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but once looked on her, he would have forgot his clerical dignity, and in place of calling her a female slave," have sworn, though a divine, by some harmless oath, that she was an angel. “A rose," Shakspeare says, "by any other name would smell as sweet." True, men call her the Queen of Flowers. And she is so. But were all the disloyal world to join in naming her the Slave of Weeds, still would she be sole sovereign of her own breathing and blushing floral kingdom. We defy humanity to discrown or dethrone her-for she is queen by divine right, and holds, by a heavenly tenure, of the sun, on condition merely of presenting him with a few dewdrops every dawn, during the months she loves best to illumine with her regal lustre. Just so was it with her whom Dr Hugh Blair chose to call “ female slave." She was free as a fawn on the hill-as a nightingale in the grove -as a dove in the air-a bright bird of beauty, that loved to nestle in the storm-laid bosom of the destroyer. Achilles was the slave. captived the invincible-hung chains round his neck, which to strive to break would have been the vainest madness-the arrow of Paris, it is fabled, smote the only vulnerable spot of the hero-his heel, and slew him-but Briseis assailed him with the archery of her eyes, and the winged wounds went to the very core of his heart, inflicting daily a thousand deaths, alternating with life-fits that in their bliss alone deserved the name of being. And what signifies it to Achilles, that Dr Blair persists, like a Presbyterian as he is, in calling his Briseis a female slave ? The Professor should have said a seraph.
The Doctor forgot that the loss of a mistress is sadly felt by a general on foreign service. Had Agamemnon been at Argos, he might not-though there is no saying-have been so savage on the forced relinquishment of a Chryseis. Had Achilles been in Peleus' palace in Pthia, he might have better borne the want of a Briseis. In the piping times of peace, people's passions are not so impetuous as in the trumpeting times of war. Dr Blair admits that Agamemnon loved Chryseis better than Clytemnestra; indeed we have the
king of men's own word for it; and Achilles, who was the soul of truth and honour, tells us that he adored his Briseis, who, though in childhood betrothed to one of her own princes, fell into his arms a virgin, and that on his return to Pthia, he intended to make her his queen. Alas! such was not his fate! He chose death with glory, rather than life with love. And as for Agamemnon, he indeed returned to Argos; but if those Tragic Tales be true that shook the stage with terror under the genius of Eschylus, better for the king of men had he too died before Troy; for the adulterous and murderous matron slew him, even like a bull, with an axe before the domestic altar. Oh! that bloody bath! As for his lovely and delicious leman, the uncredited prophetess, the longhaired Cassandra, Clytemnestra killed her too, smiting her on the broad white forehead, with the same edge that had drank the gore of Agamemnon. But ere long came the avenger -and beneath the sacred sword of her own son, the murderess "stooped her adulterous head as low as death." Then from the infernal shades arose the Furies to dog the flying feet of the distracted parricide. But at last the god of light and the goddess of wisdom stretched the celestial shield of their pity over Orestes, and at their divine bidding, the snaky sisters, abandoning their victim restored to reason and peace, thenceforth Furies no more! all over Greece were called Eumenides!
But let us for a moment make the violent supposition-that Briseis was a black-a downright and indisputable negro. Jove, we shall suppose, made Achilles a present of her, on his return from one of his twelve days' visits to the blameless Ethiopians. What then? Although Thetis had white feet, that is no reason in the world against her son's being partial to black ones; for surely a man is not bound to love in his mistress what he admires in his mother. Neither is there any accounting for taste- nobody dreams of denying that apophthegm. As for blubberlips, we cannot say that we ever felt any irresistible inclination to taste them; yet a negress's lips are rosy, and her teeth lilies. And therefore,
had Briseis been a negro, and Achilles so capricious as to prefer her black but comely to paler beauties, the quarrel consequent on her violent abreption from his arms by the mandate of Agamemnon, might not have given the opening of the Iliad that sort of dignity which a modern -that is Dr Blair-looks for in a great epic poem ; but still, as the act would have been one of most insolent injustice, unstomachable by Achilles, who was not a person to play upon with impunity, the quarrel would at least have been natural, and so would the opening of the Iliad; in which case, perhaps, we might have dispensed with the dignity, just as we do on seeing a delicate white Christian lady get married and murdered by an immense monster of a Moor, the very pillow be coming pathetic, and the bed-sheets full of ruth and pity as a shroud prepared for the grave.
Well would it be for the world, lay and clerical, civil and military, were kings and kingdoms to go together by the ears, for no less dignified cause than that which produced the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon. Indeed, we may safely defy Dr Blair, or any body else, to produce an instance of an equally dignified cause of quarrel between crowned heads with that which ennobles the opening of the Iliad. Ambassadors keep hopping about at much expense from court to court all over Europe, and Asia too at times, not to mention America and Africa, maintaining the honour of their respective sovereigns, insulted, it would often seem, by such senile, or rather anile, indefinable drivelling, as would have ashamed the auld wife herself of Auchtermuchty; while state-papers, as they are called,present such a gawlimaufry of gossip as was never equalled in the hostile correspondence of a bro ken-up batch of veteran village tabbies, caterwauling in consequence having all together set their caps at the new minister. Not one war in twenty that originates in any more dignified dispute, than, in a vegetable market, a squabble about a contested string of onions, or, in a fish one, about the price of some stinking haddies. What even is the right of search? But let us not disgust ourselves by
VOL. XXX. NO. CLXXXII.
the recollection of the sickening sillinesses that have so often drenched Europe in blood. We do not abhor a general war, for we despise it. The quarrels which cause general wars in our times, would indeed make pretty openings for great epic poems. They would possess, we presume, all that sort of dignity which a modern looks for in such noble compositions. Homer had no idea of dignity; Dr Blair had; Achilles and Agamemnon went almost to loggerheads about Briseis; we could mention kings who deluged their lands in blood, tears, and taxation, about a beer-barrel.
The excellent Doctor talks with uncommon nonchalance about honest people's undignified daughters. The daughter of the Priest of Apollo, "in the plunder of a city, had fallen to Agamemnon's share of booty." She had; and the old gentleman (as dignified as if he had been Moderator) not at all relishing it, complained to the god he served, who sent a plague into the Grecian camp. Now a plague, up to the time of Dr Hugh Blair, had uniformly been considered a very dignified visitation-and, begging the Doctor's pardon, it is considered so still-sufficiently so to satisfy the mind of any moderate modern meditating on what may be fit matter for the opening of a great epic poem. The plague Apollo sent was a very superior personage to Cholera Morbus, although even he is not to be sneezed at, even when, on his arrival at Leith from Riga, merely performing quarantine. Why, Apollo was himself the plague. He descended from heaven to earth UTI εοικως. The sun became a shadow-day grew night-and life was death. Is not that dignity enough for the Doctor?
Throughout the whole passage you perceive the Doctor fumbling at the facetious. Having determined that the opening of the Iliad should be deemed deficient in dignity, he sketches it sneeringly and sarcastically, and yet it lours upon us, in spite of his idle derision, as something prodigious and portentous-black with pestilence and war, disunion, despair, and death.
But ere we dismiss Death and the Doctor, observe, that while the latter somewhat pedantical personage is
posing that the subject-matter of the Iliad is in itself undignified, and that its poetical plan is, on that account, so very different from what any one would have formed in our times, runs through the whole of the passage we have quoted from Blair, and vitiates the philosophy of its criticism. Had any one in our times chosen the subject for an epic poem in the heroic ages of Greece, he would have been puzzled to find one different from that of the Tale of Troy Divine, unless, perhaps, he had been at once a Homer and a Shakspeare, and then there is no saying what he might not have done; and had any one in our times chosen to choose a subject from our times, or from any other times intermediate between that heroic and this unheroic age, he might have stretched his brain till the crack of doom, ere he had found one more dignified; even though the Iliad begins with the wrath of Achilles for sake of a female slave, Briseis, is conversant about the middle with his furious grief for loss of a male friend, Patroclus, draws to a close with the lamentations of two old people, Hecuba and Priam, and ends with the funeral rites of Hector the Tamer of Horses.
supposing himself to be criticising in this passage the opening of the Iliad, and pointing out how undignified it is, why, he is sketching, without being aware of it, the plan of the whole poem-beginning, middle, and end. Is it all undignified together? If not, at what point, pray, does the meanness merge into the dignified, and the march begin of the majestical? "Such is the basis of the whole action of the Iliad," he continues, meaning thereby to say, that it is all as insignificant in itself as the opening with the quarrel of two chieftains about a female slave. "Hence," he well says, << rose all those speciosa miracula,' as Horace terms them, which fill up that extraordinary poem; and which have had the power of interesting almost all the nations of Europe during every age since the days of Homer. The general admiration commanded by a poetical plan so very different from what any one would have formed in our times ought not, upon reflection, to be matter of surprise. For besides that a fertile genius can enrich and beautify any subject on which it is employed, it is to be observed that ancient manners, how much soever they contradict our present notions of dignity and refinement, afford, nevertheless, materials for poetry superior in some respects to those which are furnished by a more polished state of society. They discover human nature more open and undisguised, without any of those studied forms of behaviour which now conceal men from one another. They give free scope to the strongest and most impetuous motions of the mind, which make a better figure in description than calm and temperate feelings. They shew us our native prejudices, appetites, and desires, exerting themselves without control. From this state of manners, joined with the advantage of that strong and expressive style, which commonly distinguishes the composition of early ages, we have ground to look for more of the boldness, ease, and freedom of native genius, in compositions of such a period, than in those of more civilized times. And accordingly, the two great characters of the Homeric poetry are, Fire and Simplicity."
The one great original error of sup
But making allowances for that first and fatal error, all must admit that Blair speaks truly and finely towards the close of the paragraph; and that he says as much in a few simple sentences, and more, too, than both the Schlegels put together, in their shadowy style, would have said in a whole essay written in Cloudland. The good Doctor warms as he walks-and finally escapes out of the ungenial gloom of heresy, declaring, with an inconsistency that does him infinite credit, "that the subject of the Iliad must unquestionably be admitted to be in the main happily chosen."-" Homer has, with great judgment, selected one part of the Trojan War, the Quarrel betwixt Achilles and Agamemnon, and the events to which that quarrel gave rise." In short, the Professor forgets all his former folly about want of dignity and so forth, and expresses the admiration natural to so fine a mind, of the miracle wrought by Homer.
We said that we should seize on Sotheby, as a subject for six critiques
-that is to say, on his translation of the Iliad, as affording us fine opportunities of launching out upon Homer. In the present utter dearth of poetry, caused by a drought-in the Albion air adust"-by the political dog-star, which not only looks so exceedingly Sirius, but foams at the mouth like the Father of Hydrophobia, if not Hydrophobia himself, we see nothing left for us but to take a flight of a few thousand years back into antiquity; and being partial to the epic, we propose prosing away thereupon-when wearied taking a tift at Tragedy-and occasionally, laying our lugs into a cup of Lyrics. Having descanted on the First and Sixth Books of the Iliad, in a style not unsatisfactory to those who perused our articles, and inoffensive to those who, with a skip, gave them the go-by-both classes numerous -suppose, gruff or gentle reader, that we take a glimpse of what is going on in the Ninth. Some of the Books of the Iliad are, as you know, each in itself a poem. The Iliad is a river, that expands itself into Twenty-Four Lakes. Each Lake is
a beautiful or magnificent watery world in itself, reflecting its own imagery all differently divine. The current is perceptible in each that flows through them all-so that you have always a river as well as a lake feeling; in the seclusion of any one are never forgetful of the rest; and though contented, were there neither inlet nor outlet to the circular sea on which you at the time may be voyaging, yet assured all the while that your course is progressive, and will cease at last, only when the waters on which you are wafted along by heavenly airs shall disappear underground among some Old Place of Tombs.
Now the Night-scene in the Ninth Book is bright with Achilles-an apparition, who vanished from our bodily eyes in the first, although he continued to move through the succeeding seven-and especially in the sixth-before those of our imagination. A night-scene in Homer, even without Achilles, is worth looking at-and therefore let us look at it without him-Lo, here it is!
Οἱ δὲ, μέγα φρονέοντες, ἐπὶ πτολέμοιο γεφύρι
And spent all night in open field; fires round about them shined,
As when about the siluer moone, when aire is free from winde,
And stars shine clear, to whose sweet beams high prospects and the brows Of all steepe hills and pinnacles thrust up themselves for showes;
And even the lowly vallies joy, to glitter in their sight,
When the unmeasured firmament bursts to disclose her light,
And all the signes in heaven are seen, that glad the shepheards harts:
So many fires disclosde their beames, made by the Troian part,
Before the face of Illion; and her bright turrets show'd.
A thousand courts of guard kept fires; and every guard allow'd
The troops exulting sat in order round,
As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night,
Big with great purposes and proud, they sat,
The boundless blue, and ether open'd wide;
But Troy elate, in orderly array
All night around her numerous watch-fires lay.
While the lone shepherd, watchful of his fold,
There you see, most classical of readers, is the close of the eighth book, in the original Greek-and there are four distinguished trans
lations, by four of our true poets. The Trojans, with Hector at their head, have, as you know, given the Greeks a total-Agamemnon dreads