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Ovid is also another writer of a bad taste, on whom Pope employed some of his youthful hours, in translating the stories of Dryope and Pomona. Were it not for the useful mythological knowledge they contain, the works of Ovid ought not to be so diligently read. The puerilities and affectations with which they abound, are too well known to be here insisted on. I chuse rather to account for Ovid's falling into so blameable a species of writing, in the words of a sensible critic,* who, after he has censured, what
* Francisci Vavassoris de Epigrammate Liber. 1672. Pag. 47, edit. Svo.
About this time it became fashionable among the wits at Button's, the mob of gentlemen that wrote with ease, to translate Ovid. Their united performances were published in form by Garth, with a preface written in a flowing and lively style, but full of strange opinions. He declares, that none of the classic poets had the talent of expressing himself with more force and perspicuity than Ovid ; that the Fiat of the Hebrew law-giver is not more sublime than the Jussit et extendi campos of the Latin Poet; that he excels in the propriety of his sie miles and epithets, the perspicuity of his allegories, and the instructive excellence of his morals. Above all, he commends him for his unforced transitions, and for the ease with which he slides into some new circumstance, without
any violation of the unity of the story. “The texture (says he) is so artful, that it may be compared to the work of his own Arachne, where the
he calls, the pigmenta, the lascivias, and aucupia sermonum of PATERCULUS, of VALERIUS MAXIMUS, of PLINY the Naturalist, and PLINY the Consul, of FLORUS, and TaciTUS, proceeds as follows : “ Apud Ovidium,
in Heroidum epistolis, tum vero præcipue in libris Metamorphoseon, deprehendunt qui ista curant, multa solerter et acute dicta. Sed advertit nemo, quod sciam, unde exorta hæc ei præter cæteros libido, et quæ causa festi-' vitatis novæ, et prioribus inusitatæ poetis, esse potuerit. Natus Ovidius eodem, quo Cicero
shade dies so gradually, and the light revives so imperceptibly,
mortuus, anno, in hæc incidit tempora, ut ita dicam, declamatoria, hoc est, ea, quibus inductus primum est, et valere cæpit, et in honore esse, strictior is habitus et comptior scripturæ; ubi color sententiarum, plurimi ac densi sensus, et qui cum quodam lumine terminarentur, non tarda nec inerti structura. Sic enim nove loqui coeptum est de novo genere loquendi. Itaque ejus adolescentia iis maxime studiis ac disciplinis declamitandi traducta, exercitaque tunc, cum Portio Latroni et Arellio Fusco rhetoribus daret operam, cumque sese non ad forum, a quo laboris fuga abhorrebat, sed ad poeticam, in quam erat natura propensior, contulisset : detulit una secum figuram hanc et formam sermonis, cui assueverat aliquandiu, et institutum jam oratione soluta morem retinuit in versibus.”
We are now advanced, through many digres, sions, that I would hope are not wholly impertinent, to Pope's IMITATIONS of Seven English Poets, some of which were done at fourteen or fifteen years old. His early bent to poetry has been already taken notice of in the First Vo
lume, * to which the following anecdote must be added, which I lately received from one of his intimate friends ; “ I wrote things (said POPE) I am ashamed to say how soon; part of my epic poem ALCANDER, when about twelve. The scene of it lay at Rhodes, and some of the neighbouring islands; and the poem opened under the water, with a description of the court of Neptune. That couplet on the circulation of the blood, which I afterwards inserted in the Dunciad,
" As man's meanders to the vital spring
was originally in this poem, word for word.”
The first of these Imitations is of Chaucer; as it paints neither characters nor manners like his original, as it is the only piece of our author's works that is loose and indecent, and as therefore I wish it had been omitted in the present edition, I shall speak no more of it:
* Page 78.
The Imitation of Spenser is the second; it is a description of an alley of fishwomen. He that was unacquainted with Spenser, and was to form his ideas of the turn and manner of his genius from this piece, would undoubtedly suppose that he abounded in filthy images, and excelled in describing the lower scenes of life. But the characteristics of this sweet and amiable allegorical poet, are not only strong and circumstantial imagery, but tender and pathetic feeling, a most melodious flow of versification, and a certain pleasing melancholy in his sentiments, the constant companion of an elegant taste, that casts a delicacy and grace over all his compositions. To imitate Spenser on a subject that does not partake of the pathos, is not giving a true representation of him ; for he seems to be more awake and alive to all the softnesses of nature, than almost any writer I can recollect. There is an assemblage of disgusting and disagreeable sounds in the following stanza of POPE, which one is almost tempted to think, if it were possible, had been contrived as a contrast, or rather burlesque, of a most exquisite stanza in the FAERY QUEEN.