« AnteriorContinuar »
Never ending, still beginning,
If the world be worth thy winning,
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the gods provide thee ! The many rend the skies with loud applause ; So Love was crown'd, but Music won the cause. The prince, unable to conceal his pain,
Gaz'd on the fair
Who caus'd his care,
Sigh'd and look'd, and sigh'd again :
Hark, hark, the horrid sound
Has rais'd up his head !
As awak'd from the dead,
And amaz’d, he stares around.
See the Furies arise :
How they hiss in their hair,
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand ! Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain,
And unburied remain
Inglorious on the plain :
To the valiant crew !
How they point to the Persian abodes,
Thais led the way,
To light him to his prey,
Thus, long ago,
While organs yet were mute;
And sounding lyre,
At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame;
Enlarg'd the former narrow bounds,
And added length to solemn sounds,
Or both divide the crown;
She drew an angel down.
158. FROM `AURENG-ZEBE.'
159. CHAUCER AND COWLEY.
In the first place, as he is the father of English poetry, so I hold him in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians held Homer, or the Romans Virgil. He is a perpetual fountain of good sense, learned in all sciences, and therefore speaks properly on all subjects. As he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off; a continence which is practised by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients, excepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets is sunk in his reputation, because he could never forgive any
conceit which came in his way; but swept, like a drag-net, great and small. There was plenty enough, but the dishes were illsorted; whole pyramids of sweet-meats for boys and women, but little of solid meat for men. All this proceeded not from any want of knowledge, but of judgment. Neither did he want that in discerning the beauties and faults of other poets, but only indulged himself in the luxury of writing; and perhaps knew it was a fault, but hoped the reader would not find it. For this reason, though he must always be thought a great poet, he is no longer esteemed a good writer; and for ten impressions, which his works have had in so many successive years, yet at present a hundred books are scarcely purchased once a twelve-month; for, as my last Lord Rochester said, though somewhat profanely, Not being of God, he could not stand.
Chaucer followed nature everywhere; but was never so bold to go beyond her : and there is a great difference of being poeta, and nimis poeta, if we may believe Catullus, as much as betwixt a modest behaviour and affectation. The verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not harmonious to us; but it is like the eloquence of one whom Tacitus commends—it was auribus istius temporis accommodata. They who lived with him and sometime after him, thought it musical, and it continues so even in our judgment, if compared with the numbers of Lydgate and Gower, his contemporaries : there is the rude sweetness of a Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect. It is true, I cannot go so far as he who published the last edition of him; for he would make us believe the fault is in our ears, and that there were really ten syllables in a verse, where we find but nine. But this opinion is not worth confuting; it is so gross and obvious an error, that common sense (which is a rule in every thing but matters of faith and revelation) must convince the reader, that equality of numbers in every verse which we call heroic, was either not known, or not always practised in Chaucer's age. It were an easy matter to produce some thousands of his verses, which are lame for want of half a foot, and sometimes a whole one, and which no pronunciation can make otherwise. We can only say, that he lived in the infancy of our poetry, and that nothing is brought to perfection at the first. We must be children, before we grow men. There was an Ennius, and in process of time a Lucilius and a Lucretius, before Virgil and Horace. Even after Chaucer, there was a Spenser, a Harrington, a Fairfax, before Waller and Denham were in being; and our numbers were in their nonage till these last appeared.
160. SHAKSPEARE AND BEN Jonson. To begin, then, with Shakspeare. He was the man, who, of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it-you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation : he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is everywhere alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid ; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him ; no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi. The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eaton say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever writ, but he would produce it much better done in Shakspeare; and however others are now generally preferred before him, yet the age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him, Fletcher and Jonson, never equalled them to him in their esteem : and in the last king's court, when Ben's reputation was at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakspeare far above him.
As for Jonson, to whose character I am now arrived, if we look upon him while he was himself (for his last plays were but his dotages), I think him the most learned and judicious writer which any theatre ever had. He was a most severe judge of himself, as well as others. One cannot say he wanted wit, but rather that he was frugal of it. In his works you find little to retrench or alter. Wit, and language, and humour, also in some measure, we had before him ; but something of art was wanting to the drama, till he
He managed his strength to more advantage than any who preceded him. You seldom find him making love in any of his scenes, or endeavouring to move the passions; his genius was too sullen and saturnine to do it gracefully, especially when he knew he came after those who had performed both to such a height. Humour was his proper sphere; and in that he delighted most to represent mechanic people. He was deeply conversant in the ancients, both Greek and Latin, and he borrowed boldly from them; there is scarce a poet or historian among the Roman authors of those times, whom he has not translated in Sejanus and Catiline. But he has done his robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to be taxed by any law. He invades authors like a monarch ; and what would be theft in other poets, is only victory in him. With the spoils of these writers he so represents old Rome to us, in his rites, ceremonies, and customs, that if one of their poets had written either of his tragedies, we had seen less of it than in him. If there was any fault in his language, 'twas that he weaved it too closely and laboriously, in his comedies especially : perhaps, too, he did a little too much Romanize our tongue, leaving the words which he translated almost as much Latin as he found them ; wherein, though he learnedly followed their language, he did not enough comply with the idiom of ours. If I would compare him with Shakspeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakspeare the greater wit.
Shakspeare was the Homer, or father of our dramatic poets : Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing : I admire him, but I love Sbakspeare.
161. John Bunyan. 1628-1688. (Manual, pp. 237-243.)
FROM THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS.'
THE VALLEY OF HUMILIATION. Now they began to go down the hill into the valley of humiliation. It was a steep hill, and the way was slippery; but they were very careful; so they got down pretty well. When they were down in the valley, Piety said to Christiana, this is the place where Christian, your husband, met with that foul fiend Apollyon, and where they had that dreadful fight that they had. I know you cannot but have heard thereof. But be of good courage; as long as you have here Mr. Greatheart to be your guide and conductor, we hope you will fare the better. So when these two had committed the pilgrims unto the conduct of their guide, he went forward, and they went after.
Then said Mr. Greatheart, we need not be so afraid of this valley, for here is nothing to hurt us, unless we procure it to ourselves. 'Tis true Christian did here. meet with Apollyon, with whom he also had a sore combat; but that fray was the fruit of those slips that he got in his going down the hill, for they that get slips there must look for combats here. And hence it is that this valley has got so hard a name ; for the common people, when they hear that some frightful thing has befallen such a one in such a place, are of opinion that that place is haunted with some foul fiend or evil spirit, when, alas ! it is for the fruit of their own doing that such things do befal them there.
This valley of humiliation is of itself as fruitful a place as any the crow flies over; and I am persuaded, if we could hit upon it, we