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Hence guilty joys, distastes, surmises,
Fires that scorch; yet dare not shine.
Purest love's unwasting treasure,
* These two choruses are enough to shew us his great talents for this species of poetry, and to make us lament he did not prosecute his purpose in executing some plans he had chalked out; but the character of the managers of play-houses at that time, was what (he said) soon determined him to lay aside all thoughts of that nature. Warburton.
These choruses are elegant and harmonious; but are they not chargeable with the fault, which Aristotle imputes to many of Euripides, that they are foreign and adventitious to the subject, and contribute nothing towards the advancement of the main action? Whereas the chorus ought,
Μοριον ειναι τε όλε, και συναγωνιζεσθαι.”
to be a part or member of the one whole, co-operate with, and help to accelerate the intended event; as is constantly, adds the philosopher, the practice of Sophocles. Whereas these reflections of Pope on the baneful influences of war, on the arts and learning, and on the universal power of love, seem to be too general, are not sufficiently appropriated, do not rise from the subject and occasion, and might be inserted with equal propriety in twenty other tragedies. This remark of Aristotle, though he does not himself produce any examples, may be verified from the following, among many others. In the Phoenicians of Euripides, they sing a long and very beautiful, but ill-placed, hymn to Mars; I speak of that which begins so nobly, ver. 793,
“ Ω πολυμοχθος Αρης,”
"O direful Mars! why art thou still delighted with blood and with death, and why an enemy to the feasts of Bacchus ?" And a still
more glaring instance may be brought from the end of the third act of the Troades, in which the story of Ganymede is introduced not very artificially. To these may be added that exquisite ode in praise of Apollo, descriptive of his birth and victories, which we find in the Iphigenia in Tauris.
On the other hand, the choruses of Sophocles never desert the subject of each particular drama, and all their sentiments and reflections are drawn from the situation of the principal personage of the fable. Nay, Sophocles hath artfully found a method of making those poetical descriptions, with which the choruses of the ancients abound, carry on the chief design of the piece; and has by these means accomplished what is a great difficulty in writing tragedy, united poetry with propriety.
In the Philoctetes the chorus takes a natural occasion, at verse 694, to give a minute and moving picture of the solitary life of that unfortunate hero; and when afterwards, at verse 855, pain has totally exhausted the strength and spirits of Philoctetes, and it is necessary for the plot of the tragedy that he should fall asleep, it is then that the chorus breaks out into an exquisite ode to Sleep. As in the Antigone, with equal beauty and decorum in an address to the God of Love, at verse 791 of that play. And thus lastly, when the birth of Edipus is doubtful, and his parents unknown, the chorus suddenly exclaims,
Τις σε, τεκνοι,”
"From which, O my son, of the immortal gods, didst thou spring? Was it some nymph, a favourite of Pan, that haunts the mountains; or some daughter of Apollo; for this god loves the remote rocks and caverns, who bore you? Or was it Mercury who reigns in Cyllene, or did Bacchus,
a god who dwells on the tops of the mountains, beget you, on any of the nymphs that possess Helicon, with whom he frequently sports?"
But what shall we say to the strong objections lately made by some very able and learned critics to the use of the chorus at all? The critics I have in view, are Metastasio, Twining, Pye, Colman, and Johnson; who have brought forward such powerful arguments against this so important a part of the ancient drama, as to shake our conviction of its utility and propriety, founded on what Hurd, Mason, and Brumoy, have so earnestly and elegantly urged on the subject. Warton.
THE DYING CHRISTIAN TO HIS SOUL.*
VITAL spark of heavenly flame
Hark! they whisper; Angels say,
Steals my senses, shuts my sight?
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?
The world recedes; it disappears;
Heaven opens on my eyes; my ears
With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy Victory?
O Death! where is thy Sting!
*This Ode was written in imitation of the famous Sonnet of Hadrian to his departing soul; but as much superior in sense and sublimity to its original, as the Christian religion is to the Pagan.
THIS Ode was written, we find, at the desire of Steele; and our Poet, in a letter to him on that occasion, says,-" You have it, as Cowley calls it, just warm from the brain; it came to me the first moment I waked this morning; yet you'll see, it was not so absolutely inspiration, but that I had in my head, not only the verses of Hadrian, but the fine fragment of Sappho."
It is possible, however, that our Author might have had another composition in his head, besides those he here refers to: for there is a close and surprising resemblance between this ode of Pope, and one of an obscure and forgotten rhymer of the age of Charles the Second, namely Thomas Flatman; from whose dunghill, as well as from the dregs of Crashawe, of Carew, of Herbert, and others (for it is well known he was a great reader of all those poets), Pope has very judiciously collected gold. And the following stanza is, perhaps, the only valuable one Flatman has produced:
When on my sick bed I languish ;
Fainting, gasping, trembling, crying,
Panting, groaning, speechless, dying;
Be not fearful, come away!
The third and fourth lines are eminently good and pathetic, and the climax well preserved, the very turn of them is closely copied by Pope; as is likewise the striking circumstance of the dying man's imagining he hears a voice calling him away:
Vital spark of heav'nly flame
Prior also translated this little Ode, but with manifest inferiority to Pope. Pope was certainly indebted to Flatman. The plagiarism is palpable. Dr. Warton speaks with too much contempt of Crashawe, Herbert, &c. Some of Crashawe's strains are of a
higher mood;" and who can deny great merit to the author of that natural and pleasing effusion, of which Mr. Ellis, in his valuable specimens of English Poetry, has selected,
"I made a Posy, as the day went by."
Herbert was Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and afterwards Rector of Bemerton, near Salisbury.