« EelmineJätka »
the power of genius, which, like transparent amber, can render a fly or a straw an object of curiosity and admiration. Boileau has himself recorded the motives which induced him to undertake it, and which may serve most decidedly to shew that no limits can be prescribed to the exertions of imagination, and that where the mind is impregnated with genius and fancy, the smallest spark will serve to call them into action. He had asserted in company, what he had before stated in his Art of Poetry, "that an heroic poem ought to be charged with little matter, which it is the business of invention to support and extend." This led to a warm contest, in which neither of the parties was convinced, and ended in their moralizing on the warmth with which each had supported his opinions, and on the folly of those who pass their whole lives in making trifles of importance. To exemplify this, one of the company related a story, of a quarrel that had taken place between the two chief dignitaries of a church in his neighbourhood, about the placing a Lutrin, or reading desk, which appearing to the company, to be a very trifling and ridiculous affair, one of them asked Boileau, whether, as he thought so little matter was necessary for an heroic poem, he could write one on such an incident, "Why not?" replied the poet; the company laughed, and Boileau with them; but on returning home in the evening he revolved it in his mind, and perceiving it was capable of producing no little amusement, he wrote twenty verses, which he shewed to his friends, and their approbation induced him to proceed, till he had finished the poem. The success of this attempt may be taken as a decisive proof, that he was right in the opinion he had advanced; and may serve to demonstrate, that the mere choice of a subject can never give any pretensions to superiority; but that the genius of the poet is all in all.
To compare the Poems of Pope and of Boileau with each other, in order to decide which of them is entitled to the preference, would be a fruitless attempt. The Lutrin is, strictly speaking, national. The peculiarities, frailties, and follies of luxurious canons and idle monks, and the abuses in French jurisprudence and manners, are not perhaps sufficiently understood in other countries to enable us to perceive, in their full extent, the fine touches of wit and raillery, which doubtless appeared to the contemporaries of the poet to be the most exquisite part of his work. The persons introduced as objects of his animadversion are unknown to us, and the satire is consequently lost. The difference that subsists between
the two countries in point of religion, renders it impossible we should perceive the circumstances and events referred to in the Lutrin in the same light as the countrymen of the poet. The long establishment and splendour of their hierarchy, the number and importance of its ministers, and the respect paid to every thing that related to them, form a strong contrast with the trivial occurrence that gave rise to the poem, which we are not fully able to perceive: nor are the frequent and extravagant compliments which Boileau has introduced to his ostentatious monarch, likely to be felt as the poet intended, either on this, or his own side of the channel.
How far the poem of Pope may be liable to similar observations it is not so easy to determine. Ayre, in reference to the Italian and French translations, observes, that "the Italian ladies can but wonder that so young and fine a creature as Belinda, should be so long unguarded by her mother, aunt, or some one, whose business it should have been to have taken care of her lock, and her reputation too; while the French ladies see nothing to grieve at, and say, what hindered her from wearing a tête with curls as long again." On the whole, however, the subject of it may be regarded as more general, and consequently more capable of being appreciated by strangers, than the poem of Boileau. The common affections and passions of human nature, and even the manners of fashionable life, bear a much nearer resemblance in all countries, than those of any particular profession or sect; and there seems not much in the Rape of the Lock that may not be perceived at Paris, or at Rome, or even at Vienna, or Petersburg, nearly as well as in London.
Nor does the Rape of the Lock differ more from the Lutrin in its nature and subject, than in the execution, or manner of effecting the purpose intended. The object of the one is Satire, that of the other Pleasantry—that of the one is to ridicule and to reprove, of the other to amuse and to reconcile; and the means adopted for those purposes are appropriate and peculiar to each. Boileau has introduced a series of allegorical personages, who according to the prescribed rules for Epic Poetry, are supposed to influence or direct the conduct of the parties. Justice, Piety, Discord, and Chicanery, are strongly characterized, and perform their respective parts. These personages, as being modifications of human feelings or passions, are well calculated for a poem of a satirical
or moral kind, where the object is to impress some serious or important truth. Thus when Piety retires to the heights of the Alps, the professors of Religion quarrel respecting the merest trifles; but when she returns, and consults with Themis, or Justice, their disputes are extinguished. Pope, who had originally published his Poem in two Cantos, not only saw the necessity of enlivening it by poetical imagery, but he saw at the same time, the impropriety of resorting either to the divinities of the ancients, or the allegories of the moderns for that purpose; and having, as he informs us, fortunately met with a French book, called Le Comte de Gabalis, in which the four elements are said to be inhabited by spirits, called Sylphs, Gnomes, Nymphs, and Salamanders; he enlisted these imaginary beings in his service, as suitable agents for his purpose. But although he was indebted to this idea of the Rosicrucians for his machinery, the use he has made of them is wholly his own.
It is therefore to no purpose to compare the Rape of the Lock with either the Lutrin of Boileau, or the productions of the Italian Poets, with a view of ascertaining the poetical precedence of their authors. They differ from each other, as well by the means employed, as in the end proposed, and can none of them be either exalted or degraded by a comparison with the others. After all that can be said on the subject, it is most probable that each country will give the preference to the production of its own poet.
The Rape of the Lock had the honour of being translated into French by the Princess of Conti, and printed at Paris, 1728. It was translated into Italian by the Marquis Rangoni, envoy from the Duke of Modena to George II., and also by the Abate Conti, a noble Venetian, but with some lacune, or omissions, which were supplied in a new translation, published at Milan, in 1819, 8vo. under the title of " Il Riccio rapito, di Alessandro Pope, tradotto ed illustrato da G. Vincenzo Benini.”
A third translation appeared at Pisa in 1820; together with the Epistle from Eloisa to Abelard, in a volume, entitled "Poesie di Alessandro Pope, tradotte da Micheli Leone, in 16mo."
Of these translations, the last is considered as the most faithful; that of Benini being rather a paraphrase, in which the Translator has frequently intermixed his own ideas with those of the original,
RAPE OF THE LOCK.
*Nolueram, Belinda, tuos violare capillos;
Sed juvat, hoc precibus me tribuisse tuis.
WHAT dire offence from am'rous causes springs,'
It appears by this Motto, that the following Poem was written or published at the Lady's request. But there are some fur
Mr. Caryl (a Gentle
ther circumstances not unworthy relating. man who was Secretary to Queen Mary, wife of James II. whose fortunes he followed into France, Author of the Comedy of Sir Solomon Single, and of several translations in Dryden's Miscellanies) originally proposed the subject to him, in a view of putting an end, by this piece of ridicule, to a quarrel that was risen between two noble Families, those of Lord Petre and of Mrs. Fermor, on the trifling occasion of his having cut off a lock of her hair. The Author sent it to the Lady, with whom he was acquainted; and she took it so well as to give about copies of it. That first sketch (we learn from one of his Letters) was written in less than a fortnight, in 1711, in two Cantos only, and it was so printed; first, in a Miscellany of Bern. Lintot's, without the name of the Author. But it was received so well, that he made it more considerable the next year by the addition of the machinery of the Sylphs, and extended it to five Cantos. We shall give the reader the pleasure of seeing in what manner these additions were inserted, so as to seem not to be added, but to grow out of the Poem. See Notes, Cant. I. ver. 19, &c.
Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,
Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel A well-bred Lord t' assault a gentle Belle? O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor'd, Could make a gentle Belle reject a Lord? In tasks so bold, can little men engage, And in soft bosoms, dwells such mighty rage?
Sol through white curtains shot a tim❜rous ray, And ope'd those eyes that must eclipse the day: Now lap-dogs give themselves the rousing shake, 15 And sleepless lovers, just at twelve, awake:
Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock'd the ground,
And the press'd watch return'd a silver sound.
Ver. 10. Could make a gentle Belle] "The characters introduced in this poem were Mr. Caryl, just before mentioned; Belinda was Mrs. Arabella Fermor; the Baron was Lord Petre, of small stature, who soon after married a great heiress, Mrs. Warmsley, and died, leaving a posthumous son; Thalestris was Mrs. Morly; Sir Plume was her brother, Sir George Brown, of Berkshire." Copied from a MS. in a book presented by R. Lord Burlington, to Mr. William Sherwin. Warton.
Ver. 18. silver sound.] Boileau, at an entertainment given by Segrais, was engaged to read his Lutrin; when he came to this passage in the first canto,
"Les cloches dans les airs de leur voix argentines,"
And ope'd those eyes which brighter shone than they :