« הקודםהמשך »
respondent, in one of his answers, observes “Vous vous avez renvoyé, my lord, sous l'extérieur de Matthieu, le véritable fils de Mons. Bays: il ne lui manque que de remplir la verre de son père. Il est d'ailleurs aussi Hollandois, et je crois beaucoup plus opiniátre.” But we must now turn to his poetry. Dr. Johnson* has observed, that Prior's works may be considered distinctly as comprising Tales, Love verses, occasional Poems, the Alma, and the Solomon. Taking then this distribution, we may observe, that in his Tales, he has caught the quaint humour and comic power of Fontaine, the sly archness, the freedom of expression, and the natural graces of composition. Some grossness, indeed, which belonged to the original, and which were the dregs of a former age, and not rejected by the levity of his, still remain;" the books from which both Prior and the French poet borrowed their droll and humorous narrations were seldom free from a licentiousness that was used as a foundation for wit. It would, however, be difficult to say how such stories could be more gracefully or agreeably told. Dr. Johnson thinks that Prior is less happy in his amorous effusions; and he compares them to Cowley's artificial sorrows. But in the first place, there is an ease and simple elegance in them which Cowley seldom possesses: in some there is a softness and tenderness of complaint conveyed with the utmost felicity of expression; and for the classical and mythological allusions, they are gaily and sportingly inserted; introduced with some happy allusion, and accompanied by some agreeable and unexpected turn. To shut out all allusions to the beautiful fictions of ancient mythology, would be to rob poetry of one of its richest provinces, a province created by the finest genius, and embellished by the most captivating fancy. The serious odes of Prior are totally wanting in lyrical power. Without possessing the strict orderly arrangement which belongs to the model and form of lyric poetry, they are also devoid of the fire, the abruptness, the bold transitions, the change of numbers, the figures, which the ode demands : Prior uses the word ode in a very unusual and unrestricted sense. His ode to Col. G. Villiers is an elegy, and written in the common heroic lines; one merit it possesses in having furnished Pope with the conclusion of his Epistle from Heloisa to Abelard." His Epistle to Boileau is sprightly and elegant; and his burlesque on the same poet's ode on Namur, is executed with infinite wit and taste. Of Prior's epigrams it is sufficient praise to say that they are among the best which we possess, and are found in every collection: for many of them he is believed to be indebted to the French: Dr. Johnson discovered the Thief and Cordelier in the almost forgotten poems of George Sabinus. The translation of Callimachus is stiff and hard ; indeed the severe and highly wrought style of the original was unsuited to Prior's lighter pen. In his ode in the manner of Spenser, he has totally destroyed the beautiful system of versification in which the bard of Mullaenshrined his Fairy Queen; and adopted, by way of improvement, one consisting of two quatrains, and ending with an heroic verse and an alexandrine, a poor and wretched substitute for the linked sweetness, and the finely suspended harmony of the original. Prior's well known tale of Henry and Emma' appears to me much inferior to the original ballad, as it wants its freshness and simplicity. The subject is drawn out in continued accusation, and concession, to a length that fatigues. The tenderness and feeling are smothered in a cloud of words, lost in general reflections and maxims of morality, and destroyed
4. On Johnson's criticism on Prior, see Cowper's Letters, vol. i. p. 318, second series, 8vo.
* Of Hans Carvel, Goldsmith says —‘This bagatelle, for which, by the bye, Prior has got his greatest reputation, was a tale told in all the old Italian collection of jests, and borrowed from thence by Fontaine. It had been translated once or twice before in English, yet was never regarded till it fell into the hands of Mr. Prior. A strong instance how much every thing is improved in the hands of a man of genius.’ See B. of Engl. Poetry, ii. 58.
6 Prior's ode on the Queen's death may be traced in Collins's Ode to Thompson: and a feather from his poem ‘the Dove,' has dropped into Gray's long story. From Prior, says Mr. Southey, Pope adopted some of the most conspicuous artifices of his verse. V. Spec. of Engl. Poets, i. p. xxx. Malone supposes that Prior may have written the epitaph on Cecil, fifth Earl of Exeter. See it in Scott's Dryden, vol. xv. 191. The Judgment of Venus, in Prior's works, is said to be written by Mr. Harcourt. See Dunster's ed. of Philips' Cyder, p. 96. See some poems supposed to be by Prior in Nichols' Select Poems, vol. iv. p. 46–55, also a Latin poem on the marriage of George, Prince of Denmark, and the Lady Anne, vol. vii. p. 93.
7 On the original ballad of Henry and Emma, see Censura Literaria, vol. vi. p. 114. It is but fair to say, that Cowper's authority as regards this poem is against the editor, and therefore it is given in this note. “But what shall we say of his rusty-fusty remarks upon Henry and Emma” I agree with him, that morally considered, both the knight and his lady were bad characters, and that each exhibits an example which ought not to be followed. The man dissembles in a way that would have justified the woman had she renounced him, and the woman resolves to follow him at the expense of delicacy, propriety, and even modesty itself. But when the critic calls it a dull dialogue, who will believe him? There are few readers of poetry of either sex in this country who cannot remember how that enchanting piece has bewitched them, who do not know, that instead of finding it tedious, they have been so delighted with the romantic turn of it, as to have overlooked all its defects, and to have given it a consecrated place in their memories, without ever feeling it a burthen.’ See letter, Jan. 17, 1782. As regards Dr. Johnson's criticisms on Prior, there is much that is correct, and much not exactly to the purpose. It is clear that he preferred without labour, drawing on his general stores of criticism for remark, to reading Prior with diligence and exactness. His Lives of the Poets always show his vigour of intellect, sometimes the imperfection of his knowledge, sometimes his prejudice, and too often his indolence.
by the fanciful and ingenious images which are brought to illustrate them. The whole is too much in the style of the Pastor fido, and the Italian pastorals. The utmost praise must be given to the elegance of the diction, and the easy and varied flow of the numbers: but the whole piece is too artificial and elaborate. It seems rather a combat of skill and ingenuity, a desire to torment and to perplex, than a trial of anxious and mistrusting love : and perhaps, after all, the impression from the moral is not satisfactory. The repeated and increasing sacrifices which the lover demands, would hardly be compatible with that female dignity and fine sense of honour, which is built on a proud consciousness of innocence, and without which love cannot be supported. Of the poem of Solomon,” the general opinion seems to be correct. It may indeed be studied by the poetical artist, for the flow and harmony of its polished versification, and its beautifully selected and finished language; * but it is too long, too uniform, and too serious and majestic. The weighty
8 Cowper considers ‘the Solomon to be the best poem, whether we consider the subjects of it, or the execution, that he ever wrote.' W. Letters to Unwin, Jan. 5, 1782. 9 There is one piece of absurdity in the second book of Solomon, which one would have thought the taste of Prior would have rejected. Abra is going to give a dinner to SoloTūOI). Abrainvites—the nation is the guest: To have the honour of each day sustain'd,