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ART. V. Strictures, critical and fentimental, on Thomson's Seasons; with Hints and Obfervations on collateral Subjeas. By J. More. 8vo. bound. Richardfon and Urquhart. 1777.

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O depreciate that kind of merit to which the undervaluer himself makes no pretenfions, is not uncommon: but few perfons are so inconfiftent with themselves as to speak with difrefpect and contempt of a character under which they voluntarily offer themselves to public notice. Yet this inconfif tency we cannot but remark in the conduct of the Author of thefe Strictures, who has introduced his criticifms on Thomfon's Seasons, with an effay on the ufe and abuse of criticism; which, if it has any determinate meaning, must be understood as a general cenfure both of the principles and practice of this art.

Nothing,' obferves our Author, more debilitates the liberal and manly spirit of true criticism, than a memory overloaded with dead and foreign languages, and a head enveloped in theories and fyllogifms. Genius may break through these clouds, and, like the fun in a vifionary sky, fhine with additional folemnity and magnificence, from the gloom that feems to intercept its fplendor; but all others must be loft and expire in the fog. Erudition operates on common minds like a hearty meal on fickly ftomachs; it lies an undigefted load, that puts all their faculties out of order. Altogether ignorant of fuch ideas as real impreffions of nature ftamp upon the mind, they rafhly pronounce on every thing by certain preconceptions, wrought into a system by art and the ancients, fanctified by dulnefs, and propagated from a flavifh reverence for popular opinion. Whatever correfponds with this ftandard, they indifcriminately applaud; but woe unto the author, woe unto the work, and woe unto the paffage which does not.'-And afterward, There are others who fet their own feelings afide, and appeal to I know not what antiquated abstractions for a fanction to their opinions.'


If these reflections are only meant to cenfure thofe critics, who, without any true difcernment or tafte, lay down arbitrary rules by which they measure the merit of writers, they are inoffenfive, but they are at the fame time trite and nugatory: for every one will allow that fuch critics are a difgrace. to the art they profefs. But if it be the Author's intention, (and as far as we can judge from his declamatory manner of conveying his ideas, we cannot but think it is) to cat contempt upon thofe general principles and rules of criticifm which the mafters of this art in ancient and modern times have deduced, from an attentive comparison of the productions of genius with the conftitution and powers of human nature, he U 2 muß

muft undoubtedly incur the cenfure of inconfiftency, in abandoning the theory of an art in which he pretends to be a practitioner, and of rafh judgment, in pronouncing the operations of fancy or fentiment incapable of being referred to general principles or determinate laws. Whatever is beautiful and excellent in writing, muft owe its merit to its conformity to nature; whatever is faulty or difgufting, must be fo from its deviation from truth and propriety. To point out the several particulars of this conformity or deviation, is the office of criticifm. Can there be any employment more apparently within the compass of human ability, or better adapted to afford an agrecable exercife to the mind?

The occupations of criticism muft indeed neceffarily include a nice obfervance of the faults of eminent writers, as well as their merit; and against this our Author declaims with great eloquence, as an unpardonable inftance of ingratitude to thofe generous benefactors of mankind who have taken fo much pains to entertain and inftruct us. But to this it is fufficient to reply, that a delicate perception of beauties muft neceffarily be attended with a quick difcernment of faults; and that a writer gains more true glory from the judicious encomiums of a critic who is capable of diftinguishing excellencies from defects, than from the loude ft indifcriminate applaufe of an inaccurate judge. Befide, it is manifeft that the obfervance of fault's as well as beauties, is neceffary to the exercife and improvement of tafte, and may be of great ufe to prevent a blind imitation of the errors and extravagancies of a favourite writer.


Thefe objections to our Author's fingular opinion he has indeed condefcended to notice, but taken no pains to refute. In reply, he calls them the plaufible but flight pretext, under which pedantry, with more than pontifical folemnity, has fulminated her rules and canons in all ages; and he breaks forth into an oratorical profopopeia to Shakespeare, whofe merit has not been able to keep his critics at defiance, or infpire them with one fentiment of modefty or discretion.'

A writer who thus bids defiance to all the artillery of criticitim, and who brands its laws with the appellation of scientific jargon, will perufe the remarks of a Reviewer with fuch predetermined indifference, that we are under little apprehenfion of giving him pain by the freedom with which we examine his work.

Taking it then for granted, at least for the prefent, that the principles and laws of criticifm, which have the fanction of ancient authority, and have hitherto ftood the test of modern penetration, have some foundation in nature and reason, we fhall, without apology, proceed to examine, by thefe antiquated abfractions, the merit of the prefent work.

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In the general ftructure and conduct of this critique, we obferve two circumftances which, according to commonly received ideas, must be pronounced fundamental faults; the want of unity of defign, and the want of perfpicuity and precision of thought and expreffion.

On a topic fo capable of furnishing occafion for the exertion of critical ingenuity and taste, as Thomson's Seafons, one would fcarcely expect a writer to pay fo poor a compliment either to his author or to himfelf, as frequently to start beyond the limits of his plan into general declamation. Yet we find our Author feizing every opportunity of leaving his principal fubject, in purfuit of general ideas on life and manners; concerning which he difcourfes in a kind of loofe and florid declamation, which cannot be better characterized than by one of his own phrases, the garrulity of the pulpit. Indeed we meet with fo much of this fort of harangue, that if we knew our Author to belong to the clerical order, we fhould be almost ready to conjecture that he had been at the pains to inlay his work with a set of shining paffages felected from his fermons.

The want of perfpicuity and precifion, if we may be permitted to call it a fault, is a fault which prevails through the piece. The Author indeed undertakes to treat of Thomfon's powers of defcription, and of the object, the originality, the pathetic, and the fublimity of the Seafons. But he has taken fo little pains to define his terms under each head, or to use them with accuracy, and has indulged himfelf fo freely in the language of vague declamation, that he has feldom caft new light upon the fubjects of which he treats; on the contrary, he has fometimes involved them in obfcurity. Though the full confirmation of this remark must arife from the work at large, that we may not be thought to have made it without fufficient foundation, we fhall quote our Author's explanation of the nature of harmony of language, and of the genuine pathetic.

Harmony, however difpenfible in profe, is a material and capital ingredient in measured poetry. Indeed, as the whole train of thought and fentiment may be as much the inspiration of the Mufes without as with their language, harmony feems an effential characteristic of poetical expreffion. In this charming quality of ftyle, all emphatical founds are fo happily varied, as to prevent every kind of monotony, and follow each other by a gradual fwell, in one pure fucceffion of the sweetest and richest modulation. For this reafon, tranfitions in the fenfe as well as the found, are managed with the softest and niceft elegance; the rules of number and quantity observed with inviolable fidelity, and every accent difpofed according to the most exquifite exactnefs and delicacy.

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The genuine pathetic confifts not either in fertility of thinking, or facility of fpeaking, in luxury of imagination. or volubility of tongue, but in a certain edge of thought, and a peculiar form of expreffion. Such are the true tones of fenfibiJity, to which the whole cordage of the heart are tremblingly alive, with which all our fweeteft fenfations are in perfect unifon, and which thrill with extacy through every feeling in the human frame.'

The Author's idea of fimplicity (which indeed, he fays, it is perhaps impoffible for him to communicate to his readers) must be very fingular: he is probably the firft person who ever thought that figurative language may be of advantage to fimplicity, which he afferts to be the cafe in Thomson's character of Milton. Singularity is not however a common fault, nor originality of reflection a prevailing excellence in this work. The obfervations, though for the moft part juft, are in general exceedingly obvious and common; yet, in justice to the Author we muft except the following paffage, in which he points out a circumftance of material importance in picturesque delineations of nature, whether in painting or poetry, which we do not remember to have feen diftinctly noticed by any former writer.

• Whoever knows from experience how diftinctly the objects of vallies appear from the fummit of lofty mountains, muft regret that this country, with all its richness and variety, affords fo few magnificent and picturefque profpects. Whereever we look around us, groups of things feem huddled together in one vaft undiftinguishable mafs. Our views are almost every where imperfect, because, being so much on a level with the objects, they are generally horizontal. And while the interftitial spaces are hid, the relation and dependence of objects, which often conftitute their most beautiful characteriftics, are totally shaded. In all champaign countries, however variegated with woods and fields, and meadows, large rivers, little ftreams, flowery parterres, groves, gardens, glebes, villas, and hamlets innumerable, there is really no extenfive, no delightful profpect. The eye is bewildered, and wanders unfettled, amidst a vaft crowd of things which diftract her attention. The banks of a river, though embroidered with all the luxuriance of nature in her gayeft forms, are never feen at any convenient distance. Now all our fenfes occupy a certain medium, beyond which their functions are proportionably defective: and we may be fometimes too nigh as well as too diftant. In the fituation fuppofed, we difcern all things in the grofs, nothing by itself. Proximate objects then ftrike us only in profile, and hide part of themselves, as well as throw the whole back ground into


one impenetrable fhade. Not a peep of the waters ever ftrikes us through the brakes of the woods; and the richeft fields are every where buried among the hedges and trees that line them. The whole appears, till you plunge in the midft of them, an impaflable thicket, and inceffantly fills the mind with all thofe ideas of folitude and danger fo infeparable from the forefts of uninhabited countries.-Thomfon never difclofes a fine profpect, without exalting the fpectator to an eminence fufficiently elevated for commanding and taking in the whole.'

Before we take our leave of this work, critical juftice requires that we point out fome particular paffages, which must be cenfured as violations of the laws of good writing, at leaft till our Author fhall have intereft enough in the republic of literature to obtain their final repeal.


It is one of these ancient laws, or antiquated abftra&tions, that in the use of metaphors and fimilies there fhould be fuch a refemblance between the original object and that to which it is compared, that the former may be illuftrated by the latter. Is it in conformity to this law that our Author fays, The most abfurd nonfenfe may drawl in meafure or fraddle in rhyme.'Most of our poetry is but prattle or fufian in manacles.'-Though Slander with her thoufand tongues lard his ftory with the fouleft afperfions.' Their favourite authors are--either choaked with abftraction, larded with trifies, poifoned with opinions, or fermented with romance.'- Nor is the heart in a tone for recognizing the expreffions of a pure mind with suitable affections, when it is either drenched in luxury, torpid in rufticity, or funk in ceremony. To compare great things with fmall, the fun going down among the putrid clouds [What kind of clouds are thefe?] which load and poilute our atmosphere, is no improper reprefentation to one in the neighbourhood of London, of declining life choaked with the fumes of imaginary confequence, and trembling on the verge of mortality, amidit the ludicrous intoxications of vanity.'

Another law in criticifm is, that when a writer has a meaning to convey, he fhould choofe fuch words as will enable his reader to perceive it. Whether this law be obferved in the following paffages, every reader muft judge as his understanding enables him. There is a very emphatical foftness infeparably connected with the exterior and elegant minds; a word, a figh, a look, infenfibility itself under a peculiar defcription goes to the very bottom of our fouls.' The human mind never appears fo truly great-as when grappling with extremity.'- To Thomfon we are greatly indebted, for thus employing his defcriptive talents in rousing imagination and the heart to that charming glafs of novelty which sparkles around us in the fweeteft luftre, and fheds a fragrance fufficiently delicious to every fenfe'—


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