Page images
PDF
EPUB

of conscience, however erroneous; because it will readily be granted, that no such moral perfection was ever found among men: but it is easy to ascertain the fate of those " who love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil;" who violate the law that has been written upon the heart, and reject that which has been offered them from above; who though their sins are as scarlet, cavil at the terms on which they might be white as snow; and though their iniquities have been multiplied without number, revile the hand that would blot them from the Register of Heaven.

No. 92. SATURDAY, SEPT. 22, 1753.

Hor.

Cum tabulis animum censoris sumet honesti.

Bold be the critic, zealous to his trust,
Like the firm judge inexorably just.

TO THE ADVENTURER. SIR, In the papers of criticism which you have given to the public, I have remarked a spirit of candour and love of truth, equally remote from bigotry and captiousness; a just distribution of praise amongst the ancients and the moderns; a sober deference to reputation long established, without a blind adoration of antiquity; and a willingness to favour later performances, without a light or puerile fondness for novelty.

“I shall, therefore, venture to lay before you such observations as have risen to my mind in the consideration of Virgil's Pastorals, without any inquiry how far my sentiments deviate from established rules or common opinions.

ed upon him.

“ If we survey the ten Pastorals in a general view, it will be found that Virgił can derive from them

very little claim to the praise of an inventor. To search into the antiquity of this kind of poetry is not my present purpose; that it has long subsisted in the east the Sacred Writings sufficiently inform us; and we may conjecture, with great probability, that it was sometimes the devotion, and sometimes the entertainment of the first generations of mankind. Theocritus united elegance with simplicity; and taught his shepherds to sing with so much ease and harmony that his countrymen, despairing to excel, forbore to imitate him; and the Greeks, however vain or ambitious, left him in quiet possession of the garlands which the woodnymphs had bestow

“ Virgil, however, taking advantage of another language, ventured to copy or to rival the Sicilian Bard : he has written with greater splendour of diction, and elevation of sentiment: but as the magnificence of his performances was more, the simplicity was less: and, perhaps, where he excels Theocritus, he sometimes obtains his superiority by deviating from the pastoral character, and performing what Theocritus never attempted.

“ Yet, though I would willingly pay to Theocritus the honour which is always due to an original author, I am far from intending to depreciate Virgil; of whom Horace justly declares, that the rural muses have appropriated to him their elegance and sweetness, and who, as he copied Theocritus in his design, bas resembled him likewise in his success; for, if we except Calphurnius, an obscure author of the lower ages, I know not that a single Pastoral was written after him by any poet, till the revival of literature.

“ But though his general merit has been univer

sally acknowledged, I am far from thinking all the productions of his rural Thalia equally excellent; there is, indeed, in all his Pastorals, a strain of versification which it is vain to seek in any other poet: but if we except the first and the tenth, they seem liable either wholly or in part to considerable objections.

“The second, though we should forget the great charge against it, which I am afraid can never be refuted, might, I think, have perished, without any diminution of the praise of its author; for I know not that it contains one affecting sentiment or pleasing description, or one passage that strikes the imagination or awakens the passions.

“ The third contains a contest between two shepherds, begun with a quarrel of which some particular might well be spared, carried on with sprightliness and elegance, and terminated at last in a reconciliation : but surely, whether the invectives with which they attack each other be true or false, they are too much degraded from the dignity of pastoral innocence; and instead of rejoicing that they are both victorious, I should not have grieved could they have been both defeated.

“ The poem to Pollio is, indeed, of another kind : it is filled with images at once splendid and pleasing, and is elevated with grandeur of language worthy of the first of Roman poets; but I am not able to reconcile myself to the disproportion, between the performance and the occasion that produced it: that the golden age should return because Pollio had a son, appears so wild a fiction that I am ready to suspect the poet of having written for some other purpose, what he took this opportunity of producing to the public.

“ The fifth contains a celebration of Daphnis, which has stood to all succeeding ages as the model

VOL. II.

в в

of pastoral elegies. To deny praise to a performance which so many thousands have laboured to imitate would be to judge with too little deference for the opinion of mankind : yet whoever shall read it with impartiality will find that most of the images are of the mythological kind, and, therefore, easily invented ; and that there are few sentiments of rational praise or natural lamentation.

“ In the Silenus he again arises to the dignity of philosophic sentiment and heroic poetry. The address of Varus is eminently beautiful; but since the compliment paid to Gallus fixes the transaction to his own time, the fiction of Silenus seems injudicious ; nor has

any

sufficient reason yet been found, to justify his choice of those fables that make the subject of the song.

“ The seventh exhibits another contest of the tuneful shepherds: and, surely, it is not without some reproach to his inventive power, that of ten pastorals Virgil has written two upon the same plan. One of the shepherds now gains an acknowledged victory, but without any apparent superiority; and the reader, when he sees the prize adjudged, is pot able to discover how it was deserved.

“Of the eighth Pastoral, so little is properly the work of Virgil that he has no claim to other praise or blame than that of a translator.

“Of the ninth it is scarce possible to discover the design or tendency: it is said, I know not upon what authority, to have been composed from fragments of other poems; and except a few lines in which the author touches upon his own misfortunes, there is nothing that seems appropriated to any time or place, or of which any other use can be discovered than to fill

up
the

poem. “ The first and the tenth Pastorals, whatever be determined of the rest, are suffieient to place their

author above the reach of rivalry. The complaint of Gallus disappointed in his love is full of such sentiments as disappointed love naturally produces; his wishes are wild, his resentment is tender, and his purposes are inconstant. In the genuine language of despair he sooths himself awhile with the pity that shall be paid him after his death :

-Tamen cantabitis, Arcades, inquit,
Montibus hæc vestris : soli cantare periti
Arcades. O mihi tum quam molliter essa quiescant,
Vestra meos olim si fistula dicat amores!

-Yet, O Arcadian swains,
Ye best artificers of soothing strains !
Tune your soft reeds, and teach your rocks my woes,
So shall my shade in sweeter rest repose.
O, that your birth and business had been mine;
To feed the flock and prune the spreading vine!

WARTON “ Discontented with his present condition, and desirous to be any thing but what he is, he wishes himself one of the shepherds. He then catches the idea of rural tranquillity; but soon discovers how much happier he should be in these happy regions, with Lycoris at his side.

Hic gelidi fontes, hic mollia prata, Lycori:
Hic nemus; hic ipso tecum consumerer ævo.
Nunc insanus amor duri me Martis in armis ;
Tela inter media, atque adversos detinet hostes.
Tu procul a prtria (nec sit mihi credere) tantum
Alpinas, ah dura nives, et frigora Rheni
Me sine sola vides. Ah te ne frigora lædant !
Ah tibi ne teneras glacies secet aspera plantas !
Here cooling fountains roll through flowery meads,
Here woods, Lycoris, lift their verdant heads;
Here could I wear my careless life away,
And in thy arms insensibly decay.
Instead of that me frantic love detains
Mid foes, and dreadful darts, and bloody plains ;

« PreviousContinue »