« ZurückWeiter »
of their daily speech, which is tesselated with the rich fragments of his language, as we see in foreign lands the marbles of Roman grandeur worked into the walls and pavements of modern palaces.
Such pre-eminently is Shakespeare among ourselves ; such pre-eminently Virgil among the Latins; such in their degree are all those writers who in every nation go by the name of Classics. To particular nations they are necessarily attached from the circumstance of the variety of tongues, and the peculiarities of each ; but so far they have a catholic and ecumenical character, that what they express is common to the whole race of man, and they alone are able to express it.
If, then, the power of speech is a gift as great as any that can be named, - if the origin of language is by many philosophers even considered to be nothing short of divine, -if by means of words the secrets of the heart are brought to light, pain of soul is relieved, hidden grief is carried off, sympathy conveyed, counsel imparted, experience recorded, and wisdom perpetuated,—if by great authors the many are drawn up into unity, national character is fixed, a people speaks, the past and the future, the East and the West, are brought into communication with each other,-if such men are, in a word, the spokesmen and prophets of the human family, it will not answer to make light of Literature or to neglect its study ; rather we may be sure that, in proportion as we master it in whatever language, and imbibe its spirit, we shall ourselves become in our own measure the ministers of like benefits to others, be they many or few, be they in the obscurer or the more distinguished walks of life, — who are united to us by special ties, and are within the sphere of our personal influence.
THE GENIUS OF POPE.
Of the intellectual character of Pope, the constituent and fundamental principle was good sense, a prompt and intuitive perception of consonance and propriety. He saw immediately, of his own conceptions, what was to be chosen, and what to be rejected ; and, in the works of others, what was to be shunned, and what was to be copied. But good sense alone is a sedate and quiescent quality, which manages its possessions well, but does not increase them ; it collects few materials for its own operations, and preserves safety, but: never gains supremacy. Pope had likewise genius ; a mind active, ambitious, and adventurous, always investigating, always aspiring ; in its wildest searches still longing to go forward, in its highest flights still wishing to be higher, always imagining something greater than it knows, always endeavouring more than it can do. To assist these powers, he is said to have had great strength and exactness of memory. That which he had heard or read was not easily lost ; and he had before him not only what his own meditations suggested, but what he had found in other writers that might be accommodated to his present purpose.
These benefits of nature he improved by incessant and unwearied diligence ; he had recourse to every source of intelligence, and lost no opportunity of information ; sulted the living as well as the dead ; he read his compositions to his friends, and was never content with mediocrity when excellence could be attained. He considered poetry as the business of his life ; and however he might seem to lament his occupation, he followed it with constancy ; to make verses was his first labour, and to mend them was his last. From his attention to poetry. he was never diverted. If conversation offered anything that could be improved, he committed it to paper; if a thought, or perhaps an expression more happy than was common, rose to his mind, he was
careful to write it; an independent distich was preserved for an opportunity of insertion ; and some little fragments have
1 been found containing lines, or parts of lines, to be wrought upon at some other time. He was one of those few whose labour is their pleasure ; he was never elevated to negligence, nor wearied to impatience ; he never passed a fault unamended
by indifference, nor quitted it by despair. He laboured his works first to gain reputation, and afterwards to keep it.
Of composition there are different methods. Some employ at once memory and invention, and with little intermediate use of the pen, form and polish large masses by continued meditation, and write their productions only when, in their own opinion, they have completed them. It is related of Virgil, that his custom was to pour out a great number of verses in the morning, and pass the day in retrenching exuberances and correcting inaccuracies. The method of Pope, as may be collected from his translation, was to write his first thoughts in his first words, and gradually to amplify, decorate, rectify, and refine them. With such faculties and such dispositions he excelled every other writer in political prudence : he wrote in such a manner as might expose him to few hazards. He used almost always the same fabric of verse ; and, indeed, by those few essays which he made of any other, he did not enlarge his reputation. Of this uniformity the certain consequence was readiness and dexterity. By perpetual practice, language had in his mind a systematical arrangement; having always the same use for words, he had words so selected and combined as to be ready at his call. This increase of facility he confessed himself to have perceived in the progress of his translation. But what was yet of more importance, his effusions were always voluntary, and his subjects chosen by himself. His independence secured him from drudging at a task, and labouring upon a barren topic; he never exchanged praise for money, nor opened a shop of condolence or congratulation. His poems, therefore, were scarcely ever temporary. He suffered coronations and royal marriages to pass without a song; and derived no opportunities from recent events, nor any popularity from the accidental disposition of his readers. He was never reduced to the necessity of soliciting the sun to shine upon a birthday, of calling the graces and virtues to a wedding, or of saying what multitudes have said before him. When he could produce nothing new, he was at liberty to be silent.
His publications were for the same reason never hasty. He is said to have sent nothing to the press till it had lain two years under his inspection ; it is at least certain that he ventured nothing without nice examination. He suffered the tumult of imagination to subside, and the novelties of invention to grow familiar. He knew that the mind is always enamoured of its own productions, and did not trust his first fondness. He consulted his friends, and listened with great willingness to criticism ; and what was of more importance, he consulted himself, and let nothing pass against his own judgment.
FLOWERS WITHOUT FRUIT.
PRUNE thou thy words ; the thoughts control
That o'er thee swell and throng :-
And change to purpose strong.
In soft luxurious flow,
And faints at every woe.
Faith's meanest deed more favour bears,
Where hearts and wills are weighed,
POPE AND DRYDEN.
Pope professed to have learned his poetry from Dryden, whom, whenever an opportunity was presented, he praised through his whole life with unvaried liberality ; and perhaps his character may receive some illustration, if he be compared
with his master.
Integrity of understanding and nicety of discernment were not allotted in a less proportion to Dryden than to Pope. The rectitude of Dryden's mind was sufficiently shown by the dismission of his poetical prejudices, and the rejection of unnatural thoughts and rugged numbers. But Dryden never