be improved by practice, and grow regular from deified, were found to be still actuated by the most repetition. The sounds and gestures would natu- brutal passions of human nature; and in all proba rally fall into measured cadence. Thus the song bility their votaries were glad to find such exam and dance will be produced; and, a system of ples, to countenance their own vicious inclinations. worship being formed, the muse would be conse-Thus fornication, incest, rape, and even bestiality, crated to the purposes of religion. were sanctified by the amours of Jupiter, Pan, Hence those forms of thanksgivings, and lita-Mars, Venus and Apollo. Theft was patronized nies of supplication, with which the religious rites by Mercury; drunkenness by Bacchus; and cruof all nations, even the most barbarous, are at this elty by Diana. The same heroes and legislators, day celebrated in every quarter of the known world. those who delivered their country, founded cities, Indeed this is a circumstance in which all nations established societies, invented useful arts, or consurprisingly agree, how much soever they may tributed in any eminent degree to the security and differ in every other article of laws, customs, man-happiness of their fellow-creatures were inspired by ners, and religion. The ancient Egyptians cele- the same lusts and appetites which domineered brated the festivals of their god Apis with hymns among the inferior classes of mankind; therefore and dances. The superstition of the Greeks, part-every vice incident to human nature was celebrat ly derived from the Egyptians, abounded with po-ed in the worship of one or other of these divinietical ceremonies, such as choruses and hymns, ties, and every infirmity consecrated by public sung and danced at their apotheoses, sacrifices, feast and solemn sacrifice. In these institutions games, and divinations. The Romans had their the poet bore a principal share. It was his genius carmen seculare, and Salian priests, who on cer- that contrived the plan, that executed the form of tain festivals sung and danced through the streets worship, and recorded in verse the origin and adof Rome. The Israelites were famous for this kind ventures of their gods and demi-gods. Hence of exultation: "And Miriam the prophetess, the the impurities and horrors of certain rites; the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand, and all groves of Paphos and Baal Peor; the orgies of the women went out after her, with timbrels and Bacchus; the human sacrifices to Moloch and with dances, and Miriam answered them, Sing ye | Diana. Hence the theogony of Hesiod; the to the Lord," etc.-" And David danced before the theology of Homer; and those innumerable maxLord with all his might."-The psalms composed ims scattered through the ancient poets, invitby this monarch, the songs of Deborah and Isaiah, ing mankind to gratify their sensual appetites, in are further confirmations of what we have advanced. imitation of the gods, who were certainly the best From the Phoenicians the Greeks borrowed the judges of happiness. It is well known, that Plato cursed Orthyan song, when they sacrificed their expelled Homer from his commonwealth on account children to Diana. The poetry of the bards con-of the infamous characters by which he has distinstituted great part of the religious ceremonies among guished his deities, as well as for some depraved the Gauls and Britons, and the carousals of the sentiments which he found diffused through the Goths were religious institutions, celebrated with course of the Iliad and Odyssey. Cicero enters into songs of triumph. The Mahometan Dervise dances the spirit of Plato, and exclaims, in his first book, to the sound of the flute, and whirls himself round"De Natura Deorum:"-Nec multa absurdiora until he grows giddy, and falls into a trance. The sunt ea, quæ, poetarum vocibus fusa, ipsa suavitate Marabous compose hymns in praise of Allah. The nocuerunt: qui, et ira inflammatos, et libidine fuChinese celebrate their grand festivals with pro-rentes, induxerunt Deos, feceruntque ut eorum cessions of idols, songs, and instrumental music.bella, pugnas, prælia, vulnera videremus: odia The Tartars, Samoiedes, Laplanders, Negroes, præterea, dissidia, discordias, ortus, interritus, even the Caffres called Hottentots, solemnize their querelas, lamentationes, effusas in omni intemworship (such as it is) with songs and dancing; perantiâ libidines, adulteria, vincula, cum humaso that we may venture to say, poetry is the uni- no genere concubitus, mortalesque ex immortali versal vehicle in which all nations have expressed procreatos. “Nor are those things much more abtheir most sublime conceptions. surd, which, flowing from the poet's tongue, have

Poetry was, in all appearance, previous to any done mischief, even by the sweetness of his expresconcerted plan of worship, and to every establish- sion. The poets have introduced gods inflamed ed system of legislation. When certain individuals, with anger, and enraged with lust; and even proby dint of superior prowess or understanding, had [duced before our eyes their wars, their wranglings, acquired the veneration of their fellow-savages, and their duels, and their wounds. They have exerected themselvss into divinities on the ignorance posed, besides, their antipathies, animosities, and and superstition of mankind; then mythology took dissensions; their origin and death; their complace, and such a swarm of deities arose as pro- plaints and lamentations; their appetites, indulgea duced a religion replete with the most shocking ab- to all manner of excess, their adulteries, their fet surdities. Those whom their superior talents had ters, their amorous commerce with the human spe

cies, and from immortal parents derived a mortal disguised like satyrs, who not only recited the praises offspring." of Bacchus, or some other deity, but interspersed As the festivals of the gods necessarily produced their hymns with sarcastic jokes and altercation. good cheer, which often carried to riot and de- Of this kind is the Cyclop of Euripides, in which bauchery, mirth of consequence prevailed; and Ulysses is the principal actor. The Romans also this was always attended with buffoonery. Taunts had their Atellanæ or interludes of the same naand jokes, and raillery and repartee, would neces-ture, so called from the city of Atella, where they sarily ensue; and individuals would contend for were first acted; but these were highly polished the victory in wit and genius. These contests in comparison of the original entertainment, which would in time be reduced to some regulations, for was altogether rude and innocent. Indeed, the the entertainment of the people thus assembled, Cyclop itself, though composed by the accomplishand some prize would be decreed to him who was ed Euripides, abounds with such impurity as ought judged to excel his rivals. The candidates for not to appear on the stage of any civilized nation. fame and profit, being thus stimulated, would task their talents, and naturally recommend these alternate recriminations to the audience, by clothing them with a kind of poetical measure, which pieces enjoyed several privileges which were reshould bear a near resemblance to prose. Thus, fused to the ordinary actors. They were not obliged as the solemn service of the day was composed in to unmask, like the other players, when their acthe most sublime species of poetry, such as the ode tion was disagreeable to the audience. They were or hymn, the subsequent altercation was carried on admitted into the army, and enjoyed the privileges in iambics, and gave rise to satire. We are told of free citizens, without incurring that disgrace by the Stagirite, that the highest species of poetry which was affixed to the characters of other actors. was employed in celebrating great actions, but the The poet Laberius, who was of equestrian order, humbler sort used in this kind of contention; being pressed by Julius Cæsar to act a part in his and that in the ages of antiquity there were some own performance, complied with great reluctance, bards that professed heroics, and some that pre- and complained of the dishonour he had incurred tended to iambics only.

It is very remarkable, that the Atellana, which were in effect tragi-comedies, grew into such esteem among the Romans, that the performers in these

in his prologue preserved by Macrobius, which is one of the most elegant morsels of antiquity.

Οἱ μεν ἡροικων, οἱ δὲ ιαμβων ποιηται.

To these rude beginnings we not only owe the birth of satire, but likewise the origin of dramatic poetry. Tragedy herself, which afterwards at tained to such dignity as to rival the epic muse,

Tragedy and comedy flowed from the same fountain, though their streams were soon divided. The same entertainment which under the name of tragedy, was rudely exhibited by clowns, for the prize of a goat, near some rural altar of Bacchus, assumed the appellation of comedy when it was at first no other than a trial of crambo, or iamwas transferred into cities, and represented with a bics, between two peasants, and a goat was the little more decorum in a cart or wagon that strolprize, as Horace calls it, vile certamen ob hircum, led from street to street, as the name xaudia im"a mean contest for a he-goat." Hence the name plies, being derived from a street, and a a py, signifying the goat-song, from pagos poem. To this origin Horace alludes in these lines: hircus, and won carmen.

[blocks in formation]

great improver was Eschylus, of whom the same fore the Christian era. Such was the license of critic says,

the muse at this period, that far from lashing vice in general characters, she boldly exhibited the exact portrait of every individual who had rendered himself remarkable or notorious by his crimes, folly, or debauchery. She assumed every circumstance of his external appearance, his very attire, air, manner, and even his name; according to the observation of Horace,

Post hunc personæ pallæque repertor honestæ Eschylus, et modicis instravit pulpita tignis; Et docuit magnumque loqui, nitique cothurno. Then Eschylus a decent vizard used, Built a low stage; the flowing robe diffused. In language more sublime two actors rage, And in the graceful buskin tread the stage. The dialogue which Thespis introduced was called the episode, because it was an addition to the former subject, namely, the praises of Bacchus; so that now tragedy consisted of two distinct parts, independent of each other; the old recitative, which was the chorus, sung in honour of the gods; and the episode, which turned upon the adventures of some hero. This episode being found very agreeable to the people, Eschylus, who lived about half a century after Thespis, still improved the drama, united the chorus to the episode, so as to make them both parts or members of one fable, multiplied the actors, contrived the stage, and introduced the decorations of the theatre; so that Sophocles, who succeeded Eschylus, had but one step to surmount in order to bring the drama to perfection. Thus tragedy was gradually detached from its original institution, which was entirely religious. The priests of Bacchus loudly complained of this innovation by means of the episode, which was foreign to the intention of the chorus; and hence arose the proverb of Nihil ad Dyonysium, "Nothing to the purpose." Plutarch himself mentions the episode as a perversion of tragedy from the honour of the gods to the passions of men. But, notwithstanding all opposition, the new tragedy succeeded to admiration; because it was found the most pleasing vehicle of conveying moral truths, of meliorating the heart, and extending the interests of humanity.

Eupolis is said to have satirized Alcibiades in this manner, and to have fallen a sacrifice to the re sentment of that powerful Athenian; but others say he was drowned in the Hellespont, during a war against the Lacedemonians; and that in consequence of this accident the Athenians passed a decree, that no poet should ever bear arms.

The comedies of Cratinus are recommended by Quintilian for their eloqence; and Plutarch tells us that even Pericles himself could not escape the censure of this poet.

Aristophanes, of whom there are eleven come! dies still extant, enjoyed such a pre-eminence of reputation, that the Athenians by a public decree honoured him with a crown made of consecrated olive-tree, which grew in the citadel, for his care and success in detecting and exposing the vices of those who governed the commonwealth. Yet this poet, whether impelled by mere wantonness of Comedy, according to Aristotle, is the younger genius, or actuated by malice and envy, could not sister of tragedy. As the first originally turned refrain from employing the shafts of his ridicule upon the praises of the gods, the latter dwelt on against Socrates, the most venerable character of the follies and vices of mankind. Such, we mean, Pagan antiquity. In the comedy of the Clouds, was the scope of that species of poetry which ac- this virtuous philosopher was exhibited on the quired the name of comedy, in contradistinction to stage under his own name, in a cloak exactly rethe tragic muse; for in the beginning they were the sembling that which Socrates wore, in a mask moThe foundation upon which comedy was delled from his features, disputing publicly on the built, we have already explained to be the practice nature of right and wrong. This was undoubtedof satirical repartee or altercation, in which indi- ly an instance of the most flagrant licentiousness; viduals exposed the follies and frailties of each and what renders it the more extraordinary, the other on public occasions of worship and festivity. audience received it with great applause, even The first regular plan of comedy is said to have while Socrates himself sat publicly in the theatre. been the Margites of Homer, exposing the idle-The truth is, the Athenians were so fond of ridiness and folly of a worthless character; but of this cule, that they relished it even when employed performance we have no remains. That division against the gods themselves, some of whose chawhich is termed the ancient comedy, belongs to racters were very roughly handled by Aristopha the labours of Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristopha-nes and his rivals in reputation.



-quorum comœdia prisca virorum est:
Si quis erat dignus describi, quod malus, aut fur,
Quod machus foret, aut sicarius, aut alioqui
Famosus, multa cum libertate notabant.

The comic poets, in its earliest age,
Who formed the manners of the Grecian stage-
Was there a villain who might justly claim
A better right of being damn'd to fame,
Rake, cut-throat, thief, whatever was his crime,
They boldly stigmatized the wretch in rhyme.

nes, who were contemporaries, and flourished at We might here draw a parallel between the inAthens about four hundred and thirty years be- habitants of Athens and the natives of England,


in point of constitution, genius, and disposition. [tion, and enthusiasm. Imitation is indeed the ba Athens was a free state like England, that piqued sis of all the liberal arts; invention and enthusiasm itself upon the influence of the democracy. Like constitute genius, in whatever manner it may be England, its wealth and strength depended upon displayed. Eloquence of all sorts admits of enthuits maritime power: and it generally acted as um-siasm. Tully says, an orator should be vehemens pire in the disputes that arose among its neigh-ut procella, excitatus ut torrens, incensus ut fulbours. The people of Athens, like those of Eng-men; tonat, fulgurat, et rapidis eloquentiæ fluc land, were remarkably ingenious, and made great tibus cuncta proruit et proturbat. "Violent as a progress in the arts and sciences. They excelled tempest, impetuous as a torrent, and glowing inin poetry, history, philosophy, mechanics, and tense like the red bolt of heaven, he thunders, manufactures; they were acute, discerning, dis- lightens, overthrows, and bears down all before putatious, fickle, wavering, rash, and combustible, him, by the irresistible tide of eloquence." This and, above all other nations in Europe, addicted to is the mens divinior atque os magna sonaturum ridicule; a character which the English inherit in of Horace. This is the talent, a very remarkable degree.

-Meum qui pectus inaniter angit,
Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet,
Ut magus.

If we may judge from the writings of Aristophanes, his chief aim was to gratify the spleen and excite the mirth of his audience; of an audience too, that would seem to have been uninformed by taste, and altogether ignorant of decorum; for his pieces are replete with the most extravagant absurdities, virulent slander, impiety, impurities, and low buffoonery. The comic muse, not contented with being allowed to make free with the gods and philosophers, applied her scourge so severely to the magistrates of the commonwealth, that it was thought proper to restrain her within bounds by a law, enacting, that no person should be stigmatized under his real name; and thus the chorus was silenced. In order to elude the penalty of this law, and gratify the taste of the people, the poets began to substitute fictitious names, under which they ex-hearers with astonishment and horror.

With passions not my own who fires my heart;
Who with unreal terrors fills my breast
As with a magic influence possess'd.

We are told, that Michael Angelo Buonaroti used to work at his statues in a fit of enthusiasm, during which he made the fragments of the stone fly about him with surprising violence. The celebrated Lully being one day blamed for setting nothing to music but the languid verses of Quinault, was animated with the reproach, and running in a fit of enthusiasm to his harpsichord, sung in recitative, and accompanied four pathetic lines from the Iphigenia of Racine, with such expression as filled the

Though versification be one of the criteria that hibited particular characters in such lively colours, that the resemblance could not possibly be mistaken distinguish poetry from prose, yet it is not the sole or overlooked. This practice gave rise to what is mark of distinction. Were the histories of Polycalled the middle comedy, which was but of short bius and Livy simply turned into verse, they would duration; for the legislature, perceiving that the first not become poems; because they would be destilaw had not removed the grievance against which tute of those figures, embellishments, and flights it was provided, issued a second ordinance, forbid- of imagination, which display the poet's art and ding, under severe penalties, any real or family oc- invention. On the other hand, we have many procurrences to be represented. This restriction was ductions that justly lay claim to the title of poetry, the immediate cause of improving comedy into a without having the advantage of versification; witgeneral mirror, held forth to reflect the various fol-ness the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, lies and foibles incident to human nature; a species with many beautiful hymns, descriptions, and of writing called the new comedy, introduced by rhapsodies, to be found in different parts of the Diphilus and Menander, of whose works nothing Old Testament, some of them the immediate production of divine inspiration; witness the Celtic but a few fragments remain. fragments which have lately appeared in the English language, and are certainly replete with poeti cal merit. But though good versification alone will not constitute poetry, bad versification alone will certainly degrade and render disgustful the sublimest sentiments and finest flowers of imagination.


HAVING Communicated our sentiments touching the origin of poetry, by tracing tragedy and comedy This humiliating power of bad verse appears in to their common source, we shall now endeavour inany translations of the ancient poets; in Ogilby's to point out the criteria by which poetry is distin- Homer, Trapp's Virgil, and frequently in Creech's guished from every other species of writing. In Horace. This last indeed is not wholly devoid common with other arts, such as statuary and paint- of spirit; but it seldom rises above mediocrity, and, ing, it comprehends imitation, invention, composi-'as Horace says,

--Mediocribus esse poetis

Non homines, non Di, non concessere columnæ.

But God and man, and letter'd post denies,
That poets ever are of middling size.

How is that beautiful ode, beginning with Justum et tenacem propositi virum, chilled and tamed by the following translation:

He who by principle is sway'd,

In truth and justice still the same, Is neither of the crowd afraid,

Though civil broils the state inflame;
Nor to a haughty tyrant's frown will stoop,
Nor to a raging storm, when all the winds are up.

Should nature with convulsions shake,

Struck with the fiery bolts of Jove, The final doom and dreadful crack Can not his constant courage move.

The man whose mind, on virtue bent,
Pursues some greatly good intent

With undiverted aim,

Serene beholds the angry crowd;
Nor can their clamours fierce and loud
His stubborn honour tame.

Nor the proud tyrant's fiercest threat,
Nor storms that from their dark retreat

The lawless surges wake;
Nor Jove's dread bolt, that shakes the pole,
The firmer purpose of his soul

With all its power can shake.

mend and melt the heart, elevate the mind, and please the understanding. According to Flaccus:

Should nature's frame in ruins fall,
And Chaos o'er the sinking ba!!
Resume primeval sway,

His courage chance and fate defies,

Nor feels the wreck of earth and skies
Obstruct its destined way.

Tropes and figures are likewise liberally used in rhetoric and some of the most celebrated orators have owned themselves much indebted to the poets. Theophrastus expressly recommends the poets for this purpose. From their source, the spirit and energy of the pathetic, the sublime, and the beautiful, are derived. But these figures must be more sparingly used in rhetoric than in poetry, and even then mingled with argumentation, and a detail of

That long Alexandrine-"Nor to a raging storm, when all the winds are up," is drawling, feeble, swoln with a pleonasm or tautology, as well as deficient in the rhyme; and as for the "dread facts altogether different from poetical narration. ful crack," in the next stanza, instead of exciting The poet, instead of simply relating the incident, terror, it conveys a low and ludicrous idea. How strikes off a glowing picture of the scene, and exmuch more elegant and energetic is this paraphrase hibits it in the most lively colours to the eye of the of the same ode, inserted in one of the volumes of imagination. "It is reported that Homer was Hume's History of England.

blind," says Tully in his Tusculan Questions, "yet his poetry is no other than painting. What country, what climate, what ideas, battles, commotions, and contests of men, as well as of wild beasts, has he not painted in such a manner as to bring before our eyes those very scenes, which he himself could not behold!" We can not therefore subscribe to the opinion of some ingenious critics, who have blamed Mr. Pope for deviating in some instances from the simplicity of Homer, in his translation of the Iliad and Odyssey. For example, the Grecian bard says simply, the sun rose; and his translator gives us a beautiful picture of the sun rising. Homer mentions a person who played upon the lyre; the translator sets him before us warbling to the silver strings. If this be a deviation, it is at the same time an improvement. Homer himself, as Cicero observes above, is full of this If poetry exists independent of versification, it kind of painting, and particularly fond of descripwill naturally be asked, how then is it to be dis- tion, even in situations where the action seems to tinguished? Undoubtedly by its own peculiar require haste. Neptune, observing from Samoexpression; it has a language of its own, which thrace the discomfiture of the Grecians before Troy, speaks so feelingly to the heart, and so pleasingly flies to their assistance, and might have been waft

Aut prodesse volunt, aut delectare poetre;
Aut simul et jucunda et idonea dicere vitæ.

Poets would profit or delight mankind,

And with th' amusing show th' instructive join'd.

Omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci,
Lectorem delectando, pariterque monendo,

Profit and pleasure mingled thus with art,
To soothe the fancy and improve the heart.

the imagination, that its meaning can not pos- ed thither in half a line:. but the bard describes sibly be misunderstood by any person of delicate him, first, descending the mountain on which he sensations. It is a species of painting with words, sat; secondly, striding towards his palace at Ægæ, in which the figures are happily conceived, ingeni- and yoking his horses; thirdly, he describes him ously arranged, affectingly expressed, and recommended with all the warmth and harmony of colouring: it consists of imagery, descri; tion, metaphors, similes, and sentiments, adapted with proQuæ regio, quæ ora, quæ species formæ, quæ pugna, qui priety to the subject, so contrived and executed as motus hominum, qui ferarum, non ita expictus est, ut qua to soothe the ear, surprise and delight the fancy, ipse non viderit, nos ut videramus, effecerit!


Namque ab his (scilicet poetis) et in rebus spiritus, et in

verbis sublimitas, et in affectibus motus omnis, et in persona

decor petitur.-Quintilian, L. x.

« VorigeDoorgaan »