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Qui legitimum cupiet fecisse poëma, Cum tabulis animum censoris sumet honesti.
How often, and to what extent a favorite turn of expression in a celebrated poet, a Virgil, a Shakspeare, or a Milton, for instance, may be imitated, no critics, I believe, have yet attempted to decide. To copy, however, the style or diction of a great author, is certainly less servile than to retail his thoughts, though clothed in more appropriate and more elegant language. In à modern bard, provided the imagery be new, no censure, perhaps, attaches to him, when his production is viewed in an inşulated light, should he have adopted the admired, though well-known phraseology of a popular ancient, either of his own or any other country. But, as every disciple of the Muses has a claim to a similar privilege, it is obvious that a beautiful turn of expression may be so frequently imitated as, if not individually, yet collectively, to occasion disgust. The Ode annexed to these observations, and which was first published in 1793, though but few copies were then thrown into circulation, originally commenced with an imitation of that exquisite passage in Milton, “ Sweet is the breath of morn,” &c. to which I was led, without considering the number of preceding imitators, by an enthusiastic admiration of the poet. I am now convinced that the peculiar turn of expression in these lines has already been transferred to a due quantity of poetical pages, and that no beauty, however great, should be copied ad infinitum,
To criticism, when candid, I am ever ready to do homage ; partial to, and occasionally exercising it myself, I have learnt to appreciate its value and gratefully to acknowledge its assistance. With pleasure therefore I confess that I was induced to ascertain how numerous were these imitations in consequence
of the strictures of my Reviewers, in deference to whose opinion I have now with
drawn the passage.
“ The Ode to Laura, observes the Analytical Critic, “ contains much tender sentiment, and many delicate lines. The latter part of the first stanza of this ode is sweetly poetical, though “Sweet is the breath of morn,' &c. of Milton has been so repeatedly imitated, that it is become trite, and adds, in our opinion, nothing to the worth of the passage.
The Reviewer in the British Critic thus confirms the preceding decision.
"Ode the sixth to Laura,"
opens with much too close and palpable an imitation of Milton's Sweet is the breath of morn,' &c. which occupies the chief part of the first stanza. Yet this ode has considerable merits, and of such a kind as seems to prove, that the writer's talents turn rather to the pathetic than the sublime.”' of
says he, “
It should be recollected, however, that in these very lines, Milton is himself but an imitator of Theocritus, though he has greatly expanded and improved his original. Warton, the best editor of Theocritus, is of this opinion, and Polwbele, in his translation, notices the pleasing repetition of the Sicilian poet, as the foundation of the beauty in Paradise Lost. For the sake of immediate comparison, I shall give the passage in the version of Mr. Polwhele.
* Analytical Review for July, 1793. + British Critic for November, 1793.
Sweet is the breath of cows-the breath of steers-
With regard to the speech of Eve in Milton, I am tempted to adopt the language of Mr. Wakefield, and to declare, that “ be. cause English poetry has nothing more exquisite to produce, I shall give it at full length for the gratification of the reader and my
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet, With charm of earliest birds: pleasant the sun, When first on this delightful land he spreads
* Notes on Gray, page 154.