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and patient. Virgil's design was to tell us, hoor from a small colony established by the Trojans in Italy, the Roman empire rose, and from what antient families Augustus (who was his prince and patron) descended. His hero therefore was to fight his way to the throne, ftill 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 Ulyffes ; 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. Taflo's Gierufalemme Liberata is directly Troy Town facked; 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. Ronfard's Franciade, (incomparably good as far as it goes) is again Virgil's Æneis. 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 Spencer has not contented himself with this submiffive manner of imitation: he lanches 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 dirtinguished 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 inftruction 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 forrow; if endowed with the greatest perfections of nature, and poffeffed 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 fecond: with these the facred history mention 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 juftly allowed me on fo folemn 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 Æneis 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 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 shewed their discretion, where Paul Veronese and Ari
osto are to answer for their extravagancies. 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. He. roic with continued rhime, as Donne and his contemporaries used it, carrying the sense of one verse most commonly into another, was found too diffolute 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 thime 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 com. poses, 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