THE JEWS OF YORK.
Among the most interesting passages of history are those in which we contemplate an oppressed, yet sublime spirit, agitated by the conflict of two terrific passions: implacable hatred attempting a resolute vengeance, while that vengeance, though impotent, with dignified and silent horror, sinks into the last expression of despair. In a degenerate nation, we may, on such rare occasions, discover among them a spirit superior to its companions and its fortune.
In the ancient and modern history of the Jews we may find two kindred examples. I refer the reader for the more ancient narrative to the second book of Maccabees, chap. xiv. v. 37. No feeble and unaffecting painting is presented in the simplicity of the original. I proceed to relate the narrative of the Jews of York.
When Richard I. ascended the throne, the Jews, to conciliate the royal protection, brought their tributes. Many had hastened from remote parts of England, and appearing at Westminster, the court and the mob imagined that they had leagued to bewitch his majesty. An edict was issued to forbid their presence at the coronation; but several, whose curiosity was greater than their prudence, conceived that they might pass unobserved among the crowd, and ventured to insinuate themselves into the abbey. Probably their voice and their visage alike betrayed them, for they were soon discovered; they flew diversely in great consternation, while many were dragged out with little remains of life.
A rumour spread rapidly through the city, that in honour of the festival the Jews were to be massacred. The populace, at once eager of royalty and riot, pillaged and burnt their houses, and murdered the devoted Jews. Benedict, a Jew of York, to save his life, received baptism; and returning to that city, with his friend Jocenus, the most opulent of the Jews, died of his wounds. Jocenus and his servants narrated the late tragic circumstances to their neighbours, but where they hoped to move sympathy they excited rage. The people at York soon gathered to imitate the people at London; and their first assault was on the house of the late Benedict, which having some strength and magnitude, contained his family and friends, who found their graves in its ruins. The alarmed Jews hastened to Jocenus, who conducted them to the governor of York Castle, and prevailed on him to afford them an asylum for their persons and effects. In the mean while their habitations were levelled, and the owners murdered, except a few unresisting beings, who, unmanly in sustaining honour, were adapted to receive baptism.
The castle had sufficient strength for their defence; but a suspicion arising that the governor, who often went out, intended to betray them, they one day refused him entrance. He complained to the sheriff of the county, and the chiefs of the violent party, who stood deeply indebted to the Jews, uniting with him, orders were issued to attack the castle. The cruel multitude, united with the soldiery, felt such a desire of slaughtering those they intended to despoil, that the sheriff, repenting of the order, revoked it, but in vain; fanaticism and robbery once set loose will satiate their appetency for blood and plunder. They solicited the aid of the superior citizens, who, perhaps not owing quite so much money to the Jews, humanely refused it; but having addressed the clergy (the barbarous clergy of those days) were by them animated, conducted, and blest.
The leader of this rabble was a canon regular, whose zeal was so fervent that he stood by them in his surplice, which he considered as a coat of mail, and reiteratedly exclaimed, "Destroy the enemies of Jesus!" This spiritual laconism invigorated the arm of men who perhaps wanted no other stimulative than the hope of obtaining the immense property of the besieged. It is related of this canon, that every morning before he went to assist in battering the walls he swallowed a consecrated wafer. One day having approached too near, defended as he conceived by his surplice, this church militant was crushed by a heavy fragment of the wall, rolled from the battlement.
But the avidity of certain plunder prevailed over any reflection, which, on another occasion, the loss of so pious a leader might have raised. Their attacks continued; till at length the Jews perceived they could hold out no longer, and a council was called, to consider what remained to be done in the extremity of danger.
Among the Jews, their elder Rabbin was most respected. It has been customary with this people to invite for this place some foreigner, renowned among them for the depth of his learning, and the sanctity of his manners. At this time the Haham, or elder Rabbin, was a foreigner, who had been sent over to instruct them in their laws, and was a person, as we shall observe, of no ordinary qualifications. When the Jewish council was assembled, the Haham rose, and addressed them in this manner—"Men of Israel! the God of our ancestors is omniscient, and there is no one who can say, Why doest thou this? This day He commands us to die for His law; for that law which we have cherished from the first hour it was given, which we have preserved pure throughout our captivity in all nations, and which for the many consolations it has given us, and the eternal hope it communicates, can we do less than die? Posterity shall behold this book of truth, sealed with our blood; and our death, while it displays our sincerity, shall impart confidence to the wanderer of Israel. Death is before our eyes; and we have only to choose an honourable and easy one. If we fall into the hands of our enemies, which you know we cannot escape, our death will be ignominious and cruel; for these Christians, who picture the Spirit of God in a dove, and confide in the meek Jesus, are athirst for our blood, and prowl around the castle like wolves. It is therefore my advice that we elude their tortures; that we ourselves should be our own executioners; and that we voluntarily surrender our lives to our Creator. We trace the invisible Jehovah in his acts; God seems to call for us, but let us not be unworthy of that call. Suicide, on occasions like the present, is both rational and lawful; many examples are not wanting among our forefathers: as I advise, men of Israel, they have acted on similar occasions." Having said this, the old man sat down and wept.
The assembly was divided in their opinions. Men of fortitude applauded its wisdom, but the pusillanimous murmured that it was a dreadful counsel.
Again the Rabbin rose, and spoke these few words in a firm and decisive tone:—"My children! since we are not unanimous in our opinions, let those who do not approve of my advice depart from this assembly!"—Some departed, but the greater number attached themselves to their venerable priest. They now employed themselves in consuming their valuables by fire; and every man, fearful of trusting to the timid and irresolute hand of the women, first destroyed his wife and children, and then himself. Jocenus and the Rabbin alone remained. Their lives were protracted to the last, that they might see everything performed, according to their orders. Jocenus being the chief Jew, was distinguished by the last mark of human respect, in receiving his death from the consecrated hand of the aged Rabbin, who immediately after performed the melancholy duty on himself.
All this was transacted in the depth of the night. In the morning the walls of the castle were seen wrapt in flames, and only a few miserable and pusillanimous beings, unworthy of the sword, were viewed on the battlements, pointing to their extinct brethren. When they opened the gates of the castle, these men verified the prediction of their late Rabbin; for the multitude, bursting through the solitary courts, found themselves defrauded of their hopes, and in a moment avenged themselves on the feeble wretches who knew not how to die with honour.
Such is the narrative of the Jews of York, of whom the historian can only cursorily observe that five hundred destroyed themselves; but it is the philosopher who inquires into the causes and the manner of these glorious suicides. These are histories which meet only the eye of few, yet they are of infinitely more advantage than those which are read by every one. We instruct ourselves in meditating on these scenes of heroic exertion; and if by such histories we make but a slow progress in chronology, our heart however expands with sentiment.
I admire not the stoicism of Cato, more than the fortitude of the Rabbin; or rather we should applaud that of the Rabbin much more; for Cato was familiar with the animating visions of Plato, and was the associate of Cicero and of Caesar. The Rabbin had probably read only the Pentateuch, and mingled with companions of mean occupations, and meaner minds. Cato was accustomed to the grandeur of the mistress of the universe; and the Rabbin to the littleness of a provincial town. Men, like pictures, may be placed in an obscure and unfavourable light; but the finest picture, in the unilluminated corner, still retains the design and colouring of the master. My Rabbin is a companion for Cato. His history is a tale
Which Cato's self had not disdained to hear.—POPE.
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE SEAS.
The sovereignty of the seas, which foreigners dispute with us, is as much a conquest as any one obtained on land; it is gained and preserved by our cannon, and the French, who, for ages past, exclaim against what they call our tyranny, are only hindered from becoming themselves universal tyrants over laud and sea, by that sovereignty of the seas without which Great Britain would cease to exist.
In a memoir of the French Institute, I read a bitter philippic against this sovereignty, and a notice then adapted to a writer's purpose, under Bonaparte, of two great works: the one by Selden, and the other by Grotius, on this subject. The following is the historical anecdote, useful to revive:—
In 1634 a dispute arose between the English and Dutch concerning the herring-fishery upon the British coast. The French and Dutch had always persevered in declaring that the seas were perfectly free; and grounded their reasons on a work of Grotius.
So early as in 1609 the great Grotius had published his treatise of Mare Liberum in favour of the freedom of the seas. And it is a curious fact, that in 1618, Selden had composed another treatise in defence of the king's dominion over the seas; but which, from accidents which are known, was not published till the dispute revived the controversy. Selden, in 1636, gave the world his Mare Clausum, in answer to the Mare Liberum of Grotius.
Both these great men felt a mutual respect for each other. They only knew the rivalry of genius.
As a matter of curious discussion and legal investigation, the philosopher must incline to the arguments of Selden, who has proved by records the first occupancy of the English; and the English dominion over the four seas, to the utter exclusion of the French and Dutch from fishing, without our licence. He proves that our kings have always levied great sums, without even the concurrence of their parliaments, for the express purpose of defending this sovereignty at sea. A copy of Selden's work was placed in the council-chest of the Exchequer, and in the court of admiralty, as one of our most precious records.
The historical anecdote is finally closed by the Dutch themselves, who now agreed to acknowledge the English sovereignty in the seas, and pay a tribute of thirty thousand pounds to the King of England, for liberty to fish in the seas, and consented to annual tributes.
That the Dutch yielded to Selden's arguments is a triumph we cannot venture to boast. The ultima ratio regum prevailed; and when we had destroyed their whole fishing fleet, the affair appeared much clearer than in the ingenious volumes of Grotius or Selden. Another Dutchman presented the States-General with a ponderous reply to Selden's Mare Clausum, but the wise Sommelsdyke advised the States to suppress the idle discussion; observing that this affair must be decided by the sword, and not by the pen.
It may be curious to add, that as no prevailing or fashionable subject can be agitated, but some idler must interfere to make it extravagant and very new, so this grave subject did not want for something of this nature. A learned Italian, I believe, agreed with our author Selden in general, that the sea, as well as the earth, is subject to some States; but he maintained, that the dominion of the sea belonged to the Genoese!
ON THE CUSTOM OF KISSING HANDS.
M. Morin, a French academician, has amused himself with collecting several historical notices of this custom. I give a summary, for the benefit of those who have had the honour of kissing his majesty's hand. It is not those who kiss the royal hand who could write best on the custom.
This custom is not only very ancient, and nearly universal, but has been alike participated by religion and society.
To begin with religion. From the remotest times men saluted the sun, moon, and stars, by kissing the hand. Job assures us that he was never given to this superstition, xxxi. 26. The same honour was rendered to Baal, 1 Kings xix. 18. Other instances might be adduced.
We now pass to Greece. There all foreign superstitions were received. Lucian, after having mentioned various sorts of sacrifices which the rich offered the gods, adds, that the poor adored them by the simpler compliment of kissing their hands. That author gives an anecdote of Demosthenes, which shows this custom. When a prisoner to the soldiers of Antipater, he asked to enter a temple.—When he entered, he touched his mouth with his hands, which the guards took for an act of religion. He did it, however, more securely to swallow the poison he had prepared for such an occasion. He mentions other instances.
From the Greeks it passed to the Romans. Pliny places it among those ancient customs of which they were ignorant of the origin or the reason. Persons were treated as atheists, who would not kiss their hands when they entered a temple. When Apuleius mentions Psyche, he says, she was so beautiful that they adored her as Venus, in kissing the right hand.
The ceremonial action rendered respectable the earliest institutions of Christianity. It was a custom with the primaeval bishops to give their hands to be kissed by the ministers who served at the altar.
This custom, however, as a religious rite, declined with Paganism.
In society our ingenious academician considers the custom of kissing hands as essential to its welfare. It is a mute form, which expresses reconciliation, which entreats favours, or which thanks for those received. It is an universal language, intelligible without an interpreter; which doubtless preceded writing, and perhaps speech itself.
Solomon says of the flatterers and suppliants of his time, that they ceased not to kiss the hands of their patrons, till they had obtained the favours which they solicited. In Homer we see Priam kissing the hands and embracing the knees of Achilles, while he supplicates for the body of Hector.
This custom prevailed in ancient Rome, but it varied. In the first ages of the republic, it seems to have been only practised by inferiors to their superiors:—equals gave their hands and embraced. In the progress of time even the soldiers refused to show this mark of respect to their generals; and their kissing the hand of Cato when he was obliged to quit them was regarded as an extraordinary circumstance, at a period of such refinement. The great respect paid to the tribunes, consuls, and dictators, obliged individuals to live with them in a more distant and respectful manner; and instead of embracing them as they did formerly, they considered themselves as fortunate if allowed to kiss their hands. Under the emperors, kissing hands became an essential duty, even for the great themselves; inferior courtiers were obliged to be content to adore the purple, by kneeling, touching the robe of the emperor by the right hand, and carrying it to the mouth. Even this was thought too free; and at length they saluted the emperor at a distance, by kissing their hands, in the same manner as when they adored their gods.
It is superfluous to trace this custom in every country where it exists. It is practised in every known country, in respect to sovereigns and superiors, even amongst the negroes, and the inhabitants of the New World. Cortez found it established at Mexico, where more than a thousand lords saluted him, in touching the earth with their hands, which they afterwards carried to their mouths.
Thus, whether the custom of salutation is practised by kissing the hands of others from respect, or in bringing one's own to the mouth, it is of all other customs the most universal. This practice is now become too gross a familiarity, and it is considered as a meanness to kiss the hand of those with whom we are in habits of intercourse; and this custom would be entirely lost, if lovers were not solicitous to preserve it in all its full power.
Valois observes that the Popes scrupulously followed, in the early ages of the church, the custom of placing their names after that of the person whom they addressed in their letters. This mark of their humility he proves by letters written by various Popes. Thus, when the great projects of politics were yet unknown to them, did they adhere to Christian meekness. At length the day arrived when one of the Popes, whose name does not occur to me, said that "it was safer to quarrel with a prince than with a friar." Henry VI. being at the feet of Pope Celestine, his holiness thought proper to kick the crown off his head; which ludicrous and disgraceful action Baronius has highly praised. Jortin observes on this great cardinal, and advocate of the Roman see, that he breathes nothing but fire and brimstone; and accounts kings and emperors to be mere catchpolls and constables, bound to execute with implicit faith all the commands of insolent ecclesiastics. Bellarmin was made a cardinal for his efforts and devotion to the papal cause, and maintaining this monstrous paradox,—that if the pope forbid the exercise of virtue, and command that of vice, the Roman church, under pain of a sin, was obliged to abandon virtue for vice, if it would not sin against conscience!
It was Nicholas I., a bold and enterprising Pope, who, in 858, forgetting the pious modesty of his predecessors, took advantage of the divisions in the royal families of France, and did not hesitate to place his name before that of the kings and emperors of the house of France, to whom he wrote. Since that time he has been imitated by all his successors, and this encroachment on the honours of monarchy has passed into a custom from having been tolerated in its commencement.
Concerning the acknowledged infallibility of the Popes, it appears that Gregory VII., in council, decreed that the church of Rome neither had erred, and never should err. It was thus this prerogative of his holiness became received, till 1313, when John XXII. abrogated decrees made by three popes his predecessors, and declared that what was done amiss by one pope or council might be corrected by another; and Gregory XI., 1370, in his will deprecates, si quid in catholica fide erasset. The university of Vienna protested against it, calling it a contempt of God, and an idolatry, if any one in matters of faith should appeal from a council to the Pope; that is, from God who presides in councils, to man. But the infallibility was at length established by Leo X., especially after Luther's opposition, because they despaired of defending their indulgences, bulls, &c., by any other method.
Imagination cannot form a scene more terrific than when these men were in the height of power, and to serve their political purposes hurled the thunders of their excommunications over a kingdom. It was a national distress not inferior to a plague or famine.
Philip Augustus, desirous of divorcing Ingelburg, to unite himself to Agnes de Meranie, the Pope put his kingdom under an interdict. The churches were shut during the space of eight months; they said neither mass nor vespers; they did not marry; and even the offspring of the married, born at this unhappy period, were considered as illicit: and because the king would not sleep with his wife, it was not permitted to any of his subjects to sleep with theirs! In that year France was threatened with an extinction of the ordinary generation. A man under this curse of public penance was divested of all his functions, civil, military, and matrimonial; he was not allowed to dress his hair, to shave, to bathe, nor even change his linen; so that upon the whole this made a filthy penitent. The good king Robert incurred the censures of the church for having married his cousin. He was immediately abandoned. Two faithful domestics alone remained with him, and these always passed through the fire whatever he touched. In a word, the horror which an excommunication occasioned was such, that a courtesan, with whom one Peletier had passed some moments, having learnt soon afterwards that he had been about six months an excommunicated person, fell into a panic, and with great difficulty recovered from her convulsions.
To literary composition we may apply the saying of an ancient philosopher:—"A little thing gives perfection, although perfection is not a little thing."
The great legislator of the Hebrews orders us to pull off the fruit for the first three years, and not to taste them. He was not ignorant how it weakens a young tree to bring to maturity its first fruits. Thus, on literary compositions, our green essays ought to be picked away. The word Zamar, by a beautiful metaphor from pruning trees, means in Hebrew to compose verses. Blotting and correcting was so much Churchill's abhorrence, that I have heard from his publisher he once energetically expressed himself, that it was like cutting away one's own flesh. This strong figure sufficiently shows his repugnance to an author's duty. Churchill now lies neglected, for posterity will only respect those who
——File off the mortal part Of glowing thought with Attic art. YOUNG.
I have heard that this careless bard, after a successful work, usually precipitated the publication of another, relying on its crudeness being passed over by the public curiosity excited by its better brother. He called this getting double pay, for thus he secured the sale of a hurried work. But Churchill was a spendthrift of fame, and enjoyed all his revenue while he lived; posterity owes him little, and pays him nothing!
Bayle, an experienced observer in literary matters, tells us that correction is by no means practicable by some authors, as in the case of Ovid. In exile, his compositions were nothing more than spiritless repetitions of what he had formerly written. He confesses both negligence and idleness in the corrections of his works. The vivacity which animated his first productions failing him when he revised his poems, he found correction too laborious, and he abandoned it. This, however, was only an excuse. "It is certain that some authors cannot correct. They compose with pleasure, and with ardour; but they exhaust all their force. They fly with but one wing when they review their works; the first fire does not return; there is in their imagination a certain calm which hinders their pen from making any progress. Their mind is like a boat, which only advances by the strength of oars."
Dr. More, the Platonist, had such an exuberance of fancy, that correction was a much greater labour than composition. He used to say, that in writing his works, he was forced to cut his way through a crowd of thoughts as through a wood, and that he threw off in his compositions as much as would make an ordinary philosopher. More was a great enthusiast, and, of course, an egotist, so that criticism ruffled his temper, notwithstanding all his Platonism. When accused of obscurities and extravagances, he said that, like the ostrich, he laid his eggs in the sands, which would prove vital and prolific in time; however, these ostrich-eggs have proved to be addled.
A habit of correctness in the lesser parts of composition will assist the higher. It is worth recording that the great Milton was anxious for correct punctuation, and that Addison was solicitous after the minutiae of the press. Savage, Armstrong, and others, felt tortures on similar objects. It is said of Julius Scaliger, that he had this peculiarity in his manner of composition: he wrote with such accuracy that his MSS. and the printed copy corresponded page for page, and line for line.
Malherbe, the father of French poetry, tormented himself by a prodigious slowness; and was employed rather in perfecting than in forming works. His muse is compared to a fine woman in the pangs of delivery. He exulted in his tardiness, and, after finishing a poem of one hundred verses, or a discourse of ten pages, he used to say he ought to repose for ten years. Balzac, the first writer in French prose who gave majesty and harmony to a period, did not grudge to expend a week on a page, never satisfied with his first thoughts. Our "costive" Gray entertained the same notion: and it is hard to say if it arose from the sterility of their genius, or their sensibility of taste.
The MSS. of Tasso, still preserved, are illegible from the vast number of their corrections. I have given a fac-simile, as correct as it is possible to conceive, of one page of Pope's MS. Homer, as a specimen of his continual corrections and critical erasures. The celebrated Madame Dacier never could satisfy herself in translating Homer: continually retouching the version, even in its happiest passages. There were several parts which she translated in six or seven manners; and she frequently noted in the margin—I have not yet done it.
When Pascal became warm in his celebrated controversy, he applied himself with incredible labour to the composition of his "Provincial Letters." He was frequently twenty days occupied on a single letter. He recommenced some above seven and eight times, and by this means obtained that perfection which has made his work, as Voltaire says, "one of the best books ever published in France."
The Quintus Curtius of Vaugelas occupied him thirty years: generally every period was translated in the margin five or six different ways. Chapelain and Conrart, who took the pains to review this work critically, were many times perplexed in their choice of passages; they generally liked best that which had been first composed. Hume had never done with corrections; every edition varies from the preceding ones. But there are more fortunate and fluid minds than these. Voltaire tells us of Fenelon's Telemachus, that the amiable author composed it in his retirement, in the short period of three months. Fenelon had, before this, formed his style, and his mind overflowed with all the spirit of the ancients. He opened a copious fountain, and there were not ten erasures in the original MS. The same facility accompanied Gibbon after the experience of his first volume; and the same copious readiness attended Adam Smith, who dictated to his amanuensis, while he walked about his study.
The ancients were as pertinacious in their corrections. Isocrates, it is said, was employed for ten years on one of his works, and to appear natural studied with the most refined art. After a labour of eleven years, Virgil pronounced his AEneid imperfect. Dio Cassius devoted twelve years to the composition of his history, and Diodorus Siculus, thirty.
There is a middle between velocity and torpidity; the Italians say, it is not necessary to be a stag, but we ought not to be a tortoise.
Many ingenious expedients are not to be contemned in literary labours. The critical advice,
To choose an author as we would a friend,
is very useful to young writers. The finest geniuses have always affectionately attached themselves to some particular author of congenial disposition. Pope, in his version of Homer, kept a constant eye on his master Dryden; Corneille's favourite authors were the brilliant Tacitus, the heroic Livy, and the lofty Lucan: the influence of their characters may be traced in his best tragedies. The great Clarendon, when employed in writing his history, read over very carefully Tacitus and Livy, to give dignity to his style; Tacitus did not surpass him in his portraits, though Clarendon never equalled Livy in his narrative.
The mode of literary composition adopted by that admirable student Sir William Jones, is well deserving our attention. After having fixed on his subjects, he always added the model of the composition; and thus boldly wrestled with the great authors of antiquity. On board the frigate which was carrying him to India, he projected the following works, and noted them in this manner:—
1. Elements of the Laws of England. Model—The Essay on Bailments. ARISTOTLE.
2. The History of the American War. Model—THUCYDIDES and POLYBIUS.
3. Britain Discovered, an Epic Poem. Machinery—Hindu Gods. Model—HOMER.
4. Speeches, Political and Forensic. Model—DEMOSTHENES.
5. Dialogues, Philosophical and Historical. Model—PLATO.
And of favourite authors there are also favourite works, which we love to be familiarised with. Bartholinus has a dissertation on reading books, in which he points out the superior performances of different writers. Of St. Austin, his City of God; of Hippocrates, Coacae Praenotiones; of Cicero, De Officiis; of Aristotle, De Animalibus; of Catullus, Coma Berenices; of Virgil, the sixth book of the AEneid, &c. Such judgments are indeed not to be our guides; but such a mode of reading is useful, by condensing our studies.
Evelyn, who has written treatises on several subjects, was occupied for years on them. His manner of arranging his materials, and his mode of composition, appear excellent. Having chosen a subject, he analysed it into its various parts, under certain heads, or titles, to be filled up at leisure. Under these heads he set down his own thoughts as they occurred, occasionally inserting whatever was useful from his reading. When his collections were thus formed, he digested his own thoughts regularly, and strengthened them by authorities from ancient and modern authors, or alleged his reasons for dissenting from them. His collections in time became voluminous, but he then exercised that judgment which the formers of such collections are usually deficient in. With Hesiod he knew that "half is better than the whole," and it was his aim to express the quintessence of his reading, but not to give it in a crude state to the world, and when his treatises were sent to the press, they were not half the size of his collections.
Thus also Winkelmann, in his "History of Art," an extensive work, was long lost in settling on a plan; like artists, who make random sketches of their first conceptions, he threw on paper ideas, hints, and observations which occurred in his readings—many of them, indeed, were not connected with his history, but were afterwards inserted in some of his other works.
Even Gibbon tells us of his Roman History, "at the outset all was dark and doubtful; even the title of the work, the true aera of the decline and fall of the empire, the limits of the introduction, the division of the chapters, and the order of the narration; and I was often tempted to cast away the labour of seven years." Akenside has exquisitely described the progress and the pains of genius in its delightful reveries: Pleasures of Imagination, b. iii. v. 373. The pleasures of composition in an ardent genius were never so finely described as by Buffon. Speaking of the hours of composition he said, "These are the most luxurious and delightful moments of life: moments which have often enticed me to pass fourteen hours at my desk in a state of transport; this gratification more than glory is my reward."
The publication of Gibbon's Memoirs conveyed to the world a faithful picture of the most fervid industry; it is in youth the foundations of such a sublime edifice as his history must be laid. The world can now trace how this Colossus of erudition, day by day, and year by year, prepared himself for some vast work.
Gibbon has furnished a new idea in the art of reading! We ought, says he, not to attend to the order of our books, so much as of our thoughts. "The perusal of a particular work gives birth perhaps to ideas unconnected with the subject it treats; I pursue these ideas, and quit my proposed plan of reading." Thus in the midst of Homer he read Longinus; a chapter of Longinus led to an epistle of Pliny; and having finished Longinus, he followed the train of his ideas of the sublime and beautiful in the Inquiry of Burke, and concluded with comparing the ancient with the modern Longinus. Of all our popular writers the most experienced reader was Gibbon, and he offers an important advice to an author engaged on a particular subject: "I suspended my perusal of any new book on the subject till I had reviewed all that I knew, or believed, or had thought on it, that I might be qualified to discern how much the authors added to my original stock."
These are valuable hints to students, and such have been practised by others. Ancillon was a very ingenious student; he seldom read a book throughout without reading in his progress many others; his library-table was always covered with a number of books for the most part open: this variety of authors bred no confusion; they all assisted to throw light on the same topic; he was not disgusted by frequently seeing the same thing in different writers; their opinions were so many new strokes, which completed the ideas which he had conceived. The celebrated Father Paul studied in the same manner. He never passed over an interesting subject till he had confronted a variety of authors. In historical researches he never would advance, till he had fixed, once for all, the places, time, and opinions—a mode of study which appears very dilatory, but in the end will make a great saving of time, and labour of mind: those who have not pursued this method are all their lives at a loss to settle their opinions and their belief, from the want of having once brought them to such a test.
I shall now offer a plan of Historical Study, and a calculation of the necessary time it will occupy, without specifying the authors; as I only propose to animate a young student, who feels he has not to number the days of a patriarch, that he should not be alarmed at the vast labyrinth historical researches present to his eye. If we look into public libraries, more than thirty thousand volumes of history may be found.
Lenglet du Fresnoy, one of the greatest readers, calculated that he could not read, with satisfaction, more than ten hours a day, and ten pages in folio an hour; which makes one hundred pages every day. Supposing each volume to contain one thousand pages, every month would amount to three volumes, which make thirty-six volumes in folio in the year. In fifty years a student could only read eighteen hundred volumes in folio. All this, too, supposing uninterrupted health, and an intelligence as rapid as the eyes of the laborious researcher. A man can hardly study to advantage till past twenty, and at fifty his eyes will be dimmed, and his head stuffed with much reading that should never be read. His fifty years for eighteen hundred volumes are reduced to thirty years, and one thousand volumes! And, after all, the universal historian must resolutely face thirty thousand volumes!
But to cheer the historiographer, he shows, that a public library is only necessary to be consulted; it is in our private closet where should be found those few writers who direct us to their rivals, without jealousy, and mark, in the vast career of time, those who are worthy to instruct posterity. His calculation proceeds on this plan, that six hours a day, and the term of ten years, are sufficient to pass over, with utility, the immense field of history.
He calculates an alarming extent of historical ground.
For a knowledge of Sacred History he gives 3 months. Ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria, modern Assyria} or Persia } 1 do. Greek History 6 do. Roman History by the moderns 7 do. Roman History by the original writers 6 do. Ecclesiastical History, general and particular 30 do. Modern History 24 do. To this may be added for recurrences and re-perusals 48 do. _ The total will amount to 101/2 years.
Thus, in ten years and a half, a student in history has obtained an universal knowledge, and this on a plan which permits as much leisure as every student would choose to indulge.
As a specimen of Du Fresnoy's calculations, take that of Sacred History.
For reading Pere Calmet's learned dissertations in the} order he points out } 12 days For Pere Calmet's History, in 2 vols. 4to (now in 4) 12 For Prideaux's History 10 For Josephus 12 For Basnage's History of the Jews 20 —— In all 66 days.
He allows, however, ninety days for obtaining a sufficient knowledge of Sacred History.
In reading this sketch, we are scarcely surprised at the erudition of a Gibbon; but having admired that erudition, we perceive the necessity of such a plan, if we would not learn what we have afterwards to unlearn.
A plan like the present, even in a mind which should feel itself incapable of the exertion, will not be regarded without that reverence we feel for genius animating such industry. This scheme of study, though it may never be rigidly pursued, will be found excellent. Ten years' labour of happy diligence may render a student capable of consigning to posterity a history as universal in its topics, as that of the historian who led to this investigation.
POETICAL IMITATIONS AND SIMILARITIES.
Tantus amor florum, et generandi gloria mellis. Georg. Lib. iv. v. 204.
Such rage of honey in our bosom beats, And such a zeal we have for flowery sweets! DRYDEN.
This article was commenced by me many years ago in the early volumes of the Monthly Magazine, and continued by various correspondents, with various success. I have collected only those of my own contribution, because I do not feel authorised to make use of those of other persons, however some may be desirable. One of the most elegant of literary recreations is that of tracing poetical or prose imitations and similarities; for assuredly, similarity is not always imitation. Bishop Hurd's pleasing essay on "The Marks of Imitation" will assist the critic in deciding on what may only be an accidental similarity, rather than a studied imitation. Those critics have indulged an intemperate abuse in these entertaining researches, who from a single word derive the imitation of an entire passage. Wakefield, in his edition of Gray, is very liable to this censure.
This kind of literary amusement is not despicable: there are few men of letters who have not been in the habit of marking parallel passages, or tracing imitation, in the thousand shapes it assumes; it forms, it cultivates, it delights taste to observe by what dexterity and variation genius conceals, or modifies, an original thought or image, and to view the same sentiment, or expression, borrowed with art, or heightened by embellishment. The ingenious writer of "A Criticism on Gray's Elegy, in continuation of Dr. Johnson's," has given some observations on this subject, which will please. "It is often entertaining to trace imitation. To detect the adopted image; the copied design; the transferred sentiment; the appropriated phrase; and even the acquired manner and frame, under all the disguises that imitation, combination, and accommodation may have thrown around them, must require both parts and diligence; but it will bring with it no ordinary gratification. A book professedly on the 'History and Progress of Imitation in Poetry,' written by a man of perspicuity, an adept in the art of discerning likenesses, even when minute, with examples properly selected, and gradations duly marked, would make an impartial accession to the store of human literature, and furnish rational curiosity with a high regale." Let me premise that these notices (the wrecks of a large collection of passages I had once formed merely as exercises to form my taste) are not given with the petty malignant delight of detecting the unacknowledged imitations of our best writers, but merely to habituate the young student to an instructive amusement, and to exhibit that beautiful variety which the same image is capable of exhibiting when retouched with all the art of genius.
Gray, in his "Ode to Spring," has
The Attic warbler POURS HER THROAT.
Wakefield in his "Commentary" has a copious passage on this poetical diction. He conceives it to be "an admirable improvement of the Greek and Roman classics:"
—keen auden: HES. Scut. Her. 396. —Suaves ex ore loquelas Funde. LUCRET. i. 40.
This learned editor was little conversant with modern literature, as he proved by his memorable editions of Gray and Pope. The expression is evidently borrowed not from Hesiod, nor from Lucretius, but from a brother at home.
Is it for thee, the Linnet POURS HER THROAT? Essay on Man, Ep. iii, v. 33.
Gray, in the "Ode to Adversity," addresses the power thus,
Thou tamer of the human breast, Whose IRON SCOURGE and TORTURING HOUR The bad affright, afflict the best.
Wakefield censures the expression "torturing hour," by discovering an impropriety and incongruity. He says, "consistency of figure rather required some material image, like iron scourge and adamantine chain." It is curious to observe a verbal critic lecture such a poet as Gray! The poet probably would never have replied, or, in a moment of excessive urbanity, he might have condescended to point out to this minutest of critics the following passage in Milton:—
——When the SCOURGE Inexorably, and the TORTURING HOUR Calls us to penance. Par. Lost, B. ii. v. 90.
Gray, in his "Ode to Adversity," has
Light THEY DISPERSE, and with them go The SUMMER FRIEND.
Fond of this image, he has it again in his "Bard,"
They SWARM, that in thy NOONTIDE BEAM are born, Gone!
Perhaps the germ of this beautiful image may be found in Shakspeare:—
—— for men, like BUTTERFLIES, Show not their mealy wings but to THE SUMMER. Troilus and Cressida, Act iii. s. 7.
And two similar passages in Timon of Athens:—
The swallow follows not summer more willingly than we your lordship.
Timon. Nor more willingly leaves winter; such summer birds are men.—Act iii.
Again in the same,
——one cloud of winter showers These flies are couch'd.—Act ii.
Gray, in his "Progress of Poetry," has
In climes beyond the SOLAR ROAD.
Wakefield has traced this imitation to Dryden; Gray himself refers to Virgil and Petrarch. Wakefield gives the line from Dryden, thus:—
Beyond the year, and out of heaven's high-way;
which he calls extremely bold and poetical. I confess a critic might be allowed to be somewhat fastidious in this unpoetical diction on the high-way, which I believe Dryden never used. I think his line was thus:—
Beyond the year, out of the SOLAR WALK.
Pope has expressed the image more elegantly, though copied from Dryden,
Far as the SOLAR WALK, or milky way.
Gray has in his "Bard,"
Dear as the light that visits these sad eyes, Dear as the ruddy drops that warm my heart.
Gray himself points out the imitation in Shakspeare of the latter image; but it is curious to observe that Otway, in his Venice Preserved, makes Priuli most pathetically exclaim to his daughter, that she is
Dear as the vital warmth that feeds my life, Dear as these eyes that weep in fondness o'er thee.
Gray tells us that the image of his "Bard,"
Loose his beard and hoary hair Streamed like a METEOR to the troubled air,
was taken from a picture of the Supreme Being by Raphael. It is, however, remarkable, and somewhat ludicrous, that the beard of Hudibras is also compared to a meteor: and the accompanying observation of Butler almost induces one to think that Gray derived from it the whole plan of that sublime Ode—since his Bard precisely performs what the beard of Hudibras denounced. These are the verses:—
This HAIRY METEOR did denounce The fall of sceptres and of crowns. Hudibras, c. 1.
I have been asked if I am serious in my conjecture that "the meteor beard" of Hudibras might have given birth to the "Bard" of Gray? I reply, that the burlesque and the sublime are extremes, and extremes meet. How often does it merely depend on our own state of mind, and on our own taste, to consider the sublime as burlesque! A very vulgar, but acute genius, Thomas Paine, whom we may suppose destitute of all delicacy and refinement, has conveyed to us a notion of the sublime, as it is probably experienced by ordinary and uncultivated minds; and even by acute and judicious ones, who are destitute of imagination. He tells us that "the sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related, that it is difficult to class them separately. One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again." May I venture to illustrate this opinion? Would it not appear the ridiculous or burlesque to describe the sublime revolution of the Earth on her axle, round the Sun, by comparing it with the action of a top flogged by a boy? And yet some of the most exquisite lines in Milton do this; the poet only alluding in his mind to the top. The earth he describes, whether
——She from west her silent course advance With inoffensive pace that spinning sleeps On her soft axle, while she paces even.
Be this as it may! it has never I believe been remarked (to return to Gray) that when he conceived the idea of the beard of his Bard, he had in his mind the language of Milton, who describes Azazel sublimely unfurling
The imperial ensign, which full high advanced, Shone like a meteor streaming to the wind. Par. Lost, B. i. v. 535.
Very similar to Gray's
Streamed like a meteor to the troubled air!
Gray has been severely censured by Johnson for the expression,
Give ample room and verge enough, The characters of hell to trace.—The Bard.
On the authority of the most unpoetical of critics, we must still hear that the poet has no line so bad.—"ample room" is feeble, but would have passed unobserved in any other poem but in the poetry of Gray, who has taught us to admit nothing but what is exquisite. "Verge enough" is poetical, since it conveys a material image to the imagination. No one appears to have detected the source from whence, probably, the whole line was derived. I am inclined to think it was from the following passage in Dryden:
Let fortune empty her whole quiver on me, I have a soul that, like an AMPLE SHIELD, Can take in all, and VERGE ENOUGH for more! Dryden's Don Sebastian.
Gray in his Elegy has
Even in our ashes live their wonted fires.
This line is so obscure that it is difficult to apply it to what precedes it. Mason in his edition in vain attempts to derive it from a thought of Petrarch, and still more vainly attempts to amend it; Wakefield expends an octavo page to paraphrase this single verse. From the following lines of Chaucer, one would imagine Gray caught the recollected idea. The old Reve, in his prologue, says of himself, and of old men,
For whan we may not don than wol we speken; Yet in our ASHEN cold is FIRE yreken. TYRWHIT'S Chaucer, vol. i. p. 153, v. 3879.
Gray has a very expressive word, highly poetical, but I think not common:
FOR WHO TO DUMB FORGETFULNESS a prey—
Daniel has, as quoted in Cooper's Muses' Library,
And in himself with sorrow, does complain The misery of DARK FORGETFULNESS.
A line of Pope's, in his Dunciad, "High-born Howard," echoed in the ear of Gray, when he gave, with all the artifice of alliteration,
High-born Hoel's harp.
Johnson bitterly censures Gray for giving to adjectives the termination of participles, such as the cultured plain; the daisied bank: but he solemnly adds, I was sorry to see in the line of a scholar like Gray, "the honied spring." Had Johnson received but the faintest tincture of the rich Italian school of English poetry, he would never have formed so tasteless a criticism. Honied is employed by Milton in more places than one.
Hide me from day's garish eye While the bee with HONIED thigh Penseroso, v. 142.
The celebrated stanza in Gray's Elegy seems partly to be borrowed.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene The dark unfathom'd eaves of ocean bear: Full many a flower is torn to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness in the desert air.
Pope had said:
There kept by charms conceal'd from mortal eye, Like roses that in deserts bloom and die. Rape of the Lock.
Young says of nature:
In distant wilds by human eye unseen She rears her flowers and spreads her velvet green; Pure gurgling rills the lonely desert trace, And waste their music on the savage race.
And Shenstone has—
And like the desert's lily bloom to fade! Elegy iv.
Gray was so fond of this pleasing imagery, that he repeats it in his Ode to the Installation; and Mason echoes it in his Ode to Memory.
Milton thus paints the evening sun:
If chance the radiant SUN with FAREWELL SWEET Extends his evening beam, the fields revive, The birds their notes renew, &c. Par. Lost, B. ii. v. 492.
Can there be a doubt that he borrowed this beautiful farewell from an obscure poet, quoted by Poole, in his "English Parnassus," 1657? The date of Milton's great work, I find since, admits the conjecture: the first edition being that of 1669. The homely lines in Poole are these,
To Thetis' watery bowers the sun doth hie, BIDDING FAREWELL unto the gloomy sky.
Young, in his "Love of Fame," very adroitly improves on a witty conceit of Butler. It is curious to observe that while Butler had made a remote allusion of a window to a pillory, a conceit is grafted on this conceit, with even more exquisite wit.
Each WINDOW like the PILLORY appears, With HEADS thrust through: NAILED BY THE EARS! Hudibras, Part ii. c. 3, v. 301.
An opera, like a PILLORY, may be said To NAIL OUR EARS down, and EXPOSE OUR HEAD. YOUNG'S Satires.
In the Duenna we find this thought differently illustrated; by no means imitative, though the satire is congenial. Don Jerome alluding to the serenaders says, "These amorous orgies that steal the senses in the hearing; as they say Egyptian embalmers serve mummies, extracting the brain through the ears." The wit is original, but the subject is the same in the three passages; the whole turning on the allusion to the head and to the ears.
When Pope composed the following lines on Fame,
How vain that second life in others' breath, The ESTATE which wits INHERIT after death; Ease, health, and life, for this they must resign, (Unsure the tenure, but how vast the fine!) Temple of Fame.
he seems to have had present in his mind a single idea of Butler, by which he has very richly amplified the entire imagery. Butler says,
Honour's a LEASE for LIVES TO COME, And cannot be extended from The LEGAL TENANT. Hudibras, Part i. c. 3, v. 1043.
The same thought may be found in Sir George Mackenzie's "Essay on preferring Solitude to public Employment," first published in 1665: Hudibras preceded it by two years. The thought is strongly expressed by the eloquent Mackenzie: "Fame is a revenue payable only to our ghosts; and to deny ourselves all present satisfaction, or to expose ourselves to so much hazard for this, were as great madness as to starve ourselves, or fight desperately for food, to be laid on our tombs after our death."
Dryden, in his "Absalom and Achitophel," says of the Earl of Shaftesbury,
David for him his tuneful harp had strung, And Heaven had wanted one immortal song.
This verse was ringing in the ear of Pope, when with equal modesty and felicity he adopted it in addressing his friend Dr. Arbuthnot.
Friend of my life; which did not you prolong, The world had wanted many an idle song!
Howell has prefixed to his Letters a tedious poem, written in the taste of the times, and he there says of letters, that they are
The heralds and sweet harbingers that move From East to West, on embassies of love; They can the tropic cut, and cross the line.
It is probable that Pope had noted this thought, for the following lines seem a beautiful heightening of the idea:
Heaven first taught letters, for some wretch's aid, Some banish'd lover, or some captive maid.
Then he adds, they
Speed the soft intercourse from soul to soul, And waft a sigh from Indus to the Pole. Eloisa.
There is another passage in "Howell's Letters," which has a great affinity with a thought of Pope, who, in "the Rape of the Lock," says,
Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare, And beauty draws us with a single hair.
Howell writes, p. 290, "'Tis a powerful sex:—they were too strong for the first, the strongest and wisest man that was; they must needs be strong, when one hair of a woman can draw more than an hundred pair of oxen."
Pope's description of the death of the lamb, in his "Essay on Man," is finished with the nicest touches, and is one of the finest pictures our poetry exhibits. Even familiar as it is to our ear, we never examine it but with undiminished admiration.
The lamb, thy riot dooms to bleed to-day, Had he thy reason, would he skip and play? Pleased to the last he crops the flowery food, And licks the hand just rais'd to shed his blood.
After pausing on the last two fine verses, will not the reader smile that I should conjecture the image might originally have been discovered in the following humble verses in a poem once considered not as contemptible:
A gentle lamb has rhetoric to plead, And when she sees the butcher's knife decreed, Her voice entreats him not to make her bleed. DR. KING'S Mully of Mountown.
This natural and affecting image might certainly have been observed by Pope, without his having perceived it through the less polished lens of the telescope of Dr. King. It is, however, a similarity, though it may not be an imitation; and is given as an example of that art in composition which can ornament the humblest conception, like the graceful vest thrown over naked and sordid beggary.
I consider the following lines as strictly copied by Thomas Warton:
The daring artist Explored the pangs that rend the royal breast, Those wounds that lurk beneath the tissued vest. T. WARTON on Shakspeare.
Sir Philip Sidney, in his "Defence of Poesie," has the same image. He writes, "Tragedy openeth the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue."
The same appropriation of thought will attach to the following lines of Tickell:
While the charm'd reader with thy thought complies, And views thy Rosamond with Henry's eyes. TICKELL to ADDISON.
Evidently from the French Horace:
En vain contre le Cid un ministre se ligue; Tout Paris, pour Chimene, a les yeux de Rodrigue. BOILEAU.
Oldham, the satirist, says in his satires upon the Jesuits, that had Cain been of this black fraternity, he had not been content with a quarter of mankind.
Had he been Jesuit, had he but put on Their savage cruelty, the rest had gone! Satire ii.
Doubtless at that moment echoed in his poetical ear the energetic and caustic epigram of Andrew Marvel, against Blood stealing the crown dressed in a parson's cassock, and sparing the life of the keeper:
With the Priest's vestment had he but put on The Prelate's cruelty—the Crown had gone!
The following passages seem echoes to each other, and it is but justice due to Oldham, the satirist, to acknowledge him as the parent of this antithesis:
On Butler who can think without just rage, The glory and the scandal of the age? Satire against Poetry.
It seems evidently borrowed by Pope, when he applies the thought to Erasmus:—
At length Erasmus, that great injured name, The glory of the priesthood and the shame!
Young remembered the antithesis when he said,
Of some for glory such the boundless rage, That they're the blackest scandal of the age.
Voltaire, a great reader of Pope, seems to have borrowed part of the expression:—
Scandale d'Eglise, et des rois le modele.
De Caux, an old French poet, in one of his moral poems on an hour-glass, inserted in modern collections, has many ingenious thoughts. That this poem was read and admired by Goldsmith, the following beautiful image seems to indicate. De Caux, comparing the world to his hour-glass, says beautifully,
C'est un verre qui luit, Qu'un souffle peut detruire, et qu'un souffle a produit.
Goldsmith applies the thought very happily—
Princes and lords may flourish or may fade; A breath can make them, as a breath has made.
I do not know whether we might not read, for modern copies are sometimes incorrect,
A breath unmakes them, as a breath has made.
Thomson, in his pastoral story of Palemon and Lavinia, appears to have copied a passage from Otway. Palemon thus addresses Lavinia:—
Oh, let me now into a richer soil Transplant thee safe, where vernal suns and showers Diffuse their warmest, largest influence; And of my garden be the pride and joy!
Chamont employs the same image when speaking of Monimia; he says—
You took her up a little tender flower, —— and with a careful loving hand Transplanted her into your own fair garden, Where the sun always shines.
The origin of the following imagery is undoubtedly Grecian; but it is still embellished and modified by our best poets:—
——While universal Pan, Knit with the graces and the hours, in dance Led on th' eternal spring. Paradise Lost.
Thomson probably caught this strain of imagery:
Sudden to heaven Thence weary vision turns, where leading soft The silent hours of love, with purest ray Sweet Venus shines. Summer, v. 1692.
Gray, in repeating this imagery, has borrowed a remarkable epithet from Milton:
Lo, where the rosy-bosom'd hours, Fair Venus' train, appear. Ode to Spring.
Along the crisped shades and bowers Revels the spruce and jocund spring; The graces and the rosy-bosom'd hours Thither all their bounties bring. Comus, v. 984.
Collins, in his Ode to Fear, whom he associates with Danger, there grandly personified, was I think considerably indebted to the following stanza of Spenser:
Next him was Fear, all arm'd from top to toe, Yet thought himself not safe enough thereby: But fear'd each sudden movement to and fro; And his own arms when glittering he did spy, Or clashing heard, he fast away did fly, As ashes pale of hue and wingy heel'd; And evermore on Danger fix'd his eye, 'Gainst whom he always bent a brazen shield, Which his right hand unarmed fearfully did wield. Faery Queen, B. iii. c. 12, s. 12.
Warm from its perusal, he seems to have seized it as a hint to the Ode to Fear, and in his "Passions" to have very finely copied an idea here:
First Fear, his hand, his skill to try, Amid the chords bewildered laid, And back recoil'd, he knew not why, E'en at the sound himself had made. Ode to the Passions.
The stanza in Beattie's "Minstrel," first book, in which his "visionary boy," after "the storm of summer rain," views "the rainbow brighten to the setting sun," and runs to reach it:
Fond fool, that deem'st the streaming glory nigh, How vain the chase thine ardour has begun! 'Tis fled afar, ere half thy purposed race be run; Thus it fares with age, &c.
The same train of thought and imagery applied to the same subject, though the image itself be somewhat different, may be found in the poems of the platonic John Norris; a writer who has great originality of thought, and a highly poetical spirit. His stanza runs thus:
So to the unthinking boy the distant sky Seems on some mountain's surface to relie; He with ambitious haste climbs the ascent, Curious to touch the firmament; But when with an unwearied pace, He is arrived at the long-wish'd-for place, With sighs the sad defeat he does deplore, His heaven is still as distant as before! The Infidel, by JOHN NORRIS.
In the modern tragedy of The Castle Spectre is this fine description of the ghost of Evelina:—"Suddenly a female form glided along the vault. I flew towards her. My arms were already unclosed to clasp her,—when suddenly her figure changed! Her face grew pale—a stream of blood gushed from her bosom. While speaking, her form withered away; the flesh fell from her bones; a skeleton loathsome and meagre clasped me in her mouldering arms. Her infected breath was mingled with mine; her rotting fingers pressed my hand; and my face was covered with her kisses. Oh! then how I trembled with disgust!"
There is undoubtedly singular merit in this description. I shall contrast it with one which the French Virgil has written, in an age whose faith was stronger in ghosts than ours, yet which perhaps had less skill in describing them. There are some circumstances which seem to indicate that the author of the Castle Spectre lighted his torch at the altar of the French muse. Athalia thus narrates her dream, in which the spectre of Jezabel, her mother, appears:
C'etoit pendant l'horreur d'une profonde nuit, Ma mere Jezabel devant moi s'est montree, Comme au jour de sa mort, pompeusement paree.— —— En achevant ces mots epouvantables, Son ombre vers mon lit a paru se baisser, Et moi, je lui tendois les mains pour l'embrasser, Mais je n'ai plus trouve qu'un horrible melange D'os et de chair meurtris, et trainee dans la fange, Des lambeaux pleins de sang et des membres affreux. RACINE'S Athalie, Acte ii. s. 5.
Goldsmith, when, in his pedestrian tour, he sat amid the Alps, as he paints himself in his "Traveller," and felt himself the solitary neglected genius he was, desolate amidst the surrounding scenery, probably at that moment applied to himself the following beautiful imagery of Thomson:
As in the hollow breast of Apennine Beneath the centre of encircling hills, A myrtle rises, far from human eyes, And breathes its balmy fragrance o'er the wild. Autumn, v. 202.
Goldsmith very pathetically applies a similar image:
E'en now where Alpine solitudes ascend, I sit me down a pensive hour to spend, Like yon neglected shrub at random cast, That shades the steep, and sighs at every blast. Traveller.
Akenside illustrates the native impulse of genius by a simile of Memnon's marble statue, sounding its lyre at the touch of the sun:
For as old Memnon's image, long renown'd By fabling Nilus, to the quivering touch Of Titan's ray, with each repulsive string Consenting, sounded through the warbling air Unbidden strains; even so did nature's hand, &c.
It is remarkable that the same image, which does not appear obvious enough to have been the common inheritance of poets, is precisely used by old Regnier, the first French satirist, in the dedication of his Satires to the French king. Louis XIV. supplies the place of nature to the courtly satirist. These are his words:—"On lit qu'en Ethiope il y avoit une statue qui rendoit un son harmonieux, toutes les fois que le soleil levant la regardoit. Ce meme miracle, Sire, avez vous fait en moi, qui touche de l'astre de Votre Majeste, ai recu la voix et la parole."
In that sublime passage in "Pope's Essay on Man," Epist. i. v. 237, beginning,
Vast chain of being! which from God began,
and proceeds to
From nature's chain whatever link you strike, Tenth, or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.
Pope seems to have caught the idea and image from Waller, whose last verse is as fine as any in the "Essay on Man:"—
The chain that's fixed to the throne of Jove, On which the fabric of our world depends, One link dissolv'd, the whole creation ends. Of the Danger his Majesty escaped, &c. v. 168.
It has been observed by Thyer, that Milton borrowed the expression imbrowned and brown, which he applies to the evening shade, from the Italian. See Thyer's elegant note in B. iv., v. 246:
——And where the unpierced shade Imbrowned the noon tide bowers.
And B. ix., v. 1086:
—— Where highest Woods impenetrable To sun or star-light, spread their umbrage broad, And brown as evening.
Fa l'imbruno is an expression used by the Italians to denote the approach of the evening. Boiardo, Ariosto and Tasso, have made a very picturesque use of this term, noticed by Thyer. I doubt if it be applicable to our colder climate; but Thomson appears to have been struck by the fine effect it produces in poetical landscape; for he has
——With quickened step Brown night retires. Summer, v. 51.
If the epithet be true, it cannot be more appropriately applied than in the season he describes, which most resembles the genial clime with the deep serenity of an Italian heaven. Milton in Italy had experienced the brown evening, but it may be suspected that Thomson only recollected the language of the poet.
The same observation may be made on two other poetical epithets. I shall notice the epithet "LAUGHING" applied to inanimate objects; and "PURPLE" to beautiful objects."
The natives of Italy and the softer climates receive emotions from the view of their WATERS in the SPRING not equally experienced in the British roughness of our skies. The fluency and softness of the water are thus described by Lucretius:—
——Tibi suaveis Daedala tellus Submittit flores: tibi RIDENT aequora ponti.
Inelegantly rendered by Creech,
The roughest sea puts on smooth looks, and SMILES.
Dryden more happily,
The ocean SMILES, and smooths her wavy breast.
But Metastasio has copied Lucretius:—
A te fioriscono Gli erbosi prat: E i flutti RIDONO Nel mar placati.
It merits observation, that the Northern Poets could not exalt their imagination higher than that the water SMILED, while the modern Italian, having before his eyes a different Spring, found no difficulty in agreeing with the ancients, that the waves LAUGHED. Modern poetry has made a very free use of the animating epithet LAUGHING. Gray has LAUGHING FLOWERS: and Langhorne in two beautiful lines personifies Flora:—
Where Tweed's soft banks in liberal beauty lie, And Flora LAUGHS beneath an azure sky.
Sir William Jones, in the spirit of Oriental poetry, has "the LAUGHING AIR." Dryden has employed this epithet boldly in the delightful lines, almost entirely borrowed from his original, Chaucer:—
The morning lark, the messenger of day, Saluted in her song the morning gray; And soon the sun arose, with beams so bright, That all THE HORIZON LAUGHED to see the joyous sight. Palamon and Arcite, B. ii.
It is extremely difficult to conceive what the ancients precisely meant by the word purpureus. They seem to have designed by it anything BRIGHT and BEAUTIFUL. A classical friend has furnished me with numerous significations of this word which are very contradictory. Albinovanus, in his elegy on Livia, mentions Nivem purpureum. Catullus, Quercus ramos purpureos. Horace, Purpureo bibet ore nectar, and somewhere mentions Olores purpureos. Virgil has Purpuream vomit ille animam; and Homer calls the sea purple, and gives it in some other book the same epithet, when in a storm.
The general idea, however, has been fondly adopted by the finest writers in Europe. The PURPLE of the ancients is not known to us. What idea, therefore, have the moderns affixed to it? Addison, in his Vision of the Temple of Fame, describes the country as "being covered with a kind of PURPLE LIGHT." Gray's beautiful line is well known:—
The bloom of young desire and purple light of love.
And Tasso, in describing his hero Godfrey, says, Heaven
Gli empie d'onor la faccia, e vi riduce Di Giovinezza il bel purpureo lume.
Both Gray and Tasso copied Virgil, where Venus gives to her son AEneas—
——Lumenque Juventae Purpureum.
Dryden has omitted the purple light in his version, nor is it given by Pitt; but Dryden expresses the general idea by
—— With hands divine, Had formed his curling locks and made his temples shine, And given his rolling eys a sparkling grace.
It is probable that Milton has given us his idea of what was meant by this purple light, when applied to the human countenance, in the felicitous expression of
Gray appears to me to be indebted to Milton for a hint for the opening of his Elegy: as in the first line he had Dante and Milton in his mind, he perhaps might also in the following passage have recollected a congenial one in Comus, which he altered. Milton, describing the evening, marks it out by
—— What time the laboured ox In his loose traces from the furrow came, And the swinkt hedger at his supper sat.
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way.
Warton has made an observation on this passage in Comus; and observes further that it is a classical circumstance, but not a natural one, in an English landscape, for our ploughmen quit their work at noon. I think, therefore, the imitation is still more evident; and as Warton observes, both Gray and Milton copied here from books, and not from life.
There are three great poets who have given us a similar incident.
Dryden introduces the highly finished picture of the hare in his Annus Mirabilis:—
Stanza 131. So I have seen some fearful hare maintain A course, till tired before the dog she lay, Who stretched behind her, pants upon the plain, Past power to kill, as she to get away.
132. With his loll'd tongue he faintly licks his prey; His warm breath blows her flix up as she lies: She trembling creeps upon the ground away And looks back to him with beseeching eyes.
Thomson paints the stag in a similar situation:—
——Fainting breathless toil Sick seizes on his heart—he stands at bay: The big round tears run down his dappled face, He groans in anguish. Autumn, v. 451.
Shakspeare exhibits the same object:—
The wretched animal heaved forth such groans, That their discharge did stretch his leathern coat Almost to bursting; and the big round tears Coursed one another down his innocent nose In piteous chase.
Of these three pictures the beseeching eyes of Dryden perhaps is more pathetic than the big round tears, certainly borrowed by Thomson from Shakspeare, because the former expression has more passion, and is therefore more poetical. The sixth line in Dryden is perhaps exquisite for its imitative harmony, and with peculiar felicity paints the action itself. Thomson adroitly drops the innocent nose, of which one word seems to have lost its original signification, and the other offends now by its familiarity. The dappled face is a term more picturesque, more appropriate, and more poetically expressed.
EXPLANATION OF THE FAC-SIMILE.
The manuscripts of Pope's version of the Iliad and Odyssey are preserved in the British Museum in three volumes, the gift of David Mallet. They are written chiefly on the backs of letters, amongst which are several from Addison, Steele, Jervaise, Rowe, Young, Caryl, Walsh, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Fenton, Craggs, Congreve, Hughes, his mother Editha, and Lintot and Tonson the booksellers.
From these letters no information can be gathered, which merits public communication; they relate generally to the common civilities and common affairs of life. What little could be done has already been given in the additions to Pope's works.
It has been observed, that Pope taught himself to write, by copying printed books: of this singularity we have in this collection a remarkable instance; several parts are written in Roman and Italic characters, which for some time I mistook for print; no imitation can be more correct.
What appears on this Fac-Simile I have printed, to assist its deciphering; and I have also subjoined the passage as it was given to the public, for immediate reference. The manuscript from whence this page is taken consists of the first rude sketches; an intermediate copy having been employed for the press; so that the corrected verses of this Fac-Simile occasionally vary from those published.
This passage has been selected, because the parting of Hector and Andromache is perhaps the most pleasing episode in the Iliad, while it is confessedly one of the most finished passages.
The lover of poetry will not be a little gratified, when he contemplates the variety of epithets, the imperfect idea, the gradual embellishment, and the critical rasures which are here discovered. The action of Hector, in lifting his infant in his arms, occasioned Pope much trouble; and at length the printed copy has a different reading.
I must not omit noticing, that the whole is on the back of a letter franked by Addison; which cover I have given at one corner of the plate.
The parts distinguished by Italics were rejected.
Thus having spoke, the illustrious chief of Troy Extends his eager arms to embrace his boy, lovely Stretched his fond arms to seize the beauteous boy; babe The boy clung crying to his nurse's breast, Scar'd at the dazzling helm and nodding crest. each kind With silent pleasure the fond parent smil'd, And Hector hasten'd to relieve his child. The glittering terrors unbound, His radiant helmet from his brows unbrac'd, on the ground, he And on the ground the glittering terror plac'd, beamy And placed the radiant helmet on the ground, Then seized the boy and raising him in air, lifting Then fondling in his arms his infant heir, dancing Thus to the gods addrest a father's prayer. glory fills O thou, whose thunder shakes th' ethereal throne, deathless And all ye other powers protect my son! Like mine, this war, blooming youth with every virtue blest, grace The shield and glory of the Trojan race; Like mine his valour, and his just renown. Like mine his labours, to defend the crown. Grant him, like me, to purchase just renown, the Trojans To guard my country, to defend the crown: In arms like me, his country's war to wage, And rise the Hector of the future age! Against his country's foes the war to wage, And rise the Hector of the future age! successful So when triumphant from the glorious toils Of heroes slain, he bears the reeking spoils, Whole hosts may All Troy shall hail him, with deserv'd acclaim, own the son And cry, this chief transcends his father's fame. While pleas'd, amidst the general shouts of Troy, His mother's conscious heart o'erflows with joy. fondly on her He said, and gazing o'er his consort's charms, Restor'd his infant to her longing arms. on Soft in her fragrant breast the babe she laid, Prest to her heart, and with a smile survey'd; to repose Hush'd him to rest, and with a smile survey'd. passion But soon the troubled pleasure mixt with rising fears, dash'd with fear, The tender pleasure soon, chastised by fear, She mingled with the smile a tender tear.
The passage appears thus in the printed work. I have marked in Italics the variations.
Thus having spoke, the illustrious chief of Troy Stretch'd his fond arms to clasp the lovely boy. The babe clung crying to his nurse's breast, Scar'd at the dazzling helm and nodding crest. With secret pleasure each fond parent smil'd, And Hector hasted to relieve his child, The glittering terrors from his brows unbound, And placed the beaming helmet on the ground: Then kiss'd the child, and lifting high in air, Thus to the gods preferr'd a father's prayer:
O thou, whose glory fills th' ethereal throne, And all ye deathless powers, protect my son! Grant him like me to purchase just renown, To guard the Trojans, to defend the crown; Against his country's foes the war to wage, And rise the Hector of the future age! So when, triumphant from successful toils, Of heroes slain he bears the reeking spoils, Whole hosts may hail him, with deserv'd acclaim, And say, this chief transcends his father's fame: While pleas'd amidst the general shouts of Troy, His mother's conscious heart o'erflows with joy.
He spoke, and fondly gazing on her charms, Restor'd the pleasing burden to her arms: Soft on her fragrant breast the babe she laid, Hush'd to repose, and with a smile survey'd. The troubled pleasure soon chastis'd by fear, She mingled with the smile a tender tear.
There is such a thing as Literary Fashion, and prose and verse have been regulated by the same caprice that cuts our coats and cocks our hats. Dr. Kippis, who had a taste for literary history, has observed that "'Dodsley's Oeconomy of Human Life' long received the most extravagant applause, from the supposition that it was written by a celebrated nobleman; an instance of the power of Literary Fashion; the history of which, as it hath appeared in various ages and countries, and as it hath operated with respect to the different objects of science, learning, art, and taste, would form a work that might be highly instructive and entertaining."
The favourable reception of Dodsley's "Oeconomy of Human Life," produced a whole family of oeconomies; it was soon followed by a second part, the gratuitous ingenuity of one of those officious imitators, whom an original author never cares to thank. Other oeconomies trod on the heels of each other.
For some memoranda towards a history of literary fashions, the following may be arranged:—
At the restoration of letters in Europe, commentators and compilers were at the head of the literati; translators followed, who enriched themselves with their spoils on the commentators. When in the progress of modern literature, writers aimed to rival the great authors of antiquity, the different styles, in their servile imitations, clashed together; and parties were formed who fought desperately for the style they chose to adopt. The public were long harassed by a fantastic race, who called themselves Ciceronian, of whom are recorded many ridiculous practices, to strain out the words of Cicero into their hollow verbosities. They were routed by the facetious Erasmus. Then followed the brilliant aera of epigrammatic points; and good sense, and good taste, were nothing without the spurious ornaments of false wit. Another age was deluged by a million of sonnets; and volumes were for a long time read, without their readers being aware that their patience was exhausted. There was an age of epics, which probably can never return again; for after two or three, the rest can be but repetitions with a few variations.
In Italy, from 1530 to 1580, a vast multitude of books were written on Love; the fashion of writing on that subject (for certainly it was not always a passion with the indefatigable writer) was an epidemical distemper. They wrote like pedants, and pagans; those who could not write their love in verse, diffused themselves in prose. When the Poliphilus of Colonna appeared, which is given in the form of a dream, this dream made a great many dreamers, as it happens in company (says the sarcastic Zeno) when one yawner makes many yawn. When Bishop Hall first published his satires, he called them "Toothless Satires," but his latter ones he distinguished as "Biting Satires;" many good-natured men, who could only write good-natured verse, crowded in his footsteps, and the abundance of their labours only showed that even the "toothless" satires of Hall could bite more sharply than those of servile imitators. After Spenser's "Faerie Queen" was published, the press overflowed with many mistaken imitations, in which fairies were the chief actors—this circumstance is humorously animadverted on by Marston, in his satires, as quoted by Warton: every scribe now falls asleep, and in his
——dreams, straight tenne pound to one Outsteps some fairy—— Awakes, straiet rubs his eyes, and PRINTS HIS TALE.
The great personage who gave a fashion to this class of literature was the courtly and romantic Elizabeth herself; her obsequious wits and courtiers would not fail to feed and flatter her taste. Whether they all felt the beauties, or languished over the tediousness of "The Faerie Queen," and the "Arcadia" of Sidney, at least her majesty gave a vogue to such sentimental and refined romance. The classical Elizabeth introduced another literary fashion; having translated the Hercules Oetacus, she made it fashionable to translate Greek tragedies. There was a time, in the age of fanaticism, and the Long Parliament, that books were considered the more valuable for their length. The seventeenth century was the age of folios. Caryl wrote a "Commentary on Job" in two volumes folio, of above one thousand two hundred sheets! as it was intended to inculcate the virtue of patience, these volumes gave at once the theory and the practice. One is astonished at the multitude of the divines of this age; whose works now lie buried under the brick and mortar tombs of four or five folios, which, on a moderate calculation, might now be "wire-woven" into thirty or forty modern octavos.
In Charles I.'s time, love and honour were heightened by the wits into florid romance; but Lord Goring turned all into ridicule; and he was followed by the Duke of Buckingham, whose happy vein of ridicule was favoured by Charles II., who gave it the vogue it obtained.
Sir William Temple justly observes, that changes in veins of wit are like those of habits, or other modes. On the return of Charles II., none were more out of fashion among the new courtiers than the old Earl of Norwich, who was esteemed the greatest wit, in his father's time, among the old.
Modern times have abounded with what may be called fashionable literature. Tragedies were some years ago as fashionable as comedies are at this day; Thomson, Mallet, Francis, Hill, applied their genius to a department in which they lost it all. Declamation and rant, and over-refined language, were preferred to the fable, the manners, and to nature—and these now sleep on our shelves! Then too we had a family of paupers in the parish of poetry, in "Imitations of Spenser." Not many years ago, Churchill was the occasion of deluging the town with political poems in quarto.—These again were succeeded by narrative poems, in the ballad measure, from all sizes of poets.—The Castle of Otranto was the father of that marvellous, which once over-stocked the circulating library and closed with Mrs. Radcliffe.—Lord Byron has been the father of hundreds of graceless sons!—Travels and voyages have long been a class of literature so fashionable, that we begin to prepare for, or to dread, the arrival of certain persons from the Continent!
Different times, then, are regulated by different tastes. What makes a strong impression on the public at one time, ceases to interest it at another; an author who sacrifices to the prevailing humours of his day has but little chance of being esteemed by posterity; and every age of modern literature might, perhaps, admit of a new classification, by dividing it into its periods of fashionable literature.
THE PANTOMIMICAL CHARACTERS.
Il est des gens de qui l'esprit guinde Sous un front jamais deride Ne souffre, n'approuve, et n'estime Que le pompeux, et le sublime; Pour moi j'ose poser en fait Qu'en de certains momens l'esprit le plus parfait Peut aimer sans rougir jusqu'aux marionettes; Et qu'il est des tems et des lieux, Ou le grave, et le serieux, Ne valent pas d'agreables sornettes. Peau d'Ane.
People there are who never smile; Their foreheads still unsmooth'd the while, Some lambent flame of mirth will play, That wins the easy heart away; Such only choose in prose or rhyme A bristling pomp,—they call sublime! I blush not to like Harlequin, Would he but talk,—and all his kin. Yes, there are times, and there are places, When flams and old wives' tales are worth the Graces.
Cervantes, in the person of his hero, has confessed the delight he received from amusements which disturb the gravity of some, who are apt, however, to be more entertained by them than they choose to acknowledge. Don Quixote thus dismisses a troop of merry strollers—"Andad con Dios, buena gente, y hazad vuestra fiesta, porque desde muchacho fui aficionado a la Caratula, y en mi mocedad se ne ivan los ojos tras la Farandula." In a literal version the passage may run thus:—"Go, good people, God be with you, and keep your merry making! for from childhood I was in love with the Caratula, and in my youth my eyes would lose themselves amidst the Farandula." According to Pineda, La Caratula is an actor masked, and La Farandula is a kind of farce.
Even the studious Bayle, wrapping himself in his cloak, and hurrying to the market-place to Punchinello, would laugh when the fellow had humour in him, as was usually the case; and I believe the pleasure some still find in pantomimes, to the annoyance of their gravity, is a very natural one, and only wants a little more understanding in the actors and the spectators.
The truth is, that here our Harlequin and all his lifeless family are condemned to perpetual silence. They came to us from the genial hilarity of the Italian theatre, and were all the grotesque children of wit, and whim, and satire. Why is this burlesque race here privileged to cost so much, to do so little, and to repeat that little so often? Our own pantomime may, indeed, boast of two inventions of its own growth: we have turned Harlequin into a magician, and this produces the surprise of sudden changes of scenery, whose splendour and curious correctness have rarely been equalled: while in the metamorphosis of the scene, a certain sort of wit to the eye, "mechanic wit," as it has been termed, has originated; as when a surgeon's shop is turned into a laundry, with the inscription "Mangling done here;" or counsellors at the bar changed into fish-women.
Every one of this grotesque family were the creatures of national genius, chosen by the people for themselves. Italy, both ancient and modern, exhibits a gesticulating people of comedians, and the same comic genius characterised the nation through all its revolutions, as well as the individual through all his fortunes. The lower classes still betray their aptitude in that vivid humour, where the action is suited to the word—silent gestures sometimes expressing whole sentences. They can tell a story, and even raise the passions, without opening their lips. No nation in modern Europe possesses so keen a relish for the burlesque, insomuch as to show a class of unrivalled poems, which are distinguished by the very title; and perhaps there never was an Italian in a foreign country, however deep in trouble, but would drop all remembrance of his sorrows, should one of his countrymen present himself with the paraphernalia of Punch at the corner of a street. I was acquainted with an Italian, a philosopher and a man of fortune, residing in this country, who found so lively a pleasure in performing Punchinello's little comedy, that, for this purpose, with considerable expense and curiosity, he had his wooden company, in all their costume, sent over from his native place. The shrill squeak of the tin whistle had the same comic effect on him as the notes of the Ranz des Vaches have in awakening the tenderness of domestic emotions in the wandering Swiss—the national genius is dramatic. Lady Wortley Montagu, when she resided at a villa near Brescia, was applied to by the villagers for leave to erect a theatre in her saloon: they had been accustomed to turn the stables into a playhouse every carnival. She complied, and, as she tells us, was "surprised at the beauty of their scenes, though painted by a country painter. The performance was yet more surprising, the actors being all peasants; but the Italians have so natural a genius for comedy, they acted as well as if they had been brought up to nothing else, particularly the Arlequino, who far surpassed any of our English, though only the tailor of our village, and I am assured never saw a play in any other place." Italy is the mother, and the nurse, of the whole Harlequin race.
Hence it is that no scholars in Europe but the most learned Italians, smit by the national genius, could have devoted their vigils to narrate the revolutions of pantomime, to compile the annals of Harlequin, to unrol the genealogy of Punch, and to discover even the most secret anecdotes of the obscurer branches of that grotesque family, amidst their changeful fortunes, during a period of two thousand years! Nor is this all; princes have ranked them among the Rosciuses; and Harlequins and Scaramouches have been ennobled. Even Harlequins themselves have written elaborate treatises on the almost insurmountable difficulties of their art. I despair to convey the sympathy they have inspired me with to my reader; but every Tramontane genius must be informed, that of what he has never seen he must rest content to be told.
Of the ancient Italian troop we have retained three or four of the characters, while their origin has nearly escaped our recollection; but of the burlesque comedy, the extempore dialogue, the humorous fable, and its peculiar species of comic acting, all has vanished.
Many of the popular pastimes of the Romans unquestionably survived their dominion, for the people will amuse themselves, though their masters may be conquered; and tradition has never proved more faithful than in preserving popular sports. Many of the games of our children were played by Roman boys; the mountebanks, with the dancers and tumblers on their moveable stages, still in our fairs, are Roman; the disorders of the Bacchanalia, Italy appears to imitate in her carnivals. Among these Roman diversions certain comic characters have been transmitted to us, along with some of their characteristics, and their dresses. The speaking pantomimes and extemporal comedies which have delighted the Italians for many centuries, are from this ancient source.