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Review Of An Essay On The Writings And Genius Of Pope
by [?]


This is a very curious and entertaining miscellany of critical remarks and literary history. Though the book promises nothing but observations on the writings of Pope, yet no opportunity is neglected of introducing the character of any other writer, or the mention of any performance or event, in which learning is interested. From Pope, however, he always takes his hint, and to Pope he returns again from his digressions. The facts, which he mentions, though they are seldom anecdotes, in a rigorous sense, are often such as are very little known, and such as will delight more readers than naked criticism.

As he examines the works of this great poet, in an order nearly chronological, he necessarily begins with his pastorals, which, considered as representations of any kind of life, he very justly censures; for there is in them a mixture of Grecian and English, of ancient and modern images. Windsor is coupled with Hybla, and Thames with Pactolus. He then compares some passages, which Pope has imitated, or translated, with the imitation, or version, and gives the preference to the originals, perhaps, not always upon convincing arguments.

Theocritus makes his lover wish to be a bee, that he might creep among the leaves that form the chaplet of his mistress. Pope’s enamoured swain longs to be made the captive bird that sings in his fair one’s bower, that she might listen to his songs, and reward him with her kisses. The critick prefers the image of Theocritus, as more wild, more delicate, and more uncommon.

It is natural for a lover to wish, that he might be any thing that could come near to his lady. But we more naturally desire to be that which she fondles and caresses, than that which she would avoid, at least would neglect. The snperiour delicacy of Theocritus I cannot discover, nor can, indeed, find, that either in the one or the other image there is any want of delicacy. Which of the two images was less common in the time of the poet who used it, for on that consideration the merit of novelty depends, I think it is now out of any critick’s power to decide.

He remarks, I am afraid, with too much justice, that there is not a single new thought in the pastorals; and, with equal reason, declares, that their chief beauty consists in their correct and musical versification, which has so influenced the English ear, as to render every moderate rhymer harmonious.

In his examination of the Messiah, he justly observes some deviations from the inspired author, which weaken the imagery, and dispirit the expression.

On Windsor Forest, he declares, I think without proof, that descriptive poetry was by no means the excellence of Pope; he draws this inference from the few images introduced in this poem, which would not equally belong to any other place. He must inquire, whether Windsor forest has, in reality, any thing peculiar.

The Stag-chase is not, he says, so full, so animated, and so circumstantiated, as Somerville’s. Barely to say, that one performance is not so good as another, is to criticise with little exactness. But Pope has directed, that we should, in every work, regard the author’s end. The stag-chase is the main subject of Somerville, and might, therefore, be properly dilated into all its circumstances; in Pope, it is only incidental, and was to be despatched in a few lines.

He makes a just observation, “that the description of the external beauties of nature, is usually the first effort of a young genius, before he hath studied nature and passions. Some of Milton’s most early, as well as mos’t exquisite pieces, are his Lycidas, l’Allegro, and il Penseroso, if we may except his ode on the Nativity of Christ, which is, indeed, prior in order of time, and in which a penetrating critick might have observed the seeds of that boundless imagination, which was, one day, to produce the Paradise Lost.”