Page images
PDF
EPUB

jaws's for the last time, and invisibly I glided to the gates of my old domain. The old Doric lodge had been pulled down, and a Gothic one all thatch and rough poles, little windows and creepers, (a sort of cottage gone mad,) had been erected in its stead. "I entered, and could not find my way to my own house; the road had been turned, old trees had been felled, and new plantations made ; ponds had been filled up, and lakes had been dug; my own little'“ Temple to Friendship” was not to be found, but a temple dedicated to the blind God had been erected in å conspicuous situation. “Ah!” thought I, “ her love is a buried love, but not the less dear. To me—to her dear departed—to her 'sainted Anthony,'-this temple has been dedicated !”

So entirely was the park changed that I did not arrive at the mansion until the hour of dinner. There was a bustle at the ball door, servants were assembled in gay liveries, carriages were' driving up and setting down, and lights gleamed from the interior. A dinner party !--no harm in that'; on the contrary I deemed it fortunate. Doubtless my widow, still in the sober grey of ameliorated mourning, had summoned round her the best and the dearest of my friends, and though their griefs were naturally somewhat mellowed by 'time, they remembered me in their calm yet cheerful circle, and fondly breathed my name! Unseen I passed into the dining-room—all that I beheld was new to me-the house had been new built on a grander scale--and the furniture was magnificent! I cast my eyes round the table, where the guests were now assembled. Oh! what bliss was mine! At the head sat my widowed Wife, all smiles, all loveliness, all pink silk and flowers-not so young as when I last beheld her, but very handsome, and considerably fatter. At the foot (oh! what a touching compliment to me!) sat one of my oldest, dearest, best of friends, Mr. Mitts, the son of a baronet who resided in my neighbourhood : his father too was there, with his antiquated lady, and the whole circle was formed by persons whom, living, I had known and loved. My friend at the bottom of the table did the honours well, (though he omitted to do what I think he ought to have doné-drink to my memory,) and the only thing that occurred to startle me before the removal of dinner was my widow's calling him “ my dear." But there was something gratifying even in that, for it must have been of me she was thinking; it was a slip of the tongue, that plainly showed the fond yearning of the widowed heart.. * When the dessert had been arranged on the table, she called to one of the servants, 'saying, “ John, tell Muggins to bring the children.” What could she mean? who was Muggins ? and what children did she wish to be brought ? I never had any children ! Presently the door flew open, and in ran eight noisy, healthy, beautiful brats. The younger ones congregated round the hostess; but the two eldest, both fine boys, ran to Mr. Mitts, at the bottom of the table, and each took possession of a knee.' They both strongly resembled Mitts; and what was my astonishment when he exclaimed, addressing my widow, “ Mary, my love, may I give them some orange ? ”.

What could he mean by “ Mary, my love ?”- a singular mode of addressing a deceased friend's relict! But the mystery was soon explained. Sir Marmaduke Mitts filled his glass, and after insisting that all the company should follow his example, he said to his son, “ This is your birthday, Jack; here's your health, my boy, and may you and

78 Post-mortem Cogitations of the late popular Mr. Smith. Mary long live happy together! Come, my friends, the health of Mr, and Mrs. Mitts,"

So then, after all, I had come out on an exceeding cold day to see my widow doing the honours as Mrs. Mitts !

" When is your birthday ?” said Sir Marmaduke to his daughter-in,

[ocr errors]

“ In June," she replied, " but I have not been in the habit of keeping birthdays till lately: poor Mr. Smith could not bear them to be kept."

What's that about poor Smith ?” said the successor to my house, my wife, and my other appurtenances. “Do you say Smith could not bear birthdays ? Very silly of him, then; but poor Smith had his oddities."

“Oh!” said my widow, and Mr. Mitts's wife, “We cannot always command perfection; poor dear Mr. Smith meant well, but every man cannot be a Mitts.She smiled, and nodded down the table; Mr, Mitts looked, as well he might, particularly pleased; and then the ladies left the room.

“ Talking of Smith,” said Sir Marmaduke," what wretched taste he had, poor man! This place was quite thrown away upon him; he had no idea of its capabilities.”

“ No," replied a gentleman to whom I had bequeathed a legacy 6 with the best intentions in the world, Smith was really a very odd man.”

“ His house,” added another, who used to dine with me three times a-week," was never thoroughly agreeable;-it was not his fault, poor fellow !” . “ No, no," said a very old friend of mine, at the same time taking snuff from a gold box which had been my gift, « he did every thing for the best; but, between ourselves, Smith was a bore."

“ It is well," said Mr. Mitts, “ that talking of him has not the effect which is attributed to talking of another invisible personage ! Let him rest in peace: for if it were possible that he could be reanimated, his reappearance here to claim his goods and chattels, and above all, his wife, would be attended with rather awkward consequences."

So much for my posthumous curiosity! Vain mortal that I was, to suppose that after a dreamless sleep of ten long years, I could return to the land of the living, and find the place and the hearts that I once filled, still unoccupied ! In the very handsome frame of my own picture, was now placed a portrait of John Mitts, Esq.; mine was thrown aside in an old lumber-room, where the sportive children of my widow had recently discovered it, and with their mimic swords had innocently poked out the eyes of what they were pleased to denominates the dirty picture of the ugly man.” My presumption has been properly rewarded : let no one who is called to his last account, wish, like me, to be permitted to revisit earth. If such a visit were granted, and like me he returned invisibly, all that he would see and hear would wound his spirit: but were he permitted to reappear visibly, in propria persona, mortifying indeed would be his welcome!

It is not my intention to bequeath to my reader a lecture, or a sermon, ere I return to my family yault : yet " THE POST MORTEM COGITATIONS OP THE LATE POPULAR MR. SMITH" are not without A MORAL. ;

T, H, B.

MEN AND BOOKS,

A Challenge accepted. Does Phædrus deserve his reputation ?-His idle

vauntings of himself in comparison with Æsop.--Merits of Mr.

Keightley's Mythology.--Tales of Classic Lore. LOOKING the other day into Lord Woodhouselee's agreeable “ Essay on the Principles of Translation,” and being addicted to attempting ver, sions in rhyme, we could not help accepting a challenge into which he piqued us, by assuming the impossibility of its being accepted to any purpose. We cannot but think, indeed, that his lordship highly over. rates the difficulty, and even the merits of his author in the passage we are about to quote; so that if our version of it should not appear to be anything so very extraordinary (which we are heartily willing to grant), we must take the liberty of thinking that the fault is as much his as our own. The attempt, however, may amuse the reader, and perhaps set him upon mending both our opinions and our translation.

« In the following fable of Phædrus," says the learned lord, “ there is a naïveté which I think it is scarcely possible to infuse into any translation :

* In prato quædam rana conspexit bovem,

Et tacta invidiâ tantæ magnitudinis,
Rugosam inflavit pellem, tum natos suos
Interrogavit, an bove esset latior.
Illi negarunt. Rursus intendit cutem
Majore nisu, et simili quæsivit modo,
Quis major esset ? Illi dixerunt, bovem.
Novissime indignata, dum vult validius

Inflare sese, rupto jacuit corpore.” “ It would be extremely difficult," continues his lordship, “ to retain in any translation the laconic brevity with which this story is told, There is not a single word which can be termed superfluous, yet there is nothing wanting to complete the effect of the picture. The gravity likewise of the narrative, when applied to describe an action of the most consummate absurdity, the self-important but anxious questions, and the mortifying dryness of the answers, furnish an example of a delicate species of humour, which cannot easily be conveyed by corresponding terms in another language.”—“Essay on the Principles of Translation." Third edition, p. 336.

We must try our hand, notwithstanding this caveat :-
D I “ A frog one day, envying an ox's figure,

Blew up her wrinkled sides with might and main,
And asked her children if their dam was bigger ?
They told her · No.' At this she tried again,
With double might; then asked the little folks,
Which was the bigger now ? Quoth they, . The ox.'
Furious at this, and straining like a fit,

She split.' These English iambics are, at any rate, shorter than the Latin. We subjoin a literal prose translation, that we may not be thought to have dropped any of the joke :

[graphic]

“ A certain frog beheld an ox in a meadow, and, touched with enyy of a size so enormous, blew up her wrinkled skin, and asked her children whether she was larger than the ox. They told her, No. Again she stretched her skin with a greater effort, and inquired in like manner which was the bigger. They said, . The ox. With renewed indignation, while trying to inflate herself more vehemently, she lay flat with a burst body.

Now, as to the exquisite dry humour which the critic speaks of, it may or may not have been intended by the author : but one of Phædrus’s fables has set us looking at others; and, with all due reverence for antiquity, nay, with a very great share of it (for we will yield in the fitness of that matter to nobody), we cannot help feeling something like an uncomfortable misgiving as to the general deserts of the Roman fabulist, and the justness of his reputation. We do not like to dwell upon this point; but let anybody read for himself half-a-dozen of his fables at random, or let him take up the first one in the book, the third, fourth, sixth, seventh, and the prologue. Those that are omitted in this list are of a more humorous nature in the story, so that the author could not help giving them to better advantage. They contain here and there some better expressions; and it is to be conceded that delicacies may escape us in an ancient language, which were perceptible and pleasant to the native reader. But the wholesale tendency to admire every classic author is a fair set-off to the hazard of doing him injustice; and what strikes us as the most suspicious thing in Phædrus is, that he is generally dry, in a bad sense; extremely dull and matter-of-fact; so that he brings his wit into question, even when we think we perceive it. What can possibly be duller, for instance, than fable the first? We will give the original, and a prose translation to show what the author says literally :- SE

of the oldadienist Di " Ad rivum eundem Lupus et Agnus venerant, ait boeoqu

acheter end Siti compulsi: superior stabat Lupus, 199 09 Longèque inferior Agnus. Tunc fauce improba

sul sds 4000b Latro incitatus, jurgii causam intulit.

TODA resurser aldar todo Cur, inquit, turbulentam fecisti mihi to u 70

OU SO Aquam bibenti? Laniger contra timens: sisiw te Qui possum, quæso, facere quod quereris, Lupe ? A 280 A te decurrit ad meos haustus liquor, cu

soft a Repulsus ille veritatis viribus,

Ante hos sex menses at maledixti mihi.

Respondit Agnus, Equidem natus non eram. 2.82 200 Pater hercule tuus, inquit, maledixit mihi. -04 003 Atque ita correptum lacerat injusta nece. dog saHæc propter illos scripta est homines fabula,

ad to Qui fictis causis innocentes opprimunt.'' :“A wolf and a lamb came to the same stream, compelled by thirst. The wolf stood the higher up the stream,' the lamb much lower. Then the thief, impelled by his wicked maw, took occasion of quarrel. Why do you-trouble the water,' said he, while I am drinking. The frightened wool-bearer answered, “How can I possibly do what you complain of wolf? The draught runs from you to me. The other, repelled by the force of truth, said, “It is now six months ago since you spoke injuriously of me.' : I was not born then,' said the lamb. Faith, then,' returned the wolf, it was your father.' And so saying, he seized and tore him, putting him unjustly to death: a n

so waan Thig table is written on account of those men who oppress the innocent under false pretences."

[graphic]

2 Now the version here given may be objected to, inasmuch as any prose translation deprives verses of a certain elegance. But what signifies mere elegance of phrase where the matter is so poor? And surely the unnecessary words unjust death, and the excessive obviousness of the "Moral," are no specimens of this author's boasted freedom from superfluity.

If Phædrus, who is said to have been a freedman of Augustus, had written his fables expressly for none but children, and as exercises in the elegance of the Latin tongue, there might be nothing to object to him; but in his prologue he boasts of having worked up Æsop's raw material into something better : leb va “ Æsopus auctor quam materiem reperit,

io . Hanc ego polivi versibus senariis.' And in several other places he plainly gives us to understand that he thinks himself superior to his original. He claims two merits for his books first, that it gives good advice; and second, that it is very amusing, risum movet; and with a superfluity of solemn dulness, he admonishes the reader, that if anybody objects to beasts and trees speaking, it is to be recollected that the author is telling stories and joking :--. . . stiche 21 - Calumniari siquis autem voluerit igningeoir..Quod et arborés loquuntur, non tantum feræ, ...' 34.24is, Fictis jocari nos meminerit fabulis." 6. But is it certain that Phædrus wrote the prologue to his work or the morals? Is it certain that even the fables are his? The suspicious circumstauces under which many of the classics have been handed down to us are well known, and in Phædrus's case are very strong. “It is remarkable,” says the General Biography,“ that no writer of antiquity has made any mention of this author; for it is generally supposed that the Phædrus mentioned by Martial is not the same. Seneca evidently knew nothing of him; otherwise he never could have laid it down, as he does, for matter of fact, that the Romans had not attempted fables and Æsopean compositions :- Fabellas et Æsopeos logos, intentatum Romanes ingeniis opus.', This may account for the obscurity in which : the name of Quintus Curtius lay buried for so many years; which was likewise the case with Velleius Paterculus and Manilius. Even Isaac Casaubon, with all his learning, did not know there was a Phædrus among the ancients, till Peter Pithou, or Pithæus, published his Fables. • It is by your letter,' says Casaubon, that I first came to be ac- á quainted with Phædrus, Augustus's freedman, for that name was quite unknown to me before; and I never read anything either of the man. or of his works, or if I did, I do not remember it.' This letter of Casaubon was written in 1596, at which time Pithæus published the Fables of Phædrus at Troyes. He sent a copy of them to Father Sir : mond, who was then at Rome; and this Jesuit showed it to the learned : men in that city, who judged it, at first, a supposititious work; but, upon carefully examining, altered their opinion, and thought they could observe in it the characteristical marks of the Augustan age.

We know not what reasons the learned men at Rome gave for thinks ing the work supposititious : nor do we set any store by the opinions of Scioppius and others, who imagine they discover something foreign

Sept.- VOL. XXXIX. NO. CLIII.

« PreviousContinue »