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I shall give but one more example, though I could easily multiply such evidences of Pope's debt to Drummond.
“ To virgins, flowers ; to sunburnt earth, the rain ;
To mariners, fair winds amidst the main ;
Pope's Pastorals. “ Not bubbling fountains to the thirsty swain,
Not balmy sleep to laborers faint with pain;
Drummond's Fourth Feusting. Gray also seems to have read and imitated him. “ Far from the madding worlding's hoarse discords.”
Drummond. “ Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife.”
Gray's Elegy. It was Drummond's poem of Fourth Feasting of which Ben Jonson envied him the authorship. It is not, however, his miscellaneous poems
which are now the most admired. In these he has many superiors, but there are few early writers of the AngloItalian sonnet who may be compared with him in that particular class of composition. With the exception of the illegitimate couplet close, the disposition of the rhymes is after the strict Italian model. Though quite Petrarchan in their tone, they also occasionally evince the author's admiration of the style of his English predecessors and contemporaries. It is certain that he was familiar with the Sonnets of Shakespeare; for in his list of books read by him in 1606 he gives the “ Passionate Pilgrim," which was the title of our great Dramatic Bard's first collection of sonnets. This was no doubt the surreptitious edition published by Jaggard in 1599. The Rev. Alexander Dyce, in his Aldine edition of Shakespeare's poems, erroneously asserts that they were first printed in 1609. Drummond's sonnets are superior to Shakespeare's as sonnets, however inferior to them as poems : that is to say, they are more rigidly constructed according to
the laws of the sonnet, and have more unity and point, and are altogether better finished; but they have less richness and originality of thought, and comparatively few of those bold felicities of expression in which Shakespeare surpasses all other poets. Considered merely as sonnets, they are almost equal to those of Milton and of Wordsworth ; but they have neither the sublime energy of the one, nor the profound sentiment of the other. Nor are they, indeed, so strictly legitimate in the disposition of rhymes. But in grace, ingenuity, delicacy, and tenderness, they are not surpassed by any sonnets in the language. Drummond may justly be styled the British Petrarch. Not only in his sonnets, but in many of his smaller pieces in different forms of verse, his style is quite Petrarchan. They read like free translations from the Italian,
It is much to be regretted that Drummond did not regularly translate the whole of Petrarch's sonnets. No British poet could have done them more justice. Mr. Campbell would say that we have sonnets enough already in the English language ; and as far as their number only is referred to, I should agree with him ; but this elegant exotic has perhaps not yet been brought to perfection in our own country, and both its intrinsic merits and the labors of its cultivators have been often very unfairly treated by the critics, notwithstanding the authority in its favor of such names as Shakespeare, Drummond, Milton, and Wordsworth.
The old comparison of the sonnet to the bed of Procrustes, was, if I mistake not, first used by Ben Jonson, and it has been regularly repeated by every opponent of the sonnet since his time. The objection to its limits has been successfully answered by an explanation that it equally applies to all other forms of verse. There must be a limit of some kind or other; and it would be difficult to give a reason why Spenser's favorite stanza is restricted to nine lines that would not be equally cogent in defence of Petrarch's stanza of fourteen. A sonnet does not necessarily
stand alone any more than a Spenserian stanza, and a long poern may be constructed of the one as well as of the other. It has been found, indeed, that the sonnet on account of its greater length may be more easily rendered independent and complete in itself than the Spenserian stanza, which, however, is subjected to much the same rules. The sense ought to conclude with the last line, which should wind up with point, emphasis, and fulness. A fresh subject cannot properly be introduced into the middle of it. It is the opinion of the Italian critics, that a single sentiment or emotion may be more happily developed in a sonnet than in any other form of verse : and it seems as if its limits were particularly well calculated for the purpose. If it were longer, the leading idea would be weakened by too much diffusion ; and if it were shorter, there might be too much compression and a consequent failure in point of perspicuity and completeness.
The Sonnet was very popular in the reign of Henry the Eighth, and subsequently in that of Elizabeth. Our poetry owes this form of verse to Italy, to whom England was indebted, so early as the time of Edward the Third, for many other elegant additions to her literature. Chaucer borrowed largely from Bocaccio, who has been rather impudently pillaged by the majority of our story-tellers in metre. Petrarch was not much imitated by our poets before the time of Wyatt and Surrey, who made the sonnet fashionable. Though Shakespeare is not supposed to have been an Italian scholar, it is certain that he made very free use in his plays of the plots of many Italian novels, of which rude translations into English were abundant. His own sonnets, however, are not of an Italian cast. When the passion for Italian poetry de. clined, and with Charles the Second came in a taste for the wits of France, the Sonnet was almost abandoned, and so late as the time of Dr. Johnson it was spoken of with great contempt. Johnson himself, in noticing Milton, paid his own language so bad a compliment as to suppose that it was utterly impossible to
naturalize a form of verse requiring so much flexibility of diction and variety of rhyme. With a revived taste for our old Elizabethan poets, we have again reverted to the cultivation of the Sonnet, and with a degree of success which proves that any failure on the part of individuals is not to be attributed so much to the poverty or stiffness of our language, as to a want of skill in the artist who has to work with such a noble though ill-appreciated instrument. The most Petrarchan sonnets in the time of Elizabeth or James, were undoubtedly those of Drummond; and though they have lost their popularity, they are resorted to by the poetical student, who can still read them with delight. It is evident that Drummond was a careful and reverential student of Petrarch. In our own time, the most celebrated sonnets are those of Wordsworth, which are often very exquisite both in thought and diction, though occasionally somewhat deficient in unity and point. Wordsworth has translated only two or three Italian sonnets, but has written a very great number of original ones, and has very clearly shown, that the golden fetters of rhyme can be worn almost as gracefully by an English as by an Italian poet*.
Of all the translators of Petrarch (of which there is quite a host) the most elegant and faithful is Lady Dacre. In the literary circles of London, a few specimens of her translations, have been spoken of with unbounded admiration, and occasionally the public journals have alluded to them with great respect. But with a rare modesty her ladyship has hitherto refused to collect and lay them before the public, with the exception of a few begged from her by Ugo Foscolo, for his highly elegant and interesting Essays on Petrarch, which were presented to her ladyship with a very complimentary dedication. “I am prompted,” says Foscolo, “to inscribe these pages with your ladyship's name, as well by my own gratitude, as by the opinion of those distinguished literary characters, whose kind assistance, surpassed only by yours, has enabled me to present my Essays to the English reader. With one voice and with national pride they pronounce that your poetry has preserved the very spirit of Petrarch with a fidelity hardly to be hoped for and certainly unattained by any other translation.” This is high praise, and from high authority. Mr. Matthias, Mr. Pannizi and others, have expressed themselves in similar terms, of Lady Dacre's translations. All the praises, however, that her ladyship received, could not induce her to
To the mere versifier who possesses a ready command of rhymes and a store of poetical cominon-places, there is no form of composition that appears more easy, but which in reality is more difficult than the Sonnet. If apt rhymes and a poetical diction were all that is requisite, the task would indeed be easy after a very little practice. But the mechanical difficulties of the Sonnet have been ridiculously overrated, while its higher essentials have been almost entirely overlooked. Dr. Johnson's decision respecting what he deemed the inapplicability of the English language to the fabric of the Sonnet, has been most triumphantly disproved by several of our living writers. The sonnets of Wordsworth, in particular, may be referred to as a noble illustration of the flexibility of our language, for it is quite evident from their perfect ease and freedom that the poet found no difficulty in attending to the strictest Italian models. When Johnson remarked that the Sonnet had never succeeded in our language, he had read, or ought to have read, the sonnets of Drummond, and those of Milton were immediately before him. Shakespeare's sonnets cannot be adduced as bearing upon our present argument, because though full of fancy and feeling, they are mere quartorzians or fourteen lines divided into three stanzas of alternate rhymes, and a concluding couplet, and their sole claim to the title of Sonnets consists in their being of the required length.
But Milton's sonnets, independent of their poetical merits, are entitled to great praise for their mechanical construction, and their strict accordance to the laws and practice of the Italian poets; and Dr. Johnson never fell into a greater error of judgment than when he pronounced these little poems of the author of Paradise Lost to be" undeserving of particular criticism." “ Of the best,"
says, “ it can only be said that they are not bad, and perhaps
publish them, though at the earnest entreaty of learned and tasteful friends she at last printed a few copies for private distribution. In 1836 she printed a second and larger collection, but also exclusively for her friends.