Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

description. Some epithets are themselves descriptions. Take three sample ones of Shakspeare, applied to this same subject. The "moltitudinous” sea, "yeasty " waves, and the “wasteful” ocean. Virgil speaks of the sea as boundless ("immensi maris," Geo. lib. I., line 29); windy ("ventosa æquora,” idem, line 206); faithless ("infidum marmor,” idem, line 254); deep ("maria alta," G. II., line 479, et “maris alti," Æn. lib. V., line 799); dark blue ("mare purpureum,” G. IV., line 373); azure (“ vada cærula,” Æn. lib. VII., line 198, et "cærula freta," idem, lib. X., line 209); mighty (“ magnum æquor," Geo. IV., line 388); vast (“vasti ponti," idem, line 430); foaming (“ spumantem undam," idem, line 529, et "spumantibus andis," Æn. lib. III., line 268); salt ("campos salis,” idem, lib. X., line 214); moaning (“gemitum ingentem pelagi," idem, lib. III., line 555); restless (" assiduo sale," idem, lib. V., line 866); swelling ("fluctu tumenti," idem, lib. VII., line 810). He, also, speaks of the "perilous " seas.

These are all we notice in turning over the pages. Of them, “deep" appears to compete with "salt" for the position of favourite, “ foaming" coming next. “Boundless," "restless," "faithless" are words which may be held to embody what we have earlier termed the central feeling of the object, but Virgil does not use them in a way showing any varying individual appreciation of them; they all seem to merge in the one sentiment of the savageness, danger, dread of the sca. It would not be fair to compare Virgil's epithets with those of Homer in relation to the

The Greek language lent itself better to the compounding of phrases, besides the lighter feeling which the Greek sea, with its indented shores and lovely islands, naturally inspired among the people. Other reasons would make it unfair to instance modern poets (it is true, we have already mentioned Shakspeare), cither our own or continental; our present mode of regarding natural objects as beautiful in themselves is not the ancient manner, as we will point out directly. But Virgil does not show to advantage in this matter alongside other Latin writers, eren his contemporaries. Not to hunt for any out-of-the-way comparisons, take the author who competes successfully with him for the place of bestknown. Horace is nearly as blind as Virgil to any downright beauty in the sea, but he says nothing tame of it. The ocean is mostly in a tempest with Horace.

But it is with Virgil we have specially to do in this paper, and we wish to part with the noble poet on the best terms possible. Within the narrow restraining shores of a simile Virgil could sway the sea well enough ; a single wave cut off from the rest he was very successful with. Take the lines in the Third Georgic, where he so magnificently illustrates the anger of the bull by the figure of a whitening billow rolling in-shore. A simile much akin to it is used nearly as effectively in describing the fight with the rioters in the Seventh Book of the Æneid ; and, in the Eleventh Book, in illustrating the fluctuations of battle between the Tuscans and the Rutulians, a still more sustained image is drawn from the alter

ocean.

nate rushes and withdrawals of the ocean tide upon the beach. Literature would have to be ransacked for a more nobly-managed simile. But our last completed proof that Virgil, though so impotent in the actual presence of the sea, seeing so little of its play, and deaf to all its music, still could deal with the ocean when he could do so, as it were, by reflecting it, we have designedly left till now. Virgil's grandest sea-piece was in metalon the surface of Æneas's shield, he sees it all as in a mirror. Here the sea swells all gold, the blue waves foam in hoary spray, dolphins of shining silver sweep the flood in circles, and the brazen galleys of the opposing fleets burn upon the surging waters. The passage is too lengthy to quote; those who know Virgil will not need its quoting. If he had ever given us the direct picture of which this the reflection, there would have been no room for criticism nineteen hundred years after. At least it is the noblest sea that ever flowed in metal.

Several reasons may be given why Virgil in his dealing with the sea exhibits these failures, as we moderns must consider them. In the first place, besides the unavoidable excess of the didactic element, a literary fashion of a very peculiar kind then prevailed. In the highest attempts at poetical description, it was thought there was something much finer to be tried after than natural accounts of the actual scenes, namely, the mythological personages conventionally associated with them. When a dawn at sea had to be related, it was not the ever-brightening sky and the dimpled stirrings of the far-flashing waves that were thought of, but the image of Aurora rising from the saffron couch of Tithonus; in the evening, there was not enough to satisfy in the tumultuous glories of the sun, half-hidden in his own splendours, sinking amidst orange clouds and crimson billows; in the heart of that shining business there was brighter central vision of Phoebus unyoking his fiery horses, bathing them in the ocean. We cannot understand it; we have none of the cues of the old faiths to help us. It now seems unnatural, incredible that men ever thought such scenes too poor for them, and believed that they could put something better worth describing in their place. Still, it was so throughout the whole range of literary tasks. If a river had to be introduced at its best, an old man-Father Tibur-rises among the sedges ; the flowing of his beard, not that of the stream, is what has to be admired. Or should a moonlight scene have to be pictured, the heavens themselves in their soft whiteness, as the silver orb glides through them, are not displayed, -we are told something of the kindly goddess in her nightly wandering car. These artificialities must have come hinderingly between the describer and natural objects, turning his gaze inwards. The fashion, however, sufficed for Virgil : he makes no attempt to alter it.

It may be that in those times a necessity of this sort was imposed by the spirit of Art itself—that natural objects were too disturbing in a part of their actual associations for the higher emotional uses ; at least, that the pathetic feelings they stirred were too strong, too self-enforcing, for the serener enjoyments, without some abatement this being got by

a

the human imagination substituting personifications, which left out to the required degree the agitating memories. The ocean, the sky, the weather were too fatal for men in those days to be lightly dealt with by them in their stark reality without mitigation. From this obligation we are now finally released.

The enquiry into the origin of the feeling of the picturesque among moderns is sometimes treated too trivially; it runs into a large question. The happy growing tendency to describe a natural fact in itself, progressively omitting all the traditionary accompaniments of simile and personification, is the late gift of Science to Literature, and is priceless. Science, by dwelling on objects for its own purposes of acquiring a knowledge of their details, has been perpetually surprised by the discovery that details are always beautiful when seen sufficiently. In this way, we at last have come to know that things in their completeness are of themselves more lovely than imagination could ever conceive by dealing with them in part. The result is already showing itself in the enlargement of Literature by the added department of a new poetic of the literal description of natural objects, though its 'progress must needs be slow. Absolutely new it, of course, could not be. In the remotest age it existed in the germ. The early poets were its prophets, some helping it with wonderful anticipations of later scientific disclosures of natural beauties. Our charge against Virgil is that, in his use of the sea, he has wholly failed in this bardic function-helping the advance of this literature of description not in the slightest. If personification was partially obligatory, he used it to the very full, as he also did simile, without betraying any perception that it was not the best, not the ultimate style.

One remark ought to be made for Virgil. There can be no doubt that the sea is actually much more interesting now than it was then. Owing to the modern scientific civilisation having given us greater power over Nature, there has been a general mitigation of the old bleakness of the central feeling of things arising out of their sway over the human lot; but in the case of no great object of Nature, no aspect of the world, bas

blessed change been nearly so telling as with respect to the sea. In our own instance, the sentiment must have have anreliorated very greatly during the two generations that have witnessed steam navigation. The feeling of the ancient Latins towards the sea, we have already urged, was worse than that of the Greeks, differing more than theirs from the modern emotion. It is plain that the Romans had a sense of there being a certain malevolence in the ocean. Doubtless that is a feeling primitive in all men. We now can just detect it when actually beholding a great storm, or even feel it for just a moment after hearing of a great sea disaster; but its early strength seems to have survived late in them. It brings out very clearly the difference between the ancient and the modern feeling, when, in the face of the present belief that the sea is the commercial field for the union of distant peoples, we find Horace taking the very opposite view, saying that in vain has God in his wisdom separated land from land

by the estranging ocean, if impious barks will bound across it (Ode 3, lib. I.). The picture he and Virgil draw of merchant ships, in the world's future golden days, withdrawing from the sea, leaving its wide surface bare, shocks the modern imagination. It turns everything in our conception of the sea upside down. We scarcely can avoid a suspicion that both Virgil and Horace, in speaking of the sea, used a more antiquated feeling in reference to it than was actually current in their time. In the Augustan age, such Romans as were not writers of poetry scarcely could believe in the impiety of spreading a sail upon the waters. This must have been merely a literary tradition, and it contented Virgil ; but, at any rate, the real feeling must have been one we can only very imperfectly understand, for the ocean grows ever more and more welcome to us—it has lost so much of its awful strangeness, its savage strength. Are there not "steam lanes” in the Atlantic, along which mighty steamers come and go nearly as punctually as if they were land omnibuses? Do not sails crowd up from every quarter of the horizon ? We are getting a little familiarity with it below its surface. The course of its hot and cold currents, rushing like tremendous rivers through its depths, is partly known. Its gulfs are no longer bottomless to us. We have opened delighted eyes on its marine plants, on its countless inhabitants, vanishing away in myriads of harmless microscopic tribes. It is the latest opened treasure-house of Science.

Those who may read these words, with the music of the sea actually sounding in their ears, and with the glory of its tossing waves before their eyes, will not need telling how much of its beauty is yet undescribed. But in the verbal mosaic in which, let us hope, the ocean will one day shine and foam, when the new poetic of real description has developed its language of direct epithet, there will not be a single Virgilian giftno, not so much as a word, a syllable.

Far from the Madding Crowd.

CHAPTER XLIII.

FaxnY'S REVENGE.

[graphic]

O you want me any longer,

ma'am ? ” enquired Liddy, at a later hour the same evening, standing by the door with a chamber candlestick in her hand, and ad. dressing Bathsheba, who sat cheerless and alone in the large parlour beside the first fire of the season.

“No more to-night, Liddy."

“I'll sit up for master if you like, ma'am. I am not at all afraid of Fanny, if I may sit in my own room and have a candle. She was such a childlike nesh young thing that her spirit couldn't appear to anybody if it

tried, I'm quite sure." “Oh, no, no! You go to bed. I'll sit up for him myself till twelve o'clock, and if he has not arrived by that time I shall give him up and go to bed too."

"It is half-past ten now."
" Oh! is it?"
" Why don't you sit upstairs, ma'am ? "

“Why don't I ?" said Bathsheba, desultorily. “It isn't worth while --there's a fire here. Liddy,” she suddenly exclaimed in an impulsive and excited whisper, “ have you heard anything strange said of Fanny ?" The words had no sooner escaped her than an expression of unutterable regret crossed her face, and she burst into tears.

“No—not a word !” said Liddy, looking at the weeping woman with astonishment. “What is it makes you cry so, ma'am ; has anything burt you?” She came to Bathsheba's side with a face full of sympathy.

« ZurückWeiter »