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able, for want of ardour sufficient to encounter them.
Obscurity and clearness are relative terms : to some readers scarce any book is easy, to others not many are difficult: and surely they, whom neither any exuberant praise bestowed by others, nor any eminent conquests over stubborn problems, have entitled to exalt themselves above the common orders of mankind, might condescend to imitate the candour of Socrates; and where they find incontestible proofs of superior genius, be content to think that there is justness in the connection which they cannot trace, and cogency in the reasoning which they cannot comprehend.
This diffidence is never more reasonable, than in the perusal of the authors of antiquity; of those whose works have been the delight of ages, and fransmitted as the great inheritance of mankind from one generation to another : surely, no man can, without the utmost arrogance, imagine that he brings any superiority of understanding to the perusal of these books which have been preserved in the devastation of cities, and snatched up from the wreck of nations; which those who fed before barbarians have been careful to carry off in the hurry of migrațion, and of which barbarians have repented the destruction. If in books thus made venerable by the uniform attestation of successive ages, any passages shall appear unworthy of that praise which they have formerly received ; let us not immediately determine, that they owed their reputation to dulness or bigotry; þut suspect at least that our ancestors had some rea
fons for their opinions, and that our ignorance of those reasons makes us differ from them.
It often happens that an author's reputation is endangered in succeeding times, by that which raised the loudest applause among his cotemporaries : nothing is read with greater pleafure than allusions to recent facts, reigning opinions, or prefent controversies; but when facts are forgotten, and controverfies extinguished, these favourite touches lofe all their graces; and the author in his descent to posterity must be left to the mercy of chance, without any power of ascertaining the memory of those things, to which he owed his luckiest thoughts and his kindest reception.
On such occasions, every reader should remember the diffidence of Socrates, and repair by his candour the injuries of time; he should impute the seeming defects of his author to some chasin of intelligence, and suppose, that the sense which is now weak was once forcible, and the expression which is now dubious formerly determinate.
How much the mutilation of ancient history has taken away from the beauty of poetical performances, may be conjectured from the light which a lucky commentator sometimes effuses, by the recovery of an incident that had been long forgotten : thus, in the third book of Horace, Juno's denunciations against those that should presume to raise again the walls of Troy, could for many ages please only by splendid images and swelling language, of which no man discovered the use or propriety, till Le Fevre, by shewing on what occasion the Ode was written, changed wonder to rational delight. Many passages
yet undoubtedly remain in the same author, which an exacter knowledge of the incidents of his time would clear from objections. Among these I have always numbered the following lines ;
Stronger than thunder's winged force,
The close of this passage, by which every reader is now disappointed and offended, was probably the delight of the Roman court: it cannot be imagined, that Horace, after having given to gold the force of thunder, and told of its power to storm cities and to conquer kings, would have concluded his account of its efficacy with its influence over naval commanders, had he not alluded to some fact then current in the mouths of men, and therefore more interesting for a time than the conquests of Philip. Of the like
liberty to corrupt the lines which he did not understand. If we imagine that Varius had been by any of his cotemporaries celebrated under the appellation of Musarum Ales, the swan of the Muses, the language of Horace becomes graceful and familiar; and that such a compliment was at least poflible, we know from the transformation feigned by Horace of himself.
The most elegant compliment that was paid to Addison, is of this obscure and perishable kind;
When panting Virtue her last efforts made,
You brought your Clio to the virgin's aid. These lines must please as long as they are understood; but can be understood only by those that have observed Addison's signatures in the Spectator.
The nicety of these minute allusions I shall exemplify by another instance, which I take this occasion to mention, because, as I am told, the commentators have omitted it. Tibullus addresses Cynthia in this manner :
Te fpečtem, fuprema mihi cùm venerit hora,
Te teneam moriens deficiente manu.
To these lines Ovid thus refers in his elegy on the death of Tibullus :
Cynthia decedens, felicius, inquit, amata
Sum tibi; vixisti dum tuus ignis eram,
A poet's beverage humbly cheap,
(Should great Mæcenas be my guest) The vintage of the Sabine grape,
But yet in sober cups shall crown the feast;
Its rougher juice to melt away;
With annual joy to mark the glorious day, ...
Spread from the theatre around,
We here easily remark the intertexture of a happy compliment with an humble invitation ; but certainly are less delighted than those, to whom the mention of the applause bestowed upon Mæcenas, gave occasion to recount the actions or words that produced it..
Two lines which have exercised the ingenuity of modern critics, may, I think, be reconciled to the judgment, by an easy supposition: Horace thus ad, dresses Agrippa ;
Scriberis Vario fortis, et hoftium
Varius, a swan of Homer's wing, i "
Shall brave Agrippa’s conquests fing. That Varius should be called “A bird of Homeric “ song,” appears so harsh: to modern ears, that an emendation of the text has been proposed : but surely the learning of the ancients had been long ago obliterated, had every man thought himself at