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To select a singular event; and swell it to a giant's bulk by fabulous appendages of spectres and predictions, has little difficulty; for he that forsakes the probable may always find the marvellous. And it has little use; we are affected only as we believe; we are improved only as we find something to be imitated or declined. I do not see that “ The Bard” promotes any truth, moral or political
His stanzas are too long, especially his epodes; the ode is finished before the ear has learned its measures, and consequently before it can receive pleasure from their consonance and recurrence.
Of the first stanza the abrupt beginning has been celebrated; but technical beauties can give praise only to the inventor. It is in the power of any mau to rush abruptly upon his subject, that has read the ballad of Johnny Armstrong,
Is there ever a man in all Scotland The initial resemblances, or alliterations, “ ruin, ruthless, helm or hauberk,” are below the grandeur of a poem that endeavours at sublimity.
In the second stanza the Bard is well described ; but in the third we have the puerilities of obsolete mythology. When we are told that “Cadwallo hush'd the stormy main,” and that “ Modred made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topp'd head," atten. tion recoils from the repetition of a tale that, even when it was first heard, was heard with scorn.
The weaving of the winding-sheet he borrowed, as he owns, from the Northern Bards; but their texture, however, was very properly the work of
female powers, as the act of spinning the thread of life in another mythology. Theft is always dangerous; Gray has made weavers of slaughtered bards by a fiction outrageous and incongruous. They are then called upon to “ Weave the warp, and weave the woof,” perhaps with no great propriety; for it is by crossing the woof with the warp that men weave the web or piece; and the first line was dearly bought by the admission of its wretched correspondent, “ Give ample room and verge enough*.” He has, however, no other line as bad.
The third stanza of the second ternary is commended, I think, beyond its merit. The personification is indistinct. Thirst and Hunger are not alike; and their features, to make the imagery perfect, should have been discriminated. We are told, in the same stanza, how towers are fed. But I will no longer look for particular faults; yet let it be observed that the ode might have been concluded with an action of better example; but suicide is always to be had, without expence of thought.
These odes are marked by glittering accumulations of ungraceful ornaments; they strike, rather than please; the images are magnified by affectation; the language is laboured into harshness. The mind of the writer seems to work with unnatural violence. “ Double, double, toil and trouble.” He has a kind of strutting dignity, and is tall by walking on tiptoe. . " I have a soul, that like an ample shield . Can take in all; and rerge enough for more."
His art and his struggle are too visible, and there is too little appearance of ease and nature.*
To say that he has no beauties, would be unjust : a man like him, of great learning and great industry, could not but produce something valuable. When he pleases least, it can only be said that a good design was ill directed.
His translations of Northern and Welsh Poetry deserve praise; the imagery is preserved, perhaps often improved; but the language is unlike the language of other poets.
In the character of his Elegy I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours. The “ Church-yard” abounds with images which find a mirrour in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo. The four stanzas beginning “ Yet even these bones," are to me original: I have never seen the notions in any other place; yet he that reads them here persuades himself that he has always felt them. Had Gray written often thus, it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise him,
* Lord Orford used to assert, that Gray“ never wrote any “ thing easily, but things of humour;" and added, that humour was his natural and original turn. C.
GEORGE LYTTELTON, the son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, of Hagley in Worcestershire, was born in 1709. He was educated at Eton, where he was so much distinguished, that his exercises were recommended as models to his school-fellows.
From Eton he went to Christ Church, where he retained the same reputation of superiority, and displayed his abilities to the publick in a poem on Blenheim.”
He was a very early writer, both in verse and prose. His “ Progress of Love,” and his “ Persian Letters,” were both written when he was very young; and indeed the character of a young man is very visible in both. The Verses cant of shepherds and flocks, and crooks dressed with flowers; and the Letters have something of that indistinct and headstrong ardour for liberty which a man of genius al. ways catches when he enters the world, and always suffers to cool as he passes forward.
He staid not long at Oxford; for in 1728 he began his travels, and saw France and Italy. When he returned, he obtained a seat in Parliament, and soon distinguished himself among the most eager opponents of Sir Robert Walpole, though his father, who was a Commissioner of the Admiralty, always voted with the Court.
For many years the name of George Lyttelton was seen in every account of every debate in the House of Commons. He opposed the standing army; he opposed the excise; he supported the motion for petitioning the King to remove Walpole. His zeal was considered by the courtiers not only as violent, but as acrimonious and malignant; and, when Walpole was at last hunted from his places, every effort was made by his friends, and many friends he had, to exclude Lyttelton from the Secret Committee.
The Prince of Wales, being (1737) driven from St. James's, kept a separate court, and opened his arms to the opponents of the ministry. Mr. Lyttelton became his secretary, and was supposed to have great influence in the direction of his conduct. He persuaded his master, whose business it was now to be popular, that he would advance his character by patronage. Mallet was made under-secretary, with 2001.; and Thomson had a pension of 1001. a year. For Thomson Lyttelton always retained his kindness, and was able at last to place him at ease. :Moore courted his favour by an apologetical poem,
called “ The Trial of Selim ;" for which he was paid with kind words, which, as is common, raised great hopes, that were at last disappointed.