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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

As an example of that brood of didactic blank poems


But

now, continues the poet, Taste "exalts her voice" and

"At the awful sound The terrace sinks spontaneous; on the green, Broidered with crisped knots, the tonsile yews Wither and fall; the fountain dares no more To fling its wasted crystal through the sky, But pours salubrious o'er the parched lawn."

The new school had the intolerance of reformers. The ruthless Capability Brown and his myrmidons laid waste many a prim but lovely old garden, with its avenues, terraces, and sun dials, the loss of which is deeply deplored, now that the Queen Anne revival has taught us to relish the _rococo_ beauties which Brown's imitation landscapes displaced.

We may pause for a little upon this "English Garden" of Mason's, as an example of that brood of didactic blank-poems, begotten of Phillips' "Cyder" and Thomson's "Seasons," which includes Mallet's "Excursion" (1728), Somerville's "Chase" (1734), Akenside's "Pleasures of Imagination" (1742-44), Armstrong's "Art of Preserving Health" (1744), Dyer's "Fleece" (1757) and Grainger's "Sugar Cane" (1764). Mason's blank verse, like Mallet's, is closely imitative of Thomson's and the influence of Thomson's inflated diction is here seen at its worst. The whole poem is an object lesson on the absurdity of didactic poetry. Especially harrowing are the author's struggles to be poetic while describing the various

kinds of fences designed to keep sheep out of his inclosures.

"Ingrateful sure, When such the theme, becomes the poet's task: Yet must he try by modulation meet Of varied cadence and selected phrase Exact yet free, without inflation bold, To dignify that theme."

Accordingly he dignified his theme by speaking of a net as the "sportsman's hempen toils," and of a gun as the

"--fell tube Whose iron entrails hide the sulphurous blast Satanic engine!"

When he names an ice-house, it is under a form of conundrum:

"--the structure rude where Winter pounds, In conic pit his congelations hoar, That Summer may his tepid beverage cool With the chill luxury."

This species of verbiage is the earmark of all eighteenth-century poetry and poets; not only of those who used the classic couplet, but equally of the romanticizing group who adopted blank verse. The best of them are not free from it, not even Gray, not even Collins; and it pervades Wordsworth's earliest verses, his "Descriptive Sketches" and "Evening Walk" published in 1793. But perhaps the very worst instance of it is in Dr. Armstrong's "Economy of Love," where the ludicrous contrast between the impropriety of the subject and the solemn pomp of the diction amounts almost to _bouffe_.

In emulation of "The Seasons" Mason introduced a sentimental love story--Alcander and Nerina--into his third book. He informs his readers (book II. 34-78) that, in the reaction against straight alleys, many gardeners had gone to an extreme in the use of zigzag meanders; and he recommends them to follow the natural curves of the footpaths which the milkmaid wears across the pastures "from stile to stile," or which

--"the scudding hare Draws to her dew-sprent seat o'er thymy heaths."

The prose commentary on Mason's poem, by W. Burgh,[34] asserts that the formal style of garden had begun to give way about the commencement of the eighteenth century, though the new fashion had but very lately attained to its perfection. Mason mentions Pope as a champion of the true taste,[35] but the descriptions of his famous villa at Twickenham, with its grotto, thickets, and artificial mounds, hardly suggest to the modern reader a very successful attempt to reproduce nature. To be sure, Pope had only five acres to experiment with, and that parklike scenery which distinguishes the English landscape garden requires a good deal of room. The art is the natural growth of a country where primogeniture has kept large estates in the hands of the nobility and landed gentry, and in which a passion for sport has kept the nobility and gentry in the country a great share of the year. Even Shenstone--whose place is commended by Mason--Shenstone at the Leasowes, with his three hundred acres, felt his little pleasance rather awkwardly dwarfed by the neighborhood of Lyttelton's big park at Hagley.


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