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remarkable are, Milton's Allegro and Penseroso. The collection of gay images on the one hand, and of melancholy ones on the other, exhibited in these two small, but inimitable fine poems, are as exquisite as can be conceived. They are, indeed, the storehouse whence many succeeding poets have enriched their descriptions of similar subjects; and they alone are sufficient for illustrating the observations which I made, concerning the proper selection of circumstances in descriptive writing. Take for instance, the following passage from the Penseroso :

..I walk unseen

On the dry, smooth-shaven green,
To behold the wandering moon,
Riding near her highest noon;
And oft, as if her head she bow'd,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
Oft, on a plat of rising ground,
I hear the far off curfew sound,
Over some wide watered shore,
Swinging slow with solemn roar:
Or, if the air will not permit,
Some still removed place will fit,
Where glowing embers through the room
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom;

Far from all resort of mirth,

Save the cricket on the hearth,

Or the bellman's drowsy charm,

To bless the doors from nightly harm;

Or let my lamp, at midnight hour,

Be seen, in some high lonely tower,
Exploring Plato, to unfold

What worlds, or what vast regions hold
Th' immortal mind, that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook;

And of those dæmons that are found
In fire, air, flood, or under-ground.

Here there are no unmeaning general expressions; all is particular; all is picturesque; nothing forced or exaggerated; but a simple style, and a collection of strong expressive images, which are all of one class, and recal a number of similar ideas of the melancholy kind: particularly the walk of moon-light; the sound of the curfew bell heard distant; the dying embers in the chamber; the bellman's call; and the lamp seen at midnight in the high lonely tower. We may observe, too, the conciseness of the poet's manner. He does not rest long on one circumstance, or employ a great many words to describe it; which always makes the impression faint and languid; but VOL. II. G G

the burning and sacking of Troy, the particulars are so well
selected and represented, that the, reader finds himself in the
midst of that scene of horror. The death of Priam, especially,
may be singled out as a master-piece of description. All the
circumstances of the aged monarch arraying himself in armour,
when he finds the enemy making themselves masters of the
city; his meeting with his family, who are taking shelter at an
altar in the court of the palace, and their placing him in the
midst of them; his indignation when he beholds Pyrrhus slaugh-
tering one of his sons; the feeble dart which he throws; with
Pyrrhus's brutal behaviour, and his manner of putting the old
man to death, are painted in the most affecting manner, and
with a masterly hand. All Homer's battles, and Milton's ac-
count, both of paradise and of the infernal regions, furnish ma-
beautiful instances of poetical description. Ossian, too, paints
in strong and lively colours, though he employs few circum-
stances; and his chief excellency lies in painting to the heart.
One of his fullest descriptions is the following, of the ruins of
Balclutha : " I have seen the walls of Balclutha, but they were
desolate. The fire had resounded within the halls; and the
voice of the people is now heard no more. The stream of
Clutha was removed from its place, by the fall of the walls;
the thistle shook there its lonely head; the moss whistled to
the wind. The fox looked out at the window; the rank
grass weaved round his head. Desolate is the dwelling of
Moina. Silence is in the house of her fathers." Shakespeare
cannot be omitted on this occasion, as singularly eminent for
painting with the pencil of nature. Though it be in manners
and characters, that his chief excellency lies, yet his scenery
also is often exquisite, and happily described by a single stroke;
as in that fine line of the "Merchant of Venice," which con-
veys to the fancy as natural and beautiful an image, as can pos-
sibly be exhibited in so few words:

How sweet the moon-light sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit, &c.

Much of the beauty of descriptive poetry depends on a right choice of epithets. Many poets, it must be confessed, are too careless in this particular. Epithets are frequently brought in, merely to complete the verse, or make the rhyme answer; and


hence they are so unmeaning and redundant; expletive words only, which in place of adding any thing to the description, clog and enervate it. Virgil's "Liqui difontes," and Horace's, "Prata canis albicant pruinis," must, I am afraid, be assigned to this class for, to denote by an epithet that water is liquid, or that snow is white, is no better than mere tautology. Every epithet should either add a new idea to the word which it qualifies, or at least serve to raise and heighten its known signification. So in Milton,


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The epithets employed here plainly add strength to the description, and assist the fancy in conceiving it ;....the wandering feet....the unbottomed abyss....the palpable obscure....the uncouth way....the indefatigable wing....serve to render the images more complete and distinct. But there are many general epithets, which, though they appear to raise the signification of the word to which they are joined, yet leave it so undetermined, and are now become so trite and beaten in poetical language, as to be perfectly insipid. Of this kind are "barbarous discord....hateful envy....mighty chiefs....bloody war....gloomy shades....direful scenes," and a thousand more of the same kind which we meet with occasionally in good poets; but with which, poets of inferior genius abound every where, as the great props of their affected sublimity. They give a sort of swell to the language, and raise it above the tone of prose ; but they serve not in the least to illustrate the object described contrary, they load the style with a languid verbosity. Sometimes it is in the power of the poet of genius, by one well-chosen epithet, to accomplish a description, and by means of a single word, to paint a whole scene to the fancy. We may remark this effect of an epithet in the following fine lines of Milton's Lycidas:

Where were ye, nymphs, when the remorseless deep

Clos'd o'er the head of your lov'd Lycidas?

For neither were ye playing on the steep,

Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lic,

Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,

Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream.

; on the

Among these wild scenes, "Deva's wizard stream" is admirably imaged; by this one word, presenting to the fancy all the romantic ideas, of a river flowing through a desolate country, with banks haunted by wizards and enchanters. Akin to this is an epithet which Horace gives to the river Hydaspes. A good man, says he, stands in need of no arms.

Siver per Syrtes fter æstuosas,

Sive facturus per inhospitalem

Caucasum ; vel quæ loca fabulosus
Lambit Hydaspes.

This epithet "fabulosus," one of the commentators on Horace has changed into "sabulosus," or sandy; substituting, by a strange want of taste, the common and trivial epithet of the sandy river, in place of that beautiful picture which the poet gives us, by calling Hydaspes the Romantic River, or the scene of Adventures and Poetic Tales.

Virgil has employed an epithet with great beauty and propriety, when accounting for Dædalus not having engraved the fortune of his son Icarus:

Bis conatus erat casus effingere in auro
Bis patriæ cecidere manus.†


These instances and observations may give some just idea of true poetical description. We have reason always to distrust an author's descriptive talents, when we find him laborious and turgid, amassing common-place epithets and general expressions, to work up a high conception of some object, of which, after all, we can form but an indistinct idea. The best describers are simple and concise. They set before us such features of an object, as, on the first view, strike and warm the fancy: they give us ideas which a statuary or a painter could lay hold of, and work after them; which is one of the strongest and most decisive trials of the real merit of description.

Whether through Lybia's burning sands
Our journey leads, or Scythia's lands,
Amidst th' unhospitable waste of snows,
Or where the fabulous Hydaspes flows.

+ Here hapless Icarus had found his part,

Had not his father's grief restrain'd his art;

He twice assayed to cast his son in gold,


Twice from his hand he dropp'd the forming mould.


In this translation the thought is justly given; but the beauty of the expres sion “patriæ manus," which in the original conveys the thought with so much tenderness, is lost.





AMONG the various kinds of poetry, which we are, at present employed in examining, the ancient Hebrew poetry, or that of the Scriptures, justly deserves a place. Viewing these sacred books in no higher light, than as they present to us the most ancient monuments of poetry extant, at this day, in the world, they afford a curious object of criticism. They display the taste of a remote age and country. They exhibit a species of composition, very different from any other with which we are acquainted, and, at the same time, beautiful. Considered as inspired writings, they give rise to discussions of another kind. But it is our business, at present, to consider them not in a theological, but in a critical view: and it must needs give pleasure, if we shall find the beauty and dignity of the composition, adequate to the weight and importance of the matter. Dr. Lowth's learned treatise," De Sacra Poesi Hebræorum," ought to be perused by all who desire to become thoroughly acquainted with this subject. It is a work exceedingly valuable, both for the elegance of its composition and for the justness of the criticism which it contains. In this Lecture, as I cannot illustrate the subject with more benefit to the reader, than by following the tract of that ingenious author, I shall make much use of his observations.

I need not spend many words in showing, that among the books of the Old Testament there is such an apparent diversity in style, as sufficiently discovers, which of them are to be considered as poetical, and which, as prose compositions. While the historical books, and legislative writings of Moses, are evidently prosaic in the composition, the Book of Job, the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, the Lamentations of Jeremiah,

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