網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

The moral of the institution was truly sublime constantly inculcating a most important lesson« That whatever distinctions our wants and vices may render necessary, in this short and imperfect period of our being, they are all cancelled by the hand of death; and, through the endless untried periods which succeed, virtue and beneficence will make the true distinctions of character, and be the only foundations of happiness and renown!

If from the Egyptians, we pass to the Greeks, particularly the enlightened Athenians, we shall find that they had an express law, appointing orations and public funerals, in honour of those who gloriously sacrificed their lives to their country.

And this solemn office was performed before the great assemblies of the people; sometimes for one, and sometimes for bands of heroes together.

Thucydides has recorded a celebrated oration of this last kind, delivered by Pericles. The illustrious speaker, after a most animating description of the amor patriæ-the love of our country—which he exalts above all human virtues, turns to the deceased

“ Having bestowed their lives to the public, every one of them, says he, hath received a praise that “ will never decay—a sepulchre that will always be “ most illustrious;—not that in which their bones lie

mouldering, but that in which their fame is pre"served. This whole earth is the sepulchre of illus“trious citizens,”—and their inscription is written upon the hearts of all good men.

.

“ As for you, the survivors !—from this very mo“ ment, emulating their virtues, place your sole “ happiness in liberty-and be prepared to follow its “ call through every danger.” Then, addressing himself, with exquisite tenderness, to the relicts and children of the deceased, he suggests to them that the commonwealth was their husband, their father and brother

“ From this day forward to the age of maturity, “ shall the orphans be educated at the public expense « of the state. For this benevolent meed have the “ laws appointed to all future relicts of those who may fall in the public contests.”

Nor were the ROMANS less careful in this matter. Considering men in general as brave, more by art than nature; and that honour is a more powerful incentive than fear; they made frugality, temperance, patience of labour, manly exercise, and love of their country, the main principles of education. Cowardice · and neglect of duty in the field, were seldom punished with death or corporal inflictions; but by what was accountedworse, a life decreed to ignominious expulsion and degradation from Roman privileges.

On the contrary, deeds of public virtue were rewarded, according to their magnitude, with statues, triumphs of various kinds, peculiar badges of dress at public solemnities, and* songs of praise to the living as well as the dead.

They are called “ Carmina," as wrought up in the high poetic style ; but were not, therefore, always in verse or measure.

Next to the hymns composed in honour of the Gods, Poetry derived its origin from the songs of triumph to heroes,* who tamed the rude manners of mankind, founded cities, repelled the incursions of enemies, and gave peace to their countryt. And this custom began when Rome contained only a few shepherds, gathering strength by an alluvies of the outcasts of neighbouring nations.

Those first efforts of poetic eulogy, whether in prose or verse (like those of a similar origin, which nature, always the same, teaches our savage neighbours) although often sublime in substance, were yet so rude in structure, that| Livy forbears quoting them as having become intolerable to the more refined taste of his age, however suitable they might have been to the æra of their production.

What a multitude of compositions of this kind must have existed between the barbarous songs of the military upon the triumph of || Cossius, and the celebrated panegyric of Pliny upon Trajan! They are said to have been swelled into two thousand volumes, even in the time of Augustus. In short,

, the praise of public virtue was wrought into the whole

[ocr errors]

Soliti sunt, in epulis, canere convivas ad tibicinem, de clarorum ho. minum virtute.

Cic. † Qui terras hominumque colunt genus, aspera bella Componunt, agros assignant, oppida condunt.

Hor. Carmen canentes ibant, illa tempestate forsitan laudabile rudibus ingeniis, nunc abhorrens & inconditum, si referater.

| Longe maximum triumphi, spectaculum fuit Cossius- -in eum milites carmina incondita, æquantes eum Romulo, canere.

Lie.

texture of Roman polity; and Virgil, calling religion to his aid, gave it the highest finish*.

He divides his Hades, or place of ghosts, into dif. ferent regions; and, to the gulf of deepest perditiont, consigns those monsters of iniquity who delighted in the destruction of mankind, betrayed f their country, or violated its religion and laws. There he excruciates them, in company with

“ Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire'll Vultures prey upon their vitals, or they are whirled eternally round with Ixion upon his wheel, or bound down with Tantalus,** whose burning lip hangs quivering over the elusive waters it cannot touch; or the fury Tisyphone, her hair entwined with serpents, her garments red with human gore, urges on their tortures with unrelenting hand !

The Poet having thus exhausted imagination as well as mythology, in the description of punishments

See more on the use and good Policy of Funeral Panegyrics, on the public virtue of great men deceased, from page 42, 10 47, of Sermon III. antea.

† “ Full twice as deep the dungeon of the fiends,
• The huge tartarean gloomy gulf descends
“ Below these regions, as these regions lie
“ From the bright realms of yon æthereal sky."

I“ This wretch his country to a tyrant sold,
“ And barter'd glorious liberty for gold:
“ Laws for a bribe he pass'd-but pass'd in vain;

“. For these same laws a bribe repeal'd again.”
|| Milton here borrows his monsters from Virgil,

"flammisque armata Chimæra;

" Gorgones, Harpiæque."-&c. See Virgil, B. VI, from line 288, to line 627 ; or Pitt's excellent transla. tion.

** Tantalus a labris, sitiens, fugientia captat Flumina.

Har

for the disturbers of mankind, and foesto their country, raises his conclusion to a height of horror beyond the reach of expression

“ Had I a hundred mouths, a hundred tongues,
“ A voice of brass, and adamantine lungs;
“ Not half the mighty scene could I disclose,
“ Repeat their crimes, or count their dreadful woes*."

Nor has Virgil strayed any farther through the fields of fancy or fable in this place, than to borrow strength of colouring for the garb of truth; and, I suspect, that he drank from a purer fountain than that of Helicon, when he peopled his Tatarus with the ancient scourges of the human race. An authority, sacred among Christians, had, indeed, long before given an awful sanction to the truth of his doctrine.

A Prophet and Poet, indeed, whose inspiration was truly from heaven, the incomparably sublime Isaiah, foretelling the fall of Babylon, has an ode of triumph, wherein he exults over its haughty monarch in strains of wonderful irony and reproach. He reprobates him as a destroyer of mankind; who had “ made the world a wilderness.” He represents the whole earth as delivered from a curse by his fall! The trees of the forest rejoice, because he is laid low! The very grave refuses a covering to his exe. crable corse! He is consign'd to the depths of misery;

• Milton has taken the same method of raising his description, by leaving something to be conceived beyond the power of words to express

“ Abominable, unutterable, and worse

“ Than fables yet bave feign'd, or fear conceir'd. VOL. I.

B 4

« 上一頁繼續 »