How imperfect soever my own Composition may be, yet am I willing to speak a word or two, of the Nature of Lyrick Poetry; to shew that I have, at least, some Idea of Perfection in that kind of Poem in which I am engaged; and that I do not think my self Poet enough entirely to rely on Inspiration for my Success in it.
To our having, or not having this Idea of Perfection in the Poem we undertake, is chiefly owing the Merit, or Demerit of our Performances, as also the Modesty, or Vanity of our Opinions concerning them.  And in speaking of it: I shall show how it unavoidably comes to pass, that bad Poets, that is Poets in general, are esteem'd, and really are the most vain, the most irritable, and most ridiculous Set of men upon earth. But Poetry in its own nature is certainly
Non hos quæsitum munus in usus. VIRG.
He that has an Idea of Perfection in the Work he undertakes may fail in it; he that has not, must: And yet he will be vain. For every little degree of Beauty, how short, or improper soever, will be look'd on fondly by him; because it is all pure gains, and more than he promis'd to himself; and because he has no Test, or Standard in his Judgment, with which to chastise his opinion of it.
Now this Idea of Perfection is, in Poetry, more refin'd than in other kinds of writing; and because more refin'd, therefore more difficult; and because more difficult, therefore more rarely attain'd; and the non-attainment of it, is, (as I have said) the Source of our Vanity. Hence the Poetick Clan are more obnoxious to vanity than Others. And from Vanity consequentially flows that great sensibility of disrespect, that quick resentment, that tinder of the Mind that kindles at every spark, and justly marks them out for the Genus Irritabile among mankind. And from this combustible temper, this serious anger for no very serious Things, Things look'd on by most as foreign to the Important Points of Life, as consequentially flows that Inheritance of Ridicule, which devolves on them, from Generation to Generation. As soon as they become Authors, they become like Ben. Johnson's angry Boy, and learn the Art of Quarrel.
 Concordes Animæ, dum nocte premuntur;
Heu! quantum inter se bellum, si lumina vitæ
Attigerint, quantas acies, stragemque ciebunt?
Qui Juvenes! quantas ostentant, aspice, vires.
Ne, Pueri! ne tanta animis assuescite bella.
Tuque prior, Tu parce, genus qui ducis Olympo,
Syderio flagrans clypeo, & cælestibus armis,
Projice tela manu, sanguis meus!
Nec Te ullæ facies, non terruit ipse Typhoeus
Arduus, arma tenens; non Te Messapus, & Ufens,
Contemptorque Deum Mezentius.
But to return. He that has this Idea of Perfection in the Work he undertakes, however successful he is, will yet be modest; because to rise up to that Idea, which he proposed for his model, is almost, if not absolutely, impossible.
These two Observations account for what may seem as strange, as it is infallibly  true; I mean, they shew us why good writers have the lowest, and bad writers the highest opinion of their own performances. They who have only a partial Idea of this perfection, as their portion of Ignorance, or Knowledge of it, is greater or less, have proportionable degrees of Modesty or Conceit.
Nor, (tho' natural good Understanding makes a tolerably just judgment in things of this nature,) will the Reader judge the worse, for forming to himself a notion of what he ought to expect from the Piece he has in hand, before he begins his perusal of it.
The Ode, as it is the Eldest kind of Poetry, so is it more Spirituous, and more remote from Prose than any other, in Sense, Sound, Expression, and Conduct. It's thoughts should be uncommon, sublime, and moral;  its numbers full, easy, and most harmonious; Its expression pure, strong, delicate, yet unaffected; and of a curious felicity beyond other Poems; Its conduct should be rapturous, somewhat abrupt, and immethodical to a vulgar Eye. That apparent order, and connection, which gives form, and life to some compositions, takes away the very Soul of this. Fire, elevation, and select thought, are indispensable; an humble, tame, and vulgar Ode is the most pityful error a pen can commit.
Musa dedit Fidibus Divos, puerosque Deorum.
And as its subjects are sublime, its writers genius should be so too; Otherwise it becomes the meanest thing in writing, (viz.), an involuntary Burlesque.
It is the genuine character, and true merit of the Ode, a little to startle some  apprehensions. Men of cold Complections are very apt to mistake a want of vigour in their Imaginations, for a Delicacy of taste in their Judgements; and, like persons of a tender sight, they look on bright objects in their natural lustre, as too glaring; what is most delightful to a stronger eye, is painful to them. Thus Pindar, who has as much Logick at the bottom, as Aristotle, or Euclid, to some Criticks has appear'd as mad; and must appear so to all, who enjoy no portion of his own divine Spirit. Dwarf-understandings, measuring Others by their own standard, are apt to think they see a Monster, when they see a Man.
And indeed it seems to be the Amends which Nature makes to those whom she has not bless'd with an elevation of mind, to indulge them in the comfortable mistake, that all is wrong, which falls not within the  narrow limits of their own comprehensions and relish.
Judgment, indeed, that masculine power of the mind, in Ode, as in all compositions, should bear the Supreme Sway; and a beautiful Imagination, as its Mistress, should be subdued to its dominion. Hence, and hence only, can proceed the fairest Offspring of the human mind.
But then in Ode, there is this difference from other kinds of Poetry; That, there the Imagination, like a very beautiful Mistress, is indulged in the appearance of domineering; tho' the Judgment, like an Artful Lover, in reality carries its point; and the less it is suspected of it, It shews the more masterly conduct, and deserves the greater commendation.
It holds true in this Province of writing, as in war, "The more danger, the more  honour." lt must be very Enterprising, it must (in Shakespear's Style) have hairbreadth 'Scapes; and often tread the very brink of Error: Nor can It ever deserve the applause of the real Judge, unless It renders itself Obnoxious to the misapprehensions of the Contrary.
Such is Casimire's Strain among the Moderns, whose lively Wit, and happy Fire, is an Honour to them. And Buchanan might justly be much admir'd, if any thing more than the Sweetness of his Numbers, and the purity of his Diction, was his own: His Original from which I have taken my Motto, thro' all the Disadvantages of a northern, prose-translation, is still admirable; and Cowley says, as preferable in Beauty to Buchanan, as Judea is to Scotland.
Pindar, Anacreon, Sapho, and Horace, are the great Masters of Lyric poetry among  Heathen writers. Pindar's muse, like Sacharissa, is a stately, imperious, and accomplish'd Beauty; equally disdaining the use of Art, and the fear of any Rival; so intoxicating that it was the highest commendation that could be given an Antient, that he was not afraid to taste of her charms.
Pindarici fontis qui non expalluit haustus.
A danger which Horace declares he durst not run.
Anacreon's Muse is like Amoret, most Sweet, Natural, and Delicate; all over Flowers, Graces, and Charms; inspiring Complacency, not Awe; and she seems to have good nature enough to admit a Rival, which she cannot find.
Sapho's Muse, like Lady – is passionately tender, and glowing; like Oyl set  on fire, she is soft, and warm, in excess. Sapho has left us a few fragments only; Time has swallow'd the rest; But that little which remains, like the remaining Jewel of Cleopatra, after the other was dissolv'd at her banquet, may be esteem'd (as was that Jewel) a sufficient Ornament for the Goddess of Beauty herself.
Horace's muse, (like One I shall not presume to name,) is Correct, Solid, and Moral; she joins all the Sweetness, and Majesty, all the Sense and the Fire of the former, in the justest proportions, and degrees; superadding a felicity of dress entirely her own. She moreover is distinguishable by this particularity, That she abounds in hidden graces, and secret charms, which none but the Discerning can discover; nor are any capable of doing full justice, in their opinion, to her Excellency's, without giving the World, at the same  time, an incontestable proof of refinement in their own understandings.
But after all, to the Honour of our own Country I must add, that I think Mr. Dryden's Ode on St. Cecilia's day inferior to no composition of this kind. Its chief beauty consists in adapting the numbers most happily to the variety of the Occasion; Those by which He has chosen to express Majesty, (Viz.)
Assumes the God,
Affects to nod,
And seems to shake the Spheres.
are chosen in the following Ode, because the Subject of it is Great.
For the more Harmony, likewise, I chose the frequent return of Rhyme; which laid me under great Difficulties. But Difficulties  overcome give Grace, and Pleasure. Nor can I account for the Pleasure of Rhyme in general, (of which the Moderns are too fond) but from this Truth.
But then the Writer must take care that the Difficulty is overcome. That is, He must make Rhyme consistent with as perfect Sense, and Expression, as could be expected, if He was free from that Shackle. Otherwise, it gives neither Grace to the Work, nor Pleasure to the Reader, nor, consequently, reputation to the Poet.
To sum the Whole. Ode should be peculiar, but not strain'd; moral, but not flat; natural, but not obvious; delicate, but not affected; noble, but not ambitious; full, but not obscure; fiery, but not mad; thick, but not loaded in its Numbers, which should be most Harmonious, without the least sacrifice of expression, or of sense. Above all, in  this, as in every work of Genius, somewhat of an Original Spirit should be, at least, attempted; otherwise the Poet, whose Character disclaims Mediocrity, makes a secondary praise his ultimate ambition; which has something of a contradiction in it. Originals only have true Life, and differ as much from the best Imitations, as Men from the most animated Pictures of them. Nor is what I say at all inconsistent with a due deference for the great Standards of Antiquity; nay, that very deference is an argument for it, for doubtless their Example is on my side in this matter. And we should rather imitate their example in the general motives, and fundamental methods of their working, than in their works themselves. This is a distinction, I think, not hitherto made, and a distinction of consequence. For the first, may make us their Equals; the second must pronounce us their Inferiors even in our utmost Success.  But the first of these Prizes is not so readily taken by the Moderns; as Valuables too massy for easy carriage are not so liable to the <Thief>.
The Antients had a particular regard to the choice of their Subjects; which were generally National, and Great. My Subject is, in its own nature, Noble; most proper for an Englishman; never more proper than on this Occasion; and (what is strange) hitherto unsung.
If I stand not absolutely condemn'd by my own Rules; If I have hit the Spirit of Ode in general; If I cannot think with Mr. Cowley, that Musick alone, sometimes, makes an excellent Ode,
Versus inopes rerum, nugæque canoræ;
If there is any thought, enthusiasm, and picture, which are as the body, soul, and  robe of poetry; in a word, If in any degree, I have provided rather food for men, than air for Wits; I hope smaller faults will meet indulgence for the sake of the Design, which is the glory of my Country, and my King.
And indeed, this may be said, in general, That great Subjects are above being nice; That Dignity, and Spirit ever suffer from scrupulous Exactness; and That the minuter cares effeminate a Composition. Great masters of Poetry, Painting, and Statuary, in their nobler works, have even affected the contrary. And justly; for a truly-masculine Air partakes more of the negligent, than of the neat, both in Writings, and in Life.
Grandis oratio haberet Majestatis suæ pondus. PETRON.
A poem, like a criminal, under too severe Correction, may lose all its spirit, and expire. We know it was Faber imus, that  was such an artist at a Hair, or a Nail. And we know the cause was
Quia ponere totum
Nescius. – HOR.
To close: If a Piece of this nature wants an Apology, I must own; that those who have strength of mind sufficient profitably to devote the whole of their time to the severer Studies, I despair of imitating, I can only envy, and admire. The mind is reliev'd, and strengthen'd by Variety; and he that sometimes is sporting with his pen, is only taking the most effectual means of giving a general Importance to it. This truth is clear from the Knowledge of human Nature, and of History; from which I could cite very celebrated Instances, did I not fear, That by citing them, I should condemn my self, who am so little qualify'd to follow their example in its full extent.
Erstdruck und Druckvorlage
OCEAN. | AN | ODE. | OCCASION'D | By His MAJESTY'S late Royal ENCOU- | RAGEMENT of the SEA-SERVICE. | To which is prefix'd, | An ODE to the KING: And a DISCOURSE | on ODE. | By the AUTHOR of the UNIVERSAL | PASSION. | [Vignette] | LONDON: | Printed for THO. WORRALL, at the Judge's Head, | over-against St. Dunstan's Church in Fleet-street, | MDCCXXVIII.
Hier: S. 14-30. [PDF]
Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien). Ein Druckfehler wurde korrigiert (S. 28).
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Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer
Für anglistische Beratung danke ich Jens Gurr.