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and so honourable to himself, by bearing and spectator, who forms his opinion from
, the chief offices in the Roman government, the feelings of his nature. Never was and sharing in the important councils and there a tale more affecting than that of debates of the senate.
Edipus, and never was any tale told more Cæsar had a prodigious wit, and uni- pathetically than this is by Sophocles. versal learning; was noble by birth, a con- Many a tear has it excited among the summate statesman, a brave and wise gene. Athenians, whose hearts were ever finely ral, anda most heroic prince. His prudence susceptible of the sentiments of humanity: and modesty in speaking of himself, the but the best translation of it would not truth and clearness of his descriptions, the equally please in a modern theatre. inimitable purity and perspicuity of his Many other causes of its failure may be style, distinguish him with advantage from assigned, besides that simplicity, artlessall other writers. None bears a nearer re- ness, and incomplexity of fable, which the semblance to him in more instances than the taste of the moderns is too much vitiated admirable Xenophon. What useful and to relish. entertaining accounts might reasonably be In the first place, it must be considered, expected from such a writer, who gives you that every original composition must lose the geography and history of those coun- something of its beauty from the best tries and nations, which he himself conquer- translation. It is a common remark, that ed, and the description of those militaryen- the spirit of an author, like that of some gines, bridges, and encampments, which essences, evaporates by transfusion. Fohe himself contrived and marked out. reign manners, and foreign customs, are
The best authors in the reign of Au- seldom understood by a common audience, gustus, as Horace, Virgil, Tibullus, Pro- and as seldom approved. The majority pertius, &c. enjoyed happy times, and plen- of an English audience are unacquainted tiful circumstances. That was the golden with ancient learning, and can take age of learning. They flourished under no pleasure in the representation of men the favours and bounty of the richest and and things which have not fallen under most generous court in the world; and the their notice. Add to this, that they love beams of majesty shone bright and propi- to see tragedies formed on their own histotious on them.
ries, or on histories in which they are in What could be too great to expect from some measure nearly interested. When such poets as Horace and Virgil, beloved Shakspeare's historical dramas are reand munificently encouraged by such pa- presented, they feel as Englishmen in trons as Mæcenas and Augustus ? every event; they take part with their
A chief reason why Tacitus writes with Edwards and Heories, as friends and such skill and authority, that he makes such fellow-countrymen; they glory in their deep searches into the nature of things, successes, and sympathize with their misand designs of men, that he so exquisitely fortunes. To a similar circumstance may understands the secrets and intrigues of be attributed part of the applause which courts, was, that he himself was admitted the Athenians bestowed on this 'tragedy into the highest places of trust, and em- of Sophocles; for (Edipus was king of a ployed in the most public and important neighbouring country, with which the affairs. The statesman brightens the Athenians were always intimately conscholar, and the consul improves and ele- nected either in war or peace. vates the historian.
Blackwall. These considerations should teach us to $ 153. Thoughts on the Edipus Tyran- in the closet, without attempting to obtrude
content ourselves with admiring Sophocles nus of Sophocles, and several circum- him on the stage, which must always acstances respecting the Grecian Drama.
commodate itself to the taste of the times, Of the three Greek dramatic poets, So- whether unreasonable or just, consistent phocles is the most celebrated; and of the or capricious. productions of Sophocles, the Edipus In truth, the warmest admirer of anTyrannus is the most excellent. It has cient Greek poetry must acknowledge a stood the test of the severest criticism. The barrenness of invention in the choice of unities of time, place, and action are in- subjects. The Trojan war, and the misviolably preserved in it: and while it sa- fortunes of the Theban king, are almost tisfies the critic who judges by the laws of the only sources from which those great Aristotle, it pleases the common reader masters of composition, Homer, Æschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles, have derived connected with him to excite his sympathy their subject-matter. They have, indeed, in a violent degree ; but all these feelings embellished these little parts of bistory in a Grecian audience, occasioned by a with all the fire of imagination and melo- Grecian sufferer, account for that uncomdy of poetry; but is it not strange, that in mon delight which they took in their draa country like Greece, where the restless matic representations, and for their freedom spirit of military virtue was continually from that satiety which might otherwise forming noble designs, and achieving have been occasioned by the reiteration of glorious exploits, the poets could disco- a simple tale. After all, I think, if pedantry
I ver no illustrious deed worthy of being is to be imputed to the admirers of Grecian painted in never-fading colours, but the literature, it is when they prefer the draworn-out stories of a wooden horse, and a matic compositions of Greece to those of sphinx's riddle? It is difficult for an age England; and I must reluctantly confess, like the present, which hungers and thirsts that the minute students of Greek quantity after novelty, to conceive that an audience in the Greek tragedians, who assume great could sit with patience during the recital merit in their frivolous studies and discoof a story which all must have heard a veries, are both puerile and pedantic. thongand times; especially as it was un- An English audience has lately shown adorned with the meretricious artifices of itself not so averse from the ancient traplayers, with the tricks of the stage, with gedy as was expected, by its favourable thunder and lightning, hail and rain, toll- reception of Elfrida and Caractacus, writing bells, and tinsel garments.
ten on the Grecian model : but, perhaps, But the sameness of the story in the this event is not so much to be attributed Grecian poets became agreeable to the to the revival of the fine taste of an Attic audience, through that veneration which audience, as to the insatiable avidity of every record of ancient history demands; something new. The English are as fond and it was a kind of poetical fashion to of the kaivov oi, in literature, as the Atheselect the stories from the Trojan war. nians were in politics: but whether caThat the tale on which a dramatic poem price or reason, whether taste or fashion, is founded should not be of modern date, gave them a favourable reception on the has, I think, been laid down as a rule. English stage, it is certain that Elfrida Nor is it the precept of an arbitrary critic, and Caractacus are elegant dramas, formed but is justified by nature and reason. Ima- on the ancient model, and may be read gination always exceeds reality. The with great advantage by those wbo wish vulgar could never prevail upon themselves to entertain a just idea of the Greek trato look on scenes, to the reality of which gedy without a knowledge of the lanthey have been eye-witnesses, with the guage. Yet what are they to Hamlet
' and same ardour as on those which they have Macbeth ?
Knox's Essays. received from their ancestors, and have painted with the strongest colours on their 154. Cursory and unconnected Remarks fancy. In obedience to this rule, the
on some of the Minor Greek Poets. Greek poets borrowed their subjects from The intrinsic
of the classic wriancient facts universally known, believed, ters have charmed every mind which was and admired; and the audience entered susceptible of the beauties of spirit, taste, the theatre to behold a lively represen- and elegance. Since the revival of learntation of the picture already formed in ing, innumerable critics have employed their own imagination.
themselves in displaying the beauties A modern reader has not a preparatory which they felt, or in removing the diffidisposition of mind necessary to receive culties and obstructions which retarded all that pleasure from these compositions their progress in the perusal of the anwhich transported an ancient Greek. He cients. At present, there is scarcely any does not glow with that patriotic ardour room for criticism on them; and the most which he would feel on reading glorious laborious commentator finds, with regret, deeds of a fellow.countryman, when Ho- his profoundest researches, and his mer represents a hero breaking the Trojan acutest remarks, anticipated by the lucuphalanx and encountering a Hector. He brations of former critics ; but as there does not consider an ancient Theban or is scarcely a eater difference between Athenian involved in the guilt of unde- the features of the face, than between the signed parricide or incest, nearly enough faculties of the mind in different men,
and as objects must strike various feel- often been the imitators of Sternhold and ings in various manners, the works of Hopkins, that venerable order of minstrels taste and genius may, on different reviews, and parish clerks. But Greek gives a furnish inexhaustible matter for critical charm to the poorest thoughts of the most observation. Upon this principle, authors puerile epigram. In plain English, the of the present age venture to add to the clerks and sextons of an English village labours of their predecessors, without often surpass the poetry of the Anthologiæ, fearing or incurring the imputation of in which Sternhold himself is often outvanity or impertinence.
sternholded, The present remarks shall be confined The golden verses of Pythagoras, though to some of the Greek Minor Poets, with- not remarkable for splendour of diction or out minutely attending to chronological, flowing versification, are yet highly beau. or any other order.
tiful in the concise and forcible mode of In the union of dignity with sweetness, inculcating morality, and virtues almost of melody with strength, the Greek is Christian. The earlier philosophers of better adapted to beautiful composition Greece conveyed their tenets in verse, not than any modern language. The Italian so much because they aspired to the chahas all its softness, but wants its force. racter of poets, as because precepts deThe French possesses elegance and ex, livered in metre were more easily retained pression, but is deficient in sound and in the memory of their disciples. Pythadignity. The English is strong, nervous, goras has comprised every necessary rule flowery, fit for animated oratory and for the conduct of life in this little
poem, enthusiastic poetry, but abounds with and he that commits it to memory will Saxon or Gothic monosyllables, ill adapted not want a guide to direct his behaviour to express the music of mellifluous ca
under any event: but though the morality dence. To compare the Dutch and the of these is their more valuable beauty, yet German with the language of Athens, are they by no means destitute of poetical were to compare the jarring noise of merit. grating iron with the soft warblings of
That generosity of soul which ever acihe flute. The other languages of Europe companies true genius, has induced the are equally unfit for harmonious modu- poets and philosophers of all ages to stand lation, and indeed cannot properly be forth in the cause of liberty. Alcæus, of examined in this place, as the people who whose merits from the monuments of anspeak them have not yet distinguished tiquity we may form the most exalted themselves by any writings truly classical. idea, first raised himself to eminence by The Greek Épigram naturally falls a poem entitled Stasiotica, in a violent
, first under our present consideration. Of invective against tyrants in general at these little compositions, which owe their Pittacus, at that time the tyrant of Athens. origin to Greece, none can be insensible It has not escaped the general wreck, and of the beauty, whose taste is not vitiated
we have only a few broken specimens of by the less delicate wit of the modern this celebrated writer's works preserved Epigrammatist. Indeed, to relish the sim- by the ancient grammarians. We must, ple graces of the Greek Epigram, the therefore, be content to learn his character taste must not be formed upon the model from the judicious Quinctilian, and the even of the celebrated Martial.
Among learned Dionysius of Halicarnassus: the the Latin poets, Catullus approaches former of whom asserts, that he was connearest to the Greeks in this species of cise, sublime, accurate, and in many recomposition.
spects resembled Homer: the latter, that The Anthologiæ, still extant, are writ- he had a grandeur, brevity, and sweetness ten by various authors, and there are equally blended throughout all his comscarcely sufficient epigrams of any one, positions. to discriminate his manner from that of Stesichorus, according to Quinctilian, others. Suffice it to remark, in general, was remarkable for strength of genius. that their beauty does not often consist in He gave to lyric poetry all the solemnity a point, or witty conceit, but in a sim- of the Epopea. Had he known how to plicity of thought, and a sweetness of lan- restrain the impetuosity of his genius, it guage. I suspect that
of them are is said he would have rivalled Homer: no better than our common church-yard but, unfortunately, the noble warmth of inscriptions, of which the authors have his temper urged him beyond the bounds
of just writing, and he seems to have He su bjoined the elegiac verse, and may failed of excellence by a redundancy of justly claim the honour of having introbeauties.
duced that species of poetry, which Ovid The fragments of Menander are suf- and the other Latin elegiac writers have ficiently excellent to induce every votary since advanced to a most pleasing species of learning to regret the loss of his works. of composition. I rather think nature inSome indeed have thought, that time never vented them. gave a greater blow to polite literature, Archilochus wrote iambics and elethan in the destruction of the Comedies of giacs; the former satirical; the latter, Menander ; but as Terence has preserved amorous. That he succeeded in his athis spirit and his style, perhaps the want tempts, we have sufficient reason to conof the original is compensated by the exact clude from the testimony of Horace. copyings of that elegant author. Quisc. There is not enough of him remaining, to tilian, from whose judgment there is enable us to form a judgement of the scarcely an appeal, has represented Me- impartiality of his decision, and we must nander as alone sufficient to form our be contented to acquiesce in his authority. taste and style. The few remains, pre- Lucian says, in one of his dialogues, served by Siobæus, whetber the beauty that the poets have given Jupiter many of of the sentiments or the purity of the dic- the most pompous epithets, merely for the tion be regarded, must be pronounced sake of a sonorous word to fill up a verse. uncommonly excellent. They are, how- The hymns of Orpheus abound with these ever, too generally known to require expletives; and the reader is often disillustration.
gusted with sounding verse almost desSimonides is characterised by Longinus titute of sense. If, bowever, they were as a poet remarkable for the pathetic. composed for music, they may pass unOf his writings very few have survived the censured by some: for it seems to have injuries of time. The little poem on
been generally and most absurdly agreed, Danaë is, however, sufficient to justify and it is observable at this day, that very the judgment of Longinus. Nothing little attention is to be paid to the words of can be more delicately tender, or more ex- Operas, Odes, and Songs, which are writquisitely pathetic. There is something ten merely for music. The poems of Orinexpressibly pleasing to the mind, in the pheus, if those which are extant are like representation of a mother addressing a all his productions, would certainly move sleeping infant unconscious of its danger, no stones. What has been said of the with all the endearing blandishments of hymns of this poet, may be extended to maternal fondoess.
many other Greek compositions of the The other remarkable poem of this au- same species. General censure, will, ther, which time has spared, is of a very however, seldom be just; and it must be different kind. It is a Satire on Women, confessed, that there are some among them, and is well known by a prosaic translation particularly those of Callimachus, truly of it inserted in the Essays of a celebrated sublime and beautiful. modern writer.
There was a species of poetry among Alcman of Laconia is another melan- the Athenians, which, in some measure, choly instance of the depredations which resembled many of our English ballads. the hand of time has made on the most At the approach of a war, or after a vicvaluable works of antiquity. Of this au- tory or defeat, the poets and statesmen thor, once celebrated throughout Greece, usually dispersed among the people some quoted by the learned and repeated by the short composition, which tended to anifair, scarcely the name is known in the mate them with courage, or to inspire them present age. Athenæus, Hephæstion, the with joy. Solon, the wise legislator of
, scholiast on Pindar, Eustathius, and Athens, was too well acquainted with the Plutarch, have vindicated him from ab,
power of poetry over the human heart, to solute oblivion, by preserving a few of neglect this efficacious method of enforcing his fragments. Love verses, which since his laws, and propagating his institutions
. his time have employed some of the great- among the lower ranks of the Athenians. est writers, and have been admired by the There are still extant some of his pieces, most sensible readers, say the critics, were which bear internal marks of having been of his invention. All who preceded him purposely written to give the people a had invariably written in Hexameter. passion for liberty, to inspire them with a
love of virtue, and to teach them obedience labours of the great Potter, he is still diffito the laws. They are, indeed, written in cult, and will probably continue to rethe elegiac measure, but have nothing of pose in dust and darkness, amidst the the soft amorous strain which distin- dull collections of antiquated museums. guishes the Ovidian elegy. They are If he were sacrificed to the genius of dulmanly, moral, and severe. By these, it ness, none need bewail the loss of Lyis a well-known fact, the Athenians were cophron. animated to resume a war which they had The poems of Bacchylides, however he dropt in despair; and, in consequence of is neglected by the moderns, were highly the ardour which these inspired, they ob- honoured by an ancient, who was esteema tained a complete victory over their ene- ed a complete judge of literary merit. mies. There are several in the English Hiero hesitated not to pronounce them language equally good as poems, and, superior to the odes of Pindar, which have as it is said, productive of similar effects. been generally celebrated as the utmost
Tyrtæus wrote in a similar style, but efforts of human genius. The opinion of entirely confined himself to martial sub- Hiero may, however, be questioned, with jects. So strongly is military valour, and an appearance of justice, when it is conthe love of liberty, enforced in his little sidered that his character, as a critic, was compositions, that it would by no means established by his courtiers, who, to gain be absurd to attribute the victories of the his favour, might not scruple to violate the Grecians over the Persians, as much to a truth. Tyrtæus, as to a Miltiades or Themis- The gay, the sprightly, the voluptuons tocles. The effects of such political bal. Anacreon is known to every reader. His lads have been frequently seen among the subjects and his manner of treating them English in time of war. Every one has have captivated all who are susceptible heard of Lillabullero.-Many a poor either of pleasure or of poetry. There is, fellow bas been tempted to quit the plough indeed, an exquisite tenderness, delicacy, and the loom for the sword, on hearing a and taste in the sentiments; but I have song in praise of Hawke or Wolfe roared always thought he derived no small share by his obstreperous companions. These of his beauty from the choice of expresverses are too deficient in point of ele- sions, and the peculiar harmony of his gance to admit of quotations, and the fre- verses. It has been objected to him by quent opportunities of hearing them from rigid moralists, that his writings tend to the mouths of the vulgar render repetition promote drunken ness and debauchery. in this place unnecessary. The bards of But this objection might in some degree Grub-street are commonly the authors of be extended to a great part of the finest our martial ballads; but at Athens they writers in the lyric and epigrammatic line, were written by poets, statesmen, and ancient and modern. A man of sense and philosophers. We may judge of the in- judgment will admire the beauties of a Auence of their productions, by the pow. composition, without suffering its sentierful effect of our rude and even nonsen- ments to influence his principles or bis sical rhymes. The more nonsensical the conduct. He will look upon the more more popular.
licentious sallies of Anacreontic writers Few ancient authors have been less as little jeur d'esprit, designed to please read than Lycophron. His obscurity not in the hour of convivial festivity, but only retards but disgusts the reader ; yet, not to regulate his thoughts and actions perhaps, his want of perspicuity, though in the serious concerns of life. Whatever bighly disagreeable to the student, is an ex. may be the moral tendency of the writcellence in a work consisting of predictions. ings, it is certain that as a poet he is uoriProphecies and oracles have ever been valled in that species of composition purposely obscure, and almost unintelli- which he adopted. Many have been the gible. The mind that attends to these imitations of him, but few have succeeded. uninspired predictions of paganism, voluo- The joys of love and wine have indeed tarily renounces reason, and believes the been described by his followers; but their more as it understands the less; but, touches are more like the daubings of an whether Lycophron is to be praised or unskilful painter, than the exquisite traits censured for obscurity, certain it is, that of a masterly hand. Cowley, wliose geon this account he will never become a nius certainly partook more of the Anafavourite author. Notwithstanding the creontic than of the Pindaric, has been