« 前へ次へ »
under the arch of heaven, wherever we go, and however the scene may be changed.
Eternity is another indefinite and undescribable thing. Hear a child's notion of it, and I am sure the wisest in this assembly will not be displeased with it:
“ Days, months, and years must have an end;
Eternity has none,
As when it first begun."
The very impotence of language is sometimes the strongest expression of the sentiment to be conveyed. Here, when words break down under the weight of the thought, how natural and touching is the apostrophe in which the infant mind takes refuge from the overwhelming contemplation! Can I be wrong in wishing that he who now utters, and all who hear it, may be able to adopt the prayer ? —
“ Great God! an infant cannot tell
How such a thing can be :
It would be injustice to forget, in this connection, Dr. Watts's “ Divine Songs for Children.” These form so small a portion of his multiform labours, that, were they expunged, the eye could scarcely perceive the bulk of one of the volumes diminished. Yet who can calculate the innocent pleasure, and the abiding profit, which those few leaves have afforded to myriads of minds through the lapse of a century? And much more, who can estimate the treasure of instruction and delight which would thereby be lost to millions hereafter, through ages untold ?
There is not in our language a popular translation of any classical author, which has been, is still, and will probably continue to be, a favourite with mere English readers, except Pope's versions of the Iliad and Odyssey. In these, with unprecedented originality of imitation, our countryman, affecting to put on Homer, has converted Homer into himself-hewn a Hercules into an Apollo ;—for these gorgeous poems are undoubtedly read more for the beauties which the modern has conferred upon them, than for those which he preserved from the venerable ancient.
On the other hand, Cowper's translation, whatever be its positive defects, is one which no ordinary poetical power could have accomplished. There are many passages in it which leave Pope's brilliant paraphrases of the corresponding lines as far behind them, as they themselves may be deemed below the unapproachable Greek. But the general comparison between the two British Homers of the last century is always exceedingly to the disadvantage of the latter; for this, among other causes, - that translations of classic authors (unless on their first appearance) are very little read except by youth, and by these often before they have become sufficiently familiar with the originals to enjoy their surpassing excellence. With such readers, the first version of a favourite poet, if it have high merit, so fills the imagination, unoccupied before, with the story, characters, and embellishments, all identified with its peculiar phraseology, that even a superior work afterwards, embracing the same subjects, cannot rival it. If, in two of our great seminaries, Cowper's Homer were the reading book of the scholars at the one, and Pope's of those at the other, it is probable that the cleverest lads, – those who really enjoyed the poetry of the translation, would, to their lives' end, prefer that which had made the first ineffaceable impression upon their minds; and in such a case, it would be as difficult to supersede Cowper by Pope, as it is now to supersede Pope by Cowper.
Few of the merely English readers alluded to above, can patiently peruse, and not one in a hundred of them fervently admire, the Virgil of Dryden; much less that of Pitt and Warton, though far more faithful to the text of the author. In both, they look in vain for that perfection of thought and expression, that fulness without overflowing, ease without negligence, strength without harshness, which scholars have persuaded them are to be found in the original. A careless writer can never do justice to a laborious one. Dryden was careless, Virgil was laborious, in composition ; neither the faults nor the merits of the English poem can be charged to the account of the Latin. On the other hand, neither Warton nor Pitt had breath to keep pace with Virgil, even when he walks; still less had they spirit to mount with him when he fies. Excellent critics are often indifferent poets. None, indeed, more learnedly than Warton,
could point out, in a commentary, the grace and grandeur of the Roman eagle's course; but he and Pitt, in verse, could do no more than mimic with their hands the action of his wings, and follow on earth his shadow, along the ground, as he sailed through the heavens. The fact is, that no man can think another man's thoughts, or so identically communicate his own, as to make another think them precisely as he himself does. How much more imperfectly, then, must they be transmitted through the medium of a second mind, in a new language, to a distant age, and among a strange people! Pitt and Warton hunted Virgil by the scent; and, therefore, were always behind him. Dryden might, perhaps, have matched his master, by deviating from his track, yet preserving the same direction; but he often loitered, generally hurried, by any means and by every means, endeavouring to get to his journey's end; and rather measuring the given distance, than choosing the right course, —
“ through straight, rough, dense, or rare, With head, hands, wings, or feet, pursued his way."
Milton. Similar strictures might be passed upon all the translations in our language, whether of ancient or modern poems. Of such, however, no country can boast a larger number, possessing high intrinsic as well as great comparative merit.
ON THE POETICAL CHARACTER; THE THEMES AND
INFLUENCES OF POETRY.
The Desire of Fame.
There is nothing so difficult to obtain as an earthly immortality. Dr. Young calls “the love of fame," “the universal passion ;” and he has written a series of Satires to exemplify it. It is probably true, that every man living covets distinction, and in some point or other so far excels his neighbours as to imagine himself entitled, in that respect at least, to pre-eminence among them. This passion differs rather in degree than in kind from that “longing after immortality,” which is almost peculiar to heroes and authors; -the greatest actors, and the greatest thinkers; the greatest realists, and the greatest imaginarians, - if I may coin a barbarous word for a special occasion. Heroes and authors, however, do not aspire to precisely the same species of immortality; the former seek