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fchools, or ever heard fo much as a definition of their names. Nor will this appear at all myfterious, when we confider, that the works of the antient poets and orators are the gardens from whence these flowers were taken.
Those which the young student will be most liable to err in, are the metaphor, the fimile, and the description, and therefore a few cautions refpecting these may be necessary.
Metaphors are always agreeable, and have a good effect when they are drawn from nature, and connect ideas that have a due relation to each other; but when they are forced, foreign, and obfcure, they are altogether as infipid, abfurd and ridiculous.
In fimiles or comparisons, the chief and effential parts should bear an exact and true proportion. A small disagreement in a lefs confiderable circumftance, will not indeed spoil the figure; but the more exact the parallel is in every particular, the more perfect and lively it will be; and therefore fimiles are generally best when fhort; for, befides that tediousness tires, by running into minute circumftances, you are in danger of discovering fome unpleafing difproportion. Similes need not be always drawn from lofty fubjects; for thofe taken from common things are fignificant and agreeable, if they are cloathed with proper expreffions, and paint in ftrong and lively colours the things we intend they fhould reprefent. In grand fubjects, fimiles that are drawn from leffer things, relieve and refresh the mind.
Defcriptions, which by hiftorians and orators are used cautiously and through neceffity, either to describe perfons, things and places, or to affect the paffions, are often in poetry introduced only by way of decoration, and that with fuccefs. Great judgment, however, is required in the diftribution of this figure. Whether it be intended to move the paffions, or to please the fancy, it must answer the end propofed; and therefore it is never to be admitted but when fome point can be obtained. A little wit never betrays himself more than when by attempting to display his genius, he throws in defcriptions that have no connection with the subject in hand, and are therefore a dead weight to it. Thefe verfifiers are likewife too apt to lay hold of every hint that presents itself, and to run out into long common-places; whereas the man of real genius and
judgment confiders that many things must be left to gratify the imagination of the reader, and therefore cuts off all fuperfluities, however pleafing, and rejects every thing that would feem abrupt and foreign to his fubject. He difcards likewise all low and vulgar circumstances, and employs his genius in beautifying the effential and more noble parts.
That painting as well as poetry fo much affects us, is chiefly owing to the juftnefs and elegance of defcription. Pieces of portraiture and hiftory, as well as landscapes, if the figures are nobly defigned, and finely executed, if the perspective be good, the lights and fhades juft and natural, and the whole bold and free, will always please ; and fo it is with poetry, the descriptions in Homer, Virgil, Milton, and Shakespear, will live for ever, and, like the pieces of Raphael, always feed the imagination with pleasure.
The power of defcription in poetry is very great, and there is more use made of it than is generally imagined; for however the modes of expreffion have been multiplied, many of them will be found to be little more than descriptions: thus images are descriptions only heightened and animated; allufions and fimiles, defcriptions placed in an oppofite point of view; epithets are generally descriptions of the fubftantives they precede, or fome of their properties; every metaphor is a fhort defcription and comparison united, and the hyperbole is often no more than a description carried beyond the bounds of probability; and it is chiefly owing to their defcriptive power that thefe figures ftrike the imagination fo forcibly, and imprefs fuch lively images on the mind.
We are now to speak of the different forts of ftyle, which have been usually divided into the plain, mediate, and sublime. Virgil may be pointed out as a perfect pattern in each, that is to fay, his Bucolics have been esteemed for the plain ftyle, his Georgics for the mediate, and the Eneid for the fublime. Though in many parts of each, examples may be feen of them all; for there are few poems of any merit that can be wrote in the plain or mediate style only, without partaking of the other; nor are there any that are in all places fublime. Even the epic poem and the tragedy have their under parts; common things as well as great
must be introduced, and both are to be expreffed and treated according to their nature and dignity.
The fublime ftyle has the property of expreffing lofty ideas in a lofty language; that is to fay, with words that are fonorous and majestic, and suitable to the grandeur of the fubject.
He on the wings of cherub rode fublime
Before him pow'r divine his way prepar'd;
-Up he rode,
This description of the Meffiah is to be admired for the fublimity of the thoughts, as well as for that of the ftyle; as indeed is the following defcription of a tempeft by Mr. Thomfon.
'Tis dumb amaze, and lift'ning terror all;
And opens wider, fhuts and opens ftill
More examples may be feen under the article of Sublime Thoughts.
The fublime ftyle is ever bold and figurative, and abounds more efpecially with metaphors and hyperboles, the free use of which requires great care and judgment; fince without it there is danger of running into bombaft, that is generally made up of empty founding words, or unnatural fentences; abfurd methaphors, or extravagant and rash hyperboles.
This caution is neceffary, and fhould be ever in the poet's mind; yet, where the thought is great and noble, a bold and judicious incorrectnefs, as Longinus has obferved, may be dispensed with, and will often feem rather a beauty than a blemish. The fublime poet, fired with his fubject, and borne away on the wings of fancy, difdains accuracy, and looks down with contempt on little rules-Laws are, as it were, infufficient to reftrain his boundless mind, which, having expatiated and ranfacked the whole univerfe, foars into other worlds, and is only loft in infinity.
Great wits fometimes may gloriously offend,
We are to obferve likewife, that though the fublime ftyle is bold and figurative, fublime thoughts may fometimes require only a plain and fimple ftyle, and may even by fuch contraft appear the more obvious and extraordinary. Many paffages of this kind we have in the facred writings; and one which is particularly applauded as a true inftance of fublimity by the great Longinus. And God faid, Let there be light, and there was light. This, as that great critic obferves, expreffes the power of the Almighty more forcibly and fully than could have been done with a parade of pompous expreffions.
"And God faid,-What?-Let there be light, and there was light." Such is the amazing power of the great Creator, that (as the Pfalmift in the fame plain yet fublime manner obferves) He spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it flood faft.
Thus we fee that fublime thoughts may fometimes appear to advantage in a common ftyle. But the reverfe will by no means hold; for words can have neither beauty nor fublimity, unless the thoughts have both. The fublime ftyle therefore will no more fuit common thoughts, than an embroider'd coat would a clown; for here ornaments are unnatural, nor indeed are mean and trivial thoughts ever thus dreffed by good authors, unless it be in works of the burlesque and doggrel kind, to heighten the ridicule.
Sublime and beautiful thoughts, however, require in general words of the fame nature, and would often seem mean and contemptible without them. For ornaments properly placed add a beauty to the most beautiful: And kings, however nature may have formed them for majefty, appear to most advantage when arrayed with the imperial robes.
This ftyle is moftly employed in the epic poem, tragedy, and the ode. Though, as we have already observed, the elegy, fatire, paftoral, and other poems, may partake of it Occafionally. For no particular rule can be laid down for its use, but a strict obfervance of nature.
In direct oppofition to this is the plain or humble ftyle, the elegance of which depends on the propriety of its application; and it is properly applied in defcribing in a familiar and eafy manner the common concerns of life.
Whence is it, Sir, that none contented lives
Broken with toils, with pond'rous arms oppreft,