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ART. VIII. The Triumphs of Temper; a Poem, In Six Cantos. By William Hayley, Efq. 4to. 6s. fewed. Dodsley. 1781.
T seems to be a kind of duty,' says Mr. Hayley, incumbent on those who devote themfelves to poetry, to raife, if poffible, the dignity of a declining art, by making it as beneficial to life and manners as the limits of compofition, and the character of modern times, will allow.' In conformity with this fentiment, this gallant Writer has taken the field against the most formidable enemy of domeftic quiet that ever embittered life or brutalized our manners. And were it not that spleen is the deaf adder that refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer, the victory would be decifive. But though it is to be feared her diabolical empire is too firmly established to be fhaken by any exertions fhort of miraculous, we are fully of opinion, that the poem before us, which is intended to promote the cultivation of good humour, will be of confiderable fervice to society. Exclufive of that intellectual delight arifing from the contemplation of works of ingenuity and tafte, it is capable of being the fource of still more lasting enjoyments, as it cannot fail of infufing fome portion of that spirit which it recommends, and, where good temper is permitted to exert itself, of improving influence into habit.
There is a novelty in the nature and conduct of this poem which, as it requires explanation, will be beft done in the Author's own words:
The following production owes its existence to an incident in real life, very fimilar to the principal action of the last Canto; but in forming the general plan of the work, it feemed to me abfolutely neceffary to introduce both the agency and the abode of SPLEEN, notwithstanding the difficulty and the hazard of attempting a fubject fo happily executed by the masterly pencil of Pope. I confidered his Cave of Spleen as a moft exquifite cabinet picture; and to avoid the fervility of imitation, I determined to fketch the manfion of this gloomy Power on a much wider canvas: happy, indeed, if the judgment of the Public may enable me to exclaim, with the honeft vanity of the painter, who compared his own works to the divine productions of Raphael,
E fon Pittore anch' Io!
The celebrated Aleffandro Taffoni, who is generally confidered as the inventor of the modern Heroi-comic Poetry, was fo proud of having extended the limits of his art by a new kind of compofition, that he not only spoke of it with infinite exultation in one of his private letters, but even gave a MS. copy of his work to his native city of Modena, with an infcription, in which he ftyled it a new fpecies of Poetry, invented by himself.
A few partial friends have afferted, that the prefent performance has fome degree of fimilar merit; but as I apprehend all the novelty it poffeffes, may rather require an apology, than entitle its Author to
challenge commendation, I fhall explain how far the conduct of the Poem differs from the moft approved models in this mode of writing, and flightly mention the poetical effects, which fuch a variation appeared likely to produce.
It is well known, that the favourite Poems, which blend the ferious and the comic, reprefent their principal characters in a fatirical point of view: it was the intention of Taffoni (though prudence made him attempt to conceal it) to fatirize a particular Italian nobleman, who happened to be the object of his refentment. Boileau openly ridicules the French Ecclefiaftics in his Lutrin; Garth, our English Phyficians, in his Difpenfary; and the Rape of the Lock itfelf, that most excellent and enchanting Poem, which I never contemplate but with new idolatry, is denominated the beft Satire extant, by the learned Dr. Warton, in his very elegant and ingenious, but fevere Effay on Pope: a fentence which feems to be confirmed by the Poet himself, in his letter to Mrs. Fermor, where he fays, "The character of Belinda, as it is now managed, refembles you in nothing but in beauty." Though I think, that no compofition can furpafs, or perhaps ever equal this most happy effort of Genius, as a sportive Satire, I imagined it might be poffible to give a new Character to this mixed fpecies of Poetry, and to render it by its object, though not in its execution, more noble than the most beautiful and refined Satire can be. We have feen it carried to inimitable perfection, in the most delicate raillery on Female Foibles:-it remained to be tried, if it might not alfo afpire to delineate the more engaging features of Female Excellence. The idea appeared to me worth the experiment; for if it fucceeded, it feemed to promife a double advan tage; firft, it would give an air of novelty to the Poem; and, fecondly, what I thought of much greater importance, it would render it more interefting to the heart. On thefe principles, I have endeavoured to paint SERENA as a most lovely, engaging, and accomplished character; yet I hope the colouring is fo faithfully copied from general Nature, that every man, who reads the Poem, may be happy enough to know many Fair ones, who resemble my Heroine.
There is another point, in which I have also attempted to give this Poem an air of novelty, I mean, the manner of connecting the real and the vifionary scenes, which compofe it; by fhifting these in alternate Cantos, I hoped to make familiar Incident and allegorical Picture afford a strong relief to each other, and keep the attention of the Reader alive, by an appearance particularly diverfified. I wished, indeed (but I fear most ineffectually) for powers to unite fome touches of the fportive wildness of Ariofto, and the more ferious fublime painting of Dante, with fome portion of the enchanting elegance, the refined imagination, and the moral graces of Pope; and to do this, if poffible, without violating thofe rules of propriety, which Mr. Cambridge has illuftrated, by example as well as precept, in The Scrib leriad, and in his fenfible Preface to that elegant and learned Poem.' All that we shall add will be two extracts from the different parts of this exquifite and enchanting poem, which may serve as fpecimens of Mr. Hayley's talent at familiar Incident and allegorical picture :'
Ye radiant Nymphs! whofe opening eyes convey
Think what o'ershadowing clouds may cross your brain,
What funds of Patience twelve long hours may ask,
That sheds enchantment o'er the amorous hour:
Such fecret charms this richer Zone poffeft,
Beneath the pillow, not completely hid,
We fhall next transport our Readers to the region of Senfibi
As thus fhe fpoke, fhe pois'd her airy feat
High o'er a plain exhaling every fweet;
For round its precincts all the flowers that bloom
And in the midst a verdant throne appear'd,
In fimpleft form by graceful Fancy rear'd,
And deck'd with flowers; not fuch whofe flaunting dyes
But thofe wild herbs that tendereft fibres bear,
Here flood the lovely Ruler of the scene,
And Beauty, more than Pomp, announc'd the Queen.
The fimple circle of her crown compofe;
Rofes of every hue her robe adorn,
Except th' infipid Rofe without a thorn,
Thro' her thin veft her heighten'd beauties fhine;
The leaves, as confcious of their Queen's command,
While her foft breaft with pity feems to pant,
• Around their Sovereign, on the verdant ground,
In notes more foothing than his mother's Dove,
But, the bright triumphs of their joy to check,
For harmless round her the thin vapours wreath,
The wither'd flowers are fall'n, that bloom'd fo fair,
From the rent earth dark Demons force their way,
And her kind breaft, where quick compaffion fwell'd,
The guardian Power furvey'd her lovely grief,
And fpoke in gentle terms of mild relief:
"And know their pains are tranfient as their blifs :
"Have form'd the changing tiffue of their doom;