網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

manuscripts of Milton,” and has shown the painful care and fastidiousness of Pope (to which D'Israeli alludes) by the publication of some of the corrected proofs of the translation of Homer. Swift highly appreciated Pope's art of condensation.

“In Pope I cannot read a line
But, with a sigh, I wish it mine;
When he can in one couplet fix
More sense than I could do in six."

Ugo Foscolo, in his elegant Essay on Petrarch, informs us, that if the “manuscripts did not still exist, it would be impossible to imagine or believe the unwearied pains this poet has bestowed on the correction of his verses.They are curious monuments,” he adds," although they afford little aid in exploring by what secret workings the long and laborious meditation of Petrarch has spread over his poetry all the natural charms of sudden and irresistible inspiration.” It is said of the celebrated Bembo, that he had a desk with forty divisions, through which each of his sonnets was passed in due succession, at fixed intervals of time, and that at every change of place it received a fresh revisal*. Joseph Warton, in his Essay on Pope, quotes the assertion of Fenton, that Waller passed the greatest part of a summer in composing a poein of ten stanzas. “So that,” adds Fenton, “ however he is generally reputed the parent of those swarms of insect wits, who affect to be thought easy writers, it is evident that he bestowed much time and care on his poems before he ventured them out of his hands.” Warton also mentions, in further illustration of his subject, that it is well known that the writings of Voiture, of Sarassin, and La Fontaine, cost them much pains, and were laboured into that facility for which they are so famous, with repeated alterations and many erasures.

* Voltaire, in his Temple of Taste, represents that in the innermost part of the sanctuary he saw a small number of truly great men employed in correcting those faulty passages of their works, which would have passed for beauties in the productions of writers of inferior genius.

Moliere, is report. ed to have passed whole days in fixing upon a proper epithet or rhyme, although his verses have the flow and freedom of conversation. Some of Rochefoucault's maxims received twenty or thirty revisions, and the author eagerly sought the advice of his friends. Buffon called genius patience.

It is said that Shakespeare never blotted a line. To this we may reply with Ben Jonson, would that he had blotted a thousand !* The errors and imperfections that are discoverable even in his wondrous pages, are spots on the sun that we often have occasion to wish away. Foreigners constantly throw these defects in the teeth of his national admirers. But Pope, in his Preface to Shakespeare, has shown that the great bard did not always disdain the task of correction, though he sometimes neglected it. The Merry Wives of Windsor and the tragedy of Hamlet were almost entirely re-written.

“E'en copious Dryden wanted, or forgot,

The last and greatest art—the art to blot.”

Dryden sometimes, however, corrected his pieces very carefully, when he was not writing hurriedly for bread. He spent a fortnight in composing and correcting the Ode on St. Cecilia's Day. But what is this, exclaims Dr. Johnson, to the patience and diligence of Boileau, whose Equivoque, a poem of only three hun

A portion of the passage in which these expressions occur, may be pertiDently repeated in this place.-" I remember,” says Ben Jonson, " the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, " Would that he had blotted a thousand," which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to commend their friend, wherein he most faulted ; and to justify mino own candour; for I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any."

dred and forty-six lines, took from his life eleven months to write it, and three years to revise it ? Ten years elapsed between the first brief sketch of Goldsmith's Traveller and its publication, during which it was nearly re-written two or three times. In his first copy of The Deserted Village the lines were written very wide apart to give room for alterations, and we are told by Bishop Percy that scarcely a single line in any of Goldsmith's poetical works remained as it was originally written.

The Memoir of Gibbon was composed nine times, and some of Pascal's works were corrected and re-written just as frequently. Addison would stop the press when almost a whole impression of the Spectator was worked off, to insert a new preposition or conjunction. Dr. Johnson is said to have corrected and improved every new edition of his Rambler. I have read somewhere of a poet, who literally died of vexation, in consequence of discovering an error in one of his verses, just as he was about to present them to his patron. Hazlitt says in his Plain Speaker, that he was assured by a person who had the best means of knowing, that the proof of Burke's Letter to a noble Lord (“ the most rapid, impetuous, glancing and sportive of all his works”) was returned to the printing office so completely blotted over with alterations, that the compositors refused to correct it as it was, took the whole matter to pieces, and re-set the copy. Ariosto is said to have made many and great alterations in his immortal poem. Akenside so altered and corrected the “ Pleasures of Imagination,” and yet so little satisfied his own judgment, that after it had passed through several editions he found it better to re-write it altogether. He did not live to finish the new version, but two or three books or sections of it are now usually included in his works. It is curious to observe his fastidious alterations. His spirited Epistle to Curio was first published in heroic couplets, and afterwards turned into an ode in ten-line stanzas. It is true that these two great changes were by no means improvements, but they prove that Akenside

was not one of those who think labour needless in a man of genius. He urged this principle, however, too far. He delayed the correction of the warm effusions of his youth until old age had chilled his imagination. This was a sad mistake. But whatever may be the disadvantages of over-labour and loo great fastidiousness, they are far less dangerous than errors of an opposite character. I believe no one has seriously recommended haste and negligence of composition. The best critics, on the contrary, have urged the necessity of assiduous care. It is remarkable that some of our most voluminous writers have confessed the great toil and attention which they bestowed upon their works. Cowper, a vigorous, and by some thought a careless poet, in one of his delightful letters, observes, that “ to touch and retouch is, though some writers boast of negligence, and others would be ashamed to show their foul copies, the secret of almost all good writing, especially in verse.” He adds, “I am never weary of it myself.” Pope, in the first draught of his preface to his poems, had made a similar acknowledgment. “The sense of my faults,” said he, "first made me correct; besides that it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write.” Moore, whose own poetry, glowing as it is, bears internal evidence of great care, assures us in his Life of Byron, that his Lordship was no exception to the general law of nature, that imposes labour as the price of perfection. He gives several curious specimens of the noble poet's fastidious changes of phrase, and his laborious correction of defects. Medwin, in his Life of Shelley, published in the Athenaum, tells us that that poet exercised the severest self-criticism on every thing he wrote, and that his manuscripts, like those of Tasso at Ferrara, were scarcely decypherable. His care, however, I should think, was bestowed more on the choice of striking and gorgeous expressions than on that finish and condensation of style which is now so much neglected. He is too exuberant. Drummond of Hawthornden beautifully and truly says,

[ocr errors]

I know that all the Muse's heavenly lays
With toil of spirit are so dearly bought.

In a free translation of Boileau's Art of Poetry, partly by Sir Wm. Soame, but chiefly by Dryden, authors are strongly cautioned against too much haste :

Take time for thinking; never work in haste;
And value not yourself for writing fast.

Of labour not afraid :
A hundred times consider what you've said ;
Polish, repolish, every colour lay,
And sometimes add, but oftener take away.

Horace, who is thought a good authority in such matters, not only advises a poet to keep his work by him for nine years, but particularly insists on the absolute necessity of frequent correction. Beattie confesses in a letter to Sir William Forbes that he thinks it right to let his pieces lie by him for some time, because he was a much more impartial judge of such of his works as he had almost forgotten, than of such as were fresh in his memory. Pope is reported by Richardson, the painter, to have remarked that in Garth's Dispensary there was scarcely one of the alterations, innumerable as they were, in every new edition, that was not for the better.” By Thomson's successive corrections in the Seasons, Johnson seems to think they lost something of their raciness ; but Mitford, in his elegant edition of Gray, informs us that he possesses an interlined

copy that belonged to Thomson, and which contained corrections in the author's own handwriting, that were very decided improvements. Pope is said to have suggested some of Thomson's alterations. The epithets in the first edition of the Seasons were, it is said, too numerous and often merely expletive.

“Our own times,” says Moore, “ have witnessed more than one extraordinary intellect, whose depth has not prevented their treasures from lying ever ready within reach. But the records of

« 上一頁繼續 »