Page images
PDF
EPUB

112

TO THE AUTHORS OF THE CRITICAL REVIEW. < Gentlemen,

“ April, 1759. “ The great advantages which result from literary journals have recommended the use of them all over Europe ; but as nothing is free from abuse, it must be con. fessed that some inconveniences have also attended these undertakings. The works of the learned multiply in such a surprising manner, that a journalist, in order to give an account to the public of all new performances, is obliged to peruse a small library every month, and as it is impossible for him to bestow equal attention on every piece which he criticises, he may readily be surprised into mistakes, and

give to a book such a character as, on a more careful perusal, he would willingly re(tract. Even performances of the greatest merit are not secure against this injury; and, perhaps, are sometimes the most exposed to it. An author of genius scorns the vulgar arts of catching applause: he pays no court to the great: gives no adulation to those celebrated for learning: takes no care to provide himself of partisans, or proneurs, as the French call them: and by that means his work steals unob. served into the world: and it is some time before the public, and even men of pe netration, are sensible of its merit. We take up the book with prepossession, pe. ruse it carelessly, are feebly affected by its beauties, and lay it dowa with neglect, perhaps with disapprobation.

6. The public has done so much justice to the gentlemen engaged in the Critical Review, as to acknowledge that no literary journal was ever carried on in this country with equal spirit and impartiality: yet, I must confess that an article pube lished in your Review of 1757, gave me great surprise, and pot a little uneasiness. It regarded a book called the Epigoniad, a poem of the epic kind, which was at that time published with great applause at Edinburgh, and of which a few copies had been sent up to London. The author of that article had surely been lying un. der strong prepossessions, when he spoke so negligently of a work which abounds in such sublime beauties, and could endeavour to discredit a poem, consisting of near six thousand lines, on account of a few mistakes in expression and prosody, proceeding entirely from the author's being a Scotchman, who had never been out of his own country. As there is a new edition published of this poem, wherein all or most of these trivial mistakes are corrected, I flatter myself that you will gladly lay hold of this opportunity of retracting your oversight, and doing justice to a performance, which may, perhaps, be regarded as one of the ornaments of our language. I appeal from your sentence, as an old woman did from a sentence pro. nounced by Philip of Macedon :-1 appeal from Philip, ill-counselled and in a hurry, to Philip, well-advised, and judging with deliberation. The authority which you possess with the public makes your censure fall with weight: and I question not but you will be the more ready, on that account, to redress any injury into which either negligence, prejudice, or mistake, may have betrayed you. As I profess myself to be an admirer of this performance, it will afford me pleasure to give you a short analysis of it, and to collect a few specimens of these great beauties in which it abounds.

66 The author, who appears throughout his whole work to be a great admirer and imitator of Homer, drew the subject of this poem from the fourth Iliad, where

[ocr errors]

Sthenelas gives Agamemnon a short account of the sacking of Thebes. After the fall of those heroes, celebrated by Statius, their sons, and among the rest Diomede, undertook the siege of that city, and were so fortunate as to succeed in their en. terprize, and to revenge on the Thebans and the tyrant Creon the death of their fathers. These young heroes were known to the Greeks under the title of the Epigoni, or the descendants; and for this reason the author has given to his poem the title of Epigoniad, a name, it must be confessed somewhat unfortu. nately chosen, for as this particular was known only to a very few of the learn. ed, the public were not able to conjecture what could be the subject of the poem, and were apt to neglect what it was impossible for them to understand.

“ There remained a tradition among the Greeks, that Homer had taken the siege of Thebes for the subject of a poem, which is lost; and our author seems to have pleased himself with the thought of reviving the work, as well as of treading in the footsteps of his favourite author. The actors are mostly the same with those of the Iliad : Diomode is the hero : Ulysses, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Nestor, Idomeneus, Merion, even Thersites, all appear in different passages of the poem, and act parts suitable to the lively characters drawn of them by that great master. The whole turn of this new poem would almost lead us to imagine that the Scot. tish bard had found the lost manuscript of that father of poetry, and had made a faithful translation of it into English. Longinus imagines that the Odyssey was ex. ecuted by Homer in his old age; we shall allow the siad to be the work of his middle age ; and we shall suppose that the Epigoniad was the essay of his youth, where his noble and sublime genius breaks forth by frequent intervals, and gives strong symptoms of that constant flame which distinguished its meridian.

“The poem consists of nine books. We shall open the subject of it in the author's own words :

Ye pow'rs of song! with whose immortal fire
Your bard enraptur'd sung Pelides' ire,
To Greece so fatal, when in evil hour,
He brav'd in stern debate, the sor'reign pow'r,
By like example teach me now to show
From love, no less, what dire disasters flow.
For when the youth of Greece, by Theseus led,
Return'd to conquer where their fathers bled,
And punish guilty Thebes, by Heav'n ordain'd
For perfidy to fall, and oaths profan'd;
Venus, still partial to the Theban arms,
Tydeus' son seduc'd by female charms;
Who, from bis plighted faith by passion sway'd,
The chiefs, the army, and himself betray'd.

This theme did once your fav’rite bard employ,
Whose verse immortaliz'd the fall of Troy :
But time's oblivious gulf, whose circle draws
All mortal things by fate's eternal laws,
In whose wide vortex worlds themselves are tost,
And rounding swift successively are lost,

his song hath snatch'd. I now resume the strain,
Not from proud hope and emulation vain,

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][merged small]

By this attempt to merit equal praise
With worth heroic, born in happier days.
Sooner the weed, that with the Spring appears,
And in the Summer's heat its blossom bears,
But, shriv’ling at the touch of Winter hoar,
Sinks to its native earth, and is no more;
Might match the lofty oak, which long hath stood,
From age to age, the monarch of the wood.
But love excites me, and desire to trace
His glorious steps, tho' with unequal pace.
Before me still I see his awful shade,
With garlands crown'd of leaves which never fade;
He points the path to fame, and bids me scale
Parnassus' slipp'ry height, where thousands fail:
I follow trembling; for the cliffs are high,
And hov'ring round them watchful harpies fly,
To snatch the poet's wreath with envious claws,

And hiss contempt for merited applause.
"The poet supposes that Cassandra, the daughter of the king of Pelignium in
Italy, was pursued by the love of Echetus, a barbarous tyrant in the neighbour.
hood; and as her father rejected his addresses, he drew on himself the resentment
of the tyrant, who made war upon him, and forced him to retire into Etolia, where
Diomede gave him protection. This hero falls himself in love with Cassandra, and
is so fortunate as to make equal impression on her heart; but before the comple.
tion of his marriage, he is called to the siege of Thebes, and leaves, as he supposes,
Cassandra in Etolia with her father. But Cassandra, auxious for her lover's safety,
and unwilling to part from the object of her affections, had secretly put on a man's
habit, had attended him in the camp, and had fought by his side in all his battles.
Meanwhile the siege of Thebes is drawn out to some length, and Venus, who
favours that city, in opposition to Juno and Pallas, who seek its destruction, de-
liberates concerning the proper method of raising the siege. The fittest expedient
seems to be the exciting in Diomede a jealousy of Cassandra, and persuading him
that her affections were secretly engaged to Echetus,and that the tyrant had invaded
Etolia in pursuit of his mistress. For this purpose Venus sends down Jealousy,
whom the author personifies under the name of Zelotype. Her persou and fight
are painted in the most splendid colours that poetry affords:

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

First to her feet the winged shoes she binds,
Which tread the air and mount the rapid winds :
Aloft they bear her thro' th'ethereal plain,
Above the solid Earth and liquid main:
Her arrows next she takes of pointed steel,
For sight too small, but terrible to feel:
Rous'd by their smart, the savage lion roars,
And mad to combat rush the tusky boars.
Ofwounds secure; for where their venom lights,
What feels their power all other torment slights.
A figur'd zone, mysteriously design'd,
Around her waist her yellow robe confin'd:
There dark Suspicion lurk'd, of sable hue;
There hasty Rage his deadly dagger drew;

Pale Envy inly pin'd: and by her side
Stood Phrenzy, raging with his chains unty'd;
Affronted Pride with thirst of vengeance burn'd,
And Love's excess to deepest hatred turn'd.
All these the artist's curious hand express'd,
The work divine his matchless skill confess'd.
The virgin last, around her shoulders Aung
The bow; and by her side the quiver hung;
Then, springing up, her airy course she bends,
For Thebes; and lightly o'er the tents descends.
The son of Tydeus, 'midst his bands, she found
In arms complete, reposing on the ground :
And, as he slept, the hero thus address'd,

Iler form to fancy's waking eye express'd.
“Diomede, moved by the instigations of jealousy, and eager to defend his mis.
tress and his country, calls an assembly of the princes, and proposes to raise the
siege of Thebes, on account of the difficulty of the enterprize, and dangers which
surround the army. Theseus, the general, breaks out into a passion at this pro-
posal: but is pacified by Nestor. Idomeneus rises, and reproaches Diomede for
his dishonourable counsel, and among other topics, upbraids him with his degene.
racy from his father's bravery.

Should now, from hence arrivd, some warrior's ghost
Greet valiant Tydeus on the Stygian coast,
And tell, when danger or distress is near,
'rnat Diomede persuades the rest to fear:
He'd shun the synod of the mighty dead,
And hide his anguish in the deepest shade:
Nature in all an equal course maintains:
The lion's whelp succeeds to awe the plains:
Pards gender pards: from tigers tigers spring,
Nor dores are hatch'd beneath a vulture's wing:
Each parent's image in his offspring lives :

But nought of 'Tydeus in his son survives.
66 The debate is closed by Ulysses, who informs the princes that the Thebans are
preparing to march out in order to attack them; and that it is vain for them to
deliberate any longer concerning the conclusion of the war.

“ We have next a description of a battle between the Thebans, under Creon, and the confederate Greeks, under Theseus. The battle is full of the spirit of Homer. We shall not trouble our reader with particulars, which would appear insipid in prose especially if compared to the lively poetry of our author. We shall only transcribe one passage, as a specimen of his happy choice of circumstances :

[ocr errors]

Next Arcas, Cleon, valiant Chromius dy'd;
With Dares, to the Spartan chiefs ally'd.
And Phæmius, whom the gods in early youth
Had form’d for virtue and the love of truth;
His gen'rous soul to noble deeds they turn'd,
And love to mankind in his bosom burn'd:
Cold thro' his throat the hissing weapon glides,
And on his neck the waving locks divides,

1

8

His fate the Graces mourn'd. The gods above,
Who sit around the starry throne of Jove,
On high Olympus bending from the skies,
His fate beheld with sorrow-streaming eyes.
Pallas alone, unalter'd and serene,
With secret triumph saw the mournful scene:
Not hard of heart : for none of all the pow'rs,
In earth or ocean, or th' Olympian tow'rs,
Holds equal sympathy with human grief,
Or with a freer hand bestows relief:
But conscious that a mind by virtue steeld
To no impression of distress will yield;
That still unconquer'd, in its awful hour
O'er death it triumphs with immortal pow'r.

“ The battle ends with advantage to the confederate Greeks: but the approach of night prevents their total victory.

“Creon, king of Thebes, sends next an embassy to the confederate Greeks, desir. ing a truce of seven days, in order to bury the dead. Diomede, impatient to return home, and stimulated by jealousy, violently opposes this overture, but is over-ruled by the other princes, and the truce is concluded. The author, in imitation of Homer, and the other ancient poets, takes here an opportunity of describing games cele. brated for honouring the dead. The games he has chosen are different from those which are to be found among the ancients, and the incidents are new and curious.

“ Diomede took no share in these games : his impatient spirit could not brook the delay which arose from the truce: he pretends that he consented not to it, and is not included in it: he therefore proposes to his troops to attack the Thebans while they are employed in performing the funeral rites of the dead: but is opposed in this design by Deiphobus his tutor, who represents to him in the severest terms the rashness and iniquity of his proposal. After some altercation, Diomede, impatient of contradiction in his favourite object, and stung by the free reproaches of his tutor, breaks out into a violent passion, and throws his spear at Deiphobus, which pierced him to the heart.

“This incident, which is apt to surprize us, seems to have been copied by our author, from that circumstance in the life of Alexander, where this heroic conqueror, moved by a sudden passion, stabs Clytus his ancient friend, by whom his life had been formerly saved in battle. The repentance of Diomede is equal to that of Alexander. No sooner had he struck the fatal blow than his eyes are opened : he is sensible of his guilt and shame ; he refuses all consolation ; abstains even from food : and shuts himself up alone in his tent. His followers, amazed at the vioJence of his passion, keep at a distance from him : all but Cassandra, who enters his tent with a potion, which she had prepared for him. While she stands before him alone, her timidity and passion betray her sex; and, Diomede immediately perceives her to be Cassandra, who had followed him to the camp, under a warlike disguise. As his repentance for the murder of Deiphobus was now the ruling pas. sion in his breast, be is not moved by tenderness for Cassandra : on the contrary, he considers her as the cause, however innocent, of the murder of his friend, and of

« EelmineJätka »