Sidor som bilder

ing, by contingent evidence more than has been verbally recorded of any thing that is past, and the impossibility of ever recovering the memory of what aas once been lost-absolutely lost. For example, -of the history of Rome nothing more can be known at any future time but what is extant at this hour in the relics of contemporary writers, or their successors, who have preserved what otherwise would have perished with the originals. Buried among the ruins of Herculaneum, or under the dust of centuries in monastic libraries,-documents containing intelligence of which we are yet ignorant may hereafter be brought to light; but that which is no longer registered on earth, though it may have decided the destinies of empires, is to us, in these later ages, the same as though it never had been. The quantity of error, conjecture, and misrepresentation which abound in the early chronicles of all nations, and are not easily separable from those of the most enlightened periods, cause history to be, at best, a dubious authority to follow in its precedents for the conduct of either statesmen or philosophers.

Leo X. conceived the magnificent idea of forming a model of the city of Rome, as it stood in its glory, from a survey of the ruins of its palaces, temples, and amphitheatres, as they remained at his own day; according to the style of each relic filling up the elevation of the original structure. This task he committed to Raphael, who ardently undertook it, but died on the threshold of that renovated Rome, which thereafter fell into less reparable decay than its ancient prototype. Mr. Roscoe informs us that the great artist presented a memorial to the pontiff on this project, accompanied by a drawing of an entire edifice, completed according to the rules which he had laid down for the development of the whole.* What Raphael's memorial and specimen

*Raphael, in this memorial, observes, "Having been commissioned by your holiness to make a design of ancient Rome, so far as it can be

were to Rome under Augustus, history and its illustrations are to any given series of events; being only more or less imperfect in proportion as the dilapidated foundations, solitary columns, and mouldering walls of ancient edifices furnish models and materials for raising upon them theoretical superstructures to represent what they were, but which in reality are but what they might have been. I would not disparage the most valuable inheritance be. queathed to us by our fathers in the chronicles and traditions of those periods in which they lived. But such is the task of him who sits down to compile the annals of any people; out of their ruins he has to build their monuments. And as "the poetical" of Greek and Roman architecture has alone survived, in fallen temples and palaces, while the mere "prose," in the masonry of vulgar dwellings, has been utterly obliterated, so, in the most perfect history, wrecks of magnificence only are preserved; and of these the principal portions have been so disfigured by fable, or embellished by romance, that the lessons of Time (the slowest of teachers, and who ought to be the surest, did not his memory so much fail him) are defective in main parts of the argument from default of unadulterated or unmutilated facts; so that the inferences, however wise and salutary, to be derived from what is presented as the fruit of experience are proportionately unimpressive and unsatisfactory. But Time is rather the preceptor of man, his coeval, than of men, his offspring. His schools are communities, which he instructs not so mucli by details as by the gradual evolution of great results out of the infinite multiplicity of small circumstances that make up the business of individual

discovered in what now remains, with all the edifices of which such ruins yet appear as may enable us infallibly to ascertain what they originally were, and to supply such parts as have been wholly destroyed, by making them correspond with those that yet exist; I have used every possible exertion, that I might give you full satisfaction, and convey a perfect idea on the subject."

life. With him, therefore, a lesson which takes less than a century in the delivery, is scarcely intelligible; for the issue of a day may require an age to develop it. The battle of Waterloo in a few hours not only put an end to the wars of the French revo lution, but was itself the first scene of a new drama in the theatre of Europe, which will probably employ the actors of many generations to carry on, before an equally decisive catastrophe shall again turn the current of history at a right angle (so to speak) from the course into which that victory of our countrymen diverted it.

Hence the lessons of poetic narrative may be rendered more perfect, as well as more interesting, than those of the most authentic history, because the premises from which the former is to be drawn may be exactly fitted to the purpose of exemplifying and enforcing the instruction intended. "The Iliad" contained all that had been learned from the practice of war through all ages antecedent. In the "Gerusalemme Liberata" of Tasso are summed up all the glories and horrors of the crusades. In "Paradise Lost" we have the theological history of the world. At the same time, it would be affectation to assume, that the few unrivalled epic poems have been composed, primarily, for any other reason than because the themes appeared to the authors capable of exercising their genius, and displaying their powers of invention and embellishment to the highest advantage. The conceit of Bossu, that the great masters of antiquity first fixed upon a moral, and then sough a story to illustrate it, is as pure a fiction as any to be found in the Odyssey itself. Virgil's Eneid has been especially insisted on in proof of this pedantic hypothesis; and we have been gravely told, that "there are two distinct objects to be kept in view in the conduct of a narrative poem, the one poetical, the other moral; the poetical being the fictitious action, and the moral the real design of the poem.

Thus Virgil wrote and felt like a subject, not like a citizen. The real design of his poem was to increase the veneration of the people for a master, whoever he might be, and to encourage, like Homer, the great system of military despotism." These are the notions of the republican Joel Barlow, in his preface to the strangest epic composition ever issued from the press,-"The Columbiad." It is true, both to the honour and the shame of poets, that in following the impulse, we might say the instinct, of their genius, when it has been possible to serve their country or their own interest, they have often availed themselves of the opportunity; but it is yet more obvious that poets write, in the first place (if we may so express it), for the very love of the thing; and in the second, from the love of fame. Will any man on this side of the Atlantic believe that Virgil's "real object” in composing the Æneid was "to increase the veneration of the people to a master?" Nay, would any man in his senses on either side of the Atlantic doubt that his "real object" was to immortalize his own name? and that, in choosing his theme, he suited it to the times and government under which he lived, because he judged that he should thus more immediately and effectually promote his own glory? Conscious of his powers, would Virgil have hazarded the reversion of renown that awaited him with posterity, for the favour of Augustus? No, not for the throne of Augustus. They know little of the character of poets of this class who thus judge of them. Had Virgil planned his Eneid as 66 a subject," he would never have executed it as a poet, for it is the spirit in which the offspring of imagination is conceived that becomes the life of it when produced into being.

The dogma of Warburton is equally gratuitous, that "The Iliad" being a moral, "The Eneid" a political, and the "Paradise Lost" a religious poem, all improvement of the epopée is at an end, since

every subject fit for heroic verse may be considered in a moral, a political, or a religious point of view! If the three epics here named have indeed the three characteristics attributed to them,-which may be doubted, these are mere contingencies, or accidents of the stories respectively, and were very subordinate considerations with the poets themselves. Practical inferences might indeed be deduced from the most extravagant of the Metamorphoses of Ovid, but it was for the sake of the marvellous fable, not for the meager moral, that one or another subject was chosen, and for the adorning of which that poet wearied, yet never exhausted, the resources of a fancy fertile beyond comparison in certain mechanical combinations of ideal imagery, as diverse and grotesque as the transmutations of bodies which they shadow forth.

Allegorical Poetry.

Yet, sometimes interwoven with the epic narrative, and sometimes employed alone in the parabolic form, there has ever been a favourite species of poetry, in which the moral was avowedly the foundation, and the fable the superstructure. Most of the mythological traditions of Greece and Rome were, in their origin, of this kind; but such is the caprice of public taste, or perhaps the perversity of human nature, that the further these compositions departed from their original character, the more pleasing and popular they became. At length the poetical features alone were regarded, and the lessons inculcated were wilfully made as undecipherable as those which are at once preserved and hidden under the hieroglyphics of Egypt. The tales of chivalry and romance of the Italian poets were professedly of the same cast; but, in spite of the false pretences of the writers themselves (having the fear of the Inquisition before their eyes), the grave


« FöregåendeFortsätt »