Page images
PDF
EPUB

The Lusiad of Camoens.

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 lie 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 lim passed from the French critics to those of England. But their strictures are founded either on ignorance or prejudice. For the Jerusalem is in my opinion, the third regular epic poem in the world; and stands next to the IIiad and Æneid. In simplicity and fire, Tasso is · inferior to Homer; in tenderness, to Virgil ; in sublimity to Milton; but for fertility of invention, variety of incidents, expression of characters, richness of descriptio?, and beauty of style, no poet except the three just named, can be compared to him,

TIE LUSIAD OF CAMOENS.

The Portuguese boast of Camoens, as the Italians do of Tasso. The discovery of the East Indies by Vasco de Gama, an enterprise alike splendid and interesting, is the subject of the poem of Camoens. The adventures, distresses, and ao

The Lusiad of Camoens.

[ocr errors]

tions of Vasco and his countrymen, 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 objeet, however, of the Portuguese expedition, is to extend the empire of Christianity, and to extirpate Mahometanism. In this religous undertaking the chief protector of the Portuguese is Venus, and their great adversary is Bacchus. Jupiter is introduced, as foretelling the downfal of Mahoinet. 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 Thetis 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 dis

The Telemachus of Fenelon.

cover 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 feet arived at the Cape of Good Hope, which had never been doubled before by any navigator, there appeared to them suddenly a huge hantem, rising out of the sea in the midst of tempests 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 review of epic poets to forget the amiable Fenelon. His work, though in prose, is a poem; and the plan in general is well contrived, having epic grandeur and unity of action. He employs the ancient mythol. ogy; and excels in application of it. There is great richness as well as beauty in his descriptions. To soft and calm scepes, his genius is

The Telemachus of Fenelon.

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 langour. 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 discourses of Mentor, which recur too frequently, and too much in the strain of common-place morality. To these pecaliarities, 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 jnto 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 hell 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 100, even of the heroes, appear dissatisfied with their condition.

In Virgil, the descent into hell discovers great refinement, corresponding to the progress of phi. losophy. The objects are more distinct, grandy

.

[ocr errors]

The Henriade of Voltaire.

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 wbich he is so remarkable. His relation of the happiness of the just is an exeellent description in the mystic strain.

THE HENRIADE OF VOLTAIRE.

The Henriade is without doubt a regular epie poem. In several places of this work, Voltaire discovers that boldness of conception, that vivaci. ty and liveliness of expression, by which he is so much distinguished. Several of his comparisons are new and happy. But the Henriade is not his . masterpiece. In the tragic line he has certainly been more successful, than in the epic.

French versification is illy suited to epie poetry. It is not only fettered by rhyme, but wants elevation. Hence not only feebleness, but sometimes prosaic flatness in 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 epie; and conducted with due regard to unity, and

« EelmineJätka »