Page images


success. Heinculcates, throughout, the particular part, either of narrative or necessity which there is, that literature disquisition, it has been derived. should have reference to an established There is, for instance, at least as much centre, namely, to religious faith, and of art, as of elegance and of feeling, in to national history and character-- the view which he gives us of the Hothat its main employment should be meric writings. to nurse and strengthen our associa

“ There is only one production, the high tions in relation to these objects,--and pre-eminence of which gives to the early that, instead of being applied at ran- ages of the Greeks a decided superiority over dom as a stimulus to our faculties and those of every other people,—the Homeric emotions, as mere abstract human be- poems, the still astonishing works of the ings, it should bend all its powers to

İliad and the Odyssey. These indeed are wards tútoring and forming the feel- the work of a preceding age ; but it is suffi

ciently evident from the language, the conings of men, destined to act a part as citizens of their respective communis tents, and above all, from the spirit of these

poems, that they were designed and comties. In doing so, literature gains, posed within a short time (probably within both by having a determinate purpose, a century) of the age of Solon. In his time, and by being the conservator of asso- at all events, and partly by means of his ciations, which grow more and more personal exertions, they were first rescued valuable as they grow older. As every from the precariousness and forgetfulness of nation has its own mental character oral recitation, arranged in the order in and constitution propagated from ge- have ever since continued to be, the objects

which we see them, and rendered, as they neration to generation, no traditions or

of universal attention and regard. poetry can be so congenial to it, as those

“ Solon and his successors in the govern. which originated with itself in early ment of Athens, Pisistratus and the Pisisages, constituting tests of its true bias tratidæ, over and above the delight which and genius, and continuing, during the they must have derived from the composi. course of its history, to strengthen na- tions themselves, were probably influenced ture itself by reacting upon the same by views of a nature purely political, to in. national temperament which at first

terest themselves in the preservation of the produced them. He shews that a great six hundred years before Christ, the inde

About this period, that is national character can only be pre- pendence of the Greeks of Asia Minor was served, by endeavouring as much as

much threatened, not indeed as yet by the possible to cherish and keep alive the power of Persia, but by that of the Lydian characteristic spirit of our ancestors; monarchs, whose kingdom was soon after and that the literature of each nation, swallowed up in the immense empire of Cy. instead of embodying all kinds of hu- As soon, however, as that conqueror man ideas indifferently, should aim at

had overcome Cræsus, and extended his rivetting a peculiar set of impressions power over the lesser Asia, no clear-sighted proper to itself, which would have the patriot could any longer conceal from him.

self the great danger which was impendent advantage of gaining force by every re

over Greece. The greater part of the Greiteration, and of pervading the whole cian states, indeed, seem to have remained system both of private and public life. long in their security, without foreseeing the

Nothing can, we think, be more storm which was so near them, and which beautiful than the mann in which burst with such fury on their continent dur. Schlegel calls up in succession the ing the reigns of Darius and of Xerxes. master-spirits of antiquity, and ex

But the danger must have been soon and tracts from their merits, and sometimes thoroughly perceived by Athens, linked as from their defects, confirination of the she was in the closest intimacy with the Asia theory which it is his purpose to de- Nourishing commerce, but also by the com,

atic Greeks, not only by all the ties of a fend. The power, majesty, and en

mon origin of their Ionic race. The revival during beauty of the Greek, and the of these old songs which relate how Grecian comparative poverty of the Roman li- heroes warred with united strength against terature, are both explained upon the Asia, and laid siege to the metropolis of same principle : and yet the general Priam, occurred, at least, at a very favour. conclusions to which he would lead us able period, to nourish in the Greeks the are, throughout, so admirably blended pride of heroic feelings, and excite them to with the interesting and amusing porn dence.

like deeds in the cause of their indepentraiture of individual men and works,

" Whether any such event as the Trojan that however strong may be the im

war ever in reality took place, we have no pression of which we are conscious, positive means of deciding. The dynasty we cannot easily point out from what of Agamemnon and the Atreidæ, however,

Homeric poems.


[ocr errors]

falls almost within the limits of history. open to our view in the utmost beauty and Neither is it at all unlikely that much inter- clearness, a rich, a living, and an ever mov: course subsisted at a very early period be- ing picture. The two heroic personages of tween the Greek peninsula and Asia Minor; Achilles and Ulysses, which occupy the first for the inhabitants of the two countries were places in this new state of existence, embody kindred peoples, speaking nearly the same the whole of a set of universal ideas and chalanguage, and Pelops, from whom the pen- racters which are to be found in almost all insula derived its name, was a native of the traditions of heroic ages, although noAsia. That the carrying away of a single where else so happily unfolded or delineated princess should have been the cause of an with so masterly a hand. Achilles, a youthuniversal and long protracted war, is, at ful hero, who, in the fulness of his victorious least, abundantly consistent with the spirit strength and beauty, exhausts all the glories of the heroic times, and forcibly recalls to of the fleeting life of man, but is doomed to our recollection a parallel period in the his- an early death and a tragical destiny, is the tory of Christendom, and the chivalry of the first and the most lofty of theșe characters ; middle ages. However much of fable and and a character of the same species is to be allegory may have been weaved into the found in numberless poems of the heroic story of Helen and Troy, that many great age, but perhaps no where, if we except recollections of the remote ages were in some the writers of Greece, so well developed manner connected with the local situation of as in the sagas of our northern ancestors. Troy itself, is manifest from the graves of Even among the most lively nations, the heroes, the earthen tumuli which are still traditions and recollections of the heroic visible on that part of the coast. That these times are invested with a half mournful and old freek mounds or monuments, which melancholy feeling, a spirit of sorrow, somewere, according to universal tradition, point- times elegiac, more frequently tragicaled out as the graves of Achilles and Patroc. which speaks at once to our bosons from lus,-over one of which Alexander wept, the inmost soul of the poetry in which they envying the fate of the hero who had found are embodied : whether it be that the idea a Homer to celebrate him that these were of a long vanished age of freedom, greatin existence in the time of the poet himself ness, and heroism, stamps of necessity such is, I think, apparent from many passages of an impression on those who are accustomed the Iliad. It was reserved for the impious, to live among the narrow and limited inor at least the foolish curiosity of our own stitutions of after times; or whether it be age, to ransack these tombs, and violate the not rather that poets have chosen to express sacred repose of the ashes and arms of he only in compositions of a certain sort and roes, which were found still to exist within in relation to certain periods, those feelings their recesses. But all these are matters of of distant reverence and self-abasement with no importance to the subject of which I am which it is natural to us at all times to reat present treating ; for although the Tro- fect on the happiness and simplicity of ages jan war had been altogether the creation of that have long passed away. In Ulysses the poet's fancy, that circumstance could we have displayed another and a less elehave had little influence either on the object vated form of the heroic life, but one scarcewhich Solon and Pisistratus had in view, or ly less fertile in subjects for poetry, or less on the spirit of patriotism which was excited interesting to the curiosity of posterity. This by the revival of the Homeric poems. The is the voyaging and wandering hero, whose story was at all events universally believed, experience and acuteness are equal to his and listened to, as an incident of true and valour, who is alike prepared to suffer with authentic history.

patience every hardship, and to plunge with " To the Greeks, accordingly, of every boldness into every adventure ; and who age, these poems possessed a near and a na- thus affords the most unlimited scope for tional interest of the most lively and touch- the poetical imagination, by giving the oping character, while to us their principal at- portunity of introducing and adorning whattraction consists in the more universal charm ever of wonderful or of rare is supposed, of beautiful narration, and in the lofty re. during the infancy of geography, by the presentations which they unfold of the he. simple people of early societies, to belong to roic life. For here there prevails not any ages and places with which they are perpeculiar mode of thinking, or system of pre- sonally unacquainted. The Homeric works judices, adapted to live only within a limit- are equalled, or perhaps surpassed, in awful ed period, or exclusively to celebrate the strength and depth of feeling by the poetry fame and pre-eminence of some particular of the north-in audacity, in splendour, and race ;- defects which are so apparent both in pomp, by that of the oriental nations. in the old songs of the Arabians, and in the Their peculiar excellence lies in the intui. Poems of Ossian. There breathes through, tive perception of truth, the accuracy of out these poems a freer spirit, a sensibility description, and the great clearness of un. more open, more pure, and more universal derstanding, which are united in them, in a -alive to every feeling which can make an manner so unique, with all the simplicity impression on our nature, and extending to of childhood, and all the richness of an unevery circumstance and condition of the rivalled imagination. In them we find a great family of man. A whole world is laid mode of composition so full, that it often

to us.

becomes prolix, and yet we are never weary ed itself into a little republic. . This change of it, so matchless is the charm of the lan- in the government of states, and the conguage, and so airy the lightness of the nar- dition of their citizens, must have had a rative ; an almost dramatic developement of tendency to render the relations of society characters and passions, of speeches and re- every day more and more prosaic. The old plies ; and an almost historical fidelity in heroic tales must have by degrees become the description of incidents the most minute. foreign to the feelings of the people, and It is perhaps to this last peculiarity, which there can be little doubt that this universal distinguishes Homer so much, even among revolution of governments must have mainly the poets of his own country, that he is in- contributed towards bringing Homer into debted for the name by which he is known that sort of oblivion, out of which he was

For Homeros signifies, in Greek, a first recalled by the efforts of Solon and Pi. witness or voucher, and this name has


sistratus. bably been given to him on account of his His account of the Greek dramatists, truth, such truth I mean as it was in the historians, and philosophers, is equally power of a poet-especially a poet who ce.

excellent: with regard to the last set lebrates heroic ages, to possess. To us he of writers, however, we suspect his is indeed a Homer-a faithful voucher, an

observations are much better fitted for unfalsifying witness, of the true shape and fashion of the heroic life. The other ex.

German than for English readers. planation of the word Homeros' a blind With the exception of the unhappy man'—is pointed out in the often repeated young gentlemen who are drilled into and vulgar history which has come down to a superficial and mechanical knowledge us of the life of a poet, concerning whom of some part of Aristotle's writings at we know absolutely nothing, and is without Oxford and Cambridge, the whole doubt altogether to be despised. In the subject of ancient philosophy is, we poetry of Milton, even without the express verily believe, as little known in Engassertion of the poet himself, we can discover many marks that he saw only with land as in Iceland. Even the most

disthe internal eye of the mind, but was de- tinguished of our philosophical writprived of the quickening and cheering in- ers, Mr Dugald Stewart, never touches Huence of the light of day. The poetry of upon it, without betraying ignorance Ossian is clothed, in like manner, with a unworthy of his great genius. We hope melancholy twilight, and seems to be the day is not far distant, when the wrapped, as it were, in an everlasting cloud. example of the Germans, more lateIt is easy to perceive that the poet himself ly, of the French themselves, may prowas in a similar condition. But he who duce an important and happy change, can conceive that the Iliad and the Odyssey, in this particular, among a set of men the most clear and luminous of ancient poems, were composed by one deprived of who are far too good to be thrown ahis sight, must, at least in some degree, way upon the vain work of doing over elose his own eyes, before he can resist the again things that were as well underevidence of so many thousand circumstances stood two thousand years ago as they which testify, so incontrovertibly, the re

As a specimen of the view which “ In whatever way, and in whatever century, the Homeric poems might be created literature of the Romans, we extract

our author takes of the history of the and fashioned, they place before us a time when the heroic age was on the decline, or

the following very original, and, we had perhaps already gone by. For there think, satisfactory account of their are two different worlds which both exist drama. together in the compositions of Homer, “ In the drama the Romans were perpethe world of marvels and tradition, which tually making attempts, from the time of still however appears to be near and lively Ennius downwards. In truth, however, before the eyes of the poet; and the living they have left nothing in that department circumstances and present concerns of the of poetry except translations from the Greek, world 'which produced the poet himself. -more or less exact, but never executed This commingling of the present and the with sufficient spirit to entitle them even to past (by which the first is adorned and the the less servile name of imitations. The second illustrated), lends, in a pre-eminent lost tragedians, Pacuvius and Attius, were degree to the Homeric poems, that charm mere translators; and the same thing may which is so peculiarly their characteristic. be said of the two comic poets, Plautus and

“ Of old the whole of Greece was ruled Terence, whose writings are in our hands. by kings who claimed descent from the heroic That old domestic species of bantering co

This is still the case in the world of medy, which was known by the Oscian Homer., Very soon, however, after his name of fabula atellana, was not however time, the regal form of government was en. entirely laid aside. It still preserved its tirely laid aside, and every people which place as an amusement of society in the had power enough to be independent, erect- merry meetings of the nobles; who, in the

are now.




midst of all their foreign refinements, were borrowed, from these very sources, many willing, now and then, to revive in this way subjects of a highly poetical nature, and, at their recollections of the national sports and the same time, far from being unsusceptible diversions of their Italian ancestry. With of dramatic representation,-such as the the exception of this low species of buffoon combat of the Horatii, the firmness of Bru. writing, the Romans never possessed any tus, the internal conflict and changed spirit thing which deserved to be called a drama- of Coriolanus,-restoring in this way to tic literature of their own. With regard to poetry what was originally among the most their translations from the Greek tragedians, rightful of her possessions. To find a satisone principal cause of their stiffness and factory solution of this difficulty, we must general want of success was this, that the examine into the nature of these neglected mythology, which forms the essence of these themes. The patriotic feelings embodied compositions, was in fact foreign to the Ro- in these traditions, were too much a-kin to man people. It is very true that the gene- the feelings of every Roman audience, to ral outline of Roman mythology was origi- admit of being brought forward upon a nally copied from that of the Greeks, but stage. The story of Coriolanus may serve the individual parts of the two fabrics were as an example. How could a Roman poet altogether different and local. Iphigenia have dared to represent this haughty patri, and Orestes were always more or less for cian in the full strength of his disdain and eigners to a Roman audience; and the scorn of plebeians, at the time when the whole drama in which these and similar Gracchi were straining every nerve to set personages figured, never attained in Rome the plebeians free from the authority of the any more healthy state of existence, than nobles ? What effect must it have had, to that of an exotic in a green-house, which is introduce the banished Coriolanus upon a only preserved from death by the daily ap- Roman stage, reproaching, in his merited plication of artificial heat and unsatisfying indignation, with bitter words and dear. labour. The names of the individual tra- bought mockery, the jealous levity of his gedies, which were supposed to be the best countrymenmat a time when the noblest of their kind in the time of Augustus, may and most free-spirited of the last Romans, suffice to shew us how narrow was the circle Sertorius, from his place of exile, among in which the Roman dramatists moved, and the unsubdued tribes of Spain and Lusitahow soon their tragic art has reached the ter- nia, meditated more complete revenge 2mination of its progress. The same thing gainst similar ingratitude, and was laying may easily be gathered from a consideration plans for the destruction of the old, and the of those orations in dramatic form which foundation of a second Rome? Or how are commonly ascribed to Seneca.- In like could a Roman audience have endured to manner the representation of the foreign see Coriolanus represented as approaching manners of Athens, which perpetually oc- Rome at the head of an hostile and victori. cupied the Roman comedy, must have ap- ous army, at the time when Sylla was in peared to Roman spectators at once cold reality at open war with his country; or and uninteresting. It is no difficult matter even at a somewhat later period, when the to perceive the reasons why the witchery of principal events of his history must have pantomime and dance soon supplanted at still been familiar and present to the recolRome

every other species of dramatic spec- lection of his countrymen ? Not in these tacle.

instances alone, but in the whole body of “ There is one of a still more serious na. the early traditions and history of Rome, ture, upon which I have not yet touched. the conflict between patricians and plebeians The Roman people had by degrees becoine occupied so pre-eminent a place, as to renaccustomed to take a barbarous delight in der Roman subjects incapable of theatrical the most wanton displays of human violence representation during the times of the reand brutal cruelty. Hundreds of lions and public. Much more does this apply to the elephants fought and bled before their eyes; age of Augustus and his successors, when, even Roman ladies could look on, and see indeed, Brutus and the ancient consular crowds of hireling gladiators wasting energy, heroes could not have failed to be the most valour, and life, on the guilty arena of a unwelcome of all personages. circus. It is but too evident, that they who find sufficient illustrations of these remarks could take pleasure in spectacles such as in the history of the modern drama. For, these, must very soon have lost all that ten- although Shakspeare has not hesitated to derness of inward feeling, and all that sym- represent the civil wars of York and Lanpathy for inward suffering, without which caster on the English stage, we must obnone can perceive the force and beauty of a serve, that before he did so, these wars had tragic drama.—Still, however, it may un- entirely terminated ; and the recurrence of questionably appear a strange thing, that, similar events could not easily have been since the Romans did make any attempts at foreseen by one living in the pacific times of the composition of tragedies, they should James. With regard to our German dranever have chosen their subjects from the ma, it is true that our tragic poets have ancient history or traditions of their coun- chosen many of these most interesting subtry ;-more particularly, when we consider jects from our civil tumults-particularly that the tragedians of modern times have from the thirty years war ; but even here VOL. III.


We may re on

the case is very different from what it would moral excellence or of political happiness. have been among the Romans. The Ger- We are well aware that the true and happy mans are indeed countrymen, but they are age of Roman greatness long preceded that not all subjects of the same state. And of Roman refinement and Roman authors; yet with us, the poets who handle such to. and I fear there is too much reason to suppics at much length, have a very difficult pose that, in the history of the modern natask to perform ; they have need of much tions, we may find many examples of the delicacy to avoid wounding or perhaps re- same kind. But even if we should not at viving the feelings of parties, and thus de- all take into our consideration these higher stroying the proper impression which their and more universal standards of the worth poetry should make.

and excelience of ages and nations, and al“ Such are the reasons why the Romans though we should entirely confine our athad no national tragedies; and why, in tention to literature and intellectual cultiva. general, they had no such thing as a theatre tion alone, we ought still, I imagine, to be of their own.”

very far from viewing the period of the midAfter running, in this manner, over

dle ages with the fashionable degree of self

satisfaction and contempt. the whole of the literature of classical

“ If we consider literature in its widest antiquity, he passes into the consider

sense, as the voice which gives expression ation of that of the Persians, the In- to human intellect-as the aggregate mass dians, and other ancient peoples,-the of symbols in which the spirit of an age or nature and character of which are to the character of a nation is shadowed forth, be gathered not from monuments, but then indeed a great and accomplished lifrom hints. The beautiful

terature is, without all doubt, the most va. the spirit of the old Indian philosophyluable possession of which any nation can

boast. But if we allow ourselves to narrow must be highly interesting to all read

the mcaning of the word literature so as to ers. It is the first intelligible view

make it suit the limits of our own prejudices, which has been given of that subject; and expect to find in all literatures the same indeed Schlegel appears to us to be the sort of excellencies, and the same sort of first worthy successor that Sir William forms, we are sinning against the spirit of Jones has hacł in his most favourite all philosophy, and manifesting our utter department of learning.

ignorance of all nature. Every where, in But by far the more full and inter- individuals as in species, in small things as esting part of the work is that which in great, the fulness of invention must pre

cede the refinements of art-legend must refers to the history of the middle ages --the rise and developement of the go before history, and poetry before criti

If the literature of any nation has different nations among which Europe had no such poetical antiquity before arrivis divided—the circumstances which ing at its period of regular and artificial dehave forwarded in some, and retarded velopement, we may be sure that this litera. or thrown back in others, the pro- ture can never attain to a national shape and gress of refinement, and the excel- character, or come to breathe the spirit of lence of literature. At the outset of originality and independence. The Greeks this part of his work, our author has possessed such a period of poetical wealth a good deal of rubbish to elear away.

in those ages (ages certainly not very re

markable for their refinement either in li. “ We often think of and represent to our- terature, properly so called, or in science) selves the middle age, as a blank in the his- which elapsed between the Trojan adventory of the human mind-an empty space

tures and the times of Solon and Pericles, between the refinement of antiquity and the and it is to this period that the literature of illumination of modern times.

Greece was mainly indebted for the variety, willing to believe that art and science had originality, and beauty of its unrivalled entirely perished, that their resurrection, af. productions. What that period was to ter a thousand years sleep, may appear some- Greece, the middle age was to modern Euthing more wonderful and sublime. Here, rope ; the fulness of creative fancy was the as in many others of our customary opin. distinguishing characteristic of them both. ions, we are at once false, narrow-sighted, The long and silent process of vegetation and unjust; we give up substance for gau- must precede the spring, and the spring diness, and sacrifice truth to effect. The must precede the maturity of the fruit. fact is, that the substantial part of the know. The youth of individuals has been often ledge and civilization of antiquity never called their spring-time of life ; I imagine was forgotten, and that for very many of we may speak so of whole nations with the the best and noblest productions of modern same propriety as of individuals. They al. genius, we are entirely obliged to the in- so have their seasons of unfolding intellect ventive spirit of the middle age. It is, up- and mental blossoming. The age of cruon the whole, extremely doubtful whether sades, chivalry, romance, and minstrelsy, those periods which are the most rich in li- was an intellectual spring among all the natcrature possess the greatest share either of tions of the west."


We are

« PreviousContinue »