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"Like his pale lamp, a partial light supply,
"But those design'd to sooth the labouring breast,
"....Known by the wat'ry lustre of her eye,
"Where public blessings ask her public aid,
Yon spacious roof, where hush'd in calm repose, "The drooping widow half forgets her woes :†
Yon calm retreat, where screen'd from every ill,
There are, besides, Dyer's Grongar Hill, Jago's Edge, Hill, Mr. M'Neil's Carse of Stirling, and many other poems of this kind in our language, of considerable me
Perhaps the fleece of Dyer, Phillip's Cyder, and Somerville's Chace, may come under this description. They are now little read; but for minuter observations on Den
*The public Infirmary.
The Alms-houses adjoining the Infirmary.
ham, Phillips and Dyer, I must refer you to the first of critics, Dr. Johnson.
Thomson's Seasons may be considered as of a mixed character, since they contain at least as much sentiment as description; but that remark will perhaps apply to most of those I have mentioned. After Dr. Johnson's admirable criticism on the Seasons, I feel incapable of saying a single word. That critic remarks that "His mode of thinking and of expressing his thoughts is origir. 1: his blank verse is no more the verse of Milton, or of any other poet than the rhymes of Prior are the rhymes of Cowley." "The reader (he adds) of the Seasons wonders that he never saw before what Thomson shews him, and that he never yet has felt what Thomson impresses." The same author judiciouly observes that "the great defect of the Seasons is the want of method;" and that "his diction is sometimes too exuberant, and may sometimes be charged with filling the ear more than the mind."
From such poems as these the gradation is easy to those which are chiefly descriptive of sentiment. this line there is scarcely any thing that can bear competition with the "Traveller" and "Deserted Village" of Dr. Goldsmith. With these you are well acquainted, and I have already sufficiently indulged in quotations from them. "The Deserted Village" is a more interesting and finished poem than the "Traveller." There is little of method in either; but probably by an attention to method they would have been spoiled.
There are many other excellent poems which may be classed under the sentimental descriptive, among which I shall only mention Mr. Rogers' Pleasures of Memory, and Mr. Campbell's Pleasures of Hope. There are some excellent short pieces of this kind also in my friend Mr. M'Neil's collection of Poems.
As I have already indulged in paying one tribute to early friendship, let me present you with a short extract from a poem which, excellent as it is, still is not more estimable than its author....
"The beauteous maid that bids the world adieu, "Oft of that world will snatch a fond review ; "Oft at the shrine neglect her beads, to trace "Some social scene, some dear familiar face "Forgot, when first a father's stern controul "Chas'd the gay visions of her opening soul: "And ere, with iron tongue, the vesper bell "Bursts thro' the cypress-walk, the convent-cell, "Oft will her warm and wayward heart revive, "To love and joy still tremblingly alive?
"The whisper'd vow, the chaste caress prolong, "Weave the light dance, and swell the choral song; "With wrapt ear drink th' enchanting serenade; And, as it melts along the moonlight glade,
"To each soft note return as soft a sigh,
"And bless the youth that bids her slumbers fly”
ELEGY.....LYRIC POETRY....EPISTLES....TALES AND FABLES....OVID....TIBULLUS...PROPERTIUS....POPE...COL. LINS....GRAY....PINDAR....HORACE...MILTON...DRYDEN
....ANACREON....COWLEY....SONGS AND BALLADS.
MY DEAR JOHN,
ELEGY, as a poetical composition, rises still higher in the scale than didactic, and even than descriptive poetry. It indeed approaches to the lyric, which is, if I may so express myself, the most poetical of all poetry. The language of elegy ought to be nearly as much abstracted from that of common life as the language of the ode, whereas both didactic and descriptive poetry often condescend to familiar topics, and those expressed in language very little above that of polished prose or conversation. Elegy also admits of nearly as much figure as lyric poetry itself. Indeed figurative language, and fine and interesting allusions, though with less boldness than lyric poetry admits of, are the soul, and almost the characteristic of elegy.
I can have no doubt in deriving the word elegy from the Greek Exos (pity), and in confirmation of this we find that it has been appropriated, by the poets of all ages, to pathetic subjects. It was first employed in lamentation for the decease of great persons, or those who were particularly dear to the writer; it was afterwards extended to express the misery of disappointed love, and has sometimes been made the vehicle of moral sentiment.
From these circumstances every thing in thought or diction which consists with what is solemn or pathetic, is admissible in elegy; but conceit, witticism, or point, is wholly inconsistent with it. It should be soft, tender, and plaintive; to these characteristics the Latin verse
of hexameter and pentameter, and our alternate verse of ten syllables are admirably adapted. The former was by the Latins emphatically called elegiac verse, and from its sweetness, was adopted in many compositions not strictly elegiac, such as Ovid's epistles; while, on the contrary, we have many real elegies which are not in that measure which we call elegiac.
The origin of elegy is undoubtedly remote. Bishop Lowth, in his Lectures on Sacred Poetry, asserts that it was a common form of composition among the Hebrews, and instances the pathetic lamentation on the death of Saul, and many of the Psalms which were written during the Babylonish captivity, particularly the 42d. You will find in my translation of the Lectures an humble attempt to translate both the Lamentation for Saul, and the Psalms in question, into English elegiac measure. Callimachus and Philetas, among the Greeks, are celebrated as elegiac writers. Horace professes himself to be in doubt with respect to the inventor of elegiac poetry....
"Quis tamen exiguos elegos emiserit auctor,
"Grammatici certant; et adhuc sub judice lis est."
De Art. Poet. v. 77.
By whom invented critics still contend,
Among the Latins, however, we find no elegiac writers of any note before Ovid, Tibullus, and Propertius, who were all contemporaries, and are the best writers extant in this peculiar line. The Tristia of Ovid, I think, affords the happiest specimens of elegiac poetry.
Our English writers of elegy have not confined themselves, like the Latins, to a particular measure, though latterly the term elegiac has been appropriated to the stanza of ten syllable verse, with alternate rhymes. Thus Mr. Pope's Elegy on the death of an unfortunate young Lady, is truly such, though it is in the heroic measure. Though Dr. Johnson admits that it "is written in some parts with vigorous animation, and in others