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of those compositions, suggested by a passage in the Spectator—I think it ran thus:
Pluviæque loquaces Descendêre jugis, et garrulus ingruit imber. Virgil's ear must have had all the delicacy of Spenser's; there are two verses in the fourth Georgic unrivalled for sweetness,-
Te dulcis conjux, te solo in littore secum,
Te veniente die, te decedente canebat. Thus you see I was not half so precocious as West, who, while at Eton, used to versify in his sleep.
Alas, you seem now equally to have forsaken poetry and poets.
It is over with our History*, but I am rejoiced to find the subject taken up by a scholar and a man of taste. Hurd, sent to me the other day, requesting me to furnish Mr. Warton with any fragments or sketches of our abandoned design. I fear my contribution will be a very insignificant
However, though we no longer intend to write about poets, we can talk of them.
Alluding to the History of Poetry which he at one period proposed to write in conjunction with his friend Mason.
We should need many long Summer days, from morn till dewy eve, to rescue these pearls from the covetous sands. The Sea of Time is restless and encroaching; the wave of each returning hour washes away some fragments from the venerable fabrics of departed genius. Certainly the reader of modern song, knows little of those fragrant flowers that blossom around the overgrown and forgotten fountains of our early poetry.
A very pretty flight of flowery extravagance, only requiring to be translated into prose to become perfect. It will, indeed, to pursue your own image, be very agreeable to wander with curious feet through the green and sequestered paths of this unfrequented Garden ; and the more so, as we shall not be obliged to stray from our sofa; with me, a very important consideration. The task will be hardly less delightful than reading a new novel of Crebillon ; particularly in this
Chamber deaf to noise and blind to light *. Let us endeavour to pronounce correct, rather than pretty criticisms. In the Grecian Games,
* Sir Philip Sidney.
officers were appointed to examine the statues of the victors, and to reduce or destroy all that exceeded the proper elevation. The duty of a true critic resembles theirs. In walking through the Temple of Fame, he ought not only to replace the statues which years have impaired or prejudice removed; but to throw down and break to pieces, every one that owes its place to adventitious popularity, or to any cause save natural merit. We will admit none who have proclaimed themselves poets by the sound of the trumpet.
With whom shall we begin ?
With him who first led poetry from those rough and thorny seats where she lay hid for so many years, into the pure, open, and flowery light. Need I add the name of Chaucer. I have taken the liberty of applying Ben Jonson's account of philosophy to the history of our poetry. Before Chaucer there is nothing to reward the imagination; that dark age belongs only to the student of our language and antiquities. We will leave Mr. Warton to luxuriate over the origin of rhyme among the Franks, Saxons, and Provençaux,--and to compare and unravel, the verse-romances, the madrigals, the sestines, &c. The scholar will ever draw his first draught of pure English from the well of Chaucer. Lydgate says with truth, that he
Made first to distylle and rayne
Into our tongue through his excellence. You may find in his works the originals of the hepta and octo-syllabic measures, afterwards refined by Milton, in his lyric poems, into perfect harmony; and of that grander heroic, which under the skilful toil of Dryden and of Pope, assumed a dignity, combined with a variety and sweetness not to be surpassed. Dante regarded it, both from the gravity of the rhythm, and its general capacity, as the fit vehicle for the highest themes *. The full merit of Chaucer's versification is only now beginning to be felt. Yet I am not inclined to admit Dryden's insensibility to its music. There is the rude sweetness, he writes, of a Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect. In this little sentence he seems to convey a very just idea of the matter. sional ruggedness and negligence of the author are not without charms; for the continuity even of sweetness grows unpleasing.
* Tam temporis occupatione, quam capacitate sententiæ, constructionis et vocabulorum, &c.—De Vulgari Eloquentia, Lib. ii., c. 5.
But whatever doubts may be entertained regarding his appreciation of Chaucer's metrical skill,
his admiration of the liveliness and truth of his manner cannot be questioned. The Canterbury Tales possess the twofold advantage of poems and stories; they have the fancy and embellishments of the first; the graphic sketches of the second. He does not, as Daniel unjustly objected to Spenser, paint shadows, or even bodies, but minds. Each pilgrim is distinguished by his peculiar physiognomy, moral, as well as physical. Pope used to call him the first tale-teller in the true enlivened natural way; and Dryden declared that he had them all before him, with their humours, dresses, and faces, as distinctly as if he had supped with them at the Tabard. So have I, and I often behold the company of twenty-nine, winding out of the gate of Pembroke, in long array, on their journey to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket. You may catch a glimpse of them now from yonder window.There is the Prioress, perfectly conversant with the French language, as taught at “the scole of Stratford atte Bowe;" the Monk with his head shining like glass, his sleeves embroidered with costly fur, and his hood fastened with a golden clasp; the Friar lisping out of wantonness,
To make his English swete upon the tongue.