網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

in keeping the old fashion, for the first bed was the bare ground. That a man's pillow is his best counsellor. That Adam lay in state when the heaven was his canopy. That the naked truth is, Adam and Eve lay without sheets."

ART. VI. The Athenaid, a Poem in Thirty Books.* By Richard Glover. 3 vols. 12mo. 1788.

It is proverbially the fate of those, who have been too highly or too exclusively extolled in their own day, to be unduly depreciated in the age which succeeds them; and this may serve to account for the churlish measure of praise, which is usually dealt to the poets of the school of Queen Anne by critics of the present day. We confess that we see no adequate motive for such jealous parsimony. Their reign is decidedly gone by; no danger is to be apprehended to the taste of the "reading public," from their writings; the revival of the critical system, under which they flourished, is as little to be dreaded as the restoration of the Stuarts; we can now afford to canvas their merits dispassion

*The following remarks are from the pen of a well-known critic in the Quarterly Review." The Athenaid, which could not be included in Anderson's collection, is contained in this, (Chalmers's Poets.) It ought always to accompany the Leonidas. Mr. Chalmers censures it, because, he says, the events of history are so closely followed as to give the whole the air of a poetical chronicle. To this opinion we may oppose the fact of having ourselves repeatedly perused it in early youth, for the interest which the story continually excited. Glover endeavoured to imitate the ancients, but wanted strength to support the severe style which he had chosen. He has, however, many and great merits; this especially among others, that instead of treading in the sheep-track wherein the writers of modern epics, till his time, servum pecus, had gone one after the other, he framed the stories of both his poems according to their subject, without reference to any model, or any rule but that of propriety and good sense." Quart. Rev. vol. xi. p. 498 -9. The critic triumphs unmercifully over Mr. Chalmers's assertion (if, indeed, it is not adopted by him from some former writer) that " Glover thought that iambic feet only should be used in heroic verse, without admitting any trochaic:" without, however, undertaking to defend this proposition, we may observe, that Glover appears to have had an objection to the frequent use of the trochee (if the term may be used) in heroic blank verse; as may be seen, by comparing any passage of either of his poems with one of equal length from Paradise Lost. The reviewer has not noticed the omission of Glover's two dramatic works, in a collection which contains Mickie's Siege of Marseilles.

ately, and to adjudge them their deserved honours. Even when principles of any kind have been firmly established in an individual mind, temporary reactions will sometimes take place ; and, for our own parts, confirmed as we are in our attachment to what has been vaguely termed the "new school,” the polished poets of a century back still retain a strong hold on the more earthly part of our imaginations. Their remembrance is connected with the associations of childhood; and there are times, when their mellow and equable beauties harmonize more with the tone of our minds, than the higher excellencies of their illustrious rivals. Their merits, though of an inferior order, were exclusively their own; "habeant secum, serventque sepulchro."

With this school, however, the author, with whom we have now to deal, had only some qualities in common. The life and character of Richard Glover are too well known for us to dwell upon them. His Leonidas acquired extraordinary popularity in its day, and appears, like the pseudo-Ossian, to have obtained a higher, or, at least, a more lasting reputation on the continent, than in its own country; where, however, it still retains its rank as an English classic. We cannot consent to call this a party poem; although the author may have had a party view in publishing it. It was "the plan that pleased his childish thought;" and its elaborate construction ill assorts with the notion of a work written for a temporary purpose. We speak of it from recollection, having never perused it since those early days in which faults, of the kind which it contains, are less discernible, and beauties more striking; and, on this account, our judgement of it may perhaps be more favourable than it would otherwise have been. Of those, however, who have read it, many, we think, will agree with us in esteeming it a work of considerable merit. We do not mean to discuss the justice of Aristotle's code, or the propriety of adhering to the traditional rules of heroic poetry; but it must be allowed, that a genuine classical epic is a fine and stately thing. To deserve this title, there must be a large display of invention and art in the construction of the story, a grandeur of design, and a sustained dignity of manner; and human genius cannot occupy itself long and laboriously on one great and undivided design, without producing something worthy to endure. To this praise, Glover is fully entitled. The tameness of his manner, and his want of power, were, indeed, capital faults; but, in the general structure of the story, in the peopling of it with incidents and characters, and in the strain of feeling which he has diffused through the whole, he has displayed talents of no despicable order. He was, besides, in love with his subject, and with the manner which he had chosen. There is, indeed, observable in the poets of that age, which

serves as a connecting link between the school of Queen Anne and the singular generation of writers immediately preceding the French revolution, an attachment to Grecian models, and a propensity to Grecian principles. This was not to be wondered at in the country which had, in the century preceding, produced Milton. An enthusiasm for antiquity, and a patriotism and a love of freedom, pretty much of the antique stamp, pervade his works. Even in the opening lines of Comus, we can fancy we see the youthful poet "delighting to honour" his native country, by commemorating its localities in the very manner and forms of a Greek prologus, explaining the scene of the drama. And his example, forgotten for a while during the prevalence of adverse tastes and principles, might seem to have taken root in the heart of English literature, and produced its fruit in a following age. We need only refer to Akenside, who, with a fine talent for poetical declamation, and a fancy singularly barren, united a zeal, perhaps more than measured, for classical antiquity; Armstrong, whose poetical powers are underrated, and whose didactic poem is an elegant piece of art, constructed on the ancient model'; the deeper inspiration of Collins; and the various merits of Gray, Mason, and the writer now before us. In treating a Grecian subject, he has adopted, and not without considerable success, the manner of a Grecian poet. And this species of imitation, while it is wanting in the requisite air of freshness, has a charm of its own, similar to that which we perceive in modern Latin or Greek poetry, when well executed, and which arises from the combination of classical recollections, with the domestic feeling which we experience in reading the works of our own language; a combination which, indeed, diminishes in degree, both the species of pleasure alluded to, but which superadds to them the pleasure of contrast. The subject, also, was laid in his favourite times, and among his favourite heroes. His mind was full of those towering ideas of Grecian virtue which we imbibe in our boyhood, and which manhood, assisted by the clearer lights of the present age, discovers to be more or less exaggerated. In stating the existence of these splendid misconceptions, we pretend not to determine the question, whether their prevalence has been beneficial in its effects, or the contrary, however much we might be ourselves inclined to think that truth, wherever truth is attainable, will finally be found more useful, more sublime, more consolatory, more combining all the elements of excellence, than error. It may be a melancholy task, to "gather up the fragments which remain"-to construct anew our theories of Grecian patriotism and integrity. To rise above the weakness of giving up all, because much is lost to remember, that whatever may have been the crimes, or vices, or errors, of their advocates, liberty, and social order, and

public weal, are still inherently and inalienably precious-that no submission to truth can be slavery, and that where she is, there should we be, watching for the least glimpse of light from her countenance, and not weakly turning our eyes from the beam, because it discovers to us unaccustomed objects-all this may be difficult, but it is the manlier and more worthy part. But we are wandering beyond the limits of our subject.

Filled with these lofty imaginations, Glover transferred them, in all their vigour, to his poem of Leonidas. We are there introduced to a generation of pattern-men-a whole nation of paragons, uniting all that Plutarch or Montesquieu ever imagined of republican virtue, with the adventurous enterprise and romantic passion of chivalry, and the delicacies and proprieties of modern politeness. And when, after admiring the triple iris of virtues and graces with which they appear thus encircled, we turn to the authentic records of the times, and there discover the generations immediately preceding and following to have been mere mortals like ourselves, we are tempted to inquire from what superlunar Utopia they could have dropped, or by what unrecorded convulsion of nature they were, at last, swept from the face of the earth. They stand insulated in history, like the day of Joshua: "there was no day like that before it, nor after it." Still the illusion is a magnificent one, and it is nobly sustained. We e are never suffered for a moment to escape "into the light of common day." It is a complete moral fairy-land; and the fiction is as consistent with itself as the "speciosa miracula" of Peter Wilkins, or any other well-imagined tale of physical wonders. All the accompaniments of the scene harmonize with it, and actions, events, descriptions, scenery, conspire to promote the grand moral effect. The powers of the author are particularly visible in the management of the catastrophe. It has been a disputed point among critics, whether the final event of an epic poem ought, of necessity, to be a fortunate one: if the rule be of any value, Glover has more truly honoured it in the nominal breach, than many other poets in the observance. We are never even tempted to contemplate the fall of the self-devoted band of heroes in any other light than as a triumph. We see them calmly and cheerfully undertaking the sacrifice, and awaiting the event with eagerness. And the whole preparation for the catastrophe is so managed, as, like a magnificent vestibule, to excite expectations of something more grand and glorious within. The whole of the eleventh book is particularly admirable. The placid beauty of Leonidas's countenance in his last short sleep, and the affectionate reverence with which Agis gazes on it ere he awakens him; his relation of his dream, and the solution of it by Megistias; the leisurely description of the hero's shield; the solemn sacrifice, offered by the little band of pa

triots among the rocks and shades of Eta; the final address of Leonidas to his army; the extinction of the sacrificial brands, and the march of the troops, in utter silence, towards the camp of the Persians—all this succession of solemn and affecting circumstances is eminently calculated to elevate the mind of the reader, and to banish all thoughts, except those of admiration and exulting hope. The final conflict itself, in which they perish, is preceded by the conflagration of the Persian camp, the flight of Xerxes, and the slaughter of thousands; the "solemn dirge of praise," sung by Melissa and her attendant nymphs in the interval between the first successes, and the approach of Hyperanthes to the rescue, seems like a preluding hymn to victory; and when, after witnessing their latest exploits, we see them fall, one by one, amidst heaps of slaughtered enemies,knowing, as we do, that they have purchased, by their blood, the deliverance of their country, and that deliverance an almost immediate one, we rise with a feeling of acquiescence deeper than that resulting from the recital of the most signal victory. We had intended to say something of the characters in this poem, the intermixture of private adventure, and other features of the work; but, as the beauties and faults of Leonidas have been frequently the subject of criticism, and as much of what we have to say on these heads applies equally to the Athenaid, we shall consult our time and limits by passing on to the proper subject of this article.

The Athenaid was intended as a sequel to Leonidas, and embraces the remainder of the Persian war, from the death of Leonidas to the battle of Platea. It was the work of the author's old age, and its defects are, in part, attributable to the circumstance of its not having received his finishing hand. In this latter performance, accordingly, the abilities of the author show themselves more matured, and his peculiar propensities more fully developed.

Glover was, undoubtedly, not a first-rate poet; yet his powers were very far from contemptible, and he employed his peculium of talent to about as much advantage as it was capable of. His choice of subjects was singular; and although they want the subordinate grace of novelty, they possess the advantage of addressing themselves strongly to our youthful associations. The struggle of Greece with Persia is the first portion of profane story, in which we feel what may be called a perfect historical interest; its battles are the earliest of which the names are familiar to our recollections; and standing as it does among the remoter events of ancient times, yet without the precincts of the fabulous age, it combines the charm of antiquity with the interest of undoubted reality.. Even the very names of places and persons have a musical sound in the song of the

« 上一頁繼續 »