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Not with more grief the afflicted swains appear,
When wintry winds deform the plenteous year;
When lingering frosts the ruin'd seats invade
Where Peace resorted, and the Graces play'd.
Each rising art, by just gradation moves,
Toil builds on toil, and age on age improves :
The muse alone unequal dealt her rage,
And grac'd with noblest pomp her earliest stage.
Preserv'd through time, the speaking scenes impart
Each changeful wish of Phædra's tortur'd heart;
Or paint the curse, that mark'd the Theban's* reign,
A bed incestuous, and a father slain.
With kind concern our pitying eyes o'erflow,
Trace the sad tale, and own another's woe.
To Rome remov'd, with wit secure to please,
The comick sisters kept their native ease.
With jealous fear declining Greece beheld
Her own Menander's art almost excell'd:
But every muse essay'd to raise in vain
Some labour'd rival of her tragick strain;
Illyssus' laurels, though transferr'd with toil,
Droop'd their fair leaves, nor knew th' unfriendly soil.
As arts expir'd, resistless Dullness rose;
Goths, priests, or Vandals,-all were learning's foes.
Till Juliust first recall'd each exil'd maid,
And Cosmo own'd them in the Etrurian shade:
Then deeply skill'd in love's engaging theme,
The soft Provencial pass'd to Arno's stream:
With graceful ease the wanton lyre he strung;
Sweet flow'd the lays,-but love was all he sung.
The gay description could not fail to move;
For, led by nature, all are friends to love.
But heaven, still various in its works, decreed
The perfect boast of time should last succeed.
The beauteous union must appear at length,
Of Tuscan fancy, and Athenian strength:
One greater muse Eliza's reign adorn,
And even a Shakspeare to her fame be born.
Yet ah! so bright her morning's opening ray,
In vain our Britain hop'd an equal day.
No second growth the western isle could bear,
At once exhausted with too rich a year.
Too nicely Jonson knew the critick's part;
Nature in him was almost lost in art.
Of softer mold the gentle Fletcher came,
The next in order, as the next in name.
* The Oedipus of Sophocles.
Julius II, the immediate predecessor of Leo X.
With pleas'd attention 'midst his scenes we find
Bach glowing thought, that warms the female mind;
Each melting sigh, and every tender tear,
The lover's wishes, and the virgin's fear.
His every strain the Smiles and Graces own;*
But stronger Shakspeare felt for man alone:
Drawn by his pen, our ruder passions stand
Th' unrivall'd picture of his early hand.
With gradual steps,† and slow, exacter France
Saw Art's fair empire o'er her shores advance:
By length of toil a bright perfection knew,
Correctly bold, and just in all she drew:
Till late Corneille, with Lucan's‡ spirit fir'd,
Breath'd the free strain, as Rome and He inspir'd;
And classick judgment gain'd to sweet Racine
The temperate strength of Maro's chaster line.
But wilder far the British laurel spread,
And wreaths less artful crown our poet's head.
Yet He alone to every scene could give
The historian's truth, and bid the manners live.
Wak'd at his call I view, with glad surprize,
Majestick forms of mighty monarchs rise.
There Henry's trumpets spread their loud alarms,
And laurell'd Conquest waits her hero's arms.
Here gentler Edward claims a pitying sigh,
Scarce born to honours, and so soon to die!
Yet shall thy throne, unhappy infant, bring
No beam of comfort to the guilty king:
The time shall come,§ when Gloster's heart shall bleed
In life's last hours, with horror of the deed:
When dreary visions shall at last present
Thy vengeful image in the midnight tent:
Thy hand unseen the secret death shall bear,
Blunt the weak sword, and break the oppressive spear
Where'er we turn, by fancy charm'd, we find
Some sweet illusion of the cheated mind.
Oft, wild of wing, she calls the soul to rove
With humbler nature, in the rural grove;
* Their characters are thus distinguished by Mr. Dryden.
About the time of Shakspeare, the poet Hardy was in great repute in France. He wrote, according to Fontenelle, six hundred plays. The French poets after him applied themselves in general to the correct improvement of the stage, which was almost totally disregarded by those of our own country, Jonson excepted.
The favourite author of the elder Corneille.
Turno tempus erit, magno cùm optaverit emptum
Intactum Pallanta, &c.
Where swains contented own the quiet scene,
And twilight fairies tread the circled green:
Dress'd by her hand, the woods and vallies smile,
And Spring diffusive decks the inchanted isle.
O more than all in powerful genius blest,
Come, take thine empire o'er the willing breast!
Whate'er the wounds this youthful heart shall feel,
Thy songs support me, and thy morals heal.
There every thought the poet's warmth may raise,
There native musick dwells in all the lays.
O might some verse with happiest skill persuade
Expressive Picture to adopt thine aid!
What wondrous draughts might rise from every page!
What other Raphaels charm a distant age!
Methinks even now I view some free design,
Where breathing Nature lives in every line:
Chaste and subdued the modest lights decay,
Steal into shades, and mildly melt away.
-And see, where Antony,* in tears approv❜d,
Guards the pale relicts of the chief he lov'd:
O'er the cold corse the warrior seems to bend,
Deep sunk in grief, and mourns his murder'd friend!
Still as they press, he calls on all around,
Lifts the torn robe, and points the bleeding wound,
But who is he,† whose brows exalted bear
A wrath impatient, and a fiercer air?
Awake to all that injur'd worth can feel,
On his own Rome he turns the avenging steel.
Yet shall not war's insatiate fury fall
(So heaven ordains it) on the destin❜d wall.
See the fond mother, 'midst the plaintive train,
Hung on his knees, and prostrate on the plain!
Touch'd to the soul, in vain he strives to hide
The son's affection in the Roman's pride:
O'er all the man conflicting passions rise,
Rage grasps the sword, while Pity melts the eyes.
Methinks I see with Fancy's majick eye,
The shade of Shakspeare, in yon azure sky.
On yon high cloud behold the bard advance,
Piercing all nature with a single glance:
In various attitudes around him stand
The Passions, waiting for his dread command.
First kneeling Love before his feet appears,
And musically sighing melts in tears.
* See the tragedy of Julius Cæsar.
Coriolanus. See Mr. Spence's dialogue on the Odyssey.
Near him fell Jealousy with fury burns,
And into storms the amorous breathings turns;
Then Hope with heavenward look, and Joy draws near,
While palsied Terror trembles in the rear.
Such Shakspeare's train of horror and delight, &c.
What are the lays of artful Addison,
Coldly correct, to Shakspeare's warblings wild?
Whom on the winding Avon's willow'd banks
Fair Fancy found, and bore the smiling babe
To a close cavern: (still the shepherds shew
The sacred place, whence with religious awe
They hear, returning from the field at eve,
Strange whisp'ring of sweet musick through the air :)
Here, as with honey gather'd from the rock,
She fed the little prattler, and with songs
Oft sooth'd his wond'ring ears; with deep delight
On her soft lap he sat, and caught the sounds.
Here, boldly mark'd with every living hue,
Nature's unbounded portrait Shakspeare drew:
But chief, the dreadful group of human woes
The daring artist's tragick pencil chose;
Explor'd the pangs that rend the royal breast,
Those wounds that lurk beneath the tissued vest.
Monody, written near Stratford-upon-Avon.
Avon, thy rural views, thy pastures wild,
The willows that o'erhang thy twilight edge,
Their boughs entangling with the embattled sedge;
Thy brink with watery foliage quaintly fring'd,
Thy surface with reflected verdure ting'd;
Sooth me with many a pensive pleasure mild.
But while I muse, that here the Bard Divine
Whose sacred dust yon high-arch'd isles inclose,
Where the tall windows rise in stately rows,
Above th' embowering shade,
Here first, at Fancy's fairy-circled shrine,
Of daisies pied his infant offering made;
Here playful yet, in stripling years unripe,
Fram'd of thy reeds a shrill and artless pipe:
Sudden thy beauties, Avon, all are fled,
As at the waving of some magick wand;
An holy trance my charmed spirit wings,
And awful shapes of leaders and of kings,
People the busy mead,
Like spectres swarming to the wisard's hall;
And slowly pace, and point with trembling hand
The wounds ill-cover'd by the purple pall.
Before me Pity seems to stand,
A weeping mourner, smote with anguish sore,
To see Misfortune rend in frantick mood
His robe, with regal woes embroider'd o'er.
Pale Terror leads the visionary band,
And sternly shakes his sceptre, dropping blood.
Far from the sun and summer gale,
In thy green lap was Nature's darling laid,
What time, where lucid Avon stray'd,
To him the mighty mother did unveil
Her awful face: The dauntless child
Stretch'd forth his little arms, and smil'd.
This pencil take (she said) whose colours clear
Richly paint the vernal year:
Thine too these golden keys, immortal boy!
This can unlock the gates of joy;
Of horror that, and thrilling fears,
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetick tears.* GRAV.
Next Shakspeare sat, irregularly great,
And in his hand a magick rod did hold,
Which visionary beings did create,
And turn the foulest dross to purest gold:
Whatever spirits rove in earth or air,
Or bad or good, obey his dread command;
To his behests these willingly repair,
Those aw'd by terrors of his magick wand,
The which not all their powers united might withstand.
* An ingenious person, who sent Mr. Gray his remarks anonymously on this and the following Ode soon after they were published, gives this stanza and the following a very just and well-expressed eulogy: "A poet is perhaps never more conciliating than when he praises favourite predecessors in his art. Milton is not more the pride than Shakspeare the love of their country: It is therefore equally judicious to diffuse a tenderness and a grace through the praise of Shakspeare, as to extol in a strain more elevated and sonorous the boundless soarings of Milton's imagination." The critick has here well noted the beauty of contrast which results from the two descriptions; yet it is further to be observed, to the honour of our poet's judg ment, that the tenderness and grace in the former, does not prevent it from strongly characterising the three capital perfections of Shakspeare's genius; and when he describes his power of exciting terror (a species of the sublime) he ceases to be diffuse, and becomes, as he ought to be, concise and ener getical. Mason.