Billeder på siden

of this famous romance, to which, as such, we shall have soon to revert, that "we may regard the whole literary character of that age as in some sort derived and descended from him, and his work as the fountain from which all the vigorous shoots of that period drew something of their verdure and strength. It was indeed the Arcadia which first taught to the contemporary writers that inimitable interweaving and contexture of words, that bold and unshackled use and application of them, that art of giving to language, appropriated to objects the most common and trivial, a kind of acquired and adventitious loftiness, and to diction in itself noble and elevated a sort of superadded dignity, that power of ennobling the sentiments by the language, and the language by the sentiments, which so often excites our admiration in perusing the writers of the age of Elizabeth." This panegyric appears a good deal too strongly expressed, and perhaps the Arcadia had not this great influence over the writers of the latter years of Elizabeth, whose age is, in the passage quoted, rather too indefinitely mentioned. We are sometimes apt to mistake an improvement springing from the general condition of the public mind for imitation of the one writer who has first displayed the effects of it. Sidney is, as I have said, our earliest good writer; but if the Arcadia had never been published, I cannot believe that Hooker or Bacon would have written worse.

His Defence

15. Sidney's Defence of Poesie, as has been surmised by his last editor, was probably written about 1581. I should incline to place it later than the of Poesie. Arcadia; and he may perhaps allude to himself where he says, "some have mingled matters heroical and pastoral." This treatise is elegantly composed, with perhaps too artificial a construction of sentences; the sense is good, but the expression is very diffuse, which gives it too much the air of a declamation. The great praise of Sidney in this treatise is, that he has shown the capacity of the English language for spirit, variety, gracious idiom, and masculine firmness. It is worth notice that under the word

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

poesy he includes such works as his own Arcadia, or in short any fiction. "It is not rhyming and versing that maketh poesy; one may be a poet without versing, and a versifier without poetry."

16. But the finest, as well as the most philosophical, writer of the Elizabethan period is Hooker. The first book of the Ecclesiastical Polity is at this day one of the masterpieces of English eloquence. His periods, indeed, are generally much too long and too intricate, but portions of them are often beautifully rhythmical; his language is rich in English idiom without vulgarity, and in words of a Latin source without pedantry; he is more uniformly solemn than the usage of later times permits, or even than writers of that time, such as Bacon, conversant with mankind as well as books, would have reckoned necessary; but the example of ancient orators and philosophers upon themes so grave as those which he discusses may justify the serious dignity from which he does not depart. Hooker is perhaps the first of such in England who adorned his prose with the images of poetry; but this he has done more judiciously and with more moderation than others of great name; and we must be bigots in Attic severity, before we can object to some of his grand figures of speech. We may praise him also for avoiding the superfluous luxury of quotation, a rock on which the writers of the succeeding age were so frequently wrecked.


Elizabethan writers.

17. It must be owned, however, by every one not absoCharacter of lutely blinded by a love of scarce books, that the prose literature of the queen's reign, taken generally, is but very mean. The pedantic Euphuism of Lilly overspreads the productions which aspire to the praise of politeness; while the common style of most pieces of circumstance, like those of Martin Mar-prelate and his answerers (for there is little to choose in this respect between parties), or of such efforts at wit and satire as came from Greene, Nash, and other worthies of our early stage, is low, and, with few exceptions, very stupid ribaldry. Many of these have a certain utility in the illustration of Shakspeare and of ancient manners, which is neither to be overlooked in our contempt for such trash, nor to be mis

taken for intrinsic merit. If it is alleged that I have not read enough of the Elizabethan literature to censure it, I must reply that, admitting my slender acquaintance with the numberless little books that some years since used to be sold at vast prices, I may still draw an inference from the inability of their admirers, or at least purchasers, to produce any tolerable specimens. Let the labours of Sir Egerton Brydges, the British Bibliographer, the Censura Literaria, the Restituta, collections so copious, and formed with so much industry, speak for the prose of the queen's reign. I would again repeat that good sense in plain language was not always wanting upon serious subjects; it is to polite writing alone that we now refer. Spenser's dialogue upon the State of Ireland, the Brief Conceit of English Policy, and several other tracts, are written as such treatises should be written, but they are not to be counted in the list of eloquent or elegant compositions.


State of Criticism in Italy — Scaliger — Castelvetro - Salviati — In other Countries — England.


18. In the earlier periods with which we have been conversant, criticism had been the humble handmaid of the ancient writers, content to explain, or sometimes aspiring to restore, but seldom presuming to censure their text, or even to justify the superstitious admiration that modern scholars felt for it. There is, however, a different and far higher criticism, which excites and guides the taste for truth and beauty in works of imagination; a criticism to which even the great masters of language are responsible, and from which they expect their reward.

P It is not probable that Brydges, a man of considerable taste and judgment, whatever some other pioneers in the same track may have been, would fail to select the best portions of the authors he has so carefully perused. And yet I would almost defy any one to produce five passages in prose from his numerous volumes, so far as the sixteenth century

State of


is concerned, which have any other merit than that of illustrating some matter of fact, or of amusing by their oddity. I have only noted, in traversing that long desert, two sermons by one Edward Dering, preached before the queen (British Bibliographer, i. 260, and 560), which show considerably more vigour than was usual in the style of that age.

But of the many who have sat in this tribunal, a small minority have been recognised as rightful arbiters of the palms they pretend to confer, and an appeal to the public voice has as often sent away the judges in dishonour as confirmed their decision.


19. It is a proof at least of the talents and courage which distinguished Julius Cæsar Scaliger, that he, first of all the moderns, (or, if there are exceptions, they must be partial and inconsiderable,) undertook to reduce the whole art of verse into system, illustrating and confirming every part by a profusion of poetical literature. His Poetics form an octavo of about 900 pages, closely printed. We can give but a slight sketch of so extensive a work. In the first book he treats of the different species of poems; in the second, of different metres; the third is more miscellaneous, but relates chiefly to figures and turns of phrase; the fourth proceeds with the same subject, but these two are very comprehensive. In the fifth we come to apply these principles to criticism; and here we find a comparison of various poets one with another, especially of Homer with Virgil. The sixth book is a general criticism on all Latin poets, ancient and modern. The seventh is a kind of supplement to the rest, and seems to contain all the miscellaneous matter that he found himself to have omitted, together with some questions purposely reserved, as he tells us, on account of their difficulty. His comparison of Homer with Virgil is very His prefer- elaborate, extending to every simile or other passage wherein a resemblance or imitation can .Homer. be observed, as well as to the general management of their epic poems. In this comparison he gives an invariable preference to Virgil, and declares that the difference between these poets is as great as between a lady of rank and the awkward wife of a citizen. Musæus he conceives to be far superior to Homer, according to the testimony of antiquity; and the poem of Hero and Leander, which it does not occur to him to suspect, is the only one in Greek that can be named in competition with Virgil, as he shows by comparison of the said poem with the very inferior effusions of Homer. If Musæus had written on the same subject as Homer, Scaliger does not

ence of

Virgil to

doubt but that he would have left the Iliad and Odyssey

far behind.

20. These opinions will not raise Scaliger's taste very greatly in our eyes. But it is not perhaps surprising that an Italian, accustomed to the polished effeminacy of modern verse, both in his language and in Latin, should be delighted with the poem of Hero and Leander, which has the sort of charm that belongs to the statues of Bacchus, and soothes the ear with voluptuous harmony, while it gratifies the mind with elegant and pleasing imagery. It is not, however, to be taken for granted that Scaliger is always mistaken in his judgments on particular passages in these greatest of poets. The superiority of the Homeric poems is rather incontestible in their general effect, and in the vigorous originality of his verse, than in the selection of circumstance, sentiment, or expression. It would be a sort of prejudice almost as tasteless as that of Scaliger, to refuse the praise of real poetic superiority to many passages of Virgil, even as compared with the Iliad, and far more with the Odyssey. If the similes of the older poet are more picturesque and animated, those of his imitator are more appropriate and parallel to the subject. It would be rather whimsical to deny this to be a principal merit in a comparison. Scaliger sacrifices Theocritus as much as Homer at the altar of Virgil, and of course Apollonius has little chance with so partial a judge. Horace and Ovid, at least the latter, are also held by Scaliger superior to the Greeks whenever they come into competition.

21. In the fourth chapter of the sixth book, Scaliger

Quod si Musæus ea, quæ Homerus scripsit, scripsisset, longè melius eum scripturum fuisse judicamus.

The following is a specimen of Scaliger's style of criticism, chosen rather for its shortness than any other cause:

Ex vicesimo tertio Iliadis transtulit versus illos in comparationem;

μάστιγι δ' αἰὲν ἔλαυνε κατωμαδόν· οἱ δέ οἱ ἵπποι ὑψόσ ̓ ἀειρέσθην ῥίμφα πρήσσοντε κέλευθον. xvoλoyia multa; at in nostro animata ratio;

Non tam præcipites bijugo certamine campum
Corripuere, ruuntque effusi carcere currus, &c.

Cum virtutibus horum carminum non est conferenda jejuna illa humilitas; au

dent præferre tamen grammatici temerarii. Principio, nihil infelicius quam μάστιγι αἶὲν ἔλαυνεν. Nam continuatio et equorum diminuit opinionem, et contemptum facit verberum. Frequentibus intervallis stimuli plus proficiunt. Quod vero admirantur Græculi, pessimum est, ¿fór ȧugioenv. Extento namque, et, ut milites loquantur, clauso cursu non subsiliente opus est. Quare divinus vir, undantia lora; hoc enim pro flagro, et præcipites, et corripuere campum; idque in præterito, ad celeritatem. Et ruunt, quasi in diversa, adeo celeres sunt. Illa vero supra omnem Homerum, proni in verbera pendent. 1. v. c. 3.

« ForrigeFortsæt »