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In this work are exhibited, in a very high degree, the two most engaging powers of an author. New things are made familiar, and familiar things are made new. A race of aerial people, never heard of before, is presented to us in a manner so clear and easy, that the reader seeks for no further information, but immediately mingles with his new acquaintance, adopts their interests, and attends their pursuits, loves a Sylph, and detests a Goome.
That familiar things are made new, every paragraph will prove. The subject of the poem is an event below the common incidents of common life, nothing real is introduced that is not seen so often as to be no longer regarded; yet the whole detail of a female-day is here brought before us, in• vested with so much art of decoration, that, though nothing is disguised, every thing is striking, and we feel all the aspetite of curiosity for that from which we have a thousand times turned fastidiously away.
The purpose of the poet is, as he tells us, to laugh at “the little unguarded “ follies of the female sex.” It is therefore without justice that Dennis charges the “ Rape of the Lock” with the want of a moral, and for that reason sets it below the “ Lutrin,” which exposes the pride and discord of the clergy. Perhaps neither Pope nor Boileau has made the world much better than he found it; but, if they had both succeeded, it were easy to tell who would have deserved most from publick gratitude. The freaks, and humours, and spleen, and vanity of women, as they embroil families in discord, and fill houses with disquiet, do more to obstruct the happiness of life in a year than the ambition of the clergy in many centuries. It has been well observed, that the misery of man proceeds not from any sir.gle crufh of overwhelming evil, but from small vexations continually repeated.
It is remarked by Dennis likewise, that the machinery is superfluous; that, by all the buftle of preternatural operation, the main event is neither haftened nor retarded. To this charge an efficacious answer is not easily made. The Sylphs cannot be said to help or to oppose ; and it
be allowed to imply some want of art, that their power has not been suficiently intermingled with the action. Other parts may likewise be charged with want of connection; the game at ombre might be spared, but if the Lady had lost her hair while she was intent upon her cards, it might have been inferred that those who are too fond of play will be in danger of neglecting more important interests. Those perhaps are faults; but what are such faults to so much excellence !
The Epistle of “ Eloise to Abelard" is one of the most happy productions of human wit: the subject is so judiciously chosen, that it would be difficult, in turning over the annals of the world, to find another which so many circumstances concur to recommend. We regularly interest ourselves most in the fortune of those who most deserve our notice. Abelard and Eloise were conspicuous in their days for eminence of merit. The heart naturally loves
truth. The adventures and misfortunes of this illustrious pair are known from undisputed history. Their fate does not leave the mind in hopeless dejection; for they both found quiet and consolation in retirement and piety. So new and so affecting is their story, that it supersedes invention, and imagination ranges at full liberty without stragaling into scenes of fable.
The story, thus skilfully adopted, has been diligently improved. Pope has left nothing behind him, which seems more the effect of studious perseverance and laborious revisal. Here is particularly observable the curiosa felicitas, a fruitful soil, and careful cultivation. Here is no crudeness of sense, nor asperity of language.
The sources from which sentiments, which have so much vigour and efficacy have been drawn, are shewn to be the mystick writers by the learned author of the “Essay on the Life and Writings of Pope ;" a book which teaches how the brow of Criticism may be smoothed, and how she may be enabled, with all her severity, to attract and to delight.
The train of my disquisition has now conducted me to that poetical wonder, the translation of the “ Iliad;" a performance which no age or nation can pretend to equal. To the Greeks translation was almost unknown; it was totally unknown to the inhabitants of Greece. They had no recourse to the Barbarians for poetical beauties, but sought for every thing in Homer, where, indeed, there is but little which they might not find.
The Italians have been very diligent translators; but I can hear of no version, unless perhaps Anguilara's Ovid may be excepted, which is read with eagerness. The “Iliad” of Salvini every reader may discover to be punctiliousy exact; but it seems to be the work of a linguist skilfully pedantick; and his countrymen, the proper judges of its power to please, reject it with disgust.
Their predecessors the Romans have left some specimens of translation behind them, and that employment must have had some credit in which Tully and Germanicus engaged; but unless we suppose, what is perhaps true, that the plays of Terence were versions of Menander, nothing translated seems ever to have risen to high reputation. The French, in the meridian hour of their learning, were very laudably industrious to enrich their own language with the wisdom of the ancients; but found themselves reduced,' by whatever necessity, to turn ihe Greek and Roman poetry into prose.
Whoever could read an author, could translate him. From such rivals little can be feared.
The chief help of Pope in this arduous undertaking was drawn from the versions of Dryden. Virgil had borrowed much of his imagery from Homer; and part of the debt was now paid by his translator. Pope searched the pages of Dryden for happy combinations of heroic diction; but it will not be denied that he added much to what he found. He cultivated our language with so much diligence and art, that he has left in his “ Homer" a treasure of poetical elegance to posterity. His version may be said to
have tuned the English tongue; for since its appearance no writer, however deficient in other powers, has wanted melody. Such a series of lines so elaborately corrected, and so sweetly modulated, took possession of the publick ear; the vulgar was enamoured of the poem, and the learned wondered at the translation.
But in the most general applause discordant voices will always be heard. It has been objected by some, who wish to be numbered among the sons of learning, that Pope's version of Homer is not Homerical; that it exhibits no resemblance of the original and characteristick manner of the Father of Poetry, as it wants his awful simplicity, his artless grandeur, his unaffected majesty*. This cannot be totally denied; but it must be remembered that necessitas quod cogit defendit; that may be lawfully done which cannot be forborn. Time and place will always enforce regard. In estimating this translation, consideration must be had of the nature of our language, the form of our metre, and, above all, of the change which two thousand years have made in the modes of life and the habits of thought. Virgil wrote in a language of the same general fabrick with that of Homer, in verses of the same measure, and in an age nearer to Homer's time by 18 hundred years; yet he found, even then, the state of the world so much altered, and the demand for elegance so much increased, that mere nature would be endured no longer; and perhaps, in the multitude of borrowed passages, very few can be shewn which he has not embellished.
There is a time when nations emerging from barbarity, and falling into regular subordination, gain leisure to grow wise, and feel the shame of ignorance and the craving pain of unsatisfied curiosity. To this hunger of the mind plain sense is grateful; that which fills the void removes uneasiness, and to be free from pain for a while is pleasure ; but repletion generates fastidiousness; a saturated intellect soon becomes luxurious, and knowlege finds no willing reception till it is recommended by artificial diction. Thus it will be found, in the progress of learning, thiar in all nations the first writers are simple, and that every age improves in elegance. One refinement always makes way for another; and what was expedient to Virgil was necessary to Pope.
suppose many readers of the English “Iliad," when they have been touched with some unexpected beauty of the lighter kind, have tried to enjoy it in the original, where, alas! it was not to be found. Homer doubtless owes to his translator many Ovidian graces not exactly suitable to his character; but to have added can be no great crime, if nothing be taken away. Elegance
is Bentley was one of these. He and Pope, soon after the publication of Homer, met at Dr. Mead's at dinner; when Pope, desirous of his opinion of the translation, addressed him thus: “ Dr. Bentley, I ordered my bookseller to send you your books; I hope you received them." Bentley, who had purposely avoided saying any thing about Homer, pretended not to understand him, and asked, “ Books! books! what books?" "My Homer,' replied Pope,' which 'you did me the honour to subscribe for.'---' Oh,' said Bentley, 'ay now I recollect---your translation :---it is a pretty pocm, Mr. Pope; but you must cot call it Homcr.' H,
is surely to be desired, if it be not gained at the expence of dignity. A hero would wish to be loved, as well as to be reverenced.
To a thousand cavils one answer is sufficient ; the purpose of a writer is to be read, and the criticism which would destroy the power of pleasing must be blown aside. Pope wrote for his own age and his own nation; he knew that it was necessary to colour the images and point the sentiments of his author; he therefore made him graceful, but lost him some of his sublimity.
The copious notes with which the version is accompanied, and by which it is recommended to many readers, though they were undoubtedly written 10 swell the volumes, ought not to pass without praise: commentaries which attract the reader by the pleasure of perusal have not often appeared ; the notes of others are read to clear difficulties, those of Pope to vary entertainment.
It has however been objected, with sufficient reason, that there is in the commentary too much of unseasonable levity and affected gaiety that too, many appeals are made to the Ladies, and the ease which is so carefully preserved is sometimes the ease of a triller. Every art has its terms, and every kind of instruction its proper style ; the gravity of common criticks may be tedious, but is less despicable than childish merriment,
Of the “ Odyssey” nothing remains to be observed : the same general praise may, be given to both translations, and a particular examination of either would require a large volume. The notes were written by Broome, who endeavoured not unsuccessfully to imitate his master.
Of the “ Dunciad” the hint is confessedly taken from Dryden's “Mac Fleknoe;" but the plan is so enlarged and diversified as justly to claim the praise of an original, and affords perhaps the beșt specimen that has yet appeared of personal satire ludicrously pompous,
That the design was moral, whatever ite author might tell either his readers or himself I am not convinced. The first motiye was the desire of revenging the contempt with which Theobald had treated his “ Shakspeare,” and regaining the honour which he had lost, by crushing his opponent. Theobald was not of bulk enough to fill a poem, and therefore it was necessary to find other enemies with other names, at whose expence he might divert the publick.
In this design there was petulance and malignity enough; but I cannot think it very criminal. An author places himself ancalled before the tribunal of Criticisin, and solicits fame at the hazard of disgrace. Dulness or deformity are not culpable in themselves, but may be very justly reproached when they pretend to the honour of wit or the influence of beauty. If bad writers were to pass without reprehension, what should restrain them ? impune diem consumpserit ingens Telephus; and upon bad writers only will censure have much effect. The satire which brought Theobald and Moore into contempt, dropped impotent from Bentley, like the javelin of Priam. VOL 1. 4 D
All truth is valuable, and satirical criticism may be considered as useful when it rectifies ertor and improves judgment; he that refines the publick taste is a public benefactor.
The beauties of this poem are well known; its chief fault is the grossess of its images. Pope and Swift had an unnatural delight iņ ideas physically impure, such as every other tongue utters with unwillingness, and of which every ear shrinks from the mention.
But even this fault, offensive as it is, may be forgiven for the excellence of other passages; such as the formation and dissolution of Moore, the account of the Traveller, the misfortune of the Florist, and the crowded thoughts and stately numbers which dignify the concluding paragraph.
The alterations which have been made in the “ Dunciad,” not always for the better, require that it should be published, as in the present collection, with all its variations.
The Essay on Man” was a work of great labour and long consideration but certainly not the happiest of Pope's performances. The subject is perhaps not very proper for poetry, and the poet was not sufficiently master of his subject; metaphysical morality was to him a new study, he was proud of his acqaisitions, and, supposing himself master of great secrets, was in haste to teach what he had not learned. Thus he tells us, in the first Epistle that from the nature of the Supreme Being may be deduced an order of beings such as mankind, because Infinite Excellence can do only what is best. He finds out that these beings must be “somewhere,” and that “ all the question “is whether man be in a wrong place.” Surely if, according to the poet's Leibnitian reasoning, we may infer that man ought to be, only because he is, we may allow that his place is the right place, because he has it. Supreme Wisdom is not less infallible in disposing than in creating. But what is meant by somewhere and place, and wrong place, it had been vain to ask Pope, who probably had never asked himself.
Having exalted himself into the chair of wisdom, he tells us much that every man knows, and much that he does not know himself; that we sec but little, and that the order of the universe is beyond our comprehension ; an opinion not very uncommon; and that there is a chain of subordinate beings “ from infinite to nothing," of which himself and his readers are equally ignorant. But he gives us one comfort, which, without his help, he supposes unattainable, in the position “ that though we are fools, yet
God is wise.” This Essay affords an egregious instance of the predominance of genius
, the dazzling splendour of imagery, and the seductive powers of eloquence Never was penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised. The reader feels his mind full, though he learns nothing; and when he meets it in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother and his nurse. When these wonder-working sounds sink into sense, and the