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eloquence, earnest aspect, and devout air of St. Paul preaching, or to contemplate the various shapes and characters of attention, contrition, shame, confusion, admiration, and complacency, so perfectly expressed in the several faces of the audience, and not be touched with the like passions?
I shall dismiss this head, when I have observed that the painter and the poet have many peculiar advantages to make men wiser and better, by conveying excellent sentiments, and exciting generous passions ; yet the spectators of one, and the readers of the other, are for the most part so entirely taken up with the art and beauty of the pieces, that they seldom attend to the moral instruction; whence it comes to pass, that these masters have many admirers, and but few converts.
The pieces of great artists, by the improvements they receive from time, are heightened in their value; and many painters have been admired and applauded in after-ages, who were neglected and decried while they lived. Corregio's pictures are now celebrated among the most excellent works of that art; yet in his life-time they were so little regarded, that the author wanted bread, with one of the best pencils of Europe in his hand.
Mr. Dryden, in his verses to Sir Godfrey Kneller, has beautifully expressed the advan, tages that good pictures receive from age :
For Time shall with his ready pencil stand,
This last observation indeed cannot be exactly applied to poetry, since time often obscures rather than beautifies the diction of the poet: yet the other part of the parallel holds; and it is a common remark, that many eminent poets are less valued by their contemporaries than by posterity. There cannot be a more evident demonstration of this, than the fate of our great Milton, whose poem, which is justly now acknowledged to be the most admirable production of British genius, lay many years, to the great dishonour of that age, unread, and little respected. After ages, who are free from the delusions of faction, envy, and personal dislike, will impartially judge of poems, and decree them the esteem due to that merit, which the passions of the times in which the authors lived would not suffer contemporaries
to discern, or to acknowledge. When disinterested posterity holds the balance of justice to weigh the real worth of a poem, it will first refine and purify it from all the allay cast in by malevolence and detraction; as, on the other hand, it will efface all ungenuine and adventitious beauty imparted to it by the indulgence of friends, or the zeal of a designing party; and when the merit of such a writing, being freed from unnatural mixtures, shall be reduced to a standard fineness, and put into equal scales, it will pass like the coins of princes in foreign countries, only by intrinsic weight and purity. Posterity will infallibly assert their liberty of judging for themselves, and 'tis certain their determination will be impartial; which, if the passions of human nature are considered, is impracticable before.
The painter sometimes debases the dignity of his art, shocks the modest spectator by the immorality of his pieces, and transmits by the eye, which is the most warm and immediate manner of conveyance, impure ideas to the mind. 'Tis surprising to observe in some collections that adorn our rooms, the ranging and order of the pictures: here you behold a devout martyr in the agonies of death, and next to it a lascivious Jupiter; in one place a penitent Magdalene dissolved in tears, and not far off a naked Venus: which is just as if one should see in a lady's closet, an obscene author and a prayer-book lying together; or, which is frequent among us, poems of devotion and wanton sonnets, hymns to the Supreme Being and praises to Cupid, huddled together in the same inconsist. ent volume.
The comic writers, and the petulant versifiers, often prostitute their genius no less than the painter; and, to court the favour of those who espouse the interest of vice and impiety, break through the restraints of good sense and decency, and often entertain the audience at the expence of religion, virtue, and innocence.
LAY-MONASTERY, No. 32, Jan. 27, 1713, No. VII.
Si veteres ita miratur laudatque poetas,
If so “ is” prais'd each ancient poet's song,
There are no parts in a poem which strike the generality of readers with so much pleasure as descriptions; and there are none in which poets of an ordinary rank are more frequently betrayed into faults. A judicious description is like a face which is beautiful without art; an injudicious one is like a painted complexion, which often discovers itself by affecting more gaite yof colour than is natural.
The reason why descriptions make livelier impressions on common readers than any other parts of a poem, is because they are formed of ideas drawn from the senses, which is sometimes too called imaging, and are thus in a manner, like pictures, made objects of the sight: whereas, moral thoughts and discourses, consisting of ideas abstracted from sense, operate slower