'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.

Pope's Essay on Criticism*.
'Tis not enough his verses to complete
In measure, numbers, or determined feet;
Or render things by clear expression bright,
And set each object in a proper light :
To all proportioned terms he must dispense,
And make the sound a picture of the sense.

Pitt's Translatim of Vida's Art of Poetry.

Doctor Johnson has remarked, that “the notion of imitative metre, and the desire of discovering frequent adaptations of the sound to the sense, have produced many wild conceits and imaginary beauties.” The truth of this observation does not overthrow the critical canon which Pope has rendered so familiar. As well might the occasional failures of the painter, or the mistaken interpretations of different judges, be adduced as an argu

* In Spence's Anecdotes, Pope's remarks on this subject are thus reported : “I have followed the significance of the numbers, and the adapting them to the sense, much more even than Dryden ; and much oftener than any one minds it. Particularly in the translations of Homer, where 'twas most necessary to do so ; and in the Dunciad, often, and indeed in all my poems. The great rule of verse is to be musical ; this other is only a secondary consideration, and should not jar too much with the former. I remember two lines I wrote, when I was a boy, that were very faulty this way. 'Twas on something that I was to describe as passing away as quick as thought :

So swift-this moment here, the next ’tis gone,
So imperceptible the motion.


ment against the existence or value of some peculiar and subtle beauty in the pictorial art. It is not every spectator who understands the expression of Raphael's faces. When a pedantic coxcomb was lauding that great artist to the skies, in the presence of Northcote, the latter could not help saying, “ If there was nothing in Raphael but what you can see, we should not now be talking of him.”

The effect of Imitative Harmony in verse is generally best appreciated by a learned ear and a cultivated taste; but it is in some instances of so palpable a character as to be perceptible to the dullest reader, though he is not perhaps able to explain the

Imitative harmony in verse is not a modern discovery or invention. Homer has been celebrated as the poet, who of all others exhibited the happiest adaptation of sense to sound. Vida, in his Art of Poetry, has illustrated Virgil's great excellence in this respect. In point of fact, the art of selecting sounds expressive of things is resorted to even in common conversation. All good Poets, and even Orators, attend more or less closely to the rule in question, though often quite unconsciously. The passions naturally suggest fit and faithful sounds. Love and sorrow prompt smooth and melodious expressions, and violent emotions obtain utterance in words harsh, hurried, and abrupt. We see therefore that this critical canon is founded in nature. It is not, however, to be denied, that like many other good rules we may make a great deal too much of it ; for a too eager and

bitious attempt to copy nature in this respect may lead to a total want of it; as those writers who are pathetic or passionate on system become mawkish and ridiculous. The poet should trust wholly to his genuine impulses, unless he have art enough to hide his art, which comes after all to the same thing, for the perfection of art is nature.

Those readers who are not already familiar with Christopher Pitt's translation of Vida would do well to turn to it, if they feel any interest in the subject of this paper*. Pitt was not a poet. He wanted fancy and passion ; but he was a classical scholar and a correct and skilful versifier. His translation of the Æneid, though greatly inferior to Dryden's, has been praised by Johnson, and his Vida's Art of Poetry was once popular. It is curious to compare his translation of Vida with those passages which Pope has imitated in his Essay on Criticism. The following is one of the most celebrated examples of imitative harmony in the English language :

Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw,
The line too labours, and the words move slow;
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o’er the unbending corn and skims along the main.

Pope's Essay on Criticism.

Let us compare these lines with the translation of the correspondent passage in Vida :

When things are small, the terms should still be so,
For low words please us when the theme is low.
But when some giant, horrible and grim,
Enormous in his gait, and vast in every limb,
Comes towering on ; the swelling words must rise
In just proportion to the monster's size.
If some large weight his huge arms strive to shove
The verse too labours; the thronged words scarce move.
When each stiff clod beneath the ponderous plough
Crumbles and breaks, th' encumbered lines march slow.

* Or they may go to the Latin original, which Pope seems to have read with great delight. He has paid the author a handsome tribute of admiration.

Immortal Vida! on whose honored brow
The poet's bays and critic's ivy grow!
Cremona now shall ever boast thy name,
As next in place to Mantua, next in fame!

[ocr errors]

Not less, when pilots catch the friendly gales,
Unfurl their shrouds and hoist the wide-stretched sails.
But if the poem suffer from delay
Let the lines fly precipitate away;
And when the viper issues from the brake,
Be quick : with stones, and brands, and fire attack
His rising crest, and drive the serpent back.

Pitt's Vida.

Some of the lines in italics are so admirable, that I cannot help preferring them to those of Pope. The overflowing of the second italic line, as if the object were too vast for the usual limit of the verse, and the abrupt yet sonorous termination in the middle of the third line, are contrived with exquisite skill and judgment. The rapidity of the last four lines is also a highly successful exertion of poetical art, and is greatly superior to Pope's illustration of quick motion. His last long lumbering line is any thing but expressive of extreme swiftness, and as Johnson has rightly observed, the word unbending is one of the most sluggish in the language. The line gives an idea of space, but not of celerity. How superior, as an example of quickness, is the following:

Let the lines fly precipitate away.

And how exceedingly felicitous is the pause at Be quick”and the eager enumeration of the means of destruction !

But in the illustration of smoothness and of toil, Pope is very superior to Pitt, and he also exhibits a great advantage over him in the general elegance and finish of his performance. Pitt has been obliged to borrow several of Pope's expressions, and some of his own are wretchedly prosaic. “ Strive to shove," for instance, is detestable. The ensuing couplets are not to be compared to the first four lines in the extract from Pope :

To the loud call each distant rock replies ;
Tossed by the storm the towering surges rise;

While the hoarse ocean beats the sounding shore,
Dashed from the strand the flying waters roar,
Flash at the shock, and gathering in a heap,
The liquid mountains rise, and overhang the deep.
But when blue Neptune from his car surveys,
And calms at one regard the raging seas,
Stretched like a peaceful lake the deep subsides,
And the pitched vessel o’er the surface glides.

Pitt's Vida.

This is tame and prosaic, with the exception of the Alexandrine in italics, which is highly expressive and picturesque. I must here quote a couplet from Wordsworth.

And see the children sporting on the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

The second is a magnificent line, and has an immortal air. The sound and the sense are equally impressive. It is even superior to a similar passage in Shelley.

-And hear the sea
Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony.

While on the subject of the sea, I may as well also refer to Lord Byron, whose oceanic poetry has many fine illustrations of Pope's favorite rule. What a free, wave-like, sweeping harmony pervades the following exquisite stanza :

Once more upon the waters ! yet once more !
And the waves bound beneath me like a steed
That knows its rider. Welcome to their roar!
Swift be their guidance wheresoe'er it lead !
Though the strained mast should quiver as a reed,
And the rent canvas fluttering strew the gale,
Still must I on; for I am as a weed
Flung from the rock on ocean's foam to sail
Where'er the surge may sweep, the tempest's breath prevail !

« ElőzőTovább »