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a less natural, but he was a far more elevated being, than either Achilles or Æneas. Knights-errant, who went about in quest of adventures, redressing wrongs, succouring damsels, combating giants, defying sorcerers, delivering captives -faithful amidst every temptation to their lady-love, true amidst every danger to the Pole-star of duty-formed the leading characters in a species of romance, which is less likely, in all probability, to be durable in fame than the Iliad or the Æneid; but which is so, in a great degree, from the circumstance that the characters it portrays had, from an extraordinary combination of events, been strung upon a higher key than is likely to be sympathised with by future generations of man.
Ariosto was the great original mind in this extravagant but yet noble style of poetry; he was the Homer of this romance of modern Europe. He possessed the same fruitful invention, the same diversified conception, the same inexhaustible fancy as the Grecian bard ; and in melody and occasional beauty of versification, he is often his superior. But he will bear no sort of comparison with Homer in knowledge of character or the delineation of the human heart. His heroes are almost all cast in one of two models, and bear one of two images and superscriptions. The Christian paladins are all gentle, true, devoted, magnanimous, unconquerable ; the Saracen soldans haughty, cruel, perfidious, irascible
, but desperately powerful in combat. No shades of difference and infinite diversity in character demonstrate, as in the Iliad, a profound knowledge and accurate observation of the human heart. No fierce and irascible Achilles disturbs the sympathy of the reader with the conquerors; no self-forgetting and country-devoted Hector enlists our sympathies on the side of the vanquished. His imagination, like the winged steed of Astolfo, flies away with his judgment; it bears him to the uttermost parts of the earth, to the palace of the syren Alcina, to the halls in the moon ; but it destroys all unity or identity of interest in the poem. The famous siege of Paris by the Saracens in the time of Charlemagne, which was so often expected during the Middle Ages that it at last came to be believed to have been real, was the main point of his story ; but he diverges from it so often, in search of adventures with par
ticular knights, that we wellnigh forget the principal object of the poem, and feel no absorbing interest in the issue of any particular events, or the exploits of any particular heroes. He had no great moral to unfold, or single interest to sustain, in his composition. His object was to amuse, not to instruct—to fascinate, not to improve. He is often as beautiful as Virgil in his descriptions, as lofty as Homer in his conceptions; but he as often equals Ovid in the questionable character of his adventures, or Catullus in the seducing warmth of his descriptions. There is no more amusing companion than the Orlando Furioso for the fireside ; but there is none less likely to produce the ardent devotion, the forgetfulness of self, which are necessary to create the beroes whom it is his object to portray.
That which Ariosto wants, Tasso has. The Jerusalem Delivered is, beyond all question, the epic poem of modern Europe. In it, as in the Iliad, unity of interest and of action is entirely preserved. It is one great struggle between Europe and Asia which is recorded ; it is for the attack and defence of one city that the forces of Christendom and of Mahometanism are arrayed. But the object of contention, the moral character of the struggle, is incomparably higher in the modern than the ancient poem. It is not “ another Helen who has fired another Troy;" it is no confederacy of valour, thirsting for the spoils of opulence, which is contending for victory. It is the pilgrim, not the host, whose wrongs have now roused Europe into action ; it is not to ravish beauty from its seducer, but the Holy Sepulchre from its profaners, that Christendom has risen in arms. The characters of the chiefs correspond to the superior sanctity of their cause, and indicate the mighty step in advance which the human mind, under the influence of Christianity and civilisation, had made since the days of Homer. In Godfrey of Bouillon we perceive enthusiasm guided by wisdom, difficulties overcome by resolution, self subdued by devotion. Rinaldo, like Achilles, is led astray by beauty, and the issue of the war is prolonged from the want of his resistless arm ; but the difference between his passion for Armida, and the Grecian hero's wrath for the loss of Briseïs, marks the influence of the refined gallantry of modern times. The exquisite episode of the flight of Erminia, the matchless
pathos of the death of Clorinda, can be compared to nothing either in the Iliad or Æneid; they belong to the age of chivalry, and are the efflorescence of that strange but lofty aspiration of the human mind. Above all, there is a moral grandeur in the poem, a continued unity of interest, owing to a sustained elevation of purpose—a forgetfulness of self in the great cause of rescuing the Holy Sepulchre, which throws an air of sanctity around its beauties, and renders it the worthy epic of Europe in its noblest aspect.
Notwithstanding these inimitable beauties, the Jerusalem Delivered never has made, and never will make, the impression on the world which the Iliad has done. The reason is, that it is not equally drawn from nature. The characters are taken from romantic conception, not real life. The chiefs who assemble in council with Godfrey, the knights who strive before Jerusalem with Tancred, have little resemblance either to the greyhaired senators who direct human councils, or the youthful warriors who head actual armies. They are poetical abstractions, not living men. We read their speeches with interest, we contemplate their actions with admiration ; but it never occurs to us that we have seen such characters, or that the imagination of the poet has conceived anything resembling the occurrences of real life. The whole is a fairy dream-charming, interesting, delightful, but still a dream. It bears the same resemblance to reality which the brilliant gossamer of a snow-clad forest, glittering in the morning sun, does to the boughs when clothed with the riches and varied by the hues of summer. It is the perfection of our conceptions of chivalry, mingled with the picturesque machinery of antiquity and romantic imagery of the East, told with the exquisite beauty European versification. But it is a poetical conception only, not a delineation of real life. In Homer, again, the marvellous power of the poet consists in his deep insight into human character, his perfect knowledge of the human heart, and his inimitable fidelity of drawing every object, animate or inanimate. Aristotle said that he excelled all poets that ever appeared in “ drayvoice.” Aristotle was right; no one can study the Iliad without feeling the justice of the observation. It is the penetration, the piercing insight of the Greek bard in a manner through the breast, which
Other poets may
constitute his passport to immortality. equal him in variety of imagination ; some may excel bim in melody of versification or beauty of language : none will probably ever approach him in delineation of character, or clothing abstract conceptions in the flesh and blood of real life.
Considered with reference to unity of action and identity of interest, the Jerusalem Delivered, equal to the Iliad, is much superior to the Æneid. Virgil appears, in his admiration of Homer, to have aimed at uniting in his poem the beauties both of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and thence in a great measure his failure to rival either. While the first six books, which contain the wanderings of the Trojan exile and the dismal recital of the sack of Troy, are an evident imitation of the Odyssey, the last six, containing the strife in Italy, the efforts of the Trojans to gain a footing on the Ausonian shores, and the concluding single combat of Turnus and Æneas, are as evidently framed upon the model of the Iliad. But it is impossible in this manner to tack together two separate poems, and form a homogeneous whole from their junction. Patchwork appears in spite of all the genius and taste of Virgil. Epic poetry, indeed, is not confined within the narrow limits of the Grecian drama ; the poem may embrace a longer period than it requires to read it. But in epic poetry, as in all the fine arts, one unity is indispensable—the unity of interest or emotion. Unity of time and place is not to be disregarded to any great degree without manifest danger. The whole period embraced in the Iliad is only forty-eight days, and the interest of the piece—that which elapses from Hector lighting his fires before the Greek intrenchments till his death in front of the Scæan Gate—is only thirty-six hours. Tasso has the same unity of time, place, and interest in his poems: the scene is always around Jerusalem ; the time not many weeks; the main object, the centre of the whole action, the capture of the city. The episodes of Erminia's flight and Årmida's island are felt to be episodes only: they vary the narrative without distracting the interest. But in Virgil the interest is various and complicated, the scene continually shifting, the episodes usurp the place of the main story. At one time we are fascinated by the awful recital of the murder of Priam, the burning of Troy, and the flight of Æneas : at another, we weep with the sorrows of Dido at Carthage, and the exquisite pathos of her heart-rending lamentations : at a third, we are charmed by the descent into the infernal regions on the shores of Avernus—we sympathise with the patriotic effort of Turnus and the people of Ausonia to expel the invaders from the Italian shores. Though Virgil did not intend it, he has twice transferred the reader's sympathy from the hero of his story : once by his inimitable description of the mourning and death of Dido from the departure and perfidy of Æneas, and again, from the burst of patriotic feeling which he has represented as animating the Etruscan tribes at the violent intrusion of the Trojan invaders.
Virgil's heroes will bear no sort of comparison with those either of the Iliad or the Jerusalem Delivered. peas himself is a vain conceited man, proud of his piety and his wanderings, and destroying our admiration for either by the ostentation with which he brings them forward on all occasions. The well-known line,
"Sum pius Æneas, fama super æthere notus,".
occurs too frequently to render it possible to take any interest in such a self-applauding character. Compare this with the patriotic devotion, the heroic courage, the domestic tenderness, the oblivion of self in Hector, in the Iliad, and it will at once appear how far deeper the insight into the human heart was in the Grecian than the Roman poet. One striking instance will at once illustrate this. When Hector parts from Andromache at the Scæan Gate, and after he has taken his infant son from her arms, he prays to Jupiter that he may become so celebrated that the people in seeing himself pass, may say only—“He far exceeds his father.” What a sentiment on the part of a hero himself, and at the moment the bulwark and sole stay of Troy ! But what does Virgil make Æneas say in similar circumstances ?-“ Learn, boy, virtue and true labour from ME, fortune from others."
What a difference between the thought in the two poets, and the interest which their words excite in the breast of the reader!
* "I am the pious Æneas, known by fame above the skies.”