« EdellinenJatka »
society. The characters which are delineated by the hand of Genius in early times, are those bold and original ones in which the features are distinctly marked, the lines clearly drawn, the peculiarities strongly brought out.
The images which are adopted are those which have first occurred to the creative mind in forming a world of fancy ; the similes employed, those which convey to the simple and unlettered mind the clearest or most vivid conception of the idea or erent intended to be illustrated. Valour, pride, resolution, tenderness, patriotism, are the mental qualities which are there portrayed in imaginary characters, and called forth by fictitious events : and it is this first and noblest delineation of mental qualities in a historical gallery which has rendered the Iliad immortal. The images and similes of Homer are drawn from a close observation of nature, but they are not Tery varied in their range : he paints every incident, every occurrence, every feature, but he is not much diversified in conception, and surprisingly identical in expression. His similes of a boar beset by hunters, of a lion prowling round a fold and repelled by the spear of the shepherd, of a panther leaping into a herd of cattle, of a mountain torrent bearing all before it in its furious descent, are represented in the same words wherever he has a close fight of one of his heroes with a multitude of enemies to recount, or the fell swoop of victorious onset to portray. So forcibly is the creative mind, in the first instance, fascinated by the variety and brilliancy of its conceptions, that it neglects and despises their subordinate details. It is careless of expression, because it is intent on ideas : it is niggardly in language, because it is prodigal of thought.
Homer's expressions or epithets are, in general, admirably chosen, and speak at once a graphic eye and an imaginative mind; but it is extraordinary how often they recur without any variation. It is the same with Ariosto : he is somewhat more varied in his expression, but even more identical in his details. Prodigal of invention, varied in imagination, unbounded in conception, in the incidents and great features of his story, he has very little diversity in its subordinate parts. He carries us over the whole earth, through the air, and to the moon : but giants, castles, knights, and errant damsels, occur at every step, with hardly any alteration. The perpetual jousts of the knights, charging with the lance and then drawing the sword, are exactly parallel to the endless throwing of the spear and leaping from the chariot in the Iliad.
No man can read the Æneid without seeing that it has been constructed, both in its general conception and chief incidents, on the poems of Homer; and yet so exquisite was the taste, so refined the sentiment, so tender the heart of VIRGIL, that he has produced upon the world the impression of a great original author, and his fame is second only to the immortal author of the Iliad. Dante worshipped him as a species of divinity ; he made him his guide through the infernal regions, to unfold the crimes of the wicked, and the intentions of the Deity in the distribution of future rewards and punishments. Throughout the Middle Ages he was regarded as a sort of necromancer, a mighty magician, to whom the past and the future were alike known, and whose power even the elements of nature were constrained to obey. The “Sortes Virgillianæ," so well known and so long practised in every country of Europe, arose from this belief. The imagery, mythology, and characters of his epic poem are drawn from the Iliad ; but in two particulars he is entirely original, and his genius has opened the two fountains from which the most prolific streams of beauty in modern poetry have flowed. He is the father of descriptive and amatory poetry. The passion of love, as we understand it, was unknown to Homer, as much as was the description of nature as a separate and substantive object. He has made the whole Iliad, indeed, turn upon the wrath of Achilles for the loss of Briseïs ; and he has painted, with inimitable tenderness and pathos, the conjugal attachment of Hector and Andromache ; but he had no conception of love as a passion, mingled with sentiment and independent of possession. The wrath of Achilles is the fury of an Eastern sultan whose harem has been violated: the parting of Hector and Andromache is the rending asunder of the domestic affections, the farewell from the family hearth, the breaking up
of the home circle. But the love of Dido for Æneas is the refined passion which is the soul of the romances and of half the poetry of modern times. It was the creature of the imagination, the offspring of the soul from its own conceptions, kindled only into life by an external object. It arose
from mental admiration ; it was inhaled more by the ear than the eye ; it was warmed at his recital of the sack of Troy, and the subsequent wanderings of its exiled hero over the melancholy main. It had no resemblance to the seducing voluptuousness of Ovid, any more than the elegant indecencies of Catullus. It resembled the passion of Desdemona for Othello, the devotion of Corinne to Oswald.
Homer painted with graphic fidelity and incomparable force, often with extraordinary beauty, the appearances of nature ; but it was as illustrations, or for the purpose of similitude only that he did so. It was on human events that his thoughts were fixed : it was the human heart, in all its various forms and changes, that he sought to depict. But Virgil was the high-priest of nature, and
he worshipped her with all a poet's fervour. He identifies himself with rural life ; he describes with devout enthusiasm its joys, its occupations, its hardships : the rocks, the woods, the streams, awaken his ardent admiration ; the animals and insects are the objects of his tender solicitude. When the Mantuan
-“Sæpe exiguus mus Sub terram posuit domos atque horrea fecit," he was inspired with the same spirit that afterwards animated Burns when he contemplated the daisy, Cowper when he sympathised with the hare. The descriptive poetry of modern times has owed much to his exquisite eye and sensitive heart. Thomson, in his Seasons, has expanded the theme in a kindred spirit, and with prodigal magnificence. Scott and Byron have brought that branch of the poetic art to the highest perfection, by blending it with the moral affections, with the picturesque imagery of the olden time, with the magic of Eastern or classical association. But none of our poets
, how great soever their genius, how varied their materials, have exceeded, if they have equalled, the exquisite beauty of his descriptions ; and the purest taste in observation, as the utmost beauty of expression, is still to be best attained by studying, night and day, the poems of Virgil.
Modern epic poetry arose in a different age, and was
- Oft a little mouse Beneath the earth its home hath made, And spread its stores.”
moulded by different circumstances. The mythology of antiquity was at an end, and with it bad perished the gay and varied worship which had so long amused or excited an imaginative people. The empire of the Cæsars, with its grandeur and its recollections, had sunk into the dust; the venerable letters, S. P. Q. R., no longer commanded the veneration save of the lettered part of mankind. A new faith, enjoining moral duties, had descended upon the earth : a holier spirit had come to pervade the breasts of the faithful. An unknown race of fierce barbarians had broken into the decaying provinces of the Roman empire, and swept away their government, their laws, their property, and their institutions. But the Christian faith had proved more powerful than the arms of the legions; it alone had survived amidst the general wreck of the civilised world.
Mingling with the ardent feelings and fierce energy of the barbarian victors, it sat
a blooming bride
By valour's arm'd and awful side." Incorporating itself with the very souls of the conquerors —descending on their heads with the waters of baptism, never leaving them till the moment of extreme unction—it moulded between these two extremes their whole character. A new principle superior to all earthly power was introduced
-a paramount authority established, to which even the arm of victorious conquest was compelled to submit—ruthless warriors were seen kneeling at the feet of unarmed pontiffs. The crown of the Cæsar's had more than once been lowered before the cross of the Head of the faithful.
From the intensity and universality of these religious emotions, and the circumstance of the Holy Land being in the hands of the Saracens, with whom Christendom had maintained so long, and at times so doubtful, a strugggle, a new passion had seized upon the people of modern Europe, to which no parallel is to be found in the previous or subsequent history of mankind. The desire to recover the Holy Sepulchre, and reopen it to the pilgrimages of the faithful, had come to inflame the minds of men with such vehemence, that nothing approaching to it had ever before occurred in the world. It had pervaded alike the great and the humble, the learned and the ignorant, the prince and the peasant.
It had torn up whole nations from Europe, and precipitated them on Asia. It had caused myriads of armed men to cross the Hellespont. In Asia Minor, on the theatre of the contest of the Greeks and Trojans, it had brought vast armies into collision, far outnumbering the hosts led by Hector and Agamemnon. It had brought them together in a holier cause, and from more elevated motives, than prompted the Greek confederates to range themselves under the King of Men. It had impelled Richard Ceur-de-Lion and Godfrey of Bouillon from Europe. It had roused Saladin and Solyman the Magnificent in Asia. Unlike other popular passions, it had continued through successive generations. It had survived for centuries, and declined at length less from want of ardour in the cause than from failure of the physical and material resources to maintain at 80 vast a distance so wasting a struggle, and supply the places of the multitudes of the faithful whose bones whitened the valley of the Danube or the sands of Asia.
But religious and devout emotions had not alone become all-powerful from the blending of the ardour of a spiritual faith with the fierce energy of northern conquests. The northern nations had brought with them from their woods two principles unknown to the most civilised nations of antiquity. Tacitus has recorded that a nation in Germany maintained its authority solely by the justice of its decisions; and that in all the tribes women were held in the highest respect, and frequently swayed the public councils on the most momentous occasions. It is in these two principles, the love of justice and respect for women, that the foundation was laid for the manners of chivalry, which form the grand characteristic and most ennobling feature of modern times. New elements were thence infused into the breast of the warriors, into the heart of women, into the songs of poetry. Chivalry had arisen with its dreams, its imaginations, its fantasy ; but, at the same time, with its elevation, its disinterestedness, its magnanimity. The songs of the Troubadours had been heard in southern Europe ; the courts of love had been held in Provence ; the exploits of Charlemagne and Richard had resounded throughout the world. The chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, who dedicated himself to the service of God and of his lady, was