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Dag. Then it had better be laid afide,
Hog. And yet to fly from one's ftandard-
Hog. An old foldier and yield!
• Dag. (taking fire) Zounds! your honour we'll not run !
Hog. It would be a fhame to defert the field of honour.
Dag. We'll die in the bed of it, that we will.
Dag. A great deal.
Hog. If we could but
Dag. Once gain a little advantage, and we may do what we pleafe.
Hog. I don't know that..
Dag. Lord, your honour, there's the enemy reconnoitering us in yonder gallery; therefore, your honour, pluck up a good heart; the firft ftroke is half the battle.
Hog (marching cut) I'll attack with the van-guard.
The lovers, Franzel and Cecil, are not very delicately drawn; the Dutch Mynheer and his frow are intentionally coarfe; and the Baron himself is a caricature. On the whole, however, comparing this piece with fome others which have paffed to the prefs from the ftage, as their authors have announced, with univerfal applaufe, we are inclined to think that its treatment in the theatre has been rather fevere: and we are forry that a perufal will not warrant our recommending any great degree of mitiga tion in the fentence, though perhaps more capriciously than ju diciously pafled.
The Prologue, written by Mr. Pilon, has much more merit than any we ever before received from the fame hand; and the Epilogue, by Edward Topham, Efq; is tolerable.
ART. VI. Johnson's Biographical Prefaces CONTINUED. view for Auguit.
Ncharacterifing the poetry of Matthew Prior, Dr. Johnfon, in more inftances than one, deviates from the general opinion of its excellence. Many circumftances, indeed, concurred to elevate Prior's poetical character higher than its intrinfic merit alone would poffibly have raifed it. The fingle circumftance of his exaltation (which was always confidered, as in fact it was, the confequence of literary attainments), by fpeedy gradations from the ftation of a tavern-boy to the rank of an ambaflador, would naturally imprefs the world with an idea of very uncomREV. Nov. 1781.
mon fuperiority. Prior's works are confidered as compofing Tales, Love-verfes, Occafional Poems, Alma, and Solomon. His Tales are written with great familiarity and great fpritelinefs the language is eafy, but feldom grofs, and the numbers are fmooth, without the appearance of care.' But it is a doubt with Dr. Johnson, whether he be the original author of any tale which he has given us.
On his Love-verfes the critic is particularly fevere; and, if one or two pieces be excepted, juftly fo. And even in those, it is wit and gallantry, rather than paffion, that entitles them to notice. A man, like Prior, connecting himself with drabs of the lowest species, must be incapable of feeling either the warmth of a true paffion, or the refinements of an elegant one.
In his Amorous Effufions he is lefs happy; for they are not dictated by nature or by paffion, and have neither gallantry nor tendernefs. They have the coldness of Cowley, without his wit; the dull exercises of a skilful verfifyer, refolved at all adventures to write fomething about Chloe, and trying to be amorous by din of ftudy. His fictions therefore are mythological. Venus, after the example of the Greek Epigram, asks when he was feen naked and bathing. Then Cupid is miftaken; then Cupid is difarmed; then he lofes his darts to Ganymede; then Jupiter fends him a fummons by Mercury. Then Chloe goes a-hunting, with an ivory quiver graceful at her fide; Diana mistakes her for one of her nymphs, and Cupid laughs at the blunder. All this is furely defpicable; and even when he tries to act the lover, without the help of gods or goddeffes, his thoughts are unaffecting or remote. He talks not like a man of this world.
The greatest of all his amorous effays is Henry and Emma; a dull and tedious dialogue, which excites neither esteem for the man, nor tenderness for the woman. The example of Emma, who refolves to follow an outlawed murderer wherever fear and guilt shall drive him, deferves no imitation; and the experiment by which Henry tries the lady's conftancy, is fuch as muft end either in infamy to her, or in difappointment to himself."
That Dr. Johnfon's objections to the scope and tendency of the laft mentioned poem are juft, no one will, we prefume, be hardy enough to difpute; but it is at the fame time much to be doubted whether many will agree with him in thinking it a dull and tedious dialogue. Were the queftion to be afked, which of Prior's poems has been moft generally read? we are of opinion, it would be determined in favour of Henry and Emma. What every one reads can hardly be thought tedious and dull.
Dr. Johnfon is of opinion, that all that is valuable in this writer is owing to his diligence and judgment. His diligence," fays he, has justly placed him amongst the most correct of the English poets; and he was one of the first that refolutely endeavoured at correctness. He never facrifices accuracy to haste, nor indulges himself in contemptuous negligence, or impatient idlenefs; he has no careless lines, or entangled fentiments; his words are nicely felected,
and his thoughts fully expanded. If this part of his character fuffers any abatement, it must be from the difproportion of his rhymes, which have not always fufficient confonance, and from the admiffion of broken lines into his Solomon; but perhaps he thought, like Cowley, that hemiftichs ought to be admitted into heroic poetry.
He had apparently fuch rectitude of judgment as fecured him from every thing that approached to the ridiculous or abfurd; but as laws operate in civil agency not to the excitement of virtue, but the repression of wickedness; fo judgment, in the operations of intellect, can hinder faults, but not produce excellence. Prior is never low, nor very often fublime. It is faid by Longinus of Euripides, that he forces himself fometimes into grandeur by violence of effort, as the lion kindles his fury by the lashes of his own tail. Whatever Prior obtains above mediocrity feems the effort of struggle and of toil. He has many vigorous, but few happy lines; he has every thing by purchase, and nothing by gift; he had no nightly vifitations of the Mufe, no infufions of fentiment or felicities of fancy.
His diction, however, is more his own than that of any among the fucceffors of Dryden; he borrows no lucky turns, or commodious modes of language, from his predeceffors. His phrafes are original, but they are fometimes harth; as he inherited no elegances, none has he bequeathed. His expreffion has every mark of laborious ftudy; the line feldom seems to have been formed at once; the words did not come till they were called, and were then put by constraint into their places, where they do their duty, but do it fullenly. In his greater compofitions there may be found more rigid stateliness than graceful dignity.'
The concluding obfervation is ftriking and juft:
A furvey of the life and writings of Prior may exemplify a fentence which he doubtless understood well, when he read Horace at his uncle's; the veel long retains the scent which it firft receives. In his private relaxation he revived the tavern, and in his amorous pedantry he exhibited the college. But on higher occafions, and nobler fubjects, when habit was overpowered by the neceffity of reflection, he wanted not wisdom as a ftatefman, nor elegance as a poet.'
We are now arrived at a character, which, as, a poet, Dr. Johnfon feems to have contemplated with fingular complacency. As it comes not within the compass or defign of this Article to attend the Biographer through all the minutiae of Pope's life, with which, indeed, the Public is fufficiently acquainted, we fhall only touch upon thofe parts which are connected with his literary hiftory. Perhaps the most interesting part is that where he commences his Tranflation of Homer.
• The next year (1713) produced a bolder attempt, by which profit was fought as well as praife. The poems which he had hitherto written, however they might have diffufed his name, had made very little addition to his fortune. The allowance which his father made him, though, proportioned to what he had, it might be liberal, could not be large; his religion hindered him from the occupation of any civil employment, and he complained that he wanted even money to buy books.
'He therefore refolved to try how far the favour of the Public extended, by foliciting a fubfcription to a version of the Iliad, with large notes.'
Pope, having now emitted his propofals, and engaged not only his own reputation, but in fome degree that of his friends who patronifed his fubfcription, began to be frighted at his own undertaking; and finding himself at firft embarraffed with difficulties, which retarded and oppreffed him, he was for a time timorous and uneafy; had his nights difturbed by dreams of long journeys through unknown ways, and wished, as he said, that somebody would hang him.
This mifery, however, was not of long continuance; he grew by degrees more acquainted with Homer's images and expreffions, and practice increased his facility of verification. In a fhort time he reprefents himself as difpatching regularly fifty verfes a day, which would fhew him, by an eafy computation, the termination of his labour.
His own diffidence was not his only vexation. He that afks a fubfcription foon finds that he has enemies. All who do not encourage him defame him. He that wants money will rather be thought angry than poor; and he that wishes to fave his money, conceals his avarice by his malice. Addifon had hinted his fufpicion that Pope was too much a Tory; and fome of the Tories fufpected his principles, because he had contributed to the Guardian, which was carried on by Steele,
To those who cenfured his politics were added enemies yet more dangerous, who called in question his knowledge of Greek, and his qualifications for a tranflator of Homer. To thefe he made no public oppofition; but in one of his Letters escapes from them as well as he can. At an age like his, for he was not more than twenty-five, with an irregular education, and a courfe of life of which much teems to have paffed in converfation, it is not very likely that he overflowed with Greek. But when he felt himself deficient he fought affittance, and what man of learning would refufe to help him? Minute enquiries into the force of words are lefs neceffary in tranflating Homer than other poets, because his pofitions are general, and his reprefentations natural, with very little dependence on local or temporary cultoms, on those changeable fcenes of artificial life, which by mingling original with accidental notions, and crowding the mind with images which time effaces, produce ambiguity in diction, and obfcurity in books. To this open display of unadulterated nature it must be afcribed that Homer has fewer paffages of doubtful meaning than any other poet either in the learned or in modern languages. I have read of a man, who being, by his ignorance of Greek, compelled to gratify his curiofity with the Latin printed on the oppofite page, declared, that from the rude fimplicity of the lines literally rendered, he formed nobler ideas of the Homeric majefty, than from the laboured elegance of polished versions.
Thofe literal tranflations were always at hand, and from them he could always obtain his author's fenfe with fufficient certainty; and among the readers of Homer, the number is very fmall of those who find much in the Greek more than in the Latin, except the mufic of the numbers.
If more help was wanting, he had the poetical tranflation of Eobanus Heffus, an unwearied writer of Latin verfes; he had the French Homers of La Valterie and Dacier, and the English of Chapman, Hobbes, and Ogylly. With Chapman, whofe work, though now totally neglected, feems to have been popular almoft to the end of the laft century, he had very frequent confultations, and perhaps never tranflated any paffage till he had read his verfion, which indeed he has been fometimes fufpected of using inftead of the original.
Notes were likewife to be provided; for the fix volumes would have been very little more than fix pamphlets without them. What the mere perufal of the text could fuggeft, Pope wanted no affiftance to collect or methodize; but more was neceffary; many pages were to be filled, and learning muft fupply materials to wit and judgment. Something might be gathered from Dacier; but no man loves to be indebted to his contemporaries, and Dacier was acceffible to common readers. Euftathius was therefore neceffarily confulted. To read Euftathius, of whole work there was then no Latin verfion, I fufpect Pope, if he had been willing, not to have been able; fome other was therefore to be found, who had leifure as well as abilities, and he was doublefs moft readily employed who would do much work for little money.
The hillory of the notes has never been traced. Broome, in his Preface to his Poems, declares himself the commentator in part upon the Iliad; and it appears from Fenton's Letter, preferved in the Mufeum, that Broome was at firft engaged in confulting Euftathius; but that after a time, whatever was the reafon, he defiited: another man of Cambridge was then employed, who foon grew weary of the work; and a third was recommended by Thirlby, who is now difcovered to have been fartin, a man fince well known to the learned world, who complained that Pope, having accepted and approved his performance, never teftified any curiofity to fee him. The terms which Fenton ufes are very mercantile: I think at first fight that his performance very commendable, and have fent word for him to finifh the 17th book, and to fend it with his demands for his trouble. I have here enclosed the Specimen; if the rest come before the return, I will keep them till I receive your order.
Broome then offered his fervice a fecond time, which was probably accepted, as they had afterwards a closer correspondence. Parnell contributed the Life of Homer, which Pope found fo harsh, that he took great pains in correcting it; and by his own diligence, with fuch help as kindness or money could procure him, in fomewhat more than five years he completed his version of the Iliad with the Notes. He begun it in 1712, his twenty-fifth year, and concluded it in 1718, his thirtieth year.'
At the conclufion of this account, which contains many circumstances we were not able to make room for, the Doctor adds,
It cannot be unwelcome to literary curiofity, that I deduce thus minutely the hiftory of the English Iliad. It is certainly the noblest verion of poetry which the world has ever feen; and its publication must therefore be confidered as one of the great events in the annals of Learning.'