Изображения страниц


Otho was advancing against him: “Age- style of letters should not be too highly “ batur huc illuc Galba, vario turbæ fiuc. polished. It ought to be neat and correct, “ tantis impulsu, completis undique ba- but no more. All nicety about words, be“ silicis et templis lugubri prospectu. trays study; and hence musical periods, “ Neque populi aut plebis ulla vox; sed and appearances of number and harmony “ attoniti vultus, et conversæ ad omnia in arrangement, should be carefully avoided

Non tumultus, non quies; sed in letters. The best letters are commonly “ quale magni metus, et magnæ iræ, si- such as the authors have written with most “ lentium est*.” No image in any poet facility. What the heart or the imaginais more strong and expressive than this last tion dictates, always flows readily; but stroke of the description : "Non tumultus, where there is no subject to warm or in“ non quies, sed quale,” &c. This is a terest these, constraint appears; and hence conception of the sublime kind, and dis- those letters of mere compliment, concovers high genius. Indeed, thronghout all gratulation, or affected condolence, which his works, Tacitus shews the band of a mag. have cost the authors most labour in comter. As he is profound in reflection, so he posing, and which, for that reason, they is striking in description, and pathetic in perhaps consider as their master-pieces, sentiment. The philosopher, the poet, and never fail of being the most disagreeable the historian, all meet in him. Though and insipid to the readers. Ibid. the period of which he writes may be reckoned unfortunate for an historian, he

§ 124. Ease in writing Letters must not has made it afford us many interesting ex

degenerate to carelessness. hibitions of human nature. The rela- It ought, at the same time, to be rememtions which he gives of the deaths of se- bered, that the ease and simplicity which veral eminent personages, are as affecting I have recommended in epistolary correas the deepest tragedies. He paints with a spondence, are not to be understood as glowing pencil; and possesses beyond all importing entire carelessness. In writing writers, the talent of painting, not to the to the most intimate friend, a certain deimagination merely, but to the heart. gree of attention, both to the subject and With many of the most distinguished the style, is requisite and becoming. It beauties, he is, at the same time, not a is no more than what we owe both to perfect model for history; and such as ourselves, and to the friend with whom have formed themselves upon him, have we correspond. A slovenly and negliseldom been successful. He is to be ad- gent manner of writing, is a disobliging mired, rather thau imitated. In bis re- mark of want of respect. The liberty, flections he is too refined ; in his style too besides, of writing letters with too careconcise, sometimes quaint and affected, less a hand, is apt to betray persons into often abrupt and obscure. History seems imprudence in what they write. The to require a more natural, flowing, and first requisite, both in conversation and popular manner.

Blair. correspondence, is to attend to all the

proper decorums which our own charac$ 123. On the Beauty of Epistolary

ter, and that of others deinand. An im. Writings.

prudent expression in conversation may Its first and fundamental requisite is, to be forgotten and pass away; but when be natural and simple; for a stiff and la- we take the pen into our hand, we must boured manner is as bad in a letter as it remember, that “ Litera scripta manet.” is in conversation. This does not banish

Ibid. sprightliness and wit. These are graceful

§ 125. On Pliny's Letters. in letters, just as they are in conversation: when they flow easily, and without being Pliny's Letters are one of the most celestudied; when employed so as to season, brated collections which the ancients have not to cloy. One who, either in conver- given us, in the epistolary way. They sation or in letters, affects to shine and to are elegant and polite ; and exhibit a very sparkle always, will not please long. The pleasing and amiable view of the author.

* “ Gaiba was driven to and fro by the tide of the multitude, shoving him from place to place. " The temples and public buildings were filled with crowds, of a dismal appearance. No clamours “ were heard, ei her froin the citizens, or from the rabble. Their countenances were filled with “ consternation ; their ears were employed in listening with anxiety. It was not a tumult; it was " not quietness; it was the silence of terror, and of wrath.”




But, according to the vulgar phrase, they published in Mr. Pope's works, and partly smell too much of the lamp. They are in those of Dean Swift. This collection tov elegant and fine; and it is not easy to is, on the whole, an entertaining and agreeavoid thinking, that the author is casting able one; and contains much wit and inan eye towards the Public, when he is ap- genuity. It is not, however, altogether pearing to write only for his friends. No- free of the fault which I imputed to Pliny's thing indeed is more difficult, than for an Epistles, of too much study and refinement. author, who publishes his own letters, to In the variety of letters from different perdivest himself altogether of attention to the sons, contained in that collection, we find opinion of the world in what he says; by many that are written with ease, and a which means, he becomes much less agree- beautiful simplicity. Those of Dr. Arable than a man of parts would be, if, with- buthnot, in particular, always deserve that out any constraint of this sort, he were wri- praise. Dean Swift's also are unaffected; ting to his intimate friend. Blair. and as a proof of their being so, they ex

hibit his character fully, with all its defects; § 126. On Cicero's Letters.

though it were to be wished, for the honour Cicero's Epistles, though not so showy of his memory, that his epistolary correas those of Pliny, are, on several accounts

, spondence had not been drained to the a far more valuable collection; indeed, the dregs, by so many successive publications, most valuable collection of letters extant

as have been given to the world. Several in any language. They are letters of real of Lord Bolingbroke's, and of Bishop Atbusiness, written to the wisest men of the terbury's Letters, are masterly. The cenage, composed with purity and elegance, sure of writing letters in too artificial a but without the least affectation; and, what manner, falls heaviest on Mr. Pope himself. adds greatly to their merit, written without There is visibly more study and less of naany intention of being published to the ture and the heart in his letters, than in world. For it appears that Cicero never those of some of his correspondents. He kept copies of his own letters; and we are had formed himself on the manner of Voiwholly indebted to the care of bis freed- ture, and is too fond of writing like a wit. man Tyro, for the large collection that was His letters to ladies are full of affectation. made after his death, of those which are Even in writing to his friends, how forced now extant, amounting to near a thou- an introduction is the following, of a letter sand*. They contain the most authentic to Mr. Addison: “I am more joyed at materials of the history of that age;


your return, than I should be at that of are the last monuments which remain of “ the Sun, as much as I wish for him in Rome in its free state; the greatest part of “this melancholy wet season ; but it is his them being written during that important “fate too, like yours, to be displeasing to crisis, when the republic was on the point “ owls and obscene animals, who cannot of ruin; the most interesting situation, per- “bear his lustre." How stiff a compli

“ haps, which is to be found in the affairs of ment is it, which he pays to Bishop At. mankind. To his intimate friends, espe- terbury: « Though the noise and daily cially to Atticus, Cicero lays open himself “bustle for the public be now over, I dare and his heart with entire freedom. In

say, you are still tendering its welfare ; the course of his correspondence with as the Sun in winter, when seeming to others, we are introduced into acquaintance “retire from the world, is preparing with several of the principal personages of “ warmth and benedictions for a better Rome ; and it is remarkable that most of “ season.” This sentence might be toleCicero's correspondents, as well as himself, rated in an harangue; but is very unsuitare elegant and polite writers; which able to the style of one friend correspondserves to heighten our idea of the taste ing with another.

Ibid. and manners of that age.


§ 128. On the Letters of Balzac, Vor§ 127. On Pope's and Swift's Letters.

TURE, Sevigne; and Lady MARY The most distinguished collection of let.

WORTLEY MONTAGUE, ters in the English language, is that of Mr. The gaiety and vivacity of the French Pope, Dean Swift, and their friends; partly genius appear to much advantage in their

* See his letter to Atticus, which was written a year or two before his death, in which he tells bim, in answer to some enquiries concerning his epistles, that he had no collection of them, and that Tyro had only about seventy of them. -Ad Atr. 16. 5.

[ocr errors]


letters, and have given birth to several them, that, notwithstanding the beauty of agreeable publications. In the last age, his expression, our pleasure in reading him Balzac and Voiture were the two most is much diminished. One would iinacelebrated epistolary writers. Balzac's re- gine, that many of his modern imitators putation indeed soon declined, on account thought the best way to catch his spirit, of his swelling periods and pompous style. was to imitate his disorder and obscurity. But Voiture continued long a favourite au- In several of the choruses of Euripides and thor. His composition is extremely spark- Sophocles, we liave the same kind of lyric ling; he shews a great deal of wit, and poetry as in Pindar, carried on with more can trifle in the most entertaining manner. clearness and connection, and at the same His only fault is, that he is too open and

time with much sublimity. Ibid. professed a wit, to be thoroughly agreeable as a letter-writer. The letters of Madame $ 130. On HORACE, as a Lyric Poel. de Sevignè are now esteemed the most accomplished model of a familiar corre

Of all the writers of odes, ancient or spondence. They turn indeed very much modern, there is none that, in point of upon trifles, the incidents of the day, and correctness, harmony, and happy expresthe news of the town; and they are over

sion, can vie with Horace. He has deloaded with extravagant compliments, and scended from the Pindaric rapture to a expressions of fondness, to her favourite more moderate degree of elevation; and daughter ; but withal, they shew such joins connected thought, and good sense, perpetual sprightliness, they contain such with the highest beauties of poetry. He easy and varied narration, and so many

does not often aspire beyond that middle strokes of the most lively and beautiful region, which I mentioned as belonging painting, and perfectly free from affecta- to the ode; and those odes, in which he tion, that they are justly entitled to high attempts the sublime, are perhaps not alpraise. The letters of Lady Mary Wort- ways his best*. The peculiar character, ley Montague are not unworthy of being in which he excels, is grace and elegance; named after those of Mad. de Sevigné. and in this style of comopsition, no poet They have much of the French ease and has ever attained to a greater perfection vivacity, and retain more the character of than Horace. No poet supports a moral agreeable epistolary style, than perhaps sentiment with more dignity, touches a any letters which have appeared in the gay one more happily, or possesses the art English language.


of trifling more agreeably, when he chooses

to trifle. His language is so fortunate, that § 129. Lyric Poetry. On Pindar.

with a single word or epithet, he often

conveys a whole description to the fancy. Pindar, the great father of lyric poetry, Hence he has ever been, and ever will conhas been the occasion of leading his imita- tinue to be, a favourite author with all tors into some defects. His genius was persons

of taste.

Ibid. sublime; his expressions are beautiful and

$ 131. On CASIMIR, and other modern happy; his descriptions picturesque. But finding it a very barren subject to sing the

Lyric Poets. praises of those who had gained the prize

Among the Latin poets of later ages, in the public games, he is perpetually di- there have been many imitators of Horace. gressive, and fills up his poems with fables One of the most distinguished is Casimir, of the gods and heroes, that have little a Polish poet of the last century, who connection either with his subject, or with wrote four books of odes. In graceful one another. The ancients admired him ease of expression, he is far inferior to the greatly; but as many of the histories of Roman. He oftener affects the sublime; particular families and cities, to which he and in the attempt, like other lyric writers, alludes, are not unknown to us, he is so frequently becomes harsh and uunatural. obscure, partly from his subjects, and parly But, on several occasions, he discovers a from his rapid, abrupt manner of treating considerable degree of original genius, and

* There is no ode whatever of Horace's, without great beeuties. But though I may be singular in my opinion, I cannot help thinking that in some of those odes which have been much admired for sublimity (such as Ode iv. Lib. iv. “Qualem ministrum fulminis alitem, &c.") there appears somewhat of a strained and forced effort to be losty. The genius of this amiable poet shews itself according to my judgment, to grcater advantage, in themes of a more temperate kind.

poetical fire. Buchanan, in some of his through a thick cloud of ignorance; and lyric compositions, is very elegant and they had to contend with the rude taste classical,

of their age before their writings could Among the French, the odes of Jean gain attention. Under every difficulty, Baptiste Rousseau have been much and they arrived, by the extraordinary efforts justly celebrated. They possess great of emulation and genius, at a degree of beauty, both of sentiment and expression. excellence which greatly resembled that

They are animated, without being rhapso- of the models selected by them for imitadical; and are not inferior to any poetical tion. productions in the French language.

The Greek verses which he wrote at a In our own language, we have several very early age are highly commended. lyric compositions of considerable merit. He prefixed the age at which he wrote Dryden's Ode on St. Cecilia, is well them. Scaliger says he need not have known. Mr. Gray is distinguished in done this; for they are so excellent, that some of his odes, both for tenderness and even his latin verses, which he wrote sublimity; and in Dodsley's Miscellanies, when a man, are by no means equal to several very beautiful lyric poems are to his juvenile compositions in the Greek be found. As to professed Pindaric odes, language. they are, with a few exceptions, so inco- The Letters of Politian are indisputaherent, as seldom to be intelligible. Cow- bly elegant; but they are not without ley, at all times harsh, is doubly so in his their faults. The style is sometimes too Pindaric compositions. In his Anacreon- elevated and oratorical. For the sake of tic odes, he is much happier. They are introducing a favourite phrase, he often smooth and elegant; and, indeed, the most goes too far out of his way, and overburagreeable and the most perfect, in their thens the sense and the expression by a kind, of all Mr. Cowley's poems. Blair. redundancy of words. $ 132. On Politian and MURETUS, two have read him with great pleasure. There

With all his faults, I must confess I elegant Writers of modern Latin. [In is a charm in true genius which compena Letler in answer to Inquiries concerning their Characters.]

sates defects, and often conceals them.

Politian's real name was Bassus. The One of the brightest luminaries which adoption of namen entirely new, was, at shone forth at the revival of learning was one time, not uncommon. Thus the Politian. A slight knowledge of the Greek real name of Erasmus was Gerard. There was in his age a great and rare attainment.

was, perhaps, some degree of blameable He not only

understood the language so ostentation in assuming the appellations as to read it, but to compose in it. As a of Desiderius and Erasmus, both of which, grammarian, as an orator, as a poet, he according to their respective etymology, has been an object of general admiration. signify the amiable or the desirable. PoGenius he undoubtedly possessed in a litian's adopted name

was also chosen degree superior to the laborious scholars with a view to convey a favourable idea of his times; but his poetry is, notwith- of his character. It is not improbable standing, greatly defective. In fire he that it was thought to express, what, inabounds; but he is wanting in judgment deed, its derivation may intimate, a polished and in art. There are inany fine lines in taste and understanding. his Rusticus; and the diction is through- It is remarkable of Muretus, another out remarkably splendid, though not al- elegant Latinist of Modern ages, that he ways purely classical. The Latin poets acquired a persect knowledge of the Greek of this period were not, indeed, so careful of the classical purity of their style as which he wrote most elegantly, without

and Latin languages, in the latter of of harmony and brilliancy. Several of an instructor. the poems of Politian are florid to excess,

He composed various critical and poeand far beyond that boundary which Au. tical works; but his orations have always gustan taste so finely delineates.

been celebrated as his best productions. When we consider the state of litera- They are, indeed, formed on the pattern ture at this early season, we must allow of Cicero; they are written in a rapid and that great applause which has been paid flowing style, and are not destitute of to such writers as Politian justly due. judicious observations. But, with respect They were under the necessity of breaking to his diction, it must be said of him, that

[ocr errors]

he is less careful in the selection than in impropriety in representing the painter as the disposition of words. This defect praising himself in the highest style of arose from a blameable precipitation, of commendation. which authors have sometimes been vain. The verses entitled Tibur are pleasing.

We are told that Muretus never tran. The prologue to Terence's Phorinio is scribed any of his writings; that he easy and elegant. The Institutio Puescarcely ever read his productions twice; rilis was intended to be no more than that he seldom made a change of inter- useful. The whole collection will furnish polation, and still less frequently a blot. entertainment to him who bas formed a This may account for his faults, but it taste for modern as well as ancient Latin cannot excuse them. It is an insult on poetry. Catullus and Tibullus were evimankind to present them with a work less dently his patterns; but Rapin thinks, perfect than the author might have ren- that hy an excessive affectation of fine dered it. Haste and carelessness have latinity, his odes are rendered stiff and often been avowed by writers who wished unnatural. to exalt the general opinion of their abi- It is true that there are many succeedlities; but they have usually, and as they ing writers who have excelled Muretus deserved, lost that lasting and undiminish- both in verse and prose ; but bis real exed reputation which they might have en- cellencies, and the great reputation be bas joyed. While an author lives, prejudice possessed, will justly render him an object and party may support his fame; but when of attention to him who, from his love of he is dead, these soon subside, and his letters, becomes interested in the works real merit alone can preserve him from of all who have contributed to advance oblivion. Muretus has been justly and their progress.

Knox's Essays. severely censured for having bestowed praises on the execrable massacre at Paris § 133. On Philelphus and Theodore on St. Bartholomew's day.

Gaza, polile Scholars of the Fifteenth He imitates Cicero; but, like a servile

Century. imitator, he imitates that which was least Though the admirer of elegant letters beautiful in his model. The very diffuse will find his sweetest, inost solid, and style of the Roman is still more diffuse in most constant pleasures of the learned the orations of Muretus. The Asiatic kind, in the writings of the Augustan age; manner, even in its best state, is not agree- yet he will often feel his curiosity powerable to a correct taste. It prevented the fully excited, and amply rewarded, by works of the greatest orator whom the those among the revivers of learning who world ever saw from being universally are distinguished by the politeness of their admired; and, when it is presented to literary accomplishments

. I was lately the reader with aggravated deformity, it amusing myself in this pleasant walk of can scarcely be rendered tolerable by any classical literature, when I accidentally concomitant beauties.

met with the Epistles of Philelphus. The Epistles of Muretus, though often Though they were not without a few exelegant, are improperly written in the pressions which mark the barbarism of oratorical rather than in the epistolary his times, they possess a considerable style. He seems to have studied and ad- share of elegance, and partake much of mired the Orations of Cicero more than the graces which shine so agreeably in the his Epistles.

epistles of Pliny and Cicero. Muretus has been greatly commended Philelphus was born at Tolentino, in for his poetry. Scævola Sammarthanus Italy, in ihe year 1398; a very early pesays of him, that Catullus is not more like riod for so uncommon an instance of himself than he to Catullus. I have not proficiency. He died at Florence in 1480, been able to discover any peculiar grace, after having filled a long life with the either of sentiment or style, in the few most laborious application. Let it be liule poems which remain on sacred sub- remembered, that printing was unknown jects. But there are several on other oc- at that time, and that not only the books carions which are very pleasing, and far which were composed, but which were surpass, in classical purity and in senti- also read, were often painfully transcribed ment, most of the Latin compositions of by the student. the age of Muretus. In the very pretty Philelphus was no inconsiderable poet, epitaph on Raphael there is a manifest and was crowned with laurel, according

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »