« PreviousContinue »
think that an additional sprinkling of them, would have been a desirable substitute for much of the magnificent philosophy and elevated imaginings which now characterize the poem.
The Pleasures of Memory has indications of being written with more caution and labour than any of the sister poems. Its topics and images seem to have been selected with much care and some timidity, although always with judgment and in accordance with true taste. Its versification is so smooth and equable, that it is almost monotonous. It has, in fact, been polished to attenuation. This extreme guardedness has rendered this agreeable poem inferior to the others in the range of its thoughts and in the freedom of its diction; but it has apparently the highest mechanical finish of them all.
The Pleasures of Hope is perhaps the most brilliant didactic poem in the language; and it is correspondingly popular. It takes a sufficiently wide and elevated view of the pleasing influence of Hope, and selects topics for the illustration of that influence, which are naturally well adapted for poetical representation. It handles these with a freedom often partaking of abruptness, and turns off into digressions sometimes scarcely connected with the main subject, and but remotely elucidative of it, yet so beautiful that no reader would consent to their extinction. The versification of this poem is, taken altogether, perhaps the most exquisite specimen of the ten syllable couplet in the language. No poem of Pope-not even
Eloisa to Abelard-surpasses it in mellifluousness ; while in freedom, ease, and variety of movement, it seems to leave even that melodious poem behind. Its characteristic beauties are boldness, energy, and dignity of thought, and terseness, gracefulness, and harmony of expression. Its chief blemishes are an occasional obscurity of reasoning, an abruptness in changing the topics, and too great a remoteness of application in the illustrations.
The Pleasures of Friendship differs from the preceding poems in the more tangible nature of its subject. Imagination, Memory, and Hope are faculties; Friendship is a feeling. Our ideas of the first three are abstract conceptions which we form of certain powers or operations of the mind; the last is a palpable, pleasing sensation whose seat is in the heart, whose presence is welcomed and cherished, and whose influence pervades almost every occurrence of life. This poem is, in consequence, more practical in its tone, more homefelt in its topics, and generally more heart-warming in its delineations than any of the others. In regard to its versification, if it has not the pomp and the sounding energy of the Pleasures of Hope, it has equal variety and ease, and more simplicity, clearness, and spontaneous melody. Its couplets are much less laboured, and may not, therefore, be so compact and equable as those of the Pleasures of Memory, but they flow with more grace and freedom; and, while they have more volubility, they have, at least, equal sweetness. The chief power of this poem consists in its pathos ; and in reference to its sisters in this collection, it is favourably distingaished for its perspicuity, and the close applicability of its illustrations. Its descriptions are, uniformly true to nature, and its language is at once highly poetical and remarkable for vernacular purity and precision. Being the least abstract poem in the volume, it has the fewest flights into the airy regions of speculation. By some, this may be considered a defect, while others, who prefer the poetry which touches the heart to that which exercises the intellect, will deem it an advantage.
This comparison of the leading characteristics of these four noble poems, has been made designedly short, because a more minute investigation of the peculiar merits and defects of each will appear prefixed to it, in its proper place in the volume.