« PreviousContinue »
But in the days of the witty Suckling there were good poets, and no alderman a verse-maker. Indeed, Fabian was unique. There never was another! He died in. 1511, and was buried in St. Michael's church, in Cornhill. A rhymed epitaph, which was inscribed on his tomb, is bad enough to have been written by himself. Old Fuller, in his " Worthies," observes, that none have worse poetry than poets on their monuments; but whatever he may have deseiTed as an alderman and dinner-giver, Robert Fabian did not merit a better epitaph as a poet.
LXIII. THE PUNISHMENT OF TANTALUS.
Walter Scott has remarked that readers do not relish that the incidents of a tale familiar to them should be altered; and that "this process of feeling is so natural, that it may be observed even in children, who cannot endure that a nursery story should be repeated to them differently from the manner in which it was first told." (Advertisement to the uniform edition of the Waverley Novels.) Yet, in spite of this law, laid down by the most eminent story-teller that the world has hitherto seen, we cannot resist the temptation of informing some of our less learned readers, that there are two totally different accounts of the punishment of Tantalus. Every one knows the ordinary one,.— A bough loaded with fruit hangs over the head of the guilty king, and a pool of water rises up to his chin; but when he attempts to taste either, it vanishes.
The other mythus, which is quite as authentic, informs us that a stone is suspended over the head of Tantalus, and that his punishment consists in the everlasting fear that it will fall upon him. Homer, indeed, tells the more common story (Odyssey, book xi.) ; but the passage was rejected as spurious by Aristarchus, as we learn from the scholiast on Pindar. The crime of forging verses in this part of the Odyssey, has been fixed upon Onomacritus; and it appears from Herodotus, (book vii. 6,) that a person of that name was banished by Hipparchus for interpolating the oracles of Musseus. Pausanias admitted the genuineness of these verses, but his authority is certainly small in a question of this kind, as he believed in the authenticity of the Homeric hymns; and, on the other hand, the poets next to Homer in time, who naturally adopted his mythology, tell the other tale. Thus Pindar says, (Olymp. i. 91,) "The father suspended over him a mighty stone, which, always desiring to cast from his head, he wanders from joy." *
Archilochus, Alcseus, and Alcman, all sing the same song. Euripides gives the punishment and its cause. "Tantalus the blest, sprung, as they say, from Jove, fearing the stone above his head floats in the air, and suffers this punishment, as they tell, because, being but a man, and admitted to the table of the gods, he had an unbridled tongue, a most disgraceful fault." +
* n«mg vmtMtwmMt nm^ri^o v marry Xrfov, rov uiu (livoiiuv KtpoXmt fimXuv, iv^offwas aXarttt. And again in Isthm. viii. 21. E-ru^n ,rov view MQmXmt ys TvavmXov XtPov trowm Tis vrfv^n appi has*
t 'O you fuuuuut
Eurip. Orest. iv. 10.
Again, when Phryne the courtesan was accused of impiety, her prosecutor Euthias discussed at some length the punishment of the impious in the Shades below. On which, Hyperides, her counsel, replied, "Is it her fault, if a stone hangs over the head of Tantalus t" Lucretius, too, says, (iii. 993,)
Nec miser impendens magnum timet aere saxum,
Accedit etiam mors, quse quasi saxum Tantalo, semper impendet.
De Fin. i. 18.
Quam vim mali significantes poetse, impendere apud inferos saxum Tantalo faciunt. Tu.sc. Disp. vi. 16.
Yet in another part of the last-quoted work, he refers to the common mythus: Mento summam aquam attingens enectus Tantalus siti.—i. 5.
The elegant critic from whom we have borrowed these details, expresses his fear lest their length as given by him might fatigue his readers: we have therefore abridged them considerably, and refer those who may wish to slake then" thirst with a more copious draught, to Porson's note on the 5th line of the Orestes.
LXIV. A CHARM. Worse poetry has been written than the following, which is the production of Agnes Sampson, who was burnt for a witch in Scotland in the year 1590. It is entitled, "A prayer and incantation for hailling of seik folkis," and would, no doubt, put a stop to many a nervous fit.
All kindis of illis that ever may be.
I conjure ye, baith mair and less,
LXV. WELSH LITERATURE.
Among the early specimens of Welsh Literature may be reckoned " A Dictionary in Englyshe and Welshe," by Wyllyam Salesbury, London, 1547, 4to. A copy is in the British Museum. It appears to have been reprinted, without date, by Whitchurch; and again, in 1551, by Robert Crowley. Strype, in his "Annals," calls him William Salisbury of Llanroast, gent.; and says he was joined with John Waley the printer, in a patent for seven years, to print the Bible in Welsh (Annals, vol, i. p. 434.). His "Introduction, teaching how to pronounce the letters in the Brytishe tongue," was twice printed; in 1550 by Robert Crowley, and in 1567 by Henry Denham. In the latter year he published the New Testament in Welsh, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.
LXVI. TONGUE FOR TONGUE.
During the war between England and Spain, in the time of Queen Elizabeth, Commissioners on both sides were appointed to treat of peace. The Spanish Commissioners proposed that the negotiations should be carried on in the French tongue, observing sarcastically, that the gentlemen of England could not be ignorant of the language of their fellow-subjects, their Queen being Queen of France as well as England. "Nay, in faith, gentlemen," replied Dr. Dale, one of the English Commissioners, "the French is too vulgar for a business of this importance; we will therefore, if you please, rather treat in Hebrew, the language of Jerusalem, of which your master calls himself King, and in which you must of course be as well skilled as we are in French."
SWEARING OF FRENCH POSTILIONS IN 1608.
All our readers who have travelled in France, must retain a lively recollection of the obscene, sonorous, and constant swearing of the postilions there; and, we doubt not, many will remember the subterfuge of the poor lady abbess in Tristram Shandy, who, wanting to make her mules go with "the magical words," thought she could avoid the sin by pronouncing one syllable of them herself, and getting her companion, the lay sister, to pronounce the other. It should appear, from Master Thomas Coryat, that these public functionaries were much more decent in their swearing in 1608, and yet he complains of them! Surely, Thomas was too squeamish. He says, "The French guides, otherwise called the postilians, have one most diabolicall custome in their travelling upon the wayes. Diabolical it may well be called: for whensoever their horses doe a little anger them, they will say in