Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

tilian, who recommends the newest of the old words, and the oldest of the new, or that they are unattentive to Pope's precept,

Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.* We must not suppose, that these poetical words never occur at all, except in poetry. Even from conversation they are not excluded; and the ancient criticks allow, that they may be admitted into prose; where they occasionally confer dignity upon a sublime subject, or, for reasons elsewhere hinted atgt heighten the ludicrous qualities of a mean one. But it is in poetry only, where the frequent use of them does not savour of affectation.

Nor must we suppose them essential to this art. Many passages there are of exquisite poetry, wherein not a single phrase occurs, that might not be used in prose. In fact the influence of these words in adorning English verse is not very extensive. Some influence however they have. They serve to render the poetical style, first, more melodious; and, secondly, more solemn.

First, They render the poetical style more

Essay on Criticism, vers. 335. † Essay on Laughter, chap. 2. sect. 4.

melodious, and more easily reducible into measure. Words of unwieldy size, or difficult pronunciation, are never used by correct poets, where they can be avoided; unless in their sound they have something imitative of the sense. Homer's poetical inflections contribute wonderfully to the sweetness of his numbers: and if the reader is pleased to look back to the specimen I gave of the English poetical dialect, he will find that the words are in general well sounding, and such as may coalesce with other words, without producing harsh combinations. Quintilian observes, that poets, for the sake of their verse, are indulged in many liberties, not granted to the orator, of lengthening, shortening, and dividing their words:* and if the Greek and Roman poets claimed this indulgence from necessity, and obtained it, the English, those of them especially who write in rhyme, may claim it with better reason; as the words of their language are less musical, and far less susceptible of variety in arrangement and syntax.

Secondly, Such poetical words as are known to be ancient have something venerable in their appearance, and impart a solemnity to all around them. This remark is from Quintilian; who adds, that they give to a composition that cast and colour of antiquity, which in painting is so highly valued, but which art can never effectually imitate.* Poetical words that are either not ancient, or not known to be such, have however, a pleasing effect from association. We are accustomed to meet with them in sublime and elegant writing; and hence they come to acquire sublimity and elegance: even as the words we hear on familiar occasions come to be accounted familiar; and as those that take their rise among pickpockets, gamblers, and gypsies, are thought too indelicate to be used by any person of taste or good manners. When one hears the following lines, which abound in poetical words,

* Instit. Orat. lib. 10. cap. 1. S 4.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the strawbuilt shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouze them from their lowly bed:

one is as sensible of the dignity of the language, as one would be of the vileness or vulgarity of that man's speech, who should prove his acquaintance with Bridewell, by interlarding his discourse with such terms as milldoll, queer cull, or nubbing cheat;t or who, in imitation of

* Lib. 8. cap. 3. S 3.
+ See the Scoundrel's Dictionary.

fops and gamblers, should, on the common occasions of life, talk of being beat hollow or saving his distance.* What gives dignity to persons gives dignity to language. A man of this character is one who has borne important employments, been connected with honourable associates, and never degraded himself by levity, or immorality of conduct. Dignified phrases are those which have been used to express elevated sentiments, have always made their appearance in elegant composition, and have never been profaned by giving permanency or utterance to the passions of the vile, the giddy, or the worthless. And as by an active old age, the dignity of such men is confirmed and heightened; so the dignity of such words, if they be not suffered to fall into disuse, seldom fails to improve by length of time.

Language of Newmarket.

E

VOL. VI.

.

SECTION III.

Natural Language is improved in Poetry, by means of

Tropes and Figures.

So much for the nature and use of those words that are poetical, and yet not figurative. But from figurative expression there arises a more copious and important source of poetick eloquence. Some sorts of poetry are distinguished by the beauty, boldness, and frequency of the figures, as well as by the measure, or by any of the contrivances above mentioned. And in prose we often meet with such figures and words, as we expect only in poetry: in which case the language is called poetical: and in verse we sometimes find a diction so tame, and so void of ornament, that we brand it with the appellation of prosaick.

As my design in this discourse is, not to deliver a system of rhetorick, but to explain the peculiar effects of poetry upon the mind, by tracing out the characters that distinguish this from other literary arts; it would be improper to enter here, with any degree of minuteness, into the philosophy of tropes and figures: these being ornamental, not to poetry only, but to human speech in general. All that the present oc

« ForrigeFortsett »