« 上一頁繼續 »
but honorable and useful in the highest degree? Is it wonderful, that he should be so elevated with this greatness of mind, (shall I call it ?) or rather insolence and pride, as to esteem every other people mean, barbarous, and contemptible, in comparison with himself and his own countrymen? It is certainly unnecessary to remind the scholar, that in the sacred games which afforded so much support to the warlike virtue of Greece, no inconsiderable share of dignity and esteem resulted from the verses of the poets; nor did the Olympic crown exhibit a more ample reward to the candidates for victory, than the encomium of Pindar or Stesichorus. What a spirited defender of the laws and constitution of his country is Alcajus! what a vigorous opposer of tyrants! Trho consecrated equally his sword and his lyre on the altar of freedom! whose prophetic muse, ranging through every region, acted as the sacred guardian, not for the present moment only, but for future ages; not of his own city alone, but of the whole commonwealth of Greece. Poetry such as this, so vehement, so animated, is certainly to be esteemed highly efficacious, as well ia exciting the human mind to virtue, as in purifying it from every mean and vicious propensity; but still more especially does it conduce to cherish and support that vigor of soul, that generous temper and spirit, which is both the offspring and guardian of liberty.
Thus far poetry must be allowed to stand eminent among the other liberal arts; inasmuch as it refreshes the mind when it is fatigued, soothes it when it is agitated, relieves and invigorates it when it is depressed; as it elevates the thoughts to the admiration of what is beautiful, what is becoming, what is great and noble: nor is it enough to say, that it delivers the precepts of virtue in the most agreeable manner; it insinuates or instils into the soul the very principles of morality itself. Moreover, since the desire of glory, innate in man, appears to be the most powerful incentive to great and heroic actions, it is the peculiar function of poetry to improve this bias of our nature, and thus to cherish and enliven the embers of virtue: and since one of the principal employments of poetry consists in the celebration of great and virtuous actions, in transmitting to posterity the examples of the bravest and most excellent men, and in consecrating their names to immortality; this praise is certainly its due, that while it forms the mind to habits of rectitude by its precepts, directs it by examples, excites and animates it by its peculiar force, it has also the distinguished honor of distributing to virtue the most ample and desirable rewards of its labors.
But, after all, we shall think more humbly of poetry than it deserves, unless we direct our attention to that quarter where its importance is most eminently conspicuous; unless we contemplate it as employed on sacred subjects, and in subservience to religion. This indeed appears to have been the original office and destination of poetry; and this it still so happily performs, that in all other cases it seems out of character, as if intended for this purpose alone. In other instances poetry appears to want the assistance of art, but in this to shine forth with all its natural splendor, or rather to be animated by that inspiration, which, on other occasions, is spoken of without being felt. These observations are remarkably exemplified in the Hebrew poetry, than which the human mind can conceive nothing more elevated, more beautiful, or more elegant; in which the almost ineffable sublimity of the subject is fully equalled by the energy of the language and the dignity of the style. And it is worthy observation, that as some of these writings exceed in antiquity the fabulous ages of Greece, in sublimity they are superior to the most finished productions of that polished people. Thus, if the actual origin of poetry be inquired after, it must of necessity be referred to religion. Of this origin poetry even yet exhibits no obscure indications, since she ever embraces a divine and sacred subject with a kind of filial tenderness and affection. To the sacred haunts of religion she delights to resort as to her native soil: there she most willingly inhabits, and there she flourishes in all her pristine beauty and vigor.
SUBLIMITY OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH.
Whoever wishes to understand the full force and excellence ol the figure of Personification, as well as the elegant use of it in the Hebrew ode, must apply to Isaiah, whom I do not scruple to pronounce the sublimest of poets. He will there find, in one short poem, examples of almost every form of the Prosopopffiia, and indeed of all that constitutes the sublime in composition. I trust it will not be thought unseasonable to refer immediately to the passage itself, and to remark a few of the principal excellencies.1
The prophet, after predicting the liberation of the Jews from their severe captivity in Babylon, and their restoration to their own country, introduces them as reciting a kind of triumphal song upon the fall of the Babylonish monarch, replete with imagery, and with the most elegant and animated personifications. A sudden exclamation, expressive of their joy and admiration on the unexpected revolution in their affairs, and the destruction of tbeir tyrants, forms the exordium of the poem. The earth itself triumphs with the inhabitants thereof; the fir-trees and the cedars of Lebanon (under which images the parabolic style frequently delineates the kings and princes of the Gentiles) exult with joy, and persecute with contemptuous reproaches the humbled power of a ferocious enemy :—
The whole earth is at rest, is quiet; they burst forth into a joyful shout
This is followed by a bold and animated personification of Hades, or the infernal regions. Hades excites his inhabitants, the ghosts of princes, and the departed spirits of kings: they rise immediately from their seats, and proceed to meet the monarch of Babylon; they insult and deride him, and comfort themselves with the view of his calamity :—
Art thou, even thou too, become weak as we? Art thou made like unto us? Is then thy pride brought down to the grave? the sound of thy sprightly instruments?
Is the vermin become thy couch, and the earth-worm thy covering?
Again, the Jewish people are the speakers, in an exclamation after the manner of a funeral lamentation, which indeed the whole form of this composition exactly imitates. The remarkable fall of this powerful monarch is thus beautifully illustrated:—
How art thou fallen from heaven, 0 Lucifer, son of the morning!
He himself is at length brought upon the stage, boasting in the most pompous terms of his own power, which furnishes the poet with an excellent opportunity of displaying the unparalleled misery of his downfall. Some persons are introduced, who find the dead carcass of the king of Babylon cast out and exposed: they attentively contemplate it, and at last scarcely know it to oe his :—
Is this the man that made the earth to tremble; that shook tin kingdoms? That made the world like a desert; that destroyed the cities?
They reproach him with being denied the common rites if sepulture, on account of the cruelty and atrocity of his conduct; they execrate his name, his offspring, and their posterity. A solemn address, as of the Deity himself, closes the scene; and he denounces against the king of Babylon, his posterity, and even against the city which was the seat of their cruelty, perpetual destruction; and confirms the immutability of his own counsels by the solemnity of an oath.
How forcible is this imagery, how diversified, how sublime! how elevated the diction, the figures, the sentiments! The Jewish nation, the cedars of Lebanon, the ghosts of departed kings, the Babylonish monarch, the travellers who find his corpse, and
1 This is, I think, the most sublime Image I have ever Been conveyed In Bo few word*. The aptncH of the allegory to express the ruin of a powerful monarch by the fail of a bright star from hea ven, strikes Uie mind In the most forcible manner; and the poetical beauty of the passage !s ftreatl, belgbtened by the personification, "Son of the morning." Whoever does not relish such painting as this is not only destitute of pot'lcal taste, but of the common feelings o' humanity.
last of all Jehovah himself, are the characters which support this beautiful lyric drama. One continued action is kept up, or rather a series of interesting actions are connected together in an incomparable whole. This, indeed, is the principal and distinguished excellence of the sublimer ode, and is displayed in its utmost perfection in this poem of Isaiah, which may he considered as one of the most ancient, and certainly the most finished specimen of lhat species of composition which has been transmitted to us. The personifications here are frequent, yet not confused; bold, yet not improbable: a free, elevated, and truly divine spirit pervades the whole; nor is there any thing wanting in this ode to defeat its claim to the character of perfect beauty and sublimity. If, indeed, I may be indulged in the free declaration of my own sentiments on this occasion, I do not know a single instance in the whole compass of Greek and Roman poetry, which, in every excellence of composition, can be said to equal, or even to approach it.
THOMAS WARTON. 1728—1790.
Thomas'Wahtok, the learned author of the "History of English Poetry," was born at Basingstoke1 in 1728, of a family remarkable for its talent His father, Rev. Thomas Warton, was professor of poetry at Oxford, and died in 1745: and his brother Joseph was the author of the "Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope/' Thomas was educated at Cambridge, and early acquired distinction by the superiority of his poetical productions. In 1754 he published his " Observations on the Faerie Queene of Spenser," which at once established his reputation for true poetic taste, and for extensive and varied learning. In 1757 he was elected to the professorship of poetry in Pembroke College, the duties of which office he discharged with remarkable ability and success. In 1774 he published his first volume of "The History of English Poetry:" a second volume appeared in 1778, and a third in 1781. Into this very elaborate performance Warton poured the accumulated stores of a lifetime of reading and reflection: the survey he has given us of his subject is, accordingly, both eminently comprehensive in its scope, and rich and varied in its details: and as respects early English literature, it is a repository of information altogether unapproached in extent and abundance bj any other single work of the same kind in the language. The work is, however, brought down to but very little beyond the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth, as he died while engaged in tt, in May, 1790. It is deeply to be regretted mat he had not carried the history of our literature through the teign of Elizabeth, as no one has presumed to continue the work; for to continue it with like success, would require the union of like powers—a combination rarely given to man*
> In SouUinmnton county, about 49 miles W. s. W. of London.
> " HI* consummate taste and discriminating judgment may on all occasions be Implicitly trusted * Sir Eftrtor Br-ydyt.
THE HAMLET. AN ODE.
The hinds how blest, who ne'er beguiled To quit their hamlet's hawthorn wild, Nor haunt the crowd, nor tempt the main, For splendid care, and guilty gain!
When morning's twilight-tinctured beam Strikes their low thatch with slanting gleam, They rove abroad in ether blue, To dip the scythe in fragrant dew; The sheaf to bind, the beech to fell, That nodding shades a craggy dell.
Midst gloomy glades, in warbles clear, Wild nature's sweetest notes they hear: On gTeen untrodden banks they view The hyacinth's neglected hue: In their lone haunts, and woodland rounds, They spy the squirrel's airy bounds; And startle from her ashen spray, Across the glen, the screaming jay: Each native charm their steps explore Of Solitude's sequester'd store.
For them the moon with cloudless ray
Their little sons, who spread the bloom
Their humble porch with honey'd flowers