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No. 156. SATURDAY, APRIL 8, 1710.
-Sequiturque patrem non passibus æquis. VIRG.
From my own Apartment, April 7.
WE have already described out of Homer the voyage of Ulysses to the infernal shades, with the several adventures that attended it. If we look into the beautiful romance published not many years since by the Archbishop of Cambray, we may see the son of Ulysses bound on the same expedition and after the same manner making his discoveries among the regions of the dead. The story of Telemachus is formed altogether in the spirit of Homer, and will give an unlearned reader a notion of that great poet's manner of writing, more than any translation of him can possibly do.1 As it was written for the instruction of a young prince, who may one day sit upon the throne of France, the author took care to suit the several parts of his story, and particularly the description we are now entering upon, to the character and quality of his pupil. For which reason, he insists very much on the misery of bad, and the happiness of good kings, in the account he hath given of punishments and rewards in the other world.
We may, however, observe, notwithstanding the endeavours of this great and learned author, to copy after the style and sentiments of Homer, that there is a certain tincture of Christianity running through the whole relation. The prelate in several places mixes himself with the poet; so that his future state puts me in mind of Michael Angelo's last judgment, where Charon and his boat are represented as bearing a part in the dreadful solemnities of that great day.
1 Because the peculiar fictions and superstitions of Homer are omitted, or turned in such a way, as is more consistent with philosophical, and even Christian ideas. In other words, the writer treats the subject, as Homer would, most probably, have done, if he had lived in our days. This confession of Mr. Addison justifies the remark before made on the impropriety of giving extracts from the two pagan poets, on the subject of a future state, for the entertainment of common readers.
This way of paganizing a future state, was unavoidable in the plan of Telemachus, as it also was in that of Fontenelle's Dialogues. But it was something to be serious in his paganism. Thus much may be said for the French Homer. But how the French Lucian could hope to serve ine cause of virtue and religion, by indulging the way of humour on a
Telemachus, after having passed through the dark avenues of death, in the retinue of Mercury, who every day delivers up a certain tale of ghosts to the ferryman of Styx, is admitted into the infernal bark. Among the companions of his voyage, is the shade of Nabopharzon, a king of Babylon, and tyrant of all the East. Among the ceremonies and pomps of his funeral, there were four slaves sacrificed, according to the custom of the country, in order to attend him among the shades. The author having described this tyrant in the most odious colours of pride, insolence, and cruelty, tells us, that his four slaves, instead of serving him after death, were perpetually insulting him with reproaches and affronts for his past usage; that they spurned him as he lay upon the ground, and forced him to show his face, which he would fain have covered, as lying under all the confusions of guilt and infamy; and, in short, that they kept him bound in a chain, in order to drag him before the tribunal of the dead.
Telemachus, upon looking out of the bark, sees all the strand covered with an innumerable multitude of shades, who, upon his jumping ashore, immediately vanished. He then pursues his course to the palace of Pluto, who is described as seated on his throne in terrible majesty, with Proserpine by his side. At the foot of his throne was the pale hideous spectre, who, by the ghastliness of his visage, and the nature of the apparitions that surrounded him, discovers himself to be Death. His attendants are Melancholy, Distrust, Revenge, Hatred, Avarice, Despair, Ambition, Envy, Impiety, with frightful Dreams, and waking Cares, which are all drawn very naturally in proper actions and postures. The author, with great beauty, places near his frightful dreams, an assembly of phantoms, which are often employed to terrify the living, by appearing in the shape and likeness of the dead.
The young hero, in the next place, takes a survey of the different kinds of criminals that lay in torture among clouds of sulphur and torrents of fire. The first of these were such as had been guilty of impieties, which every one hath an
subject, which no man should treat with levity, or so much as think of but with awe, it is not easy to conceive. It is very unhappy when men of parts are content to purchase the fame of ingenuity, at the expense of decency and common sense; and it is still more to be lamented, that men of religion should be, sometimes, indiscreet enough, to give in to those freedoms of men, who have none.
horror for to which is added, a catalogue of such offenders that scarce appear to be faulty in the eyes of the vulgar. Among these," says the author, are malicious critics, that have endeavoured to cast a blemish upon the perfections of others;" with whom he likewise places such as have often hurt the reputation of the innocent, by passing a rash judgment on their actions without knowing the occasion of them. "These crimes (says he) are more severely punished after death, because they generally meet with impunity upon earth."
Telemachus, after having taken a survey of several other wretches in the same circumstances, arrives at that region of torments in which wicked kings are punished. There are very fine strokes of imagination in the description which he gives of this unhappy multitude. He tells us, that on one side of them there stood a revengeful fury, thundering in their ears incessant repetitions of all the crimes they had committed upon earth, with the aggravations of ambition, vanity, hardness of heart, and all those secret affections of mind that enter into the composition of a tyrant. At the same time, she holds up to them a large mirror, in which every one sees himself represented in the natural horror and deformity of his character. On the other side of them stands another fury, that, with an insulting derision, repeats to them all the praises that their flatterers had bestowed upon them while they sat upon their respective thrones. She too, says the author, presents a mirror before their eyes, in which every one sees himself adorned with all those beauties and perfections in which they had been drawn by the vanity of their own hearts and the flattery of others. To punish them for the wantonness of the cruelty which they formerly exercised, they are now delivered up to be treated according to the fancy and caprice of several slaves, who have here an opportunity of tyrannizing in their turns.
The author having given us a description of these ghastly spectres, who, says he, are always calling upon death, and are placed under the distillation of that burning vengeance which falls upon them drop by drop, and is never to be exhausted, leads us into a pleasing scene of groves, filled with the melody of birds, and the odours of a thousand different plants. These groves are represented as rising among a great many flowery meadows, and watered with streams that
diffuse a perpetual freshness in the midst of an eternal day and a never-fading spring. This, says the author, was the habitation of those good princes who were friends of the gods, and parents of the people. Among these, Telemachus converses with the shade of one of his ancestors, who makes a most agreeable relation of the joys of Elysium, and the nature of its inhabitants. The residence of Sesostris among these happy shades, with his character and present employment, is drawn in a very lively manner, and with a great elevation of thought.
The description of that pure and gentle light which overflows these happy regions, and clothes the spirits of these virtuous persons, hath something in it of that enthusiasm which this author was accused of by his enemies in the Church of Rome; but however it may look in religion, it makes a very beautiful figure in poetry.
The rays of the sun (says he) are darkness in comparison with this light, which rather deserves the name of glory than that of light. It pierces the thickest bodies, in the same manner as the sun-beams pass through crystal; it strengthens the sight instead of dazzling it; and nourishes in the most inward recesses of the mind, a perpetual serenity that is not to be expressed. It enters and incorporates itself with the very substance of the soul: the spirits of the blessed feel it in all their senses, and in all their perceptions. It produces a certain source of peace and joy that arises in them for ever, running through all the faculties, and refreshing all the desires of the soul. External pleasures and delights, with all their charms and allurements, are regarded with the utmost indifference and neglect by these happy spirits, who have this great principle of pleasure within them, drawing the whole mind to itself, calling off their attention from the most delightful objects, and giving them all the transports of inebriation, without the confusion and the folly of it."
I have here only mentioned some master-touches of this admirable piece, because the original itself is understood by the greater part of my readers. I must confess, I take a particular delight in these prospects of futurity, whether grounded upon the probable suggestions of a fine imagination, or the more severe conclusions of philosophy; as a man loves to hear all the discoveries or conjectures relating to a foreign country which he is, at some time, to inhabit. Prospects of
this nature lighten the burden of any present evil, and refresh us under the worst and lowest circumstances of mortality. They extinguish in us both the fear and envy of human grandeur. Insolence shrinks its head, power disappears; pain, poverty, and death fly before them. In short, the mind that is habituated to the lively sense of an hereafter, can hope for what is the most terrifying to the generality of mankind, and rejoice in what is the most afflicting.
No. 158. THURSDAY, APRIL 13, 1710.
Faciunt næ intelligendo, ut nihil intelligant. TER.
Toм Folio is a broker in learning, employed to get together good editions, and stock the libraries of great men. There is not a sale of books begins till Tom Folio is seen at the door. There is not an auction where his name is not heard, and that too in the very nick of time, in the critical moment, before the last decisive stroke of the hammer. There is not a subscription goes forward, in which Tom is not privy to the first rough draught of the proposals; nor a catalogue printed, that doth not come to him wet from the press. He is an universal scholar, so far as the title-page of all authors, knows the manuscripts in which they were discovered, the editions through which they have passed, with the praises or censures which they have received from the several members of the learned world. He has a greater esteem for Aldus and Elzevir, than for Virgil and Horace. If you talk of Herodotus, he breaks out into a panegyric upon Harry Stephens. He thinks he gives you an account of an author, when he tells the subject he treats of, the name of the editor, and the year in which it was printed. Or if you draw him into further particulars, he cries up the goodness of the paper, extols the diligence of the corrector, and is transported with the beauty of the letter. This he looks
1 So far as the title-page of all authors.] Elliptically expressed.-He should have said:" so far as the title-page of all authors can make him so."-Or, I would have put it thus:-"He is deeply read in the titlepages of all authors."