Item of the Day: The Art of Sinking in Poetry (1751)

Full Title: Miscellanies.  The Second Volume. By D. Swift, Dr. Arbuthnot, and Mr. Pope.  London, Printed for Charles Bathurst, and sold by T. Woodward, C. Davis, C. Hitch, R. Dosley, and W. Bowyer.  MDCCLI.

Martinus Scriblerus,

П Е Р І   В А Θ О Υ Σ:

or, Of the Art of Sinking in Poetry.

[by Alexander Pope] 

CHAP. V.

Of the true Genius for the Profound, and by what it is constituted.

AND I will venture to lay it down, as the first Maxim and Corner-stone of this our Art; that whosoever would excel therein, must studiously avoid, detest, and turn his head from all the ideas, ways, and workings of that pestilent Foe to Wit, and Destroyer of fine Figures, which is known by the name of Common Sense. His business must be to contract the true Gout de travers; and to acquire a most happy, uncommon, unaccountable Way of Thinking. 

He is to consider himself as a Grotesque Painter, whose works would be spoil’d by an imitation of nature or uniformity of design. He is to mingle bits of the most various, or discordant kinds of landscape, history, portraits, animals, and connect them with a great deal of flourishing, by head or by tail, as it shall please his imagination, and contribute to his principal end, which is to glare by strong oppositions of colours, and surprize by contrariety of images.

Serpentes avibus geminentur, trigibus agni.  HOR.

His design ought to be like a labyrinth, out of which no body can get clear by himself. And since the great Art of all Poetry is to mix Truth with Fiction, in order to join the Credible with the Surprizing; our author shall produce the Credible, by painting nature in her lowest simplicity; and the Surprizing, by contradicting common opinion. In the very Manners he will affect the Marvellous; he will draw Achilles with the patience of a Job; a prince talking like a Jack-pudding; a Maid of honour selling bargains; a footman speaking like a philosopher; and a fine gentleman like a scholar.  Whoever is conversant in modern Plays, may make a most noble collection of this kind, and at the same time, form a complete body of modern Ethics and Morality

Nothing seem’d more plain to our great authors, than that the world had long been weary of natural things. How much the contrary are form’d to please, is evident from the universal applause daily given to the admirable entertainments of Harlequins and Magicians on our stage. When an audience behold a couch turn’d into a wheelbarrow, a conjurer into an old woman, or a man’s head where his heels should be; how are they struck with transport and delight? Which can only be imputed to this cause, that each object is chang’d into that which hath been suggested to them by their own ideas before.

He ought therefore to render himself master of this happy and anti-natural way of thinking to such a degree, as to be able, on the appearance of any object, to furnish his imagination with ideas infinitely below it.  And his eyes should be like unto the wrong end of a perpective glass, by which all the objects of nature are lessen’d.

For Example; when a true genius looks upon the Sky, he immediately catches the idea of a piece of blue lute-string, or a child’s mantle.

The Skies, whose spreading volumes scarce have room,
Spun thin, and wove in nature’s finest loom,
The new-born world in their soft lap embrac’d,
And all around their starry mantle cast. *

If he looks upon a Tempest, he shall have an image of a tumbled bed, and describe a succeeding calm in this manner;

The Ocean, joy’d to see the tempest fled,
New lays his waves, and smooths his ruffled bed. **
____________________________
* Prince Arthur, p. 41, 42.
** p. 14

NB. In order to do justice to these great Poets, our Citations are taken from the best, the last, and most correct Editions of their Works.  That which we use of Prince Arthur, is in duodecimo, 1714. the fourth Edition revised.

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Filed under 1750's, Common sense, Criticism, Poetry, Posted by Matthew Williams, Satire

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