ページの画像
PDF
ePub

tendency, pass more and more fowly through every successive interval of space.

Unhappily this pernicious failure is that which an author is leaft able to discover. We are seldom tirefome to ourselves ; and the act of composition fills and delights the mind with change of language and succeffion of images ; every couplet when produced is ñew, and novelty is the great source of pleasure. Perhaps no man ever thought a line superfluous when he first wrote it, or contracted his work till his ebulli, tions of invention had subsided. And even if he should controul his desire of immediate renown, and keep his work nine years unpublished, he will be still the author, and still in danger of deceiving himself; and if he consults his friends, he will probably find men who have more kindness than judgement, or more fear to offend thañ desire to instruct.

The tediousness of this poem proceeds not from the uniformity of the subject, for it is sufficiently diversified, but from the continued tenour of the narration; in which Solomon relates the successive viciffitudes of his own mind, without the intervention of. any

other speaker, or the mention of any other agent, unless it be Abra; the reader is only to learn what he thought, and to be told that he thought wrong. The event of every experiment is foreseen, and therefore the process is not much regarded."

Yet the work is far from deserving to be neglected. He that shall peruse it will be able to mark many pasfages, to which he may recur for instruction or delight; many from which the poet may learn to write, and the philofopher to reason.

If Prior's poetry be generally considered, his praise will be that of correctness and industry, rather than of compass of comprehension, or activity of fancy. He never made any effort of invention : his greater pieces are only tissues of common thoughts; and his smaller, which consist of light images or single conceits, are not always his own. I have traced him among the French Epigrammatists, and have been informed that he poached for prey among obscure authors. . The Thief and the Cordelier is, I suppose, generally considered as an original production; with how much justice this Epigram mạy tell, which was written by Georgius Sabinus, a poet now little known or read, though once the friend of Luther and Melancthon :

De Sacerdote Furem consolante.
Quidam facrificus furem comitatus euntem

Huc ubi dat fontes carnificina neci,
Ne sis mceftus, ait ; fumni conviva Tonantis

Jam cum coelitibus (I modo credis) cris.
Ille gemens, fi vera mihi folatia præbes,

Hofpes apud fuperos fis meus oro, refert.
Sacrisicus contra; mihi non convivia fas eft

Ducere, jejunans hac edo luce nihil *. What he has valuable he owes to his diligence and his judgement. His diligence has justly placed him

* The epigram in the text is not the only one to which Prior appears to have been indebted on this occasion, for in Owen's col. lection of Epigrams I meet with the following, which evidently fupplied Prior with a hint, of which he has not failed to avail himself.

De Bardella, latrone Mantuano.
Bardellam monachus solans in morte latronem,

Euge, tibi in Cælo cæna paratur, ait.
Refpondit Bardella ; Hodie jejunia fervo;
Cænabis noftro, fi lubet, ipfe loco.
L 4

amongst

amongst the most correct of the English poets ; and he was one of the first that resolutely endeavoured at correctness. He never facrifices accuracy to hafte, nor indulges himself in contemptuous negligence, or impatient idleness; he has no careless lines, or entangled sentiments; his words are nicely selected, and his thoughts fully expanded. If this part of his character suffers any abatement, it must be from the disproportion of his rhymes, which have not always sufficient consonance, and from the admission of broken lines into his Solomon ; but perhaps he thought, like Cowley, that heinistichs ought to be admitted into heroic poetry.

He had apparently such rectitude of judgement as fecured him from every thing that approached to the ridiculous or absurd; but as laws operate in civil agency not to the excitement of virtue, but the repression of wickedness, so judgement in the operations of intellect can hinder faults, but not produce excellence. Prior is never low, nor very often sublime. It is said by Longinus of Euripides, that he forces himself sometimes into grandeur by violence of effort, as the lion kindles his fury by the lashes of his own țail. Whatever Prior obtains above mediocrity seems the effort of struggle and of toil. He has many vigorous but few happy lines ; he has every thing by purchase, and nothing by gift; he had no nightly visitations of the Muse, no infutions of sentiment or felicities of fancy.

His diction, however, is more his own than that of any among the successors of Dryden; he borrows no lucky turns, or commodious modes of language, from his predecesors. His phrases are original, but

they are sometimes harsh ; as he inherited no elegances, none has he bequeathed. His expression has every mark of laborious study; the line seldom seems to have been formed at once ; the words did not come till they were called, and were then put by constraint into their places, where they do their duty, but do it fullenly. In his greater compositions there may be found more rigid stateliness than graceful dignity.

Of versification he was not negligent : 'what he received from Dryden he did not lose; neither did he increase the difficulty of writing by unnecessary severity, but uses Triplets and Alexandrines without scruple. In his preface to Solomon he proposes fome improvements, by extending the sense from one couplet to another, with variety of pauses. This he has attempted, but without fuccess; his interrupted lines are unpleasing, and his sense as lefs distinct is less striking

He has altered the Stanza of Spenser, as a house is altered by building another in its place of a different form. With how little resemblance he has formed his new Stanza to that of his master, these specimens will fhew.

SPENSER
She flying fast from heaven's hated face,
And from the world that her discover'd wide,
Fled to the wasteful wilderness

арасе, ,
Froin living eyes her open shame to hide,
And lurk’d in rocks and caves long unespy'd,
But that fair crew of knights, and Una fair,
Did in that castle afterwards abide,
To rest themselves, and weary powers repair,
Where store they found of all, that dainty was and rarc.

PRIOR.
To the close rock the frighted raven flies,
Soon as the rising eagle cuts the air :
The shaggy wolf unseen and trembling lies,
When the hoarse roar proclaims the lion near.
Ill-starr'd did we our forts and lines forsake,
To dare our British foes to open fight :
Our conqueft we by stratagem should make :
Qur triumph had been founded in our flight.
'Tis ours, by craft and by surprise to gain :
'Tis theirs, to meet in arms, and battle in the plain.

By this new structure of his lines he has avoided difficulties; nor am I sure that he has lost any of the power of pleasing; but he ng longer imitates Spenser.

Some of his poems are written without regularity of measures; for when he commenced poet, he had not recovered from our Pindarick infatuation; but he probably lived to be convinced, that the effence of verse is order and consonance.

His numbers are such as mere diligence may attain; they seldom offend the ear, and seldom footh it; they commonly want airiness, lightness, and facility; what is smooth, is not soft, His verses always roll, but they feldom flow,

A survey of the life and writings of Prior may exemplify a sentence which he doubtless understood well, when he read Horace at his uncle's; the vessel long retains the scent which it first receives. In his private relaxation he revived the tavern, and in his amorous pedantry he exhibited the college. But on higher occafions and nobler subjects, when habit was overpowered by the necessity of reflection, he wanted not wisdom as a statesman, nor elegance as a poet.

« 前へ次へ »