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AKENSIDE is to be considered as a didactic and lyric poet. His great work is the “ Pleasures “of Imagination;" a performance which, published as it was, at the age of twenty-three, raised expectations that were not very amply satisfied. It has undoubtedly a very just claim to very particular notice, as an example of great felicity of genius, and uncommon amplitude of acquisitions, of a young mind stored with images, and much exercised in combining and comparing them.
With the philosophical or religious tenets of the author I have nothing to do ; my business is with his poetry. The subject is well chosen, as it includes all images that can strike or please, and thus comprises every species of poetical delight. The only difficulty is in the choice of examples and illustrations; and it is not easy in such exuberance of matter to find the middle point between penury and satiety. The parts seem artificially disposed, with sufficient coherence, so as that they cannot change their places without injury to the general design.
His images are displayed with such luxuriance of expression, that they are hidden, like Butler's Moon, by a “ Veil of Light;" they are forms fantastically lost under superfluity of dress. Pars minima est ipsa puella sui. The words are multiplied till the sense is hardly perceived; attention deserts the mind, and settles in the ear. The reader wanders through the gay diffusion, sometimes amazed, and sometimes delighted, but, after many turnings in the flowery labyrinth, comes out as he went in. He remarked little, and laid hold on nothing.
To his versification justice requires that praise should not be denied. In the general fabrication of his lines he is perhaps superior to any other writer of blank verse : his flow is smooth, and his pauses are musical; but the concatenation of his verses is commonly too long continued, and the full close does not recur with sufficient frequency. The sense is carried on through a long intertexture of complicated clauses, and, as nothing is distinguished, nothing is remembered.
The exemption which blank verse affords from the necessity of closing the sense with the couplet betrays luxuriant and active minds into such selfindulgence, that they pile image upon image, ornamentupón ornaments, and are easily not persuaded to close the sense at all. Blank verse will therefore, I fear, be too often found in description exuberant, in argument loquacious, and in narration tiresome.
His diction is certainly poetical as it is not prosaick, and elegant as it is not vulgar. He is to be commended as having fewer artifices of disgust than most of his brethren of the blank song. He rarely either recalls old phrases, or twists his metre into harsh inversions. The sense however of his words is strained; when “he views the Ganges from Alpine “ heights ;" that is, from mountains like the Alps. And the pedant surely intrudes, (but when was blank verse without pedantry ?) when he tells how “ Planets absolve the stated round of Time."
It is generally known to the readers of poetry that he intended to revise and augment this work, but died before he had completed his design. The reformed work as he left it, and the additions which he had made, are very properly retained in the late collection. He seems to have somewhat contracted his diffusion; but I know not whether he has gained in closeness what he has lost in splendour. In the additional book, the “ Tale of Solon” is too long.
One great defect of his poem is very properly censured by Mr. Walker, unless it may be said, in his defence, that what he has omitted was not properly in his plan. “ His picture of man is grand “ and beautiful, but unfinished. The immortality “ of the soul, which is the natural consequence of “ the appetites and powers she is invested with, is “scarcely once hinted throughout the poem. This “ deficiency is amply supplied by the masterly “pencil of Dr. Young; who, like a good philo
sopher, has invincibly proved the immortality of man, from the grandeur of his conceptions, and “the meanness and misery of his state ; for this
reason, a few passages are selected from the
• Night Thoughts,' which, with those from Aken“ side, seem to form a complete view of the powers, “ situation, and end of man.” • Exercises for Improvement in Elocution,' p. 66.
His other poems are now to be considered; but a short consideration will dispatch them. It is not easy to guess why he addicted himself so diligently to lyric poetry, having neither the ease and airiness of the lighter, nor the vehemence and elevation of the grander ode. When he lays his ill-fated hand upon his harp, his former powers seem to desert him; he has no longer his luxuriance of expression, nor variety of images. His thoughts are cold, and his words inelegant. Yet such was his love of lyrics, that, having written with great vigour and poignancy his “ Epistle to Curio,” he transformed it afterwards into an ode disgraceful only to its author.
Of his odes nothing favourable can be said ; the sentiments commonly want force, nature, or novelty; the diction is sometimes harsh and uncouth, the stanzas ill-constructed and unpleasant, and the rhymes dissonant, or unskilfully disposed, too distant from each other, or arranged with too little regard to established use, and therefore perplexing to the ear, which in a short composition has not time to grow familiar with an innovation.
To examine such compositions singly cannot be required ; they have doubtless brighter and darker parts: but, when they are once found to be generally dull, all further labour may be spared; for to what use can the work be criticised that will not be read?
HOMAS GRAY, the son of Mr. Philip Gray, a scrivener of London, was born in Cornhill, November 26, 1716. His grammatical education he received at Eton under the care of Mr. Antrobus, his mother's brother, then assistant to Dr. George ; and when he left school, in 1734, entered a pensioner at Peterhouse in Cambridge.
The transition from the school to the college is, to most young scholars, the time from which they date their years of manhood, liberty, and happiness; but Gray seems to have been very little delighted with academical gratifications; he liked at Cambridge neither the mode of life nor the fashion of study, and lived sullenly on to the time when his attendance on lectures was no longer required. As he intended to profess the Common Law, he took no degree.
When he had been at Cambridge about five years, Mr. Horace Walpole, whose friendship he had gained at Eton, invited him to travel with him as his companion. They wandered through France into Italy; and Gray's Letters contain a very pleas