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Zamti. Where is Arsace ? Fond maternal love
And leaves the legacy to after-times. (Exit, leading off Mandane: Even in so short a specimen the reader sees a strength of thought, a propriety of diction, and a perfect acquaintance with the stage. The whole is thus in action, filled with incident, and embellished with a justness of sentiment, not to be found even in M. Voltaire. The French poet, for instance, seems to speak without detestation of self-murder, and instances the neighbouring Japanese, (1) who find in it a refuge from all their sorrows : our poet more justly bounds it as an usurpation of
Zamti. The dread prerogative
Mandane. Must we then wait a haughty tyrant's rod,
(1) (“L'homme était-il donc né pour tant de dépendance,
De nos voisins altiers im itons la constance;
L'Orphelin de la Chine, acte v. sc. 5.)
Zamti. Distress too exquisite !-- Ye holy pow'rs,
Mandane. Then here at once direct the friendly steel.
Zamti. One last adieu !--now !-ah! does this become
Mandane. Alas ! the loves that hover'd o'er our pillows
Zamli. It must be so-
Conscious of thee in ev'ry trembling nerve. [Dashes down the dagger. This is finely conceived, and exquisitely executed. Subjoined to the play we find a letter, addressed from the author to Voltaire, which we think might have been better suppressed; for though it is written with fire and spirit, and contains many judicious observations, it may subject Mr. Murphy to the censure of having made but an indifferent return to a man, whose sentiments and plan he has, in a great measure, thought proper to adopt. It may be indeed considered as a just retribution on a Frenchman, who had served Shakspeare in the same manner ; that is, adopted all his beauties, and then reviled him for his faults. Voltaire is entitled to particular regard from our countryman, not withstanding the petulance with which he has treated them on some occasions ; for he was certainly the first who opened the eyes of Europe to the excellences of English poetry.
XIX-DR. YOUNG ON ORIGINAL COMPOSITION. (1)
[From the Critical Review, 1760. “ Conjectures on Original
Composition ; in a Letter to the Author of Sir Charles Grandison." Svo.]
One of the oldest and bravest champions in the cause of literature, has here resumed the gauntlet ; and Dr. Young, the only surviver of our age of writers, instead of growing languid with age, seems to gather strength by time, and kindles as he runs. Some imagery, frequent metaphor, and a glowing imagination, are generally the prerogatives of a youthful author ; however, the writer in view seems to invert the order of nature, and as he grows old, his fancy seems to grow more luxuriant. To say the truth, his metaphors are too thick sown; he frequently drives them too far, and often does not preserve their simplicity to the end ; thus, when he speaks of men “up to the knees in antiquity saluting the Pope's toe,” he mixes images that are in themselves inconsistent; but wherever he falls short of perfection, his faults are the errors of genius ; his manner peculiarly his own; and while his book serves, by precept, to direct us to original composition, it serves to impel us by example.
He begins by apologising for his having, at his time of life, resumed the pen. There was no need of an excuse from one whose genius still subsists in its energy, and whose very
defects will have admirers. Ile proceeds to observe that there are two kinds of imitations, one of nature, the
(1) [“ Dr. Johnson told us, the first time he saw Dr. Young was at the house of Mr. Richardson, the author of Clarissa. He was sent for that the Doctor might read to him his 'Conjectures on Original Composition ;' which he did, and Dr. Johnson made his remarks; and he was surprised to find Young receive as novelties, what he thought very common maxims. He said he believed Young was not a great scholar, nor had studied regularly the art of writing.”- Boswell, vol. iv. p. 301.]
other of authors. The first we call originals, and confine the term imitation to the second ; an imitator of the last class he justly ranks infinitely beneath the former. An imitator shares his crown with the chosen object of his imitation ; but the original seizes reputation. Fame, fond of new glories, sounds her trumpet in triumph at his birth; but so few books have we dictated by original genius, that if all others were to be burnt, the lettered world would resemble some metropolis in flames, where a few incombustible buildings, a fortress, temple, or tower, lift their heads in melancholy grandeur, amid the mighty ruin. But why, continues he, are originals so few ?
Not because the writers' harvest is over, the great reapers of antiquity having left nothing to be gleaned after them, but because illustrious examples engross, prejudice, and intimidate. They engross our attention, and so prevent a due inspection of ourselves; they prejudice our judgment in favour of their abilities, and so lessen the sense of their own ; they intimidate us with the splendour of their renown: and thus, under diflidence, bury our strength.
He next asserts, that the truest way of writing like the ancients is to draw from nature. Let us build our compositions with the spirit, and in the taste of the ancients, but not with their materials. It is by a sort of noble contagion, from a general familiarity with the writings of the ancients, and not by any particular sordid theft, that we can be the better for those who went before us. Genius is a master workman, learning but an instrument; and an instrument, though most valuable, not always indispensable.
Of genius there are two species, an earlier and a later ; or call them infantine and adult. An adult genius comes out of nature's hand, as Pallas out of Jove's head, at full growth and mature. Shakspeare's genius was of this kind;
on the contrary, Swift had an infantine genius, which, like other infants, must be nursed and educated, or it will come to nought. Men are often strangers to their own abilities; genius, in this view, is like a dear friend in our company under disguise, who, while we are lamenting his absence, drops his mask, striking us at once with equal surprise and joy.
Few authors of distinction but have experienced something of this nature at the first beamings of their unsuspected genius, on the hitherto dark composition. Let not then great examples, or authorities, browbeat our reason into too great a diffidence of ourselves. Let us reverence ourselves, so as to prefer the native growth of our own minds to the richest imports from abroad, since such borrowed riches serve only to increase our poverty. Admiration of others depresses the admirer, in proportion as it lifts the object of our applause.
He proceeds, by complaining that Pope, who had a genius truly original, if he chose to exert it, was contented with being an humble imitator, and even boasted of his skill at imitation. Swift, on the contrary, not sufficiently acquainted with himself, left truth, in order to be original only in the wrong; and has so satirized human nature, as to give a demonstration in himself, that it deserves to be satirized. The author then proceeds to characterize Shakspeare and Ben Jonson; by the bye, paying his friend, the author of Sir Charles Grandison, some very pretty compliments. Dryden, he justly observes, was by no means a master of the pathos in tragedy. “ He had a great, but a general capacity; as for a general genius, there is no such thing in nature. A genius implies the rays of the mind, concentred and determined to some particular point; when they are scattered widely they act feebly, and strike not with sufficient force to fire or dissolve the heart. As what comes from the writer's heart reaches ours, so what comes