Page images

Rhodope's, snows,” which I hope the

which I hope the poet did not intend, as it would be a trivial and puerile conceit. , The death of Orpheus is expressed with a beautiful brevity and abruptness, suitable to the nature of the ode :

Hark! Hæmus resounds with the Bacchanals cries,

Ah! see he. dies !
Yet even in death Eurydice he sung.

Instead of sung, Virgil says vocabat, which is more natural and tender ; and Virgil adds a very moving epithet, that he called miseram Eurydicen. I am sensible Pope never intended an exact translation of the passages of the Georgics here alleged : I only hint,' that, in' my humble judga ment, he has omitted some of the most striking incidents in the story. I have lately seen a manuscript öde, entitled, “On the Use and Abuse of Poetry;” in which Orpheus is considered in another and a higher light, according to ancient mythology, as the first legislator and civilizer of mankind. I shall here insert a 'stanza of it,' containing part of what relates to this subject.

[ocr errors][merged small]


Such was wise Orpheus' moral song,
The lonely cliffs and caves among :
From hollow oak, or mountain-den,

He drew the naked, gazing men ;
Or where in turf-built sheds, or rushy bowers,

They shiver'd in cold wintry showers,
Or sunk in heapy snows;
Then sudden, while his melting music stole

With powerful magic o'er each softening soul,
Society, and law, and' sacred order rose.


Father of peace and arts ! he first the city built;
No more the neighbour's blood was by his neighbour spilt;

He taught to till, and separate the lands;
He fix'd the roving youths in Hymen's myrtle bands;

Whence dear domestic life began,
And all the charities that soften'd man :
The babes that in their fathers' faces smil'd,
With lisping blandishments their rage beguild,
i And tender thoughts inspir’d,—&c,.

I am not permitted to transcribe any moro and therefore return to POPE again.


The beginning of the last stanza of the ode here examined, seems to be a repetition of the subject of the second, the power of music over the passions, which may, perhaps, be reckoned a blameable tautology; especially as these lines,

Music the fiercest grief can charm,
And Fate's severest rage

Music can soften pain to ease,
And make despair and madness please ;

are inferior, I am afraid, to the former on the same subjects, which contain beautiful and poetical personifications ;

Melancholy lifts her head,
Morpheus rouses from his bed,
Sloth unfolds her arms and wakes,

List’ning Envy drops her snakes ;
Intestine war no more our passions wage,
And giddy factions hear away their rage.

It is observable, that this Ode of Pope, and the Alexander's Feast of Dryden, conclude with an epigram of four lines; a species of wit as flagrantly unsuitable to the dignity, and as foreign to the nature, of the lyric, as it is of the epic It is to be regretted, that Mr. Handel has not set to music the former, as well as the latter, of these celebrated odes, in which he has displayed the combined powers of verse and voice, to a wonderful degree. No poem, indeed, affords so much various matter for a composer to work upon, as Dryden has here introduced and expressed all the greater passions, and as the transitions from one to the other are sudden and impetuous ; of which we feel the effects in the



pathetic description of the fall of Darius, that immediately succeeds the joyous praises of Bacchus. The symphony, and air particularly, that accompanies the four words, fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,” is strangely moving, * and consists of a few simple and touching notes, without any of


* The mention of this pathetic air, reminds me of a story of the celebrated Lully, who having been one day accused of never setting any thing to music, but the languid verses of Quinault, was immediately animated with the reproach, and, as it were, seized with a kind of enthusiasm ; he ran instantly to his harpsichord, and striking a few cords, sung in recitative these four lines in the Iphigenia of Racine, which are full of the strongest imagery, and are therefore much more difficult to express in music, than verses of mere sentiment,


those intricate variations, and affected divisions, into which, in compliance with a vicious and vulgar taste, this great master hath sometimes descended. Even this piece of Handel, so excellent on the whole, is not free from one or two blemishes of this sort, particularly in the air, « With ravished ears,” &c.

The moderns have, perhaps, practised no species of poetry with so little success, and with such indisputable inferiority to the ancients, as the ODE; which seems owing to the harshness


Un prêtre environné d'une foule cruelle
Portera sur ma fille une main criminelle,
Dechirera son sein, et d'un æil curieux.
Dans son cæur palpitant consultera les dieux.

One of the company has often declared, that they all thought themselves present at this dreadful spectacle, and that the notes with which Lully accompanied these words, erected the hair of their heads with horror.

The opinion of Boileau concerning music is remarkable; he asserts, Qu'on ne peut jamais faire un bon opera ; parceque la musique ne sauroit narrer; que les passions n'y peuvent etre peinte dans toute l'etenduë qu'elles demandent; que d'ailleurs elle ne sauroit souvent mettre en chant les expressions vraiment sublimes et courageuses.

« PreviousContinue »