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that means, have twenty insipid conceits for one thought which is really beautiful.
There is no subject in critical learning more copious, than this of the just mixture of simplicity and refinement in writing; and therefore, not to wander in too large a field, I shall confine myself to a few general observations on that head.
First, I observe, That though excesses of both kinds are to be avoided, and though a proper medium ought to be studied in all productions ; yet this medium lies not in a point, but admits of a considerable latitude. Consider the wide distance, in this respect, between Mr. Pope and LUCRETIUS. These seem to lie in the two greatest extremes of refinement and fimplicity, in which a poet can indulge himself, without being guilty of any blameable excess. All this interval may be filled with poets, who may differ from each other, but may be equally admirable, each in his peculiar stile and manner. CORNEILLE and ConGREVE, who carry their wit and refinement somewhat farther than Mr. POPE (if poets of fo different a kind can be compared together) and SOPHOCLES and TeRENCE, who are more simple than LUCRETIUS, seem to have gone out of that medium, in which the most perfect productions are found, and to be guilty of some excess in these opposite characters. Of all the great poets, VIRGIL and Racine, in my opinion, lie nearest the center, and are the fartheft removed from both the extremities.
My second observation on this head is, That it is very difficult, if not imposible, to explain by words, where the just medium lies between the excesses of fimplicity and refinement, or to give any rule by which we can know precisely the bounds between the fault and the beauty. A critic may not only discourse very judiciously on this head, without inIructing his readers, but even without understanding the
matter perfectly himself. There is not a finer piece of criticism than the dissertation on pastorals by FONTENELLE ; in which, by a number of reflections and philosophical reasonings, he endeavours to fix the just medium, which is suitable to that species of writing. But let any one read the pastorals of that author, and he will be convinced, that this judicious critic, notwithstanding his fine reasonings, had a false taste, and fixed the point of perfection much nearer the extreme of refinement than pastoral poetry will admit of. The sentiments of his fhepherds are better suited to the toilettes of PARIS, than to the forests of ARCADIA. But this it is impossible to discover from his critical reasonings. He blames all excesive painting and ornament as much as VIRGIl could have done, and he wrote a dissertation on that species of poetry However different the tastes of men, their general discourse on these subjects is commonly the same. No criticism can be instructive, which defcends not to particulars, and is not full of examples and illustrations. It is allowed on all hands, that beauty, as well as virtue, lies always in a medium; but where this medium is placed, is the great question, and can never be sufficiently explained by general reasonings.
I shall deliver it as a third observation on this subject, That we ought to be more on our guard against the excess of refinement than that of fimplicity; and that because the former excess is both less beautiful, and more dangerous than the latter.
It is a certain rule, that wit and passion are entirely incompatible. When the affections are moved, there is no place for the imagination. The mind of man being naturally limited, it is impossible, that all its faculties can operate at once : And the more any one predominates, the less room is there for the others to exert their
vigour. For this reason, a greater degree of fimplicity is required in all compositions, where men, and actions and passions are painted, than in such as consist of reAections and observations. And as the former species of writing is the more engaging and beautiful, one may safely, upon this account, give the preference to the extreme of fimplicity above that of refinement.
We may also observe, that those compositions, which we read the ofteneft, and which every man of taste has got by heart, have the recommendation of simplicity, and have nothing surprizing in the thought, when divefted of that elegance of expresion, and harmony of numbers, with which it is cloathed. If the merit of the composition lie in a point of wit; it may strike at first; but the mind anticipates the thought in the second perufal, and is no longer affected by it. When I read an epigram of MARTIAL, the first line recalls the whole ; and I have no pleature in repeating to myself what I know already. But each line, each word in CATULLUS, has its merit; and I am never tired with the perusal of him. It is sufficient to run over Cowley once: But PARNEL, after the fiftieth reading, is as fresh as at the first. Besides, it is with books as with women, where a certain plainness of manner and of dress is more engaging than that glare of paint and airs and apparels which may dazzle the eye, but reaches not the affections. TERENCE is a modest and baihful beauty, to whom we grant every thing, because he assumes nothing, and whose purity and nature make a durable, though not a violent impression on us.
But refinement, as it is the less beautiful, so is it the more dangerous extreme, and what we are the aptest to fall into. Simplicity paffes for dulness, when it is not
accompanied with great elegance and propriety. On the contrary, there is something surprizing in a blaze of wit and conceit. Ordinary readers are mightily struck with it, and falsely imagine it to be the most difficult, as well as most excellent way of writing. SENECA abounds with agreeable faults, says QUINTILIAN, abundat dulci. bus vitiis ;, and for that reason is the more dangerous, and the more apt to pervert the taste of the
I shall add, that the excess of refinement is now more to be guarded against than ever ; because it is the extreme, which men are the most apt to fall into, after learning has made some progress, and after eminent writers have appeared in every species of composition. The endeavour to please by novelty leads inen wide of fimplicity and nature, and fills their writings with affectation and conceit. It was thus the Asiatic eloquence degenerated so much from the ATTIC: It was thus the
of ClauDIUs and Nero became so much inferior to that of AuGustus in taste and genius : And perhaps there are, at present, some symptoms of a like degeneracy of taste, in FRANce as well as in ENGLAND.
E S S A Y
Of NATIONAL CHARACTERS.
HE vulgar are apt to to carry all national charac
iers to extremes; and having once established it as a principle, that any people are knavish, or cowardly, or ignorant, they will admit of no exception, but com. prehend every individual under the fame censure. Men of sense "condemn these undistinguishing judgments : Though at the same time, they allow, that each nation has a peculiar set of manners, and that some particular qualities are more frequently to be met with among one people than among their neighbours. The common people in SWITZERLAND have probably more honesty than those of the fame rank in IRELAND; and every prudent man will, from that circumstance alone, make a difference in the trust which he reposes in each. We have reason to expect greater wit and gaiety in a FRENCHMAN than in a SPANIARD; though CERVANTES was born in Spain. An ENGLISHMAN will naturally be supposed to have more knowledge than a Dane; though TYCHO BRAHE was a native of DENMARK.
Different reasons are assigned for these national characters; while some account for them from moral, others from physical causes. By moral causes, I mean all cir