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similes prove, he never makes any laboured attempt to delineate her features. He had the eye of a great painter; but his pictorial talents are employed, almost unconsciously, in the fervour of narrating events, or the animation of giving utterance to thoughts. He painted by an epithet or a line. Even the celebrated description of the fires in the plain of Troy, likened to the moon in a serene night, is contained in seven lines. His rosy-fingered morn—clond-compelling Jupiter—Neptune, stiller of the waves—Aurora rising from her crocus bed—Night drawing her veil over the heavens—the black keel careering through the lashing waves —the shout of the far-sounding sea —and the like, from which subsequent poets and dramatists have borrowed so largely, are all brief allusions, or epithets, which evidently did not form the main object of his strains. He was a close observer of nature—its lights, its shades, its storms and calms, its animals, their migrations, their cries and habits; but he never suspends his narrative to describe them. We shall look in vain in the Iliad, and even the Odyssey, for the lengthened pictures of scenery which are so frequent in Virgil and Tasso, and appear in such rich profusion in Milton. He describes storms only as objects of terror, not to paint them to the eye. Such things are to be found in the book of Job and in the Psalms, but with the same brevity and magical force of emphatic expression. There never was a greater painter of nature than Homer; there never was a man who aimed less at being so.
The portrayingof character andevent was the great and evident object of the Grecian bard; and there his powers may almost be pronounced uurivalled. He never tells you, unless it is sometimes to be inferred from an epithet, what the man's character that he introduces is. He trusts to the character to delineate itself. He lets us get acquainted with his heroes, as we do with persons around us, by hearing them speak, and seeing them act. In preserving character, in this dramatic way of representing it, he is unrivalled. He does not tell you that Nestor had the garrulity of age, and loved to recur to the events of his youth; but he never makes him
open his mouth without descanting on the adventures of his early years, and the degenerate race of mortals who have succeeded the paladins of former days. He does not tell us that Achilles was wrathful and impetuous; but every time he speaks, the anger of the son of Peleus comes boiling over his lips. He does not describe Agamemnon as overbearing and haughty; but the pride of the king of men is continually appearing in his words and actions, and it is the evident moral of the Iliad to represent its pernicious effects on the affairs of the Helenic confederacy. Ulysses never utters a word in which the cautious and prndent counsellor, sagacious in design but prompt in execution, wary in the council but decided in the field, far-seeing but yet persevering, is not apparent. Diomede never falters; alike in the field and the council he is indomitable. When Hector was careering in his chariot round their fortifications, and the king of men counselled retreat, he declared he would remain, were it only with Sthenelus and his friends. So completely marked, so well defined, are his characters, though they were all rapacious chiefs at first sight, little differing from each other, that it has been observed with truth, that one well acquainted with the Iliad could tell, upon hearing one of the speeches read out without a name, who was the chief who uttered it.
The two authors, since his time, who have most nearly approached him in this respect, are Shakspeare and Scott. Both seem to have received the pencil which paints the human heart from nature herself. Both had a keen and searching eye for character in all grades and walks of life; and what is a general accompaniment of such a disposition, a strong sense of the ridiculous. Both seized the salient points in mental disposition, and perceived at a glance, as it were, the ruling propensity. Both impressed this character so strongly on their minds, that they threw themselves, as it were, into the very souls of the persons whom they delineated, and made them speak and act like nature herself. It is this extraordinary faculty of identifying themselves with their characters, and bringing out of their mouth the very words which, in real life, would have come, which constitutes the chief and permanent attraction of these wonderful masters of the human heart. Cervantes had it in an equal degree; and thence it is that Homer, Shakspeare, Cervautes, and Scott, have made so great, and, to all appearance, durable impression on mankind. The human heart is, at bottom, every where the same. There is infinite diversity in the dress he wears, but the naked human figure of one country scarcely differs from another. The writers who have succeeded in reaching this deep substratum, this far-hidden but common source of human action, are understood and admired over all the world. It is the same on the banks of the Simois as on those of the Avon —on the Sierra Morena as the Scottish hills. They are understood alike in Europe as Asia—in antiquity as modern times; one unanimous burst of admiration salutes them from the North Cape to Cape Horn—from the age of Pisistratns to that of Napoleon.
Strange as it may appear to superficial observers, Cervantes bears a close analogy, in many particulars, to Homer. Circumstances, and an inherent turn for humour, made him throw his genins into an exquisite ridicule of the mannere of chivalry; but the author of Don Quixote had in him the spirit of a great epic poet. His lesser pieces prove it; unequivocal traces of it are to be found in the adventures of the Knight of La Mancha himself. The elevation of mind which, amidst all his aberrations, appears in that erratic character; the incomparable traits of nature with which the work abounds; the faculty of describing events in the most striking way : of painting scenes in a few words; of delineating characters with graphic fidelity, and keeping them up with perfect consistency, which are so conspicuous in Don Quixote, are so many of the most essential qualities of an epic poet. Nor was the ardour of imagination, the romantic disposition, the brilliancy of fancy, the lofty aspirations, the tender heart, which form the more elevated and not less essential part of such a character, wanting in the Spanish novelist.
Sir Walter Scott more nearly resembles Homer than any poet who has Bung since the siege of
Troy. Not that he has produced any poem which will for a moment bear a comparison with the Iliad— fine as the Lady of the Lake and Marmion are, it would be the height of national. partiality to make any such comparison. But, nevertheless, Sir Walter's mind is of the same dimensions as that of Homer. We see in him the same combination of natural sagacity with acquired information; of pictorial eye with dramatic effect; of observation of character with reflection and feeling; of graphic power with poetic fervour; of ardour of imagination with rectitnde of principle; of warlike enthusiasm with pacific tenderness, which have rendered the Grecian bard immortal. It is in his novels, however, more than his poetry, that this resemblance appears; the author of Waverley more nearly approaches the blind bard than the author of the Lay. His romances in verse contain some passages which are sublime, many which are beautiful, some pathetic. They are all interesting, and written in the same easy, careless style, interspersed with the most homely and grotesque expressions, which is so well known to all the readers of the Iliad. The battle in Marmion is beyond all question, as Jeffrey long ago remarked, the most Homeric strife which has been sung since the days of Homer. But these passages are few and far between; his poems are filled with numerous and long interlndes, written with little art, and apparently no other object but to fill up the pages or eke out the story. It is in prose that the robust strength, the powerful arm, the profound knowledge of the heart, appear; and it is there, accordingly, that he approaches at times so closely to Homer. If we could conceive a poem, in which the storming of Front-de-Boenf's castle in Ivanhoe—the death of Fergus in Waverley—the storm on the coast, and death scene in the fisher's hut, in the Antiquary-^- the devoted love in the Bride of Lammermoor — the fervour of the Covenanters in Old Mortality, and the combats of Richard and Saladin in the Talisman, were united together, and intermingled with the incomparable characters, descriptions, and incidents with which these novels abound, they would form an epic poem.
Doubts have sometimes been expressed, as to whether the Iliad and Odyssey are all the production of one man. Never, perhaps, was doubt not merely so ill founded, but so decisively disproved by internal evidence. If ever in human composition the traces of one mind are conspicuous, they are in Homer. His beauties equally with his defects, his variety and uniformity, attest this. Never was an author who had so fertile an imagination for varying of incidents; never was one who expressed them in language in which the same words so constantly recur. This is the invariable characteristic of a great and powerful, but at the same time self-confident and careless mind. It is to be seen in the most remarkable manner in Bacon and Machiavel, and not a little of it may be traced both in the prose and poetical works of Scott. The reason is, that the strength of the mind is thrown into the thought as the main object; the language, as a subordinate matter, is little considered. Expressions capable of energetically expressing the prevailing ideas of the imagination are early formed; but, when this is done, the powerful, careless mind, readily adopts them on all future occasions where they are at all applicable. There is scarcely a great and original thinker in whose writings the same expressions do not very frequently recur, often in exactly the same words. How much this is the case with Homer—with how mnch discrimination and genins his epithets and expressions were first chosen, and how frequently he repeats them, almost in every page, need be told to none who are acquainted with his writings. That is the most decisive mark at once of genins and identity. Original thinkers fall into repetition of expression, because they are always speaking from one model—their own thoughts. Subordinate writers avoid this fault, because they are speaking from the thoughts of others, and share their variety. It requires as great an effort for the first to introduce difference of expression, as for the last to reach diversity of thought.
The reader of Dante must not look for the heart-stirring and animated narrative—the constant interest—the breathless suspense, which hurries os along the rapid current of the
Iliad. There are no councils of the gods; no messengers winging their way through the clonds; no combats of chiefs ; no cities to storm; no fields to win. It is the infernal regions which the poet, under the guidance of his great leader, Virgil, visits; it is the scene of righteous retribution through which he is led; it is the apportionment of punishment and reward to crime or virtue, in this upper world, that he is doomed to witness. We enter the city of lamentation—welook down the depths of the bottomless pit—we stand at the edge of the burning lake. His survey is not a mere transient visit like that of Ulysses in Homer, or of iEneas in Virgil. He is taken slowly and deliberately through every successive circle of Malebolge; descending down which, like the visitor of the tiers of vaults, one beneath another, in a feudal castle, he finds every species of malefactors, from the chiefs and kings whose heroic lives were stained only by a few deeds of cruelty, to the depraved malefactors whose base course was uurelieved by one ray of virtue. In the very conception of such a poem, is to be found decisive evidence of the mighty change which the human mind had undergone since the expiring lays of poetry were last heard in the ancient world; of the vast revolution of thought and inward conviction which, during a thousand years, in the solitnde of the monastery, and under the sway of a spiritual faith, had taken place in the human heart. A gay and poetic mythology no longer amazed the world by its fictions, or charmed it by its imagery. Religion no longer basked in the sunshine of imagination. The awful words of jndgment to come had been spoken ; and, like Felix, mankind had trembled. Ridiculous legends had ceased to be associated with the shades below—their place had been taken by images of horror. Conscience had resumed its place in the direction of thought. Superstition had lent its awful power to the sanctions of religion. Terror of future punishment had subdued the fiercest passions— internal agony tamed the prondesi spirits. It was the picture of a future world—of a world of retribution— conceived under such impressions, that Dante proposed to give; it is that
which he has given with such terrible fidelity.
Melancholy was the prevailing characteristic of the great Italian's mind. It was so profound that it penetrated all his thoughts; so intense that it pervaded all his conceptions. Occasionally bright and beautiful ideas flitted across his imagination; visions of bliss, experienced for a moment, and then lost for ever, as if to render more profound the darkness by which they are surrounded. They are given with exquisite beauty; but they shine amidst the gloom like sunbeams struggling through the clonds. He inherited from the dark ages the austerity of the cloister; but he inherited with it the deep feelings and sublime conceptions which its seclusion had generated. His mind was a world within itself. He drew all his conceptions
from that inexhaustible source; but he drew them forth so clear and lucid, that they emerged, embodied as it were, in living images. His characters are emblematic of the various passions and views for which different degrees of punishment were reserved in the world to come ; but his conception of them was so distinct, his description so vivid, that they stand forth to our gaze in all the agony of their sufferings, like real flesh and blood. We see them—we feel them— we hear their cries—our very flesh creeps at the perception of their sufferings. We stand on the edge of the lake of boiling pitch—we feel the weight of the leaden mantles—we see the snow-like flakes of burning sand—we hear the cries of those who had lost the last earthly consolations, the hope of death :—
"Quivi sospiri, pianti ed alti guai
Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,
Facevano un tnmulto, il qual s' aggira
Ed io: maestro, che e tanto greve
Questi non kanno speranza di morte."
Inferno, c. iii.
"Here sighs, with lamentations and lond moans,
I then: Master! What doth aggrieve them thus,
Here is Dante portrayed to the life in the very outset. What a collection of awful images in a few lines! Lond lamentations, hideons cries, mingled with the sound of clasped hands, beneath a starless sky; and the terrible answer, as the cause of this suffering, "These have not the hope of death."
Cary's Dante, Inferno, c. iii.
The very first lines of the Inferno, when the gates of Hell were approached, and the inscription over them appeared, paints the dismal character of the poem, and yet mingled with the sense of divine love and justice with which the author was penetrated.
"Per me si va nella citta dolente;
Ginstizia mosse '1 mio alto Fattore;
Dinanzi a me non fur cose create,
Inferno, c. iii.
"Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Carv's Dante, Inferno, c. iii.
Dante had much more profound feelings than Homer, and therefore he has painted deep mysteries of the human heart with greater force and fidelity. The more advanced age of the world, the influence of a spiritual faith, the awful anticipation of jndgment to come, the inmost feelings which, during long centuries of seclusion, had been drawn forth in the cloister, the protracted sufferings of the dark ages, had laid bare the human heart. Its sufferings, its terrors, its hopes, its joys, had become as household words. The Italian poet shared, as all do, in the ideas and images of his age, and to these he added many which were entirely his own. He painted the inward man, and painted him from his own feelings, not the observation of others. That is the grand distinction between him and Homer; and that it is which has given him, in the delineation of mind, his great superiority. The Grecian bard was an incomparable observer; he had an inexhaustible imagination for fiction, as well as a graphic eye for the delineation of real life; but he had not a deep or feeling heart. He did not know it, like Dante and Shakspeare, from his own suffering. He painted the external symptoms of passion and emotion with the hand of a master; but he did not reach the inward spring of feeling. He lets us into his cha
racters by their speeches, their gestures, their actions, and keeps up their consistency with admirable fidelity; but he does not, by a word, an expression, or an epithet, admit us into the inmost folds of the heart. None can do so but such as themselves feel warmly and profoundly, and paint passion, emotion, or suffering from their own experience, not the observation of others. Dante has acquired his colossal fame from the matchless force with which he has portrayed the wildest passions, the deepest feelings, the most intense sufferings of tha heart. He is the refuge of all those who labour and are heavy laden —of all who feel profoundly or have suffered deeply. His verses are in the mouth of all who are torn by passion, gnawed by remorse, or tormented by apprehension; and how many are they in this scene of woe!
A distinguished modern critic* has said, that he who would now become a great poet must first become a little child. There is no doubt he is right. The seen and unseen fetters of civilization; the multitnde of old ideas afloat in the world; the innumerable worn-out channels into which new ones are ever apt to flow; the general clamour? with which critics, nursed amidst such fetters, receive any attempts at breaking them; the preva