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greater number of his ideas and nervous epithets cannot, strictly speaking, be called his own; therefore, however we may be charmed by the grandeur of his images, or the felicity of his expression, we must still bear in our recollection, that we cannot with justice bestow upon him the highest eulogium of genius—that of originalty.
It has, with much justice, been observed, that Pope, and his imitators, have introduced a species of refinement into our language, which has banished that nerve and pathos for which Milton had rendered it eminent. Harmonious modulations, and unvarying exactness of measure, totally precluding sublimity and fire, have reduced our fashionable poetry to mere sing-song.
But Thomas Warton, whose taste was unvitiated by the frivolities of the day, immediately saw the intrinsic worth of what the world then slighted. He saw that the ancient poets contained a fund of strength, and beauty of imagery, as well as diction, which, in the hands of genius, would shine forth with redoubled lustre. Entirely rejecting, therefore, modern niceties, he extracted the honied sweets from these beautiful, though neglected flowers. Every grace of sentiment, every poetical term, which a false taste had rendered obsolete, was by him revived and made to grace his own ideas; and though many will condemn him as guilty of plagiarism, yet few will be able to withhold the tribute of their praise.
The peculiar forte of Warton seems to have been in the sombre descriptive. The wild airy flights of a Spenser, the chivalrous feats of barons bold,' or the . cloister'd solitude,' were the favourites of his mind. Of this his bent he informs us in the following lines:
Through Pope's soft song, though all the graces breathe,
Yet does my mind with sweeter transport glow,
Pleasures of Melancholy. Warton's mind was formed for the grand and the sublime. Were his imitations less verbal, and less numerous, I should be led to imagine that the peculiar beauties of his favourite authors had sunk so impressively into his mind, that he had unwittingly appropriated them as his own; but they are in general such as to preclude the idea.
To the metrical and other intrinsic ornaments of style, he appears to have paid due attention. If we meet with an uncouth expression, we immediately perceive that it is peculiarly appropriate, and that no other term could have been made use of with so happy, an effect. His poems abound with alliterative lines. Indeed, this figure seems to have been his favourite; and he studiously seeks every opportunity to introduce it: however, it must be acknowledged, that his daisydappled dales,' &c. occur too frequently.
The poem on which Warton's fame (as a poet) principally rests, is, the Pleasures of Melancholy;' and (uotwithstanding the perpetual recurrence of ideas which are borrowed from other poets) there are few pieces which I have perused with more exquisite gratification. The gloomy tints with which he overcasts lois descriptions; his highly figurative language; and, above all, the antique air which the poem wears, convey the most sublime ideas to the mind.
* Belinda. Vide Pope's Rape of the Lock.
Of the other pieces of this poet, some are excellent, and they all rise above mediocrity. In his sonnets, he has succeeded wonderfully; that written at Winslade, and the one to the river Lodon, are peculiarly beautiful, and that to Mr. Gray is most elegantly turned. The 'Ode on the Approach of Summer' is replete with genius and poetic fire; and even over the Birth-day Odes, which he wrote as poet-laureat, his genius has cast energy and beauty. His humorous pieces and satires abound in wit; and, in short, taking him altogether, he is an ornament to our country and our language; and it is to be regretted, that the profusion with which he has made use of the beauties of other poets, should have given room for censure.
I should have closed my short, and, I fear, jejune essay on Warton, but that I wished to hint to your truly elegant and acute Stamford correspondent, Octavius Gilchrist (whose future remarks on Warton's imitations I await with considerable impatience), that the passage in the Pleasures of Melancholy,
or ghostly shape,
Thy lonesome steps,' which he supposes to be taken from the following in Comus
*Of calling shapes, and beck’ning shadows dire,
And airy tongues that syllable men's names,' is more probably taken from the commencement of Pope's Elegy on an unfortunate Lady
•What beck’ning ghost, along the moonlight shade
The original idea was possibly taken from Comus by Pope, from whom Warton, to all appearance, again borrowed it.
Were the similarity of the passage in Gray to that in Warton less striking and verbal, I should be inclined to think it only a remarkable coincidence; for Gray's biographers inform us, that he commenced his elegy in 1742, and that it was completed in 1744, being the year which he particularly devoted to the muses, though he did not put the finishing stroke to it until 1750. The Pleasures of Melancholy were published in 4to. in 1747; therefore Gray might take his third stanza from Warton; but it is rather extraordinary, that the third stanza of a poem should be taken from another, published five years after that poem was begun, and three after it was understood to be completed. One circumstance, however, seems to render the supposition of its being a plagiarism somewhat more probable, which is, that the stanza in question is not essential to the connexion of the succeeding and antecedent verses; there. fore it might have been added by Gray, when he put the finishing stroke' to his piece in 1750.
CURSORY REMARKS ON TRAGEDY.
The pleasure which is derived from the representation of an affecting tragedy, has often been the subject of inquiry among philosophical critics, as a singular phenomenon. That the mind should receive gratification from the excitement of those passions which are in themselves painful, is really an extraordinary paradox, and is the more inexplicable, since, when the same means are employed to rouse the more pleasing affections, no adequate effect is produced.
In order to solve this problem, many ingenious hypotheses have been invented. The Abbé Du Bos tells us, that the mind has such a natural antipathy to a state of listlessness and nguor, as to render the transition from it to a state of exertion, even though by rousing passions in themselves painful, as in the instance of tragedy, a positive pleasure. Monsieur Fontenelle has given us a more satisfactory account. He tells us that pleasure and pain, two sentiments so different in themselves, do not differ so much in their cause;-that pleasure, carried too far, becomes pain; and pain, a little moderated, becomes pleasure. Hence that the pleasure we derive from tragedy is a pleasing sorrow, a modulated pain. David Hume, who has also written upon this subject, unites the two systems, with this addition, that the painful emotions excited by the representation of melancholy scenes, are farther tempered, and the pleasure is proportionably heightened by the eloquence displayed in the relation-the art shewn in collecting the pathetic circumstances, and the judgment evinced in their happy disposition.
But even now I do not conceive the difficulty to be satisfactorily done away. Admitting the postulatum which the Abbé Du Bos assumes, that languor is so disagreeable to the mind, as to render its removal positive pleasure, to be true; yet, when we recollect, as Mr. Hume has before observed, that were the same objects of distress which give us pleasure in tragedy, set before our eyes in reality, though they would effectually remove listlessness, they would excite the most unfeigned uneasiness, we shall hesitate in applying this solution in its full extent to the present subject.