« ZurückWeiter »
his Bajazet; but would not have attempted it, had he not thought that the distance of his hero's country repaired, in some measure, the nearness of the time in which he lived. "Major a longinquo reverentia."
Pope, it is said, had framed a design of writ• ing an epic poem on a fact recorded in our old annalists, and therefore more engaging to an Englishman; on the Arrival of Brutus, the supposed grandson of iEneas, in our island, and the settlement of the first foundations of the British monarchy. A full scope might have been given to a vigorous imagination, to embellish a fiction drawn from the bosom of the remotest antiquity. Some tale, equally venerable and ancient, it was also the purpose of Milton* to adorn; for he says, in his Reason qf 'Church
* Whether he intended, as A Poet expresses it, To
Record old Arthur's magic tale, And Edward fierce, in sable mail; , Sing royal Brutus' lawless doom,
And brave Bonduca, scourge of Rome |
The Union, pag. 92.
Church Government,* "I am meditating what king or knight Before The Conquest might be chosen, in whom to lay the pattern of a Christian hero, shall I be pardoned for suspecting, that Pope would not have succeeded in his design; that so Didactic a genius would have been deficient in that Sublime and Pathetic, which are the main nerves of the epopea; that he would have given us many elegant descriptions, and mauy General characters, well drawn;
T 2 but
"An heroical poem (says Milton, in the above-mentioned manuscript) may be founded somewhere in Alfred's reign, especially at his issuing out of Edelingsey, on the Banes, whose actions are well like those of Ulysses." In Milton's History of England may be seen the story of Brutus here in question; with which he seems pleased, as it suited the romantic turn of his mind. See his Mansus.
Siquando indigenas revocabo in carmina reges,
Ipse ego Dardanias Rutupina per aequora puppes,
And, particularly, the Epitaphium Damonis.
* Pag. 24.
but would have failed to set before our eyes the Reality of these objects, and the Actions of these characters: for Homer professedly draws no characters, but gives us to collect them from the looks and behaviour of each person he introduces; that Pope's close and constant reasoning had impaired and crushed the faculty of imagination j that the political reflections, in this piece, would, in all probability, have been more numerous than the affecting strokes of' nature; that it would have more resembled the Henriade than the Iliad, or even the GieruSalemme Liberata; that it would have appeared (if this scheme had been executed) how much, and for what reasons, the man that is skilful in painting modern life, and the most secret foibles and follies of his contemporaries, is, Therefore, disqualified for representing the ages of heroism, and that simple life, which alone epic poetry can gracefully describe; in a word, that this composition would have shewn more of the Philosopher than of the Poet^x Add to all this, that it was to have been written in rhyme ;*
* Since this was said, it has appeared, that Pope intended to have written this poem in blank verse.
a circumstance sufficient of itself alone to overwhelm and extinguish all enthusiasm, and produce endless tautologies and circumlocutions. Are not these suppositions strengthened by what Dr. Warburton* has informed us, namely, that Pope, in this poem, intended to have treated amply "Of All that regarded civil regimen, or the science of politics; that the several forms of a republic were here to be examined and explained; together with the several modes of religious worship, as far forth as they affect society •** than which, surely, there could not have been a more improper subject for an epic poem,
Jt is not impertinent to observe, for the sake of those who are fond of the history of literal ture, and of the human mind in the progress of it, that the very first poem that appeared in France, any thing like an epic poem, was on this identical subject, of Brutus arriving in England. It was written by Master Eustache, so early as in the reign of Louis the Seventh, surnamed the Young, who ascended the throne in the year 1137, and who was the husband of the celebrated
* Vol. III.
Eleonora, afterwards divorced, and married to our Henry the Second. The author called it, Le Roman de Brut. Every piece of poetry was at that time denominated a romance. The Latin language ceased to be regularly spoken in France about the ninth century; and was succeeded by what was called the .Romance-tongue, a mixture of the language of the Francs, and of bad Latin. The species of writing, called Romans, began in the tenth century, according to the opinion of the Benedictine fathers,* who have well refuted M. Fleuri and Calmet, who make it less ancient by two hundred* years. The poem, or Roman, we are speaking of, is full of wonderful and improbable tales, and supernatural adventures, suited to the taste of so barbarous an age. It is matter of some curiosity, to see a specimen of the style of this eldest of the French poets. This is his exordium:
Qui veut ouir, qui veut scavoir, •
* Hist. Lit. T. 6, 7.