Page images

combat, which is told at length, in the middle of the third book, is marvellously fpirited; and fo lively, as to make us fpectators of that interesting and magnificent tournament. Even the abfurdity of feigning ancient heroes, fuch as Thefeus and Lycurgus, prefent at the lifts and a modern combat, is overwhelmed and obliterated amidst the blaze, the pomp, and the profufion of fuch animated poetry. Frigid and phlegmatic must be the critic, who could have leifure dully and foberly to attend to the anachronifm on fo ftriking an occafion. The mind is whirled away by a torrent of rapid imagery, and propriety is forgot.

THE tale of Sigifmonda and Guifcardo is heightened with many new and affecting touches by Dryden. I fhall felect only the following picture of Sigifmonda, as it has the fame attitude in which the appears in a famous piece of CORREGGIO.

Mute, foleinn forrow, free from female noife,
Such as the Majefty of grief destroys:




For bending o'er the cup, the tears she shed
Seem'd by the posture to discharge her head,
O'erfill'd before; and oft (her mouth apply'd
To the cold heart) fhe kiss'd at once and cry'd.

There is an incomparable wildness in the vifion of Theodore and Honoria*, that represents the furious spectre of " the horfeman ghoft, that came thundering for his prey," and of the gaunt mastiffs that tore the fides of the fhrieking damfel he purfued; which is a fubject worthy the pencil of Spagnoletti, as it partakes of that favageness which is so striking to the imagination. I shall confine myself to point out only two paffages, which relate the two appearances of this formidable figure:

"It is

* This is one of Boccace's moft ferious ftories. a curious thing to fee at the head of an edition of Boccace's tales, printed at Florence in 1573, a privilege of Gregory XIII. who fays, that in this he follows the fteps of Pius V. his predeceffor, of bleffed memory, and which threatens with fevere punishments all thofe, who fhall dare to give any disturbance to those bookfellers to whom this privilege is granted. There is also a decree of the inquifition in favour of this edition, in which the holy father caused some alterations to be made." LONGUERUANA, Tom. II. p. 62. a Berlin, 1754,


and I place them last, as I think them the most lofty of any part of Dryden's works.

Whilft lift'ning to the murm'ring leaves he food,
More than a mile immers'd within the wood,
At once the wind was laid-the whifp'ring found
Was dumb-a rifing earthquake rock'd the ground:
With deeper brown the grove was overfpread,
And his ears tingled, and his colour fled.

The sensations of a man upon the approach of fome strange and fupernatural danger, can scarcely be represented more feelingly. All nature is thus faid to fympathize at the fecond appearance of

[ocr errors]

The felon on his fable steed

Arm'd with his naked sword that urg'd his dogs to speed.

Thus it runs

The fiend's alarm began; the hollow found
Sung in the leaves, the forest shook around,
Air blacken'd, roll'd the thunder, groan'd the ground.

BUT to conclude this digreffion on Dryden. It must be owned, that his ode on the power of mufic, which is the chief ornament of this volume, is the most unrivalled

C 2

rivalled of his compofitions. By that strange fatality which feems to disqualify authors from judging of their own works, he does not appear to have valued this piece, because he totally omits it in the enumeration and criticism he has given, of the rest, in his preface to the volume. I shall add nothing to what I have already said on this fubject; but only relate the occafion * and manner of his writing it. Mr. St. John, afterwards Lord Bolingbroke, happening to pay a morning vifit to Dryden, whom he always refpected†, found him in an unusual agitation of fpirits, even to a trembling. On enquiring the cause, “I have been up all night, replied the old bard; my musical friends.made me promise to write them an ode for their feast of St. Cæcilia: I have been fo ftruck with the

* Vol. I. pag. 51.

† See his verses to Dryden, prefixed to the translation of Virgil. Lord Bolingbroke affured POPE, that Dryden often declared to him. that he got more from the Spanish critics alone, than from the Italian, French, and all other critics put together; which appears ftrange. This from Mr. Spence.


fubject which occurred to me, that I could not leave it till I had completed it; here it is, finished at one fitting." And immediately he fhewed him this ode, which places the British lyric poetry above that of any other nation. This anecdote, as true as it is curious, was imparted by Lord Bolingbroke to POPE, by POPE to Mr. Gilbert Weft, by him to the ingenious friend who communicated it to me *. The rapidity, and yet the perfpicuity of the thoughts, the glow and the expressiveness of the images, those certain marks of the first sketch of a master, conspire to corroborate the truth of the fact.

THE TRANSLATION of the first book of Statius, is the next piece that belongs to this Section. It was in his childhood only, that he could make choice of fo injudicious a writer. It were to be wished that no youth of genius were fuffered ever to look

• Richard Berenger, Efq.

C 3


« PreviousContinue »