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For fince each hand hath put on nature's power,
Sweet The reader may now proceed to more pieces of the same structure, which the friends of the late Mr. Edwards were willing to receive as effufions of fancy as well as friendship. If the appetite for such a mode of writing be even then unsatisfied, I hope ibat old Joshua Sylvester (I confess myself unacquainted with the extent of his labours) has likewise been a fonneteer; for surely his success in this form of poetry must have been transcendent indeed, and could not fail to afford complete gratification to the ad. mirers of a stated number of lives composed in the highest strain of affectation, pedantry, circumlocution and nonsense. In the mean time, let inferiour writers be warned against a species of coinpotition which has reduced the most exalted poets to a level with the meaneft rhimers; has almost cut down Milton and Shakspeare to the standards of Pomfret and but the name of Pomfret is per. haps the lowest in the scale of English versifiers. As for Mr. Malone, whose animadversions are to follow mine, “ Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in." Let me however bor. row somewhat in my own favour from the same speech of Mer. cutio, by observing that “ Laura had a better love to be-rhyme her.” Let me adopt also the sentiment which Shakípeare himself, on his amended judgment, has put into the mouth of his favourite character in Love's Labour's lon:
“ Tut! none but minstrels like of Sonneting." STEEVENS. I do not feel any great propensity to stand forth as the champion of these compositions. However, as it appears to me that they have been somewhat under-rated, I think it incumbent on me to do them that justice to which they seem entitled.
Of Petrarch (whose works I have never read) I cannot speak; but I am flow to believe that a writer who has been warmly ad. mired for four centuries by his own countrymen, is without merit, though he has been guilty of the heinous offence of addressing his mittress in pieces of only that number of lines which by long usage has been appropriated to the fonnet.
Phe burlesque itanzas which have been produced to depretiate the poems before us, it must be acknowledged, are not ill executed; but they will never decide the merit of this species of composition, until it shall be established that ridicule is the test of truth. The fourteen rugged lines that have been quoted fruin Milton for the fame purpose, are equally inconclufive ; for it is well known that he generally failed when he attempted rhime, whether his verses assumed the shape of a sonnet or any other form. These pieces of our auchor therefore muft at last band or fall by theinselves.
When they are described as a mass of affectation, pedantry,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy hour,
Therecircumlocution, and nonsense, the picture appears to me over, charged. Their great detects seem to be a want of variety, and the majority of them not being directed to a female, to whom alone Yuch ardent expressions of esteem could with propriety be addressed. It cannot be denied too that they contain some farfetched conceits ; but are our author's plays entirely free from them? Many of the thoughts that occur in his dramatick productions, are found here likewise ; as may appear
from the numerous parallels that have been cited from his dramas, chiefly for the purpose of authenticating thefe poems. Had they there. fore no other merit, they are entitled to our attention, as often illustrating obscure passages in his plays.
I do not perceive that the versification of these pieces is less fmooth and harmonious than that of Shakspeare's other compolitions. Though many of them are not so simple and clear as they oughe to be, yet some of them are written with perspicuity and energy. A few have been already pointed out as deserving this character ; and many beautiful lines, scattered through these poems, will, it is supposed, strike every reader who is not determined to allow no praise to any species of poetry except blank verse or heroick couplets. MALONE,
The case of these Sonnets is certainly bad, when so little can be advanced in support of them. Ridicule is always successful where it is juít. A burlesque on Alexander's Feat would do no injury to its original. Some of the rhime compositions of Milton (Sonnets excepted) are allowed to be eminently harmonious. Is it neceffary on this occafion to particularize his Allegro, Penseroso, and Hymn on the Nativity? I must add, that there is more conceit in any thirty-fix of Shakspeare's Sonnets, than in the same number of his Plays. When I know where that person is to be found who allows no praise to any species of poetry, except blank verse and heroic couplets, it will be early enough for me to undertake his defence. STEEVENS.
That ridicule is generally successful when it is just, cannot be denied; but whether it be just in the present instance, is the point to be proved. It may be successful when it is not just; when neither the structure nor the thoughts of the poem ridiculed, deferve to be derided.
No burlesque on Alexander's Feat certainly would render it ridiculous ; yet undoubtedly a successful parody or burlesque piece might be formed upon it, which in itself might have intrinfick merit. The success of the burlesque therefore does not necessarily depend upon, nor afeertain, the damerit of
Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,
AC the original. Of this Cotton's Virgil Travestie affords a de. cisive proof. The most rigid muscles muit relax on the perufal of it ; yet the purity and majesty of the Eneid will ever remain undiminished.-With respect to Milton, (of whoin I have only said that he generally, not that he always failed in rhyming compofitions,) Dryden, at a time when all rivalry and competition between them were at an end, when he had ceased to write for the stage, and when of course it was indifferent to him what metre was considered as best suited to dramatick compofitions, pronounced, that he composed his great poem in blank verse, is because rhime was not his talent. He had neither (adds the Laureate) the ease of doing it, nor the graces of it; which is manifest in his Juvenilia or Verses written in his youth ; where bis rbime is always constrained, and forced, and comes bardly from him, at an age when the foul is most pliant, and the paffion of love makes almost every man a rhimer, though not a poet.
MALONE. Cotton's work is an innocent parody, was designed as no ridi. cule on the Æneid, and consequently will not operate to the difadvantage of that immortal poem. The contrary is the case with Mr. Roderick's imitation of the Spaniard. He wrote it as a ridicule on the fru&ture, not the words of a Sonnet ; and this is a purpose which it has completely answered. No one cver retired from a perutal of it with a favourable opinion of the species of compolition it was meant to deride.
The decisions of Dryden are never leís to be trusted than when he treats of blank verse and rhime, each of which he has extolled and depreciated in its turn. When this subject is before him, his judgmeat is rarely secure from the reductions of convenience, interest or jealousy; and Gildon has well observed, that in his prefaces he had always confidence enough to defend and support his own inost glaring inconsistencies and self-contradictions. What he has said of the author of Paradise Lost, is with a view to retaliation. Milton had invidioutly asserted that Dryden was only a 'rhymist; and therefore Dryden, with as little regard to truth, hás declared that Milton was no rhymist at all. Let my other sentiments fhift for themselves. Here I fall drop the controversy.
STEEVENS. In justice to Shakspeare, whose cause I have undertaken, however unequal to the talk, I cannot forbear to add, that a literary Procruftes may as well be called the inventor of the
couplet, 3 Her eyes fo fuited,-) Her eyes of the fame colour as those of the raven. MALONE.
At such, who not born fair, no beauty lack,
Yet to they mourn, becoming of their woe
Do couplet, the stanza, or the ode, as of the Sonnet. They are all in a certain degree restraints on the writer; and all poetry, if the objection now made be carried to its utmost extent, will be reduced to blank verse. The admirers of this kind of metre have long re. marked with triumph that of the couplet the first line is generally for fenfe, and the next for rhime; and this certainly is often the case in the compositions of mere versifiers ; but is such a redun. dancy an eflential property of a couplet, and will the works of Dryden and Pope atford none of another character ?- The bondage to which Pindar and his followers have submitted in the structure of Atrophé, antistrophé, and epode, is much greater than that which the Sonnet imposes. If the scanty thought be difguftingly dilated, or luxuriant ideas un naturally compressed, what follows. Not surely that it is impossible to write good Odes, or good Sonnets, but that the poet was injudicious in the choice of his subject, or knew not how to adjuit his metre to his thoughts.
MALONE. and they mourners seem At such, who not born fair no beauty lack,
Slandering creation with a false efteem:} They seem to mourn that those who are not born fair, are yet possessed of an artificial beauty, by which they pass for what they are not, and thus dishonour nature by their imperfect imitation and false pretenfions. Malone. -buoming of their woe,] So, in Antony and Cleopatra :
Fye, wrangling queen! “ Whom every thing becomes, to chide, to laugh, “ To weep.” MALONE. -- when thou, my musick, ] So, in Pericles: “ You are a viol, and your sense the strings, “ Which, finger'd to make man his lawful mufick, &c."
STEEVENS. ? The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,] We had the fame expreffion before in the eighth Sonnet;
Do I envy' those jacks', that nimble leap
Since faucy jacks so happy are in this ’,
“ If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
“ By unious married, do offend thine ear." MALONE. 8 Do I envy' those jacks, ---- ) This word is accented by other ancient writers in the same manner. So, in Marlowe's Edward 11. 1998:
“ If for these dignities thou be encry'd.” MALONE.
thaje jacks that nimble kap
To kiss the tender inward of the band?] So, in Chroninbotonthologos :
-the tea-cups kaip " With eager haite to kiss your rogal lip." STEEVENS. There is scarcely a writer ot love-verses, among our elder poets, who has not introduced hyperboles as extravagant as that in the text. Thus Waller, in bis Address to a Lady playing on the Latz:
“ The trembling firings about her fingers crowd,
“ And tell their joy for ev'ry kiss aloud.” MALONE. • O'er whom thy fingers wall with gentle gait,] Here again their is printed in the old copy instead of thy. So also in the last line of this Sonnet. MALONE.
2 Since faucy jacks fo happy are in this,] He is here speaking of a small kind of spinnet, anciently called a virginal. So, in Ram Allry, or Merry Tricks, 1611:
" Where be these rascals that skip up and down
" Like virginal jacks?" See note on 1 he Winter's Tale, edit. 1778. Vol. IV. p. 299.