Abbildungen der Seite
PDF

ty; so that whether the misfortune is before our eyes, or whether they are turned back to it in history, it always touches with delight; but it is not an unmixed delight, but blended with no small uneasiness. The delight we have in such things, hinders us from shunning scenes of misery ; and the pain we seel, prompts us to relieve ourselves in relieving those who suffer ; and all this antecedent to any reasoning, by an instinct that works us to its own purposes, without our concurrence.

Burke on the Sublime.

5 95. Tears not unworthy of an Hero.

If tears are arguments of cowardice, what (hall I fay of Homer's hero ? Shall Achilles pass for timorous because he wept, and wept on less occasions than Eneas? Herein Virgil must be granted to have excelled his master. For once both heroes are described lamenting their lost loves: Briseis was taken away by force from the Grecian; Creusa was lost for ever to her husband. But Achilles went roaring along the salt sea-shore, and like a booby was complaining to his mother, when he should have revenged his injury by his arms. Eneas took a nobler course; for, having secured his father and son, he repeated all his former dangers to have found hi3 wife, if she had been above ground.

And here your lordship may observe ,the address of Virgil; it was not for nothing that this passage was related with all these tender circumstances. Eneas told it; Dido heard it. That he had been so affectionate a husband, was no ill argument to the coming dowager, that he might prove as kind to her. Virgil has a thousand secret beauties, though I have not leisure to remark them.

Segrais, on this subject of a hero shedding tears, observes, that historians commend Alexander for weeping, when he read the mighty actions of Achilles; and Julius Cæsar is likewise praised, when, out of the same noble envy, he wept at the victories of Alexander. But if we observe more closely, we shall find that the tears of Eneas were always on a laudable occasion,

Thus he werps out of compassion and tenderness of nature, when in the temple of Carthage he beholds the pictures of his friends, who sacrificed their live* in defence of their country. He deplores the lamentable end of his pilot Palinurus; the untimely death of young Pallas his confederate; and the rest, which I omit. Yet even for these tears, his wretched critics dare condemn him. They make Eneas little better than a kind of St. Swithin's hero, always raining. One of these censors is bold enough to arraign him of cowardice, when, in the beginning of the first, book, he not only weeps but tremble* at an approaching storm:

Extemplo Eneae solvuntur frigore membra! Ingemir, et duplices tendens ad fidera palmaa, ftc.

But to this I have answered formerly, that his fear was not for himself, but his people. And what can give a sovereign a better commendation, or recommend a hero more to the affection of the readers They were threatened with a tempest, and he wept; he was promised Italy, and therefore he prayed for the accomplishment of that promise. All this in the beginning of a storm; therefore he shewed the more early piety, and the quicker fense of compassion. Thus much I have urged elsewhere in the defence of Virgil; and sincelhavebeeninsormed byMr.Moyl, a young gentleman whom I can never sufficiently commend, that the ancient* accounted drowning an accursed death. So that if we grant him to have been afraid, he had just occasion for that fear, both in relation to himself and to his subjects. Drjdcn,

§ 96. Terror a Source of the Sublime.

_No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear; for fear being an apprehension of pain or death, it operates in a manner that resembles actual pain. Whatever therefore is terrible with regard to sight, is sublime too, whether this cause of terror be endued with greatness of dimensions or not ( sor it is impossible to look on any thing as trifling or contemptible, that mav

be

, be dangerous. There are many animals, who, though far from being large, are yet capable of raising ideas of the sublime, because they are considered as objects of terror; as serpents and poisonous animals of almost all kinds. Even to things of great dimensions, if we annex any adventitious idea of terror, they become without comparison greater. An even plain of a vast ex. tent on land, is certainly no mean idea; the prospect of such a plain may be as extensive as a prospect of the ocean; but can it ever fill the mind with any thing so great as the ocean itself? This is owing to several causes, but it is t>wing to none more than to this, that the ocean is an object of no small terTpr. Burke on the Sublime.

§ 97. Tragedy compared with Epic
Poetry.

To raise, and afterwards to calm the passions; to purge the soul from pride, by the examples of human miseries which besal the greatest; in few words to expel arrogance and introduce compassion,, are the greatest effects of tragedy. Great, I must confess, if they were altogether as lasting as they are pompous. But are habits to be introduced at three hours warning? Are radical diseases so suddenly removed? A mountebank may promise such a cure, but a skilful physician will not undertake it. An epic poem is not so much in haste; it works leisurely; the changes whish it makes are flow; but the cure is likely to be more perfect. The effects of tragedy, as I said, are too violent to be lasting. If it be answered, that for this reason tragedies are often 10 be seen, and the dose to be repeated; this is tacitly to confess, that there is more virtue in one hcio-c poem, than in many tragedies. A man' is humbled one day, and his pride re. turns the next. Chymical medicines are observed to relieve ofiener than to cure; for 'tis the nature of spirits to make swift impressions, but not deep. Galenical decoctions, to which 1 may properly compare an epic poem, have more of body in ihem; they work by <heir substance and their weight. It Is

onereasonof Aristotle's to prove that tragedy is the more noble, because it turns in a shorter compass; the whole action being circumscribed within the space of sour-and-twenty hours. Jle might prove as well that a mushroom is to be preferred before a peach, because it shoots up in the compass of a night. A chariot may be driven round the pillar in less space than a large machine, because the bulk is not so great. Is the moon a more noble planet than Saturn, because (he makes her revolution in less than thirty days; and he in 1 iLtie less than thirty years ? ISoth their orbs are in proportion to their several magnitudes; and, consequently, the quickness or flowness of their motion, and the time of their circumvolutions, is no argument of the greater or less perfection. And besides, what virtue is there in a tragedy, which is not contained in an epic poem r where pride is humbled, virtue rewarded, and vice punillicd; and those more amply treated, than the narrowness of the drama can admit? The shining quality of an epic hero, his magnanimity, his constancy, his patience, his piety, or whatever characteriftical virtue his poet gives him, raises first our admiration : we are naturally prone to imitate what we aHmire; and frequent acts produce a habit. If the hero's chief quality be vicious, as, for example, the choler and obstinate desire of vengeance in Achilles, yet the moral is instructive: and besides, we are informed in the very proposition of the Iliad, that this anger was pernicious; that it brought a thousand ills on the Grecian camp. The courage of Achilles is proposed to imitation, not his pride and disobedience to his general, nor his brutal cruelty to his dead enemy, nor the selling his body to his father: we abhor those actions while we read them, and what we abhor we never imitate: the poet only shews them, like rocks or quicksands, to be shunned.

By this example the critics have concluded, that it is not necessary the manners of the hero should be virtuous. They are poetically good, if they are of a piece. Though where a character of perfect virtue is fat before us, 'tit

more

more lovely; for these the whole hero is to be imitated. This is the Eneas of Virgil: this is that idea of perfection in an epic poem, which painters and statuaries have only in their minds, and which no hands are able to express. These are the beauties of a god in a human body. When the picture of Achilles is drawn in tragedy, he is taken with those warts and moles, and hard features, by those who represent him on the stage, or he is no more Achilles; for his creator Homer has so described him. Yet even thus he appears a perfect hero, though an imperfect character of virtue. Horace paints him after Homer, and delivers him to be copied on the stage, with all those imperfections ; therefore they areeither not faults in an heroic poem, or faults common to the drama. After all, on the whole merits of the cafe, it must be acknowledged, that the epic poem is more for the manners, and tragedy for the passions. The passions, as 1 have said, .are violent; and acute distempers require medicines of a strong and speedy operation. Ill habits of the mind and chronical diseases are to be corrected by degrees, and cured by alteratives: wherein though purges are sometimes necessary, yet diet, good air, and moderate exercise, have the greatest part. The matter being thus stated, it will appear that both sorts of poetry are of use for their proper ends. The stage is active, the epic poem works at greater leisure, yet is acted too, when need requires: for dialogue is imitated by the . drama, from the more active parts of it. One puts off a fit like the quinquina, and relieves us only for a time; the other roots out the distemper, and gives a healthful habit. The fun enlightens and chears us, dispels fogs, and warms the ground with his daily beams; but the corn is sowed, increases, is ripened, and reaped for use, in process of time, and its proper season. I proceed from the greatness of the action to the dignity of the actors; I mean, to the persons employed in both poems. There likewise tragedy will be seen to borrow from the epopee; and that which borrows is always of less dignity, because ji has not of its own. A subject, 'tis

true, may lend to his sovereign; but the act of borrowing makes the king inferior, because he wants, and the subject supplies. And suppose the persons of the drama wholly fabulous, or of the poet's invention, yet heroic poetry gave him the examples of that invention ; because it was first, and Homer the common father of the stage. I know not of any one advantage which Tragedy can boast above heroic poetry, but that it is represented to the-view* as well as read; and instructs in the closet, as well as on the theatre. Thia is an uncontested excellence, and a chief branch of its prerogative; yet I may be allowed to fay, without partiality, that herein the actors share the poet's praise. Your lordship knows some modern tragedies which are beautiful on the stage, and yet I am confident you would not read them. Tryphon the stationer complains they are seldom asked for in his shop. The poet who flourished in the scene, is damned in the rue/k; nay more, he is not esteemed a good poet, by those who see and hear his extravagancies with delight. They are a sort of stately fustian and lofty childishness. Nothing but nature can give a sincere pleasure: where that is not imitated,' 'tis grotesque painting ; the sine woman ends in a iiIh's tail. Dryden*

§ 98. History os Transtations.

Among the studies which have exercised the ingenious and the learned for more than three centuries, none has been more diligently or more successfully cultivated than the art of translation ; by which the impediments which bar the way to science are, in some measure, removed, and the multiplicity of languages becomes less incommodious.

Of every other kind of writing the ancients have left us models which all succeeding ages have laboured to imitate; but translation may justly be claimed by the moderns as their own. In the first ages of the world instruction was commonly oral, and learning traditional, and wh.it was not written could not be translated. When alphabetical ketical writing made the conveyance of opinions*and the transmission of events more easy and certain, literature did •not flourish in more than one country at once; for distant nations had little commerce with each other, and those few whom curiosity sent abroad in quest of improvement, delivered their acquisitions in their own manner, desirous perhaps to be considered as the inventors of that which they had learned from others.

The Greeks fora time travelled into Egypt, but they translated no books from the Egyptian language; and when the Macedonians had overthrown the empire of Persia, the countries that became subject to the Grecian dominion studied only the Grecian literature. The books of the conquered nations, if they had any among them, funk in oblivion; Greece considered herself as the mistress, if not as the parent of arts, her language contained all that was supposed to be known, and, except the sacred writings of the Old Testament, I know not that the library of Alexandria adopted any thing from a foreign tongue.

The Romans confessed themselves the scholars of the Greeks, and do not appear to have expected, what has since happened, that, the ignorance of succeeding Bges would prefer them to their teachers. Every man who in Rome aspired to the praiseof literature, thought it necessary to learn Greek, and had no need of versions when they could study the originals. Translation, however, was not wholly neglected. Dramatic poems could be understood by the people in no language but their own, and the Romans were sometimes entertained with the tragedies of Esripides and the comedies of Menander. Other works were sometimes attempted; in an old scholiast there is mention of a Latin Iliad, and we have not wholly lost Tally's version of the poem of Aratus; bnt it does not appear that any man grew eminent by interpreting another, and perhaps it was more frequent to translate for exercise-or amusement than for fame.

The Arabs were the first nation who felt the ardour of translation: when

they had subdued the eastern provinces of the Greek empire, they found their captives wiser than themselves, and made haste to relieve their wants by imparted knowledge. They discovered that many might grow wise by the labour of a few, and that improvements might be made with speed, when they had the knowledge of former ages in their own language. They therefore made haste to lay hold on medicine and philosophy, and turned their chief authors into Arabic. Whether they attempted the poets is not known; their literary zeal was vehement, but it waj short, and probably expired before they had time to add the arts of elegance to those of necessity.

The study of ancient literature was interrupted in Europe by the irruption of the northern nations, who sub. verted the Roman empire, and erected new kingdoms with new languages. It is not strange, that such confusion should suspend literary attention; those who lost, and those who gained dominion, had immediate difficulties to encounter and immediate miseries to redress, and had little leisure, amidst the violence of war, the trepidation of flight, the distresses of forced migration, or the tumults of unsettled conquest, to enquire aster speculative truth, to enjoy the amusement of imaginary adventures, to know the history of former ages, or study the events of any other lives. But no sooner had this chaos of dominion funk into order, than learning began again to flourish in the calm of peace. When life and possessions were secure, convenience and enjoyment were soon sought, learning was found the highest gratification of the mind, and translation became one of the means by which it was imparted.

At last, by a concurrence of many causes, the European world was roused from its lethargy; those arts which had been long obscurely studied in the gloom of monasteries became the general favourites of mankind; every nation vied with its neighbour fort lie prize of learning; the epidemical emulation spread from south to north, and curiosity and translation found their way to Britain. He that reviews the progress of

JEnglisti English literature, will find that translation was very early cultivated among us, but that some principles, either wholly erroneous or too far extended, hindered our success from being always equal to our diligence.

Chaucer, who is generally considered as the father of our poetry, has left a version of Boetrus on the Comforts of Philosophy, the book which seems to have been the favourite of middle ages, 'which had been translated into Saxon, by king Alfred, and illustrated with a copious comment ascribed to Aquinas. It may be supposed that Chaucer would apply more than common attention to an author of so much celebrity, yet he h.is attempted nothing higher than a version strictly literal, and nas degraded the poetical parts to prose, that the constraint of versification might not obstruct his zeal for fidelity.

Caxton taught us typography about 'the year 1490. The first book printed in English was a translation. Caxton 'was both the translator and printer'of theDestruccionofTroye, a book which, in that infancy of learning, was considered as the best account of the fabulous ages, and which, 'tho' now driven "out of notice by authors of no greater use or value, still continued to be read "in Caxton's English to the beginning of the present century.

Caxton proceeded as he began, and, except the poems of Gower and Chaucer, printed nothing but translations from the French, in which the original is so scrupulously followed, that they afford us little knowledge of our own language; though the words are English, the phrase is foreign.

As learning advanced, new works were adopted into our language, but I think with little improvement of the art of translation, though foreign nations and other languages offered ns models of a better method; till in the age of Elizabeth we began to find that greater liberty was necessary to elegance, and that elegance was necessary to general reception; some essays were then made upon 1 lie Italian poets, which deserve the praise and gratitude of posterity.

But the old practice was no. suddenly

forsaken; Holland filled the nation with literal translation, and, what i« yet more strange, the fame exactness was obstinately practised in the version* of the poets. This absurd labour of construing into rhyme was countenanced by Jonson in his version of Horace; and, whether it be that more men have learning than genius, or that the endeavours of that time were more directed towards knowledge than delight, the accuracy of Jonson found more imitators than the elegance of Fairfax; and May, Sandye, and Holiday, confined themselves to the toil of render-' ing line for line, not indeed with equal felicity, for May and Sandys were poets, and Holiday only a scholar and a critic.:

Feltham appears to consider it as the established law of poetical translation, that the lines should be neither more nor fewer than those of the original; and so long hid this prejudice prevailed, that Denham praises Fanshaw's version of Guarini as the example of >a "rtew and noble way," as the first attempt to break the boundaries of custom, and assert the natural freedom of the muse.

In the general emulation of wit and genius which the festivity of the Restoration produced, the poets shook off their constraint, and considered translation as no longer confined to servile closeness. But reformation is seldom the work of pure virtue or unassisted reason. Translation was improved more by accident than conviction. The writers of the foregoing age had at least; learning equal to their genius, and, being often more able to explain the sentiments or illustrate the allusions of the ancients, than to exhibit their graces and transfuse their spirit, were perhaps willing sometimes to conceal their want of poetry by profusion of literature, and therefore translated literally, that their fidelity might shelter their insipidity or harshness. The wits of Charles's time had seldom more than flight and superficial views, and their care was to hide their want of learning behind the colours of a gay imagination; thej therefor translated always with freedom, sometimes with licentiousness,

« ZurückWeiter »