תמונות בעמוד

labour and our fortune restored after the severest afflictions. Ulysses, therefore, is valiant, virtuous, and patient. Virgil's design was to tell us how, from a small colony established by the Trojans in Italy, the Roman empire rose, and from what ancient families Augustus (who was his prince and patron) descended. His hero, therefore, was to fight his way to the throne, still distinguished and protected by the favour of the gods. The poet to this end takes off from the vices of Achilles, and adds to the virtues of Ulysses; from both perfecting a character proper for his work in the person of Æneas. As Virgil copied after Homer, other epic poets have copied after them both. Tasso's Gierusalemme Liberata is directly Troy town sacked; with this difference only, that the two chief characters in Homer, which the Latin poet had joined in one, the Italian has separated in his Godfrey and Rinaldo; but he makes them both carry on his work with very great success. Ronsard's Franciade (incomparably good as far as it goes) is again Virgil's AEneis. His hero comes from a foreign country, settles a colony, and lays the foundation of a future empire. I instance in these, as the greatest Italian and French poets in the epic. In our language Spenser has not contented himself with this submissive manner of imitation: he launches out into very flowery paths, which still seem to conduct him into one great road. His Fairy Queen (had it been finished) must have ended in the account, which every knight was to give of his adventures, and in the accumulated praises of his heroine Gloriana. The whole would have been an heroic poem, but in another cast and figure, than any that had ever been written before. Yet it is observable that every hero (as far as we can judge by the books still remaining) bears his distinguished character, and represents some particular virtue conducive to the whole design To bring this to our present subject. The pleasures of life do not compensate the miseries: age steals upon us unawares; and death, as the only cure of our ills, ought to be expected, but not feared. This instruction is to be illustrated by the action of some great person. Who therefore more proper for the business, than Solomon himself? and why may he not be supposed now to repeat what, we take it for granted, he acted almost three thousand years since? If in the fair situation where this prince was placed, he was acquainted with sorrow; if endowed with the greatest per fections of nature, and possessed of all the advantages of external condition, he could not find happiness; the rest of mankind may safely take the monarch's word for the truth of what he asserts. And the author who would persuade, that we should bear the ills of life patiently, merely because Solomon felt the same, has a better argument, than Lucretius had, when in his imperious way, he at once convinces and commands, that we ought to submit to death without repining, because Epicurus died.

The whole poem is a soliloquy: Solomon is the person that speaks: he is at once the hero and the author; but he tells us very often what others say to him. Those chiefly introduced are his rabbies and philosophers in the first book, and his women and their attendants in the second: with these the sacred history mentions him to have conversed; as likewise with the angel brought down in the third book, to help him out of his difficulties, or at least to teach him how to overcome them.

Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice modus.

I presume this poetical liberty may be very justly allowed me on so solemn an occasion. In my description I have endeavoured to keep to the notions and manners of the Jewish nation at the time when Solomon lived: and where I allude to the customs of the Greeks, I believe I may be justified by the strictest chronology; though a poet is not obliged to the rulers that confine an historian. Virgil has anticipated two hundred years; or the Trojan hero and Carthaginian queen could not have been brought together: and without the same anachronism several of the finest parts of his MEncis must have been omitted. Our countryman Milton goes yet farther. He takes up many of his material images some thousands of years after the fall of man: nor could he otherwise have written, or we read one of the sublimest pieces of invention that was ever yet produced. This likewise takes off the objection, that some names of countries, terms of art, and notions in natural philosophy are otherwise expressed, than can be warranted by the geography or astronomy of Solomon's time. Poets are allowed the same liberty in their descriptions and comparisons, as painters in their draperies and ornaments: their personages may be dressed, not exactly in the same habits which they wore, but in such as make them appear most graceful. In this case probability must atone for the want of truth. This liberty has indeed been abused by eminent masters in either science. Raphael and Tasso have showed their discretion, where Paul Veronese and Ariosto are to answer for their extravagances. It is the excess, not the thing itself, that is blamable. I would say one word of the measure, in which this, and most poems of the age are written. Heroic with continued rhyme, as Donne and his contemporaries used it, carrying the sense of one verse most commonly into another, was found too dissolute and wild, and came very often too near prose. As Davenant and Waller corrected, and Dryden preferred it, it is too consined: it cuts off the sense at the end of every first line, which must always rhyme to the next following; and consequently, produces too frequent an identity in the sound, and brings every couplet to the point of an epigram. It is indeed too broken and weak, to convey the sentiments and represent the images proper for epic. And, as it tires the writer while he composes, it must do the same to the reader while he repeats; especially in a poem of any considerable length. If striking out into blank verse, as Milton did (and in this kind Mr. Philips, had he lived, would have excelled) or running the thought into alternate and stanza, which allows a greater variety, and still preserves the dignity of the verse, as Spenser and Fairfax have done; if either of these, I say, be a proper remedy for my poetical complaint, or if any other may be found, I dare not determine: I am only inquiring, in order to be better informed; without presuming to direct the judgment of others. And while I am speaking of the verse itself, I give all just praise to many of my friends now living, who have in epic carried the harmony of their numbers as far as the nature of this measure will permit. But once more: he that writes in rhymes, dances in fetters: and as his chain is more extended, he may certainly take larger steps. I need make no apology for the short digressive panegyric upon Great Britain, in the first book: I am glad to have it observed, that there appears throughout all my verses a zeal for the honour of my country; and I had rather be thought a good Englishman, than the best poet, or greatest scholar that ever wrote. And now as to the publishing of this piece, though I have in a literal sense observed Horace's Nonum prematur in An num; yet have I by no means obeyed our poetical lawgiver, according to the spirit of the precept. The poem has indeed been written and laid aside much longer than the term prescribed; but in the mean time I had little leisure, and less inclination to revise or print it. The frequent interruptions I have met with in my private studies, and great variety of public life in which I have been employed ; my thoughts (such as they are) having generally been expressed in foreign language, and even formed by a habitude very different from what the beauty and eloquence of English poetry requires: all these, and some other circumstances which we had as good pass by at present, do justly contribute to make my excuse in this behalf very plausible. Far indeed from designing to print, I had locked up these papers in my scritoire, there to lie in peace till my executors might have taken them out. What altered this design, or how my scritoire came to be unlocked before my coffin was mailed, is the question. The true reason I take to be the best: many of my friends of the first quality, sincst learning, and greatest understanding, have wrested the key from my hands by a very kind and irresistible violence: and the poem is published, not without my consent indeed, but a little against my opinion; and with an implicit submission to the partiality of their judgment. As I give up here the fruits of many of my vacant hours to their amusement and pleasure, I shall always think myself happy, if I may dedicate my most serious endeavours to their interest and service. And I am proud to finish this preface by saying, that the violence of many enemies, whom I never justly offended, is abundantly recompensed by the goodness of more friends, whom I can never sufficiently oblige. And if I here assume the liberty of mentioning my Lord Harley and Lord Bathurst as the authors of this amicable confederacy, among all those whose names do me great honour at the beginning of my book, these two only ought to be angry with me; for I disobey their positive order, whilst I make even this small acknowledgment of their particular kindness.


THE words of the Preacher, the son of David, king of Jeru. salem. Ecclesiastes, chapter i. verse 1. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Verse 2. I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. Verse 16. He spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things and of fishes. 1 Kings, chapter iv. verse 33. I know, that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever. nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it. and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. Ec clesiastes, chapter iii. verse 14.

1 As subscribers to the edition in folio, 1718.

« הקודםהמשך »