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has not passed without two important events. The Iliad, that great parent stock of epic productions, has been, in the course of the last century, incorporated with English poetry, by the genius of Mr. POPE; and Fingal and Temora have been recalled from a long oblivion by the labours of Mr. MAC
In the former, this age may boast of having produced the noblest translation ever presented to the republic of letters; and in the latter of having recovered a work of true and uncommon genius, which, on several accounts, will probably be read with pleasure for many centuries to come, whatever opinion may be formed with respect to its origin.
The history of German literature, during the eighteenth century, presents us with an epic poem, which some have brought into competition with the Paradise Lost. This is the Messiah of KlopSTOCK, a work which has been, perhaps, more read throughout the literary world, and honoured with more general approbation than any other poetic production of the same country. The Mesa siah certainly may be, in some respects, advantageously compared with the Paradise Lost. Though the former does not possess the “ gigantic sublimity” of the latter, yet it elevates the mind by the grandeur and novelty of its fiction, and disa plays more tenderness and pathos." The Death of Abel is not less familiar to every intelligent reader, and its merits have been generally acknowledged.” Oberon,' an epic romance, by WIELAND, discovers the bold and vigorous imagination, and the felicity of description, for which the author has been long celebrated.
m Herder, an eloquent German writer, thus compares the Paradise Lost and The Messiah: “The edifice of Milton is a stedfast and well-planned building, resting on ancient columns : Klopstock’s is an enchanted dome, echoing with the softest and purest tones of human feeling, hovering between heaven and earth, borne on angels' shoulders. Milton's muse is masculine: KLOPSTOCK's is a tender woman, dissolving in pious ecstacies, warbling'elegies and hymns. When music shall acquire among us the highest powers of her art, whose words will she select to utter but those of KLOPSTOCK?" Letters on Humanization. This quoted from the Literary Hours of Dr. Drake, who says that “ impartial posterity will probably confirm the judgment of Herder." A good English translation of Tb: Messiah is still a desideratum.
In the Swedish language we also find, in the century under review, two respectable productions of the epic class. The first is entitled Swedish Liberty, and is a performance of DAHLIN, who was before mentioned as the father of poetry in that country. This work, with several essential faults, combines beauties and excellences which render it worthy of attention. The other work, which comes under the same denomination, is The Passage of the Belt, by Count De GYLLENBORG, from which the author has derived considerable reputation among his countrymen. The Rossiada of KHERASKOF, a Russian nobleman, was before mentioned as entitled to respectful notice, not only because it possesses considerable merit as a poem; but because it was the first successful attempt to enlist the Russian language in the service of the epic muse, and because its appearance may be considered as forming an important epoch in the history of Russian poetry.
The translations of different epic poems, in the course of this century, were so numerous, that to give a list and character of them all would lead us into a field far too extensive. But it would be unpardonable, even in this short sketch, to omit taking notice of a few besides those which have been already mentioned. The celebrated Italian epic poem Gierusalemme Liberata, by Tasso, has also been elegantly translated into English, during this period, by Mr. Hoole. The three first books had been previously presented in an English dress by Mr. BROOKE, on whose work Mr. Hoole passes the most liberal encomiums. To give a version of the whole was reserved for the latter gentleman, who executed the task with very honourable success. Shortly afterwards the Lusiad of CAMOENS, on which the Portuguese rest their claim to epic honours, was translated into English by Mr. MICKLE, which, in spirit and elegance, is considered by some respectable critics, as rivalling the first productions of the kind in our language.
Tbe Death of Abel, like several other works of the same author, is written in a kind of loose poetry, unshackled by rhyme, and a precise, uniform adherence to measure. It has been said that this method of writing is peculiarly suited to the German language. It is to be lamented that this work, as well as the Messiab, has never been advantageously presented in English dress.
o Oberon has been translated, by Mr. SOTHEBY, into English, in a style of elegance which does him great honour.
The Iliad was translated, for the first time, and with considerable ability, into the Spanish language, about thirteen years ago, by Don GARCIA Malo. The same monument of Grecian genius was also translated, not long since, with high reputation, into the German language, by Voss, a distinguished poet of that country; and into Italian by the Abbé CÆSAROTTI. These several works are said to be considered, by their respective countrymen, as productions of the first class. To these may be added the translation of the Iliad, into English blank verse, by Mr. Cowper, which, though a more faithful version than the work of
Ir. POPE, falls short of it, with respect to merit as a poem. The Æneid has also been translated into German by Voss, before mentioned; into Italian by M. C. BENDI; and into English by Mr. C: Pirt. The work of the last named poet, though inferior to Dryden's translation in vigour and sprightliness, yet excels it in uniformity, correctness, and splendour of versification. Lucan's Pharsalia, as translated into English by Rowe, is pronounced by an eminent critic to be one of the greatest productions of English poetry; to exhibit more successfully than almost any other the genius and spirit of the original; and to deserve a much higher degree of approbation than it has generally obtained.
In this species of poetic composition the eighteenth century produced some works of great excellence, some of which may be compared without disadvantage, with the best specimens of any preceding age. The Essay on Criticism, by Mr. Pope, as it was one of his earliest compositions, so it is also one of his best. In the opinion of a great critic “it exhibits every mode of excellence that can embellish or dignify didactic composition; se lection of matter, novelty of arrangement, justness of
precept, splendour of illustration, and propriety of digression.” The Essay on Man," by the same author, though in some respects of inferior excellence, has been incomparably more read, and, in general, more highly applauded. This performance is not distinguished by much novelty of sentiment, or felicity of invention; but seldom have common ideas been presented with so much " beauty of embellishment,” or so much“ sweetness of melody.”. Seldom have opinions of questionable propriety been more happily disguised, or exhibited with such “ dazzling splendour of imagery,” and “ seductive powers of eloquence.” The Fleece; by Mr. Dyer, notwithstanding the small degree of distinction which it has attained, is pronounced, by good judges, to stand among the most excellent poems of the didactic kind which the moderns have produced. The Pleasures of the Imagination, by Dr. AKENSIDE, is also a performance which belongs to this class; and is, doubtless, one of the most beautiful specimens that our language affords. Genius, learning, taste, pure morality, and liberal philosophy shine in every page. Dr. ARMSTRONG, in his celebrated poem on the Art of Preserving Health, though he did not aim at so elevated a strain as AKENSIDE, has produced a work of high excellence. Never sinking below. the dignity of his subject, he is always chaste, correct, instructive, and elegant.
Life of Rowe, by JOHNSON, 9 He produced this work at twenty years of age, and is pronounced by Dr. Johnson never afterwards to have excelled it.
o It has been often said that Lord BOLINGBROKE had some agency in the composition of the Essay on Man. The following extract of a letter from the late Reverend Dr. Hugh Blair, of Edinburgh, will probably. be considered as deciding the fact. “ In the year 1763, being at London, I was carried by Dr. John Blair, Prebendary of Westminster, to dine at old Lord Bathurst's. The conversation turning on Mr. Pope, Lord Bathurst told us, that the Essay on Man was originally composed by Lord BoLingbroke, in prose, and that Mr. Pope did no more than put it into verse : that he had read Lord BOLINGBROKE's manuscript in his own hand writing, and remembered well that he was at a loss whether most to admire the elegance of Lord BOLINGBROKE's prose, or the beauty of Mr. Pope's verse. When Lord BATHURST told this, Mr. Mallet bade me attend, and remember this remarkable piece of information; as by the course of nature I might survive his Lordship, and be a witness of his hav, ing said so.” Boswell's Life of Jounson, vol. iii. p. 133.
The English Garden of Mr. Mason, may also be mentioned as a very finished and interesting specimen of didactic composition. Simple, nakural, and interesting in his descriptions, luminous and instructive in his philosophy, and purely moral in his sentiments, he is by no means the least of those authors on whose works the honour of English poetry, for the last fifty years, must rest. In the
Botanic Garden, by Dr. DARWIN, there is a bold attempt “ to enlist imagination under the banner of science,” to an extent beyond example. In this at
$ Lord MoŅBODDo pronounces this poem to be the best specimen of didactic poetry in the English language, and equal to any, ancient or modern. Origin and Progress of Language.