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But most by Numbers judge a Poet's song,
And smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong:
In the bright Muse, tho’ thousand charms conspire,
Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire; 340

COMMENTARY.

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reason.

Ver. 337. But most by Numbers judge, &c.] The last sort are those [from ver. 336 to 384.] whose ears are attached only to the Harmony of a poem. Of which they judge as ignorantly and as perversely as the other sort did of the Eloquence, and for the same

Our Author first describes that false Harmony with which they are so much captivated; and shews that it is wretchedly flat and unvaried : for

“ Smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong." He then describes the true. 1. As it is in itself, constant; with a happy mixture of strength and sweetness, in contradiction to the roughness and flatness of false harmony: And 2. as it is varied in compliance to the subject, where the sound becomes an echo to the sense, so far as is consistent with the preservation of numbers; in contradiction to the monotony of false harmony: of this he gives us, in the delivery of his precepts, four beautiful examples of smoothness, roughness, slowness, and rapidity. The first use of this correspondence of the sound to the sense, is to aid the fancy in acquiring a perfecter and more lively image of the thing represented. A second and nobler, is to calm and subdue the turbulent and selfish passions, and to raise and warm the beneficent: which he illustrates in the famous adventure of Timotheus and Alexander : where, in referring to Mr. Dryden's Ode on that subject, he turns it to a high compliment on his favourite Poet.

NOTES.

Ver. 337. But most by Numbers, &c.]
“Quis populi sermo est ? quis enim ? nisi carmine molli

Nunc demum numero fluere, ut per læve severos
Effundat junctura ungues : scit tendere versum
Non secus ac si oculo rubricam dirigat uno."

Pers. Sat. i. P.
Having described the causes of false judgment in Critics who

judge

345

Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear,
Not mend their minds; as some to church repair,
Not for the doctrine, but the music there.
These equal syllables alone require,
Tho' oft the ear the open vowels tire;
While expletives their feeble aid do join ;
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line:
While they ring round the same unvary'd chimes,
With sure returns of still expected rhymes;

NOTES. judge by parts only of a poem, who confine their taste to CONCEITS, or to language instead of sense ; he proceeds to speak of those who judge merely by numbers.

Ver. 345. Tho' oft the ear, &c.] “Fugiemus crebras vocalium concursiones, quæ vastam atque hiantem orationem reddunt.” Cic. ad Heren. lib. iv. Vide etiam Quintil. lib. ix. c. 4. P.

“ Non tamen (says the sensible Quintilian) id ut crimen ingens expavescendum est; ac nescio negligentia in hoc, an solicitudo sit major; nimiosque non immeritd in hâc cura putant omnes Isocratem secutos, præcipuèque Theopompum. At Demosthenes et Cicero modicè respexerunt ad hanc partem.”-Quintil. lib. ix. c. 9.

Warton. Ver. 347. ten low words] Our language is thought to be overloaded with monosyllables ; Shaftesbury, we are told, limited their number to nine in any sentence; Quintilian condemns too great a concourse of them; etiam monosyllaba, si plura sunt, malè continuabuntur; quia necesse est compositio, multis clausulis concisa, subsultet. Inst. lib. ix. e. 4.

Warton.

IMITATIONS.

Ver. 346. While erpletives their feeble aid do join,

And ten low words ofi creep in one dull line:] From Dryden. “ He creeps along with ten little words in every line, and helps out his numbers with (for) (to] and [unto) and all the pretty expletives he can find, while the sense is left half tired behind it."-Essay on Dram. Poetry.

But there are many lines of monosyllables that have much force and

energy; inour author himself, as well as Dryden. Warton, VOL. III.

H

Where-e'er you find “the cooling western breeze,”
In the next line, it “whispers through the trees :"
If crystal streams “ with pleasing murmurs creep,”
The reader's threaten’d (not in vain) with“ sleep :"
Then, at the last and only couplet fraught
With some unmeaning thing they call a thought,
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length

along.
Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know
What's roundly smooth, or languishingly slow;
And praise the easy vigour of a line,

360 Where Denham's strength, and Waller's sweetness

join. True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

NOTES.

356. A needless Alexandrine, &c.] Dr. Johnson requires in an Alexandrine a pause invariably at the sixth syllable, and objects to a line of Dryden, where this rule is neglected. Johnson did not perceive that the very line he objected to was as striking an instance of the sound being an echo to the sense, as the English language perhaps produces, in as much as it represents the thing described, has not the least appearance of studied art, and is full, majestic, and sonorous. The line is

“ And with paternal thunder vindicates his throne.” And its effect is owing to the violation of that very

rule which Johnson thinks essential to lines of this description. Bowles.

Ver. 362. True ease] Writers who seem to have composed with the greatest ease, have exerted much labour in attaining this facility. Virgil took more pains than Lucan, though the style of the former appears so natural; and Guarini and Ariosto spent much time in making their poems so seemingly natural and easy. Even Voiture wrote with extreme difficulty, though apparently without

any

'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence, The sound must seem an Echo to the sense.

365

NOTES.

any effort; what Tasso says of one of his heroines may be applied to such writers ;

“ Non so ben dir s'adorna, o se negletta,
Se
caso,

od arte, il bel volto compose :
Di natura, d'amor, de cieli amici

Le negligenze sue sono artifici." It is well known, that the writings of Voiture, of Sarassin, and La Fontaine, were laboured into that facility for which they are so famous, with repeated alterations and many rasures. Moliere is reported to have past whole days in fixing upon a proper epithet or rhyme, although his verses have all the flow and freedom of conversation. “ This happy facility (said a man of wit) may be compared to garden-terraces, the expense of which does not appear; and which, after the cost of several millions, yet seem to be a mere work of chance and nature.” I have been informed, that Addison was so extremely nice in polishing his prose compositions, that when almost a whole impression of a Spectator was worked off, he would stop the press, to insert a new preposition or conjunction.

Warton. Ver. 364. 'Tis not enough, &c.] The judicious introduction of this precept is remarkable. The poets, and even some of the best of them, have been so fond of the beauty arising from this trivial observance, that their practice has violated the very End of the precept, which is the increase of harmony; and so they could but raise an echo, did not care whose ears they offended by its dissonance. To remedy this abuse, therefore, our poet, by the introductory line, would insinuate, that harmony is always to be presupposed as observed, though it may and ought to be perpetually varied, so as to produce the effect here recommended.

Warburton. Ver. 364. no harshness gives offence,] We are surprised to see the constant attention of the ancients, to give melody to their periods, both in

prose

and verse; of which so many instances are given in Tully De Oratore, in Dionysius, and Quintilian. Plato many times altered the order of the four first words of his Republic. Cicero records the approbation he met with for finishing

H 2

a sentence

Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;

NOTES. a sentence with the word comprobāvit, being a dichoreè. Had he finished it otherwise, he says, it might have been animo satis auribus non satis. We may be equally mortified in finding Quintilian condemning the inharmoniousness of many letters with which our language abounds ; particularly the letters F, M, B, D; and Dionysius reprobates the letter S.

Warton. Ver. 365. The sound must seem an Echo to the sense. ] Lord Roscommon says,

“ The sound is still a Comment to the sense." These are both well expressed, although so differently; for Lord R. is shewing how the sense is assisted by the sound; Mr. P. how the sound is assisted by the sense.

Warburton. Ver. 366. Soft is the strain See examples in Clarke's Homer, Iliad i. v. 430; i. v. 102; iii. v. 337; vi. v. 510; vii. v. 157; ví. v. 210, 551 ; xi. v. 687, 697, 766 ; and many others.

These lines are usually cited as fine examples of adapting the sound to the sense. But that Pope has failed in this endeavour has been clearly demonstrated by the Rambler. “ The verse intended to represent the whisper of the vernal breeze must surely be confessed not much to excel in softness or volubility; and the smooth stream runs with a perpetual clash of jarring consonants. The noise and turbulence of the torrent is, indeed, distinctly imaged; for it requires very little skill to make our language rough. But in the lines which mention the effort of Ajax, there is no particular heaviness or delay. The swiftness of Camilla is rather contrasted than exemplified. Why the verse should be lengthened to express speed, will not easily be discovered. In the dactyls, used for that purpose by the ancients, two short syllables were pronounced with such rapidity, as to be equal only to one long; they therefore naturally exhibit the act of passing through a long space in a short time. But the Alexandrine, by its pause in the midst, is a tardy and stately measure; and the word unbending,

one

IMITATIONS. Ver. 366. Soft is the struin, &c.]

“ Tum si læta canunt,” &c. Vida, Poet. 1. üži, ver. 403.

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