« 上一頁繼續 »
they are hidden, like Butler's moon, by a "veil of light;" they are forms fantastically lost under superfluity of dress. Pars minima est ipsa puella sui. The words are multiplied till the sense is hardly perceived; attention deserts the mind, and settles in the ear. The reader wanders through the gay diffusion, sometimes amazed, and sometimes delighted, but, after many turnings in the flowery labyrinth, comes out as he went in. He remarked little and laid hold on nothing.
To his versification justice requires that praise should not be denied. In the general fabrication of his rhymes he is, perhaps, superior to any other writer of blank verse; his flow is smooth, and his pauses are musical; but the concatenation of his verses is commonly too long continued, and the full close does not recur with sufficient frequency. The sense is carried on through a long intertexture of complicated clauses, and, as nothing is distinguished, nothing is remembered.
The exemption which blank verse affords from the necessity of closing the sense with the couplet betrays luxuriant and active minds into such self-indulgence, that they pile image upon image, ornament upon ornament, and are not easily persuaded to close the sense at all. Blank verse will, therefore, I fear, be too often found in description exuberant, in argument loquacious, and in narration tiresome.
His diction is certainly poetical as it is not prosaic, and elegant as it is not vulgar. He is to be commended as having fewer artifices of disgust than most of his brethren of the blank song.14 14 He rarely either recalls old phrases, or twists his meter into harsh inversions. The sense of his words, however, is strained, when he views the Ganges from Alpine heights;" that is from mountains like the Alps. And the pedant surely intrudes (but when was blank verse without pedantry?) when he tells how "Planets absolve the stated round of time." 15
It is generally known to readers of poetry that he intended to revise and augment this work, but died before he had completed his design. The reformed work as he left it, and the additions which he had made, are very properly retained in the late collection. He seems to have somewhat contracted his diffusion; but I know not whether he has gained in closeness what he has lost in splendor. In the additional book, "The Tale of Solon" is too long.
One great defect of this poem is very properly censured by Mr. Walker, unless it may be said, in his defence, that what he has
omitted was not properly in his plan. His "picture of man is grand and beautiful, but unfinished. The immortality of the soul, which is the natural consequence of the appetites and powers she is invested with, is scarcely once hinted throughout the poem. This deficiency is amply supplied by the masterly pencil of Dr. Young; who, like a good philosopher, has invincibly proved the immortality of man, both from the grandeur of his conceptions, and the meanness and misery of his state; for this reason, a few passages are selected from the Night Thoughts,' which, with those of Akenside, seem to form a complete view of the powers, situation, and end of man."
His other poems are now to be considered; but a short consideration will despatch them. It is not easy to guess why he addicted himself so diligently to lyric poetry, having neither the ease and airiness of the lighter, nor the vehemence and elevation of the grander ode. When he lays his ill-fated hand upon his harp, his former powers seem to desert him; he has no longer his luxuriance of expression, nor variety of images. His thoughts are cold, and his words inelegant. Yet such was his love of lyrics, that, having written with great vigor and poignancy his "Epistle to Curio," he transformed it afterwards into an ode disgraceful only to its author.
Of his odes nothing favorable can be said: the sentiments commonly want force, nature, or novelty; the diction is sometimes harsh and uncouth, the stanzas ill-constructed and unpleasant, and the rhymes dissonant, or unskilfully disposed; too distant from each other, or arranged with too little regard to established use, and therefore perplexing to the ear, which in a short composition has not time to grow familiar with an innovation.16
To examine such compositions singly cannot be required; they have doubtless darker and brighter parts; but when they are once found to be generally dull, all further labor may be spared; for to what use can the work be criticised that will not be read?
NOTES TO JOHNSON'S AKENSIDE.
1. This sketch of Akenside is from the "Lives of the Poets." It is one of the shortest, but it exhibits very well Johnson's manner of criticism. frequently the case in the "Lives,” the biographical matter is scanty.
2. Dr. Johnson was a strong Churchman; and his prejudices against the Dissenters kept him from doing Akenside full justice.
3. This was a fund used by the Church of Scotland to educate young men of limited means for the ministry.
4. The reason for the change is a matter of conjecture. It probably sprang from a disinclination to assume the responsibilities of the clerical office, or perhaps from the drawings of worldly ambition.
5. Here the prejudices of the Tory and Churchman are apparent.
6. The title was suggested to Akenside by Addison's papers on the "Pleasures of the Imagination," in the Spectator. But the treatment in the poem is quite different.
7. This dissertation was characterized by acute professional research and sound reasoning.
8. Dr. Johnson's prejudices against Presbyterians and Whigs again get the better of his judgment.
9. Jeremiah Dyson-"a name never to be mentioned by any lover of genius or noble deeds without affection and reverence" -was the steadfast friend and benefactor of Akenside. The passage in question occurs in the third book of the "Pleasures of Imagination." The sense of ridicule was implanted" in mortal bosoms,"
"Wherefore, but to aid
The tardy steps of reason, and at once
By this prompt impulse urge us to depress
10. This omission would indicate that he recognized the justice of Warburton's strictures.
11. William Pulteney, Earl of Bath. Once the friend, he afterwards became the enemy of Robert Walpole, and the leader of the opposition in Parliament. His weakness in forming a ministry after Walpole's downfall in 1741 gave rise to the charge of betraying his country. Of Akenside's
epistle, Macaulay said that it indicated " powers of elevated satire, which, if diligently cultivated, might have disputed the eminence of Dryden."
12. This may be taken as an illustration of Johnson's interesting side remarks.
13. This is the first of the series known as the "Poems of the Pleasures.” The others are "The Pleasures of Memory," by Samuel Rogers; 'The Pleasures of Hope,” by Thomas Campbell; and “The Pleasures of Friendship," by James McHenry.
14. Johnson had an unreasonable aversion to blank verse. In the sketch of Milton he says: Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared, but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse . . has neither the easiness of repose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continu
15. These paragraphs illustrate the points to which Dr. Johnson devotes his criticism. It is chiefly external qualities upon which he dwells - the essential element of poetry is untouched.
16. These observations are a little too severe.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
SCOTT, BYRON, WORDSWORTH, TENNYSON.
OTHER PROMINENT WRITERS.
Poets. COLERIDGE, SOUTHEY, MOORE, Shelley, KEATS, CAMPBELL, BROWNING.
GROTE, MACAULAY, HALLAM, CARLYLE.
JEFFREY, HAZLITT, LAMB, DE QUINCEY.
Novelists. JANE AUSTEN, CHARLOTTE BRONTÉ, MARRYATT,
DICKENS, THACKERAY, LYTTON, TROLLOPE, GEORGE ELIOT.