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a splendid and shining appearance. “Quicquid late splendebat purpureum dicebatur; illud enim in coloribus summum erat."

1785, July

0. E.

LXXXIII. Critical Remarks on Pope's Homer.


July 27. A LADY of my acquaintance, a person of fine understanding and taste, and conversant from her youth with the best English writers, having lately amused herself with Pope's translation of Homer, which she had not looked into for many years, at the close of her employment desired my opinion of that performance, expressing at the same time no small degree of disappointment. She was sufficiently aware of the estimation in which the original has always and universally been held among the learned, and gave me a broad hint of her suspicions, that prejudice had operated not a little in favour of it, having, as she asserted, perused many poems

from which she at least had conceived much greater pleasure. For my own part, I have ever been


the warmest admirers of the Grecian, whose works, in my mind, in point of variety and sublimity of conception, and dignity of expression, remain to this day unrivalled. I accordingly felt myself a little piqued at her insinuation; and having, some years since, niade an accurate comparison of Pope with Homer, throughout both his poems, I, with the more confidence, addressed myself to the task of his vindication; and, not doubting that most English readers must of necessity have conceived of him infinitely below his worth, I beg leave, through the medium of your Magazine, to give my sentiments upon the subject a more extensive circula. tion than they can otherwise have. I feel a double pleasure in doing it. I consider it not only as an opportunity to assert the honour of my favourite bard, but the good sense and justice of their suffrages also who have crowned him with such abundant applause as my female friend finds it difficult to account for.

To Pope, as a poet, I give praise, and grudge not. In his original works I find every species of poetical merit. But he did not build his glory upon the basis of translation. It



is evident that he did not intend it; for he admitted others to a participation with him in the labour, and consequently in the honour of that attempt; a condescension to which, with his abilities, he would never have stooped, had fame been his principal motive to the undertaking. His connexions were many; his avocations were frequent; he was obliged to have recourse to assistance; sometimes to write hastily, and rather carelessly, himself; and often, no doubt, either through delicacy or precipitance, to admit such lines of his coadjutors as not only dishonoured Homer, but his translator also. You will observe, Sir, that if I censure him, I am equally ready to make his apology, which, in a case that to many will seem to need one, will, I hope, amount to somewhat of an apology for myself. I know that the learned, who have allowed themselves leisure to consider the matter, are on my side; but I do not know that any of them have given it a minute examination in print; and though I be far from ranking myself in the number of those who properly come under that description, yet, after the pains that I have taken with the author, I account not myself altogether unqualified for the service.

Pope was a most excellent rhymist; that is to say, he had. the happiest talent at accommodating his sense to his rhyming occasions. To discover homotonous words in a language abounding with them like ours, is a task that would puzzle no man competently acquainted with it. But for such accommodation as I have mentioned, when an author is to be translated, there is little room. The sense is already determined. Rhyme, therefore, must, in many cases, .occasion, even to the most expert in the art, an almost unavoidable necessity to depart from the meaning of the original. For Butler's remark is as true as it is ludicrous, that

"-Rhyme the rudder is of verses, “With which, like ships, they steer their courses." Accordingly, in numberless instances, we may observe in Pope a violation of Homer's sense, of which he certainly had never been guilty, had not the chains with which he had bound himself constrained him. It is, perhaps, hardly worth while to mention the awkward effect that the barbarous abridgment of proper names produces in his work; an effect for which he was intirely indebted to his rhyme: for blank verse, being of loftier construction, would have afforded sufficient room for Idomeneus and Merinoes, with

ness, to whiich writers more studious of ornament can never.

sevetal others, to have stood upright, while the two heroes whom I have specified, being shortened by the foot, and appearing under the appellations of Idomen and Merion, lose much of their dignity, and are hardly to be known for the saine persons. But rhyme has another unhappy effect upon a poem of such length. It admits not of a sufficient Aariety in the pause and cadence. The ear is fatigued with the sameness of the numbers, and satiated with a tune, musical indeed, but for ever repeated. Here, therefore, appears to have been an error in the out-set, which could never afterwards: be corrected. It is to be lamented, but not to be wondered at. For who can wonder, since all men are naturally fond of that in which they excel, that Pope, who managed the bells of rhyme with more dexterity than any man, should have tied them about Homer's neck? Yet Pope, when he composed an epic poem himself, under the title of Alfred, wrote it in blank verse, aware, no doubt, of its greater suitableness, both in point of dignity and variety, to the grandeur of such a work. And though Atterbury advised hin, to burn it, and it was burnt accordingly, I will: venture to say, that it did not incur that doom by the want of rhyme. It is hardly necessary for me to add, after what I have said on this part of the subject, that Homer must have suffered infinitely in the English representation that we have of him; sometimes his sense is suppressed, sometimes other sense is obtruded upon him; rhyme gives the word, à miserable transformation ensues; instead of Homer in the graceful habit of his age and nation, we have Homer in a straight waistcoat.

The spirit and the manner of an author are terms that may, I thivk, be used conversely. The spirit gives birth to the manner, and the manner is an indication of the spirit. Homer's spirit was manly, bold, sublime. Superior to the practice of those little arts by which a genius like Ovid's seeks to amuse his reader, he contented himself with speaking the thing as it was, deriving a dignity from his plainattain. If you meet with a metaphorical expression in Homer, you meet with a rarity indeed. I do not say that he has'none, but I assert that he has very few. Scriptural poetry excepted, I believe that there is not to be found in the world poetry so simple as his. Is it thus with his translator? I answer, no, but exactly the reverse. Pope is no where more figurative in his own pieces, than in his transla-tion of Homer. I do not deny that his flowers are beauti: ful," at least they are often such; but they are modern

discoveries, and of English growth. The Iliad and the Odyssey, in his hands, have no more of the air of antiquity than if he had himself invented them. Their simplicity is overwhelmed with a profusion of fine things, which, however they may strike the eye at first sight, make no amends for the greater beauties which they conceal. The venerable Grecian is as much the worse for his new acquisitions of this kind, as a statue by Phidias, or Praxiteles would be for the painter's brush. The man might give to it the fashionable colour of the day, the colour of the Emperor's eye, or of the hair of the Queen of France; but he would fill up those fine strokes of the artist which he designed should be the admiration of all future ages. Do you ask an instance in point? I will give you one. At the assault made by the Trojans on the Grecian wall, in the twelfth book of the Iliad, Ajax kills Epicles, the friend of Sarpedon, with a great stone, which he cast down upon him from the top of the fortification. Homer says, simply, that he raised it on high, and that he cast it down. What says Pope? : " He pois’d and swung it round; then, toss'd on high,

It few with force, and labour'd up the sky. : Full on the Lycian's helmet thund'ring down The pond'rous ruin crush'd his battered crown."

Had the stone been discharged from a mortar, with a design that it should fall on the roof of some distant citadel besieged by the Duke of Marlborough, there would have been great beauty in the expression labour'd up the sky: but in the present case it is doubtless a most gross absurdity; and yet, absurd as it is, for the sake of its poetical figure, it found admittance.

As he inserts beauties of his own, so, not unfrequently, he rejects the beauties of his author, merely because they were of a kind not easily susceptible of that polish on which he insists upon all occasions. Thus, when Idomeneus, planted in the Grecian van, is said to occupy his station with the sturdiness of a boar, the comparison is sunk. Again, when Phænix, who had been a kind of foster-father to Achilles, in order to work upon his affections, and to prevail with him, by doing so, to engage in the battle, reminds him of the passages of his infancy, he tells the hero, that in his childish fondness for his old tutor he would drink from no cup but his ; “and often,” says he," when thou hast filled thy mouth with wine, sitting upon my knee, thou hast returned it into my bosom, and hast wetted all my raiment."

The delicacy of Popeseems to have been shocked at this idea, for he has utterly passed it over; an omission by which it is not easy to say whether he has more dishonoured Homer or himself. A more exquisite stroke of nature is hardly to be found, I believe, in any poet.

The style of Homer is terse and close in the highest possible degrees insomuch that his introductory lines ex, cepted, in which the same adjuncts or ascriptions of wis, dom, strength, or swiftness, constantly recur, as Ulysses, Diomede, or Achilles, happen to be mentioned, it were not easy to find, in many lines, perhaps in any, a single word that could be spared without detriment to the passage. He has no lexpletives except such as he uses avowedly for that purpose. I cannot pay the same compliment to his translator. He is so often diffuse, that he is indeed seldom otherwise, and seems for the most part, rather to write a paraphrase than to translate. The effect of which manage, ment is a weakness and flimsiness to which Homer is completely a stranger. The famous simile at the end of the 8th book, in which the fires kindled in the Trojan camp are compared to the moon and stars in a clear night, may serve as a specimen of what I blame. In Homer it consists of five lines ; in Pope, of twelve. I may be told, perhaps, that the translation is nevertheless beautiful, and I do not deny it; but I must beg leave to think that it would have been more beautiful, had it been more compressed. At least I am sure that Homer's close is most to be commended. He says simply, “ The shepherd's heart is glad;"ma plain assertion, which in Pope is rendered thus:

“ The conscious swains, rejoicing in the sight,

Eye the blue vault, and bless the useful light." Whence, the word conscious seems to be joined with swain, merely by right of ancient prescription, and where the bless șing is perfectly gratuitous, Homer having mentioned no such matter. But Pope, charmed with the scene that liomer drew, was tempted to a trial to excel his master, and the consequence was, that the simile, which in the original is like a pure drop, of simple lustre, in the copy is like that drop dilated into a bubble, that reflects all the con lours of the bow. Alas! to little advantage; for the simplicity, the almost divine simplicity, of Homer is worth more than all the glare and glitter that can be contrived.

I fear, Sir, that I have already trespassed upon your paper, and, lest I should trespass upon your patience also, will

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