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L ETTER VI.
AGREE with you that the life of the
latter Cato would, if executed with a pen worthy of it, prove one of the noblest pieces of biography extant; not to mention the public benefit that might be derived from it in these our evil days; days in which a remote found of the applause reaped by patriot virtue haş hardly reached our ears.
Of all the great characters of antiquity, few equal, none exceed; that of Cato. The vastness, the force of his mind, are only to be rivalled by its regular consistency; a confistency that makes all his actions appear of
ą piece; a beauty, if I may sa express myfelf, rarely to be observed in the portraits of heroes; many of whom seem to have fallen as short of common exertion in some passages of their lives, as they exceeded it in others. How little, how mean, how trifling the character of Cicero when opposed to such a model! The yery first storm of public outrage tore his feeble
patriotism up by the roots; while the strong virtue of Cato, like a mountain oak, received fresh vigor from the utmost rage of the tem peft.
They who peruse the Familiar Letters of Cicero will find that orator, malapert and various as he is, uniform in his respect and almost adoration of Cato. Such was the power of real dignity of mind over saucy and loquacious eloquence! These letters are enriched by the preservation of one of Cato, being the only composition of his that has reached us; and which thews us clearly that his soul, folid as diamond, was brightened with politeness. Even friendship, that greatest snare of a lofty mind, could not influence himn against the consistent plan of his virtue; yet his refusal to act against his real sentiments has nothing harsh, but is given at the same time with a firmuess that leaves nothing to hope, and with a mildness that leaves nothing to censure.
SPIRIT of Cato, what must be thy indignation if thou perceivest the degeneracy of a country in which Hampden aid Ruffel have bled!
It is remarkable that three of the best Roman poets have, as it were, vied with each other, who should most elevate the character of Cato. Virgil and Horace, tho the minions of a court whose frame was cemented with the blood of that patriot, have almost excelled their common expression in his praise. The first in the Eneid, where his hero finds Cato in Elysium giving laws to the good;
His dantem jura Catonem. The second in his odesz
Et cuneta terrarum subacta,
Præter atrocem animum Catonis. But Lucan, above all, has risen to the actual sublime, fired by the contemplation of that sublime character,
Victrix caufa deis placuit: sed victa Catoni.
To which of the poets is the preeminence due? Virgil's praise is wonderfully fine at first fight; for how good, how just, how virtuous, must he bę, who is qualified to give laws to the good, to the just, to the virtuous, in Elyfium itself? But, like the other beauties of this writer, it will not bear a clofe examination,
For what laws are to operate among the blessed, where there can be no punishinent nor reward? How can they receive laws, who are emancipated from all poffibility of crime? The praise is therefore futile and ridiculous; nothing being more absurd than to erect a column of apparent sublimity upon the morass of false. hood,
The praise of Horace has great truth and dignity. Every thing on earth, in subjection to Cæsar save the mind of Cato, is a great, a vast thought, and would even arise to the fublime, were it not for that of Lucan, which exceeds it; and nothing can be sublime to which a superior conception may be found.
The praise of Lucan is sublimity itself, for no human idea can go beyond it. Cato is set in opposition to the gods themselves: nay is made superior in justice, tho not in power. Now the power of the pagan deities may be called their extrinsic, justice their intrinsic, virtue. Cato excelled them, says Lucan, in real virtue, tho their adventitious attribute of power admitted no rival.
UR opinion of the
Mechant I beartily subferibe to, tho Mr, Gray has pronounced it the best comedy he ever read. It is perfectly in the style of the French tragedy, inactive, and declamatory, Yet I do not wonder at Mr, Gray's favourable opinion of it, when he admired the filly decla. mation of Racine so much as to begin a tragedy in his very manner; which however he was so fortunate as not to go thro with,
Our stage, thank heaven, şefuses the infipi: dity of the French drama; and requires an action, a business, a vigor, to which the run of Gerontes and Damons, which all their comedies are stuffed with, are mere strangers. Mo, Jiere, in attempting to introduce laughter inta the French comedy, has blundered upon mere farce ; for it is the character of that nation always to be in extremes. In short, if we except Fontaine, I know of no writer in the