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T is observable, that discourses prefixed to poetry are contrived very frequently to
inculcate fuch tenets as may exhibit the performance to the greatest advantage. The fabric is very commonly raised in the first place, and the measures, by which we are to judge of its merit, are afterwards adjusted.
There have been few rules given us by the critics concerning the structure of elegiac poetry; and far be it from the author of the following trifles to dignify his own opinions with that denomination. He would only intimate the great variety of subjects, and the different styles in which the writers of elegy have hitherto indulged themselves, and endeavour to shield the following ones by the latitude of their example.
If we consider the etymology * of the word, the epithet which † Horace gives it, or the confeffion which I Ovid makes concerning it, I think we may conclude thus much however; that elesy, inits true and genuine acceptation, includes a tender and querulous idea : that it looks upon this as its peculiar characteristic, and fo long as this is thoroughly fuftained, admits of a variety of subjects; which, by its manner of treating them, it renders its own.
It throws its melancholy sole over pretty different objects; which, like the dresses at a funeral procession, gives them all å kind of folemn and uniform appearance. .
1-Asyair, particulam dolendi. +" Miferabiles elegos."
. 1" Heu nimis ex vero nunc tibi nomen crit.”
Ovid. de Morte Tiballi
It is probable that elegies were written at first upon the death of intimate friends and near relations ; celebrated beauties, or favourite mitreljes; beneficent governors and illuftrions men: one may add perhaps, of all those, who are placed by Virgil in the laurel-grove of his Elyfium. (See Hurd's Dissertation on Horace's Epistle.)
Quique sui memores alios fecere merendo.” After these subjects were fufficiently exhausted, and the severity of fate displayed in the most affecting instances, the poets sought occafion to vary their complaints; and the next tender species of sorrow that presented itself, was the grief of absent or neglected lovers. And this indulgence might be indeed allowed them; but with this they were not contented. They had obtained a small corner in the province of love, and they took advantage, from thence, to over-run the whole territory. They sung its spoils, triumphs, ovations, and rejoicings *, as well as the captivity and exequies that attended it. They gave the name of elegy to their pleasantries as well as lamentations ; till at last, through their abundant fondness for the myrtle, they forgot that the cypress was their peculiar garland.
In this it is probable they deviated from the original design of elegy; and it should seem, that any kind of subjects, treated in such a manner as to diffute a pleasing melancholy, might far better deserve the name, than the facetious mirth and libertine feftivity' of the successful votaries of love.
But not to dwell too long upon an opinion which may seem perhaps introduced to favour the following performance, it may not be improper to examine into the use and end of elegy. The most important end of all poetry is to encourage virtue. Epic and tragedy chiefly recommend the public virtues; elegy is of a species which illuftrates and endears the private. There is a truly virtuous pleasure connected with many pensive contemplations, which it is the province and excellency of elegy to enforce. This, by presenting suitable ideas, has discovered sweets in melancholy which we could not find in mirth; and has led us with success to the dusty urn, when we could draw no pleasure from the sparkling bowl; as paftoral conveys an idea of fimplicity and innocence, it is in particular the task and merit of elegy to Thew the innocence and fimplicity of rural life to advantage: and that, in a way diftin&t from paftoral, as much as the plain but judicious landlord may be imagined to surpass his tenant both in dignity and understanding. It should also tend to elevate the more tranquil virtues of humility, disinterestedness, fimplicity, and innocence : but then there is a degree of elegance and refinement, no way inconsistent with these rural virtues; and that raises elegy above that merum rus, that unpolished rufticity, which has given our pastoral writers their highest reputation.
Wealth and splendor will never want their proper weight: the danger is, left they should too much preponderate. A kind of poetry therefore which throws its chief influence into the other scale, that magnifies the sweets of liberty and independence, that endears the honest delights of love and friendship, that celebrates the glory of a good name after death, that ridicules the futile arrogance of birth, that recommends the innocent amusement of letters, and infenfibly prepares the mind for that humanity it inculcates, such a kind of poetry may chance to please; and if it please, should seem to be of service.
As to the style of elegy, it may be well enough determined from what has gone before. It should imitate the voice and language of grief
, or if a metaphor of dress be more agreeable, it should be simple and diffuse, and flowing as a mourner's veil. A versification therefore is desirable, which, by indulging a free and unconstrained expression, may admit of that fimplicity which elegy requires.
Hleroic metre, with alternate rhyme, feems well enough adapted to this species of poetry; and, however exceptionable upon other occasions, its inconveniencies appear to tote their weight in forter elegies: and its advantages seem to acquire an additional im
portance. The world has an admirable example of its beauty in a collection of elegies not long fince published; the product of a gentleman * of the most exact taste, and whose untimely death merits all the tears that elegy can shea.
It is not impossible that some may think this metre too lax and profaic: others, that even a more diffolute variety of numbers may have superior advantages. And, in favour of these laft, might be produced the example of Milton in his Lycidas, together with one or two recent and beautiful imitations of his versification in that monody. But this kind of argument, I am apt to think, muft prove too much ; since the writers I have in view seem capable enough of recommending any metre they shall chuse; though it must be owned also, that the choice they make of any, is at the same time the strongest presumption in its favour.
Perhaps it may be no great difficulty to compromise the dispute. There is no one kind of metre that is distinguished by rhymes, but is liable to fome objection or other. Heroic verse, where every second line is terminated by a rhyme, (with which the judgment requires that the sense should in some measure also terminate) is apt to render the expression either scanty or constrained. And this is sometimes observable in the writings of a poet lately deceased; though I believe no one ever threw so much sense toge, ther with so much ease into a couplet as Mr. Pope. But, as an air of constraint too often accompanies this metre, it seems by no means proper for a writer of elegy.
The previous rhyme in Milton's Lycidas is very frequently placed at luch a distance from the following, that it is often dropt by the memory (much better employed in attending to the sentiment) before it be brought to join its partner: and this seems to be the greatest objection to that kind of versification. But then the peculiar ease and variety it admits of, are no doubt sufficient to overbalance the objection, and to give it the preference to any other, in an elegy of length.
The chief exception to which stanza of all kinds is liable, is, that it breaks the sense too regularly, when it is continued through a long poem. And this may be perhaps the fault of Mr. Waller's excellent panegyric. But if this fault be less discernible in smaller compofitions, as I suppose it is, I flatter myself, that the advantages I have before mentioned refulting from alternate rhyme (with which stanza is, I think, connected) may, at least in shorter elegies, be allowed to outweigh its imperfections.
I shall say but little of the different kinds of elegy. The melancholy of a lover is different, no doubt, from what we feel on other mixed occasions. The mind in which love and grief at once predominate, is softened to an excefs. Love-elegy therefore is more negligent of order and design, and being addressed chiefly to the ladies, requires little more than tenderness and perfpicuity. Elegies, that are formed upon promiscuous incidents, and addressed to the world in general, inculcate some sort of moral, and admit a different degree of reasoning, thought, and ardour.
The author of the following elegies entered on his fubjects occasionally, as particular incidents in life suggested, or difpofitions of mind recommended them to his choice. If he describes a rural landskip, or unfolds the train of sentiments it inspired, he fairly drew his picture from the spot; and felt very fenfibly the affection he communicates. If he speaks of his humble fhéd, his flocks and his fleeces, he does not counterfeit the scene; who having (whether through choice or neceffity, is not material) retired betimes to country-folitudes, and fought his happiness in rural employments, has a right to consider himself as a real shepherd. The flocks, the meadows, and the grottos, are bis own, and the embellishment of his farm his fole amusement. As the sentiments therefore were inspired by nature, and that in the earlier part of his life, he hopes they will retain a natural appearance: diffufing at least some part of that amusement, which he freely acknowledges he received from the composition of them.
There will appear perhaps a real inconsistency in the moral tenor of the several elegies; and the subsequent ones may fometimes seem a recantation of the preceding. The reader will scarcely impute this to oversight; but will allow, that men's opinions as well as tempers vary; that, neither public nor private, active nor fpeculative life, are unexceptionably happy, and consequently that any change of opinion concerning them may afford an additional beauty to poetry, as it gives us a more striking representation of life.
If the author has hazarded, throughout, the use of English or modern allufions, he hɔpes it will not be imputed to an entire ignorance, or to the least disesteem, of the ancient learning. He has kept the ancient plan and method in his eye, though he builds his edifice with the materials of his own nation. In other words, through a fondness for his native country, he has made use of the flowers it produced, though, in order to exhibit them to the greater advantage, he has endeavoured to weave his garland by the beft model he could find: with what success, beyond his own amusement, must be left to judges less partial to him than either his acquaintance or his friends. If
-any of those should be so candid, as to approve the variety of subjects he has chosen, and the tenderness of sentiment he has endeavoured to impress, he begs the metre also may not be too suddenly condemned. The public ear, habituated of late to a quicker measure, may perhaps consider this as heavy and languid; but an objection of that kind may gradually lose its force, if this measure should be allowed to suit the nature of elegy.
If it should happen to be considered as an object with others, that there is too much of a moral cast diffused through the whole; it is replied, that he endeavoured to animate the poetry
so far as not to render this objection too obvious; or to risque cxcluding the fashionable reader: at the same time never deviating from a fixed principle, that poetry without morality is but the bloom of a fruit-tree. Poetry is indeed like that species of plants, which may bear at once both fruits and blossoms; and the tree is by no means in perfection without the former, however it may be embellished by the flowcrs which surround it.
E L E G I . E S.
E L E G Y I. O lov'd fimplicity, be thine the prize!
Asiduous art correct her page' in vain ! He arrivos at his retirement in the country, and His be the palm who, guiltless of disguise,
takes occasion to expatiate in praise of fimplicity. Contemns the power, the dull resource to feign! To a FRIEND.
Still may the mourner, lavish of his tears FOR rural virtues, and for native skies,
For lucre's venal meed, invite my scorn! I bade Augusta's venal sons farewell;
Still may the bard dissembling doubts and fears, Now ’mid the trees, I see my smoke arise ;
For praise, for fattery tighing, ligh forlorn! Now hear the fountains bubbling round my cell.
Soft as the line of love-sick Hammond Aows, O may that genius, which secures my rest,
'Twas his fond heart effus'd the melting theme; Preserve this vilia for a friend that's dear!
Ah! never could Aonia's hill disclose Ne'er may my vintage glad the fordid breast;
So fair a fountain, or so lov'd a stream. Ne'er tinge the lip that dares be unfincere !
Ye loveless bards intent with artful pains Far from these paths, ye faithless friends, depart!
To form a figh, or to contrive a tear! Fly my plain board, abhor my hostile name!
Forego your Pindus, and on - plains Hence! the faint verse that flows not from the heart,
Survey Camilla's charms, and grow fincere But mourns in labour'd strains, the price of fame!
Shall then our youths, who fame's bright fabric
raise, To life's precarious date confine their care? O teach them you, to spread the sacred base,
To plan a work, through latest ages fair!
But thou, my friend! while in thy youthful soul
Love's gentle tyrant seats his awful throne, Write from thy bosomlet not art controul
The ready pen, that makes his edicts known. Pleasing, when youth is long expir’d, to trace,
The forms our pencil, or our pen design’d! “Such was our youthful air, and Mape, and face !
“ Such the fuft image of our youthful mind! Soft whilst we neep beneath the rural bowers,
The Loves and Graces steal unseen avray;
We wake to wintry scenes of chill decay!
Is it small transport, as with curious eye
You trace the story of each Attic sage,
Shall waft like odours through the pleasing page ? To mark the day, when through the bulky tome,
Around your name the varying style refines ? And readers call their lost attention home,
Led by that index where true genius Thines? Ah let not Britons doubt their social aim,
Whose ardent bofom catch this ancient fire ! Cold interest melts before the vivid flame,
And patriot ardours, but with life, expire!
Curse the sad fortune that detains thy fair ;
Praise the soft hours that gave thee to her arms; Paint thy proud scorn of every vulgar care,
When Hope exalts thee, or when Doubt alarms. Where with Oenone thou hast worn the day,
Near fount or stream, in meditation, rove; If in the grove Oenone lov'd tu stray,
The faithful Muse Thall meet thee in the grove.
He little knew the fly penurious art;
That odious art which fortune's favourites know; Form'd to bestow, he felt the warmest heart,
But envious Fate forbade him to bestow,
Perhaps ev'n genius pours a Nighted lay;
Perhaps ev'n friendship sheds a fruitless tear; Ev'n Lyttleton but vainly trims the bay,
And fondly graces Hammond's mournful bier. Though weeping virgins haunt his favour'd urn,
Renew their chaplets, and repeat their fighs ; Though near his tomb, Sabæan odours burn,
The loitering fragrance will it reach the skies? No, should his Delia votive wreaths prepare,
Delia might place the votive wreaths in vain : Yet the dear hope of Delia's future care Once crown'd his pleasures, and difpelld his
Can every sense of present joys excel :
Through this, expiring, bade a gay farewel,
He little knew to ward the secret wound;
He little knew that mortals could ensnare; Virtue he knew; the noblest joy he fourid,
To sing her glories, and to paint her fair! Ill was he skill'd to guide his wandering seepi
And unforeseen disaster thinn'd his fold; Yet at another's loss the swain would weep;
And, for his friend, his very crook were sold.
Ye sons of wealth! protect the Muse's train;
From winds protect them, and with food supply; Ah! helpless they, to ward the threaten’d pain !
The meagre famine, and the wintery sky? He lov'd a nymph: amidst his nender store,
He dar'd to love ; and Cynthia was his theme; He breath'd his plaints along the rocky shore, They only echo'd o'er the winding stream ;