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The sensations of fear impressed by the Roman poet are less harassing to the repose of the mind; they have a more equable and placid effect. The terror of Virgil's tremendous objects is diminished by correctness of composition and elegance of style. We are reconciled to his Gorgons and Hydras, by the grace of expression, and the charms of versification.

In the meantime, it may seem a matter of surprise, that the Italian poets of the thirteenth century, who restored, admired, and studied the classics, did not imitate their beauties. But while they possessed the genuine models of antiquity, their unnatural and eccentric habits of mind and manners, their attachments to system, their scholastic theology, superstition, ideal love, and above all their chivalry, had corrupted every true principle of life and literature, and consequently prevented the progress of taste and propriety. They could not conform to the practices and notions of their own age, and to the ideas of the ancients, at the same time. They were dazzled with the imageries of Virgil and Homer, which they could not always understand or apply, or which they saw through the mist of prejudice and misconception. Their genius having once taken a false direction, when recalled to copy a just pattern, produced only constraint and affectation, a distorted and unpleasing resemblance. The early Italian poets disfigured instead of adorning their works, by attempting to imitate the classics. The charms which we so much admire in Dante, do not belong to the Greeks and Romans. They are derived from another origin, and must be traced back to a different stock. Nor is it at the same time less surprising, that the later Italian poets, in more enlightened times, should have paid so respectful a compliment to Dante as to acknowledge no other model, and with his excellencies to transcribe and perpetuate all his extravagancies.

(From the Same.)


THE books of antiquity being thus familiarised to the great, everything was tinctured with ancient history and mythology. The heathen gods, although discountenanced by the Calvinists on a suspicion of their tending to cherish and revive a spirit of idolatry,

came into general vogue. When the queen paraded through a country-town, almost every pageant was a pantheon. When she paid a visit at the house of any of her nobility, at entering the hall she was saluted by the Penates, and conducted to her privy-chamber by Mercury. Even the pastry-cooks were expert mythologists. At dinner, select transformations of Ovid's Metamorphoses were exhibited in confectionery; and the splendid iceing of an immense historic plum-cake was embossed with a delicious basso-relievo of the destruction of Troy. In the afternoon, when she condescended to walk in the garden, the lake was covered with Tritons and Nereids; the pages of the family were converted into Wood-nymphs who peeped from every bower; and the footmen gambolled over the lawns in the figure of Satyrs. I speak it without designing to insinuate any unfavourable suspicions; but it seems difficult to say, why Elizabeth's virginity should have been made the theme of perpetual and excessive panegyric; nor does it immediately appear, that there is less merit or glory in a married than in a maiden queen. Yet, the next morning, after sleeping in a room hung with the tapestry of the voyage of Æneas, when her majesty hunted in the park, she was met by Diana, who pronouncing our royal prude to be the brightest paragon of unspotted chastity, invited her to groves free from the intrusion of Acteon. The truth is, she was so profusely flattered for this virtue, because it was esteemed the characteristical ornament of the heroines, as fantastic humour was the chief pride of the champions, of the old barbarous romance. It was in conformity to the sentiments of chivalry, which still remained in vogue, that she was celebrated for chastity: the compliment, however, was paid in a classical allusion.

Queens must be ridiculous when they would appear as women. The softer attractions of sex vanish on the throne. Elizabeth sought all occasions of being extolled for her beauty, of which indeed in the prime of her youth she possessed but a small share, whatever may have been her pretensions to absolute virginity. Notwithstanding her exaggerated habits of dignity and ceremony, and a certain affectation of imperial severity, she did not perceive this ambition of being complimented for beauty, to be an idle and unpardonable levity, totally inconsistent with her high station and character. As she conquered all nations with her arms, it matters not what were the triumphs of her eyes. Of what consequence was the complexion of the mistress of the

world? Not less vain of her person than her politics, the stately coquet, the guardian of the protestant faith, the terror of the sea, the mediatrix of the factions of France, and the scourge of Spain, was infinitely mortified if an ambassador, at the first audience, did not tell her she was the finest woman in Europe. No negociation succeeded unless she was addressed as a goddess. Encomiastic harangues drawn from this topic, even on the supposition of youth and beauty, were surely superfluous, unsuitable, and unworthy; and were offered and received with an equal impropriety. Yet when she rode through the streets of the city of Norwich, Cupid, at the command of the Mayor and aldermen, advancing from a group of gods who had left Olympus to grace the procession, gave her a golden arrow, the most effective weapon of his well-furnished quiver, which under the influence of such irresistible charms was sure to wound the most obdurate heart. "A gift," says honest Hollinshed, "which her majesty, now verging on her fiftieth year, received very thankfullie." In one of the fulsome interludes at court, where she was present, the singing-boys of her chapel presented the story of the three rival goddesses on Mount Ida, to which her majesty was ingeniously added as a fourth; and Paris was arraigned in form for adjudging the golden apple to Venus, which was due to the queen alone.

This inundation of classical pedantry soon infected our poetry. Our writers, already trained in the school of fancy, were suddenly dazzled with these novel imaginations, and the divinities and heroes of pagan antiquity decorated every composition. The perpetual allusions to ancient fable were often introduced without the least regard to propriety. Shakespeare's Mrs. Page, who is not intended in any degree to be a learned or an affected lady, laughing at the cumbersome courtship of her corpulent lover Falstaff, says, "I had rather be a giantess and lie under mount Pelion." This familiarity with the pagan story was not, however, so much owing to the prevailing study of the original authors, as to the numerous English versions of them which were consequently made. The translations of the classics, which now employed every pen, gave a currency and a celebrity to these fancies, and had the effect of diffusing them among the people. No sooner were they delivered from the pale of the scholastic languages, than they acquired a general notoriety. Ovid's Metamorphoses translated by Golding, to instance no further, disclosed a new world of

fiction, even to the illiterate. As we had now all the ancient fables in English, learned allusions, whether in a poem or a pageant, were no longer obscure and unintelligible to common readers and common spectators. And here we are led to observe, that at this restoration of the classics, we were first struck only with their fabulous inventions. We did not attend to their regularity of design and justness of sentiment. A rude age, beginning to read these writers, imitated their extravagances, not their natural beauties. And these, like other novelties, were pursued to a blameable excess.

(From the Same.)


It may here be added, that only a few critical treatises, and but one Art of Poetry, were now written. Sentiments and images were not absolutely determined by the canons of composition; nor was genius awed by the consciousness of a future and final arraignment at the tribunal of taste. A certain dignity of inattention to niceties is now visible in our writers. Without too closely consulting a criterion of correctness every man indulged his own capriciousness of invention. The poet's appeal was chiefly to his own voluntary feelings, his own immediate and peculiar mode of conception. And this freedom of thought was often expressed in an undisguised frankness of diction ;- -a circumstance, by the way, that greatly contributed to give the flowing modulation which now marked the measures of our poets and which soon degenerated into the opposite extreme of dissonance and asperity. Selection and discrimination were often overlooked. Shakespeare wandered in pursuit of universal nature. The glancings of his eye are from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven. We behold him breaking the barriers of imaginary method. In the same scene, he descends from his meridian of the noblest tragic sublimity, to puns and quibbles, to the meanest merriments of a plebeian farce. In the midst of his dignity, he resembles his own Richard the Second, the skipping King, who sometimes discarding the state of a monarch,

Mingled his royalty with carping fools.

He seems not to have seen any impropriety, in the most abrupt transitions, from dukes to buffoons, from senators to sailors, from counsellors to constables, and from kings to clowns. Like Virgil's

majestic oak,

Quantum vertice ad auras
Ætherias, tantum radice in Tartara tendit.

(From the Same.)

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