« PreviousContinue »
balancing himself, as he lights, on equalized wings-gu l'adeguate penne
Pria sul Libano monte ei si ritenne,
This elegant imitation of Virgil, Fairfax improved into a thought as new as it was beautiful
On Lebanon at first his foot he set,
Milton, passing over the original in this
passage, copies the translator, and, that nothing may be lost, adds attitude to the motion from Virgil, and turns the dew into fragrance from Sannazarius :
Like Maïa's son he stood,
But I am getting unawares into a luxurious gossiping, quite out of my subject. The chief purpose for which I mentioned Fairfax was to suggest a republication of him in preference to the commonplace dulness of Hoole, who would assuredly have never been tolerated, had not the last age of poetry, in which he lived, been given up to the lees of the French taste. The love of Italian literature which began to revive among a
few scholars of that age, is beginning to have its effect upon this; and if it continue, will do a great deal of good both to our fancy and versification I mean, will put them both in a right way of exercising their faculties, and help them to think and speak for themselves; for there is no danger that we shall fall into those errors of the Italian school, which, however they may have been exaggerated by superficial observers, certainly do exist, and which are the natural overgrowth of fancy at certain periods of its flourishing. Our long habits of criticism will save us from those.
It is to be observed, after all, in speaking of schools of poetry, that they are only to be recommended comparatively. We are much more likely to get at a real poetical taste through the Italian than through the French school-through Spenser, Milton, and Ariosto, than Pope, Boileau, and their followers; the former will teach us to vary our music, and to address ourselves more directly to nature ; but nature herself is, of course, the great and perfecting mistress, without whom we become either eccentric pretenders, or danglers after inferior beauty, or repeaters, at best, of her language at second hand. We must study where Shakspeare studied in the fields, in the heavens-in the heart and fortunes of man;--and he, and the other great poets, should be our reading out of school hours.
(9) So saying, he rang, to leave nothing in doubt,
And the sour little gentleman bless'd himself out.
Mr. Gifford is a man of strong natural sense, with such acquired talents as are apt to impress us with double respect, when their history is connected with early difficulties and a humble origin. The manner in which he has related those difficulties, in the interesting little memoir prefixed to his Juvenal, is calculated to give his readers a regard for him as well as respect; and upon the whole, there is no living author, perhaps, who might have enjoyed a more unmingled reputation, of the middle species, than Mr. Gifford. But a vile, peevish temper, the more inexcusable in its indulgence, because he appears to have had early warning of its effects, breaks out in every page of his criticism, and only renders his affected grinning the more obnoxious. There is no generosity in his satire ;-the merest folly he treats not only with ridicule but resentment; and even a mistake upon a point which he understands better than some unlucky commentator, is something upon which he thinks himself entitled to be indignant and retributive. I pass over the nauseous Epistle to Peter Pindar, and even the notes to his Baviad and Mæviad, where, though less vulgar in his language, he has a great deal of the pert cant and snip-snap which he deprecates, and wastes a ludicrous quantity of triumph over
every poor creature that comes athwart him: but he cannot repress this spirit even upon
better nten, as may be seen where he differs with his brother commentators on Juvenal; and every decent mind, I believe, has been disgusted with his tiresome, peevish, and useless insults over his precursors in the explanation of Massinger. Had Mr. Gifford, for his own mistakes only, been treated with the roughness which he has shown towards others, he would have had enough to bear; but to visit on him the full return of his temper, would be a severity as humiliating to a proper satirist, as intolerable to himself.
Our author, however, does not appear to have carried this enthusiastic impatience of his against all the circles of life with which his talents have successively made him acquainted. Like his remorseless, but at the same time discriminating brother critics, the Suppressors of Vice, his indignation appears to have made a seasonable stop in approaching the higher orders; and thus from a wrathful, personal satirist of vice and folly, he has softened and settled himself into an editor of old dramatists and of government reviews, who is only wrathful in speaking of the objectors to princely vices, and only personal upon dead men or respectable ladies. Let a man have made a mistake upon an old poet fifty years baco, and he shall be properly denounced ; let Mrs. Barbauld, to whom the rising generation are so mr:' : debted,
publish but a poetical opinion in verse, differing with the rulers that are and the opinions that ought to be, and she shall be brought forward with all her poetical sins on her head ;-nay, let a married lady give us but an account of her voyage to India in following her husband, and she shall have gone there to get one; but speak not of “the imputed weaknesses of the great."* Princes might formerly have kept mistresses; they might also have discarded them; and these discarded mistresses, if they sinned in rhyme, might be denounced accordingly, even to their rheumatism and their crutches ;t-but no such things are done now, either by princes, or by the favourites of princes; speak not of “the imputed weaknesses of the great:"there were vices at court formerlyvices in Juvenal's time-vices even in our own time, when bad poets were going and ladies fell lame-but now-talk of no such thing; every prince lives with his wife, as he ought to do, keeps the most virtuous company, as he always did, and is hailed, of course, wherever he goes, with shouts of a cordial popularity :—the vices that might reverse such a character, are only “imputed” to him; to use a pithy and favourite mode of quotation, “ There's no such thing !"
* Quarterly Review, No. 18, p. 148.
+ See a pleasant and manly fling at Mrs. Robinson's "crutch. es" in the Baviad, v. 28.