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He is always surpassed by Cæsar. Cato is Lucan's favourite character; and whenever he introduces him, he rises above himself.
In managing his story, Lucan confines himself too much to chronological order. This breaks the thread of his narration, and hurries him from place to place. He is also too digressive ; frequently quitting his subject to give us some geographical description, or philosophical disquisition.
There are several poetical and spirited descriptions in the Pharsalia ; but the strength of this poet does not lie either in narration or description. His narration is often dry and harsh ; his descriptions are often overwrought, and employed on disagreeable objects. His chief merit consists in his sentiments, which are hoble, striking, glowing, and ardent. He is the most philosophical, and the most patriotic poet of antiquity. He was a stoic; and the spirit of that philosophy breathes through his poem. He is elevated and bold; and abounds in well timed exclamations and apostrophes.
As his vivacity and fire are great, he is apt to be care ried away by them. His great defect is want of moderation. He knows not where to stop. When he would aggrandize his objects, he becomes tumid and unoatural. There is much bombast in his poem. His taste is marked with the corruption of his age ; and instead of poetry, he often exhibits declamation.
On the whole, however, he is an author of lively and original genius. His high sentiments and his fire serve to alone for many of his defects. His genius had strength, but no tenderness nor amenity. Compared with Virgil, he has more fire and sublimer sentiments; but in every thing else falls infinitely below him, particularly in purity, elegance and tenderness.
Statius and Sillis Italicus, though poets of the epic class, are too inconsiderable for particular criticism.
JERUSALEM Delivered is a strictly regular epic poem, and abounds with beauties. The subject is the recovery of Jerusalem from Infidels by the united powers of Christendom. The enterprise was splendid, venerable, and heroic ; and an interesting contrast is exhibited between the Christians and Saracens. Religion renders the subject august, and opens a natural field for machinery and sublime description. The action, too, lies in a country, and in a period of time, sufficiently remote to admit an intermixture of fable with history.
Rich invention is a capital quality in Tasso. He is full of events finely diversified. He never fatigues his reader by mere war and fighting. He frequently shifts the scene; and from camps and battles transports us to more pleasing objects ; sometimes the solemnities of religion ; sometimes the intrigues of love ; at other times the adventures of a journey, or the incidents of pastoral life, relieve and entertain the reader. The work at the same time is artfully connected ; and in the midst of variety, there is perfect unity of plan.
Many characters enliven the poem ; and these distinctly marked and well supported. Godfrey, the leader of the enterprise, is prudent, moderate and brave : Tancred amorous, generous and gallant. Rinaldo, who is properly the hero of the poem, is passionate and resentful; but full of zeal, honour, and heroism. Solyman is high minded ; Erminia tender; Armida artful and violent; and Clorinda masculine.
In drawing characters, Tasso is superior to Virgil, and yields to no poet but Homer.
He abounds in machinery. When celestial beings interpose, his machinery is noble. But devils, enchanters, and conjurers, act too great a part throughout his poem. In general, the marvellous is carried to extrapagance. The
et was too at an admirer of the romantic spirit of knight errantry.
In describing magnificent objects, his style is firm and majestic In gay and pleasing description, it is soft and insinuating. Erminia's pastoral retreat in the seventh book, and the arts and beauty of Armida in the fourth book, are exquisitely beautiful. His battles are animated, and properly varied by incidents. It is rather by actions, characters, and descriptions, that he interests us, than by the sentimental part of his work. He is far inferior to Virgil in tenderness; and, when he aims at being sentimental and pathetic, he is apt to become artificial.
It has often been objected to Tasso, that he abounds in point and conceit ; but this censure has been carried too far. For, in his general character, he is masculine and strong. The humour for decrying him passed from the French critics to those of England. But their strictures are founded either in ignorance or prejudice. For the Jerusalem is, in my opinion,' the third regular epic poem in the world ; and stands next to the Iliad and Æneid. In simplicity and fire, Tasso is inferior to Homer; in tenderness to Virgil; in sublimity to Milton ; but for fertility of invention, variety of incidents, expression of characters, richness of description, and beauty of style, no poet, except the three just named, can be compared to him.
THE LUSIAD OF CAMOENS.
The Portuguese boast of Camoens, as the Italians do of Tasso. The discovery of the East Indies by Vasco de Gama, an enterprise alike, splendid and interesting, is the subject of the poem of Camoens. The adventures, distresses, and actions of Vasco and his countrymen, are well fancied and described ; and the Lusiad is conducted on the epic plan. The incidents of the poem are magnificent; and, joined with some wildness and irregularity, there is displayed in it much poetic spirit, strong fancy, and bold description. In the
poem, however, there is no attempt toward painting characters. Vasco is the hero, and the only personage that makes any figure.
The machinery of the Lusiad is perfectly extravagant ; being formed of an odd mixture of Christian ideas and Pagan mythology. Pagan divinities appear to be the deities ; and Christ and the Holy Virgin to be inferior agents. One great object, however, of the Portuguese expedition is to extend the empire of Christianity, and to extirpate Mahometanism. In this religious undertaking the chief protector of the Portu. guese is Venus, and their great adversary is Bacchus. Jupiter is introduced as foretelling the downfal of Mahomet. Vasco during a storm implores the aid of Christ and the Virgin ; and in return to this prayer Venus appears, and discovering the storm to be the work of Bacchus, complains to Jupiter, and procures the winds to be calmed. All this is most preposterous; but toward the end of his work, the poet offers an awkward apology for his mythology ; making the goddess "Thetis inform Vasco that she and the other heathen divinities are no more than names to describe the ope. rations of Providence.
In the Lusiad, however, there is some fine machinery of a different kind. The appearance of the genius of the river Ganges in a dream to Emanuel, king of Portugal, inviting him to discover his secret springs, and acquainting him that he was the monarch destined to enjoy the treasures of the East, is a happy idea. But io the fifth canto the poet displays his noblest conception of this sort, where Vasco recounts to the king of Melinda, all the wonders of his voyage. He tells him that when the fleet arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, which had never been doubled before by any navigator, there appeared to them suddenly a huge phantom, ris. ing out of the sea in the midst of tempests and thunder, with a head that reached the clouds, and a countenance that filled them with terror. This was the genius of that hitherto unknown ocean ; and he menaced them in a voice of thunder for invading those unknown
seas ; foretelling the calamities that were to befal thera, if they should proceed ; and then with a mighty noise disappeared. This is a very solemn and striking piece of machinery; and shows that Camoens was a poet of a bold and lofty imagination.
THL TELEMACHUS OF FENELON,
It would be unpardonable in a review of epic pocts to forget the amiable Fenelon. His work, though in prose, is a poem ; and the plan in general is well con. trived, having epic grandeur and unity of action. He employs the ancient mythology; and excels in application of it. There is great richness as well as beauty in his descriptions. To soft and calm scenes, his gen. ius is more peculiarly suited ; such as the incidens of pastoral life, the pleasures of virtue, or a country Hour. ishing in peace.
His first books are eminently excellent. The adventures of Calypso are the chief beauty of his work. Vivacity and interest join in the narration. In the books which follow, there is less happiness in the execution, and an apparent languor. The author in warlike adventures is most unfortunate.
Some critics have refused to rank this work among epic poems. Their objection arises from the minute details it exhibits of virtuous policy, and from the discourses of Mentor, which recur too frequently, and 100 much in the strain of common place morality. To these peculiarities, however, the author was led by the design with which he wrote, that of forming a young prince to the cares and duties of a virtuous monarch.
Several epic poets have described a descent into hell; and in the prospects they have given us of the invisible world, we may observe the gradual refinement in the opinions of men concerning a future state of rewards and punishments. Homer's descent of Ulysses into hell is indistinct and dreary. The scene is in the