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Yet then, even then, one cross reflection 1622
I know we must both fortunes try,
Yet, let the goddess smile or frown, 1656
* Humphrey Wanley, librarian to the Earl of Oxford, author of the “Wonders of the Little World.'—” Mr Prior's Secretary and Executor.
The bewailing of man's miseries hath been elegantly and copiously set forth by many, in the writings as well of philosophers, as of divines. And it is both a pleasant and a profitable contemplation. Lord Bacon's Advancement of Learning.
THE PREFACE. It is hard for a man to speak of himself with any tolerable satisfaction or success. He can be no more pleased in blaming himself, than in reading a satire made on him by another; and though he may justly desire that a friend should praise him, yet, if he makes his own panegyric, he will get very few to read it. It is harder for him to speak of his own writings. An author is in the condition of a culprit; the public are his judges. By allowing too much, and condescending too far, he may injure his own cause, and become a kind of felo de se; and by pleading and asserting too boldly, he may displease the court that sits upon him: his apology may only heighten his accusation. I would avoid those extremes; and though I grant it would not be very civil to trouble the reader with a long preface, before he enters upon an indifferent poem, I would say something to persuade him to take it as it is, or to excuse it for not being better. The noble images and reflections, the profound reasonings upon human actions, and excellent precepts for the government of life, which are found in the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and other books, commonly attributed to Solomon, afford subjects for finer poems in every kind, than have, I think, yet appeared in the Greek, Latin, or any modern language. How far they were verse in their original, is a dissertation not to be entered into at present. Out of this great treasure, which lies heaped up together, in a confused magnificence, above all order, I had a mind to collect and digest such observations, and apothegms, as most particularly tend to the proof of that great assertion, laid down in the beginning of the Ecclesiastes, ALL Is vanity. Upon the subject thus chosen, such various images present themselves to a writer's mind, that he must find it easier to judge what should be rejected, than what ought to be received. The difficulty lies in drawing and disposing; or (as painters term it) in grouping such a multitude of different objects, preserving still the justice and conformity of style and colouring, the simpler dunta.cat et unum, which Horace prescribes, as requisite to make the whole picture beautiful and perfect. As precept, however true in theory, or useful in practice, would be but dry and tedious in verse, especially if the recital be long, I found it necessary to form some story, and give a kind of body to the poem. Under what species it may be comprehended, whether didascalic or heroic, I leave to the judgment of the critics; desiring them to be favourable in their censure; and not solicitous what the poem is called, provided it may be accepted.
The chief personage or character in the epic, is always proportioned to the design of the work, to carry on the narration and the moral. Homer intended to show us in his Iliad, that dissensions amongst great men obstruct the execution of the noblest enterprises, and tend to the ruin of a state or kingdom. His Achilles, therefore, is haughty and passionate; impatient of any restraint by laws, and arrogant in arms. In his Odysses the same poet endeavours to explain, that the hardest difficulties may be overcome by 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 AEmeis. His hero comes from a foreign country, settles a colony, and lays the foundation of a future empire. I instance 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 its 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 perfections 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 who 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 rabbis 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 nodus. 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 rules 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 AEneis must have been omitted. Our countryman Milton goes yet further. 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 blameable. 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 perfected it, it is too confined. 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