Imágenes de página

During the dark and barbarous ages that succeeded, the collection of Meleager suffered more than that of Agathias. Whatever was ingenious, elegant, and fanciful, fell under the destructive rage of persecuting priests, who made little distinction between the embellishments which genius had flung over sensuality, and the purest and most beautiful relics of affection and sorrow. Manuscripts decayed, and, for want of transcribers, were sometimes entirely lost; and but for the timely diligence of a few scholars gifted with taste and perseverance, very little of the Greek epigrams would have come down to our times. To Planudes,-Salmasius, the celebrated antagonist of Milton,-but, above all, to the laborious and learned Brunck, are we indebted for that extensive collection, which has recently been edited by Jacobs with very considerable taste and unexampled erudition. We have not space for more than one or two additional selections. Leonidas has very sweetly versified an anecdote familiar to all, but which can never cease to be pleasing, it is so tenderly true to nature. The translation is by Mr. Rogers.

While on the cliff with calm delight she kneels,

And the blue vales a thousand joys recal,
See, to the last, last verge her infant steals !

Oh Ay—yet stir not, speak not, lest it fall.
Far betier taught, she lays her bosom bare,

And the fond boy springs back to nestle there. With this of Simmias on Sophocles, translated by Addison, we shall close our extracts from the Greek Anthology.

Wind, gentle evergreen, to form a shade
Around the tomb where Sophocles is laid ;
Sweet ivy! lend thine aid, and intertwine
With blushing roses and the clustering vine:
Thus shall thy lasting leaves, with beauties hung,

Prove grateful emblems of the lays he sung. One great distinguishing excellence of the Greek sepulchral inscriptions is their appropriateness. They do not, like the “ Epitaphs to be let” of Pope, deal in any general eulogy, but spring out of the character of the person, and belong to him alone. They contain the name of the deceased, and whatever else is necessary to make them intelligible. Perhaps there is no part of English literature-if literature will permit the association--which is so despicable, as its sepulchral inscriptions. We are inferior not only to the ancients, but even to our contemporaries. No one can visit an English church-yard without being disgusted with the tawdry and unmeaning trash-the ungrammatical and "splay-foot rhymes,” which disfigure the monuments of the departed ; and where the same stuff is applied to fifty different persons of different

ages, sex, and rank. These “sepulchral lies” have been well described in the epigram:

“ Friend, in your epitaphs I'm grieved,


very much is said ;
One half will never be believed,

The other, never read.” The Greeks were singularly happy in the appropriateness of this sort of inscription, and in the delicacy with which the traits of character were touched out, and in the pathetic and affectionate language of In judging the Greek epigrams, they must be tried by their own laws. More must not be demanded from them than they were intended to convey. Least of all must we seek in them the wit and piquancy which belong to those of our times. Nor will any one derive much pleasure from their perusal, whose taste is not delicate enough to feel that the greatest charm of light poetry is the simple representation of unlaboured sentiments.

The Latin epigrammatists appear to have disdained the exquisite simplicity of their predecessors, and to have sought after more remote and striking combinations. In the midst of a good deal of conceit and some obscenity, Catullus has, however, attained a higher point of clegancy and beauty than any other of the Roman wits. Martial somewhere equals him in genius to Virgil, and in this bold opinion he has been followed by some modern critics. Nothing of his that has come down to us justifies such a comparison. Had his imagination been less depraved and his taste more pure, his genius was certainly far beyond that of any of the Greek anthologists, with perhaps the exception of Meleager. Martial has been placed at the head of this class of writers ancient and modern; and if wit and fecundity are sufficient reasons, he deserves the station. In brevity, smartness and variety, he is above Catullus and all other professed epigrammatists. His style is pure and correct, though some very nice judges affect to perceive in it traces of the Spanish dialect. In what Addison calls mixed wit he is scarcely inferior to Cowley. The greatest fault of Martial, which belongs in some measure to his age, is bis licentiousness; and notwithstanding the severity with which he reprehends vice, he is frequently its mischievous but seductive teacher. The epigrams of Ausonius are oftener imitations from the Greek than original, and the language had become in his time effeminate and affected.

Among the moderns the epigram has changed its character. Instead of comprehending a wide class of poetry, it has a distinct and limited acceptation. An epigram with us must be a good thing, or it is nothing. It is no longer the mould of an elegant and airy thought, or a plaintive and affecting feeling gracefully and artlessly expressed, but of farfetched and occult resemblances wrought up to the highest polish and point. That delicate tenderness, which belongs to the amatory effusions of the Greeks, is not to be found amongst the epigrams of the moderns : it belongs to a different kind of composition. Of all modern writers Metastasio, perhaps, has been the most successful in finding out this secret path to the heart, although he has decked it too profusely with flowers. The songs of this elegant and pathetic poet approach the most nearly to the Greeks in feeling, though not in simplicity. One great advantage he has in common with his countrymen, in the peculiar softness and melody of his language, which renders it so fit for the sentiments of love. The fertility of his genius is unparalleled. Guarini, Tasso, and others of the Italian poets, are very happy in their amatory poetry, with the abatement of occasional conceits and florid embellishment. The moral sentiments, which make so large a part of the Greek Anthology, do not exist in separate pieces, but are incorporated into their larger poems. This may be observed of all the modern languages. The Italians, in their sepulchral inscriptions, have closely followed the Latin models; and rarely, if ever, do they entrust their respect and affection for the departed to a poetical inscription in their native tongue.

The French madrigal is sometimes written in the very spirit of ancient Greece. In condensation of thoughts, happiness of epithet, and delicacy of turn, it is often unequalled. But the language, as well as the character of that mercurial people, is almost too sprightly and vivacious to be chained down to the uniform simplicity and apɛlɛta of the Greeks. They are too much addicted à dire des fleurettes. Yet what can be more simple-hearted and tender than this address of Madame de Mirepoix to the Duc de Nivernois, avec une boucle de ses chereur ?

Les voilà, les cheveux depuis long temps blanchis,
D'une longue union qu'ils soient pour vous le gage:
Je ne regrette rien de ce que m'óta l'âge;

Il ne laisse de vrais amis.
On in’aime presqu'autant, et j'aime davantage.

L'astre de l'ainitié luit dans l'hiver des ans,
Fruit précieux de l'estime, du gout, et du temps ;
On ne s'y méprend plus, on cède à son empire,

Et l'on joint sous les cheveux blancs

Au charme de s'aimer, le droit de se le dire. Perhaps a more caustic satire was never written than this upon a certain Countess de la Caumont.

Quand l'Eternel, non sans remords,
De la Caumont eût fait le corps,
Sentant qu'une âme raisonnable
Ne pourroit, sans d'affreux dégouts,
Habiter dans un corps semblable,
Il en fit la prison d'un diable !-

-.Et c'est le plus damné de tous. The following affecting lines upon a young and beautiful female, torn away by death from the dearest hopes, is above what might be expected from the imputed inability of the French to feel deeply and sincerely. They are inscribed on an urn, at the entrance of a grove where the young girls of a neighbouring village used to assemble :

Jeunes beautés, qui venez dans ces lieux
Fouler d’un pied léger l'herbe tendre et fleurie,
Comme vous j'ai connu les plaisirs de la vie,
Vos fêtes, vos transports, et vos aimables jeux.
L'amour berçoit mon cæur de ses douces chimères,
Et l'Hymen me fattoit du destin le plus beau;
Un instant détruisit ces erreurs mensongères.

Que me reste-il ?-le tombeau. Voltaire has furnished an immense number of epigrams on almost every subject, and of every degree of merit. It is as difficult to know where to begin as how to leave off in selecting from him. This delicate compliment is to Madame Lullin, with a nosegay, on the day she completed her hundredth year :

Nos grands pères vous virent belle.
Par votre esprit vous plairez à cent ans :
Vous méritez d'épouser Fontenelle*,

Et d'être sa veure long-teins.

Fontenelle lived to the age of 100.

This, on a statue of Niobe, is an imitation from the Greek:

Le fatal courroux des Dieux
Changea cette femme en pierre.
Le sculpteur a fait bien mieux,

Il a fait tout le contraire.
This is likewise an imitation, on the statue of Venus by Praxiteles :-

Oui-je me montrai toute nue
Au Dieu Mars, au bel Adonis ;
A Vulcain même—et j'en rougis-

Mais, Praxitèle, où n'a-t-il vue? He has imitated Ausonius, who had imitated some Greek epigrammatist, in the following :- Lais offering her mirror to Venus.

Je le donne à Venus, puisqu'elle est toujours belle;

Il redouble trop ines ennuis;
Je ne saurois me voir dans ce miroir fidelle

Ni telle que j'étais, ni telle que je suis. But to the wit of Voltaire there is no end, and we must consult the patience of our readers, by putting an end to our quotations.

There is but little space left to speak of our own language. In the serious and tender style of epigram we have no one author who has written much, though we have many who have written well. From that cluster of poetical names which adorned the age of Elizabeth, many beautiful specimens of feeling and fancy might be selected. conceit, quibble, and euphuism were the weeds which grew up in that fertile soil, and deformed the harvest. Waller, when he escapes from the faults of his predecessors, is elegant and happy; and sometimes, though very rarely, Cowley. Our epitaphs are confessedly of a very low character ; occasionally we meet with one that is readable, when genius takes it in hand, as that of Ben Jonson on the Countess of Pembroke, and a few others. Pope's are notoriously bad, from their vagueness and inappropriateness. We have stately monuments, with cold and stiff inscriptions in foreign languages; yet how scanty a number of simple testimonies, of spontaneous outpourings of sadness and affection, can any one remember in the vast extent of our literature ! In the witty and satirical epigram, it may be doubted whether any language is more abundantly enriched. This, on Cibber's obtaining the Laureateship, is bitterly contemptuous:--

In merry old England it once was a rule,
The king had his poet and also his fool :
But now we're so frugal, I'd have you to know it,

That Cibber can serve both for fool and for poet.
There is another of Pope on Dennis, which is dreadfully severe :-

Should Dennis publish you had stabberl your brother,
Lampoon'd your monarch, or debauch'd your mother ;
Say, what revenge on Dennis can be had?
Too doll for laughter, for reply too mad :
On one so poor you cannot iake the law;
On one so old you scorn your sword to draw ;
Uncaged then let the harmless monster rage,

Secure in dulness, madness, want, and age.
But Pope's poetry is a string of epigrams.

She forgets Anchises, and Paris, and a long list besides, or the scandalous chronicle has defamed her goddess-ship.

Prior has written a considerable number. The manner of his times, and the whole cast of our literature, had acquired a French tone of light, superficial and sportive smartness, into which the disposition of Prior easily fell, and in which he sustained his full share of distinction. The corrupted taste and profligate habits of Charles the Second's reign had been sufficiently amended by the Revolution to impart a little sobriety to the productions of genius, without abating the passion for point, and wit, and affectation. The humour of Prior is arch and racy; and in light epigrammatic effusions there is an ease, vivacity, and piquancy of expression, which pleases in the midst of occasional indelicacy.

The great facility which this mode of writing, from its brevity, afforded to satire, and the ease with which it might be written and remembered, have been the principal reasons why the modern epigram, strictly speaking, has been appropriated to witty severity. Every one at some period of his life feels the inclination and the ability to vent his anger or his contempt against an antagonist, and gladly avails himself of the happy medium of an epigram. We are always diverted with the

exposure and ridicule of another, not merely from the cleverness with which it may be done, but also from a confused feeling of selfcongratulation at having escaped the lash ourselves. Still, the epigram is commonly looked upon as the domain of small wits only. The masters of the song fly at higher game. They must achieve a tragedy or an epic ; they are for “ Ercles' vein," and cannot roar gently.” Some of our living poets, however, have sported in this field with very great success; and we hope it is no unbecoming wish that we may see, through their instrumentality, the epigram restored to its ancient honours.



WHILE Captain Parry is having a tete-a-tete with the North Pole, I have taken advantage of his absence to say a few words concerning the polar regions :-not the regions of cold, congelation, and candle-light, but of those illustrious envelopes of the mental faculties, vulgarly called wigs. The silken frame-work on which the superstructure of a wig is raised, I can almost believe to be the netting of Lachesis herself, so intimately is it connected with the destinies of its wearer.

But the days of its glory are gone by : in the pictures of Addison, Garth, and other great men of that æra, the rich profusion of clustering locks, that do not

stream like a meteor to the troubled air,” but rather hang like a milky, way round their shoulders, proves that the Augustan age of genius was also the Augustan age of wigs. I do not mean to infer that the latter was the cause of the former; but of this I am certain, that wigs have more influence on the fate of men than is generally supposed. Mr. Whitfield thought that nothing contributed more to the conversion of sinners; and as Samson lost his strength with his hair, so I have no doubt it was by means of a wig that he regained it.

The once fashionable expression, too, of“ dash my wig,” is no small proof of its importance : which oath, if it may be so called, does not of course come within the prohibition, “ thou shalt not swear by the head; for thou canst not make one hair white or black.” To make it white I fancy has not been a very desirable object since powder has been

« AnteriorContinuar »