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mental relish for the eternal works of genius! Old Homer is the very fountain-head of pure poetic enjoyment, of all that is spontaneous, simple, native, and dignified in life. He takes us into the ambrosial world of heroes, of human vigor, of purity, of grace. He is the eternal type of the poet. In him, alone of the poets, a national life is transfigured, wholly beautiful, complete, and happy; where care, doubt, decay, are as yet unborn. Here is the secular Eden of the natural man-man not yet fallen or ashamed. All later poetry paints an ideal world, conceived by a sustained effort of invention. Homer paints a world which he saw.
Most men and women can say that they have read Homer, just as most of us can say that we have studied Johnson's Dictionary. But how few of us take him up, time after time, with fresh delight! How few have even read the entire Iliad and Odyssey through! Whether in the resounding lines of the old Greek, as fresh and everstirring as the waves that tumble on the seashore, filling the soul with satisfying silent wonder at its restless unison ; whether in the quaint lines of Chapman or the clarion couplets of Pope, or the closer versions of Cowper, Lord Derby, of Philip Worsley, or in the new prose version, Homer is always fresh and rich.*
And yet how seldom does one find a friend spellbound over the Greek Bible of antiquity, whilst they wade through torrents of magazine quotations from a pretty versifier of to-day, and in an idle vacation will graze, as contentedly as cattle in a fresh meadow, through the chopped straw of a circulating library. A generation which will listen to Pinafore for three hundred nights, and will read M. Zola's seventeenth romance, can no more read Homer than it could read a cuneiform inscription. It will read about Homer just as it will read about a cuneiform inscription, and will crowd to see a few pots which probably came from the neighborhood of Troy. But to Homer and the primeval type of heroic man in his simple joyousness the cultured generation is really dead, as completely as some spoiled beauty of the ballroom is blind to the bloom of the heather, or the waving of the daffodils in a glade.
* Homer has exercised a greater variety of translators than any other author whatever. Of them all I prefer Lord Derby's Iliad, and Philip Worsley's Odyssey. Children usually begin their Homer through Pope, which has certainly the ring and fire of the poem, though it is not Homer's. Lord Derby preserves something of the dignity of the Iliad, which is essential to it; and Worsley preserves much of the fairy-tale charm of the Odyssey. His Iliad completed by Conington is almost a mistake. Chapman, poet as he is, is rather archaic for ordinary readers, and too loose for scholarly readers. Cowper is rather monotonous. The rest are rather experiments than results. To English hexameters there are euphonic obstacles which seem to be insuperable. The first line of the Iliad has thirty letters, of which twelve only are consonants. The first line of Evangeline has fifty-four letters, of which thirty-six are consonants. Thus, whilst a Greek in pronouncing his hexameter has twelve hard sounds to form, the Englishman has thirtysix, or exactly three times as many.
Of the prose translations, that of Mr. Andrew Lang and bis friends is as perfect as prose translation of verse can be. It necessarily loses the movement, the lilt, and the subtle charm of the verse. Flaxman's designs will be of great help in enjoying Homer, and also what E. Coleridge, Grote, Gladstone, M. Arnold, and Symonds have written.
It is a true psychological problem, this nausea which idle culture seems to produce for all that is manly and pure in heroic poetry. One knows --at least every schoolboy has known that a passage of Homer, rolling along in the hexameter or trumpeted out by Pope, will give one a hot glow of pleasure and raise a finer throb in the pulse ; one knows that Homer is the easiest, most artless, most diverting of all poets; that the fiftieth reading rouses the spirit even more than the first-and yet we find ourselves (we are all alike) painfully pshawing over some new and uncut barley-sugar in rhyme, which a man in the street asked us if we had read, or it may be some learned lucubration about the site of Troy by some one we chanced to meet at dinner. It is an unwritten chapter in the history of the human mind, how this literary prurience after new print unmans us for the enjoyment of the old songs chanted forth in the sunrise of human imagination. To ask a man
or woman who spends half a lifetime in sucking magazines and new poems to read a book of Homer would be like asking a butcher's boy to whistle “ Adelaida.” The noises and sights and talk, the whirl and volatility of life around us, are too strong for us. A society which is forever gossiping in a sort of perpetual“ drum” loses the very faculty of caring for anything but
early copies" and the last tale ont. Thus, like the tares in the noble parable of the Sower, perpetual chatter about books chokes the seed which is sown in the greatest books of the world.
I speak of Homer, but fifty other great poets and creators of eternal beauty would serve my argument. What Homer is to epic, that is Æschylus to the tragic art—the first immortal type. In majesty and mass of pathos the Agamemnon
remains still withont a rival in tragedy. The universality and inexhaustible versatility of our own Shakespeare are unique in all literature. But the very richness of his qualities detracts from the symmetry and directness of the dramatic impression. For this reason neither is Lear, nor Othello, nor Macbeth, nor Hamlet (each supreme as an imaginative creation) so typically perfect a tragedy as the Agamemnon. In each of the four there are slight incidents which we could spare withont any evident loss.
The Agamemnon alone of tragedies has the absolute perfection of a statue by Pheidias. The intense crescendo of the catastrophe, the absolute concentration of interest, the statuesque unity of the grouping, the mysterious halo of religion with which the ancient legend sanctified the drama, are qualities denied to any modern.*
* Of all the translations of the Agamemnon, I prefer that of Mr. E. D. A. Morshead, which seems to me by its union of accurate version with poetic vigor to stand in the front rank of English verse translation. Milman's version is the work of a poet, but not so completely master of the Greek; Mr. R. Browning's is also the work of a poet and a scholar, but its uncouthness is not the rugged majesty of Æschylus. The Agamemnon is at times stormy in diction; it is never queer. Miss Swanwick's beautiful translation has been published with Flaxman's designs. If Flaxman's genius is