« PreviousContinue »
circumstance at the end of the story, of Narcissus's gazing on his face after death in the Stygian waters. The design was very bold, of making a boy fall in love with himself here on earth, but to torture him with the same passion after death, and not to let his ghost rest in quiet, was intolerably cruel and uncharitable.
P. 127, 1. 4.-But whilst within, &c.] Dumque sitim sedare cupit sitis altera crevit. We have here a touch of that mixed wit I have before spoken of, but I think the measure of pun in it outweighs the true wit; for if we express the thought in other words, the turn is almost lost. This passage of Narcissus probably gave Milton the hint of applying it to Eve, though I think her surprise at the sight of her own face in the water far more just and natural than this of Narcissus. She was a raw, unexperienced being, just created, and therefore might easily be subject to the delusion; but Narcissus had been in the world sixteen years, and was brother and son to the water-nymphs, and therefore to be supposed conversant with fountains long before this fatal mistake.
Ibid. 1. 34.-" You trees," says he, &c.] Ovid is very justly celebrated for the passionate speeches of his poem. They have generally abundance of nature in them, but I leave it to better judgment to consider whether they are not often too witty and too tedious. The poet never cares for smothering a good thought that comes in his way, and never thinks he can draw tears enough from his reader, by which means our grief is either diverted or spent before we come to his conclusion; for we cannot at the same time be delighted with the wit of the poet, and concerned for the person that speaks it; and a great critic has admirably well observed, Lamentationes debent esse breves et concisa, nam lachryma subito excrescit, et difficile est auditorem vel lectorem in summo animi affectu diu tenere. Would any one in Narcissus's condition have cried out-Inopem me copia fecit? Or can anything be more unnatural than to turn off from his sorrows for the sake of a pretty reflection?
O utinam nostro secedere corpore possem!
Votum in amante novum ; vellem, quod amamus, abesset. None, I suppose, can be much grieved for one that is so witty on his own afflictions. But I think we may every
where observe in Ovid, that he employs his invention more than his judgment, and speaks all the ingenious things that can be said on the subject, rather than those which are particularly proper to the person and circumstances of the speaker.
P. 130, 1. 20.-When Pentheus thus.] There is a great deal of spirit and fire in this speech of Pentheus, but I believe none besides Ovid would have thought of the transformation of the serpent's teeth for an incitement to the Thebans' courage, when he desires them not to degenerate from their great forefather the dragon, and draws a parallel between the behaviour of them both.
Este, precor memores, quâ sitis stirpe creati,
The story of Acates has abundance of nature in all the parts of it, as well in the description of his own parentage and employment, as in that of the sailors' characters and manners. But the short speeches scattered up and down in it, which make the Latin very natural, cannot appear so well in our language, which is much more stubborn and unpliant, and therefore are but as so many rubs in the story, that are still turning the narration out of its proper course. The transformation at the latter end is wonderfully beautiful.
Ovid has two very good similes on Pentheus, where be compares him to a river in a former story, and to a war horse in the present.
VIRGIL may be reckoned the first who introduced three new kinds of poetry among the Romans, which he copied after three the greatest masters of Greece. Theocritus and Homer have still disputed for the advantage over him in pastoral and heroics, but I think all are unanimous in giving him the precedence to Hesiod in his Georgics. The truth of it is, the sweetness and rusticity of a pastoral cannot be so well expressed in any other tongue as in the Greek, when rightly mixed and qualified with the Doric dialect; nor can the majesty of an heroic poem anywhere appear so well as in this language, which has a natural greatness in it, and can be often rendered more deep and sonorous by the pronunciation of the Ionians. But in the middle style, where the writers in both tongues are on a level, we see how far Virgil has excelled all who have written in the same way with him.
There has been abundance of criticism spent on Virgil's Pastorals and Eneids, but the Georgics are a subject which none of the critics have sufficiently taken into their consideration, most of them passing over it in silence, or casting it under the same head with pastoral, a division by no means proper, unless we suppose the style of a husbandman ought to be imitated in a Georgic, as that of a shepherd is in pastoral. But though the scene of both these poems lies in the same place, the speakers in them are of a quite different character, since the precepts of husbandry are not to be delivered with the simplicity of a ploughman, but with the simplicity of a poet. No rules, therefore, that relate to pastoral, can any way affect the Georgics, since they fall
It is to be observed, that this agreeable essay was written so early as 1693, that is, when the author at most was but in his one-and-twentieth year; yet the style is so exact, that it wants but little of being absolutely faultless. One or two words have, indeed, lost the grace, and, in some degree, the sense which they had in the writer's days: and in one or two expressions there is some degree of inaccuracy. But I leave it to the reader, as an exercise of his taste, to discover these instances.
under that class of poetry which consists in giving plain and direct instructions to the reader; whether they be moral duties, as those of Theognis and Pythagoras; or philosophi -cal speculations, as those of Aratus and Lucretius; or rules of practice, as those of Hesiod and Virgil. Among these different kinds of subjects, that which the Georgics go upon is I think the meanest and least improving, but the most pleasing and delightful. Precepts of morality, besides the natural corruption of our tempers, which makes us averse to them, are so abstracted from ideas of sense, that they seldom give an opportunity for those beautiful descriptions and images which are the spirit and life of poetry. Natural philosophy has indeed sensible objects to work upon, but then it often puzzles the reader with the intricacy of its notions, and perplexes him with the multitude of its disputes. But this kind of poetry I am now speaking of, addresses itself wholly to the imagination: it is altogether conversant among the fields and woods, and has the most delightful part of nature for its province. It raises in our minds a pleasing variety of scenes and landscapes, whilst it teaches us; and makes the dryest of its precepts look like a description. A Georgic, therefore, is some part of the science of husbandry put into a pleasing dress, and set off with all the beauties and embellishments of poetry. Now since this science of husbandry is of a very large extent, the poet shows his skill in singling out such precepts to proceed on, as are useful, and at the same time most capable of ornament. Virgil was so well acquainted with this secret, that to set off his first Georgic, he has run into a set of precepts, which are almost foreign to his subject, in that beautiful account he gives us of the signs in nature which precede the changes of the weather.
And if there be so much art in the choice of fit precepts, there is much more required in the treating of them; that they may fall in after each other by a natural, unforced method, and show themselves in the best and most advantageous light. They should all be so finely wrought together in the same piece, that no coarse seam may discover where they join; as in a curious brede of needle-work, one colour falls away by such just degrees, and another rises so insensibly, that we see the variety, without being able to distinguish the total vanishing of the one from the first appearance of the other. Nor is it sufficient to range and dispose this body of
precepts into a clear and easy method, unless they are de vered to us in the most pleasing and agreeable manner: for there are several ways of conveying the same truth to the mind of man; and to choose the pleasantest of these ways, is that which chiefly distinguishes poetry from prose, and makes Virgil's rules of husbandry pleasanter to read than Varro's. Where the prose writer tells us plainly what ought to be done, the poet often conceals the precept in a description, and represents his countrymen performing the action in which he would instruct his reader. Where the one sets out as fully and distinctly as he can all the parts of the truth, which he would communicate to us; the other singles out the most pleasing circumstance of this truth, and so conveys the whole in a more diverting manner to the understanding. I shall give one instance, out of a multitude of this nature that might be found in the Georgics, where the reader may see the different ways Virgil has taken to express the same thing, and how much pleasanter every manner of expression is, than the plain and direct mention of it would have been. It is in the second Georgic, where he tells us what trees will bear grafting on each other.
Et sæpe alterius ramos impune videmus
Flore pyri: Glandemque sues fregere sub ulmis.
Here we see the poet considered all the effects of this union between trees of different kinds, and took notice of that effect which had the most surprise, and, by consequence, the most delight in it, to express the capacity that was in them of being thus united. This way of writing is everywhere much in use among the poets, and is particularly practised by Virgil, who loves to suggest a truth indirectly, and without giving us a full and open view of it, to let us see just so much as will naturally lead the imagination into all the parts that lie concealed. This is wonderfully diverting to the understanding, thus to receive a precept that enters as it were through a by-way, and to apprehend an idea that draws a whole train after it. For here the mind, which is