William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

. (page 17 of 44)
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partly from the circumstance, that whatever is addressed more to
the passions than to the reason, requires a higher colouring. The
first remarkable diff'erence between poetry and prose, is, that
the former admits of the use of words and expressions, which
in the latter would be accounted obsolete. This principally
arises from the permanency or stationary character of poetry.
Prose in some measure depends on the style of conversation,
which is perpetually varying, but poetry survives these vicissi-
tudes, and therefore many words in Shakespeare and Milton,


which perhaps flie age immediately succeeding would have
regarded as low, are now consecrated by time.

2dly. Some poetical words take an additional syllable, as
dispart, enchnm, &c. M'hile others are made shorter by a sylla-
ble, as vaie, trump, clime, mom, eve, &c.

3dly. Certain abbreviations, and particularly tlie casura,
by which a letter is cut off from the beginning and end of a
syllable, are admissible in poetry, which are not allowable in
prose, as

T*was on a lofty vase's side,

T* alarm th' eternal miduight of the grave.

4thly. Poetry admits of a bolder transposition than prose,
which might be exemplified in many passages from Milton,
but the following is to the point :

Together both, ere the high lawns appear'd

Under the opening eyelid of the morn,

We drove afield. Monody on Lycidas.

5lhly. Poetry transforms nouns and adjectives into verbs
and participles, thus we have to hymn, varying, pictured
walls, caverrid roofs, &c.

6thiy. The soul of poetry is particularizing and bringing to
view minute circumstances, which give animation to the pic-
ture ; and for the same reason, poetry often uses a periphrasis
rather than a plain or simple description,

7lhly, Poetry admits of more and stronger figures than
prose, and particularly the prosopopoeia ; and it also admit*
of a greater abundance of epithets : even compound epithets
are necessary adjuncts in poetry, such as cloud-cupt towers,
mpny-txcink/ing, &c.

iVfter all, the distingulshhig character of poetry, as far as
re<'ards the style, lies more in the rejection than in the adop-
tion of particular phrases or forms of speech. Whatever is
technical, commoii, or colloquial, should be avoided. Where
dignity is expected, a phrase, lligu^h not low in itself, ye^


beinff common in prose writing or conversation, will commonly
degrade. On this subject, Dr. Johnson says " There was,
beforo the time of Dry den, no poetical diction, no system of
words at once refined from the grossness of domestic use, dfid
free from the harshness of terms appropriated to particular
arts. Words too familiar, or too remote, defeat the purpose
of the poet. From those sounds, which we hear on small or
coarse occasions, we do not easily receive strong impressions
or delightful images ; and words, to which we are nearly stran-
gers, whenever they occur, draw that attention to themselves
which they should convey to things. Those happy combina-
tions of words, which distinguish poetry from prose, had been
rarely attempted ; we had few elegancies or flowers of speech ;
the rose had not yet been plucked from the bramble, or diffe-
rent colours joined^o enliven one another."

Of Pastoral Poetry. The pastoral is a very agreeable
species of poetry, but it is limited in its object. When formed
on the model presented to us by Theocritus and Virgil, it
should be a description of rural scenes and natural feelings
enriched with elegant language, and adorned by the most me-
lodious numbers. It was probably not invented till men had
begun to assemble in great cities, and the bustle of courts and
large societies was known. From the tumult of a city life,
men look back with complacency and a longing eye to the in-
nocence of a country retirement. Theocritiis wrote the first
pastorals which have come down to us, in the court of King
Ptolemy, and Virgil imitated him in the court of Augustus.

The pastoral recals objects which commonly delight in
childhood and youth. It gives the image of life, to which we
join the ideas of innocence, peace, virtue, qnd leisure. It con-
templates objects favourable to poetry ; such as rivers and
mountains, meadows and hills, flocks, trees and shepherds.
The pastoral poet paints the simplicity, the tranquillity and
happiness of a country life, but conceals its rudeness and mi-
sery. His pictures are not those of real life : they merely re-


semble it. Most of our English pastorals represent scenes
that are artificial^ and sentiments thftt are factitious, because
they are imitated from other poets, the natives of a luxuriant
r^on, accustomed to the living tints and glowing azure of a
cloudless sky.

To have a proper idea of pastoral poetry, we must consider
the scenery, the characters, and the subjects which it exhi-
bits. The scene must be in the country, and the allusions
should he to natural objects. The poet must diversify the
face of nature, but on all occasions tlie scenery must be
adapted to the subject of the pastoral, so that nature may be
shewn under the forms that most accurately correspond with
the emotions and sentiments which he describes. As to the
characters in pastorals, it is not sufficient that they are persons
who reside constantly in the country, they must be shepherds,
and wholly engaged in rural occupations. The shepherd must
be plain and unaffected, without being dull and insipid. He
must possess good sense, and even vivacity ; and should display
tender and delicate feelings. VV'^ith respect to the subjects of
pastorals, it is not enough that the poet should give shepherds
discoursing together. Every good poem must have a topic
that should be interesting in some way, and in this lies the dif-
ficulty of pastoral poetry. The active scenes of a country life
are too barren of incidents, and the condition of a shepherd
has few things in it that produce curiosity and surprize.

Of Theocritus and Virgil, the former is distinguished for
the simplicity of his sentiments, the harmony of his numbers,
and the richness of his scenery ; but he occasionally descends
into ideas that are mean, abusive and immodest. Virgil, on
ihe contrary, has all the pastoral simplicity and grace, without
any offensive rusticity.

Of all the modems, Gesner, a poet of Switzerland, has
been the most happy. His scenery is striking, and his de-
scriptions are lively : he is pathetic and writes to the heart.
Meilher the pastorals of Mr. Pope, nor of Mr. Pliilips, are
any acquisition to English poetry. But Mr. Sheustone's



" Pastoral Ballad," is one of the most elegant poems in the language, ainl the " Gentle Shepherd" of Allan Ram-
say will bear being brought into comparison with any compo-
sition, of this kind, in any language. To this poem, it is a
disadvantage, that it is written in the old rustic dialect of Scot-
land, which is almost obsolete ; and another objection is, that it
is so entirely formed on the rural manners of Scotland, that
none but a native of that country can relish, or even understand
it. On the other hand, it is full of natural descriptioti, and it
excels in tenderness of sentiment.. The characters are drawn
with a skilful pencil, the incidents are affecting, and the sce-
nery and manners are lively and just.

Of the Elegy. The name of Elegy waS originally given
to the funereal monody, but was afterwards attached to all
plaintive strains. In the Latin language it was always written
in hexameter and pentameter verse. By the moderns, an
elegiac stanza was invented, assimilating as nearly as possible
with those slow numbers. . Many elegies, and these probably
the best, are expressive of only soothing tenderness : such are
those of Tibullus, so happily imitated by Hammond. The
Jesse of Shenstone, which has, perhaps, never been surpassed,
is all pathos. The celebrated elegy of Gray combines every
charm of description and sentiment. The elegiac stanza, which
soon becomes oppressive to the ear, is sometimes exchanged for
a lighter strain, as in the Juan Fernandez already referred to :

I am monarch of all I survey.

My right there is none to dispute ;
From the centre, all round to the sea,
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
Oh solitude ! where are the channs

That sages have seen in thy face ?
Better dwell in tlic midst of alarms, ,

Than reign in this horrible place ! Cowper.

Of the Sonnet. The Sonnet represents the elegy in an


abridged form ; the same slow stanza is assigned to each, and
the sentiments suitable to the one are appropriate to the
other. It is derived from the Italian school, and has, at diffe-
rent periods, been much cultivated in this country, bat it is
not well suited to the genius of Obr language. The original
form was fourteen lines, viz. two stanzas of four lines each,
and two of three, and this form is still preserved in what are
esteemed true sonnets. The following by Milton is a fine spe-
cimen of the English sonnet ;

O nightingale, that on yon leafy spray

Wast blest at eve, when all the woods are still I

Thou with fresh hopes tlie lover's heart dost fill,

When the jolly Hours lead on propitioas May.

Tliy liquid notes, that close the eye of Day,

First heard, before the shallow cuckoo's bill,

Portend success in love. Oh ! if Jove's will ,

Have liuk'd that amorous power to thy soft lay,

Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate

Foretell my hopeless doom in some grove nig^.

As thoB from year to year hast sung too late

For my relief, yet hadst no reason why,

Whether the muse, or Love call thee liis mate,

Botli them I serve, and of tlieir train am I.

Of Li/ric Poetry. Tlie ode is, in Greek, equivalent with
8ong or hynui, and lyric poetry implies that the verses are ac-
companied with a lyre, or with a musical instrument. It is
versatile and miscellaneous, and admits almost every diversity
of measure and subject. Love heroism, friendship and
devotional sentiment, the triumphs of beauty, and the praises
of patriotism, are all appropriate to lyrical composition.
The soul of enthusiasm, the spirit of philosophy, the voice of
sympathy, may all breathe in the same ode. It is not neces-
sary that the structure of the ode should be so perfectly ex-
act and formal as a didactic poem ; but in every work of ge-
nius there ought to be a whole, and this whole should consist
of partS; which should have a bond of connexion. In the ode.

1>0ETRY. 205

ihe tranaitionjf from thought to thought may be brisk and ra-
pid, but the connexion of ideas should be preserved.

Pindary the father of Lyric poetry, has led his imitators
into wildness and enthusiasm ; but in Horace, every thing is
correct, harmonious and happy. Grace and elegance are his
diaracteristics. He supports a moral sentiment with dignity,
touches a gay one with felicity, and has the happy art to trifle
most agreeably. Of our own lyrical writers, Dryden is emi-
nent ; his ode on St. Cecilia's day is well known. Gray is dis-
tinguished by the majesty and delicacy of his expression, and
the correctness of his style. Collins is not unfrequently ani-
mated by a portion of Pindaric spirit.

Among the minor lyrics ard included Songs, of which the
themes are in general amatory or convivial. Some, however,
are patriotic and martial, and not a few of a humorous cast.
Shakespeare, Jonson, and some other of their contemporaries
have left behind them songs of great beauty. In the last cen-
tury, the most popular Song-writer was Gay.

Of Didactic Poetry. The express intention of this is to
convey instruction and knowledge on a particular subject.
Tlie highest species of didactic composition is a formal trea-
tise on some philosophical or grave subject. Such is the
poem of Lucretius '* De Rerum Natura;" sUch also are the
Georgics of Virgil, Pope's Essay on Criticism, Akenside's
Pleasures of the Imagination, Armstrong's poem on Health,
and the Art of Poetry by Horace, Vida, and Boileau. In all
these works, instruction is the professed object, but the practi-
cal lessons must be enlivened with figures, incidents and poeti-
cal painting. Virgil, in his Georgics, has, more than any other
writer, the art of beautifying the most common circumstances
in the business of which he treats. He was happy in his subject,
for a dissertation on rural employments and affairs affords a
vast scope for beautiful and luxuriant description. The plan
which he adopts is sufficiently regular for the conveying of all


necessary instruction, while the poem is every where enliveued
by animated description, splendid allusions, or interestiiig nar-
rations. The reader who is, iu the least, acquainted with the
Georgics, cannot forget the description of the perpetual spring
in Italy, nor that of the Scythian winter ; with what interest
does the poet describe the happiness of a country life, the
prodigies that preceded the death of Caesar, and the disease
among the cattle, the fable of Aristeus, and the tale of Or-
pheus and Eurydice.

In all didactic works, sHch a method and order are requisite,
as shall exhibit clearly a connected train of instruction ; but
considerable liberties may be taken with regard to episodes
and embellishments, for in a poetical performance, a conti-
nued series of instruction, without entertaining embellishmente,
would fatigue and disgust rather than amuse.

Of didactic poetry, satires and epistles run into the most fa-
miliar style. The satire is supposed to be a relic of the an-
cient comedy, but it was Horace who brought it to the perfec-
tion in which it has come dov/n to us. Satire appears in three
different modes, in tlie writings of Horace, Juvenal and Per-
sius. The satires of Horace are characterized by their ease
and grace : they glance rather at the follies and weakness of
mankind, than their vices. Juvenal is more declamatory and
serious, and has greater strength and fire. Persius has dis-
tinguished himself by a noble and sublime morality. Poetical
epistles, when employed in moral and critical topics, resemble
satires in the strain of their poetry. But in the epistolary form,
various other subjects may be treated. The ethical epistles of
Pope are a model, and he exhibits in them the strength of his
genius. His imitations of Horace are so happy, that it is dif-
ficult to say whether the original or the copy is the most to be

The Night Thoughts of Dr. Young may be fairly classed
among moral didactic poems* In tliis work there is great
energy of expression, many pathetic passages, happy images.


and moral reflections. The opening of the poem has been
regarded as only second to the exquisite lines of the immortal
Shakespeare on Sleep :

Tir**! nature's sweet restorer, balmy Sleep,
He, like the world, his ready visit pays
Where fortune smiles; the wretched he forsakes.
Swift on his downy pinions flies from woe.
And lights on lids unsullied with a tear.

Of Epic Poetry. Epic poetry concentrates all that is
sublime in action, description, or sentiment. In the structure
of a regular poem of this order, criticism requires that the fa-
ble should be founded in fact, and that fiction may fill the pic-
ture of which the outline is traced by truth. The machinery
shduld be subservient to the main design. The action should
be simple and uniform. In Homer's Iliad, the action is
limited to the destruction of Troy, which is to be effected by
the conciliation of Achilles to the common cause. In the
Odyssey, it is the establishment of Ulysses in Ithaca, an event
which, after innumerable difficulties, he is finally enabled to
accomplish. In Virgil's iEneid, the hero is destined to found
a Trojan colony in Latium. In the Jerusalem Delivered, the
object is the restoration of that city to the Christians. In the
Lusiad of Camoens the subject is the discovery of India by
Vasco de Gama. The characters are well drawn, but not so
well supported: The subject is perhaps too recent, and the
savage barbarities which the Portuguese committed, naturally
prejudice us against it. It, however, affords an admirable
scope for description, and for the introduction of very inte-
resting scenes.

In Epic poems. Criticism requires that poetical justice
should be dispensed to all parties, success being awarded to
the virtuous, and punishment inflicted on the guilty. Homer,
Virgil and Tasso have constructed their poems on this prin-
ciple. The Paradise Lost, whether it be, or be not ranked in
the class of Epic poems, is justly deemed one of the highest
efforts of poetical genius. The author, in the conduct of the


subject, has sliewii a very wonderful stretch of imagination and
invention, and has admirably sustained the various charac-
ters which he has introduced. But Milton's distinguishing
excellence is his sublimity, in which he very far surpasses
Virgil, and by some is thought to excel even Homer. By all
it is admitted that Milton's sublimity is difiFerent from that of
Homer. That of the latter is generally accompanied with
fire and impetuosity, while Milton's possesses more of calm
and amazing grandeur. Homer warms and hurries us along ;
Milton's is that of wonderful and stupendous objects. Milton
unites with his sublimity much of the beautiful, the tender,
and the pleasing : his language and versification possess very
high merit. His style is full of majesty, and wonderfully
adapted to his subject. His blank verse is harmonious and
diversified, and affords the most complete example of eleva-
tion, which the English language is capable of attaining by
the force of numbers.

Of the Drama. llie Drama was originally a metrical
composition, and exhibited all the critical refinements of poe-
try. The title of poet is still given to every dramatic author,
although he should write in prose, and have no talent what-
ever for poetry. .The avowed object of the drama is to deve-
lope the passions, or to delineate the manners of mankind,
tragedy eflfects the one, and comedy the other. In the English
language there are many popular dramas of a mixed charater,
which are written in verse intermingled with prose, and which
are called plays. Tlie triple unities of time, place, and ac-
tion, are seldom observed on the English stage, and it is ad-
mitted, that between the acts any change is admissible. In
truth, this operation is performed without condition and re-
striction, and is allowed without censure, provided die cause
and object of it is immediately comprehended by the audience.
To the hmitation of time more attention is paid. In many
tragedies the action is included in one day. Unity of design
is aa obligation imposed by good seose, and Sl;iakespearc,

^ POETRY. 209

guided only by his feelings of propriety, is, in general, care-
ful to exclude from his plays a divided interest. In constrnct-
ing a dramatic fable, the author has to provide sources of
constantly augmenting interest ; to present characters, to sug-
gest situations capable of extorting from the spectators an ac-
tive participation in the scene ; above all, to supply a series
of natural incidents, the springs of dramatic action, by which
all the life and motion of the piece are produced. The dra-
matic style should imbibe its character from that of the indi-
viduals presented in the scene, and transmit the impression of
every feeling which is there pourtrayed. On this excellence
isi^ founded the superiority of Shakespeare to all other dra-
matists : from his pen, each passion receives its appropriate
language. With a few masterly touches, he lays open the
heart, exhibits its most secret movements, and excites in every
bosom correspondent emotions.

Of the Epigram. An epigram is a little poem, treating of
one thing only, whose characteristics are brevity, beauty, and
point. The word epigram signifies inscription^ for epigrams
derive their origin from those inscriptions placed by the an-
cients on their statues, temples, pillars, triumphal arches, &c.
which, at first, were very short, being sometimes no more
than a single word ; but afterwards, increasing their length,
they made them in verse, to be better retained by the memory.
This short way of writing came at last to be used upon any
occasion or subject, and hence the name of epigram has been
given to almost any stnall copy of verses, without any regard
to the original application of the term. The usual limits of
an epigram are from two to twenty verses, though it often
extends to fifty, but the shorter, the better it is, and the more
perfect ; because the epigram, being only a single thought,
ought to be expressed in a little compass, or it loses its force
and strength. It is principally {\\e point that characterizes the
epigram. It admits of a great variety of subjects ; some are
made to praise, and others to satirize ; the last are the easiest,



as ill-temper frequently serves in the place of wit. We have
many excellent epigrams in our own language : thse of Prior
are highly esteemed ; the following is a fine encomium on the
performance of an excellent painter :


When Chloe's picture was to Venus shown ;
Surprized, the eodiless took it for her own.
And what, said hc, docs this bold painter mean?
When was I bathing thus, and naked seen?
Pleas'd Cupid heard, and check'd his mother's pride ;
And who's blind now, mamma i the urchin cry'd,
'Ti Cliloe's eye, and cheek, and lip, and breast :
Friend Howard's genius fancy'd all the rest.

The epigram of the celebrated Dr. Doddridge, on the
words Dum vivimtts, vivamus, is well known :

Live while yon live, the epicure would say,
And grasp the pleasures of the passing day :
Live while you live, the sacred preacher cries.
And give to God each moment as it flies :
Lord, in my view let both united be,
I live in pleasure, >\bile IJive to Tbee.

Of the Epitaph. The epitaph is nearly allied to tlie epi-
gram, and has a similar derivation, meaning, as the term im-
ports, an inscription on a tomb. In its original structure, it
consisted of only a single line, or a few words intended to at-
tract the notice of the passenger. Such is that on the tomb
of Tasso :

Les 08 du Tasse.

In a good epitaph, the name, and something of the character
of the person should be introduced ; and the place in which
epitaphs are usually inserted, ought never to be forgotten, and
on this accoimt every thing light and trifling should be avoided.
The followuig epitaph of. Dr. Johnson, on a celebrated mu-
sician, possesses all these characteristics :

Philips! whose touch, liarmonions, conld remove
JThe pangs of guilty power and hapless love,


Rest here, dUtrest by poverty no more I
Find here that calm thou gav'st so oft before ;
Sleep undisturbed within this peaceful shrine,
Till angels wake thee with a note like thine !

That of the illustrious Newton is highly appropriate :

y, Isaacum Newton

Quem inimortalem
Testantnr Tempus, Natura, Coelum,
Mortalem hoc marmor ,


The difficulty of writing an epitaph, consists in giving a
particular and appropriate praise, which, in most instances,
is almost impossible, because the greater part of mankind have
little that distinguishes them from others, and, therefore, no-
thing can be said of them, that will not apply to thousands

The elegance of an epitaph consists in a nervous and ex-
pressive brevity, and it is often closed with a sort of epigram-
matic point :

Underneath this uoble marble hearse
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney's sister, Penibroke's mother:
Death ! ere thou hast killed another.
Fair, and learu'd, and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.

Wit seems much out of place in an epitaph ; yet we have
many epitaphs that are jocose and ludicrous, such is that on
an old fiddler, who was remarkable for beating time to his
own music :

Stephen and Time are now both even,
Stephen beat Time, now Time 's beat Stephen.




Cicero's division of Oratory Defects in enunciation In what an orator
should excel Articulation, the principal thing Accent Emphasisr-^
Passions of the mind, how expressed Cadence Pauses Gesture Ac*
tion Practical Rules.

Ill LOCUTION is a branch of Oratory of great power and
importance. In common language, the term signifies utter-
ance, delivery, or pronunciatioii. Elocution was much culti-
vated bjr Cicero and Quintilian, and before their time, by
Demosthenes. It is well known, that the latter being asked

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 44)