Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

of God. He placed these in one of the towers, called The Tower of the Library. This was the foundation of the present magnificent royal library at Paris.

The tale, to which this is the prologue, has been versified by Dryden, and is supposed to have been of Chaucer's own invention; as is the exquisite Vision of the Flower and the Leaf, which has received a thousand new graces from the spirited and harmonious Dryden. It is to his Fables (next to his Music Ode), written when he was above seventy years old, that Dryden will chiefly owe his immortality; and among these, particularly to the well-conducted tale of Palamon and Arcite, the pathetic picture of Sigismunda, the wild and terrible graces of Theodore and Honoria, and the sportive pleasantry of Cymon and Iphigenia. It is mortifying and surprising to see the cold and contemptuous manner in which Dr. Johnson speaks of these capital pieces, which he says “require little criticism, and seem hardly worth the rejuvenescence (as he affectedly calls it) which Dryden has bestowed

upon

them.” It is remarkable that, in his criticisms, he has not even mentioned the Flower and the Leaf.

These pieces of Chaucer were not the only ones that were versified by Pope. Mr. Harte assured me, that he was convinced by some circumstances which Fenton his friend communicated to him, that Pope wrote the characters that make the introduction to the Canterbury Tales, published under the name of Betterton.

THE

FIRST BOOK

OF

STATIUS'S THEBAIS.

TRANSLATED IN THE YEAR MDCCIII.

[merged small][ocr errors]

It was in his childhood only that he could make choice of so injudicious a writer as Statius to translate. It were to be wished that no youth of genius were suffered ever to look into Statius, Lucan, Claudian, or Seneca the tragedian ; authors, who, by their forced conceits, by their violent metaphors, by their swelling epithets, by their want of a just decorum, have a strong tendency to dazzle, and to mislead inexperienced minds, and tastes unformed, from the true relish of possibility, propriety, simplicity, and nature. Statius had undoubtedly invention, ability, and spirit; but his images are gigantic and outrageous, and his sentiments tortured and hyperbolical. It can hardly, I think, be doubted, but that Juvenal intended a severe satire on him in these well-known lines, which have been commonly interpreted as a panegyric:

“ Curritur ad vocem jucundam et carmen amicæ
Thebaïdos, lætam fecit cum Statius urbem,
Promisitque diem ; tanta dulcedine captos
Afficit ille animos, tantaque libidine vulgi
Auditur: sed, cum fregit subsellia versu,

Esurit.” In these verses are many expressions, here marked with Italics, which seem to hint obliquely that Statius was the favourite poet of the vulgar, who were easily captivated with a wild and inartificial tale, and with an empty magnificence of numbers ; the noisy roughness of which may be particularly alluded to in the expression, fregit subsellia versu. One cannot forbear reAecting on the short duration of a true taste in poetry among the Romans. From the time of Lucretius to that of Statius was no more than about one hundred and forty-seven years; and if I might venture to pronounce so rigorous a sentence, I would say, that the Romans can boast of but eight poets who are unexceptionably excellent; namely, Terence, Lucretius, Catullus, Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius, Phædrus. These only can be called legitimate models of just thinking and writing. Succeeding authors, as it happens in all countries, resolving to be original and new, and to avoid the imputation of copying, become distorted and unnatural : by endeavouring to open an unbeaten path, they deserted simplicity and truth ; weary of common and obvious beauties, they must needs hunt for remote and artificial decorations. Thus was it that the age of Demetrius Phalereus succeeded that of Demosthenes, and the false relish of Tiberius's court the chaste one of Augustus. Among the various causes,

VOL. II.

M

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, never yet 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 epopea, has carried dramatic poetry to so much excellence in Corneille, Racine, and Moliere.

« PoprzedniaDalej »