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THE design of Windsor-forest is evidently derived from Coopershill, with some attention to Waller's poem on the Park; but Pope cannot be denied to excel his masters in variety and elegance, and the art of interchanging description, narration, and morality. The objection made by Dennis is the want of plan, of a regular subor dination of parts, terminating in the principal and original design. There is this want in most descriptive poems; because as the scenes, which they must exhibit successively, are all subsisting at the same time, the order in which they are shewn must, by necessity, be arbitrary, and more is not to be expected from the last part than from the first. The attention therefore, which cannot be detained by suspence, must be excited by diversity, such as this poem offers to its reader.
But the desire of diversity may be too much indulged. The parts of Windsor-forest which deserve least praise, are those which were added to enliven the stillness of the scene; the appearance of Father Thames, and the transformation of Lodona. Addison had, in his Campaign, derided the rivers, that "rise from their oozy beds" to tell stories of heroes, and it is therefore strange that Pope' should adopt a fiction not only unnatural, but lately censured. The story of Lodona is told with sweetness; but a new metamorphosis is a ready and puerile expedient. Nothing is easier than to tell how a flower was once a blooming virgin, or a rock an obdurate tyrant. Johnson.
The poem of Windsor-forest, although properly ranked as descriptive, contains in itself strong indications that the powers of the author were calculated for more elevated subjects and loftier flights. No sooner has he announced the scene of his poem, than he breaks through the narrow bounds by which he is apparently confined, and engages in an historical deduction of the effects produced by the tyranny of our early kings; terminating in the establishment of liberty, and the diffusion of national happiness. To this subject he recurs towards the close of his poem, where he brings down his historical notices to the reign of Queen Ann, and celebrates the peace of Utrecht, then just concluded. Many other passages indicate the attention he had paid to graver and more
important subjects, which soon superseded his lighter performances, and shewed,
That not in fancy's maze he wander'd long,
But stoop'd to truth and moralized his song.
The observations of Dr. Johnson, on the personification of Father Thames, and on the story of Lodona would, if assented to, deprive poetry of one of her chief auxiliaries. That such representations are unnatural must, in a strict sense, be allowed; but poetry employs for her purpose not only what exists in nature, but what may, in possibility, be supposed to exist; and to deprive her. of this power, is to prohibit her flights altogether. Neither Caliban nor Ariel exist in nature, and in Johnson's phraseology may therefore be said to be unnatural; but although not in nature, they are not contradictory to our conceptions of what might exist; and it is in effecting this verisimilitude that the art of the poet consists. To restrain poetry to what is strictly natural, is to reduce it essentially to prose.
It has been said that the conclusion of this poem gave great pain to Addison, both as a poet and a politician; on which Johnson (in his Life of Pope) asks, "why Addison should receive any particular disturbance from the last lines of Windsor-forest?" To which it may be answered, that Addison could scarcely fail to be mortified on finding such splendid talents engaged in the cause of a party in direct opposition to his own, and employed to celebrate a peace, which, in his opinion, was not only inconsistent with the honour and interests of his country, but injurious to the liberty and safety of Europe in general.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
GEORGE LORD LANSDOWN.†
THY forest, Windsor! and thy green retreats,
This Poem was written at two different times: the first part of it, which relates to the country, in the year 1704, at the same time with the Pastorals; the latter part was not added till the year 1713, in which it was published.
† Notwithstanding the many praises lavished on this celebrated nobleman as a poet, by Dryden, by Addison, by Bolingbroke, by our Author, and others, yet candid criticism must oblige us to confess, that he was but a feeble imitator of the feeblest parts of Waller. In his tragedy of Heroic Love, he seems not to have had a true relish for Homer whom he copied; and in the British Enchanters, very little fancy is to be found in a subject fruitful of romantic imagery. It was fortunate for him, says Mr. Walpole, in his Anecdotes, that in an age when persecution raged so fiercely against lukewarm authors, that he had an intimacy with the Inquisitor General; how else would such lines as these escape the Bathos; they are in his Heroic Love:
Ver. 3, &c. Originally thus (and indeed much better):
Chaste Goddess of the woods,
Nymphs of the vales, and Naïads of the floods,
Lead me through arching bow'rs, and glimm'ring glades,
GRANVILLE commands; your aid, O Muses, bring! What Muse for GRANVILLE can refuse to sing? The Groves of Eden, vanish'd now so long, Live in description, and look green in song: These, were my breast inspir'd with equal flame, Like them in beauty, should be like in fame.
His Progress of Beauty, and his Essay on Unnatural Flights in Poetry, seem to be the best of his pieces; in the latter are many good critical remarks and precepts, and it is accompanied with notes that contain much agreeable instruction. For it may be added, his prose is better than his verse. Witness a Letter to a Young Man on his taking Orders, his Observations on Burnet, and his Defence of his relation Sir Richard Grenville, and a Translation of some parts of Demosthenes, and a Letter to his Father on the Revolution, written in October 1688. After having been Secretary at War 1710, Controller and Treasurer to the Household, and of her Majesty's Privy Council, and created a Peer 1711, he was seized as a suspected person, at the accession of King George the First, and confined in the Tower, in the very chamber that had before been occupied by Sir Robert Walpole. But whatever may be thought of Lord Lansdown as a poet, his character as a man was highly valuable. His conversation was most pleasing and polite; his affability, and universal benevolence and gentleness, captivating; he was a firm friend, and a sincere lover of his country. Warton.
Ver. 8. Live in description,] Evidently suggested by Waller :
"Of the first Paradise there's nothing found,
Yet the description lasts; who knows the fate
Instead of rivers rolling by the side
Of Eden's garden," &c.
Ver. 9, inspir'd with equal flame,] That is (as I understand it), if the Poet were inspired with Milton's poetical flame, then these
Here hills and vales, the woodland and the plain,
And where, tho' all things differ, all agree.
Ver. 15.] Evidently from Cooper's Hill:
"Such was the discord which did first disperse
Form, order, beauty, thro' the universe,"
Ver. 19.] It is a false thought, and gives, as it were, sentiment to the groves.
Which it is the very object of Poetry to do. Mr. Wakefield's remark on this passage is perhaps more judicious, and is expressed with becoming delicacy. "There is a levity in this comparison which appears to me unseasonable, and but ill according with the serene dignity of the subject; but as the youthful poet omitted, with great judgment, the luxuriancies of his youthful imagination in future revisals of his works, and has retained this passage, I am very diffident of dissent from him in such cases."
groves, which resemble the groves of Eden, and which, though vanish'd, revive in his song-these groves (of Windsor) should be like in fame, as in beauty. Dr. Warton thinks there is an inconsistency, but I must confess I do not perceive it; at least, I think there is no expression here used but such as is fairly allowable in Poetry. Bowles.