תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

a great deal of poetry in them. I have often wondered at Mr. Dryden for passing so severe a censure on this author. He fancies the description of a wreck that you have already cited, is too good for Persius, and that he might be helped in it by Lucan, who was one of his contemporaries. For my part, says Cynthio, I am so far from Mr. Dryden's opinion in this particular, that I fancy Persius a better poét than Lucan; and that, had he been engaged on the same subject, he would at least in his expressions and descriptions have outwrit the Pharsalia. He was indeed employed on subjects that seldom led him into any thing like description, but where he has an occasion of showing himself

, we find very few of the Latin poets" that have given a greater beauty to their expressions. His obscurities are indeed sometimes affected, but they generally arise from the remoteness of the customs, persons, and things he alludes to: as satire is for this reason more difficult to be understood by those that are not of the same age with it, than any other kind of poetry. Love verses and heroics deal in images that are ever fixed and settled in the nature of things, but a thousand ideas enter into satire, that are as changeable and unsteady as the mode or the humours of mankind.

Our three friends had passed away the whole morning among their medals and Latin poets. Philander told them it was now too late to enter on another series, but if they would take up with such a dinner as he could meet with at his lodgings, he would afterwards lay the rest of his medals before them. Cynthio and Eugenius were both of them so well pleased with the novelty of the subject, that they would not refuse the offer Philander made them.

[ocr errors]

DIALOGUE III.
.9/10); in
Dii" 15

-Causa est discriminis hujus
Concisum Argentum in titulos faciesque minutas. Juv. sat, 14.

A PARALLEL BETWEEN THE ANCIENT AND MODERN MEDALS.

PHILAN

HILANDER used every morning to take a walk in a neighbouring wood, that stood on the borders of the Thames. It was cut through by abundance of beautiful allies, which, terminating on the water, looked like so many painted views in perspective. The banks of the river and the thickness of the shades drew into them all the birds of the country, that at sun-rising filled the wood with such a variety of notes, as made the prettiest confusion imaginable.' I know in descriptions of this nature the scenes are generally supposed to grow out of the author's imagination, and if they are not charming in all their parts, the reader never imputes it to the want of sun or soil, but to the writer's barrenness of invention. It is Cicero's observation on the Plane-tree, that makes so flourishing a fi. gure in one of Plato's dialogues, that it did not draw its nourishment from the fountain that ran by it and watered its roots, but from the richness of the stile that describes 'it. For my own part; as I design only to fix the scene of the following dialogue, I shall not endeavour to give it any other ornaments than those which nature has bestowed upon it.

Philander was here enjoying the cool of the morning, among the dews that lay on every thing about him, and the air such a freshness as is not a little

agreeable in the hot part of the year. He had not been here long before he was joined by Cynthio and Eugenius.

Cynthio immediately fell upon Philander for breaking his night's rest, You have so filled my head, says he,

that gave

with old coins, that I have had nothing but figures and inscriptions before my eyes. If I chanced to fall into a little slumber, it was immediately interrupted with the vision of a Caduceus or a Cornu-copiæ. You will make me believe, says Philander, that you begin to be reconciled to medals. They say it is a sure sign a man loves money, when he is used to find it in his dreams. There is certainly, says Eugenius, something like avarice in the study of medals. The more a man knows of them, the more he desires to know. There is one subject in particular that Cynthio, as well as myself, has a mind to engage you in. We would fain know how the ancient and modern medals differ from one another, and which of them deserves the preference, You have a mind to engage me in a subject, says Philander, that is perhaps of a larger extent than you imagine. To examine it thoroughly, it would be necessary to take them in pieces, and to speak of the difference that shows itself in their metals, in the occasion of stamping them, in the inscriptions, and in the figures that adorn them. Since you have divided your subject, says Cynthio, be so kind as to enter on it without further preface.

We should first of all, says Philander, consider the difference of the metals that we find in ancient and modern coins, but as this speculation is more curious than improving, I believe you will excuse me if I do not dwell long upon it. One may understand all the learned part of this science, without knowing whether there were coins of iron or lead among the old Romans; and if a man is well acquainted with the device of a medal, I do not see what necessity there is of being able to tell whether the medal itself be of copper or Corinthian brass. There is however so great a difference between the antique and modern medals, that I have seen an antiquary lick an old coin, among other trials, to distinguish the age of it by its taste. I remember when I laughed at him for it, he told me, with a great deal of vehemence, there was as much difference between the relish of ancient and modern brass, as between an apple and a turnip. It is pity, says Eugenius, but they found out the smell too of an ancient medal. They would then be able to judge of it by all the senses. The touch, I have heard, gives almost as good evidence as the sight, and the ringing of a medal is, I know, a very common experiment. But I suppose this last proof you mention relates only to such coins as are made of your baser sorts of metal. And here, says Philander, we may observe the prudence of the ancients above that of the moderns, in the care they took to perpetuate the memory of great actions. They knew very well that silver and gold might fall into the hands of the covetous or ignorant, who would not respect them for the device they bore, but for the metal they were made of. Nor were their apprehensions ill founded; for it is not easily imagined how many of these noble monuments of history have perisbed in the goldsmiths' hands, before they came to be collected together by the learned men of these two or three last centuries. Inscriptions, victories, buildings, and a thousand other pieces of antiquity were melted down in those barbarous ages, that thought figures and letters only served to spoil the gold that was charged with them. Your medalists look on this destruction of coins as on the burning of the Alexandrian library, and would be content to compound for them with almost the loss of a Vatican. To prevent this in some measure, the ancients placed the greatest variety of their devices on their brass and copper coins, which are in no fear of falling into the clipper's hands, nor in any danger of melting till the general conflagration. On the contrary, our modern medals are most in silver or gold, and often in a very small number of each. I have seen a golden one at Vienna, of Philip the Second, that weighed two and twenty pound, which is probably singular in its kind, and will not be able to keep itself long out of the furnace, when it leaves the emperor's treasury. I remem. ber another in the king of Prussia's collection, that has in it three pound weight of gold. The princes who struck these medals, says Eugenius, seem to have designed them rather as an ostentation of their wealth than of their virtues. They fancied, probably, it was a greater honour to appear in gold than in copper, and that a medal receives all its value from the rarity of the metal. I think the next subject you proposed to speak of, were the different occasions that have given birth to ancient and modern medals.

Before we enter on this particular, says Philander, I must tell you, by way of preliminary, that formerly there was no difference between money and medals. An old Roman had his purse full of the same pieces that we now preserve in cabinets. As soon as an emperor had done any thing remarkable, it was immediately stamped on a coin, and became current through his whole dominions. It was a pretty contrivance, says Cynthio, to spread abroad the virtues of an emperor, and make his actions circulate. A fresh coin was a kind of a gazette, that published the latest news of the empire. I should fancy your Roman bankers were very good historians. It is certain, says Eugenius, they might find their profit and instruction mixed together.

I have often wondered that no nation among the moderns has imitated the ancient Romans in this particular. I know no other way of securing these kind of monuments, and making them numerous enough to be handed down to future ages. But where statesmen are ruled by a spirit of faction and interest, they can have no passion for the glory of their country, nor any concern for the figure it will make among posterity. A man that talks of his nation's honour a thousand years hence, is in very great danger of being laughed at

. We shall think, says Cynthio, you have a mind to fall out with the government, because it does not encourage medals. But were all your ancient coins that are now in cabinets once current-money? It is the most probable opinion,

« הקודםהמשך »