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say that we can fancy green mossy locks well enough, provided there is a sweet face under them. The painters have seldom ventured upon these anomalies; but the poets, whose especial business it is to have an universal sympathy, can fancy the sea-nymphs with their verdant locks, and even in the midst of their faint-smelling and stormechoing bowers, and love them no less. Good offices and a robust power of enjoyment make the Nereid beautiful. She grapples with the waves and flings aside her hair from her soused cheeks ; and the poet is willing to be a Triton for her sake. The most beautiful figure ever made by the nymphs as a body, is by these very sisters, in the Prometheus of Æschylus, where they come to console the stern demi-god in his sufferings. But as the scene is rather characteristic of them as cordial and pious females, than creatures of their particular class, it is here (with great unwillingness) omitted. A late admirable writer thought his contemporaries defective in imagination for not making the nymphs partake thoroughly of the nature of the element they lived in. He would have had a Dryad, for instance, as rugged and fantastic in her aspect as an old oak-tree, and divested of all human beauty. The ancients did not go so far as this. Beauty, in a human shape, was a sine quâ non with those cultivators of physical grace, in their most supernatural fancies; and the world have approved their taste, and retained the charming population with which they filled the woods and waters ; but the poet, whenever he chooses, can still know how to make a
difference discreet.” The Nereids lived in grottos on the sea-shore, as well as in bowers under water. They were fond of feeding the Halcyon ; and sported and revelled, says the old poet, like so many joyous fish about the chariot of the sea-god. We are to suppose them diving underneath it from one another, and careering about it as it ran; splashing each other and their lovers with the sunny waters. Ben Jonson has painted them and their father in a jovial line :
Old Nereus and his fifty girls.” Homer, Hesiod, and Spenser have given lists of their names. The list of the English poet seems the best, because he has added descriptive epithets ; — but these were unnecessary in the Greek, the names themselves being descriptions. This reconciles us to the dry look of the lists in the Greek poet, and explains the apparent arbitrariness of those in the English one; though even if the epithets of the latter had not been translations, or taken from other epithets bestowed upon them by his authorities, they would have had a good effect. They give a distinction to the individuals, - a character, as they pass by, to their faces and bearing.
“Swift Proto, mild Eucrate, Thetis faire,
lilly white,” &c. Among the rest are “milke-white Galathæa, large Lisianassa, stout Autonoe,
And, seeming still to smile, Glauconome;
And Psamathe for her brode snowy brests."
natural as the material ones. The old fathers of the sea are the philosophers of those “watery shades.” * The nymphs are the dancing billows.
In the hymn to Venus, above quoted, which is attributed to Homer, the mountain Hamadryads are represented as contending with the gods for the prize of dancing :
“Nymphs that haunt the height
The favorite Greek beauty (deep-bosom’d) of which our reverend old poet here contrives to express so profound a sense by unloosening the compound epithet, was not in the way of their dancing, any more than the bosoms of the gypsies.
“The light Sileni mix in love with these,
And, of all spies the prince, Argicides." Their lives have the same date with those
“Of odorous fir-trees and high-foreheaded oaks ;' but their decease is gently managed; unless, indeed, we are to fancy them partaking gradually of the decay; which is not likely, for the ancients never tell us of decrepid nymphs.
“The fair trees still before the fair nymphs die ;
The bole about them grows corrupt and dry : and not till the boughs are fallen, do the lingering tenants
“Leave the lovely light.” One of the speakers in Plutarch's essay on the “ Cessation of Oracles," has undertaken to compute the life of a nymph; which, by a process that would have been more satisfactory to Sir Kenelm Digby than to an oak-insurance office, he reckons at 9720 years. It is to be considered, however, as we have just noticed, that they looked young to the last.
* The God of the sea, Sophist and sage, from no Athenian grove, But cogitation in his watery shades.”
HYPERION, Book ii.
Spenser is the only poet that has ventured to speak of an “old nymph.” He says that Proteus had one to keep his bower clean.
" There was his wonne; ne living wight was seene,
Save one old nymph, hight Panope, to keepe it cleane."
This is one of the liberties which he takes sometimes, especially when his rhymne is burnt out, and he seems between sleep and waking. His Panope is very different from Milton's :
“The air was calm, and on the level brine
Sleek Panope with all her sisters play'd.”
But these vagaries of Spenser do not hinder him from being a poet as elegant as he is great. There is to be found in them even a germ of the old epic impartiality. Indeed, none but a great poet, with a childlike simplicity, could venture upon them. We smile, but retain our respect; and are prepared to resume all our admiration for the next thing he utters.
In the Homeric hymn to Pan, for instance, the mountain-nymphs are described beautifully, as joining in with their songs when they hear the pipe of the sylvan god. Yet we see them to most advantage in the works of the great painters, and of Spenser himself. Poussin or Raphael never painted a set of nymphs more distinctly than our poet has done in his description of a bath of Diana, a match for Titian's. The natural action of Diana, gath
ering her drapery against her bosom, seems copied from some painting or piece of sculpture,
Soon, her garments loose
Whiles all her nymphes did like a garland her enclose. And the enclosure of her by her nymphs is from Ovid: but not the beautiful simile of the garland, nor the relish with which every word comes from the poet's pencil. We cannot pass by a couplet in the Latin poet without noticing it:
Fons sonat a dextra, tenui perlucidus unda,
METAM. Lib. iii., v. 161. which has been well turned by Sandys : —
A bubbling spring, with streams as clear as glass
Ran chiding by, inlaid with matted grass. In Ovid are the names of some of these Oreads. They are remarkable for their fairy-like appearance in English, and for being all derived from moisture; which would lead us to suppose that the idea of nymphs dancing on the mountains was suggested by the leaping of springs and torrents. The names are Crocale, Nephele, Phiale, Hyale, Psecas, and Rhanis ; that is to say, Pebble, Cloud, Phial, Glassy, Dew-drop, and Rain. Pebble is no exception. The philosophy that derived every thing from water, was not likely to think sand and gravel the farthest off from their original. There is reason to suppose that the ancients took all clear-looking stones for a petrifaction of water. When we are told, indeed, that “this element is found in the driest of solid bodies, whatever be their description," and that, “ a piece of hartshorn kept for forty years, and thereby become as hard and dry as metal (so