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Poetical Imitations And Similarities
by [?]

Tantus amor florum, et generandi gloria mellis.
Georg. Lib. iv. v. 204.

Such rage of honey in our bosom beats,
And such a zeal we have for flowery sweets!

This article was commenced by me many years ago in the early volumes of the Monthly Magazine, and continued by various correspondents, with various success. I have collected only those of my own contribution, because I do not feel authorised to make use of those of other persons, however some may be desirable. One of the most elegant of literary recreations is that of tracing poetical or prose imitations and similarities; for assuredly, similarity is not always imitation. Bishop Hurd’s pleasing essay on “The Marks of Imitation” will assist the critic in deciding on what may only be an accidental similarity, rather than a studied imitation. Those critics have indulged an intemperate abuse in these entertaining researches, who from a single word derive the imitation of an entire passage. Wakefield, in his edition of Gray, is very liable to this censure.

This kind of literary amusement is not despicable: there are few men of letters who have not been in the habit of marking parallel passages, or tracing imitation, in the thousand shapes it assumes; it forms, it cultivates, it delights taste to observe by what dexterity and variation genius conceals, or modifies, an original thought or image, and to view the same sentiment, or expression, borrowed with art, or heightened by embellishment. The ingenious writer of “A Criticism on Gray’s Elegy, in continuation of Dr. Johnson’s,” has given some observations on this subject, which will please. “It is often entertaining to trace imitation. To detect the adopted image; the copied design; the transferred sentiment; the appropriated phrase; and even the acquired manner and frame, under all the disguises that imitation, combination, and accommodation may have thrown around them, must require both parts and diligence; but it will bring with it no ordinary gratification. A book professedly on the ‘History and Progress of Imitation in Poetry,’ written by a man of perspicuity, an adept in the art of discerning likenesses, even when minute, with examples properly selected, and gradations duly marked, would make an impartial accession to the store of human literature, and furnish rational curiosity with a high regale.” Let me premise that these notices (the wrecks of a large collection of passages I had once formed merely as exercises to form my taste) are not given with the petty malignant delight of detecting the unacknowledged imitations of our best writers, but merely to habituate the young student to an instructive amusement, and to exhibit that beautiful variety which the same image is capable of exhibiting when retouched with all the art of genius.

Gray, in his “Ode to Spring,” has

The Attic warbler POURS HER THROAT.

Wakefield in his “Commentary” has a copious passage on this poetical diction. He conceives it to be “an admirable improvement of the Greek and Roman classics:”

–keen auden: HES. Scut. Her. 396.
–Suaves ex ore loquelas
Funde. LUCRET. i. 40.

This learned editor was little conversant with modern literature, as he proved by his memorable editions of Gray and Pope. The expression is evidently borrowed not from Hesiod, nor from Lucretius, but from a brother at home.

Is it for thee, the Linnet POURS HER THROAT?
Essay on Man, Ep. iii, v. 33.

Gray, in the “Ode to Adversity,” addresses the power thus,

Thou tamer of the human breast,
The bad affright, afflict the best.

Wakefield censures the expression “torturing hour,” by discovering an impropriety and incongruity. He says, “consistency of figure rather required some material image, like iron scourge and adamantine chain.” It is curious to observe a verbal critic lecture such a poet as Gray! The poet probably would never have replied, or, in a moment of excessive urbanity, he might have condescended to point out to this minutest of critics the following passage in Milton:–