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LUCAN is inferior to Homer and Virgil; yet he deserves attention. There is little invention in his Pharsalia; and it is conducted in too historical a manner to be strictly epic. It may be arranged, however, in the epic class, as it treats of great and heroic adventures. The subject of the Pharsalia has all the epic dignity and grandeur; and it possesses unity of object, viz. the triumph of Caesar over Roman liberty.
But, though the subject of Lucan is confessedly heroic, it has two defects. Civil wars present objects too shocking for epic poetry, and furnish odious and disgusting views of human nature. But Lucan's genius seems to delight in savage scenes.
The other defect of Lucan's subject is, that it was too near the time in which he lived. This deprived
him of the assistance of fiction and machinery; and thereby rendered his work less splendid and amusing. The facts on which he founds his poem, were too well known, and too recent to admit fables and the interposition of gods.
The characters of Lucan are drawn with spirit and force. But, though Pompey is his hero, he has not made him very interesting. He marks not Pompey by any high distinction, either for magnanimity or va
lour. He is always surpassed by Cæsar. Cato is Lucan's favourite character; and, whenever he introduces him, he rises above himself.
In managing his story, Lucan confines himself too much to chronological order. This breaks the thread of his narration, and hurries him from place to place. He is also too digressive; frequently quitting his sub. ject, to give us some geographical description, or phiJosophical disquisition.
There are several poetical and spirited descriptions in the Pharsalia; but the strength of this poet does not lie either in narration or description. His narration is often dry and harsh; his descriptions are often overwrought, and employed on disagreeable objects. His chief merit consists in his sentiments; which are noble, striking, glowing, and ardent. He is the most philosophical, and the most patriotic poet of antiquity. He was a stoic; and the spirit of that philosophy breathes through his poem. He is elevated and bold; and abounds in well-timed exclamations and apostrophes.
As his vivacity and fire are great, he is apt to be carried away by them. His great defect is want of moderation. He knows not where to stop. When he would aggrandize his objects, he becomes tumid and unnatural. There is much bombast in his poem. His taste is marked with the corruption of his age; and, instead of poetry, he often exhibits declamation.
On the whole, however, he is an author of lively and original genius. His high sentiments and his fire serve to atone for many of his defects. His genius had strength, but no tenderness, nor amenity. Com pared with Virgil, he has more fire and sublimer sentiments; but in every thing else falls infinitely below him, particularly in purity, elegance, and tenderness.
Statius and Silius Italicus, though poets of the epic class, are too inconsiderable for particular criticism.
JERUSALEM delivereD is a strictly regu lar epic poem and abounds with beauties. The subject is the recovery of Jerusalem from Infidels by the united powers of Christendom. The enterprize was splendid, venerable, and heroic; and an interesting contrast is exhibited between the Christians and Saracens. Religion renders the subject august, and opens a natural field of machinery and sublime description. The action too lies in a country, and in a period of time, sufficiently remote to admit an intermixture of fable with history.
Rich invention is a capital quality in Tasso. He is full of events, finely diversified. He never fatigues his reader by mere war and fighting. He frequently
shifts the scene; and from camps and battles transports us to more pleasing objects. Sometimes the solemnities of. religion; sometimes the intrigues of love; at other times the adventures of a journey, or the incidents of pastoral life, relieve and entertain the reader. The work at the same time is artfully connected; and, in the midst of variety, there is perfect unity of plan.
Many characters enliven the poem; and these distinctly marked and well supported. Godfrey, the leader of the enterprize, is prudent, moderate, and brave; Tancred amorous, generous, and gallant. Rinaldo, who is properly the hero of the poem, is passionate and resentful; but full of zeal, honour and heroism. Solyman is high-minded; Erminia tender; Armida artful and violent, and Clorinda masculine. In drawing characters, Tasso is superior to Virgil, and, yields to no poet but Homer.
Ile abounds in machinery. When celestial beings interpose, his machinery is noble. But devils, enchanters, and conjurors act too great a part throughout his poem. In general, the marvellous is carried to extravagance. The poet was too great an admirer of the romantic spirit of knight-errautry.
In describing magnificent objects, his style is firm and majestic. In gay and pleasing description, it is soft and insinuating. Erminia's pastoral retreat in the seventh book, and the arts and beauty of Armida in
the fourth book, are exquisitely beautiful. His battles are animated, and properly varied by incidents. It is rather by actions, characters, and descriptions, that he interests us, than by the sentimental part of his work. He is far inferior to Virgil in tenderness; and, when he aims at being sentimental and pathetic, he is apt to become artificial.
It has often been objected to Tasso, that he abounds in point and conceit; but this censure has been carried too far. For in his general character, he is masculine and strong. The humour of decrying him passed from the French critics to those of England. But their strictures are founded either in ignorance or prejudice. For the Jerusalem is, in my opinion, the third regular epic poem in the world; and stands next to the Iliad and Æneid. In simplicity and fire, Tasso is inferior to Homer; in tenderness to Virgil; în sublimity to Milton; but for fertility of invention, variety of incidents, expression of characters, richness of description, and beauty of style, no poet, except the three ›› just named, can be compared to him.
THE LUSIAD OF CAMOENS.
THE Portuguese boast of Camoens, as the Italians do of Tasso. The discovery of the East Indies by Vas co de Gama, an enterprise alike splendid and interesting, is the subject of the poem of Camoens. The ad