« AnteriorContinuar »
name of the tragedy, we must suppose that Johnson considered Irene as the heroine, yet the reader feels more concern, even for the stoic virtue and cool fondness of Alpa. fia. The former is too much of a mixed character; neither her goodness, nor her weakness, nor her depravity are predominant. She has not sufficient virtue to awaken our sympathy for the fufferings of innocence, nor sufficient vice to arouse
our terror at the punishment of guilt. The - speeches are oftener the recollections of
past feelings, than the ebullitions of immediate passions, started by the passing actions of the fcene. Little is made prefent to the spectator's mind, and of that. little, nothing has life. His critique upon the tragic poets, of the commencement of this century, is, perhaps, in no instance; more true than it is of himself.
From bard to bard the frigid caution crept,
Yet still did virtue deign the stage to tread,
He has nothing of the fire of Lee, or the pathos of Otway. He is more declamatory than Rowe, and Irene, if possible, is colder than “ Cato.” There is not, throughout the play, a single situation to excite curiosity, and raise a conflict of passions. The sentiments are just and always moral, but seldom appropriated to the character, and generally too philosophic. His poetical imagery is neither striking nor abundant. The language in which the thoughts are conveyed, is, in general, vigorous, accurately polished, and regularly musical. It would be difficult to select a passage in dramatic poetry more nobly conceived, or finely expressed, than the reply of Demetrius to the complaint of his friend, that no prod; sy from Heaven had foretold the calamities of Greece.
A thousand horrid prodigies foretold it;
As an alloy to the beauties of this pasfage, impartial criticism is compelled to turn to another, which is surely little short of nonsense, and well worthy of a place in the treatise of “ Scriblerus.”
Oft have I rag'd, when their wide-wasting cannon
Irene may be added to some other plays in our language, which have lost their
place in the theatre, but continue to please · in the closet. As it is the drama of our
great English moralist, the present writer should wish. to see it revived.
Of the poetical compositions, which are known to be of his writing, the Imitations of Juvenal are the best ; and are, perhaps, the noblest imitations to be found in any language. They are not so close as those done by Pope from Horace, but they are infinitely more spirited and energetic. In Pope, the most peculiar images of Roman , life are adapted with fingular address to our own times; in Johnson, the fimilitude is only in general passages, suitable to every age in which refinement has degenerated into depravity.
His London breathes the true vehement contemptuous indignation of Juvenal's fa-. tire. It is more popular in its subject, and more animated in its composition, than his Vanity of Human Wishes. It blazes forth with the genuine fire of poetry, in the liveliness of its correspondent allusions, the
energy of its expressions, and the frequency of its apostrophes. The Vanity of Human Wishes is more grave, moral, fententious, and stately. In his London he often takes nothing more than the subject from the Roman poet, proves or illustrates it according to the originality of his own conceptions, or the warmth of his own fancy; and sometimes, too, he deserts him altogether, and that not only where the modesty of an English ear, and the inappli- cability of the original to modern customs require it, but in places where the topics and the moral use is as applicable to London as they are to ancient Rome. Thus he has either totally neglected, or but slightly imitated that beautiful passage beginning at ver. 1371
Dat testem Romæ tam fanctum, quam fuit hofpes
and ending with ver. 190