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What's meant by increasing the year? Did the gods or goddesses add more months, or days, or hours, to it? Or how can arva tueri signify to wear rural honours? Is this to translate, or abuse an author? The next couplet is borrowed from Ogylby, I suppose, because less to the purpose than ordinary."
Ver. 33. "The patron of the world, and Rome's peculiar guard.
Idle, and none of Virgil's, no more than the sense of the precedent couplet; so again, he interpolates Virgil with that and the round circle of the year to guide powerful of blessings, which thou strew'st around; a ridiculous Latinism, and an impertinent addition; indeed the whole period is but one piece of absurdity and nonsense, as those who lay it with the original must find."
Ver. 42, 43. "And Neptune shall resign the fasces of the sea.
Was he consul or dictator there?
"And wafry virgins for thy bed shall strive.
Both absurd interpolations."
Ver. 47, 48. "Where in the void of Heaven a place is free.
Ah, happy D n, were that place for thee I
But where is that void? Or, what does our translator mean by it? He knows what Ovid says God did to prevent such a void in Heaven; perhaps this was then forgotten: but Virgil talks more sensibly."
Ver. 49. "The scorpion ready to receive thy laws.
No, he would not then have gotten out of his way so fast."
Ver. 56. "Though Proserpine affects her silent seat.
What made her then so angry with Ascalaphus, for preventing her return? She was now mus'd to Patience under the deter'initiations of Fate, rather than fond of her residence."
Ver. 61, 62, 63.
"Pity the poet's and the ploughman's cares, Interest thy greatness in our mean affairs, And use thyself betimes to hear our prayers. y
Which is such a wretched perversion of Virgil's noble thought as Vicars would have blushed at; but Mr. Ogylby makes us some amends, by his better lines:
"O wheresoever thou art, from thence incline,
This is sense, and to the purpose: the other, poor mistaken stujf."
Such were the strictures of Milbourne, who found few abettors, and of whom it may be reasonably imagined, that many who favoured his design were ashamed of his insolence.
When admiration had subsided, the translation was more coolly examined, and found, like all others, to be sometimes erroneous, and sometimes licentious. Those who could find faults, thought they could avoid them; and Dr. Brady attempted in blank verse a translation of the iEneitl, which, when dragged into the world, did not live long enough to cry. I have never seen it; but that such a version there is, or has been, perhaps some old catalogue informed me.
With not much better success, Trapp, when his Tragedyand his Prelections had givenhim reputation, attempted another blank version of the JEneid , to which, notwithstanding the slight regard with which it was treated, he had afterwards perseverance enough to add the Eclogues and Georgicks. His book may continue in existence as long as it is the clandestine refuge of school-boys.
Since the English ear has been accustomed to the mellifluence of Pope's numbers, and the diction of poetry has become more splendid, new attempts have been made to translate Virgil; and all his works have been attempted by men better qualified to contend with Dryden. I will not engage myself in an invidious comparison, by opposing one passage to another; a work of which there would be no end, and which might be often offensive without use.
It is not by comparing line with line that the merit of great works is to be estimated, but by their general effects and ultimate result. It is easy to note a weak line, and write one more vigorous in its place; to find a happiness of expression in the original, and transplant it by force into the version: but what is given to the parts may be subducted from the whole, and the reader may be weary, though the critick may commend. Works of imagination excel by their allurement and delight; by their power of attracting and detaining the attention. That book is good in vain, which the reader throws away. He only is the master, who keeps the mind in pleasing captivity; whose pages are perused with eagerness, and in hope of new pleasure are perused again; and whose conclusion is perceived with an eye of sorrow, such as the traveller casts upon departing day.
By his proportion of this predomination I will consent that Dryden should be tried; of this, which, in opposition to reason, makes Ariosto the darling and the pride of Italy; of this, which, in defiance of criticism, continues Shakspeare the sovereign of the drama.
His last work was his Fables, in which he gave us the first example of a mode of writing which the Italians call refaccimento, a renovation of ancient writers, by modernizing their language. Thus the old poem of Boiardo has been new dressed by Domenichi and Berni. The works of Chaucer, upon which this kind of rejuvenescence has been bestowed by Dryden, require little criticism. The tale of the Cock seems hardly worth revival; and the story of Palamon and Arcite, containing an action unsuitable to the times in which it is placed, can hardly be suffered to pass without censure of the hyperbolical commendation which Dryden has given it in the general Preface, and in a poetical Dedication, a piece where his original fondness of remote conceits seems to have revived.
Of the three pieces borrowed from Boccace, Sigismunda may be defended by the celebrity of the story. Theodore and Honoria, though it contains not much moral, yet afforded opportunities of striking description. And Cymon was formerly a tale of such reputation, that at the revival of letters it was translated into Latin by one of the Beroalds.
Whatever subjects employed his pen, he was still improving our measures, and embellishing our language.
In this volume are interspersed some short original poems, which, with his prologues, epilogues, and songs, may be comprised in Congreve's remark, that even those, if he had written nothing else, would have entitled him to the praise of excellence in his kind.
One composition must however be distinguished. The ode for St. Cecilia's Day, perhaps the last effort of his poetry, has been always considered as exhibiting the highest flight of fancy, and the exactest nicety of art. This is allowed to stand without a rival. If indeed there is any excellence beyond it, in some other of Dryden's works that excellence must be found. Compared with the ode on Killigrew, it may be pronounced perhaps superior in the whole, but without any single part equal to the first stanza of the other. /
It is said to have cost Dryden a fortnight's labour; but it does not want its negligences; some of the lines are without correspondent rhymes; a defect,
VOL. vi. 2 F