Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

precepts, and, in point of composition, is far sus perior to his customary style.

Francis Meres, in 1598, printed his Palladis Tamia, or Wit's Treasurie ; and, in 1602, THOMAS CAMPION published a small tract in 12mo. under the title of Observations on the Arte of Englisk. Poesie. Lond. By R. Field. He is an advocate for the Roman measures, as recommended by Webbe and Sydney, and in his twelfth page in- . troduces a specimen of what he terms Lincentiate Iambeckes, which are, in fact, our blank

verse.

We are indebted to Campion's Observations for a very elegant Defence of Rhyme, by SAMUEL DANIEL the poet, printed in 1603. He endeavours to prove that rhyme is the fittest harmony of words that comports with our language, and he dedicates his work to all the worthy lovers and learned professors of rhyme within his Majesty's dominions. The style of Daniel both in poetry and prose is, for the period in which he wrote, extremely chaste and pure.

The Hypercritica of EDMUND BOLTON, “or a Rule of Judgement for writing or reading our Historys," is the next work which claims our attention. It was written, though not published, in the year 1617, and is a production of great

euriosity and research. He delivers his opinion, in the fourth division of his book, with much good sense, on the chief English writers in prose and verse; but in a style somewhat quaint and uncouth, as will be immediately perceived from the title he has chosen to affix to this part of his undertaking “Prime Gardens for gathering English, according to the true Gage or Standard of the Tongue about fifteen or sixteen Years ago.' The Hypercritica of Bolton, however, though I have deemed its insertion necessary in this place, in order to preserve the chronology of English criticism, could be of no service to the student of the seventeenth century, as it continued locked up in manuscript until the year 1722, when Antony Hall first printed it at the close of his Continuation of Triveti Annales, Oxford, 8vo.

We have now to notice a piece of criticism whose merits are of a very superior kind, The Discoveries of BEN JONSON, written about the year 1630, and published after his death in 1640. This little tract displays the judgment and classical learning of Jonson to great advantage, and his style is unusually close, precise, and pure. I cannot avoid transcribing, as a specimen of his manner, the following admirable directions for writing well, and which should be indelibly impressed upon the mind of every student.

For a man to write well,” he observes, “there are required three necessaries. To read the best authors; observe the best speakers; and much exercise of his own style. In style to consider, what ought to be written; and after what manner; he must first think, and excogitate his matter; then choose his words, and examine the weight of either. Then take care in placing, and ranking both matter and words, that the composition be comely; and to do this with diligence and often. No matter how slow the style be at first, so it be laboured and accurate; seek the best, and be not glad of the forward conceits, or first words, that offer themselves to us, but judge of what we invent; and order what we approve. Repeat often, what we have formerly written ; which besides that it helps the consequence, and makes the juncture better, it quickens the heat of imagination, that often cools in the time of setting down, and gives it new strength, as if it grew lustier, by the going back. As we see in the contention of leaping, they jump farthest, that fetch their race largest: or, as in the throwing a dart or javelin, we force back our arms, to make our loose the stronger. Yet if we have a fair gale of wind, I forbid not the steering out of our sail, so the favour of the gale deceive us not. For all that we invent doth please us in the con'ception or birth; else we would never set it down. But the safest is to return to our judg. ment, and handle over again those things, the easiness of which might make them justly suspected. So did the best writers in their beginnings; they imposed upon themselves care and industry. They did nothing rashly. They obtained first to write well, and then custom made it easy and a habit. By little and little, their matter shewed itself to them more plentifully ; their words answered, their composition followed ; and all, as in a well-ordered family, presented itself in the place *.”

Between the publication of the Discoveries of Jonson in 1640, and the appearance of Dryden's Essay of Dramatic Poesy in 1667, no progress seems to have been made in English criticism. This Essay by our great poet, and which forms a remarkable era in our national literature, was his first effort in the art of criticism, and written « to vindicate the honour of the English Poets from the censures of those who unjustly prefer. red the French before them.” It is in the form of dialogue, one of the most difficult modes of composition; yet is it conducted with singular felicity, and with much attention to preservation of character.

* This tract by Ben Jonson, with Sidney's Defence of Poetry, were republished by Robinson in 1787, 8vo. and form the two best pieces which, previous to the Prefaces of Dryden, our ancient school of Criticism has afforded,

To the Essays, Prefaces, and Dedications of DRYDEN, English criticism is greatly indebted. Though making no pretensions to method or system, he has delivered, in a style extremely rich and copious, and, for the most part, with great taste and judgment, a vast variety of precepts on almost every branch of poetry. He taught his adversaries, in fact, to discover the defects of his own compositions, many of which were framed rather with the view of pleasing an ignorant audience than with the ambition of exemplifying the rules which he had himself promulgated. The attempt, likewise, to justify the numerous aberrations that he had been guilty of, especially in dramatic poetry, introduced into his critical doctrines frequent inconsistencies and contradictions.

While Dryden continued to favour the world with his very interesting dissertations, the last of which, his preface to the Fables, Ancient and Modern, and written probably in December, 1699, is the most lively and pleasing of the collection, several of his contemporaries, stimulated by his example, entered the same path to fame. Among these, the elegant and accomplished siR WILLIAM TEMPLE claims a decided superiority. His Mis

« AnteriorContinuar »