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Extra anni solisque vias
Tutta lontana dal camin del sole.
9. Far from the sun and summer-gale.
Petrarch Canzon ii. G.
An ingenious person, who sent Mr. Gray his remarks anonymously on this and the following Ode, soon after they were published, gives this stanza and the following a very just and wellexpressed eulogy: “A Poet is perhaps never more conciliating "than when he praises favourite predecessors in his art. Milton " is not more the pride than Shakespeare the love of their coun
try: It is, therefore, equally judicious to diffuse a tenderness "and a grace through the praise of Shakespeare, as to extol in
strain more elevated and sonorous the boundless soarings of "Milton's epic imagination." The critic has here well noted the beauty of contrast which results from the two descriptions; yet it is further to be observed, to the honor of our Poet's judgment, that the tenderness and grace in the former does not prevent it from strongly characterizing the three capital perfections of Shakespeare's genius; and when he describes his power of exciting terror (a species of the sublime) he ceases to be diffuse, and becomes, as he ought to be, concise and energetical.
Stanza 3. l. 1.
10. He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time.
Antist. iii. l. 4.
Flammantia mænia mundi.
11. The living throne, the sapphire-blaze.
Antist. iii. 1. 5.
For the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels, and above the firmament that was over their heads, was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone---this was the ap pearance of the glory of the Lord.
Ezekiel i. 20, 26, 28. G.
12. Clos'd his eyes in endless night.
Antist. iii. 1. 8.
Οφθαλμῶν μὲν ἄμερσε· δίδου δ ̓ ἡδειαν ἀοιδήν.
Homer Od. G.
This has been condemned as a false thought, and more worthy of an Italian Poet than of Mr. Gray. Count Algarotti, we have found in his letter to Mr. How, praises it highly; but as he was an Italian Critic, his judgment, in this point, will not, perhaps by many, be thought to overbalance the objection. The truth is, that this fiction of the cause of Milton's blindness is not beyond the bounds of poetical credibility, any more than the fiction which precedes it concerning the birth of Shakespeare; and therefore would be equally admissible, had it not the peculiar misfortune to encounter a fact too well known: on this account the judgment revolts against it. Milton himself has told us, in a strain of heart-felt exultation, (see his Sonnet to Cyriac Skynner) that he lost his eye-sight
IN LIBERTY'S DEFENCE, his noble task;
And, when we know this to have been the true cause, we cannot admit a fictitious one, however sublimely conceived, or happily expressed. If, therefore, so lofty and unrivalled a description. will not atone for this acknowledged defect, in relation to mat
ter of fact, all that the impartial critic can do, is to point out the reason, and to apologize for the Poet, who was necessitated by his subject to consider Milton only in his poetical capacity. :
Since the above note was published, Mr. Brand, of East-Dereham, in Norfolk, has favoured me with a letter, in which he informs me of a very similar hyperbole extant in a MS. Commentary upon Plato's Phædon, written by Hermias, a christian philosopher, of the second century, and which is printed in Bayle's Dietionary (Art. Achilles). It contains the following anecdote of Homer:- "That keeping some sheep near the tomb of Achilles, "he obtained, by his offerings and supplications, a sight of that "Hero; who appeared to him surrounded with so much glory that "Homer could not bear the splendor of it, and that he was not "only dazzled, but blinded by the sight." The ingenious gentleman makes no doubt but Mr. Gray took his thought from this passage, and applauds him for the manner in which he has improved upon it: he also thinks in general, "that a deviation from "historical truth, though it may cast a shade over the middling "beauties of poetry, produces no bad effect where the magnifi❝cence and brilliancy of the images entirely fill the imagination;" and with regard to this passage in particular, he intimates, "that 66 as the cause of Milton's blindness is not so well known as the "thing itself, the licence of poetical invention may allow him to "assign a cause different from the real fact." However this may be, the very exact resemblance, which the two thoughts bear to one another, will, I hope, vindicate Mr. Gray's from being a modern concetto in the taste of the Italian school, às it has been deemed to be by some critics. But this resemblance will do more; (and it is on this account chiefly that I produce, and thank the gentleman for communicating it) it will prove the extreme uncertainty of deciding upon poetical imitations; for I am fully persuaded that Mr. Gray had never seen, or at least attended to, this Greek fragment. How scrupulous he was in borrowing even an epithet from another poet, many of his notes on this very Ode fully prove. And as to the passage in question, he would certainly have cited it, for the sake of vindicating his own taste by classical
authority, especially when the thought had been so much controverted.
13. With necks in thunder cloath'd, and long-resound
Antist. iii. l. 12.
Hast thou cloathed his neck with thunder?
This verse, and the foregoing, are meant to express the stately march and sounding energy of Dryden's Rhymes. G.
14. Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn. Ep. iii. l. 4.
Words that weep, and tears that speak.
15. That the Theban Eagle bear.
Διὸς πρὸς ὄρνιχα θεῖον.
Ep. iii. l. 9.
Pindar compares himself to that bird, and his enemies to ravens that croak and clamour in vain below, while it pursues its flight, regardless of their noise. G.
16. The Critic, above quoted, concludes his remarks on this Ode, I which he had written after his observations on the Bard, in a manner which accounts, in my opinion, for the superior pleasure that it has given to him, and also to the generality of readers. "I quit,” says he, "this Ode with the strongest conviction of ❝ its abundant merit; though I took it up, (for this last attentive " perusal) persuaded that it was not a little inferior to the other. $1 They are not the treasures of imagination only that have so
"copiously enriched it: It speaks, but surely less feelingly than "the Bard, (still my favourite) to the heart. Can we in truth "be equally interested, for the fabulous exploded Gods of other "nations, (celebrated in the first half of this Ode) as by the 66 story of our own Edwards and Henrys, or allusions to it? Can " a description, the most perfect language ever attained to, of tyranny expelling the muses from Parnassus, seize the mind equally with the horrors of Berkley Castle, with the apostrophe to the tower?
"I do not mean, however, wholly to decry fabulous subjects or " allusions, nor more than to suggest the preference due to his
"torical ones, where happily the Poet's fertile imagination sup
"plies him with a plentiful choice of both kinds, and he finds "himself capable of treating both, according to their respective natures, with equal advantage."
"And spare the meek Usurper's holy head!
17. It will not surely be improper at the conclusion of this Ode, so peculiarly admirable for the musical flow of its numbers, to mention one circumstance relative to English Lyric Poetry in general, and much to its honour, which has lately been communicated to me by an ingenious friend. It is this:-' That it can " fully, at least when in the hands of such a Master, support its For there is great
harmony without the assistance of Music.
" reason to believe, that in the Greek-Ode, of which we are taught to think so highly, the power of Numbers was little 'perceived without the effectual aid of a musical accompanyment. And we have in proof of this supposition the express ' testimonies of Cicero and Quintilian. The first, in his Orator ❝ (a finished performance, and of which he speaks himself in the 'highest terms, ep. fam. vi. 18.) makes the following observa
tion: "Sed in versibus res est apertior: quamquam etiam à " modis quibusdam, cantu remoto, soluta esse videatur oratio, “maximéque id in optimo quoque eorum poëtarum, qui Avgıxoì "à Græcis nominantur: quos cùm cantu spoliaveris, nuda pænè "remanet oratio."----Orator. N° 183.-He gives a farther instance from the Poets of his own Country, which I do not here