Page images
PDF
EPUB

that IMITATE characters, manners, and sentiments. I may however remind such contemners of it, that, in a sister-art, landscapepainting claims the very next rank to historypainting; being ever preferred to single portraits, to pieces of still-life, to droll figures, to fruit and flower-pieces; that Titian thought it no diminution of his genius, to spend much of his time in works of the former species; and that, if their principles lead them to condemn Thomson, they must also condemn the Georgics of Virgil, and the greatest part of the noblest descriptive poem extant, I mean that of Lucretius.

We are next to speak of the Lyric pieces of Pope. He used to declare, that if Dryden had finished a translation of the Iliad, he would not have attempted one after so great a master ; he might have said with more propriety, I will not write a music-ode after Alexander's Feast, which the variety and harmony of its numbers, and the beauty and force of its images, have conspired to place at the

head

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

head of modern lyric compositions. This of Mr. Pope is, however, indisputably the second of the kind, * " propior tamen primo quam “ tertio,” to use an expression of Quintilian.

The

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

* The inferiority of Addison's Ode, to Pope's on this subject is manifeft and remarkable. What prosaic tameness and infipidity do we meet with in the following lines?

Cecilia's nanie does all our numbers grace,
From every voice the tuneful accents fly,
In foaring trebles now it rises high,
And now it finks and dwells

upon

the base. This almost descends to burlesque. What follows is hardly rhyme, and surely not poetry:

Consecrate the place and day,

To music and Cecilia.
Music the greatest good that mortals know.

Music can noble hints impart.
There follows in this stanza, which is the third, a description
of a subject very trite, Orpheus drawing the beasts about him.
Pope shewed his fuperiour judgment in taking no notice of this
old story, and selecting a more new, as well as more striking
incident, in the life of Orpheus. It was the custom of this
time, for almost every rhymer to try his hand in an ode on
St. Cecilia; we find many despicable rhapsodies, so called, in
Tonson's Miscellanies. We have there also preserved another,
and an earlier ode, of Dryden on this subject. One stanza of
which I cannot forbear inserting in this note. It was set to
music, 1687, by I. Baptista Draghi.

What passion cannot music raise and quell!
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,

His

H 2

The first stanza is almost a perfect concert of itself; every different Instrument is described and illustrated, in numbers, that admirably represent, and correspond, to its different qualities and genius. The beginning of the second stanza, on the power which music exerts over the passions, is a little flat, and by no means equal to the conclusion of that stanza. The animating song that Orpheus sung to the Argonauts, copied from Valerius Flaccus, for that of Apollonius is of a different nature, is the happily chosen subject of the third. On hearing which,

His liftning brethren stood around,
And wondering on their faces fell,

To worship that celestial found :
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell,

Within the hollow of that shell,

That spoke so sweetly and so well. What passion cannot music raise and quell! This is so complete and engaging a hiftory-piece, that I knew a person of taste who was resolved to have it executed, if an artist could have been found, on one side of his falloon. In which case, said he, the painter has nothing to do, but to substitute colours for words, the design being finished to his hands. The reader doubtless observes the fine effect of the repitition of the last line; as well as the stroke of nature, in making these rude hearers imagine some god lay concealed in this first musician's inftrument.

Each

[ocr errors]

Each chief his sevenfold shield display'd,

And half unsheath'd the shining blade ; Which effects of the song, however lively, do not equal the force and spirit of what Dryden ascribes to the song of his Grecian artist; for when Timotheus cries out REVENGE, raises the furies, and calls up to Alexander's view a troop of Grecian ghosts that were slain and left unburied, inglorious and forgotten, each of them waving a torch in his hand, and pointing to the hostile temples of the Persians, and demanding vengeance of their prince, he instantly started from his throne,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Seiz'd a Aambeau with zeal to destroy,

gree; the

while Thais and the attendant princes rushed out with him, to set fire to the city. The whole train of imagery in this stanza is alive, sublime, and animated to an unparallelled de

poet had so strongly poffefsed himself of the action described, that he places it fully before the eyes of the reader. .

The descent of Orpheus into hell is gracefully introduced in the fourth stanza, as it

naturally naturally flowed from the subject of the

preceding one ; the description of the infernal regions is well imagined, and the effects of the musician's lyre on the inhabitants of hell, are elegantly translated from the fourth Georgic of Virgil *, and happily adapted to the subject in question. The fupplicating fong at the beginning of the fifth stanza, is highly pathetic and poetical, especially when he conjures the powers below,

By the hero's armed shades
Glittering through the gloomy glades,
By the youths that dy'd for love
Wand'ring in the myrtle grove;

These images are picturesque and appropriated; and these are such notes as might,

Draw iron tears down Pluto's cheek, +
And make hell grant what love did seek.

But the numbers that conclude this stanza aré of so burlesque and ridiculous a kind, and have so much the air of a drinking fong at a county

* Ver. 480.

+ Milton's Il Penseroso,

election,

« PreviousContinue »