“Ah me! what perils do environ,
The man that meddles with cold iron!”
Since our last meeting we have had most woeful experience of the danger that attends the due discharge of the editorial functions, and in consequence of our free, though friendly remarks upon the productions of our correspondents, have endured the pelting of such a pitiless storm of remonstrance and reproach, as would appall the Stagyrite himself, or the doughty Johnson, were they still in the field, the champions of criticism. On one side of the head we have received a pellet from φιαημα , whom we had ventured to denominate Buss, and a blow upon the other rather harder from the Buss, which induced us while smarting with the pain, to rechristen them Buff and Rebuff. From the writer of the “verses addrest to the author of the Tinder Box” we have received a severe invective for presuming to annex another handle to the paradox, which from its cattish character, a friend to whom we have shown it, asserted that it must have been written by a lady, and seriously advised us at the meeting this evening to take care of our eyes, but we have too good an opinion of the fair sex, to think it necessary to take any precaution except that of wearing our spectacles.
One correspondent, whose labours, we are sorry to say, have not reached us, addresses us in a manner so curious, that we think we cannot more amuse our auditory than by permitting her to speak for herself.
To the Turnkey of the Cattic Chest.
Sur, i wunder thatt yoo woud nott rede my varses wich i putt inn a fourtnitt sinse, lastt Mundee mourning, wass aight o clock, and shoud have appered nekst Tuesdee. howsumdever i will nott bee so putt of, butt ekspekts you wil rede themm too nite. you no verry wel thay ar about thee lictors att thee Royall Hackademee, wich my brother Tom tells me wer verry pritty and the pictors ass fine ass printte. hee sayes ass nowe hee nevver hered more pritty words, and that the pictors are better than the great books, in master’s librorree but they ar al putt a stopp too, bekause they cannot make such themselves, wich iss a sinn, and a burning shame
i am Sur your umble servant
Poor Peggy! what sort of composition her verses may be, we may collect from her letter, but unfortunately she has made such a mistake as the French lady did, who sent a sweet billet to her apothecary, and wrote in great haste to her lover for a box of analeptic pills; for a strange sort of paper was found in the Attic Chest, which we, not being able to understand, committed to the flames, band thought of no more. But what has most surprised us, is the indignation of the learned author fo the Tinder Box, who seems furious that we should comment on his long and short verses, and requires us to recall our censure, urging in favour of himself the practise of innumerable English authors. We cannot for a moment permit our critical dictates to be thus called in question, and to his angry animadversions, we have only to say that what we have written, we have written. The practise of writing odes in irregular stanza’s and verses of unequal measure, appears to have been almost if not entirely unknown, till the time of Donne and Cowley. Some of our earliest poets, wrote in a kind of metre that could neither be denominated blank verse nor rhyme according to the modern signification of these words, depending for their poetical character upon alliteration, four or five words in one line beginning with the same letter, and a species of rhythm not very sensible to our ears. Their immediate successors wrote in couplets of eight or fourteen syllables, in stanzas of various structures and occasionally in heroic rhyme or blank verse, and downward to the time of James the First the same measures were continued, Cowley having read with a poet’s feeling the Odes of Pindar, in the original Greek, was induced to translate many of them, but overlooking the artful construction of the Grecian ode, he imagined he was imitating the manner of the Theban bard, when he employed every species of measure that adapted itself with facility to his thoughts, which being the dictates of genius, were admired, in whatever vehicle they were conveyed to his readers. But in this he gave an example of licentiousness that verse-men of far inferior talents found so easy of imitation, that the nation was inundated with odes without poetry or harmony and sometimes without meaning. A poet in those days seems to have sat down and exclaiming, “I will write an ode,” to have begun with three or four words, about Orpheus or Olympus, which latter being a mountain suggested the byforn mill, and Heliconian rill and here two words chancing to rhyme, a couplet was formed which became a foundation for another, and thus the poet proceeded to write down whatever wild fancies and incoherent ideas were accidentally jostling each other in his pericranium, clipping off the matter wherever two words made a jingle, without regarding how few or how many words might intervene. This practise was followed by some authors in the first form of English poetry, among which Dryden is an eminent example, but genius can be fettered by no laws, and in whatever garb it appears, it will still be genius. Dryden’s soul was exquisitely tuned to harmony and whatever he wrote had a richness, a variety, a melody of sound that charmed even in compositions that were otherwise unworthy of his powers. In his Secular Masque, a careless composition yet stamped with the genuine character of the poet, we have specimens of almost every mode of lyric numbers, and of rhyming lines from a single monosyllable to eleven syllables, altogether forming a whole of such ease and spirit as yields more delight than the elaborate odes clothed in the cumbrous language of other writers. We shall give a few verses from this poem to shew what can be done by genius when writing what is little better than nonsense. Diana having described the age of hunting in a song concluding thus
With shouting and hooting we pierce thro’ the sky
While Echo turns hunter, and doubles the cry
Momus the buffoon of the Gods and the other characters facetiously comment upon it as follows
Then our age
Was in its prime
Free from rage
And free from crime,
and here the Rhymes have as much ease as could be given in prose and every word is as appropriate to the sentiment but Dryden stands unrivalled in the melody of English verse, and might poetically be called Apollo himself in a mortal form, and his own verses addressed to the Lyre of Tubal may with great propriety be applied to him
Less than a God there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That song so sweetly and so well
To the uncertainty of the true Rhythm of Greek verse, as we have been informed by an eminent scholar, we must attribute the mistake of Cowley and all the consequent licentiousness of his imitators. Tho’ that poet perhaps did discover that the lines of Pindar’s Strophes and Antistrophes, corresponded in the number of syllables, yet he gave to similar lines a different accent and quantity, which produced an irregularit that did not exist in the Greek. Mr Congreve was the first English writer that opened the eyes of our poets, and by the example of an Ode constructed on the model of those of Pindar, tho’ far inferior in poetic character, drove the legions of modern Pindaries from the field, and established the Grecian Ode on its true basis; but he did not entirely succeed for several poets of eminence still in occasional compositions used the licence which Cowley had introduced and Dryden had employed to so much advantage, among which must be enumerated Pope and Gray, and the Author of the Tinderbox tho’ last, not least. Yet all would have rendered their composition more pleasing had they not conformed to better models. We cannot take leave of this subject without quoting two verses, all that we remember of a translation of the Bible which used to amuse us in our boyish days made by Zacchary Boyd, a Scotch divine and a preacher of much celebrity in his day. He translated the Bible in a vast variety of Pindaric verses which he did not live to publish, but imposed that task on the University of Glasgow as the condition of inheriting a very large fortune. The university printed just so many copies as were necessary to secure the bequest, but wisely stifled as many as they could both for the credit of Mr Boyd and themselves. Some fragments of them, however, escaped among [which] was the couplet above mentioned which we recommend to the author of the Tinder Box whenever he feels again the Pindaric. ’Tis as follows
Was not Pharaoh a great rascall
That would not let the children of Israel go, with their flocks and their herds, their men servants and their maid servants, three days journey into the wilderness to eat the Lord’s Pascal
The novelties for this Evening are as follows.