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whose first comedy, Melite, which is now never acted, was represented 1625. The pieces of the very fertile Hardy, (for he wrote six hundred) the immediate predecessor of Corneille, are full of improbabilities, indecorums, and absurdities, and by no means comparable to Melite. As to the correctness of the French stage, of which we hear so much, the rules of the three unities are indeed rigorously and scrupulously observed ;* but the best of their tragedies, even some of those of the sweet and exact Racine, have defects of another kind, and are what may be justly called, descriptive and declamatory dramas; and contain the sentiments and feelings of the author or the spectator, rather than of the person introduced as speaking “ After the Restoration, (says Pope in the margin,) Waller, with the Earl of Dorset, Mr. Godolphin, and others, translated the Pompey of Corneille; and the more correct French poets began to be in reputation.” But the model was unfortunately and injudiciously chosen ; for the Pompey of Corneille is one of
• As they are certainly in Samson Agonistes.
his most declamatory * tragedies ; and the rhyme translation they gave of it, is performed pitifully enough. Even Voltaire confesses, that Corneille is always making his heroes say of then- . selves, that they are great men. It is in this passage that Pope says of two great masters of versification,
• See the Essay on Shakespeare by Mrs. Montague, in which she has done honour to her sex and nation; and which was sent to Voltaire with this motto prefixed to it, by a person who admired it as a piece of exquisite criticism :
Pallas Te hoc Vulnere, Pallas
The Iphigenie of Racine, it must be owned, is an incom. parable piece; it is chiefly so, from Racine's attentive study of the pathetic Euripides. Corneille had not read the Greek tragedies. He was able to read Aristotle's Poetics only in Heinsius's translation. It is remarkable, that there is not a single line in Otway or Rowe from the Greek tragedies. And Dryden, in his Edipus, has imitated Seneca and Corneille, not Sophocles.
Tasso, in one of his letters to a friend, desires him to procure for him a copy of Sophocles and Euripides; but adds, that he begs it may be in Latin, and not in Greek.
Smith, though a scholar, has scarcely imitated Euripides at all, in his Phædra.
Waller was smooth ; but Dryden taught to join
What! did Milton contribute nothing to the harmony and extent of our language? nothing to our national taste, by his noble imitations of Homer, Virgil, and the Greek tragedies ? Surely his verses vary, and resound as much, and display as much majesty and energy, as any that can be found in Dryden. And we will venture to say, that he that studies Milton attentively, will gain a truer taste for genuine poetry, than he that forms himself on French writers, and their followers.t His name surely was not to be omitted on this occasion.
The other passages in which Pope appears not to be equal to his original, are, in the three little
* Ver. 257.
+ It is difficult, methinks, to read the following words of Voltaire, without feeling a little indignation. “ It seems as if the same cause that deprives the English of a genius for Painting and Music, denies them also a genius for Tragedy." Letter to Maffei. T. 8.
stories which Horace has introduced into his second epistle, with so much nature and humour; namely, the story of the slave-seller, at verse 2; that of the soldier of Lucullus, at verse 26; and the story of the madman at Argos, verse 128. The last, particularly, loses much of its grace and propriety, by transferring the scene from the theatre to the parliament-house ; from poetry to politics.
64. Two noblemen of taste and learning, the Duke of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Oxford, desired Pope to melt down, and cast anew, the weighty bullion of Dr. Donne's Satires; who had degraded and deformed a vast fund of sterling wit, and strong sense, by the most harsh and uncouth diction. POPE succeeded in giving harmony to a writer, more rough and rugged than even any of his age, and who profited so little by the example Spenser had set, of a most musical and mellifluous versification; far beyond the versification of Fairfax, who is so frequently mentioned as the greatest improver of the harmony of our language. The Satires of Hall, written in very smooth and pleasing numbers,
preceded those of Donne many years ; for his Virgidemiarum were published, in six books, in the
year 1597; in which he calls himself the very first English satirist. This, however, was not true, in fact; for Sir Thomas Wyatt, of Allington Castle, in Kent, the friend and favourite of Henry VIII. and, as was suggested, of Ann Boleyn, was our first writer of satire worth notice. But it was not in his numbers only that Donne was reprehensible. He abounds in false thoughts; in far-sought sentiments; in forced, unnatural conceits. He was the corrupter of Cowley. Dryden was the first who called him a metaphysical poet. He had a considerable share of * learning ; and though he entered late into
* He was one of our poets who wrote elegantly in Latin ; as did Ben Jonson, (who translated into that language great part of Bacon de Augmentis Scient.) Cowley, Milton, Addison, and Gray. In Donne's introduction to his witty catalogue of curious books, written plainly in imitation of Rabelais, (whom also Swift imitated, in a catalogue of odd treatises, prefixed to the Tale of a Tub,) there is a passage so minutely applicable to the present times, that I am tempted to transcribe it. Ævum sortiti sumus, quo planè indoctis nihil turpius, plenè doctis nihil rarius. Tam omnes in literis aliquid sciunt, tam nemo omnia. Mediâ igitur plerumque itur viâ, & ad evitandam ig. norantiæ turpitudinem, & legendi fastidium.