Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

From Addison's Spectator. I have now considered Milton's Paradise Lost under those four great heads of the fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language; and have shown that he excels, in general, under each of these heads. I hope that I have made several discoveries which may appear new even to those who are versed in critical learning. Were I indeed to choose my readers, by whose judgment I would stand or fall, they should not be such as are acquainted only with the French and Italian critics, but also with the ancient and moderns who have written in either of the learned languages. Above all, I would have them well versed in the Greek and Latin poets, without which a man very often fancies that he understands a critic, when in reality he does not comprehend his meaning.

It is in criticism, as in all other sciences and speculations; one who brings with him any implicit notions and observations which he has made in his reading of the poets, will find his own reflections methodized and explained, and perhaps several little hints, that had passed in his mind, perfected and improved in the works of a good critic; whereas one who has not these previous lights is very often an utter stranger to what he reads, and apt to put a wrong interpretation upon it.

Nor is it sufficient that a man who sets up for a judge in criticism should have perused the authors above-mentioned, unless he has also a clear and logical head. Without this talent he is perpetually puzzled and perplexed amidst his own blunders, mistakes the sense of those he would confute, or, if he chances to think right, does not know how to convey his thoughts to another with clearness and perspicuity. Aristotle, who was the best critic, was also one of the best logicians that ever appeared in the world.

Mr. Locke's Essay on The Human Understanding would be thought a very odd book for a man to make himself master of, who would get a reputation by critical writings; though at the same time it is very certain that an author who has not learned the art of distinguishing between words and things, and of ranging his thoughts and setting them in proper lights, whatever notions he may have, will lose himself in confusion and obscurity. I might further observe that there is not a Greek or a Latin critic who has not shown, even in the style of his criticisms, that he was a master of all the elegance and delicacy of his native tongue.

The truth of it is, there is nothing more absurd than for a man to set up for a critic, without a good insight into all the parts of learning; whereas many of those who have endeavored to signalize themselves by

works of this nature among our English writers are not only defective in the above-mentioned particulars but plainly discover by the phrases which they make use of, and by their confused way of thinking, that they are not acquainted with the most common and ordinary systems of arts and sciences. A few general rules extracted out of the French authors, with a certain cant of words, have sometimes set up an illiterate heavy writer for a most judicious and formidable critic.

One great mark by which you may discover a critic who has neither taste nor learning is this, that he seldom ventures to praise any passage in an author which has not been before received and applauded by the public, and that his criticism turns wholly upon little faults and errors. This part of a critic is so very easy to succeed in that we find every ordinary reader, upon the publishing of a new poem, has wit and illnature enough to turn several passages of it into ridicule, and very often in the right place. This Mr. Dryden has very agreeably remarked in those two celebrated lines :

Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls must dive below.

A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation. The most exquisite words and finest strokes of an author are those which very often appear the most doubtful and exceptionable to a man who wants a relish for polite learning; and they are these, which a sour, undistinguishing critic generally attacks with the greatest violence. Tully observes that it is very easy to brand or fix a mark upon what he calls verbum ardens, or, as it may be rendered into English, a glowing bold expression, and to turn it into ridicule by a cold, ill-natured criticism. A little wit is equally capable of exposing a beauty and of aggravating a fault; and, though such a treatment of an author naturally produces indignation in the mind of an understanding reader, it has, however, its effect

among the generality of those whose hands it falls into, the rabble of mankind being very apt to think that everything which is laughed at with any mixture of wit is ridiculous in itself.

Such a mirth as this is always unseasonable in a critic, as it rather prejudices the reader than convinces him, and is capable of making a beauty, as well as a blemish, the subject of derision. A man who cannot write with wit on a proper subject is dull and stupid, but one who shows it in an improper place is as impertinent and absurd. Be. sides, a man who has the gift of ridicule is very apt to find fault with anything that gives him an opportunity of exerting his beloved talent, and very often censures a passage, not because there is any fault in it, but because he can be merry upon it. Such kinds of pleasantry are very unfair and disingenuous in works of criticism, in which the greatest masters, both ancient and modern, have always appeared with a serious and instructive air.

As I intend in my next paper to show the defects in Milton's Paradise Lost, I thought fit to premise these few particulars, to the end that the reader may know I enter upon it, as on a very ungrateful work, and that I shall just point at the imperfections, without endeavoring to inflame them with ridicule. I must also observe with Longinus that the productions of a great genius, with many lapses and inadvertencies, are infinitely preferable to the works of an inferior kind of author which are scrupulously exact and conformable to all the rules of correct writing.

I shall conclude my paper with a story out of Boccalini which sufficiently shows us the opinion that judicious author entertained of the sort of critics I have been here mentioning

A famous critic, says he, having gathered together all the faults of an eminent poet, made a present of them to Apollo, who received them very graciously, and resolved to make the author a suitable return for the trouble he had been at in collecting them. In order to this he set before him a sack of wheat, as it had been just threshed out of the sheaf. He then bid him pick out the chaff from among the corn, and lay it aside by itself. The critic applied himself to the task with great industry and pleasure, and, after having made the due separation, was presented by Apollo with the chaff for his pains.

FURTHER READING.–The Sir Roger de Coverley papers, published in pamphlet form by Clark & Maynard.

SCHEME FOR REVIEW.

Poetry.

Poetry.

Historical Sketch............ 187

Change of Style and Subj. 188
Transition Poets..

191
Satirist..

192 Lyrist..

193 Dramatist..

Dryden.

(Pope's Three Periods..... 208
The Minor Poets..... 211
Poetry of Natural Descrip-
tion.....

211 Extract from Pope. 212

Swift......

194 Extract from....

196 Theological and Political.. 201 Miscellaneous and Party.. 203 Extract from Locke.. 206

218 Defoe..

219 Berkeley..

219 Addison and Steele....... 219 Extract from Addison,.. 222

Prose.

Prose.

PERIOD VII.

FROM SWIFT'S DEATH TO THE FRENCH REVOLUTION,

1745-1789.

LESSON 41.

Brief Historical Sketch.- Invasion by second Pretender, son of the first, 1745. Battle of Culloden, Apr. 16, 1746. England begins, 1755, the French and Indian War, closed by Treaty of Paris in 1763. Clive's Battle of Plassey in India, 1757. Eng. aids Frederic the Great in the Seven Years' War against Austria, France, and Russia, begun 1756. Era of the Elder Pitt, the Great Commoner, afterward Lord Chatham, the third quarter of this century. Under Clive the East India Co. conquers a large part of India, 1755–67. Geo. III. succeeds Geo. II., 1760. His influence over his ministry almost supreme. Wilkes' Controversy, 1762–82. Stamp Act, 1764. Repeal of it, 1765. Watt invents Steam Engine, 1765, patents it, 1781. Arkwright's Spinning Machine, 1768. Regulation Acts, 1774. First great English Journals date from about 1770. Right of the press to criticise Parliament, ministers, and even the sovereign now established. Death of Chatham, 1778. American Revolution begins, 1775. Lord George Gordon Riots, 1780. American Independence acknowledged by Treaty of Paris, 1783. The Younger Pitt made Prime Minister, 1784. Mail Coaches introduced, 1784. East Indian possessions vastly increased by Warren Hastings, 1774–85. Articles of impeachment presented against him by Burke, 1786. Trial began 1788, lasting till 1795, and resulting in his acquittal. Howard's Reform of prisons and prison discipline, 1774–90. French Revolution, 1789.

LESSON 42. PROSE LITERATURE.—“The rapid increase of manufactures, science, and prosperity which began with the middle of the eighteenth century is paralleled by the growth of Literature. The general causes of this growth were:

1. A good prose style had been perfected, and the method of writing being made easy, production increased. Men were born, as it were, into a good school of the art of composition, and the boy of eighteen had no difficulty in making sentences which the Elizabethan writer could not have put together after fifty years of study.

2. The long peace after the accession of the House of Hanover had left England at rest, and given it wealth. The reclaiming of waste tracts, and the increased wealth and trade made better communication necessary; and the country was soon covered with a network of highways. The leisure gave time to men to think and write: the quicker interchange between the capital and the country spread over England the literature of the capital, and stirred men everywhere to write. The coaching services and the post carried the new book and the literary criticism to the villages, and awoke the men of genius there, who might otherwise have been silent.

3. The Press sent far and wide the news of the day, and grew in importance till it contained the opinions and writinsg of men like Canning. Such seed produced literary work in the country. Newspapers now began to play their part in literature. They rose under the Commonwealth, but became important when the censorship which reduced them to a mere broadsheet of news was removed after the Revolution of 1688. The political sleep of the age of the first two Georges hindered their progress; but, in the reign of George III., after a struggle with which the name of John Wilkes and the author of the letters of Junius are connected, the Press claimed and

[ocr errors]
« PredošláPokračovať »