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Manners, Cuftoms, and Superftitions of the Modern Welch,
On the Character of Ajax,
On the comparative Value of different Studies,
Critical Obfervations on the Lyric Productions of Robert Burns,
Hinda, an Eaftern Elegy,
POLITE literature may be faid to have flourished during this reign, and it may be confidered as the commencement of an era which has not improperly been termed the Auguftan age of British literature; yet it muft be confeffed that the public tafte was at this period fcarcely refined; and it may be obferved, even in this its infant ftate, to have fuffered no fmall degree of corruption.
It was in this reign that there appeared a race of writers who have been termed the metaphyfical poets. They were men of learning; and to fhow their learning was their whole endeavour: but, unluckily refolving to fhow it in rhyme, inftead of writing poetry they only wrote verfes; and often fuch verfes as stood the trial of the finger better than the ear; for the modulation was fo imperfect, that they were only found to be verfes by counting the fyllables. If the father of criticifm has rightly denominated poetry an imitative art, thefe writers will, without great wrong, lofe their right to the name of poets; for they cannot be faid to have b 4 imitated
Imitated any thing; they neither copied nature nor lifeneither painted the forms of matter, nor reprefented the operations of intellect. Thofe, however, who deny them to poets, muft allow them to be wits. If wit (or rather genius) indeed be well defcribed by Pope, as being
"What oft is thought, but ne'er fo well exprefs'd,"
they certainly never attained, nor ever fought it; for they endeavoured to be fingular in their thoughts, and were careless of their diction. If, by a more noble and more adequate conception, that be confidered as wit which is at once natural and new, that which though not obvious, is, upon its firft production, acknowledged to be juft; if it be that, which he that never found it wonders how he miffed, to wit of this kind the metaphyfical poets rarely afpired; their thoughts are often new, but feldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they juft; and the reader, far from wondering that he miffed them, wonders more frequently by what perverfenefs of induftry they were ever found. But wit, abstracted from its effects on the hearer, has been more correctly and philofophically confidered as a kind of difcordia concors-a combination of disfimilar images, or difcovery of occult refemblances in things apparently unlike. Of wit, thus defined, they have more than enough; the moft heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ranfacked for illuftrations, comparisons, and allufions; their learning inftructs, and their fubtilty furprises; but improvement is dearly bought, and admiration ill exchanged for pleasure. It will readily be inferred that they were not fuccefsful in reprefenting or moving the affections: as they were wholly occupied in fomething unexpected and furprising, they had no regard to that uniformity of fentiment which enables us to conceive and excite the pains and pleasures of other minds. They never inquired what they themselves fhould have faid or done on other occafions; their only aim was to fay what had never been faid before. They wrote rather as beholders than partakers of human nature, as beings looking upon good and evil impaffive, and at
leifure; as Epicurean deities, making remarks on the actions of men, and the viciffitudes of life, without intereft, and without emotion. Their courtship was void of fondnefs, and their lamentation of forrow." Nor was the fublime more within their reach than the pathetic, for they did not attempt that comprehenfion and expanfe of thought which at once fills the whole mind, and of which the first effect is fudden aftonishment, and the fecond rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by aggregation, and littleness by difperfion. Great thoughts are always general, and confift in pofitions not limited by exceptions, and in defcriptions not defcending to minutenefs. It is with great propriety that fubtilty (which in its original import means exility of particles) is taken in its metaphorical meaning for nicety of diftinction. Thofe writers who lay on the watch for novelty could have little hope of greatnefs, for great things cannot have escaped former obfervation. Their attempts were always analytic; they broke every image into fragments; and could no more reprefent, by their flender conceits and laboured particularities, the profpects of nature, than he who diffects a fun-beam with a prifm can exhibit the wide effulgence of a fummer noon.
What they wanted however of the fublime they fupplied with hyperbole: their amplification had no limits; they left not only reafon but fancy behind, and produced combinations of confufed magnificence, which not only could not be credited, but could not be imagined. Yet great labour, directed by great abilities, is never wholly loft: if they frequently threw away their wit upon falfe conceits, they fometimes ftruck out unexpected truth; if their thoughts were far-fetched, they were fometimes worth the carriage: to write on their plan it was neceffary to read and think; no man could be born a metaphyfical poet, nor affume to the dignity of a writer by defcriptions copied from defcriptions, by traditional imagery and hereditary fimilies.