« PreviousContinue »
FROM "THE COCK AND THE FOX."
Dreams are but interludes which Fancy makes;
150. ALEXANDER'S FEAST.
AN ODE IN HONOR OF ST. CECILIA'S DAY.
'Twas at the royal feast for Persia won
By Philip's warlike son;
Aloft in awful state
The godlike hero sate
On his imperial throne:
His valiant peers were placed around;
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound (So should desert in arms be crowned):
The lovely Thais, by his side,
Sate, like a blooming Eastern bride,
In flower of youth and beauty's pride.
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
None but the brave deserves the fair.
Timotheus, placed on high
Amid the tuneful quire,
With flying fingers touched the lyre:
The trembling notes ascend the sky,
The song began - from Jove,
(Such is the power of mighty love). A dragon's fiery form belied the god, Sublime on radiant spires he rode.
The listening crowd admire the lofty sound,
A present deity! the vaulted roofs rebound:
The monarch hears,
Assumes the god,
And seems to shake the spheres.
The praise of Bacchus then, the sweet musician sung.
The jolly god in triumph comes;
Sound the trumpets; beat the drums;
He shows his honest face;
Now give the hautboys breath: he comes! he comes!
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure;
Sweet is pleasure after pain.
Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain;
Fought all his battles o'er again;
And thrice he routed all his foes; and thrice he slew the slain
His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
Soft pity to infuse:
He sung Darius great and good,
By too severe a fate,
Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
And welt'ring in his blood;
Revolving in his altered soul
The various turns of Chance below;
The mighty master smiled, to see
Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
Take the good the gods provide thee!
Gazed on the fair
Who caused his care,
And sighed and looked, sighed and looked, Sighed and looked, and sighed again :
At length, with love and wine at once oppressed, The vanquished victor sunk upon her breast.
Now strike the golden lyre again :
A louder yet, and yet a louder strain
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.
Hark, hark, the horrid sound
Has raised up his head!
As awaked from the dead,
And amazed, he stares around.
Revenge! revenge! Timotheus cries,
See the Furies arise:
See the snakes that they rear,
How they hiss in their hair,
And the sparkles that flash from their eyes,
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain,
And unburied remain
Inglorious on the plain:
Give the vengeance due
To the valiant crew!
Behold how they toss their torches on high,
And glittering temples of their hostile gods!
And the king seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy,
To light him to his prey,
And, like another Helen, fired another Troy.
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire
Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiast, from her sacred store,
And added length to solemn sounds,
With Nature's mother-wit, and arts unknown before.
Or both divide the crown;
151. CHAUCER AND COWLEY.
In the first place, as he is the father of English poetry, so I hold him in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians held Homer, or the Romans Virgil. He is a perpetual fountain of good sense, learned in all sciences, and therefore speaks properly on all subjects. As he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off; a continence which is practised by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients, ecepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets' is sunk in in reputation, because he could never forgive any conceit which canie in his way; but swept, like a drag-net, great and small. There was plenty enough, but the dishes were ill sorted; whole pyramids of "weetmeats for boys and women, but little of solid meat for men. All this proceeded not from any want of knowledge, but of judgment. Neither did he want that in discerning the beauties and faults of other
poets, but only indulged himself in the luxury of writing; and perhaps knew it was a fault, but hoped the reader would not find it. this reason, though he must always be thought a great poet, he is ne longer esteemed a good writer; and for ten impressions, which his works have had in so many successive years, yet at present a hundred books are scarcely purchased once a twelve-month; for, as my last Lord Rochester said, though somewhat profanely, Not being of God, he could not stand.
Chaucer followed nature everywhere; but was never so bold to go beyond her. It is true, I cannot go so far as he who published the last edition of him; for he would make us believe the fault is in our ears, and that there were really ten syllables in a verse, where we find but nine. But this opinion is not worth confuting; it is so gross and obvious an error, that common sense (which is a rule in everything but matters of faith and revelation) must convince the reader, that equality of numbers in every verse which we call heroic, was either not known, or not always practised in Chaucer's age. It were an easy matter to produce some thousands of his verses, which are lame for want of half a foot, and sometimes a whole one, and which no pronunciation can make otherwise. We can only say, that he ved in the infancy of our poetry, and that nothing is brought to perfection at the first. We must be children, before we grow men. There was an Ennius, and in process of time a Lucilius and a Lucretius, before Virgil and Horace. Even after Chaucer there was a Spenser, a Harrington, a Fairfax, before Waller and Denham were in being; and our numbers were in their nonage till these last appeared.
152. SHAKSPEARE AND BEN Jonson.
To begin, then, with Shakspeare. He was the man, who, of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes anything, you more than see it - you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books in read nature; he looked inwards, and found her theie. I cannot say be is everywhere alike; were he so, I should do him. injury to com pure him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times fla', insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swellng into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him.
The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eton say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever writ, but he would produce it much better done in Shakspeare; and however others are now gener.
1 Ar old word for puns.