« AnteriorContinuar »
cellanea, the first part of which was published in 1672, include two Essays on Ancient and Modern Learning and on Poetry, which exhibit the critical acumen of the author to great advantage, being written in a popular manner, and with the accompanyment of a most fascinating style. The treatises too in the same volume on Heroic Virtue and Gardening, are full of research, and combine a great portion of entertainment, with innumerable instances of the author's goodness of heart, and general refinement of taste.
In 1675, EDWARD PHILLIPS published his “ Theatrum Poetarum, or a complete Collection of the Poets, especially the most eminent of all Ages, the Ancients distinguish't from the Moderns in their several Alphabets. With some Observations and Reflections upon many of them, particularly those of our own nation. Together with a Prefatory Discourse of the Poets and Poetry in general.”
It has generally been supposed, and upon no slight foundation, that Milton gave Phillips, who was his nephew, much assistance on this occasion. The internal evidence arising from the book is certainly in favour of the idea, as many of the criticisms exactly correspond with what we know to have been the peculiar opinions of the great poet, “There is good reason to suppose," saya a very learned and competent judge, “that Milton threw many additions and corrections into the THEATRUM POETARUM. - It contains criticisms far above the taste of that period: among these is the following judgment on Shakspeare, which was not then, I believe, the general opinion, and which perfectly coincides both with the sentiments and words of Milton in L'Allegro,
“ Or sweetest Shakspeare, Fancy's child,
Warble his native wood-notes wild.” “In tragedy, never any expressed a more lofty and tragic height; never any represented nature more purely to the life: and where the polishments of art are most wanting, as probably his learning was not extraordinary, he pleases with a certain wild and native elegance *."
And in the History of English Poetry, speaking of the same book, he further remarks, “Such criticisms were not common after the national taste had been just corrupted by the false and capricious refinements of the court of Charles the Second t."
The Preface of Phillips more particularly seems to breathe the spirit and sentiments of Milton, and is written in a strain of peculiar eloquence and taste.
* Warton's Milton, 2d edition, p. 64. + Vol. iii. p. 410.
Of the critic whom we have next to produce, though the learning and research may be praised, the want of candour and of judgment is so notorious, that few now can consult his works on ele. gant literature without absolute disgust. RYMER, though a good antiquary, and well acquainted with the history and progress of poetry, both in this and other nations, seems to have been utterly deficient in sensibility and taste; and his abuse of Beaumont, Fletcher, and Shakspeare, is unquaJified, unjust, and gross in the extreme. Through his pieces, however, are dispersed some acute observations, and much historical information. They are entitled “ The Tragedies of the last Age, considered and examined by the Practice of the Ancients, and by the common Sense of all Ages. In a letter to Fleetwood Shepherd, Esq. London, 1678,” and “ A short View of Tragedy ; its original Excellency and Corruption. With some Reflections on Shakspeare, and other Practitioners for the Stage. London, 1693.”
It is not denied, that these productions were of service to the art which they professed to improve. They familiarized, in some degree, the opinions of the ancient critics, and they excited the at. tention of superior minds. Dryden wrote some very valuable remarks on Rymer's first Essay ; and the “Short View of Tragedy" merits notice
for its historical matter. The lovers of Shake speare, however, who are now as numerous as his readers, must execrate, and justly, the critic who has termed Othello bloody farce, with: out salt or savour ;” and who has declared, that “ in the neighing of an horse, or in the growling of a mastiff, there is a meaning, there is as lively expression, and, may I say, more humanity, than many
times in the tragical flights of Shakspeare *. Dr. William Worton, in 1694, published his " Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning," in which he opposes many of the opinions of Temple, though with temper and modesty. This work displays a considerable portion of erudition, and much critical knowledge, and, by inci. dentally exciting a long continued and well sup. ported controversy, proved of essential service to general literature and criticism.
A very elaborate commentary on Paradise Lost was, in 1695, given to the public by PATRICK HUME, a Scotchman. This
be considered as the first attempt to illustrate an English classic by copious and continued notes; an example which has been followed in the last and present century, with regard to Shakspeare, on a very extended scale. The notes of Hume, though too often pedantic, heavy, and trifling, are not unfre. quently replete with entertainment and illustration ; and to them, as Warton has justly observed, succeeding commentators “ have been often am. ply indebted, without even the most distant hint of acknowledgment *.”
* A short View of Tragedy, p. 95, 96, 146.
The year 1096 brought forward the first effort of JOHN DENNIS in critical literature; “ in which,” observes the Biographia Britannica, “ he so frequently exerted himself, that he came to be called the Critic, by way of distinction t." The first of Sir Richard Blackmore's series of epic poems was the subject of his strictures, and he named the work “ Remarks on a book entitled Prince Arthur, an Heroic Poem. With some general critical Observations, and several new Remarks upon Virgil. London, 8vo. 1696.”
Dennis possessed a very respectable portion of learning and acuteness, and was in the early part of his career esteemed both by Dryden and Congreve for his critical sagacity. Besides the remarks on Arthur, he published a discourse on “ The Advancement and Reformation of modern Poetry," a tract on « The Grounds of Criticism in Poetry,” and “ Letters on the Genius and Writings of Shakspeare." All these contain many just and ingenious observations, and re.
* Warton's Milton, Preface, p. 7.