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Many critics have employed their talents in making comparison between Demofthenes and Tully. All of them agree in attributing to the former concifeneis, and to the latter diffufion and according to this judgment, they have not hesitated to give the preference to the Athenian. The concife vehemence of Demolihenes carried allbefore it by violence; the prolixity of Cicero gained ground by the foft arts of infinuation. The effect of the former was fudden and irrefillible, that of the latter, weak and dilatory.
In the denouement of a modern tragedy, we find the heroes and heroines expreffing their grief in pompous declamation. But notwith landing the actor mouths out his plaints in all the grandeur of leng hened periods, and with all the vehemence of studied action, the audience frequently fi. unmoved, and are more difpofed to fmile than weep. In the dious Tyrannus of Sophocles, Jocafla, when the difcovers her own and her husband's fituation, as deplorable as can well be conceived, immediately retires from the flage, repeating only thefe few words "Alas! alas! unhappy man-this only can I fay henceforth for ever filent" Corneille would have put, at leaf, fifty lines into her mouth, without half the effect!
Cafar, who handled the pen with as much fkill as the fword, has gained more general applaufe from one fentence in the laconic, file, than from all his commentaries. Could the length of a polithed period, and the tedioufnefs of exact narration, more clearly, more forcibly, and more agreeably have expreffed the rapidity of a conquest, than the thort fentence-"I came, I faw, I conquered?" In the original it is fill more emphatical, becaufe the idiom of the Latin language allows the omiffion of the pronoun before the verbs.
Military harangues derive their chief beauty from an expreffive brevity. Livy abounds with fhort fpeeches, confifting of hardly more than half a dozen words, in which generals animated their fol-, diers to rush on to danger and death. But antient history affords no inftance fo friking as that of a French officer, who thus addreffed his men immediately before an attack- "I am your general-you are "Frenchmen-they are the enemy."
Concifenefs of narration, whether in writing or in fpeaking, is a mark of truth. To introduce a multitude of proofs and affeverations, is tacitly to confers, that the affertion ftands in great need of corroboration. One of our English fects, which profeffes a fingular love of truth and plain-dealing, has almoft made it a tenet of their religion to ufe no other words in denying, or afferting, than the fimple particles of negation and affirmation: and a poet of antiquity remarks, that many promifes and profeflions, inftead of strengthening, weaken our belief. A plain country gentleman in my hearing, the other day, told a man, who had been relating fome extraordinary flory, that he should readily have believed him, had he not taken fo much pains to perfuade him it was true..
They who have travelled, know that the French, in the profu fion of their politenefs, make many offers on purpose to be refused.
* Του, ίου, δυσήν, τοῦτο γὰρ σ' έχω
Oid. Tupar. Act IV. Scene iii.
" he is
Bluntnefs is faid to be one of the characteristics of the English,.
But thefe effects of brevity and concifenefs, are not to be foundonly in writing and converfation. There is fomething analogous to them in the arts of painting and fculpture. There is a concealment and fhading, which fets off more beautifully, and difplays more clearly, than an open, an undifyuifed, a glaring reprefentation. Timanthes took for the fubject of a picture, the facrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis. He gave a degree of grief to the fpectators, proportionate: to the nearness, or diftance of relation, to the lovely victim. Thus be had exhaulted the paffion before he came to the father, and, at a lofs to exprefs a fufficient anguish, he reprefented the difconfolate) parent concealing his face in the folds of his garments.
'Were the caufe of the good effects of concifenefs to be invefligated, it might perhaps be found no other than the pleasure which a reader, or spectator, takes in having fomething left for his own fagacity to discover. The mind greedily fnatches at a hint, and delights to enlarge upon it; but frigid is the employment of attending to thofe productions, the authors of which have laboured every thing. into fuch perfpicuity, that the obferver has nothing to do but barely to look on. Things may be too obvious to excite attention. The fun, the moon, and the ftars, roll over our heads every day without attracting our notice; but we furvey with eager curiofity, a comet, an eclipfe, or any other extraordinary phænomenon in nature.'
Although the critical obfervations interfperfed throughout. thefe eflays are in general extremely judicious, we cannot but think that the Author's vencration for the ancients has fometimes mifled him, particularly in the effay on the Fluctuation of taste, in which he cenfures with great afperity fome of our modern poets, for departing from the antient models.
Gray and Mafon, fays our Author, have, at length, profefedly adopted the clinquant, to the exclufion of the fimplicity of claffic elegance. Nor can the general reception their works have met with, be matter of furprize; for let it be remembered, that there have been times, when the complicated deformity of Gothic building was preferred to the regular fymmetry of Grecian architecture.
The clegy in a country church yard, breathes a spirit of melanchply which flatters the imagination of an Es glifhman, It is folemn,
9 ? noufeufe
it is picturefque: but after all, it is thought, by fome, to be no more than a confufed heap of fplendid ideas, thrown together without order and without proportion; and to refemble the loose jewels in the artift's caket before they are formed into a diadem. The Odes of the fame author, faid to be more unintelligible than the ænigma of a fphinx, are in the fame predicament, and prefent to the mind ideas fimilar to thofe which arife from a furvey of the clouds empurpled by the fetting fun. The variegated hues are indeed beautiful; but they quickly vanish, and leave no idea but that of a tranfient affemblage of visionary colours.
• Mafon has afo fometimes fhewn, that he is capable of true claffical poetry. But the taste of the age, and the example of his friend, have led him into the fields of fancy, where he has foared, on the pinions of poetry, far above the aching fight of common fenfe.
The common herd of poets have followed the tract of their fuperiors. The numerous contributors to our poetical collections, in the fame gaudy style, have foared in Odes, and wept in Elegies: and the importer Macpherson has completed the work, with the nonfenfical jargon of his Offian.
This feems to have been the tafle which prevailed immediately before that which now begins to dawn upon us, and to promise a revival of pure Attic and Auguftan wit. It is true, the glimmerings are yet but faint. We may, however, venture to affure ourselves of approaching day at the first appearance of the crepuscles of twalight. To drop the figure, the favourable reception of the TravelTer, and the Deferted Village, poems very different from the produc tions of the Grays and Mafons of the age, gives reafon to prognofticate a return to the long forfaken imitation of Greece and Rome. Even these poems I ain far from deeming faultlefs in their kind. They are however, in fome meafure, formed on the antient model, and have obtained a popularity, which points are fufficient for our prefent argument. The Grays and Mafons have ftill many favourers, and that thefe fhould deny Goldfmith the fmallest degree of poetical merit, is not furprizing, fince they who can admire the enflure of the former poets, are incapacitated from relishing the fimplicity of the latter; as thofe who riot in the banquets of princes, and gluttons, have no appetite for the plain, but wholefome viands of the rural cottager.
Whatever may be the execution of thefe poems, the defign is laudable; and the poet might have felicitated himself, as inftrumental to the banishment of two enormous abfurdities from the republic of letters; the barbarifm of Gothic poetry, and the dramatic moniter of weeping comedy.
That a taste for claffical compofition may be revived, every rational critic will ardently with: fince every rational critic will dare to affert, in fpite of the imputation of pedantic bigotry, that to deviate from the antients is to deviate from excellence.'
Though we would, by no means, be thought deficient in refpect for the antients, we cannot allow them to be fo far entitled to the honours of infallibility, that it ought to be deemed
violation of their facred rights, to deviate in any inftance from their example. To acknowledge their works the standard of perfection, is voluntarily to bind ourselves with chains, and to fubject the fine arts to the fame kind of restrictions, which have been fometimes attempted in philofophy, and which have fo often proved of the moft pernicious confequence in religion. But, even if we were to measure the merit of modern poets by the degree of their conformity to the models of antiquity, it would perhaps be found, upon a fair enquiry, that the poems of Gray and Mason, are not farther removed from fimplicity than many of the most admired writings of the antients. If this term (fo frequently ufed without any determinate idea) were accurately defined, and its station in poetical merit clearly ascertained, it would, we apprehend, appear, that fimplicity is not the characteriftic excellence of the Æneid of Virgil, or even of the more poetical parts of Homer's Iliad, and, that in many species of poetry, if the writer had more fimplicity, his work would be lefs perfect. If the Odes and Elegies of Gray or Mason are in fome parts obfcure, where is the writer among the ancients in the fame walks of poetry, who has equal merit, and less obfcurity? Is not obfcurity in fome degree a neceflary confequence of thofe unusual combinations of ideas, and bold flights of fancy, which conftitute the chief merit of poetry.
But if the cenfure which gave occafion to these remarks be thought to indicate fome degree of prejudice in criticism, the following paffage will be deemed a ftill more reprehenfible inftance of prejudice in fentiment. Declaiming on the inconveniences which have arifen from the art of printing, our Author fays, that It has enabled modern authors wantonly to gratify their avarice, their vanity, and their mifanthropy, in diffeminating novel fystems, fubverfive of the dignity and happinefs of human nature;' and that the perverfion of the art is lamentably remarkable, in thofe volumes which iffue with offenfive profufion, from the vain and hungry book-manufacturers of North-Britain and Switzerland.' Such illiberal reflections, and local partialities, are unworthy of the scholar and the philoLopher.
In fome inftances the Author fuffers his command of words to betray him into the pompous and turgid ftyle; of which the following are ludicrous examples. The English language abounds with Saxon monofyllables, very improper for the liquid lapfe of mellifluous cadence."-"A man of flow understanding can stop to investigate abfcurity step by step."" The most fafhionable taylor is investigated.
We obferve many feeming imitations of the Johnfonian manner in these pieces; but whatever may be their merit, (and it is, certainly, not inconfiderable) we cannot compliment the Writer
fo far as to pronounce them worthy of a place on the fame helf with The Rambler.
ART. XI. Jamaica; A Poem; written in the year 1776. To which is added, a poctical Epille from the Author, in that Ifland, to his friend in England. 4to, 1s. 6d. Nicell. 1777.
HIS young Poct having gone,' as his preface informs
us, to our principal fettlement in the Weft Indies, at a very carly period, was no lefs captivated with the beauty of the ifland, and the delicioufnefs of the fruits, than difgufted with the cruelty of the planters, and the miferics of the flaves: the firft he here endeavours to celebrate, the last to condemn.'-He adds, to do juftice to the fair ladies of the fugar islands, to remove the vulgar prejudices of narrow minds, to infpire the inhabitants with more generous feelings toward the footy race, and to advife the planters (for their own and the interefts of humanity) to adopt a mediocrity of punifhmnet worthy the citizens of a free and independent empire, and the partakers of mild and equitable laws, thefe are the motives that induced me to attempt this fubject.'
We applaud this young gentleman's humanity more than his poetry. He is, fometimes, tolerably defcriptive, and there is frequently a degree of melody and animation in his numbers; yet his virgin mufe has, upon the whole, rather an ungraceful gait, and her movements often fink into downright hobbling. The rhimes, too, are in fome inftances, intolerable. What ear can bear fuch couplets as the following:
Pregnant with future wealth the canes arife,
The port appears, the fickly paffengers rejoice. p. 11.
Nor yet alone the groves and fountains please,
The mufe' bold wing can foar the circling fky,
And fancy form, when nature leads the way.' p. 14. The clifton which clips the mufe' bold wing, goes beyond all poetic licence. Equally unacceptable are the Author's
tropic fruits, nurs'd 'neath a torrid sky.'
In defcribing, however, the delicious fruits of Jamaica, we meet with fome lufcious expreffions that would make the jolly common-council men of Candlewick and Portfoken wards, with deputy Fouch and alderman Guttle at their head, lick their lips with longing approbation:
the vegetable pear!
What fat, what marrow, can with thee compare? p. 12.
*The Author p eads the age of eighteen,' in excuse for the defects of his maiden performance.