Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

In these passages purpureus seems, as before, to signify splendid, shining With the same signification, Ovid; speaking of Minos, calls him purpureus.

“ Cum vero faciem demto nudavèrat ære,
Purpureusque
Terga premebat equi.”

Met. viii. 32.

[ocr errors]

To the above examples, which I have brought to prove the meaning of purpureus, I shall add an argument from Rodellius. Why should not purpureus, says he, signify shining, since - simili ratione multa vocamus aurea, in quibus auri nihil est, præter pulchritudinem et nitorem?"

Having, in some measure, pointed out by the foregoing examples the meaning of purpureus, I shall here attempt to account for its figurative signification. The word “purpureus” is derived from purpura, and was originally applied to that which possessed the qualities of the purpura. This purpura was a species of shell-fish, within whose head is the liquor used in dying purple. Now purple gar. ments were the marks of the highest dignities, and were worn by princes and kings, and also by the chief Roman magistrates. It is hence their writers use purpuræ to express the bighest offices, as well as the persons who were dignified with these offices*. When, therefore, purpura thus deviated from its literal to a figurative sense, it was likely that purpureus should also alter its signification ; and that when purpura came to signify that which was splendid and remarkable for its superior distinctions, purpureus also would then be applied to that which was possessed of ihese distinctions. Hence I think the reason why, among the Latins, purpureus was applied to such different, nay opposite things, since it was rightly said of whatever had

* Thus“ septimå purpura” is used by Florus for “ septimo consulatu," 3. xxi. 17. Pliny, lib. x. 21, has “ Romana purpura” for “Romani magistratus." Mart. lib. viij. 8.

“ Purpura te felix, te colit oranis honos.”
And Ovid;
Jamque novi præeunt fasces, nova purpura fulget.”

i Fast. 81.
“ Illum non populi fasces, non purpura regum
Flexit.”

Virg. 2 Georg. 495.
From vhence the expressioni " attingere purpuram," "sumere purpuram," &c.

2 splendid and shining appearance, vi Quicquid late splendebat purpureum dicebatur; illud enim in coloribus summum erat.' 1785, July

0. E.

LXXXIII. Critical Remarks on Pope's Homers

Mr. URBAN,

July 27. A LADY of my acquaintance; a person of fine understanding and taste, and conversant from her youth with the best English writers, having lately amused herself with Pope's translation of Homer, which she had not looked into for many years, at the close of her employment desired my opinion of that performance, expressing at the same time no small degree of disappointment. She was sufficiently aware of the estimation in which the original has always and universally been held among the learned, and gave me a broad hint of her suspicions, that prejudice had operated not a lità tle in favour of it, having, as she asserted, perused many poems from which she at least had conceived much greater pleasure.

For my own part, I have ever been among the warmest admirers of the Grecian, whose works; in my mind, in point of variety and sublimity of conception, and dignity of expression, remain to this day unrivalled. I accordingly felt myself a little piqued at her insinuation; and having, some years since, made an accurate comparison of Pope with Homer, throughout both his poems, I; with the more confidence, addressed myself to the task of his vindication; and, not doubting that most English readers must of necessity have conceived of him infinitely below his worth, I' beg leave, through the medium of your Magazine, to give iny sentiments upon the subject à more extensive circulation 'than they can otherwise have. I feel a double pleasure in doing it. I consider it not only as an opportunity to assert the honour of my favourite bard, but the good sense and justice of their suffrages also who have crowned him with such abundant applause as my female friend finds it difficult to account for.

To Pope, as a poet, I give praise, and grudge not. , In his original works I find every species of poetical merit. But he did not build his glory upon the basis of translation. It

VOL. II.

T

is evident that he did not intend it; for he admitted others to a participation with him in the labour, and consequently in the honour of that attempt; a condescension to which, with his abilities, he would never have stooped, had fame been his principal motive to the undertaking. His connexions were many; bis avocations were frequent; he was obliged to have recourse to assistance; sometimes to write hastily, and rather carelessly, himself; and often, no doubt, either through delicacy or precipitance, to admit such lines of his coadjutors as not only dishonoured Homer, but his translator also. You will observe, Sir, that if I censure him, I am equally ready to make his apology, which, in a case that to many will seem to need one, will, I hope, amount to somewhat of an apology for myself. I know that the learned, who have allowed themselves leisure to consider the matter, are on my side; but I do not know that any of them have given it a ininute examination in print; and though I be far from ranking myself in the number of those who properly come under that description, yet, after the pains that I have taken with the author, I account not myself altogether unqualified for the service.

Pope was a most excellent rhymist; that is to say, he had the happiest talent at accommodating his sense to his rhyming occasions. To discover homotonous words in a language abounding with them like ours, is a task that would puzzle no man competently acquainted with it. But for such accommodation as I have mentioned, when an author is to be translated, there is little room. The sense is already determined. Rhyme, therefore, must, in many cases, occasion, even to the most expert in the art, an almost unavoidable necessity to depart from the meaning of the original. For Butler's remark is as true as it is ludicrous, that

Rhyme the rudder is of verses, “ With which, like ships, they steer their courses."

Accordingly, in numberless instances, we may observe in Pupe a violation of Homer's sense, of which he certainly had never been guilty, had not the chains with which he had bound himself constrained him. It is, perhaps, hardly worth while to mention the awkward effect that the barbarous abridgment of proper names produces in his work; an efect for which he was intirely indebted to his rhyme: for blank verse, being of loftier construction, would have afforded sufficient room for Idomeneus and Meriones, with Beveral others, to have stood upright, while the two heroes whom I have specified, being shortened by the foot, and appearing under the appellations of Idomen and Merion, lose much of their dignity, and are hardly to be known for the same persons. But rhyme has another unhappy effect upon a poem of such length. It admits not of a sufficient. variety in the pause and cadence. The ear is fatigued with the sameness of the numbers, and satiated with a tune, musical indeed, but for ever repeated.--Here, therefore, appears to have been an error in the outset, which could never afterwards be corrected. It is to be lamented, but not to be wondered at. For who can wonder, since all men are naturally fond of that in which they excel, that Pope, who managed the bells of rhyme with more dexterity than any man, should have tied them about Homer's neck ? Yet Pope, when he composed an epic poem himself, under the title of Alfred, wrote it in blank verse, aware, no doubt, of its greater suitableness, both in point of dignity and variety, to the grandeur of such a work. And though Atterbury advised him to burn it, and it was burnt accordingly, I will venture to say, that it did not incur that doom by the want of rhyme. It is hardly necessary for me to add, after what I have said on this part of the subject, that Homer must have suffered infinitely in the English representation that we have of him; sometimes his sense is suppressed, sometimes other sense is obtruded upon him; rhyme gives the word, a miserable transformation ensues; instead of Homer in the graceful habit of his age and nation, we have Homer in a straight waistcoat.

The spirit and the manner of an author are terms that may, I think, be used conversely. The spirit gives birth to the manner, and the manner is an indication of the spirit. Homer's spirit was manly, bold, sublime. Superior to the practice of those little arts by which a genius like Ovid's seeks to amuse his reader, he contented himself with speaking the thing as it was, deriving a dignity from his plainness, to which writers more studious of ornament can never attain. If you meet with a metaphorical expression in Homer, you meet with a rarity indeed. I do not say that he has none, but I assert that he has very few. Scriptural poetry excepted, I believe that there is not to be found in the world poetry so simple as his. Is it thus with his translator? I answer, no, but exactly the reverse. Pope is no where more figurative in his own pieces, than in his trarsla. tion of Homer. I do not deny that his fiowers are beautiful, at least they are often such; but they are modern dis

coveries, and of English growth. The Iliad and the Odyssey, in his hands, have no more of the air of antiquity than if he had himself invented them. Their simplicity is overwhelmed with a profusion of fine things, which, however they may strike the eye at first sight, make no amends for the greater beauties which they conceal. The venerable Grecian is as much the worse for his new acquisitions of this kind, as a statue by Phidias, or Praxiteles would be for the painter's brush. The man might give to it the fashionable colour of the day, the colour of the Emperor's eye, or of the hair of the Queen of France, but he would fill up those fine strokes of the artist which he designed should be the admiration of all future ages.

.
Do

you ask an instance in point? I will give you one. At the assault made by the Trojans on the Grecian wall, in the twelfth book of the Iliad, Ajax kills Epicles, the friend of Sarpedon, with a great stone, which he casts down

upon him from the top of the fortification. Homer says, simply, that he raised it on high, and that he cast it down. What says Pope?

“He pois'd and swung it round; then, toss'd on high, It flew with force, and

labourd up the sky. Full on the Lycian's helmet thund'ring down The pond'rous ruin crush'd his batter'd crown.'

Hąd the stone been discharged from a mortar, with a design that it should fall on the roof of some distant citadel besieged by the Duke of Marlborough, there would have been great beauty in the expression labour'd up the sky; but in the present case it is doubtless a most gross

absurd. ity; and yet, absurd as it is, for the sake of its poetical figure, it found admittance.

As he inserts beauties of his own, so, not unfrequently, he rejects the beauties of his author, merely because they were of a kind not easily susceptible of that polish on which he insists upon all occasions. Thus, when Idomeneus, planted in the Grecian van, is said to occupy his station with the sturdiness of a boar, the comparison is sunk. Again, wben Phænix, who had been a kind of foster-father to Achilles, in order to work upon his affections, and to prevail with him, by doing so, to engage in the battle, reminds him of the passages of his infancy, he tells the hero, that in his childish fondness for his old tutor he would drink from no cup but his; " and often,” says he," when thou hast filled thy mouth with wine, sitting upon my knee, thou hast returned it into my bosom, and hast wetted all my raiment."

« FöregåendeFortsätt »