Page images

face more known (as he justly boasteth) than most in the kingdom;' and his language to consist of what we must allow to be the most daring figure of speech, that which is taken from the name of God.

Gentle love, the next ingredient in the true hero's composition, is a mere bird of passage, or (as Shakspeare calls it) Summer-teeming lust,' and evaporates in the heat of youth; doubtless by that refinement it suffers in passing through those certain strainers which our poet somewhere speaketh of; but when it is let alone to work upon the lees, it acquireth strength by old age, and becometh a lasting ornament to the little epic. It is true, indeed, there is one objection to its fitness for such an use; for not only the ignorant may think it common, but it is admitted to be so even by him who best knoweth its value. 'Don't you think (argueth he) to say only "a man has his whore "," ought to go for little or nothing? Because, defendit numerus, take the first ten thousand men you meet, and, I believe, you would be no loser if you betted ten to one that every single sinner of them, one with another, had been guilty of the same frailty? But here he seemeth not to have done justice to himself: the man is sure enough a hero who hath his lady at fourscore.— How doth his modesty herein lessen the merit of

6 Lust, through some certain strainers well refined, Is gentle love, and charms all womankind.

7 Alluding to these lines in the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot: 'And has not Colley still his lord and whore,

His butchers Henley, his free-masons Moore?'

'C. Cibber's Letter to Mr. P. p. 46.

a whole well-spent life! not taking to himself the commendation (which Horace accounted the greatest in a theatrical character) of continuing to the very dregs the same he was from the beginning,

Servetur ad imum

Qualis ab incepto processerat.'

But here, in justice both to the poet and the hero, let us further remark, that the calling her his whore, implieth she was his own, and not his neighbour's. Truly, a commendable continence! and such as Scipio himself must have applauded: for how much self-denial was exerted not to covet his neighbour's whore! and what disorders must the coveting her have occasioned in that society, where (according to this political calculator) nine in ten of all ages have their concubines!

We have now, as briefly as we could devise, gone through the three constituent qualities of either hero: but it is not in any, nor in all of these, that heroism properly or essentially resideth. It is a lucky result rather from the collision of these lively qualities against one another.Thus, as from wisdom, bravery, and love, ariseth magnanimity, the object of admiration, which is the aim of the greater epic; so from vanity, impudence, and debauchery, springeth buffoonery, the source of ridicule, that 'laughing ornament,' as the owner well termeth it 3, of the little epic.

He is not ashamed (God forbid he ever should be ashamed!) of this character, who deemeth that not reason but risibility distinguisheth the human species from the brutal. As Nature (saith this

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

profound philosopher) distinguished our species from the mute creation by our risibility, her design must have been by that faculty as evidently to raise our happiness, as by our os sublime (our erected faces) to lift the dignity of our form above them 10. All this considered, how complete a hero must he be, as well as how happy a man, whose risibility lieth not barely in his muscles, as in the common sort, but (as himself informeth us) in his very spirits! and whose os sublime is not simply an erect face, but a brazen head; as should seem by his preferring it to one of iron, said to belong to the late King of Sweden ".

But whatever personal qualities a hero may have, the examples of Achilles and Æneas show us, that all these are of small avail without the constant assistance of the gods; for the subversion and erection of empires have never been adjudged the work of man. How greatly soever then we may esteem of his high talents, we can hardly conceive his personal prowess alone sufficient to restore the decayed empire of Dulness. So weighty an achievement must require the particular favour and protection of the great, who, being the natural patrons and supporters of letters, as the ancient gods were of Troy, must first be drawn off, and engaged in another interest, before the total subversion of them can be accomplished. To surmount, therefore, this last and greatest difficulty, we have, in this excellent man, a professed favourite and intimado of the great. And look of what force ancient piety was to

10 C. Cibber's Life, p. 23, 24.

11 C. Cibber's Letter, p. 8.

draw the gods into the party of Æneas, that, and much stronger, is modern incense to engage the great in the party of Dulness.

Thus have we essayed to portray or shadow out this noble imp of fame. But now the impatient reader will be apt to say, if so many and various graces go to the making up a hero, what mortal shall suffice to bear his character? Ill hath he read who seeth not, in every trace of this picture, that individual all-accomplished person, in whom these rare virtues and lucky circumstances have agreed to meet and concentre, with the strongest lustre and fullest harmony.

The good Scriblerus, indeed, nay the world itself, might be imposed on, in the late spurious editions, by I cannot tell what sham-hero or phantom; but it was not so easy to impose on him whom this egregious error most of all concerned for no sooner had the fourth Book laid open the high and swelling scene, but he recog→ nised his own heroic acts; and when he came to the words,

'Soft on her lap her laureat son reclines,'

(though laureat imply no more than one crowned with laurel, as befitteth any associate or consort in empire) he loudly resented this indignity to violated majesty. Indeed, not without cause, he being there represented as fast asleep; so misbeseeming the eye of empire, which, like that of Joye, should never doze nor slumber. Ha! (saith he) fast asleep it seems! that is a little too strong. Pert and dull at least you might have

allowed me, but as seldom asleep as any fool ".' However, the injured laureat may comfort himself with this reflection, that though it be a sleep, yet it is not the sleep of death, but of immortality. Here he will live at least, though not awake, and in no worse condition than many an enchanted warrior before him. The famous Durandante, for instance, was, like him, cast into a long slumber by Merlin, the British bard and necromancer; and his example, for submitting to it with a good grace, might be of use to our hero: for that disastrous knight, being sorely pressed or driven to make his answer by several persons of quality 14 only replied with a sigh, Patience, and shuffle the cards 15.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

But now, as nothing in this world, no not the most sacred and perfect things either of religion or government, can escape the stings of envy, methinks I already hear these carpers objecting to the clearness of our hero's title.

'It would never (say they) have been esteemed sufficient to make an hero for the Iliad or Æneis, that Achilles was brave enough to overturn one empire, or Æneas pious enough to raise another, had they not been goddess-born, and princes bred. What then did this author mean by erecting a player, instead of one of his patrons, (a person never a hero even on the stage!") to this dignity of colleague in the empire of Dulness, and

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

14 See Cibber's Letter to Mr. P.

15 Don Quixote, Part II. Book ii. ch. 22.
16 See Cibber's Life, p. 148.

13 Ibid. p. 1.

« PreviousContinue »