« PreviousContinue »
TO MR. ADDISON.
OCCASIONED BY HIS DIALOGUES ON MEDALS.
SEE the wild Waste of all-devouring years! How Rome her own sad Sepulchre appears!
This was originally written in the year 1715, when Mr. Addison intended to publish his book of Medals; it was some time before he was Secretary of State; but not published till Mr. Tickell's Edition of his works: at which time the verses on Mr. Craggs, which conclude the poem, were added, viz. in 1720. P.
Ver. 1. See the wild Waste] This treatise on Medals was written by Addison in that pleasing form of composition, so unsuccessfully attempted by many modern authors, Dialogues. In no one species of writing have the ancients so indisputable a superiority over us. The dialogues of Plato and Cicero, especially the former, are perfect dramas; where the characters are supported with consistency and nature, and the reasoning suited to the characters.
"There are in English three dialogues, and but three," says a learned and ingenious author, who has himself practised this agreeable way of writing, “that deserve commendation, namely, the Moralists in Lord Shaftesbury, Mr. Addison's Treatise on Medals, and the Minute Philosophy of Bishop Berkeley." Alciphron did, indeed, well deserve to be mentioned on this occasion; notwithstanding it has been treated with contempt by writers much inferior to Berkeley in learning, genius, and taste. Omitting those passages in the fourth dialogue, where he has introduced his fanciful and whimsical opinions about vision, an attentive reader will find that there is scarce a single argument that can be urged in defence of Revelation, but what is here placed in the clearest light, and in the most beautiful diction. In this work there is a happy union of reasoning and imagination. The two different characters of the two different sorts of
With nodding arches, broken temples, spread!
free-thinkers, the sensual and the refined, are strongly contrasted with each other, and with the plainness and simplicity of Euphranor.
These dialogues of Addison are written with that sweetness and purity of style which constitute him one of the first of our prose writers. The Pleasures of Imagination, the Essay on the Georgics, and his last papers in the Spectator and Guardian, are models of language. And some late writers, who seem to have mistaken stiffness for strength, and are grown popular by a pompous rotundity of phrase, make one wish that the rising generation may abandon this unnatural, false, inflated, and florid style, and form themselves on the chaster model of Addison. The chief imperfection of his Treatise on Medals, is, the persons introduced as speakers, in direct contradiction to the practice of the ancients, are fictitious not real; for Cynthio*, Philander, Palæmon, Eugenio, and Theocles, cannot equally excite and engage the attention of the reader, with Socrates and Alcibiades, Atticus and Brutus, Cowley and Spratt, Maynard and Somers. It is somewhat singular, that so many of the modern dialoguewriters should have failed in this particular, when so many of the most celebrated wits of modern Italy had given them eminent examples of the contrary proceeding, and closely following the steps of the ancients, constantly introduced living and real persons in their numerous compositions of this sort; in which they were so fond of delivering their sentiments, both on moral and critical subjects; witness the Il Cortegiano of B. Castiglione, the Asolani of P. Bembo, Dialoghi del S. Sperone, and the great Galileo, the Naugerius of Fracastorius, and Lil. Gyraldus de Poetis, and many others. In all which pieces the famous and living geniuses of Italy are introduced discussing the several different topics before them.
Ver. 2. her own sad Sepulchre] St. Jerome says, quondam orbis caput, postea populi Romani sepulcrum."
* How ill the forms, and ceremonies, and compliments, of modern good-breeding, would bear to be exactly represented; see Characteristics, vol. i. p. 209.
Imperial wonders rais'd on Nations spoil'd,
Perhaps, by its own ruins sav'd from flame,
Ambition sigh'd: She found it vain to trust
Ver. 6. Where mix'd with Slaves the groaning Martyr toil'd:] Palladio, speaking of the Baths of Dioclesian, says, " Nell' edificazione delle quali, Dioclesiano tenne molti anni 140 mila Christiani a edificarle." W.
Ver. 6. groaning Martyr] Dodwell, in his Dissertationes Cyprianica, has undertaken to prove that the number of Martyrs was far less than hath been usually imagined. His opinion is combated by Mosheim in the 5th chapter of his excellent History of the Church.
Ver. 7. Huge Theatres,] Is this equal or superior to what Addison says on the same subject?
"That on its public shows unpeopled Rome,
And held uncrowded nations in its womb."
Ver. 18. And give to Titus old Vespasian's due.] A fine insinuation of the want both of taste and learning in Antiquarians; whose ignorance of characters misleads them (supported only by a name) against reason and history.
Ver. 19. Ambition sigh'd:] Such short personifications have a great effect. "Silence was pleas'd," says Milton; which
Huge moles, whose shadow stretch'd from shore to
Their ruins perish'd, and their place no more!
The Medal, faithful to its charge of fame, Through climes and ages bears each form and name: In one short view subjected to our eye
Gods, Emp'rors, Heroes, Sages, Beauties, lie.
ification is taken, though it happens not to have been observed by any of his commentators, from the Hero and Leander of Musæus, v. 280.
Ver. 25. A narrow ORB each crowded Conquest keeps,] A ridicule on the pompous title of Orbis Romanus, which the Romans gave to their Empire. W.--No ridicule was nor could be here intended.
Ver. 27. the proud Arch] i. e. The triumphal Arch, which was generally an enormous mass of building.
Ver. 29. A small Euphrates] The two first-mentioned rivers, the Nile and Rhine, having been personified, the Euphrates should not have been spoken of a mere river. The circumstance in line 30, is very puerile and little.
Ver. 35. With sharpen'd sight pale Antiquaries pore,] Microscopic glasses, invented by Philosophers to discover the beauties in the minuter works of Nature, ridiculously applied by Antiquaries to detect the cheats of counterfeit medals. W.
This the blue varnish, that the green endears,
Poor Vadius, long with learned spleen devour'd,
Ver. 37. This the blue varnish, that the green endears,] i. e. This a collecter of silver; that, of brass coins. W.
Ver. 39. To gain Pescennius] The lively and ingenious Young says, in his 4th Satire,
"How his eyes languish! how his thoughts adore
He shews, on holidays, a sacred pin,
That touch'd the ruff that touch'd Queen Bess's chin."
How much wit has been wasted and misplaced in endeavouring to ridicule antiquarians, whose studies are not only pleasing to the imagination, but attended with many advantages to society, especially since they have been improved, as they lately have been, with singular taste and propriety, in elucidating what, after all, is the most interesting and important part of all history-the history of manners!
Ver. 41. Poor Vadius,] See his history, and that of his Shield, in the Memoirs of Scriblerus. W.
Ver. 43. And Curio, restless, &c.] The Historian Dio has given us a very extraordinary instance of this Virtuoso-taste. He tells us, that one Vibius Rufus, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was the fourth husband to Cicero's widow, Terentia, then upwards of a hundred years old, used to value himself on his being possessed of the two noblest pieces of Antiquity in the world, TULLY'S WIDOW and CÆSAR'S CHAIR, that Chair in which he was assassinated in full Senate.
Ver. 44. Sighs for an Otho,] Charles Patin was banished from the Court because he sold Louis XIV. an Otho that was not genuine. Patin's Treatise on Medals is a good one.