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Gate, or of Priam's begging the body of Hector :--to these only, Milton's description of Satan, in his first book, and some scenes in which he introduces Adam and Eve, are inferior. There is no part of Homer which we read with so much pleasure as the second and sixth books of Virgil. The story of Nisus and Euryalus is exquisite; but is it not exceeded by the night adventures of Ulysses and Diomedes, in which we hear every step, and feel every breath? Homer's language is uniformly idiomatic: Is not Virgil's, occasionally, too highly polished ? Does it 'not sometimes cease to be Latin? Has it not too many Grecisms? Has not the poem of Lucretius, have not the epistles of Horace, more of the true raciness of the Latin soil?
The Reminiscent recollects the little real admiration with which, when he was at Douay, he read the Olynthiacs and Philippics of Demosthenes, and the preference which he then gave to Cicero; but when he afterwards perused them with Dr. Harwood, and, by attending the debates in Parliament, was acquainted with the nature and effects of public speaking, he became sensible of the excellence of Demosthenes. As an orator, Cicero always appeared to the Reminiscent to be entitled to the full measure which he has received of universal admiration :-he trembles to add, that he thinks Cicero's philosophical works defective in order and precision, and that they contain too many words. His letters are beyond praise : it is observable, that an epistle to Lentulus, in the first book* of his familiar correspondence, contains the ablest delinea
• Epist. ad Familiares, L. 1, Ep. 7.
tion of ratting, and the most artful apology for it, that has appeared. No letters, ancient or modern, are comparable with Cicero's. Raçine always carried in his pocket a volume of those to Atticus. Lord Bolingbroke's may be thought to approach nearest to them. From the specimens which we have seen, it may confidently be expected, that the letters of Mr. Burke will be found eminently beautiful and interesting.
Of the works of the ancients, which time has intercepted from us, it is difficult to fix on that of which we should most lament the loss. Mr. Fox mentioned to the Reminiscent that he principally regretted the lost tragedies of Euripides, and the comedies of Meander: some think the Decades of Livy, and the portions of Tacitus which have not reached us, a greater loss. If the Reminiscent could obtain any of the opera deperdita by a wish, it would be the Memoirs of Megasthenes, the Ambassador of Seleucus at Palibothra, the capital of the Prasii, or the country watered by the confluence of the Ganges and Jumna. What a store of ancient Indian learning might we not expect them to unfold !
Classical literature naturally leads to a consideration of modern poetry. The Reminiscent's almost complete ignorance of the Italian language does not allow him to speak of the poets of that country. He was once familiar with those of France, but his total neglect of them, with very few exceptions, during the last thirty years of his life, has driven them from his recollection. He remembers, however, his admiration of the perfect style of Boileau, without a useless epithet or imperfect word, and with very little of that inversion which is
. 307 the great defect of French poetry ;-he also recollects his admiration of the poems of Jean Baptiste Rousseau ; who appeared to him to possess more of the true poetic character than, perhaps, with the exception of Racine, has been bestowed on any of his countrymen. His works are little known in this country; a selection of them,-(for unfortunately several are highly objectionable)—was made by Father Pæree, an English reader will be delighted with them, he will find that in several the French bard has ascended the winged steed, and soared with no middle flight.
It was not till “ the subtle thief of youth” had stolen all his early years, that the Reminiscent was really sensible of the wonders and charms with which the pages of the bard of Avon abound, and which, notwithstanding his countless deformities and absúrdities, place him in the British theatre without a rival or a second. Shakspeare perhaps is the only poet who has put into the mouth of an actor a speech which the person whom that actor was intended to represent, might have spoken on the occasion 'to which it is assigned. Brutus and Antony might have uttered the very speeches, Hamlet might have pronounced the very soliloquy, Macbeth and his Lady might have held the same dialogue, and Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor might have had the same conversation as Shakspeare has ascrihed to them, This is his peculiar praise, and (at least with the single exception of Homer) no poet has so many real touches of simple or sublime nature as are to be found in his writings. . On a late perusal of some of the best works of Dryden and Pope, the Reminiscent thought he perceived a great superiority in the former ; he remembers when he thought the contrary. Age, he believes, makes us fastidious in poetry, and feel, much more than we do in youth, the truth of the known observation of Horace, .
Mediocribus esse poetis,
Non dii non homines, non concessere Colomnæ. He remembers when he knew by heart a great part of Dodsley's Collection; he is now insensible of the merit of the greater number of the poems which it contains. Very little poetry which has appeared since the decease of Pope now affords him pleasure ; but Goldsmith, Collins, and some passages in Churchill, he yet peruses with delight. This very year he read the Comus of Milton, and his Allegro and Penseroso, with all the zest and admiration of youth.
Every verse of Gray is imprinted in his memory. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the obscurity, the stiffness, the bad rhymes and disgusting alliterations of that poet, his works are more read and remembered than those of any other English poet. If all the printed copies of the poems of Gray were annihilated, there is not a county in England, or parish in London, in which all his English and all his Latin Odes, and his incomparable Elegy, might not be sup.. plied by the recollections of some of their inhabitants.
How very little of Goldsmith is known by heart ! yet his language is at once more simple and more elegant, and his rhymes more perfect than those of Gray. He has nothing of Gray's alliteration, stiffness, or obscurity, his images are drawn from real life, and all he says comes home to men's business and manners. To what, then, are we to attribute the superior popularity of Gray ? Certainly not to Goldsmith's want of excellence : but the muse of Gray was of a higher order. To use an expression attributed to Dr. Johnson, if she has sometimes the contortions she has often what Goldsmith never has, the enthusiasm of the Sybil ; and even her ordinary gait shews her divine origin.* · The greatest compliment which can be paid to Gray is to mention his acknowledged superiority to Goldsmith.
The most eminent English poets of our own times are confessedly Cowper, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and Southey.† The true poetic character is spread over all their poems. Those of Cowper are particularly set off by a general tinge of religious and moral melancholy, that adds to their general effect; but a multitude of his lines are rough, a multitude prosaic; this renders the perusal of them a task, and the pleasure which attends it does not always compensate the labour. It is surprising that Southey, who has written and still writes so much, should, as in his Don Roderick, have written so well. Lord Byron's poems contain many passages of great sublimity and pathos, and many of exquisite gaiety and humour, but the characters of his principal personages often disgust by their satanic wickedness. Sir Walter Scott's poems abound with passages of the highest splendour and elegance, he carries his reader into the scenes which he de
• Et vera incessu paluit Dea.-VIRG.