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censure, the works of our Author have undergone illiberal comments. His Elegy has been supposed defective in want of plan. Dr. Knox, in his Essays has observed, “ that it is thought by some to be no more than a confused heap of splendid ideas, thrown together without order and without proportion." Some passages have been censured by Kelly in the Babbler; and imitations of different authors have been pointed out by other critics. But these imitations cannot be ascertained, as there are numberless instances of coincidence of ideas; so that it is difficult to say, with precision, what is or is not a designed or acci. dental imitation.
Gray, in his Elegy in the Church-yard, has great merit in adverting to the most interesting passions of the human mind; yet his genius is not marked alone by the tender sensibility so conspicuous in that elegant piece; but there is a sublimity which gives it an equal claim to universal admiration.
His Odes on the Progress of Poetry, and of the Bard, according to Mr. Mason's account, “ breathe the high spirit of lyric enthusiasm. The transitions are sudden and impetuous; the language full of fire and force; and the imagery carried, without impropriety, to the most daring height. They have been accused of obscurity: but the one can be obscure to those only who have not read Pindar; and the other, only to those who are unacquainted with the history of their own nation."
Of his other lyric pieces, Mr. Wakefield, a learned and ingenious commentator, observes, that, though like all other human productions, they are not with. out their defects, yet the spirit of poetry, and exqui. site charms of the verse, are more than a compensa. tion for those defects. The Ode on Eton College, abounds with sentiments natural, and consonant to the feelings of humanity, exhibited with perspicuity of method, and in elegant, intelligible, and expressive language. . The Sonnet on the Death of West, and the Epitaph on Sir William Williams, are as
dead download interest Cud
2 of the
perfect compositions of the kind as any in our language.
Dr. Johnson's partial and uncandid mode of criticisin, in his remarks on the writings of Gray, bas given to liberal minds, great and just offence. According to Mr. Mason's account, he has subjected Gray's poetry to the most rigorous examination. Declining all consideration of the general plan and conduct of the pieces, he has confined himself solely to strictures on words and forms of expression; and Mr. Mason very pertinently adds, that verbal criticism is an ordeal which the most perfect composition cannot pass without injury.
He has also fallen under Mr. Wakefield's severest censure. This commentator affirms, that “he thinks a refutation of his strictures upon Gray, a necessary service to the public, without which they might operate with a malignant influence upon the national taste. His censure, however, is too general, and ex pressed with too much vehemence; and his remarks betray, upon the whole, an unreasonable fastidious. ness of taste, and an unbecoming illiberality of spirit. He appears to have turned an unwilling eye upon the beauties of Gray, because his jealousy would not suffer him to see such superlative merit in a cotémporary.” These remarks of Mr. Wakefield appear to be well founded; and it has been observed, by another writer, that Dr. Johnson, being strongly influenced by his political and religious principles, was inclined to treat, with the utmost severity, soine of the produccions of our best writers; to which may be imputed that severity with which he censures the lyric performances of Gray. It is highly probable that no one poetical reader will universally subscribe to his decision, though all may admire his vast intuitive knowledge, and power of discrimination.
In the first copy of this exquisite Poem, Mr. Mason observes, the conclusion was different from that which the Author afterwards composed; and though his after-thought was unguestionably the best, yet there
is a pathetic melancholy in the four stanzas that were rejected, following, « With incense kindled at the Muses' flame," which highly claim preservation.
The thoughtless world to majesty may bow,
Exalt the brave, and idolize success;
Than pow'r or geníus e'er conspir'd to bless.
And thou, who uomindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these notes their artless tale relate,
To wander in the gloomy walks of fate;
Jark! how the sacred calm that breatlies around,
Bids every fierce tumultuous passion cease;
A grateful earnest of eternal peace.
No more with reason and thyself at strife,
Give anxious cares and endless wislies room; femini! - But, through the cool sequester'd vale of life,
Pursue the silent tenor of thy doom.
In one instance, the Doctor's inconsistency, apd deviation from his general character, does him honour. After having commented with the inost rigid severity on the poetical works of Gray, as if conscious of the injustice done him, he seems to apologize by the following declaration, which concludes his Criticism, and shall conclude the Memoirs of our Author:
“ In the character of his Elegy (says Johnson) I rejoice and concur with the common reader; for, by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatisin of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours. The Church-yard abouods with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom ren
ibe to his intuitire
turns an echo. The four stanzas beginning, Yet e'en
the notions in any other place; yet he that reads
them. Had Gray written often thus, it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise him."
ON THE SPRING,
I O! where the rosy-bosom'd hours,
Fair Venus' train, appear,
And wake the purple year,
The untaught harmony of spring,
Their gather'd fragrance fling.
Where'er the oak's thick branches stretch
A broader, browner shade,
O'er canopies the glade*,