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Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
But before we speak of the several sorts of style, it will be proper to take some notice of the epithets, tropes and figures of which they are principally compounded; since it is by these different modes of speech that the poet is enabled to vary a discourse almost to infinity ; to Mew the same object in a thousand different forms, and all of them new; to present pleasing images to the senses and imagination, to address them
in the language they love, to express small matters with grace, and the greatest with a nobleness and fublimity equal to their grandeur and majefty.
Nothing contributes more to the beauty of the poetic ftyle than epithets properly employed ; and Quintilian, and Rollin after him, observes, that poets make use of them more frequently and more freely than orators. More frequently, be. *cause it is a great fault to overload a discourse in prose with
too many epithets; whereas in poetry, they always produce a good effect, though in ever so great a number. "More freely, because with the poets it is enough that the epithet is suitable to the word it is annexed to : But in prose, every epithet which produces no effect, and adds nothing to the thing Spoken of, is vicious. Great deference should be paid to authors lo deservedly eminent in the literary world: we must how. ever beg leave to observe, that the latitude they have given us for the use of Epithets, is a little too extensive ; since nothing tires a reader more than too great a redundancy of them, and especially when they are useless, and thrown in, as they too often are, to make out the measure of the verse. Epithets can never be admitted with propriety, unless they excite some new idea, or give some illustration and ornament to the substantives to which they are annexed ; and it is with this view that they are usid in Milton, and our best poets ; where we also find many that are compounded, such as bright-hair'd Vesta, smooth-Jhaven green, cloud-capt towers, vale-dwelling lily, &c. which have a peculiar beauty when
properly applied, as indeed have those that are not compounded when they decorate and illustrate the substantive, or raise some new idea in the mind; but how absurd and ridiculous are many that we meet with in some of the poets ? such, for instance, as watery floods, burning fire, cold ice, arrow-bearing quiver ; which convey nothing to the mind of the reader, and when examined, carry no other meaning than watery water, hot heat, cold cold, arrow bearing arrow-bearer. But even the best epithets may be so frequently used as to overload a discourse, and make it heavy, languid, and disagreeable. A good poem, like a rich dish, consists of many dainties so judiciously mixed, as to form one compound that is perfect and pleasng; no ingredient should predominate ; for too great a portion of any one, however palatable it may be in itself, will rob the rest of their favour. Besides, a luxuriancy of epithets tends to make the style prolix and faccid, and robs it of that strength and force with which every discourse hould be animated; for the shorter and closer the style the stronger. And even where some of the passions are concerned, or the subject is preceptive, and intended to inform the judgment, they are to be used very sparingly; for a redundancy of epithets will here break in upon perspicuity, and render that obscure, which would have been otherwise very plain and intelligible. In confirmation of this opinion, I must beg leave to observe, that the funeral oration of Mark Anthony in Shakespear's Julius Cæfar, which is one of the most artful, pathetic, and best speeches that ever was penned in the English language, has hardly an epithet from the beginning to the end. There are indeed adjectives and participles to the fubftantives, but these are not to be called epithets, since they make up the essential part of the description ; whereas, what we call epithets, are added only by way of ornament and illuflration.
But this is said not with an intention to lessen the reader's elteem for epithets, fince it is certain, that they are most admirably adapted to description, and so effential, to poetry, that the beauty of its style depends in a great meafure on their use, which Homer, Virgil, and the best poets were so fenfible of, that their works abound with them. And in fome places many epithets are joined to the fame substantive without any conjunction between them, and are often thus more elegant and expressive.
An eyeless monfter, hideous, vaft, deform!
THOMSON. What therefore we contend for, is their proper application ; we would have the poet, like a good architect, di.' ftinguish ornament from strength, and put each in its proper place ; for as nothing adds more beauty to a poem than just and ornamental epithets, so nothing gives more grace to a building than windows well decorated ;
but man would for that reason stick his house full of them, and displace those pillars which should support the fabric, to let in more light than is necessary.
The poet indeed, as Quintilian has observed, is here greatly indulged, and may ase these bewitching ornaments more frequently and more freely than the orator ; but both ought to take care that they are not too redundant, for elegance abhors a verbose luxuriance either in prose or verse.
We' come now to speak of tropes and figures, materials which the poet handles very freely; but as we have treated largely of these in our volume of Rhetoric, we shall not take up the reader's time with an illustration of them here : besides, they are perhaps better and more easily obtained from experience than precept; for every one who is conversant with the best authors, and reads them with due attention, cannot be unacquainted with the figures of speech, and the art of applying them, though he never looked for them in the rhetoric of the
schools, or ever heard so much as a definition of their names. Nor will this appear at all mysterious, when we consider, that the works of the antient poets and orators are the gardens from whence these flowers were taken.
Those which the young student will be most liable to err in, are the metaphor, the fimile, and the description, and therefore a few cautions respecting these may be necessary.
Metaphors are always agreeable, and have a good ef. fect when they are drawn from nature, and connect ideas that have a due relation to each other ; but when they are forced, foreign, and obscure, they are altogether as insipid, absurd and ridiculous.
In fimiles or comparisons, the chief and essential parts should bear an exact and true proportion. A small diragreement in a less considerable circumstance, will not indeed spoil the figure; but the more exact the parallel is in every particular, the more perfect and lively it will be ; and therefore fimiles are generally best when short; for, besides that tediousness tires, by running into minute circumftances, you are in danger of discovering some unpleasing disproportion. Similes need not be always drawn from lofty subjects ; for those taken from common things are significant and agreeable, if they are cloathed with proper expressions, and paint in strong and lively colours the things we intend they should represent. In grand subjects, similes that are drawn from lesser things relieve and refresh the mind.
Descriptions, which by historians and orators are used cautiously and through neceffity, either to describe persons, things and places, or to affect the passions, are often in poetry introduced only by way of decoration, and that with success. Great judgment, however, is required in the distribution of this figure. Whether it be intended to move the passions, or to please the fancy, it must answer the end proposed ; and therefore it is never to be admitted but when some point can be obtained. A little wit never betrays himself more than when by attempting to display his genius, he throws in descriptions that have no connection with the subject in hand, and are therefore a dead weight to it. These versifiers are likewise too apt to lay hold of every hint that presents itself, and to run out into long common-places; whereas the man of real genius and
judgment considers that many things must be left to "gratify the imagination of the reader, and therefore cuts off all fuperfluities, however pleasing, and rejects every thing that would seem abrupt and foreign to his subject. He discards likewise all low and vulgar circumstances, and employs his genius in beautifying the essential and more
That painting as well as poetry so much affects us, is chiefly owing to the justness and elegance of description. Pieces of portraiture and history, as well as landscapes, if the figures are nobly designed, and finely executed, if the perspective be good, the lights and shades juft and natural, and the whole bold and free, will always please ; and so it is with poetry, the descriptions in Homer, Virgil
, Milton, and Shakespear, will live for ever, and, like the pieces of Raphael, always feed the imagination with pleasure.
The power of description in poetry is very great, and there is more 'use made of it than is generally imagined; for however the modes of expression have been multiplied, many of them will be found to be little more than descriptions: thus images are descriptions only heightened and animated ; allusions and fimiles, descriptions placed in an opposite point of view ; epithets are generally descriptions of the substantives they precede, or some of their properties ; every metaphor is a short description and comparison united; and the hyperbole is often no more than a description carried beyond the bounds of probability ; and it is chiefly owing to their descriptive power that these figures strike the imaginacion so forcibly, and impress such lively images on the mind.
We are now to speak of the different forts of style, which have been usually divided into the plain, mediate, and sublime. Virgil may be pointed out as a perfect pattern in each, that is to say, his Bucolics have been esteemed for the plain style, his Georgics for the mediate, and the Æneid for the sublime. Though in many parts of each, examples may be seen of them all; for there are few poems of any
merit chat can be wrote in the plain or mediate style only, without partaking of the other ; nor are there any that are in all places sublime. Even the epic poem and the tragedy have their under parts ; common things as well as great