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in other words, in a command of ideas founded on extraordinary habits of association. Even some authors of a superior class, occasionally show an inclination to display their knack at rhyming, by introducing at the end of the first line of a couplet, some word to which the language hardly affords a corresponding sound. Swift, in his more trifling pieces, abounds with instances of this; and in Hudibras, when the author uses his double and triple rhymes, many couplets have no merit whatever but what arises from difficulty of execution.
The pleasure we receive from rhyme in serious compositions, arises from a combination of different circumstances which my present subject does not lead me to investigate particularly.* I am persuaded, however, that it arises, in part, from our surprise at the poet's habits of association, which enable him to convey his thoughts with case and beauty, notwithstanding the narrow limits within which his choice of expression is confined. One proof of this is, that if there appear any mark of constraint, either in the ideas or in the expression, our pleasure is proportionally diminished. The thoughts must seem to suggest each other, and the rhymes to be only an accidental circumstance. The same remark may be made on the measure of the verse. When in its greatest perfection, it does not appear to be the result of labor, but to be dictated by nature, or prompted by inspiration. In Pope's best verses, the idea is expressed with as little inversion of style, and with as much conciseness, precision, and propriety, as the author could have attained, had he been writing prose: without any apparent exertion on his part, the words seem spontaneously to arrange themselves in the most musical numbers.
6. While still a child, nor yet a fool to fame,
I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came."
This facility of versification, it is true, may be, and probably is, in most cases, only apparent: and it is reasonable to think, that in the most perfect poetical productions, not only the choice of words, but the choice of ideas, is influenced by the rhymes. In a prose
In elegiac poetry, the recurrence of the same sound, and the uniformity in the structure of the versification which this necessarily occasions, are peculiarly suited to the inactivity of the mind, and to the slow and equable succession of its ideas, when under the influence of tender or melancholy passions; and accordingly, in such cases, even the Latin poets, though the genius of their language be very ill fitted for compositions in rhyme, occasionally indulge themselves in something very nearly approaching to it:
« Memnona si mater, mater ploravit Achillem,
Et tangant tristia fata Deas;
Many other instances of the same kind might be produced from the elegiac verses of Ovid and Tibullus.
composition, the author holds on in a direct course, according to the plan he has previously formed; but in a poem, the rhymes which occur to him are perpetually diverting him to the right hand or to the left, by suggesting ideas which do not naturally rise out of his subject. This, I presume, is Butler's meaning in the following couplet :
“ Rhymes the rudder are of verses
With which, like ships, they steer their courses.”
But although this may be the case in fact, the poet must employ all his art to conceal it: insomuch that if he finds himself under a necessity to introduce, on account of the rhymes, a superfluous idea, or an awkward expression, he must place it in the first line of the couplet, and not in the second; for the reader, naturally presuming that the lines were composed in the order in which the author arranges them, is more apt io suspect the second line to be accommodated to the first, than the first to the second. And this slight artifice is, in general, sufficient to impose on that degree of attention with which poetry is read. Who can doubt that, in the following lines, Pope wrote the first for the sake of the second ?
“ A wit's a feather, and a chief a rod;
An honest man's the noblest work of God."
Were the first of these lines, or a line equally unmeaning, placed last, the couplet would have appeared execrable to a person of the most moderate taste.*
It affords a strong confirmation of the foregoing observations, that the poets of some nations have delighted in the practice of alliteration, as well as of rhyme; and have ever considered it as an essential circumstance in versification. Dr. Beattie observes, that “some ancient English poems are more distinguished by alliteration, than by any other poetical contrivance. In the works of Langland, even when no regard is had to rhyme, and but little to a rude sort of anapestic measure, it seems to have been a rule, that three words, at least, of each line should begin with the same let
To these artifices or tricks, which I suspect are occasionally practised by our best versifiers, Voltaire has alluded with much pleasantry in a short satirical performance entitled Epitre à Boileau, 1769.
“ Boileau, correct auteur de quelques bons écrits,
Zoile de Quinault, et flatteur de Louis ;
Qui chez toi, pour rimer planta le chèvre-feuille," &c. Notwithstanding the injustice towards Boileau in the general spirit of this performance, it must, I think, be acknowledged, that the following exordium of one of his epistles goes far to justify the foregoing sarcasm.
“ Antoine, gouverneur de mon jardin d'Autueil,
Qui dirige chez moi l'if et le chèvre-feuille.”
A late author informs us, that, in the Icelandic poetry, alliteration is considered as a circumstance no less essential than rhyme.* He mentions also several other restraints, wbich must add wonderfully to the difficulty of versification; and which appear to us to be perfectly arbitrary and capricious. If that really be the case, the whole pleasure of the reader or hearer arises from his surprise at the facility of the poet's composition under these complicated restraints; that is, from his surprise at the command which the poet has acquired over his thoughts and expressions. In our rhyme, I acknowledge, that the coincidence of sound is agreeable in itself; and only affirm, that the pleasure which the ear receives froin it, is heightened by the other consideration.
III Of Poetical Fancy.
There is another habit of association, which, in some men, is very remarkable; that which is the foundation of poetical fancy : a talent which agrees with wit in some circumstances, but which differs from it essentially in others.
The pleasure we receive from wit, agrees in one particular with the pleasure which arises from poetical allusions; that in both cases we are pleased with contemplating an analogy between two different subjects. But they differ in this, that the man of wit has no other aim than to combine analogous ideas ;t whereas no allusion can, with propriety, have a place in serious poetry unless it either illustrate or adorn the principal subject. If it has both these recommendations, the allusion is perfect. If it has neither, as is often the case with the allusions of Cowley and of Young, the fancy of the poet degenerates into wit.
If these observations be well founded, they suggest a rule with respect to poetical allusions, which has not always been sufficiently attended to. It frequently happens, that two subjects bear an analogy to each other in more respects than one ; and where such can be found, they undoubtedly furnish the most favorable of all occasions for the display of wit. But, in serious poetry, I am inclined to think, that however striking these analogies may be ; and although each of them might with propriety, be made the foundation of a separate allusion; it is improper, in the course of the same allusion, to include more than one of them; as, by doing so, an author discovers an affectation of wit, or a desire of tracing analogies, instead of illustrating or adorning the subject of his composition.
* “ The Icelandic poetry requires two things; viz. words with the same initial letters, and words of the same sound. It was divided into stanzas, each of which consisted of four couplets; and each of these couplets was again composed of two hemistichs, of which every one contained six syllables; and it was not allowed to augment this number, except in cases of the greatest necessity.” See Van Troil's Letters on Iceland, p. 208.
1 I speak here of pure and unmixed wit; and not of wit, blended, as it is most commonly, with some degree of humor.
I formerly defined fancy to be a power of associating ideas according to relations of resemblance and analogy. This definition will probably be thought too general; and to approach too near to that given of wit. In order to discover the necessary limitations; we shall consider what the circumstances are, which please us in poetical allusions. As these allusions are suggested by sancy, and are the most striking instances in which it displays itself, the received rules of critics with respect to them, may throw some light on the mental power which gives them birth.
1. An allusion pleases, by illustrating a subject comparatively obscure. Hence, I apprehend, it will be found that allusions from the intellectual world to the material, are more pleasing, than from the material world to the intellectual. Mason, in his Ode to Memory, compares the influence of that faculty over our ideas, to the authority of a general over his troops:
" thou, whose sway
Would the allusion have been equally pleasing, from a general marshalling his soldiers, to memory and the succession of ideas?
The effect of a literal and spiritless translation of a work of genius, has been compared to that of the figures which we see, when we look at the wrong side of a beautiful piece of tapestryt. The allusion is ingenious and happy; but the pleasure which we receive from it arises, not merely from the analogy which it presents to us, but from the illustration which it affords of the author's idea. No one, surely, in speaking of a piece of tapestry, would think of comparing the difference between its sides, to that between an original composition and a literal translation !
* In the following stanza of Shenstone, for example,
“How pale was then his true-love's cheek
When Jemmy's sentence reached her ear!
So pale, or yet so chill appear ;"
the double allusion unquestionably borders on conceit. The same double allusion occurs in the translation of Mallet's " William and Margaret,” by Vincent Bourne,
“ Candidior nive, frigidiorque manus."
How inferior in pathetic simplicity to the original,
And clay cold was the lily hand, &c. That Shenstone himself considered these double allusions as more allied to wit than to the language of serious passion, appears from the style of poetry ascribed to Paridel in the Pastoral Ballad.
“ 'Tis his with mock passion to glow;
"Tis his in smoothi tales to unfold, How her face is as bright as the snow, And her bosom, be sure, is as cold.”
Mr. Addison's opinion is of still higher value. “When a poet tells us, the bosom of his mistress is as white as snow, there is no wit in the comparison; but when he adds, with a sigh, that it is as cold too, it then grows into wit."-(Spectator No. LXII.)
| "For all that, I cannot but be of opinion, that translating out of one language into another, unless it be from those queens of the languages, Greek and Latin, is like sitting to view the wrong side of a piece of tapestry, where, though the figures are seen, they are full of ends and threads, which obscure them, and are not seen with the smoothness and evenness of the right side."-Don Quirote, Chap. Ixii. (Jarvis's Translation.)
Cicero, and after him Mr. Locke, in illustrating the difficulty of attending to the subjects of our consciousness, have compared the. mind to the eye, which sees every object around it, but is invisible to itself. To have compared the eye, in this respect, to the mind, would have been absurd.
Mr. Pope's comparison of the progress of youthful curiosity, in the pursuits of science, to that of a traveller among the Alps, has been much, and justly, admired. How would the beauty of the allusion have been diminished, if the Alps had furnished the original subject, and not the illustration !
But although this rule holds, in general, I acknowledge, that instances may be produced, from our most celebrated poetical performances, of allusions from material objects, both to the intellectual and the moral worlds. These, however, are comparatively few in number, and are not to be found in descriptive or in didactic works; but in compositions written under the influence of some particular passion, or which are meant to express some peculiarity in the mind of the author. Thus, a melancholy man, who has met with many misfortunes in life, will be apt to moralize on every physical event, and every appearance of nature; because his attention dwells more habitually on human life and conduct, than on the material objects around him. This is the case with the banished Duke, in Shakspeare's As you like it; who, in the language of that poet, ,
“Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.' But this is plainly a distempered state of the mind; and the allusions please, not so much by the analogies they present, as by the picture they give of the character of the person to whom they have occurred.
2. An allusion pleases, by presenting a new and beautiful image to the mind. The analogy or the resemblance between this image and the principal subject, is agreeable of itself, and is indeed necessary, to furnish an apology for the transition which the writer makes, but the pleasure is wonderfully heightened, when the new image thus presented is a beautiful one. The following allusion, in one of Mr. Home's tragedies, appears to me to unite almost every excellence :