Billeder på siden

tion; as is the exquifite Vifion of the Flower and the Leaf, which has received a thousand new graces from the spirited and harmonious Dryden. It is to his Fables, (next to his Mufic Ode), written when he was above feventy years old, that Dryden will chiefly owe his immortality; and among thefe, particularly to the well-conducted tale of Palamon and Arcite, the pathetic picture of Sigifmunda, the wild and terrible graces of Theodore and Honoria, and the sportive pleasantry of Cymon and Iphigenia. It is mortifying and surprising to see the cold and contemptuous manner in which Dr. Johnson speaks of these capital pieces, which he fays "require little criticism, and seem hardly worth the rejuvenefcence (as he affectedly calls it) which Dryden has bestowed upon them." It is remarkable that, in his criticisms, he has not even mentioned the Flower and the Leaf,

These pieces of Chaucer were not the only ones that were ver fified by Pope. Mr. Harte affured me, that he was convinced by fome circumstances which Fenton his friend communicated to him, that Pope wrote the characters that make the introduction to the Canterbury Tales, published under the name of Betterton.







T was in his childhood only that he could make choice of fo injudicious a writer as Statius to tranflate. It were to be wished that no youth of genius were fuffered ever to look into Statius, Lucan, Claudian, or Seneca the tragedian; authors who, by their forced conceits, by their violent metaphors, by their fwelling epithets, by their want of a juft decorum, have a strong tendency to dazzle, and to mislead inexperienced minds, and tastes unformed, from the true relish of poffibility, propriety, fimplicity, and nature. Statius had undoubtedly invention, ability, and spirit; but his images are gigantic and outrageous, and his fentiments tortured and hyperbolical. It can hardly, I think, be doubted, but that Juvenal intended a fevere fatire on him in these wellknown lines, which have been commonly interpreted as a pane gyric:

"Curritor ad vocem jucundam et carmen amicæ
Thebaidos, lætam fecit cum Statius urbem,
Promifique diem; tanta dulcedine captos
Afficit ille animos, tantaque libidine vulgi
Auditur: fed, cum fregit fubfellia verfu,

In these verses are many expreffions, here marked with Italics, which feem to hint obliquely that Statius was the favourite poet of the vulgar, who were eafily captivated with a wild and inartificial tale, and with an empty magnificence of numbers; the noisy roughness of which may be particularly alluded to in the expreffion, fregit fubfellia verfu. One cannot forbear reflecting on the short duration of a true taste in poetry among the Romans. From the time of Lucretius to that of Statius was no more than about one hundred and forty-seven years; and if 1 might venture to pronounce fo rigorous a sentence, I would fay, that the Romans can boast of but eight poets who are unexceptionably excellent; namely, Terence, Lucretius, Catullus, Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius, Phædrus. Thefe only can be called legitimate models of juft thinking and writing. Succeeding authors, as it happens in all countries, refolving to be original and new, and to avoid the im


putation of copying, become distorted and unnatural: by endeavouring to open an unbeaten path, they deferted fimplicity and truth; weary of common and obvious beauties, they must needs hunt for remote and artificial decorations. Thus was it that the age of Demetrius Phalerëus fucceeded that of Demofthenes, and the falfe relish of Tiberius's court the chafte one of Auguftus. Among the various causes, however, that have been affigned, why poetry and the arts have more eminently flourished in some particular ages and nations than in others, few have been fatisfactory and adequate.

What folid reafon can we give why the Romans, who fo happily imitated the Greeks in many respects, and breathed a truely tragic spirit, could yet never excel in tragedy, though fo fond of theatrical fpectacles? Or why the Greeks, so fruitful in every species of poetry, yet never produced but one great epic poet? While, on the other hand, modern Italy can fhew two or three illuftrious epic writers; yet has no Sophocles, Euripides, or Menander; and France, without having formed a fingle epopëa, has carried dramatic poetry to fo much excellence in Corneille, Racine, and Moliere.

« ForrigeFortsæt »