Images de page
PDF
ePub

ESSAY 60.

HOMER AND VIRGIL.

(Dryden.)

IN the works of Homer and Virgil we may read their manners, and natural inclinations, which are wholly different.

Virgil was of a quiet sedate temper; Homer was violent, impetuous, and full of fire. The chief talent of Virgil was propriety of thoughts, and ornament of words: Homer was rapid in his thoughts, and took all the liberties of manners and of expressions, which his language, and the age in which he lived, allowed.

Homer's invention was more copious; Virgil's more confined: so that if Homer had not led the way, it was not in Virgil to have begun heroic poetry; for nothing can be more evident, than that the Æneid is but the second part of the Iliad; a continuation of the same story, and the persons already formed. The manners of Æneas are those of Homer, superadded to those

which Homer

gave

him. The adventures of Ulysses in the Odyssey are imitated in the first six books of Virgil's Æneid; and though the accidents are not the same, (which would have argued bim of a servile copying and total barrenness of invention,) yet the seas were the same in which both the heroes wandered ; and Dido cannot be denied to be the poetical daughter of Calypso.

The six latter books of Virgil's poem are the four-and-twenty Iliads contracted; a quarrel occasioned by a lady, a single combat, battles fought, and a town besieged. I say not this in derogation to Virgil: for his episodes are almost wholly of his own invention; and the form which he has given to the telling, makes the tale his own, even though the original story had been the same.

But this proves, however, that Homer taught Virgil to design; and if invention be the first virtue of an epic poet, then the Latin poem can only be allowed the second place.

Mr. Hobbes in the preface to his own bald translation of the Iliad, (studying poetry as he did mathematics, when it was too late) Mr. Hobbes, I say, begins the praise of Homer where he should have ended it. He tells us that the first beauty of an epic poem consists in diction; that is, in the choice of words, and harmony

of the

numbers. Now the words are the colouring of the work, which in the order of nature is last to be considered; the design, the disposition, the manners, and the thoughts are all before it; where any of those are wanting or imperfect, so much is wanting or imperfect in the imitation of human life, which is in the very definition of a poem. Words indeed, like glaring colours, are the first beauties that arise, and strike the sight; but if the draught be false or tame, the figures ill disposed, the manners obscure or unnatural, then the finest colours are but daubing, and the piece is a beautiful monster at the best. Neither Virgil nor Homer were deficient in

any former beauties; but in this last, which is expression, the Roman poet is at least equal to the Grecian; supplying the poverty of his language by his musical ear and by his diligence.

Our two great poets being so different in their tempers, one choleric and sanguine, the other phlegmatic and melancholic, that which made them excel in their several ays is, that each of them has followed his own natural inclination, as well in forming the design, as in the execution of it. The very heroes shew their authors: Achilles is hot, impetuous, revengeful,

Impiger iracundus, inexorabilis, acer. Æneas patient, considerate, careful of his people, and merciful to his enemies, ever submissive to the will of heaven.

I could please myself with enlarging on this subject, but am forced to defer it to a fitter time. From all I have said, I will only draw this inference; that the action of Homer being more full of vigour than that of Virgil, according to the temper of the critic, is of

more pleasing to the reader. One warms you by degrees; the other sets you on fire all at once, and never interınits his heat. It is the same difference which Longinus makes betwixt the effects of eloquence in Demosthenes and Tully ; one persuades, the other commands.

consequence

ESSAY 61.

DELICACY OF TASTE AND PASSION,

(Hume.)

SOME people are subject to a certain delicacy of passion, which makes them extremely sensible to all the accidents of life, and gives them a lively joy upon every prosperous event, as well as a piercing grief, when they meet with misfortunes and adversity. Favours and good offices easily engage their friendship, while the smallest injury provokes their resentment; any mark of honor or distinction elevates them above measure, but they are as sensibly touched with contempt. People of this character have, no doubt, more lively enjoyments, as well as more pungent sorrows, than men of cool and sedate tempers. But I believe, when every thing is balanced, there is no one, who would not rather be of the latter character, were he entirely inaster of his own disposition. Good or ill fortune is very little at our disposal; and when a person that

« PrécédentContinuer »