« 前へ次へ »
pears miraculous is asserted in history, and my authorities will be found in the notes.
It is the common fault of Epic Poems, that we feel little interest for the heroes they celebrate. The national vanity of a Greek or a Roman might have been gratified by the renown of Achilles or Æneas; but to engage the unprejudiced, there must be more of human feelings than is generally to be found in the character of a warrior. From this objection, the Odyssey alone may be excepted. Ulysses appears as the father and the husband, and the affections are enlisted on his side. The judgement must applaud the well-digested plan and splendid execution of the Iliad, but the heart always bears testimony to the merit of the Odyssey : it is the poem of nature, and its personages inspire love rather than command admiration. The good herdsman Eumæus is worth a thousand heroes. Homer is, indeed, the best of poets, for he is at once dignified and simple; but Pope has disguised him in fopfinery, and Cowper has stripped him naked.
There are few readers who do not prefer Turnus to Æneas; a fugitive, suspected of treason, who negligently left his wife, seduced Dido, deserted her, and then forcibly took Lavinia from her betrothed husband. What avails a man's piety to the gods, if in all his dealings with men he prove
self a villain ? If we represent Deity as command.. ing a bad action, this is not exculpating the man, but criminating the God.
The ill chosen subjects of Lucan and Statius have prevented them from acquiring the popularity they would otherwise have merited; yet in detached parts, the former of these is perhaps unequalled, certainly unexcelled. I do not scruple to prefer Statius to Virgil; with inferior taste, he appears to me to possess a richer and more powerful imagination; his images are strongly conceived, and clearly painted, and the force of his language, while it makes the reader feel, proves that the author felt himself.
The power of story is strikingly exemplified in the Italian heroic poets. They please universally, even in translations, when little but the story remains. In proportioning his characters, Tasso has erred; Godfrey is the hero of the poem, Rinaldo of the poet, and Tancred of the reader. Secondary characters should not be introduced, like Gyas and Cloanthus, merely to fill a procession ; neither should they be so prominent as to throw the principal into shade.
The lawless magic of Ariosto, and the singular theme as well as the singular excellence of Milton, render it impossible to deduce any rules of epic
poetry from these authors. So likewise with Spenser, the favourite of my childhood, from whose frequent perusal I have always found increased delight.
Against the machinery of Camoens, a heavier charge must be brought than that of profaneness or incongruity. His floating island is but a floating brothel, and no beauty can make atonement for licentiousness. From this accusation, none but a translator would attempt to justify him ; but Camoens had the most able of translators. The Lusiad, though excellent in parts, is uninteresting as a whole: it is read with little emotion, and remembered with little pleasure. But it was composed in the anguish of disappointed hopes, in the fatigues of war, and in a country far from all he loved; and we should not forget, that as the Poet of Portugal was among the most unfortunate of men, so he should be ranked among the most respectable. Neither his own country or Spain has yet produced his equal : his heart was broken by calamity, but the spirit of integrity and independence never forsook Camoens.
I have endeavoured to avoid what appears to me the common fault of epic poems, and to render the Maid of Orleans interesting. With this intent I have given her, not the passion of love, but the remembrance of subdued affection, a lingering of
human feelings not inconsistent with the enthusiasm and holiness of her character.
The multitude of obscure epic writers copy with the most gross servility their ancient models. If a tempest occurs, some envious spirit procures it from the God of the winds or the God of the sea. Is there a town besieged ? the eyes of the hero are opened, and he beholds the powers of Heaven assisting in the attack; an angel is at hand to heal his wounds, and the leader of the enemy in his last combat is seized with the sudden cowardice of Hector. Even Tasso is too often an imitator. But notwithstanding the censure of a satirist, the name of Tasso will still be ranked among the best heroic poets.
Perhaps Boileau only condemned him for the sake of an antithesis ; it is with such writers, as with those who affect point in their conversation, they will always sacrifice truth to the gratification of their vanity.
I have avoided what seems useless and wearying in other poems, and my readers will find no descriptions of armour, no muster-rolls, no geographical catalogues, lion, tiger, bull, bear, and boar similes, Phæbuses or Auroras. And where in battle I have particularized the death of an individual, it is not, I hope, like the common lists of killed and wounded.
It has been established as a necessary rule for the epic that the subject should be national. To this rule I have acted in direct opposition, and chosen for the subject of my poem the defeat of the English. If there be any readers who can wish success to an unjust cause, because their country was engaged in it, I desire not their approbation.
In Millin's National Antiquities of France, I find that M. Laverdy was, in 1791, occupied in collecting whatever has been written concerning the Maid of Orleans. I have anxiously looked for his work, but it is probable, considering the tumults of the intervening period, that it has not been accomplished. Of the various productions to the memory of Joan of Arc, I have only collected a few titles, and, if report may be trusted, need not fear a heavier condemnation than to be deemed equally bad. A regular canon of St. Euverte has written what is said to be a very bad poem, entitled the Modern Amazon. There is a prose tragedy called La Pucelle d'Orleans, variously attributed to Benserade, to Boyer, and to Menardiere. The abbé Daubignac published a prose tragedy with the same title in 1642. There is one under the name of Jean Baruel of 1581, and another printed anonymously at Rouen 1606. Among the manuscripts of the queen of Sweden in the Vatican, is a dramatic