessary that I should dine. I dig up my roots; I wash them; I boil them; I find them not done enough; I boil them again; my wife is angry; we dispute; we settle the point; but in the mean time the fire goes out, and must be kindled again. All this is very amusing. I hunt; I bring home the prey; with the skin of it I

mend an old coat, or I make a new one. By this time the day is far spent; I feel myself fatigued, and retire to rest. Thus, what with tilling the ground and eating the fruit of it, hunting and walking and running, and mending old clothes, and sleeping and rising again, I can suppose an inhabitant of the primæval world so much occupied as to sigh over the shortness of life, and to find at the end of many centuries that they had all slipped through his fingers, and were passed away like a shadow.

September 18, 1784. My greenhouse is never so pleasant as when we are just upon the point of being turned out of it. ... I sit with all the windows and the door wide open, and am regaled with the scent of every flower in a garden as full of flowers as I have known how to make it. We keep no bees, but if I lived in a hive I should hardly hear more of their music. All the bees in the neighborhood resort to a bed of mignonette opposite to the window, and pay me for the honey they get out of it by a hum which, though rather monotonous, is as agreeable to my ear as the whistling of my linnets. All the sounds that nature utters are delightful, - at least in this country. I should not, perhaps, find the roaring of lions in Africa, or of bears in Russia, very pleasing; but I know no beast in England whose voice I do not account musical, save and except always the braying of an ass. The notes of all our birds and fowls please me, without one exception. I should not, indeed, think of keeping a goose in a cage, that I might hang him up in the parlor for the sake of his melody; but a goose upon a common, or in a farm-yard, is no bad performer. And as to insects, if the black beetle, and beetles indeed of all hues, will keep out of my way, I have no objection to any of the rest; on the contrary, in whatever key they sing, from the gnat's fine treble to the bass of the humble bee, I admire them all. Seriously, however, it strikes me as a very observable instance of providential kindness to man, that such an exact accord has been contrived between his ear and the sounds with which at least in a rural situation it is almost every moment visited. All the world is sensible of the uncomfortable effect that certain sounds have upon the nerves, and consequently upon the spirits; and if a sinful world had been filled with such as would have curdled the blood, and have

[ocr errors]

made the sense of hearing a perpetual inconvenience, I do not know that we should have had a right to complain. But now the fields, the woods, the gardens, have each their concert, and the ear of man is forever regaled by creatures who seem only to please themselves. Even the ears that are deaf to the Gospel are continually entertained, though without knowing it, by sounds for which they are solely indebted to its Author. There is somewhere in infinite space a world that does not roll within the precincts of mercy, and as it is reasonable, and even scriptural, to suppose that there is music in heaven, in those dismal regions perhaps the reverse of it is found, -tones so dismal as to make woe itself more insupportable, and to acuminate even despair. . TO LADY HESKETH

December 15, 1785. . . It would ill become me avowedly to point out the faults of Pope in a preface, and would be as impolitic as indecent. But to you, my dear, I can utter my mind freely. Let me premise, however, that you answered the gentleman's inquiry whether in blank verse or not, to a marvel. It is even so; and let some critics say what they will, I aver it, and will forever aver it, that to give a just representation of Homer in rhyme is a natural impossibility. Now for Pope himself: I will allow his whole merit. He has written a great deal of very musical and sweet verse in his translation of Homer, but his verse is not universally such; on the contrary, it is often lame, feeble, and flat. He has, besides, occasionally a felicity of expression peculiar to himself; but it is a felicity purely modern, and has nothing to do with Homer. Except the Bible, there never was in the world a book so remarkable for that species of the sub- blime that owes its very existence to simplicity, as the works of Homer. He is always nervous, plain, natural. I refer you to your own knowledge of his copyist for a decision upon Pope's merits in these particulars. The garden in all the gayety of June is less flowery than his translation. Metaphors of which Homer never dreamt, which he did not seek, and which probably he would have disdained if he had found, follow each other in quick succession like the sliding pictures in a show box. Homer is, on occasions that call for such a style, the easiest and most familiar of writers; a circumstance that escaped Pope

entirely, who takes most religious care that he shall everywhere strut in buckram. . . . In short, my dear, there is hardly anything in the world so unlike another, as Pope's version of Homer to the original. Give me a great corking-pin, that I may stick your faith upon my sleeve. There-it is done! Now assure yourself, upon the credit of a man who made Homer much his study in his youth, and who is perhaps better acquainted with Pope's translation of him than almost any man, having twenty-five years ago compared them with each other line by line throughout, - upon the credit of a man, too, who would not for the world deceive you in the smallest matter, — that Pope never entered into the spirit of Homer, that he never translated him, - I had almost said, did not understand him; many passages it is literally true he did not. Why, when he first entered on his task, did he (as he did, by his own confession) forever dream that he was wandering in unknown ways, that he was lost upon heaths and forests, and awoke in terror? I will tell you, my dear; his dreams were emblems of his waking experience; and I am mistaken if I could not go near to prove that at his first setting out he knew very little of Greek, and was never an adept in it, to the last. ...



(This journal, the earliest of English critical reviews, was founded by the bookseller Ralph Griffiths, who conducted it till his death, in 1803. It was Whig and nonconformist in attitude; see Dr. Johnson's remark comparing it and its Tory rival (founded 1756) The Critical Review, quoted by Boswell, page 650, below. The present extract is reproduced both for its interest as exemplifying the attitude of the Monthly toward a new poet, and its connection with the earliest volume of Burns's poems.]

Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. By Robert Burns. 8vo. Kilmarnock. 1786.

Poeta nascitur non fit is an old maxim, the truth of which has been generally admitted; and although it be certain that in modern times many verses are manufactured from the brain of their authors with as much labor as the iron is drawn into form under the hammer of the smith, and require to be afterwards smoothed by the file with as much care as the burnishers of Sheffield employ to give the last finish to their wares, yet after all these verses, though ever so smooth, are nothing but verses, and have no geniune title to the name of Poems. The humble bard whose work now demands our attention cannot claim a place among these polished versifiers. His simple strains, artless and unadorned, seem to flow without effort from the native feelings of the heart. They are always nervous, sometimes inelegant, often natural, simple, and sublime. The objects that have obtained the attention of the author are humble; for he himself, born in a low station, and following a laborious employment, has had no opportunity of observing scenes in the higher walks of life. Yet his verses are sometimes struck off with a delicacy and artless simplicity that charms like the bewitching though irregular touches of a Shakespeare.

We much regret that these poems are written in some measure in an unknown tongue, which must deprive most of our readers of the pleasure they would otherwise naturally create, being composed in the Scottish dialect, which contains many words that are altogether unknown to an English reader. Be

« ElőzőTovább »