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To turn the torrent's swift-descending flood,
COMMENTARY. attack, and softened by ease and plenty (1. 96 to 99). Again, the Egyptians, from the nature of their situation, might be the inventors of home-navigation, from a necessity of keeping up an intercourse between their towns during the inundation of the Nile (1. 99 to * * * *). Those persons would naturally have the first turn to commerce, who inhabited a barren coast like the Tyrians, and were persecuted by some neighbouring tyrant; or were drove to take refuge on some shoals, like the Venetian and Hollander; their discovery of some rich island, in the infancy of the world, described. The Tartar, hardened to war by his rigorous climate and pastoral life, and by his disputes for water and herbage
NOTES. And broods o'er Egypt, 8c. l. 103.] The image seems to be taken from the figure of Jupiter Pluvius, as represented on the Antonine Pillar : but the whole passage rises to a height beyond the powers either of sculpture or painting to ascend. The critic would, with difficulty, find any description in antiquity, which exceeds this in point of true sublimity.
That rise and glitter o'er the ambient tide, l. 107.] The foregoing account of the river Nile, while it is embellished with all the graces of description, is given at the same time in exact conformity to truth and reality; as the reader will observe from the following citation.- "Le Nil portoit par tout la fécondité avec ses eaux salutaires, unissoit les villes entre elles, et la grande mer avec la mer rouge, entretenoit le commerce au dedans et au dehors du royaume, et le fortifioit contre l'ennemi: de sorte qu'il étoit tout ensemble et le nourricier, et le defenseur de l'Egypte. On lui abandonnoit la campagne : mais les villes, rehaussées avec des travaux immenses, et s' élevant comme des iles au milieu des eaux, regardoient avec joye de cette hauteur toute plaine inondée et tout ensemble fertilisée par le Nil.” Bossuet, Disc, sur l'Hist, trois. part.
COMMENTARY. in a country without land-marks, as also by skirmishes between his rival clans, was consequently fitted to conquer his rich Southern neighbours, whom ease and luxury had enervated: yet this is no proof that liberty and valour may not exist in Southern climes, since the Syrians and Carthaginians gave noble instances of both; and the Arabians carried their conquests as far as the Tartars. Rome also (for many centuries) repulsed those very nations, which, when she grew weak, at length demolished t her extensive empire. * * * *
† The reader will perceive that the commentary goes further than the text. The reason for which is, that the Editor found it so on the paper from which he formed that comment, and as the thoughts seemed to be those which Mr. Gray would next have graced with the harmony of his numbers, he held it best to give them in continuation. There are other maxims on different papers, all apparently relating to the same subject, which are too excellent to be lost; these therefore (as the place in which he meant to employ them, cannot be ascertained) I shall subjoin to this note, under the title of detached sentiments.
“ Man is a creature not capable of cultivating his mind but in society, and in that only where he is not a slave to the necessities of life.
Want is the mother of the inferior arts, but ease that of the finer; as eloquence policy, morality, poetry, sculpture, painting, architecture, which are the improvements of the former.
The climate inclines some nations to contemplation and pleasure ; others to hardship, action, and war; but not so as to incapacitate the former for courage and discipline, or the latter for civility, politeness, and works of genius.
It is the proper work of education and government, united, to redress the faults that arise from the soil and air.
The principal drift of education should be to make men think in the Northern climates, and act in the Southern.
The different steps and degrees of education may be compared to the artificer's operations upon marble; it is one thing to dig it out of the quarry, and another to square it; to give it gloss and lustre, call forth every beautiful spot and vein, shape it into a column, or animate it into a statue. To a native of free and happy governments his country is always dear :
“ He loves his old hereditary trees.” While the subject of a tyrant has no country; he is therefore selfish and baseminded ; he has no family, no posterity, no desire of fame; or, if he has, of one that turns not on its proper object.
Any nation that wants public spirit, neglects education, ridicules the desire of fame, and even of virtue and reason, must be ill governed.
Commerce changes intirely the fate and genius of nations, by communicating arts and opinions, circulating money, and introducing the materials of luxury; she first opens and polishes the mind, then corrupts and enervates both that and the body.
Those invasions of effeminate Southern nations by the warlike Northern people, seem (in spite of all the terror, mischief, and ignorance which they brought with them) to be necessary evils; in order to revive the spirit of mankind, sof. tened and broken by the arts of commerce, to restore them to their native liberty and equality, and to give them again the power of supporting danger and
MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
Cambridge, March 9, 1748. You ask for some account of books. The principal I can tell you of is a work of the President Montesquieu, the labour of twenty years ; it is called L'Esprit des Loix, two vol. 4to, printed at Geneva. He lays down the principles on which are founded the three sorts of government. Despotism, the limited Monarchy, and the Republican; and shews how from these are deduced the laws and customs by which they are guided and maintained; the education proper to each form ; the influence of climate, situation, religion, &c. on the minds of particular nations and on their policy. The subject you see, is as extensive as mankind; the thoughts perfectly new, generally admirable as they are just, sometimes a little too refined. In short, there are faults, but such as an ordinary man could never have committed. The style very lively and concise (consequently sometimes obscure); it is the gravity of Tacitus, whom he admires, tempered with the gaiety and fire of a Frenchman. The time of night will not suffer me to go on; but I will write again in a week.
hardship; so a comet, with all the horrors that attend it as it passes through our system, brings a supply of warmth and light to the sun, and of moisture to the air.
The doctrine of Epicurus is ever ruinous to society: it had its rise when Greece was declining, and perhaps hastened its dissolution, as also that of Rome; it is now propagated in France and in England, and seems likely to produce the same effect in both.
One principal characteristic of vice in the present age is the contempt of fame.
Many are the uses of good fame to a generous mind : it extends our existence and example into future ages; continues and propagates virtue, which otherwise would be as short-lived as our frame; and prevents the prevalence of vice in a generation more corrupt even than our own. It is impossible to conquer that natural desire we have of being remembered ; even criminal ambition and avarice, the most selfish of all passions, would wish to leave a name behind them.”
I find also among these papers a single couplet much too beautiful to be lost; though the place where he meant to introduce it cannot be ascertained; it must, however, have made a part of some description of the effect which the Reformation had on our national manners :
When love could teach a monarch to be wise,
And gospel-light first dawn'd from BULLen's eyes. Thus, with all the attention that a connoisseur in painting employs in collecting every slight outline as well as finished drawing which led to the completion of some capital picture, I have endeavoured to preserve every fragment of this great poetical design. It surely deserved this care, as it was one of the noblest which Mr. Gray ever attempted; and also, as far as he carried it into execution, the most exquisitely finished. That he carried it no further’is, and must ever be, a most sensible loss to the republic of letters.
MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
Cambridge, April 25, 1749. I PERCEIVE that second parts are as bad to write as they can be to read; for this, which you ought to have had a week after the first, has been a full month in coming forth. The spirit of laziness (the spirit of the place) begins to possess even me, who have so long declaimed against it; yet has it not so prevailed, but that I feel that discontent with myself, that ennui, that ever accompanies it in its beginnings. Time will settle my conscience; time will reconcile me to this languid companion: we shall smoke, we shall tipple, we shall doze together: we shall have our little jokes like other people, and our old stories : brandy will finish what port began; and a month after the time you will see in some corner of a London Evening-Post, Yesterday died the Reverend Mr. John Gray, Senior Fellow of Clare-Hall, a facetious companion, and well respected by all that knew him. His death is supposed to have been occasioned by a fit of an apoplexy, being found fallen out of bed with his head in the chamber-pot.”
In the meanwhile, to go on with my account of new books. Montesquieu's work, which I mentioned before, is now publishing anew in two vols. octavo. Have you seen old Crebillion's Catalina, a tragedy, which has had a prodigious run at Paris ? Historical truth is too much perverted in it, which is ridiculous in a story so generally known; but if you can get over this, the sentiments and versification are fine, and most of the characters (particularly the principal one) painted with great spirit.
Mr. Birch, the indefatigable, has just put out a thick octavo of original papers of Queen Elizabeth's time; there are many curious things in it, particularly letters from Sir Robert Cecil (Salisbury) about his negotiations with Henry IV. of France, the Earl of Monmouth's odd account of Queen Elizabeth's death, several peculiarities of James I. and Prince Henry, &c. and above all, an excellent account of the state of France, with characters of the king, his court, and ministry, by Sir George Carew, ambassador there. This, I think, is all new worth mentioning, that I have seen or heard of; except a Natural History of Peru, in Spanish, printed at London, by Don something, a man of learning, sent thither by that court on purpose.