Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

The limits of our work will not permit us to follow the author through the entire survey of the writings of his favourite poet, which, although marked with visible partiality, is conducted with elegance and classical taste. Professing, as he does, no fondness for metaphyfical, or theoretic criticism, he yet does not scruple, on an interesting fubject, the effects of ridicule, to enter the lists, with a celebrated metaphysical critic, the late Lord Kaimes; and every impartial person will adınit, that he comes off victorious from the contest. We were particularly pleased with his accurate distinction between wit and humour, in oppolite examples taken from a well-known northern and a southern poet; which in a few words illustrate, better than any thing we have seen, their respective genius.

« Butler and Ramsay were each possessed of wit and humour in no ordinary degree ; but the former quality predominated with (in) the English bard, the latter with (in) the Scotish (Scottish). Butler thus describes the morning, ludicrously, but wittily :

" The fun had long since, in the lap
Of Thetis, taken out his

nap;
And, like a lobster boiled, the morn

From black to red began to turn. “ This pleases as an ingenious piece of wit. The whimsicalness of the comparison makes us smile ; but it is no just picture of nature, and, therefore, it is not humorous. Now, mark the humour with which Ramsay describes the dawn, as rising upon his jolly company at the bridel : a little coarseness muft be excused; the picture had not been faithful :

is Now frae th'east nook of fife, the dance

Speel'd weitlines up the lift;
Carles, wha heard the cock had crawn,

Begoud to rax and rift;
And greedy wives, wi 'givning thrawn,

Cry’d, “lasses up to thrift!'
Dogs barked ; and the lads frae hand
Bang’d to their breeks like drift,

Be break o'day. * Humour must be consonant to nature: it is nature seen in absurd and lựa dicrous aspects.

Wit gives an apparent and fanciful resemblance to nature ; but it requires, for its very essence, a real contrariety." Pp.-83, 84.

But we haften to lay before our readers that part of this ingenious essay, which of all others most eminently displays the ability of the critic, and the genius and originality of the poet. Perhaps there is no object of poetical composition, of which the real nature and properties have been so completely misunderstood, as the pastoral ; accordingly, it has become another name for an assemblage of every thing that is dull, unnatural, and infipid in numbers. The pastoral thrown into a dramatic form is an invention of the moderns. * Beccari, an Italian poet, who flourished about the middle of the fixteenth century, first led the way; and he was soon followed by Taffo and Guarini

, of

whom

whom the former, in his Aminta, and the latter, in his Pastor Fido, are, by their countrymen, esteemed to have reached the ne plus ultra of ingenuity and excellence. In a most masterly parallel of these far famed works with the Gentle Shepherd of Ramsay, the Remarker clearly shows the great superiority of the Scottish bard, and that he is, without dispute, the finest pastoral poet that ever existed. On the most incontrovertible grounds of good sense, and just criticism, he makes it appear, that, as the Italian writers entertained an idea wholly erroneous of this species of poetry, viz. that it was not to imitate nature, but to paint a chimerical state of society, termed the golden age, so an error in the principle, so completely at variance with nature and probability, could by no art or genius be compensated in the execution. He, also, with great strength of reasoning, refutes the opinion of Addison on the subject; who, in the Guardian, has treated it at confiderable length, and has derived his critical rules from the fame absurd, and unnatural fancy.

“This notion of pastoral poetry, however founded in (on) the practice of celebrated writers, has no foundation in fact, no basis in reason, nor cone formity to good sense. To a juft taite, and (to) unadulterated feelings, the natural beauties of the country, the limple manners, rustic occupations, and rural enjoy ments of its inhabitants, brought into view by the mediuin of a well-contrived dramatic fable, muft afford a much higher degree of pleasure, than any chimerical fiction, in which Arcadian nymphs and swains hold intera course with Pan, and his attendant fauns and satyrs. But the principal difa ficulty, when an actual delineation of nature is attempted, lies in the affo. ciation of delicate and affecting sentiments with the genuine manners of rustic life; an union so difficult to be accomplished, that the chief pastoral poets, both antient and modern, have either entirely abandoned the attempt, by choosing to paint a fabulous and chimerical state of society; or have failed in their endeavour, either by indulging in such refinement of sentiment, as is utterly inconsistent with rustic nature, or by endowing their characters with such rudeness and vulgarity of manners, as is hostile to every idea of delicacy." Pp. 122–148.

Having laid down the principles on which a comparison between the Italian and the Scottish pastoral is to be inftituted, he proceeds to the task of regularly applying them to the various objects of fable, characters, sentiments, and language; making fuch quotations from

poet, as fully to evince the justice of the praise he bestows, or the censure he inflicts. In the whole he displays such acuteness of difcrimination, such knowledge of human nature, such admirable impartiality, and such delicacy of taste, as have feldom been equalled, and certainly never surpassed, in any critical compofition. To indulge ourselves in partial extracts from this fine parallel, would be to convey no adequate idea of its general merits ; but we greatly recommend the perusal of the entire essay to such of our readers as delight in elegant disquisition, or are desirous to improve their talents for criticisin, by the study of a model, which is throughout classical and pleasing. What has particularly struck us in these remarks, and what we are NO, XXXIV. VOL, VIII,

Сс

persuaded

each

persuaded will strike every attentive reader, is that the impressions of the author (though he is, beyond question, both a poet and a scholar himself) have in no wise been weakened by classical common-places, or those artificial pictures which poetry represents; that although he exhibits, in so eminent a degree, the profeffed critic's perspicacity, he yet is wholly exempt from his coldness and indifference; and that his critical decisions, however firm and manly, are pronounced at once with the modesty of the student, and the genius of the master. Wherever he censures, he censures freely from the heart: and his eulogiams are bestowed with so much sense and feeling, so much native sincerity, and unaffected enthusiasm, as often to leave us in doubt, which most we should admire, the merit of the poet who produced the paffage, or that of the critic, who can thus delightfully display it to the view. Why such a critic should choose to conceal his name, it is not easy to conjecture, any more than it is to conceive why the author of the Life should not as anxiously with for the concealment of his. That the writer of the Remarks must be a Scotchman is evident upon the face of his work : and if any stress can be laid on similarity in the colour of both sentiment and style, we should be inclined to attribute it to the very ingenious author of the “ Essay on Translation," a performance already long known and admired. But even internal evidence is sometimes deceitful; and we have no other evidence for guessing at the fact.

Having now commended with a sincerity and good-will, perhaps pot inferior to that which we have attributed to the remarker himself, we should be wanting in our duty, if we did not point out, with equal candour, some defects in his effay, of which the most conspicuous seems to be, that it is greatly too encomiaftic. The apology offered at T. 104, we can by no means consider as relevant to the question : for the critic who deals forth nothing but praise, although he may indulge his partiality, or yield to his benevolence, is pretty sure to overshoot his object. Having once procured, for his favourite author, the palm in pastoral poetry, and, in our judgment, justly procured it; and having allo established his merit in touching the pathetic, and delineating the manners, the remarker is too anxious to raise him to an equal degree of eminence in other departments of composition, to which few impartial readers will regard him as entitled. That Ramfay drew from nature with a vivid imagination, and a vigorous pencil, we freely allow: that he was prone to discover the weaknesses and abfurdities in human conduct, and had ability to apply to them the lash of fatire, will as readily be admitted. But, although possessed of a fund of humour, he was not very remarkable for invention, of for wit: he had few of the advantages which are derived from polish and cultivation; and he certainly cannot be said either to be “ a true Horatian genius,” or, “ in variety of talents, to yield to few poets of antient, or modern, times."

See Pp. 95-154.

It is true, we ardently admire his “ Gentle Shepherd :" we give him every praise for his “ Supplement to Christ's Kirk,” as well as for some of his tales,

fongs,

fongs, and imitations of Horace; and, above all, for that first of comic tales, “the Monk and the Millar's wife;" and all this we think we can do, notwithstanding the Clavia OUVET0101, of which we are so carefu'ly reniinded; the veil of peculiar idiom, which certainly conceals, except from Northern eyes, a part of the beauty of those original product ions. But the tact is, Raniay's merits and his defects proceeded from the same source. It was owing to an early want of cultivation, that he became the poet of nature in lo eminent a degree; and it was owing to the fame want, that he utterly failed in other efforts, where cultivation alone could have enabled him to,excel. Hence it happens, that, while he copies from nature, the delineation, no less than the colouring, is just and pleasing : but when he attempts the regions of invention, or the labyrinths of wit, as we have observed above, he becomes often coarse and indelicate, and sometimes even languid and contemptible. Of the present volumes, therefore, nearly the one half might have been suppressed, with equal advantage to the poet and his readers; and a judicious selection from his works would, without doubt, have been more acceptable to the public, than this laborious accumulation of all the trash and ribaldry that ever proceeded from his pen. Such a selection we strongly recommend to the elegant author of the Remarks : but as we are told there is a proverb in Scotland, which declares, that “ more cooks than one usually spoil the broth,” we trust it will be without the aid of his Johnsonian coadjutor.

The other defects of this valuable effay lie entirely in the style ; for although it is in general distinguished by purity and ease, it bears the most unaccountable marks of haste or negligence. Sæpe ftylum vertas is a maxim, which cannot too frequently be inculcated on all writers; but an observance of it is more especially incumbent on those, who labour in the cultivated fields of taste and criticism. A few examples which we shall adduce, will sufficiently justify the above affertion; and they may also prove of benefit to a future edition of the performance. “ Such of these poems, as bear their dates, are in their proper order with respe&t to each other ;”—to one another; as more than two poems are here in question. P. 70. " The celebrated John Law, the future projector of the Misisappi scheme, then reigned sovereign of the fashions,” P. 71. It should have been the fovereign of the fashions; or sovereign over the fashions. “He relates the progress of the South sea bubble, till its burst into air." It burst. P. 92. the happy ease of the composition is judged to be a proof, that it may be easily composed.Easily attained; or easily produced. P. 94. “ But even an Englishman may discern a part of the merits of the original, although this is all that perhaps he can do.” It should certainly have stood, “ a part of its merits as an original ;” because, otherwise, we must believe the author to have meant, that a Scotch man is capable, but not an Englishman, of fully discerning the merits of Horace. Sec P. 101. " Yet such is the pride of our nature, we cannot bear to see this sentiment seriously entertained.” That we can. not bear, &c, P. 102. “ The evergreen was printed with a mifсс 2

loading

« For

[ocr errors]

" In place

eading fignature.” A fignature calculated to mislead. P. 109.“ The moral chorus seems to have notions of love much more confonant to human nature, who discourses for a quarter of an hour on the different kind of kisles.” P. 147. It should have been, the moral chorus, which seems, &c. discourses for a quarter of an hour. “ The other characters, who are truly peasants, are painted with fidelity and nature.” The other characters, which are truly those of peasants. P. 149.

" This must be the only sure criterion to judge of its excellence or defects.” By which, or whereby to judge. P. 157

It is remarkable how much more apt a Scottuh, than an English writer is, to fail in that nice and difficult part of grammar, the use of the prepositions ; of which take the following instances, in addition to fome others, which we have already curforily marked, in transcribing the extracts. “ He cautions his countrymen from giving way to this despondency.” Against giving way. P. 93. William Scott died at Edinburgh, on the 8th. Oct. 1725.In Edinburgh. P. 104. “ It is a severe political fatire against his countrymen.” On his countrymen. P. 109. " It is necessary to cast back our eyes on the first ages of the world.” To the first ages. P. 122. Of Scotticisms, properly so called, we have been able to discover but very few; or, as it is curiously expressed in that idiom, 66 almost none." Take, however, the following examples. Scots and Scotsman,for Scotch and Scotchman; vile barbarisms, first brought into fashion by Hume and Robertion. P. 65, &c. &c. of lofty imagery," for instead of, or in the place of. P. 197. “ Printed along with,for together with. Pp. 104-109. To which may be added “ Scotish,” used paffim for Scottish; a mode of orthography, we believe, peculiar to this author himself.

In a treatise of science, or in an inferior composition of any fort, we certainly should not have taken the trouble so minutely to note inaccuracies, which to many, we are aware, will appear trivial and infignificant: but such blemishes, in such a writer, are like specks in the sun, which every one would with away from so beautiful a surface.

Notwithstanding the length, to which this article has necessarily been extended, we cannot refuse ourselves the pleasure of communieating, to such of our classical readers as are lovers of fun, a specimen of a translation into Latin of a the Monk and the Millar's wife,” which has never been published; and which, we are affured, is from the pen of a gentleman well known in the literary world, for his erudition and ability. This specimen we give also for another reason, both because, as a translation, it is entitled to uncommon praise; and because it points out an ingenious method of obviating the difficulty, which we had deemed insurmountable, of transfusing any thing like humour inta modern Latin verse, viz. by the union of Monkish rhyme with classical Latinity. We wish the learned author would favour us with the whole of this curious, production; as we should think it well worth preserving in a corner of our Miscellany, in order to relieve from the drier details of politics or science,

THE

« ZurückWeiter »