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matter, and comprises the mythology of near two thousand years, consists but of fifty lines; so that its brevity is no less admirable, than the subject matter, the noble fashion of handling it, and the deity speaking. Virgil keeps up his characters in this respect too, with the strictest decency: for poetry and pastime was not the business of men's lives in those days, but only their seasonable recreation after necessary labours. And therefore the length of some of the modern Italian and English compositions is against the rules of this kind of poesy.

I shall add something very briefly, touching the versification of pastorals, though it be a mortifying consideration to the moderns. Heroic verse (as it is commonly called) was used by the Greeks in this sort of poem, as very ancient and natural; lyrics, iambics, &c. being invented afterwards: but there is so great a difference in the numbers of which it may be compounded, that it may pass rather for a genus, than species, of verse. Whosoever shall compare the numbers of the three following verses, will quickly be sensible of the truth of this obser


Tityre, tu patulæ recubans sub tegmine fagi

the first of the Georgics,

Quid faciat lætas segetes, quo sidere terram— and of the


Arma, virumque cano, Trojæ qui primus ab oris.

The sound of the verses is almost as different as the subjects. But the Greek writers of pastoral usually limited themselves to the example of the first; which Virgil found so exceedingly difficult, that he quitted it, and left the honour of that part to Theocritus. It is indeed probable, that what we improperly call rhyme, is the most ancient sort of

poetry; and learned men have given good arguments for it: and therefore a French historian commits a gross mistake, when he attributes that invention to a king of Gaul, as an English gentleman does, when he makes a Roman emperor the inventor of it. But the Greeks, who understood fully the force and power of numbers, soon grew weary of this childish sort of verse, as the younger Vossius justly calls it; and, therefore, those rhyming hexameters, which Plutarch observes in Homer himself, seem to be the remains of a barbarous age. Virgil had them in such abhorrence, that he would rather make a false syntax, than what we call a rhyme. Such a verse as this,

Vir, precor, uxori, frater succurre sorori,

was passable in Ovid: but the nicer ears in Augustus's court could not pardon Virgil for

At regina pyrå

so that the principal ornament of modern poetry was accounted deformity by the Latins and Greeks. It was they who invented the different terminations of words, those happy compositions, those short monosyllables, those transpositions for the elegance of the sound and sense, which are wanting so much in modern languages. The French sometimes crowd together ten or twelve monosyllables into one disjointed verse. They may understand the nature of, but cannot imitate, those wonderful spondees of Pythagoras, by which he could suddenly pacify a man that was in a violent transport of anger; nor those swift numbers of the priests of Cybele, which had the force to enrage the most sedate and phlegmatic tempers. Nor can any modern put into his own language the energy of that single poem of Catullus.

Super alta vectus Atys, &c.

Latin is but a corrupt dialect of Greek; and the French, Spanish, and Italian, a corruption of Latin; and therefore a man might as well go about to persuade me that vinegar is a nobler liquor than wine, as that the modern compositions can be as graceful and harmonious as the Latin itself. The Greek tongue very naturally falls into iambics, and therefore the diligent reader may find six or seven and twenty of them in those accurate orations of Isocrates. The Latin as naturally falls into heroic; and therefore the beginning of Livy's History is half a hexameter, and that of Tacitus an entire one. The Roman historian 3, describing the glorious effort of a colonel to break through a brigade of the enemies just after the defeat at Cannæ, falls, unknowingly, into a verse not unworthy Virgil himself—

Hæc ubi dicta dedit, stringit gladium, cuneoque
Facto, per medios-


Ours, and the French, can at best but fall into blank verse, which is a fault in prose. The misfortune indeed is common to us both; but we deserve more compassion, because we are not vain of our barbarities. As age brings men back into the state and infirmities of childhood, upon the fall of their empire the Romans doted into rhyme, as appears sufficiently by the hymns of the Latin church; and yet a great deal of the French poetry does hardly deserve that poor title. I shall give an instance out of a poem which had the good luck to gain the prize in 1685; for the subject deserved a nobler pen.

Tous les jours ce grand roy, des autres roys l'exemple, S'ouvre un nouveau chemin au faîte de ton temple, &c. The judicious Malherbe exploded this sort of verse near eighty years ago. Nor can I forbear wondering at that passage of a famous academician, in which

3 Livy.

he, most compassionately, excuses the ancients for their not being so exact in their compositions as the modern French, because they wanted a dictionary, of which the French are at last happily provided. If Demosthenes and Cicero had been so lucky as to have had a dictionary, and such a patron as cardinal Richelieu, perhaps they might have aspired to the honour of Balzac's legacy of ten pounds, Le prix de l'éloquence.

On the contrary, I daré assert that there are hardly ten lines in either of those great orators, or even in the catalogue of Homer's ships, which are not more harmonious, more truly rhythmical, than most of the French or English sonnets; and therefore they lose, at least, one half of their native beauty by translation.

I cannot but add one remark on this occasion, that the French verse is oftentimes not so much as rhyme, in the lowest sense; for the childish repetition of the same note cannot be called music; such instances are infinite, as in the forecited poem:




M. Boileau himself has a great deal of this μovorovia, not by his own neglect, but purely by the faultiness and poverty of the French tongue. M. Fontenelle at last goes into the excessive paradoxes of M. Perrault, and boasts of the vast number of their excellent songs; preferring them to the Greek and Latin. But an ancient writer, of as good credit, has assured us that seven lives would hardly suffice to read over the Greek odes; but a few weeks would be sufficient, if a man were so very idle as to read over all the French. In the mean time, I

should be very glad to see a catalogue of but fifty of theirs with

Exact propriety of word and thought*.

Notwithstanding all the high encomiums and mutual gratulations which they give one another, (for I am far from censuring the whole of that illustrious society, to which the learned world is much obliged) after all those golden dreams at the Louvre, that their pieces will be as much valued, ten or twelve ages hence, as the ancient Greek or Roman, I can no more get it into my head that they will last so long, than I could believe the learned Dr. H-k3, of the Royal Society, if he should pretend to show me a butterfly that had lived a thousand winters.

When M. Fontenelle wrote his Eclogues, he was so far from equaling Virgil or Theocritus, that he had some pains to take before he could understand in what the principal beauty and graces of their writings do consist.

Cum mortuis non nisi larvæ luctantur.

4 Essay of Poetry.

5 Probably Robert Hook, M. D. an eminent philosopher, and curator of experiments to the Royal Society.

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