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not be forgotten, that we date the composition of Venus and Adonis anterior to 1590, that the comparison solely applies to narrative poetry, and consequently that all contest with Spenser is precluded.
It now remains to be proved, that the merits of this mythological story are not solely founded on its occasional felicity of versification but that in description, in the power of delineating, with a master's hand, the various objects of nature, it possesses more claims to notice than have hitherto been allowed.
After the noble pictures of the horse which we find drawn in the book of Job, and in Virgil, few attempts to sketch this spirited animal can be expected to succeed; yet, among these few, impartial criticism may demand a station for the lines below :
“ Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,
And now his woven girts he breaks asunder,
His ears up prick’d; his braided hanging mane
Sometimes he trots, as if he told the steps,
Look, when a painter would surpass the life,
Round-hoof'd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Venus, apprehensive for the fate of Adonis, should he attempt to hunt the boar, endeavours to dissuade him from his purpose, by drawing a most formidable description of that savage inmate of the woods, and by painting, on the other hand, the pleasures to be derived from the pursuit of the hare. The danger necessarily incurred from attacking the former, and the various efforts by which the latter tries to escape her pursuers, are presented to us with great fidelity and warmth of colouring.
66 Thou had'st been gone, quoth she, sweet boy, ere this,
But that thou told'st me, thou would'st hunt the boar,
Whose tushes never-sheath'd he whetteth still,
On his bow back he hath a battle set
Being mov'd, he strikes whate'er is in his way,
His brawny sides, with hairy bristles armed,
But if thou needs wilt hunt, be ruld by me;
Pursue these fearful creatures o'er the downs,
And on thy well-breath'd horse keep with thy hounds.
Sometime he runs among the flock of sheep,
And sometime sorteth with a herd of deer;
the author possessed, at the commencement of his career, no small portion of those powers which were afterwards to astonish the world powers alike unrivalled either in developing the terrible or the beautiful.
6. And therefore hath she bribed the Destinies,
To cross the curious workmanship of nature,
Making it subject to the tyranny
As burning fevers, agues pale and faint,
Surfeits, impostumes, grief, and damn'd despair
And not the least of all these maladies,
As mountain snow melts with the mid-day sun.
6 Lo! here the gentle lark, weary of rest,
From his moist cabinet mounts up on high,
Who doth the world so gloriously behold,
That cedar tops and hills seem burnish'd gold.
If we compare the Venus and Adonis of Shakspeare with its classical prototypes ; with the Epitaphium Adonidis of Bion, and the beautiful narrative of Ovid, which terminates the tenth book of his Metamorphoses, we
we must confess the inferiority of the English poem, to the former in pathos, and to the latter in elegance; but if
* These, and the following extracts, are taken from Mr. Malone's edition of the Poems of Shakspeare.
we contrast it with the productions of its own age, it cannot fail of being allowed a large share of relative merit. It has imbibed, indeed, too many of the conceits and puerilities of the period in which it was produced, and it has lost much interest by deviating from tradition; for, as Mr. Steevens has remarked, “ the common and more pleasing fable assures us, that
“ when bright Venus yielded up her charms, The blest Adonis languish'd in her arms;"
passages which we have quoted, and the general strain of the poem, are such as amply to account for the popularity which it once enjoyed.
That this was great, that the work was highly valued by poetic minds, and, as might be supposed, from the nature of its subject, the favourite of the young, the ardent, and susceptible, there are not wanting several testimonies. In 1595, John Weever had written at the
of nineteen, as he informs us, a collection of Epigrams, which he published in 1599 †; of these the twenty-second is inscribed Ad Gulielmum Shakspeare, and contains a curious though quaint encomium on some of the poet's earliest productions:
“ Honie tong'a Shakspeare, when I saw thine issue,
I swore Apollo got them, and none other,
* Malone's Supplementto Shakspeare, 1780, vol. i. p. 463.
† “ Epigrammes in the oldest Cut and newest Fashion. A twice seven Houres (in so many Weekes) Studie. No longer (like the Fashion) not anlike to continue. The first seven, John Weever.
Sit voluisse sit valuisse. At London: printed by V. S. for Thomas Bushell, and are to be sold at his shop, at the great North doore of Paules. 1599. 12mo."— Vide Beloe's Anecdotes, vol. vi. p. 156.
# Beloe's Anecdotes, vol. vi. p. 159.