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These imitations of the English Poets, most of which were the productions of a very early age, are valuable and curious, as they serve to show how soon the author perceived, and how deeply he felt, the impressions communicated by poetical composition. Had this not been the case, it would have been impossible for him to have reflected back, as it were, not only the form of expression, but the turn of thought, of the authors he has imitated; some of whom he has at least equalled in their own style, if not excelled. Under this point of view, it is impossible to approve of the remarks of some of his commentators, who affect to be disgusted at the indecency of these pieces, which were published by Warburton ; whilst they have not scrupled to bring before their readers productions attributed to Pope, of a much more indecorous nature, which Warburton bad properly rejected. That there are passages, in Chaucer, as objectionable, and in Spenser, as indelicate, as those which have been so fastidiously reprobated, will not be denied ; and why these sportive and characteristic sketches should be brought to so severe an ordeal, and pointed out to the reprehension of the reader as gross and disagreeable, dull and disgusting, it is not easy to perceive.
IMITATIONS OF ENGLISH POETS.
WOMEN ben full of ragerie,
He that was unacquainted with Spenser, and was to form his ideas of the turn and manner of his genius from this piece, would undoubtedly suppose that he abounded in filthy images, and excelled in describing the lower scenes of life. But the characteristics of this sweet and allegorical poet, are not only strong and circumstantial imagery, but tender and pathetic feeling, a most melodious flow of versification, and a certain pleasing melancholy in his sentiments, the constant companion of an elegant taste, that casts a delicacy and grace over all his compositions. To imitate Spenser, on a subject that does not partake of the pathos, is not giving a true representation of him ; for he seems to be more awake and alive to all the softnesses of nature, than almost any writer I can recollect.Warton.
The above remarks seem scarcely to be called for, on the present occasion. Pope was as well aware, as any one, of the superlative beauties and merits of Spenser, whose works he assiduously studied, both in his early and riper years ; but it was not his intention, in these few lines, io give a serious imitation of him. All that he attempted was to show how exactly he could apply the language and manner of Spenser to low and burlesque subjects ; and in this he has completely succeeded. To compare these lines, as Dr. Warton has done, with those more extensive and highly finished productions, the Castle of Indolence by Thomson, and the Minstrel of Beattie, is manifestly unjust.
In ev'ry town, where Thamis rolls his tyde,
And on the broken pavement, here and there,
And here a sailor's jacket hangs to dry.
The snappish cur (the passenger's annoy)
25 The grunting hogs alarm the neighbours round, And curs, girls, boys, and scolds, in the deep base are
Hard by a sty, beneath a roof of thatch,
Ver. 27. There is an assemblage of disgusting and disagreeable sounds in the above stanza, which, one is almost tempted to think, if it were possible, had been contrived as a contrast, or rather as a burlesque, of a most exquisite stanza in the Fairy Queen. The very turn of these numbers bears the closest resemblance with the following, which are, of themselves, a complete concert of the most delicious music :
“ The joyous birds, shrouded in chearful shade,
Their notes unto the voice attemper'd sweet,
Now soft, now loud, unto the wind did call ;
The gentle warbling wind low answered to all.” These images, one would have thought, were peculiarly calculated to have struck the fancy of our young imitator with so much admiration, as not to have suffered him to make a kind of travesty of them.-Warton.
That Pope intended to parody the lines of Spenser is apparent, and he has done it in a manner not less striking and characteristic, in its way, than the original.
How these lines can be a contrast to the musical stanza of Spenser, and, at the same time, bear the closest resemblance to it, it is not easy to discover. VOL. II.