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ventures, distresses, and actions of Vasco and his coun trymen, are well fancied and described; and the Lusiad is conducted on the epic plan. The incidents of the poem are magnificent; and, joined with some wildness and irregularity, there is displayed in it much poetic spirit, strong fancy, and bold description. In the poem, however, there is no attempt toward painting characters. Vasco is the hero, and the only personage that makes any figure.
The machinery of the Lusiad is perfectly extravagant ; being formed of an odd mixture of Christian ideas and Pagan mythology, Pagan divinities appear to be the deities; and Christ and the Holy Virgin to be inferior agents. One great object, however, of the Portuguese expedition is to extend the empire of Christianity, and to extirpate Mahometanism. In this religious undertaking the chief protector of the Portuguese is Venus, and their great adversary is Bacchus. Jupiter is introduced, as foretelling the downfal of Mahomet. Vasco during a storm implores the aid of Christ and the Virgin; and in return to this prayer Venus appears, and, discovering the storm to be the work of Bacchus, complains to Jupiter, and procures the winds to be calmed. All this is most preposterous; but, toward the end of his work, the poet offers an awkward apology for his mythology; making the goddess Thetes inform Vasco that she and the other heathen divinities are no more than names to describe the operations of Providence,
In the Lusiad, however, there is some fine machinery of a different kind. The appearance of the genius of the river Ganges in a dream to Emanuel, king of Portugal, inviting him to discover his secret springs, and acquainting him that he was the monarch, destined to enjoy the treasures of the East, is a happy idea. But in the fifth Canto the Poet displays his noblest conception of this sort, where Vasco recounts to the king of Melinda all the wonders of his voyage. He tells him that, when the fleet arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, which had never been doubled before by any navigator, there appeared to them suddenly a huge phantom, rising out of the sea in the midst of tempest and thunder, with a head that reached the clouds, and a countenance, that filled them with terror. This was the genius of that hitherto unknown ocean; and he menaced them in a voice of thunder for invading those unknown seas; foretelling the calamities that were to befal them, if they should proceed; and then with a mighty noise disappeared. This is a very solemn and striking piece of machinery; and shows that Camoens was a poet of a bold and lofty imagination.
THE TELEMACHUS OF FENELON.
IT would be unpardonable in a view of epic poets to forget the amiable Fenelon. His work, though in prose, is a poem; and the plan in general is well con
trived, having epic grandeur and unity of action. He employs the ancient mythology; and excels in application of it. There is great richness as well as beauty in his descriptions. To soft and calm scenes, his genius is more peculiarly suited; such as the incidents of pastoral life, the pleasures of virtue, or a country flourishing in peace.
His first books are eminently excellent. The adventures of Calypso are the chief beauty of this work. Vivacity and interest join in the narration. In the books which follow, there is less happiness in the execution, and an apparent languor. The author in warlike adventures is most unfortunate.
Some critics have refused to rank this work among epic poems. Their objection arises from the minute. details it exhibits of virtuous policy, and from the dis courses of Mentor, which recur too frequently, and too much in the strain of common-place morality. To these peculiarities, however, the author was led by the design with which he wrote, that of forming a young prince to the cares and duties of a virtuous monarch.
Several epic poets have described a descent into hell; and in the prospects they have given us of the invisible world, we may observe the gradual refinement in the opinions of men concerning a future state of rewards and punishments. Homer's descent of Ulysses into bell is indistinct and dreary. The scene is in the country of the Cimmerians, which is always covered with clouds
and darkness; and, when the spirits of the dead appear we hardly know whether Ulysses is above or below ground. The ghosts too, even of the heroes, appear dissatisfied with their condition.
In Virgil, the descent into hell discovers great refinement, corresponding to the progress of philosophy. The objects are more distinct, grand, and awful. There is a fine description of the separate mansions of good and bad spirits. Fenelon's visit of Telemachus to the shades is still much more philosophical than Virgil's. He refines the ancient mythology by his knowledge of the true religion, and adorns it with that beautiful enthusiasm, for which he is so remarkable. His relation of the happiness of the just is an excellent description. in the mystic strain.
THE HENRIADE OF VOLTAIRE.
THE Henriade is without doubt a regular epic poem. In several places of this work, Voltaire discovers that boldness of conception, that vivacity and liveliness of expression, by which he is so much distinguished. Se1 veral of his comparisons are new and happy. But the Henriade is not his master-piece. In the tragic line he has certainly been more successful, than in the epic. French versification is illy suited to epic poetry. It is not only fettered by rhyme, but wants elevation. Hence not only feebleness, but sometimes prosaic flatness in A a
the style. The poem consequently languishes; and the reader is not animated by that spirit which is inspired by a sublime composition of the epic kind.
The triumph of Henry IV. over the arms of the League is the subject of the Henriade. The action of the poem properly includes only the siege of Paris. It is an action perfectly epic; and conducted with due regard to unity, and to the rules of critics. But it has great defects. It is founded on civil wars; and presents to the mind those odious objects, massacres and assassinations. It is also of too recent date, and too much. within the bounds of well-known history. The author has farther erred by mixing fiction with truth. The poem, for instance, opens with a voyage of Henry's to England, and an interview between him and Queen Elizabeth; though Henry never saw England, nor ever conversed with Elizabeth. In subjects of such notoriety a fiction of this kind shocks every intelligent reader.
A great deal of machinery is employed by Voltaire for the purpose of embellishing his poem. But it is of the worst kind, that of allegorical beings. Discord, cunning, and love appear as personages, and mix with human actors. This is contrary to all rational criticism. Ghosts, angels, and devils, have a popular existence; but every one knows that allegorical beings are no more than representations of human passions and dispositions; and ought not to have place, as actors, in a poem which relates to human transactions.