Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

bard. At a subsequent time, he renewed his Greek education under the late Dr. Harwood, and he then began to be sensible of the transcendent beauties of the latter.

Homer has since been his favourite author. The sublime conceptions, vivid figures, interesting narratives, but more than all, the exquisite style and perfect common sense of the Maeonian bard, are far above any praise which they can receive in these pages. His work 'is a prodigy; we must suppose, either that he was preceded by other writers, who had brought poetry to the perfection, or nearly to the perfection, in which we find it in his writings; or that he himself was the creator of the poetry of his own immortal work.

It is observable that Herodotus* seems to declare for the latter opinion. As for the Gods, these are his words, “whence each of them was descended, or whether they were always in being, or under what shape or form they existed, the Greeks knew nothing till very lately. Hesiod and Homer were, I believe, about four hundred years older than myself, and no more; and these are the men who made a theogony for the Greeks, who gave the Gods their appellations, defined their qualities, appointed their honours, and described their forms. As for the poets who are said to have lived before these men, I am of opinion they came after them.” Herodotus seems here to express himself as if he considered the Grecian Theogony to have been the invention of Homer and Hesiod; but whoever reflects on its nature, its complication and contrivance, its

Εντερπη.

countless, but coherent relations and dependencies, must be sensible that this was impossible.

Even if this opinion were admitted, a further difficulty would press upon us. The poetry of Homer is complete; the structure of the hexameter is equalled by no other mode of versification in any language; the formation of the phrases, the collocation of the words, the figurative diction, the animation of inanimate nature, whatever else distinguishes poetry from prose, is introduced, in its most perfect mode, into the poems of Homer. The universal opinion of all ages, has acknowledged these to constitute the true poetical character, and no succeeding age has improved on any of them. Was he, then, the inventor of them? This exceeds human power. Was he preceded by other bards, upon whom he refined, and whom he transcendently excelled? If this were the case, what has become of these antecedent poets ?

To solve these difficulties, the Reminiscent begs leave to insert a conjecture, in which he has sometimes indulged himself that there existed in central Asia, a civilized and powerful nation, in which the Sanscritan language was spoken, and the religion of Brama prevailed ; this the initiated might reconcile, by emblematical explanation, with philosophy; but, in the sense in which it was received by the people at large, it was the rankest idolatry ;-that, comparing what the writers on India, and the Siamese, Chinese, and the Japanese writers, relate of a celebrated man, whom they severally call Budda, Sommonocoddon, Fohi, and Xaha, we have reason to suppose that he was the same person, and a reformer of the Sanscritan creed and ceremonial ; that his reformed system may be called Buddism, that this still prevails in Tartary, China, and numerous islands in the Indian Archipelago; but that Sanscritism still exists in Indostan; that either before or after the Buddistichism, and not far from the time usually assigned to the fabulous ages, the Sanscritans spread their doctrines and languages over the countries which lay to their west ; so that, in the course of time, they became the religious creed and language both of Greece and Italy, that civilization, and the arts and sciences, flourished among them; that those who introduced them into Greece, were called the Pelasgi; that those who introduced them into Italy, received the appellation of Hetruscans; that, by degrees, the Sanscritan was moulded into the Greek language; that from the Greek it degenerated, in Italy, into the Latin ; that this state. of things continued in Greece, till the irruption of the Dorians and Heraclidæ into Peloponnesus, about eighty years after the Trojan war; and in Italy until the period assigned for the foundation of Rome, when, from some unknown event, the glories of Hetruria were considerably impaired; that, after the settlement of the Dorians and Heraclidæ, in Peloponnesus, but while the former traditionary learning of Greece was still remembered, Homer wrote ; that, in the confusion that followed this event, the memory of Homer, and the preceding or contemporary poets, was lost; and that the minor poets were never revived, but that the super-eminent merit of Homer resuscitated his poems, and restored them to celebrity.

This conjecture receives some countenance from the opinion generally entertained by the ancients, that

Homer acquired his knowledge in Egypt, and the Egyptians theirs from India ; and from the system of Sir William Jones,* respecting the identity of the Indian, Grecian, and Italian deities : among these, if we believe Dr. Milne,t we should include the national deities of China.

But, whatever opinions may be formed on the points which have been mentioned, surely no doubt can be entertained of the supreme merit of the Homeric poems.

In 'one respect, the strong and exquisite delineation of character, Homer has, unquestionably, excelled all other writers. His heroes constitute nearly all the genera into which mankind can be divided; the species of them he left to his followers. Sometimes, however, he descends to these, and then his pencil is equally powerful and distinct. All the principal actors in his poems have the heroic port, and, therefore, inspire awe; but they are all human, and, therefore, interest by their successes and misfortunes.

Here, Virgil miserably fails. With the exception of Dido, and, perhaps, of Turnus, in his latest hour, he has scarcely introduced into the Æneid, a single personage who either imposes by the grand, or interests by the amiable, features of his character. Æneas is worse than insipid :-he disgusts by his fears, his shiverings, and his human sacrifices; and, in his interview with Helen, while Troy was on fire, he is below

• In his excellent dissertation upon this subject, in the “ Asiatic Researches."

+ See lis “ Retrospect of the First Ten Years of the Protestant Mission to China," -an interesting work, printed at the Anglo-Chinese press in Malacca.

contempt. Amata, however, is Virgil's crime; he had invested Dido with grandeur, he might have made Amata lovely; and, as he had excited our admiration for the Tyrian queen, he might have drawn our tears for the daughter of Latinus.

It must be obvious to every reader, that Homer's women are infinitely preferable to Virgil's; but it is not a little remarkable, that the women of Ossian are equal in grace, and superior in delicacy and feminine tenderness, to both. The icicles on Diana's temple are not more pure, more chaste, 'than they. This seems to the Reminiscent to afford a strong, but, in his opinion, a solitary argument, in favour of the authenticity of the poems which describe them.*

The “ Paradise Lost" did not admit the discrimination of character, or excitement of feeling, which the Iliad contains, and in this respect it necessarily is its inferior. But the ability with which Milton struggled with this overwhelming difficulty, is prodigious, and may justify our asserting the equality of the poets, while we admit the inequality of the poems. Perhaps, neither the Latin nor the English epic contains any insulated passage which can be compared with the description of the Mourner at the Scæan

* The magic of exquisite poetry is, perhaps, no wliere more conspicuous than in the description of Dido's silent and indignant 'scori of Æneas, on the infernal shore, and hier return to Sichæus. Divested of the charm with which it is invested by the poet, the scene is disgastingły ludicrous; but, as it is related by Virgil, it rises to sublimity, In fact, if the whole adventure on the Tyrian shore liad been told by the ordinary poet, tlie widower and the widow would always have been in view, and been comic.

.

« PredošláPokračovať »