Page images

and writing. Succeeding authors, as it happens in all countries, refolving to be original and new, and to avoid the imputation of copying, became diftorted and unnatural: by endeavouring to open an unbeaten path, they deferted fimplicity and truth; weary of common and obvious beauties, they muft 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 caufes however that have been affigned, why poetry and the arts have more eminently flourished in fome particular ages and nations, than in others, few have been fatisfactory and adequate. What folid reafon can we give why the Romans, who so happily imitated the Greeks in many refpects, and breathed a truly tragic fpirit, could yet never excel in tragedy, though fo fond of theatrical fpectacles? Or why the Greeks, so fruitful in every fpecies 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 so high a pitch of perfection in Corneille, Racine, and Moliere.

For a confirmation of the foregoing remark on Statius, and for a proof of the ftrength and spirit of POPE's youthful translation, I shall felect the following paffage.

He fends a monfter horrible and fell,
Begot by furies in the depth of hell.
The peft a virgin's face and bofom wears;
High on a crown a rifing fnake appears,
Guards her black front, and hiffes in her hairs:
About the realm fhe walks her dreadful round
When night with fable wings o'erfpreads the ground;
Devours young babes before their parent's eyes,
And feeds and thrives on public miferies*.

Oedipus, in Statius, behaves with the fury

* B. I. ver. 701.


[ocr errors]

of a bluftering bully; in Sophocles*, with that patient fubmiffion, and pathetic remorse, which are fuited to his lamentable condition.

Art thou a father, unregarding Jove!

And fleeps thy thunder in the realms above?
Thou, fury, then, fome lafting curfe entail,
Which o'er their children's children fhall prevail;
Place on their heads that crown diftain'd with gore,
Which these dire hands from my flain father tore.

OVID is also another writer of a bad taste, on whom POPE employed fome of his youthful hours; in tranflating the stories of Dryope and Pomona. Were it not for the useful mythological knowledge they contain, the works of Ovid ought not to be fo diligently read. The puerilities and affectations with which they abound, are too well known to be here infifted on. I

See his addrefs to the furies in the Edipus Coloneus of Sophocles, beginning at the words, ToTvia deiVWTEL, at verfe 85, down to verfe 117. And afterwards, when he becomes more particularly acquainted with the unnatural cruelty of his fons, yet his refentment is more temperate. See verfe 433 down to verfe 472, of the fame most enchanting tragedy.


chuse rather to account for Ovid's falling into fo blameable a fpecies of writing, in the words of a fenfible critic * ; who after he

* Francifci Vavafforis de Epigrammate Liber. Parifiis 1672. Pag. 47, edit. 8vo.

About this time it became fashionable among the wits at Button's, the mob of gentlemen that wrote with eafe, to tranflate Ovid. Their united performances were published in form by Garth, with a preface written in a flowing and lively style, but full of ftrange opinions. He declares, that none of the claffic poets had the talent of expreffing himself with more force and perfpicuity than Ovid; that the Fiat of the Hebrew law-giver is not more fublime than the Juffit et extendi campos, of the latin poet; that he excels in the propriety of his fimiles and epithets, the perfpicuity of his allegories, and the inftructive excellence of his morals. Above all, he commends him for his unforced tranfitions, and for the ease with which he flides into fome new circumftance, without any violation of the unity of the story; the texture, says he, is so artful that it may be compared to the work of his own Arachne, where the shade dies fo gradually, and the light revives fo imperceptibly, that it is hard to tell where the one ceafes and the other begins. But it is remarkable that Quintilian thought very differently on this fubject of the tranfitions, and the admirers of Ovid would do well to confider his opinion. "Illa vero frigida et puerilis eft in fcholis affectatio, ut ipfe tranfitus efficiat aliquam utique fententiam, et hujus velut præftigiæ plausum petat: ut Ovidius lafcivire in Metamorphofi folet, quem tamen excufare neceffitas poteft, res diverfiffimas in fpeciem. unius corporis colligentem." Garth was a moft amiable, and benevolent man. It was faid of him, that " no Phyfician knew his Art more, nor his Trade lefs." Pope told Mr. Richardfon, "that there was hardly an alteration,


he has cenfured, what he calls, the pigmenta, the lafcivias, and aucupia fermonum of PATERCULUS, of VALERIUS MAXI-> MUS, of PLINY the naturalift, and PLINY the conful, of FLORUS, and TACITUS, proceeds as follows: "Apud Ovidium, cum in Heroidum epiftolis, tum vero præcipue in libris Metamorphofeon, deprehendunt qui ifta curant, multa folerter et acute dicta. Sed advertit nemo, quod fciam, unde exorta hæc ei prætor cætoros libido, et quæ caufa festivitatis novæ, et prioribus inufitatæ poetis, effe potuerit. Natus Ovidius eodem, quo Cicero mortuus, anno, in hæc incidit tempora, ut ita dicam, declamatoria, hoc eft, ea, quibus inductus primum eft, et valere cæpit, et in honore effe, ftrictior is habitus et comptior fcripturæ; ubi color fententiarum, plurimi ac denfi fenfus, et qui cum quodam lumine terminarentur, non tarda nec inerti ftruc

of the innumerable, that were made throughout every adition of the Dispensary, that was not for the better." The vivacity of his converfation made Garth an univerfal favourite both with Whigs and Tories, when party-rage ran high.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »