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IF the moderns have excelled the ancients in any fpecies of writing, it seems to be in fatire; and, particularly in that kind of fatire which is conveyed in the form of the epopee, a pleasing vehicle of fatire, seldom, if ever, used by the ancients; for we know fo little of the Margites of Homer, that it cannot well be produced as an example. As the poet disappears in this way of writing, and does not deliver the intended cenfure in his own proper person, the fatire becomes more delicate, because more oblique. Add to this, that a tale or ftory more ftrongly engages and interests the reader, than a feries of precepts or reproofs, or even of characters themselves, however lively or natural. An heroi-comic poem may therefore be justly esteemed the most excellent kind of fatire. The invention of it is ufually afcribed to Aleffandro Taffoni; who, in the year 1622, published at Paris a poem composed by him, in a few months of the year 1611, entitled, La Secchia Rapita, or The Rape of the Bucket. To avoid giving offence, it was first printed under the name of Androvini Melifoni. It was afterwards reprinted at Venice, corrected with the name of the author, and with fome illuftrations of Gafparo Salviani. But the learned and curious Crefcembini, in his Iftoria della Volgar Poefia*, informs us, that it is doubtful whether the invention of the heroi-comic poem ought to be ascribed to Taffoni, or to Francefco Bracciolini, who wrote Lo Scherno degli Dei, which performance, though it was printed four years. after La Secchia, is nevertheless declared, in an epiftle prefixed, to have been written many years fooner. The real subject of Taffoni's poem was the war which the inhabitants of Modena declared against those of Bologna, on the refufal of the latter to reftore to them fome towns, which had been detained ever
* Lib. i. p. 78. In Roma, per il Chracas, 1698.
E tal poefia puo diffinirfi, e chiamarfi, immitazione d'azione feria fatto con rifo. Crefcembini, ibid. See Quadrio alfo.
fince the time of the Emperor Frederic II. The author artfully made ufe of a popular tradition, according to which it was believed, that a certain wooden bucket, which is kept at Modena, in the treasury of the cathedral, came from Bologna, and that it had been forcibly taken away by the Modenese. Crescembini adds, that becaufe Taffoni had feverely ridiculed the Bolognese, Bartolomeo Bocchini, to revenge his countrymen, printed, at Venice, 1641, a tragico-heroi-comic poem, entitled, Le Pazzie dei Savi, ovvero, Il Lambertaccio, in which the Modenese are fpoken of with much contempt. The Italians have a fine turn for works of humour, in which they abound. They have another poem of this fpecies, called Malmantile Racquiftato, written by Lorenzo Lippi, in the year 1676, which Crefcembini highly commends, calling it, "Spiritofiffimo e leggiadriffimo poema giocofo." It was afterwards reprinted at Florence, 1688, with the useful annotations of Puccio Lamoni, a Florentine painter, who was himself no contemptible poet. To these must be added, the lively and amufing poem called Ricciardetto. In the Adventurer, No. 133, I formerly endeavoured to fhew the fuperiority of the moderns over the ancients, in all the fpecies of ridicule, and to point out fome of the reafons for this supposed fuperiority. It is a fubject that deferves a much longer difcuffion. Among other reafons given, it is there faid, that though democracies may be the nurses of true fublimity, yet monarchy and courts are more productive of politenefs. Hence the arts of civility, and the decencies of conversation, as they unite men more closely, and bring them together more frequently, multiply opportunities of observing those incongruities and absurdities of behaviour, on which ridicule is founded. The ancients had more liberty and seriousness; the moderns more luxury and laughter. In a word, our forms of government, the various confequent ranks in fociety, our commerce, manners, habits, riches, courts, religious controverfies, intercourfe with women, late age of the world in which we live, and new arts, have opened fources of ridicule unavoidably unknown to the ancients.
The Rape of the Lock is the fourth, and most excellent of the heroi-comic poems. The fubject was a quarrel, occafioned by a little piece of gallantry of Lord Petre, who, in a party of pleafure, found means to cut off a favourite lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. On fo flight a foundation has he raised this beautiful fuperftructure; like a Fairy palace in a defart. Pope was accuftomed to fay, "what I wrote fafteft always pleased moft."
The firft sketch of this exquifite piece, which Addifon called Merum Sal, was written in less than a fortnight, in two Cantos only; but it was so univerfally applauded, that, in the next year, our poet enriched it with the machinery of the Sylphs, and extended it to five Cantos; when it was printed, with a Letter to Mrs. Fermor, far fuperior to any of Voiture. The insertion of the machinery of the Sylphs in proper places, without the leaft appearance of its being aukwardly ftitched in, is one of the happieft efforts of judgement and art. He took the idea of these invifible beings, fo proper to be employed in a poem of this nature, from a little French book entitled, Le Comte de Gabalis, of which is given the following account, in an entertaining writer. "The Abbé Villars, who came from Thouloufe to Paris, to make his fortune by preaching, is the author of this diverting work. The five dialogues of which it confifts, are the refult of those gay converfations, in which the Abbé was engaged, with a fmall eircle of men, of fine wit and humour, like himfelf. When this book first appeared, it was univerfally read, as innocent and amufing. But at length its confequences were perceived, and reckoned dangerous, at a time when this fort of curiofities began to gain credit. Our devout preacher was denied the chair, and his book forbidden to be read. It was not clear whether the author intended to be ironical, or spoke all seriously. The fecond volume, which he promised, would have decided the question; but the unfortunate Abbé was foon afterwards affaffinated by ruffians, on the road to Lyons. The laughers gave out, that the Gnomes and Sylphs, disguised like ruffians, had shot him, as a punishment for revealing the fecrets of the Cabala; a crime not to be pardoned by these jealous fpirits, as Villars himself has declared in his book."
The motto to the fecond edition, when it was enlarged into five cantos, printed in octavo for Lintot, 1714, was from Ovid; as was that to the first:
"a tonfo eft hoc nomen adepta capillo."
Both mottos feem to be happily chofen. No writer has equalled Addifon in the happy and dextrous application of paffages from the claffics for his mottos. Such as that prefixed to the fine paper on the Hoop-petticoat, No. 116 of the Tatler; "Pars minima eft ipfa puella fibi."
To the account of the Spectator's Club, No. z.
To No. 8, On Masquerades ;
"At Venus obfcuro gradientes aëre sepfit,
To No. 23, On Anonymous Satires;
"Sævit atrox Volfcens, nec teli confpicit ufquam
Auctorem, nec quo fe ardens immittere poffit." VIRG. and many others. The mottos prefixed to the papers in the Rambler and Adventurer, were not fo happy. The attempt to translate them was abfurd. The one prefixed to Philips's Cyder was elegant.
"Honos erit huic quoque pomo?"
Atterbury fuggefted the interrogation point. Warburton was commended for defpifing common antagonists, and faying,
"Optat aprum, aut fulvum defcendere monte leonem." But Harrington had said this, in his Oceana, of an adversary. Mr. Walpole, to intimate his high and just opinion of Gray's Ode on Eton College as a first production, wrote on it this line of Lucan;
"Nec licuit populis parvum te Nile videre."
I dare believe the learned and amiable author did not know that Fontenelle had applied the very fame line to Newton. A motto to Mr. Gray's few, but exquifite, poems might be, from Lucretius, lib. 4.
"Suavidicis potius quàm multis verfibus edam,
See the life
THE RAPE OF THE LOCK. By
a Nolueram, Belinda, tuos violare capillos;
HAT dire offence from am'rous caufes fprings,
It appears by this Motto, that the following Poem was written or published at the Lady's requeft. But there are fome further circumftances not unworthy relating. Mr. Caryl (a Gentleman who was Secretary to Queen Mary, wife of James II. whose fortunes he followed into France, Author of the comedy of Sir Solomon Single, and of feveral translations in Dryden's Mifcellanies) originally proposed the subject to him, in a view of putting an end, by this piece of ridicule, to a quarrel that was rifen between two noble Families, thofe of Lord Petre and of Mrs. Fermor, on the trifling occafion of his having cut off a lock of her hair. The Author fent it to the Lady, with whom he was acquainted; and she took it so well as to give about copies of it. That first sketch (we learn from one of his letters) was written in lefs than a fortnight, in 1711, in two Cantos only, and it was fo printed; firft, in a Mifcellany of Bern. Lintot's, without the name of the Author. But it was received fo well, that he made it more confiderable the next year by the addition of the machinery of the Sylphs, and extended it to five Canto's. We fhall give the reader the pleasure of seeing in what manner these additions were inferted, fo as to feem not to be added, but to grow out of the Poem. See Notes, Cant. I. ver. 19, &c. P.