Page images

needs hunt for remote and artificial decorations. Thus was it that the age of Demetrius Phalerëus succeeded that of Demosthenes; and the false relish of Tiberius's court, the chaste one of Augustus. Among the various causes, however, that have been assigned, why poetry and the arts have more eminently flourished in some particular ages and nations than in others, few have been satisfactory and adequate. What solid reason can we give why the Romans, who so happily imitated the Greeks in many respects, and breathed a truly tragic spirit, could yet never excel in tragedy, though so fond of theatrical spectacles? Or why the Greeks, so fruitful in every species of poetry, yet never produced but one great epic poet? While, on the other hand, modern Italy can shew two or three illustrious epic writers, yet has no Sophocles, Euripides, or Menander. And France, without having formed a single Epopëa, has carried dramatic poetry to so high a pitch of perfection in Corneille, Racine, and Moliere.

For a confirmation of the foregoing remark on Statius, and for a proof of the strength and spiC 4


rit of POPE's youthful translation, I shall select the following passage:


He sends a monster horrible and fell,
Begot by furies in the depth of hell.
The pest a virgin's face and bosom wears;
High on her crown a rising snake appears,
Guards her black front, and hisses in her hairs:
About the realm she walks her dreadful round,
When night with sable wings o'erspreads the ground;
Devours young babes before their parents' eyes,
And feeds and thrives on public miseries.*

Oedipus, in Statius, behaves with the fury of a blustering bully; in Sophocles,† with that patient submission, and pathetic remorse, which are suited to his lamentable condition.

Art thou a father, unregarding Jove!
And sleeps thy thunder in the realms above?
Thou, fury, then, some lasting curse entail,
Which o'er their childrens' children shall prevail;
Place on their heads that crown distain'd with gore,
Which these dire hands from my slain father tore.

*B. I. ver. 705.


+ See his address to the furies in the Edipus Coloneus of Sophocles, beginning at the words, TOTAL SEWTES, at verse 85, down to verse 117. And afterwards, when he becomes more particularly acquainted with the unnatural cruelty of his sons, yet his resentment is more temperate. See verse 433 down to verse 472, of the same most enchanting tragedy,

OVID is also another writer of a bad taste, on whom POPE employed some of his youthful hours, in translating the stories of Dryope and Pomona. Were it not for the useful mythological knowledge they contain, the works of Ovid ought not to be so diligently read. The puerilities and affectations with which they abound, are too well known to be here insisted on. I chuse rather to account for Ovid's falling into so blameable a species of writing, in the words of a sensible critic,* who, after he has censured, what


* Francisci Vavassoris de Epigrammate Liber. Parisiis 1672. Pag. 47, edit. 8vo.

About this time it became fashionable among the wits at Button's, the mob of gentlemen that wrote with ease, to translate Ovid. Their united performances were published in form by Garth, with a preface written in a flowing and lively style, but full of strange opinions. He declares, that none of the classic poets had the talent of expressing himself with more force and perspicuity than Ovid; that the Fiat of the Hebrew law-giver is not more sublime than the Jussit et extendi campos of the Latin Poet; that he excels in the propriety of his similes and epithets, the perspicuity of his allegories, and the instructive excellence of his morals. Above all, he commends him for his unforced transitions, and for the ease with which he slides into some new circumstance, without any violation of the unity of the story. "The texture (says he) is so artful, that it may be compared to the work of his own Arachne, where the shade

he calls, the pigmenta, the lascivias, and aucupia sermonum of PATERCULUS, of VALERIUS MAXIMUS, of PLINY the Naturalist, and PLINY the Consul, of FLORUS, and TACI

[ocr errors]

TUS, proceeds as follows: Apud Ovidium, cum in Heroidum epistolis, tum vero præcipue in libris Metamorphoseon, deprehendunt qui ista curant, multa solerter et acute dicta. Sed advertit nemo, quod sciam, unde exorta hæc ei præter cæteros libido, et quæ causa festivitatis novæ, et prioribus inusitata poetis, esse potuerit, Natus Ovidius eodem, quo Cicero mortuus,

shade dies so gradually, and the light revives so imperceptibly, that it is hard to tell where the one ceases and the other begins." But it is remarkable that Quintilian thought very differently on this subject of the transitions, and the admirers of Ovid would do well to consider his opinion. "Illa vero frigida et puerilis est in scholis affectatio, ut ipse transitus efficiat aliquam utique sententiam, et hujus velut præstigiæ plausum petat: ut Ovidius lascivire in Metamorphosi solet, quem tamen excusare necessitas potest, res diversissimas in speciem unius corporis colligentem." Garth was a most amiable and benevolent man. It was said of him, that "No Physician knew his Art more, nor his Trade less." Pope told Mr. Richardson, "that there was hardly an alteration, of the innumerable, that were made throughout every edition of the Dispensary, that was not for the better." The vivacity of his conversation made Garth an universal favourite both with Whigs and Tories, when partyrage ran high.


mortuus, anno, in hæc incidit tempora, ut ita dicam, declamatoria, hoc est, ea, quibus inductus primum est, et valere cœpit, et in honore esse, strictior is habitus et comptior scripturæ ; ubi color sententiarum, plurimi ac densi sensus, et qui cum quodam lumine terminarentur, non tarda nec inerti structura. Sic enim nove loqui cœptum est de novo genere loquendi. ejus adolescentia iis maxime studiis ac disciplinis declamitandi traducta, exercitaque tunc, cum Portio Latroni et Arellio Fusco rhetoribus daret operam, cumque sese non ad forum, a quo laboris fuga abhorrebat, sed ad poeticam, in quam erat natura propensior, contulisset: detulit una secum figuram hanc et formam sermonis, cui assueverat aliquandiu, et institutum jam oratione soluta morem retinuit in versibus."

We are now advanced, through many digressions, that I would hope are not wholly impertinent, to POPE'S IMITATIONS of Seven English Poets, some of which were done at fourteen or fifteen years old. His early bent to poetry has been already taken notice of in the First Vo



« PreviousContinue »