網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

muse. It is true, that of late a great improvement in this respect is observable in our most popular writers. But it is equally true, that this recurrence to plain sense, and genuine mother English, is far from being general ; and that the composition of our novels, magazines, public harangues, &c. is commonly as trivial in thought, and yet enigmatic in expression, as if Echo and SPHINX had laid their heads together. to construct it. Nay, even of those who have most rescued themselves from this contagion, I should plead inwardly guilty to the charge of duplicity or cowardice, if I withheld my conviction, that few have guarded the purity of their native tongue with that jealous care, which the sublime Dante in his tract “ De la nobile volgare eloquenza,” declares to be the first duty of a poet. For language is the armoury of the human mind; and at once contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future conquests. “ Animadverte, quam sit ab improprietate verborum pronum hominibus prolabi in errores circa res !” HOBBES: Exam. et Exmend. hod. Math.-“ Sat vero, in hâc vitæ brevitate et naturæ obscuritate, rerum est, quibus cognoscendis tempus impendatur, ut confusis et multivocis sermonibus intelligendis illud consumere non opus est. Eheu! quantas strages paravere verba nubila, quæ tot dicunt, ut nihil dicunt-nubes potius, e quibus et in rebus po

liticis et in ecclesiâ turbines et tonitrua erumpunt! Et proinde recte dictum putamus a Pla- . tope in Gorgia : os av Tal ovojata Eidel, GOETRU XX1 TO Fpaypata : et ab Epicteto, agxin naidEUTEWS 7 TWN OVOLCTWY ETLOXEY.s: et prudentissime Galenus scribit, η των ονοματων χρησις παραχθεισα και την των ApayuaTWY ET ITAPATTEI gwow. Egregie vero J. C. Scaliger, in Lib. I. de Plantis : Est primum, inquit, sapientis officium, bene sentire, ut sibi vivat : proximum, bene loqui, ut patriæ vivat.SENNERTUS de Puls: Differentiâ.

Something analogous to the materials and structure of modern poetry I seem to have noticed (but here I beg to be understood as speaking with the utinost diffidence) in our common landscape painters. Their foregrounds and intermediate distances are comparatively unattractive : while the main interest of the landscape is thrown into the back ground, where mountains and torrents and castles forbid the eye to proceed, and nothing tempts it to trace its way back again. But in the works of the great Italian and Flemish masters, the front and middle objects of the landscape are the most obvious and determinate, the interest gradually dies away in the back ground, and the charm and peculiar worth of the picture consists, not so much in the specific objects which it conveys to the understanding in a visual language formed by the substitution of figures

for words, as in the beauty and harmony of the colours, lines and expression, with which the objects are represented. Hence novelty of subject was rather avoided than sought for. Superior excellence in the manner of treating the same subjects was the trial and test of the artist's merit.

Not otherwise is it with the more polished poets of the 15th and 16th century, especially with those of Italy. The imagery is almost always general : sun, moon, flowers, breezes, murmuring streams, warbling songsters, delicious shades, lovely damsels, cruel as fair, nymphs, naiads, and goddesses, are the materials which are common to all, and which each shaped and arranged according to his judgement or fancy, little solicitous to add or to particularize. If we make an honorable exception in favor of some English poets, the thoughts too are as little novel as the images ; and the fable of their narrative poems, for the most part drawn from mythology, or sources of equal notoriety, derive their chief attractions from the manner of treating them ; from impassioned flow, or picturesque arrangement. In opposition to the present age, and perhaps in as faulty an extreme, they placed the essence of poetry in the art. The excellence, at which they aimed, consisted in the exquisite polish of the diction, combined with perfect simplicity. This their prime object, they attained by the avoidance of every word, which a gentleman would not use in dignified conversation, and of every word and phrase, which none but a learned man would use ; by the studied position of words and phrases, so that not only each part should be melodious in itself, but contribute to the harmony of the whole, each note referring and conducing to the melody of all the foregoing and following words of the same period or stanza ; and lastly with equal labour, the greater because unbetrayed, by the variation and various harmonies of their metrical movement. Their measures, however, were not indebted for their variety to the introduction of new metres, such as have been attempted of late in the “ Alonzo and Imogen," and others borrowed from the German, having in their very mechanism a specific overpowering tune, to which the generous reader humours his voice and emphasis, with more indulgence to the author than attention to the meaning or quantity of the words; but which, to an ear familiar with the numerous sounds of the Greek and Roman poets, has an effect not unlike that of galloping over a paved road in a German stagewaggon without springs. On the contrary, our elder bards both of Italy and England produced a far greater, as well as more charming variety by countless modifications, and subtle

2

[ocr errors]

balances of sound in the common metres of their country. A lasting and enviable reputation awaits that man of genius, who should attempt and realize a union. Who should recall the high finish ; the appropriateness ; the facility; the delicate proportion; and above all, the perfusive and omnipresent grace; which have preserved, as in a shrine of precious amber, the“ Sparrow” of Catullus, the “Swallow," the.“ Grasshopper,” and all the other little loves of Anacreon: and which with bright, though diminished glories, revisited the youth and early manhood of christian Europe, in the vales of*

* These thoughts were suggested to me during the perusal of the Madrigals of GIOVAMBATISTA STROZZI published in Florence (nella Stamperia del Sermartelli) 1st May 1593, by his sons Lorenzo and Filippo Strozzi, with a dedication to their deceased paternal uncle, “ Signor Leone Strozzi, Generale delle battaligie di Santa Chiesa.” As I do not remember to have seen either the poems or their author mentioned in any English work, or have found them in any of the common collections of Italian poetry ; and as the little work is of rare occurrence; I will transcribe a few specimens. I have seldom met with compositions that possessed, to my feelings, more of that satisfying entireness, that complete adequateness of the manner to the matter which so charms us in Anacreon, join'd with the tenderness, and more than the delicacy of Catullus. Trifles as they are, they were probably elaborated with great care ; yet in the perusal we refer them to a spontaneous energy rather than to voluntary effort. To a cultivated taste there is a delight in perfection for its own sake, independent of the material in which it is manifested, that none but a cultivated taste can understand or appreciate.

After what I have advanced, it would appear presumption to offer a translation ; even if the attempt were not discouraged by the different genius of the English mind and language, which demands a denser body of thought as the condition of a high polish, than the Italian, I cannot but deem

« 上一頁繼續 »