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ERSIFICATION may properly be confi
dered as the style of poetry, or the art of composition in metre; and though the taste or mental perception of beauty or deformity is in this case affected by still more lively emotions of disgust or admiration than prose has power to excite, the ultimate causes of those emotions are eriveloped in exactly the fame degree of darkness and obfcurity. It is indeed perhaps somewhat more easy to lay down rules or reasons by which we are supposed to be influenced in forming our judgments respecting the beauty of style in poetry than in profe: but if we pretend to advance a single step farther, we have only the mortification to discover, that the rules which the most sagacious critics have Jaboured to establish, resolve themselves into this one fundamental and arbitrary dictate of nature, Such is our pleasure. For instance, the following canons of criticisin may, for aught I know, be as judicious, and of as much real utility, as any belonging to the Code. ist, That Versification, in order to please, must be fmooth and harmoniQus, exact without stiffness, and easy without neg
gligence. 2dly, That uniformity should be blenda ed with variety; and, while the first is observed in adhering to the same precise number of poetical feet in each verse or stanza, the latter should be studied in the pauses, cadences, and accents. 3dly, That the found should, as far as possible, be made to coincide with the sense, from which coincidencearises what is called imitativeharmony; and, in general, that the emotion excited by the tone of the verse should accord with the emotion excited by the sentiment expressed, or the object described. It were not difficulty to add a multitude of rules of the same kind, and to exemplify the rules by an induction of particular passages, and to expatiate very learnedly upon each ; or it were equally easy to quote passages without end, and to point out beauties without number, and to support our opinion by a reference to the same rules, which would in that case be converted into reasons. By these ingenious contrivances, accompanied with a peculiar air of importance and self-complacency, Lord Kaims has acquired, with many, the reputation of a profound critic; but I never could perceive for my own part that any great addition was made to real knowledge by this sort of information ; though I must in justice to his Lordship acknowledge, that in his elaborate work are occasionally interspersed many acute and sagacious observations. With regard to the few reflections I have to offer, I chuse to make my appeal rather to the taste than the reason of the reader, because these
are subjects which seem to me properly to come within the jurisdiction of taste ; for either the rules themselves are liable to suspicion, as not fufficiently confirmed by fact and experience, or if they are universally received as true, it is not the less difficuļt to demonstrate that they have their origin and foundation in reason. Why do we prefer, for instance, the imitations of Dr. Donne's Satires by Pope to the originals ? because it may be said they are far more musical and harmonious. But why do we prefer the musical and harmonious Versification of the former, to the harsh and rugged numbers of the latter ? Here we are at a stand, and the preference resolves itself into a mere matter of taste, without the shadow of a reason on which to ground that preference. Is it not then better, without making an empty parade of knowledge which we do not really possess, at once to confess our ignorance and inability to account for those sensations of pleasure which we derive from these sources, than vainly to attempt to reduce those feelings to the dominion of reason, which refuse to acknowledge any authority but that of taste.
I do not, however, pretend to assert, that because the end of poetry is to please, and because it is by an appeal to taste, and not to reafon, that the question must be decided, whether that end is actually attained; I say, I do not therefore assert, that all rules of poetical compofition are to be decried as impertinent or useless this would be running into a very absurd ex
treme. As there is a certain degree of uniformitỹ in our mental feelings and perceptions, there cer, tainly is a foundation for that uniformity ; and it is both entertaining and instructive, by any fair process of induction, to point out the immediate, though we cannot trace the ultimate, causes of those uniform emotions of disgust or admiration, which is in effect to point out the means of avoiding or exciting them; or, in other words, it is to establish certain fixed rules of composition upon the authority of experience: but what I dislike is, the pedantry of appealing to speculative principles in opposition to the decisions of taste; and what I defpife is, the ridiculous vanity of attempting to demonstrate by argument, that men ought to admire, when experience proves that no one does or can admire; and, on the other hand, that men are in the wrong to be pleafed, when experience proves that it is impoflible to avoid it. In a word, of all kinds of literary affectation, that which is molt disgusting is, the affectation of judging in matters of taste by rule, and not by feeling; and this appears to me the fundamental defect of the work to which I have before alluded ; I mean the Elements of Criticism. Lord Kaims was less remarkable for delicacy of taste than acuteness of understanding ; and he evidently seems to have thought it much below the dignity of a critic to embrace any opinion even in a mere matter of taste which was not supported by some rule. Where the rule was not already established, there,
fore, he was obliged to have recourse to his invention, which did not always supply him with fuch as were of the most satisfactory kind; and he seems through the whole of his elaborate work to entertain much too high an idea of the importance of those rules; for he seems to consider them as founded in reason, and as laws by which taste ought to be regulated, whereas they are properly founded in taste, and the most judicious and best established rules are really nothing more than the different principles by which experience shows that the decisions of taste are governed. But “ à priori” it is impofiible to prove, by any speçulative reasoning, that those principles possess more of innate propriety than the opposite ones : for instance, it is a rule that the unity of action in an Epic poem ought to be preserved; and no one can read the Iliad and the Orlando Furiofo without being sensible of the propriety of it; but if any one should ask the reason upon which this rule is founded, we are compelled to confess that it resolves itself entirely into a matter of taste. We might indeed retreat a step backward, and answer, that the reason is, because the attention ought not to be divided ; but the question immediately recurs, Why ought not the attention to be divided ?” And to this what can be replied, but that it is found by experience to be unpleasant, and to occasion weariness and disgust.
Having thus stated my ideas on the subject of speculative and theoretical criticism, i proceed to consider what it is that properly