« VorigeDoorgaan »
restored the genuine sense of the author from the mistakes of all former explainers in several hundred places ; and the Cambridge editors of the large Homer, in Greek and Latin, attributed so much to Hobbes, that they confess they have corrected the old Latin interpretation very often by his version. For my part, I generally took the author's meaning to be as you have explained it; yet their authority, joined to the knowledge of my own imperfectness in the language, overruled me. However, sir, you may be confident, I think you in the right, because you happen to be of my opinion ; for men (let them say what they will) never approve any other's sense but as it squares with their own. But you have made me much more proud of and positive in my judgment, since it is strengthened by yours. I think your criticisms which regard the expression very just, and shall make my profit of them; to give you some proof that I am in earnest, I will alter three verses on your bare objection, though I have Mr. Dryden's example for each of them. And this, I hope, you will account no small piece of obedience, from one who values the authority of one true poet above that of twenty critics or commentators. But, though I speak thus of commenta. tors, I will continue to read carefully all I can procure, to make up that way for my own want of critical understanding in the original beauties of Homer. Though the greatest of them are certainly those of invention and design, which are not at all confined to the language ; for the distinguishing excellences of Homer are (by the consent of the best critics of all nations), first in the manners (which include all the speeches, as being no other than the representations of each person's manners by his words) : and then in that rapture and fire, which carries you away with him, with that wonderful force, that no man who has a true poetical spirit is master of himself while he reads him. Homer makes you interested
and concerned before you are aware, all at once, where Virgil does it by soft degrees. This, I believe, is what a translator of Homer ought principally to imitate ; and it is very hard for any translator to come up to it, because the chief reason why all translations fall short of their originals is, that the very constraint they are obliged to renders them heavy and dispirited.
" The great beauty of Homer's language, as I take it, consists in that noble simplicity which runs through all his works (and yet his diction, contrary to what one would imagine consistent with simplicity, is at the same time very copious). I don't know how I have run into this pedantry in a letter, but I find I have said too much, as well as spoken too inconsiderately; what farther thoughts I have upon this subject I shall be glad to communicate to you (for my own improvement) when we meet, which is a happiness I very earnestly desire, as I do likewise some opportunity of proving how much I think myself obliged to your friendship, and how truly I am, sir, 6 Your most faithful humble servant,
“ A. Pope."
The criticism upon Pope's Epitaphs, which was printed in “The Universal Visitor,” is placed here, being too minute and particular to be inserted in the Life.
Every art is best taught by example. Nothing contri. butes more to the cultivation of propriety than remarks on the works of those who have most excelled. I shall therefore endeavour at this visit to entertain the young students in poetry with an examination of Pope's Epitaphs.
To define an epitaph is useless ; every one knows that it is an inscription on a tomb. An epitaph, therefore, implies no particular character of writing, but may be composed in verse or prose. It is, indeed, commonly panegyrical, because we are seldom distinguished with a
stone but by our friends ; but it has no rule to restrain or mollify it except this, that it ought not to be longer than common beholders may be expected to have leisure and patience to peruse.
On CHARLES Earl of DORSET, in the Church of Wythyham
The first distich of this epitaph contains a kind of information which few would want, that the man for whom the tomb was erected died. There are indeed some qualities worthy of the praise ascribed to the dead, but none that were likely to exempt him from the lot of man, or incline us much to wonder that he should die. What is meant by “judge of nature” is not easy to say. Nature is not the object of human judgment; for it is in vain to judge where we cannot alter. If by nature is meant what is commonly called nature by the critics, a just representation of things really existing, and actions really performed, nature cannot be properly opposed to art; nature being, in this sense, only the best effect of art.
The scourge of pride.Of this couplet the second line is not what is intended,
an illustration of the former Pride in the Great, is indeed well enough connected with knaves in state, though knaves is a word rather too ludicrous and light; but the mention of sanctified pride will not lead the thoughts to fops in learning, but rather to some species of tyranny or oppression, something more gloomy and more formidable than foppery.
Yet soft his hiature
This is a high compliment, but was not first bestowed on Dorset by Pope. The next verse is extremely beautiful.
Blest satirist k
In this distich is another line of which Pope was not the author. I do not mean to blame these imitations with much harshness ; in long performances they are scarcely to be avoided, and in shorter they may be indulged, because the train of the composition may naturally involve them, or the scantiness of the subject allow little choice. However, what is borrowed is not to be enjoyed as our own, and it is the business of critical justice to give every bird of the Muses his proper feather.
Blest courtier !
Whether a courtier can properly be commended for keeping his ease. sacred, may perhaps be disputable. To please king and country without sacrificing friendship to any change of times was a very uncommon instance of prudence or felicity, and deserved to be kept separate from so poor a commendation as care of his ease. I wish our poets would attend a little more accurately to the use of the word sacred, which surely should never be applied in a serious composition, but where some reference muy be made to a higher Being, or where some duty is exacted or implied. A man may keep his friendship sacred, because promises of friendship are very awful ties; but
methinks he cannot, but in a burlesque sense, be said to keep his ease sacred.
Blest peer! The blessing ascribed to the peer has no connection with his peerage; they might happen to any other man whose posterity were likely to be regarded.
I know not whether this epitaph be worthy either of the writer or the man entombed.
II. On Sir WILLIAM TRUMBULL, one of the principal Secre
taries of State to King WILLIAM III., who, having
A pleasing form, a firm, yet cautious mind,
In this epitaph, as in many others, there appears at the first view a fault which I think scarcely any beauty can compensate. The name is omitted. The end of an epitaph is to convey some account of the dead; and to what purpose is anything told of him whose name is concealed ? An epitaph, and a istory of a nameless hero, are equally absurd, since the virtues and qualities so recounted in either are scattered at the mercy of fortune to be appropriated by guess. The name, it is true, may be read upon the stone ; but what obligation has it to the poet, whose verses wander over the earth and leave their