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But many beauties of this kind, which the moderns, and perhaps the ancients, have observed, seem to be the product of blind reverence acting upon fancy. Dionysius himself tells us, that the sound of Homer's verses sometimes exhibits the idea of corporeal bulk. Is not this a discovery nearly approaching to that of the blind man, who, after long inquiry into the nature of the scarlet colour, found that it represented nothing so much as the clangour of a trumpet ? The representative power of poetick harmony consists of sound and measure ; of the force of the syllables singly con. sidered, and of the time in which they are pronounced. Sound can resemble nothing but sound, and time can measure nothing but motion and duration,
The criticks, however, have struck out other similitudes ; nor is there any irregularity of numbers which credulous admiration cannot discover to be eminently beautiful. Thus the propriety of each of these lines has been celebrated by writers whose opinion the world has reason to regard :
Vertitur interea cælum, & ruit oceano nox
Meantime the rapid heav'ns roll'd down the light,
Sternitur, exanimisque trements procumbit humi bos,
Down drops the beast, nor needs a second wound;
Parturiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus.
The mountains labour, and a mouse is born.
If all these observations are just, there must be some remarkable conformity between the sudden succession of night to day, the fall of an ox under a blow, and the birth of a mouse from a mountain ; since we are told of all these images, that they are very strongly impressed by the same form and termination of the verse.
We may however, without giving way to enthusiasm, admit, that some beauties of this kind may be produced. A sudden stop at an unusual syllable may image the cessation of action, or the pause of discourse ; and Milton has very happily imitated the repetitions of an echo :
I fied, and cried out death:
The measure of time in pronouncing may be va. ried so as very strongly to represent, not only the modes of external motion, but the quick or slow succession of ideas, and consequently the passions of the mind. This at least was the power of the spondaick and dactylick harmony, butour language can reach no eminent diversities of sound. We can indeed sometimes, by encumbering and retard. ing the line, shew the difficulty of a progress made by strong efforts and with frequent interruptions, or mark a slow and heavy motion. Thus-Milton has imaged the toil of Satan struggling through chaos;
So he with difficulty and labour hard
Thus he has described the leviathans, or whales :
Wallowing unwieldy, enormous in their gait.
But he has at other times neglected such represen. ations, as may be observed in the volubility and levity of these lines, which express an action tardy and reluctant :
Descent and fall
In another place, he describes the gentle glide of ebbing waters in a line remarkable rough and halting;
Tripping ebb; that stole
It is not indeed to be expected, that the sound should always assist the meaning, but it ought never to counteract it; and therefore Milton has here certainly committed a fault like that of the player, who looked on the earth when he implored the heavens, and to the heavens when he addressed the earth.
Those who are determined to find in Milton an assemblage of all the excellencies which have en
nobled all other poets, will perhaps be offended that I do not celebrate his versification in higher terms; for there are readers who discover that in
So stretch'd out huge in length the arch fiend lay,
a long form is described in a long line ; but the truth is, that length of body is only mentioned in a slow line, to which it has only the resemblance of time to space, of an hour to a maypole.
The same turn of ingenuity might perform won. ders upon the description of the ark :
Then from the mountains hewing timber tall,
In these lines the poet apparently designs to fix the attention upon bulk : but this is effected by the enumeration, not by the measure ; for what ana. logy can there be between modulations of sound, and corporeal dimensions ?
Milton, indeed, seems only to have regarded this species of embellishment so far as not to reject it when it came unsought ; which would often happen to a mind so vigorous, employed upon a subject so various and extensive. He had, indeed, a greater and a nobler work to perform ; a single sentiment of moral or religious truth, a single image of life or nature, would have been cheaply lost for a thousand echoes of the cadence to the sense ; and he who had undertaken to vindicate the ways of God to man, might have been accused of neglecting
his cause, had he lavished much of his attention upon syllables and sounds.
N° 95. TUESDAY, FEBUARY 12, 1751,
Parcus deorum cultor, & infrequens,
Vela dare, atque iterare cursus
A fugitive from heav'n and prayer,
Deep scienc'd in the mazy lore
TO THE RAMBLER.
SIR, There are many diseases both of the body and mind, which it is far easier to prevent than to cure, and therefore I hope you will think me employed in an office not useless neither to learning or virtue, if I describe the symptoms of an intellectual malady, which, though at first it seizes only the passions, will, if not speedily remedied, infect the reason, and from blasting the blossoms of knowledge, proceed in time to canker the root.