« AnteriorContinua »
one passage, because it said, that, if I did not wish you to live long for your sake, I did for the sake of myself and of the world. But this postscript you will not see before the printing of it; and I will say here, in spite of you, how I feel myself honoured and bettered by your friendship; and that, if I do credit to the church, after which I always longed, and for which I am now going to give in exchange the bar, though not at so late a period of life as Young took orders, it will be owing, in no small measure, to my having had the happiness of calling the author of the Rambler my friend. H. C.
Oxford, Oct. 1782.
Of Young's poems it is difficult to give any general character; for he has no uniformity of manner: one of his pieces has no great resemblance to another. He began to write early, and continued long; and at different times had different modes of poetical excellence in view. His numbers are sometimes smooth, and sometimes rugged; his style is sometimes concatenated, and sometimes abrupt; sometimes diffusive, and sometimes concise. His plan seems to have started in his mind at the present moment; and his thoughts appear the effect of chance, sometimes adverse, and sometimes lucky, with very little operation of judgment.
He was not one of those writers whom experience improves, and who, observing their own faults, become gradually correct. His poem on the Last Day, his first great performance, has an equability and propriety, which he afterwards either never endeavoured or never attained. Many paragraphs are noble, and few are mean, yet the whole is languid: the plan is too much extended, and a succession of images divides and weakens the general conception; but the great reason why the reader is disappointed is, that the thought of the LAST DAY makes every man more than poetical, by spreading over his mind a general obscurity of sacred horror, that oppresses distinction, and disdains expression.
His story of Jane Grey was never popular. It is written with elegance enough; but Jane is too heroic to be pitied.
The Universal Passion is indeed a very great performance. It is said to be a series of epigrams; but, if it be, it is what the author intended: his endeavour was at the production of striking distichs and pointed sentences; and his distichs have the weight of solid sentiment, and his points the sharpness of resistless truth.
His characters are often selected with discernment, and drawn with nicety; his illustrations are often happy, and his reflections often just. His species of satire is between those of Horace and Juvenal; and he has the gaiety of Horace, without his laxity of numbers; and the morality of Juvenal, with greater variation of images. He plays, indeed, only on the surface of life; he never penetrates the recesses of the mind, and therefore the whole power of his poetry is exhausted by a single perusal; his conceits please only when they surprise.
To translate he never condescended, unless his Paraphrase on Job may be considered as a version: in which he has not, I think, been unsuccessful; he indeed favoured himself, by chusing those parts which most easily admit the ornaments of English poetry.
He had least success in his lyric attempts, in which he seems to have been under some malignant influence: he is always labouring to be great, and at last is only turgid.
In his Night Thoughts he has exhibited a very wide display of original poetry, variegated with deep reflections and striking allusions, a wilderness of thought, in which the fertility of fancy scatters flowers of every hue and of every odour. This is one of the few poems in which blank verse could not be changed for rhyme but with disadvantage. The wild diffusion of the sentiments, and the digressive sallies of the imagination, would have been compressed and restrained by confinement to rhyme. The excellence of this work is not exactness, but copiousness; particular lines are not to be regarded; the power is in the whole; and in the whole there is a magnificence like that ascribed to Chinese plantations, the magnificence of vast extent and endless diversity.
His last poem was Resignation; in which he made, as he was accustomed, an experiment of a new mode of writing, and succeeded better than in his Ocean or his Merchant. It was very falsely represented as a proof of decayed faculties. There is Young in every stanza, such as he often was in the highest vigour.
His tragedies, not making part of the collection, I had forgotten, till mr. Steevens recalled them to my thoughts by remarking, that he seemed to have one favourite catastrophe, as his three plays all concluded with lavish suicide; a method by which, as Dryden remarked, a poet easily rids his scene of persons whom he wants not to keep alive. In Busiris there are the greatest ebullitions of imagination: but the pride of Busiris is such as no other man can have, and the whole is too remote from known life to raise either grief, terror, or indignation. The Revenge approaches much nearer to human practices and manners, and therefore keeps possession of the stage: the first design seems suggested by Othello; but the reflections, the incidents, and the diction, are original. The moral observations are so introduced, and so expressed, as to have all the novelty that can be required. Of The Brothers I may be allowed to say nothing, since nothing was ever said of it by the public.
It must be allowed of Young's poetry that it abounds in thought, but without much accuracy or selection. When he lays hold of an illustration, he pursues it beyond expectation, sometimes happily, as in his parallel of quicksilver with pleasure, which I have heard repeated with approbation by a lady, of whose praise he would have been justly proud, and which is very ingenious, very subtle, and almost exact; but sometimes he is less lucky, as when, in his Night Thoughts, having it dropped into his mind, that the orbs, floating in space, might be called the cluster of creation, he thinks of a cluster of grapes, and says, that they all hang on the great vine, drinking the "nectareous juice of immortal life."
His conceits are sometimes yet less valuable. In the Last Day he hopes to illustrate the re-assembly of the atoms that compose the human body, at the "trump of doom,"
by the collection of bees into a swarm at the tinkling of
The prophet says of Tyre, that "her merchants are princes." Young says of Tyre, in his Merchant,
Her merchants princes, and each deck a throne.
Let burlesque try to go beyond him.
He has the trick of joining the turgid and familiar: to buy the alliance of Britain, " Climes were paid down." Antithesis is his favourite, "They for kindness hate:" and "because she's right, she's ever in the wrong."
His versification is his own; neither his blank nor his rhyming lines have any resemblance to those of former writers: he picks up no hemistichs, he copies no favourite expressions; he seems to have laid up no stores of thought or diction, but to owe all to the fortuitous suggestions of the present moment. Yet I have reason to believe that, when once he had formed a new design, he then laboured it with very patient industry; and that he composed with great labour, and frequent revisions.
His verses are formed by no certain model; he is no more like himself in his different productions than he is like others. He seems never to have studied prosody, nor to have had any direction but from his own ear. But, with all his defects, he was a man of genius and a poet.
Or DAVID MALLET, having no written memorial, I am able to give no other account than such as is supplied by the unauthorised loquacity of common fame, and a very slight personal knowledge.
He was by his original one of the Macgregors, a clan that became, about sixty years ago, under the conduct of Robin Roy, so formidable and so infamous for violence and robbery, that the name was annulled by a legal abolition; and when they were all to denominate themselves anew, the father, I suppose, of this author called himself Malloch.
David Malloch was, by the penury of his parents, compelled to be janitor of the high school at Edinburgh; a mean office, of which he did not afterwards delight to hear. But he surmounted the disadvantages of his birth and fortune; for, when the duke of Montrose applied to the college of Edinburgh for a tutor to educate his sons, Malloch was recommended; and I never heard that he dishonoured his credentials.
When his pupils were sent to see the world, they were entrusted to his care; and, having conducted them round the common circle of modish travels, he returned with them to London, where, by the influence of the family in which he resided, he naturally gained admission to many persons of the highest rank, and the highest character, to wits, nobles, and statesmen.
Of his works, I know not whether I can trace the series. His first production was William and Margaret;* of which, though it contains nothing very striking or difficult, he has been envied the reputation; and plagiarism has been boldly charged, but never proved.
Not long afterwards, he published the Excursion, (1728); * Mallet's William and Margaret was printed in Aaron Hill's Plain Dealer, No 36, July 24, 1724. In its original state it was very different from what it is in the last edition of his works.