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His Ode on Spring has something poetical, both in the language and the thought; but the language is too luxuriant, and the thoughts have nothing new. There has of late arisen a practice of giving to adjectives, derived from substantives, the termination of participles, such as the cultured plain, the daisied bank; but I was sorry to see, in the lines of a scholar like Gray,' the honied Spring.' The morality is natural, but too stale; the conclusion is pretty.
The poem on the Cat 3 was doubtless by its author considered as a trifle, but it is not a happy trifle. In the first stanza 'the azure flowers that blow' shew resolutely a rhyme is sometimes made when it cannot easily be found. Selima, the Cat, is called a nymph, with some violence both to language and sense; but there is good use made of it when it is done; for of the two lines,
'What female heart can gold despise?
the first relates merely to the nymph, and the second only to the cat. The sixth stanza contains a melancholy truth, that ‘a favourite has no friend,' but the last ends in a pointed sentence of no relation to the purpose; if what glistered had been 'gold,' the cat would not have gone into the water; and, if she had, would not less have been drowned.
30 The Prospect of Eton College suggests nothing to Gray which every beholder does not equally think and feel. His supplica
Ante, GRAY, 6.
'The insect youth are on the wing, Eager to taste the honied spring.' On the Spring, 1. 25. Shenstone has 'our cultur'd vales,' Elegies, xxv, and Goldsmith 'cultur'd walks,' Traveller, 1. 236. Shakespeare has 'the prettiest daisied plot,' Cymbeline, iv. 2. 398, and Gay 'entangled shades and daisy'd lawns,' Dione, i. 4. 4. Shakespeare has 'honied sentences,' Henry V, i. I. 50, and Milton 'honied showers,' Lycidas, 1. 140.
For Lord Grenville's criticism of Johnson's position see Mitford, i. Preface, p. 17.
'I regret to see that vile and barbarous vocable talented stealing out of the newspapers into the leading
reviews. Why not shillinged, farthinged, tenpenced, &c.? The formation of a participle passive from a noun is a licence that nothing but a very peculiar felicity can excuse.' COLERIDGE, Table Talk, 1884, p. 167.
Ante, GRAY, 9.
* Coleridge, quoting (not quite correctly) The Bard, ll. 71-6, says:"The words "realm" and "sway" are rhymes dearly purchased.' Biog. Lit. i. 19.
5 For Johnson's definition of favourite see Boswell's Johnson, i. 295".
'The view from the Terrace [of Windsor Castle] is the noblest I know of, taking it with all its associations together. Gray's Ode rises up into the mind as one looks around-does
tion to father Thames', to tell him who drives the hoop or tosses the ball, is useless and puerile. Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself. His epithet 'buxom health' is not elegant; he seems not to understand the word 3. Gray thought his language more poetical as it was more remote from common use: finding in Dryden 'honey redolent of Spring", an expression that reaches the utmost limits of our language, Gray drove it a little more beyond common apprehension, by making 'gales' to be 'redolent of joy and youth.'
Of the Ode on Adversity the hint was at first taken from 31 'O Diva, gratum quæ regis Antium ''; but Gray has excelled his original by the variety of his sentiments and by their moral
it not?-a sure proof that, however
very large and noble, like the air that breathes upon one as one looks down along the view.' E. FITZGERALD, Letters, i. 63.
'Say, Father Thames,' is found in Matthew Green's Grotto, privately printed in 1732. It was inserted in Dodsley's Coll. 1758, v. 159. Gray wrote of this poem to Walpole in 1748:-'The thought on which my second Ode [Spring] turns is manifestly stolen from hence; not that I knew it at the time, but having seen this many years before, to be sure it imprinted itself on my memory, and, forgetting the author, I took it for my own.' Gray's Letters, i. 188.
Johnson makes the Princess in Rasselas, ch. 25, supplicate the Nile. 'Answer, great Father of Waters, thou that rollest thy floods through eighty nations. . . . Tell me if thou waterest, through all thy course, a single habitation from which thou dost not hear the murmurs of complaint.' There is a dignity in Johnson's supplication that is wanting in Gray's.
3 Johnson defines buxom as 'I. obedient, obsequious; 2. gay, lively, brisk; 3. wanton, jolly.'
'The language of the age,' Gray wrote, 'is never the language of
poetry; except among the French, whose verse, where the thought or image does not support it, differs in nothing from prose. Gray's Letters, i.97. [See Appendix AA n. 1, p. 444.]
'Gray was at the head of those who, by their reasonings, have attempted to widen the space of separation betwixt prose and metrical composition.' WORDSWORTH, Works, vi. 331. See also Coleridge's Biog. Lit. 1847, i. 19.
5 While kine to pails distended udders bring,
And bees their honey, redolent of spring.'
DRYDEN, Works, xii. 227. Gray refers to this passage in a note. Mason, i. 72. Redolent of youth' is found in one of Mrs. Manley's works (1716). Mitford, i. 11 n.
Beattie records that Gray told him, 'that if there was in his own numbers any thing that deserved approbation, he had learned it all from Dryden.' Beattie's Essays, p. 17. In a postscript to a letter to Beattie Gray wrote: Remember Dryden, and be blind to all his faults.' Mitford, iv.65.
'He could not patiently hear him criticised,' writes Nicholls. Ib. v. 35.
'He congratulated himself on not having a good verbal memory; for without it, he said, he had imitated too much.' lb. p. 42.
6 Ante, GRAY, 6.
'HORACE, Odes, i. 35. The motto is from Aeschylus, Agam. 1. 181. See also Mitford, i. 17 n.
Of this piece, at once poetical and rational, I will not by slight objections violate the dignity.
My process has now brought me to the 'Wonderful Wonder of Wonders ',' the two Sister Odes 2; by which, though either vulgar ignorance or common sense at first universally rejected them, many have been since persuaded to think themselves delighted 3. I am one of those that are willing to be pleased, and therefore would gladly find the meaning of the first stanza of The Progress of Poetry*.
Gray seems in his rapture to confound the images of 'spreading sound' and 'running water.' A'stream of musick' may be allowed 5; but where does Musick, however 'smooth and strong,' after having visited the 'verdant vales,' 'rowl down the steep amain,' so as that 'rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar'? If this be said of Musick, it is nonsense; if it be said of Water, it is nothing to the purpose.
The second stanza, exhibiting Mars's car and Jove's eagle, is unworthy of further notice. Criticism disdains to chase a schoolboy to his common-places 6.
To the third it may likewise be objected that it is drawn from Mythology, though such as may be more easily assimilated to real life. Idalia's velvet-green'' has something of cant. An
[This is clearly a familiar phrase: cf. Wright's Caricature History of the Georges, p. 595, in reference to 'Mr. Bull's Menagerie' (1803). Earlier instances might be quoted.]
Ante, GRAY, 14.
3 Gray, in 1752, described The Progress of Poesy as 'a high Pindaric upon stilts, which one must be a better scholar than Dodsley is to understand a line of, and the very best scholars will understand but a little matter here and there.' Gray's Letters, i. 219.
Soon after the publication of the two Odes Walpole wrote:-'They [the age] have cast their eyes over them, found them obscure, and looked no further.... I do not think that they ever admired Mr. Gray except in his Churchyard. Walpole's Letters, iii. 96, 98.
The Progress of Poesy.
5 'Mrs. Montagu,' said Johnson, 'has a constant stream of conversa
tion.' Boswell's Johnson, iv. 275.
Ante, PRIOR, 59; POPE, 326. 'The second strophe of the first Ode is inexcusable; ... even when one does understand it, perhaps the last line is too turgid.' WALPOLE, Letters, iii. 97.
'To make Prince Eugene a favourite of Mars, or to carry on a correspondence between Bellona and the Marshal de Villars, would be downright puerility, and unpardonable in a poet that is past sixteen.' ADDISON, The Spectator, No. 523. 7 'She rears her flowers and spreads her velvet-green.'
YOUNG, Sat. v. 230. 8 For Johnson's definition of cant see Boswell's Johnson, iv. 221 n.
Addison, in The Spectator, No. 421, speaking of the comparisons of different classes of writers, says: -'Your men of business are for leading the reader from shop to shop, in the cant of particular trades and employments.'
epithet or metaphor drawn from Nature ennobles Art; an epithet or metaphor drawn from Art degrades Nature. Gray is too fond of words arbitrarily compounded'. 'Many-twinkling' was formerly censured as not analogical2; we may say manyspotted, but scarcely many-spotting. This stanza, however, has
Of the second ternary of stanzas the first endeavours to tell 36 something, and would have told it had it not been crossed by Hyperion; the second describes well enough the universal prevalence of poetry, but I am afraid that the conclusion will not rise from the premises. The caverns of the North and the plains of Chili are not the residences of 'Glory' and 'generous Shame.' But that Poetry and Virtue go always together is an opinion so pleasing that I can forgive him who resolves to think it true.
The third stanza sounds big with Delphi, and Egean, and 37 Ilissus, and Meander, and 'hallowed fountain' and 'solemn sound'; but in all Gray's odes there is a kind of cumbrous splendour which we wish away. His position is at last false: in the time of Dante and Petrarch, from whom he derives our first school of poetry3, Italy was overrun by 'tyrant power' and 'coward vice'; nor was our state much better when we first borrowed the Italian arts.
Of the third ternary the first gives a mythological birth of 38 Shakespeare. What is said of that mighty genius is true; but it is not said happily: the real effects of this poetical power are put out of sight by the pomp of machinery. Where truth is
'Goldsmith says of 'Gray, Akenside, and other modern writers' :'Their compounded epithets...seem evidently borrowed from Spenser.' Works, iv. 203.
'In the Comus and other early poems of Milton there is a superfluity of double epithets; while in the Paradise Lost we find very few, in the Paradise Regained scarce any. The same remark holds almost equally true of the Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, compared with the Lear, Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet of our great dramatist.' COLERIDGE, Biog. Lit. i. 3. For Coleridge's coinage of myriad-minded see ib. ii. 16.
2 To brisk notes in cadence beating,
Glance their many-twinkling feet." The Progress of Poesy, ll. 34, 35. Perhaps it had been censured when used by Thomson :
'The many-twinkling leaves Of aspen tall.' Spring, I. 157. Lyttelton had objected to Gray's use of it. Walpole wrote to him:— 'In answer to your objection I will quote authority to which you will yield. As Greek as the expression is, it struck Mrs. Garrick; and she says that Mr. Gray is the only poet who ever understood dancing.' Walpole's Letters, iii. 97. Walpole described her in her youth as 'the finest dancer in the world.' Ib. ii. 48.
O Johnson refers to ll. 79-82.
Ante, MILTON, 222.
sufficient to fill the mind, fiction is worse than useless; the counterfeit debases the genuine'.
39 His account of Milton's blindness, if we suppose it caused by study in the formation of his poem, a supposition surely allowable, is poetically true, and happily imagined. But the car' of Dryden, with his 'two coursers,' has nothing in it peculiar3; it is a car in which any other rider may be placed.
The Bard' appears at the first view to be, as Algarotti' and others have remarked, an imitation of the prophecy of Nereus ‘. Algarotti thinks it superior to its original', and, if preference depends only on the imagery and animation of the two poems, his judgement is right. There is in The Bard more force, more thought, and more variety. But to copy is less than to invent, and the copy has been unhappily produced at a wrong time. The fiction of Horace was to the Romans credible; but its revival disgusts us with apparent and unconquerable falsehood. 'Incredulus odi 8'
41 To select a singular event, and swell it to a giant's bulk by fabulous appendages of spectres and predictions, has little difficulty, for he that forsakes the probable may always find the marvellous. And it has little use: we are affected only as we believe; we are improved only as we find something to be imitated or declined. I do not see that The Bard promotes any truth, moral or political 9.
42 His stanzas are too long, especially his epodes; the ode is finished
that observation that The Bard is taken from Pastor quum traheret, and the advice to be more an original.' Gray's Letters, i. 367.
Mason, i. 84. He does not say that Gray imitated Horace.
8 HORACE, Ars Poet. 1. 188. Boswell says of Johnson :-'I never knew any person who, upon hearing an extraordinary circumstance told, discovered more of the incredulus odi! Boswell's Johnson, iii. 229.
9 Ante, DRYDEN, 380. The tendency of The Bard,' writes Mitford, 'is to show the retributive justice that follows an act of tyranny and wickedness.... The vanquished has risen superior to his conqueror, and the reader closes the poem with feelings of content.' Mitford, ii. Preface, p. 63.