Page images
PDF
EPUB

ally happened are, after all, the properest subjects for poetry. The beft eclogue of †Virgil, the best ode of Horace, are founded on real incidents. If we briefly caft our eyesover the most interesting and affecting stories, ancient or modern, we shall find that they are fuch, as however adorned and a little diverfified, are yet grounded on true history, and on real matters of fact. Such, for instance, among the ancients, are the stories, of Jofeph, of Edipus, the Trojan war and and its confequences, of Virginia and the Horatii; fuch, among the moderns, are the ftories of king Lear, the Cid, Romeo and Juliet, and Oronooko. The series of events contained in thefe ftories, feem far to furpass the utmost powers of human imagination. In the best-conducted fiction, fome mark of improbability and incoherence will still appear.

I SHALL only add to these, a tale literally true, which the admirable DANTE has intro

+ The First.

† Ode 13. Lib. 2.

duced

duced in his Inferno, and which is not fufficiently known; I cannot recollect any paffage, in any writer whatever, fo truly pathetic. Ugolino a Florentine Count is giving the description of his being imprisoned with his children by the archbishop Ruggieri. "The hour approached when we expected to have fomething brought us to eat. But instead of seeing any food appear, * I heard the doors of that horrible dungeon more closely barred. I beheld my little children in filence, and could not weep. My heart was petrified! the little wretches wept, and my dear Anfelm faid ; Tu guardi sì, padre: che hai? father you look on us! what ails you? I could neither weep nor anfwer, and continued fwallowed up in filent agony, all that day, and the following night, even till the dawn of day. As foon as a glimmering ray darted through the doleful prison, that I could view again those four faces, in which my own image was impreffed,

* It was thought not improper to diftinguish the more moving paffages by Italics. Mr. Baretti's juft tranflation is here used. See his DISSERTATION on the Italian Poets.

I gnawed

I gnawed both my hands, with grief and rage. My children believing I did this through eagerness to eat, raifing themselves fuddenly up, faid to me, My father! our torments would be lefs, if you would allay the rage of your bunger upon us. I restrained myself, that I might not encrease their misery. We were all mute that day and, the following. Quel di, e l'altro ftemmo tutti muti! Ah cruel earth why doft not thou fwallow us up at once? The fourth day being come, Gaddo falling extended at my feet, cryed; Padre mio, che non m'ajuti! My father, why do not you belp me? and died. The other three expired one after the other between the fifth and fixth days, famished as thou feeft me now! And I, being feized with blindness, began to go groping upon them with my hands and Feet and continued calling them by their names three days after they were dead. E tre di li chiamai poichè fur morti : then hunger vanquished my grief!"

If this inimitable defcription had been to be found in Homer, the Greek tragedies, or

nature;

Virgil, how many commentaries and panegyrics would it have given rife to? What shall shall we say, or think, of the genius able to produce it? There are many of the fame and perhaps the Inferno of Dante is the next compofition to the Iliad, in point of originality and fublimity. And with regard to the Pathetic, let this tale stand a testimony of his abilities: for my own part, I truly believe it was never carried to a greater heighth. It is remarkable, that Chaucer pears to have been particularly ftruck with this tale in Dante, having highly commended this, "grete poete of Italie," for this narration; with a summary of which he concludes the Monke's Tale. *

ap

THE PROLOGUE to Addifon's Tragedy of Cato, is fuperiour to any prologue of Dryden ; who, notwithstanding, is fo juftly celebrated for this fpecies of writing. The prologues of Dryden are fatyrical and facetious; this of POPE is folemn and fublime, as the subject

* Urry's Chaucer. Pag. 167. Ver. 824.

[blocks in formation]

required. Those of Dryden contain general
topics of criticism and wit, and may pre-
cede any play whatsoever, even tragedy or
comedy. This of POPE is particular, and
appropriated to the tragedy alone, which it
was defigned to introduce. The most striking
images and allufions it contains, are taken,
with judgment, from fome paffages in the
life of Cato himself. Such is that fine stroke,
more lofty than any thing in the tragedy
itself, where the poet fays, that when Cæfar
amid the pomp and magnificence of a triumph,
Shew'd Rome her Cato's figure drawn in state;
As her dead father's reverend image past,

The pomp was darkned and the day o'ercaft;
The triumph ceas'd.-Tears gufh'd from ev'ry eye,
The world's great victor pass'd unheeded by ;
Her laft good man dejected Rome ador❜d,
And honour'd Cæfar's lefs than Cato's fword.

Such, again, is the happy allufion to an old story mentioned in Martial, of this fage going into the theatre, and immediately coming out of it again:

Such plays alone should win a British ear,

As Cato's felf had not difdain'd to hear:

From

« EelmineJätka »