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death, is glanced at with great delicacy; nay, • and a very poetical use is made of it:
What though no sacred earth allow thee room,
If this Elegy be so excellent, it may be ascribed to this cause, that the occasion of it was real; for it is certainly an indisputable maxim, "That nature is more powerful than fancy; that we can always feel more than we can imagine; and that the most artful fiction can give way to truth." When Polus, the celebrated actor, once affected his audience with more than ordinary emotions, it was "luctu et lamentis veris," by bursting out into real cries and tears; for in personating Electra weeping over the supposed urn of her brother Orestes, he held in his hand the real ashes of his own son lately dead.* Events that have actually happened, are, after all, \ the properest subjects for poetry. The best
* Aul. Gell. Noct. Attic, lib. vii. cap. v;
eclogue of Virgil,* the best ode of Horace,! are founded on real incidents. If we briefly cast our eyes over the most interesting and affecting stories, ancient or modern, we shall find that they are such, as, however adorned, and a little diversified, are yet grounded on true history, and on real matters of fact. Such, for instance, among the ancients, are the stories of Joseph, of Oedipus, the Trojan war and its consequences, of Virginia and the Horatii; such, among the moderns, are the stories of King Lear, the Cid, Romeo and Juliet, and Oroonoko. The series of events contained in these stories, seem far to surpass the utmost powers of human imagination. In the best,conducted fiction, some mark of improbability
and incoherence will still appear.
I shall only add to these, a tale literally true, which the admirable Dante has introduced in his' Inferno, and which is not sufficiently known:
whatever, so truly pathetic. Ugolino, a Florentine Count, is giving the description of his being imprisoned with his children by the Arch
I cannot recollect any passage, in any writer
* The First.
f Odexiii. lib. ii.
bishop Ruggieri. "The hour approached when we expected to have something brought us to eat. But, instead of seeing any food appear, * / heard the doors of that horrible dungeon more closely barred. I beheld my little children in silence, and could not weep. My heart was petrified! The little wretches wept; and my dear Anselm said, Tu guardi si, padre: eke hai? Father, you look on us! what ails you? I could neither weep nor answer, and continued swallowed up in silent agony all that day, and the following night, even till the dawn of day. As soon as a glimmering ray darted through the doleful prison, that I could view again those four faces, in xvhich my own image was impressed, I gnawed both my hands with grief and rage. My children believing I did this through eagerness to eat, raising themselves suddenly up, said to me, My father! our torments would be less, if you would allay the rage of your hunger upon us. I restrained myself, that
* It was thought not improper to distinguish the more moving passages by Italics. Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose mind is stored with great and exalted ideas, has lately shewn, by a picture on this subject, how qualified he is to preside at a Royal Academy, and that he has talents that ought not to be confined to portrait-painting.
I might not encrease their misery. We were all mute that day, and the following. Quel di, e 1' altro, stemmo tutti muti. The fourth day beingcome,* Gaddo, falling extended at my feet, cried, Padre mio, die non m' ajuti! My father, why do you not help me? and died. The other three expired one after the other, between the fifth and sixth day, famished, as thou seest me now! And I, being seized with blindness, began to go groping upon them with my hands and feet; and continued calling them by their names three days after they were dead. E tre di li chiamaipokhe fur morti: then hunger vanquished my grief!"
If this inimitable description had been found in Homer, the Greek tragedies, or Virgil, how many commentaries and panegyrics would it have given rise to? What shall we say, or think, of the genius able to produce it? Perhaps the Inferno of Dante is the next composition to the Iliad, in point of originality and sublimity. And
* Mr. Richardson was the first that gave an English translation in blank ver3e of this passage of Dante, in his book, entitled a Discourse on the Dignity of the Science of a Connoisseur. Loudon 1719. page 30.
with regard to the Pathetic, let this tale stand a testimony of his abilities :. for my own part, I truly believe it was never carried to a greater height. It is remarkable, that Chaucer appears to have been particularly struck with this tale in Dante, having highly commended this, "grete poete of Italic," for this narration; with a summary of which he concludes the Monke's Tale.*
The Prologue to Addison's Tragedy of Cato, is superior to any prologue of Dryden; who, notwithstanding, is so justly celebrated for this species of writing. The prologues of Dryden are satirical and facetious; this of Pope is solemn
* Milton was particularly fond of this writer. The following passage is curious, and has not been taken notice of by the late writers of his life: "Ego certe istis utrisque Unguis non extremis tantummodd labris madidus;.sed siquis alius, quantum per annos licuit, poculis majoribus prolutus, possum tamen nonnunquam ad ilium Dantem, et Petrarcham, aliosque vestros complusculos, libenter & cupide comessatum ire. Nec me tam ipsae Athenae Atticas cum illo suo pellucido Ilisso, nec ilia vetus Roma sua Tiberis ripa retinere valuerunt, quin saepe Arnum vestrum, & Fassulanos illos Colles invisere amcm. Milton. Epistol. Epist. viii. B. Bommathaeo Florentino. MiChael Angelo, from a similarity of genius, was fond of Dante. Both were great masters in the Terrible. M. Angelo made a Bas-relief on this subject, which I have seen.