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H frequently shifts the scene; and from campi and battles, transports us to more pleasing objects. Sometimes the solemnities of religion, sometimes the intrigues of love; at other times the adventures of a journey, or the incidents of pastoral life, relieve and entertain the reader. The work, at the same time, is artfully connected; and, in the midst of variety, there is perfect unity of plan.
Many characters enliven the poem; and these distinctly marked and well supported. Godfrey, the leader of the enterprise, is prudent, moderate, and brave; Tancred, amorous, generous, and gallant. Rinaldo, who is properly the hero of the poem, is passionate and reseptful, but full of zeal, honour and heroism. Solyman is high minded; Erminia tender; Armida, artfuland violent, and Clorinda, masculine. In drawing characters, Tasso is superior to Virgil, and yields to no poet but Homer,
He abounds in machinery. When celestial beings interpose, his machinery is noble. But devils, enchanters, and conjurors, act too great a part throughont his poem. In general, the marvellous is carried to extravagance. was too great an admirer of the romantic spirit of knigbt errantry.
In describing magnificent objects, his style is firin and majestic, In gay and pleasing description, it is soft and insinuating. Erminia's pastoral retreat in the seventh book, and the arts and beauty of Armida in the fourth book, are exquisitely beautiful. His battles are animated, and properly varied by incidents. It is rather by acjions, characters, and descriptions, that he inter'ests us, thạn by the sentimental part of his work:
The poet He is far inferior to Virgil in tenderness; and, when he aims at being sentimental and pathetic, he is apt to become artificial.
It has often been objected to Tasso, that he abounds in point and conceit; but this censure has been carried too far. For, in his general character, he is masculine and strong. The humour of decrying him, passed from the French critics to those of England. But their strictures are founded either in ignorance or prejudice. For the Jerusalem is, in my opinion, the third reg. ular epic poem in the world; and stands next to the Iliad and Æneid. In simplicity and fire, Tasso is inferior to Homer, in tenderness to Virgil ; in sublimity to Milton; but for fertility of invention, variety of incidents, expression of characters, richness of description, and beauty of style, no poet, except the three just named, can be compared to him.
THE LUSIAD OF CAMOENS. The Portuguese boast of Camoens, as the Italians do of Tasso.
The discovery of the East Indies by Vasco de Gama, an enterprise alike splendid and interesting, is the subject of the poem of Camoens. The adventures, distresses, and actions of Vasco and his countrymen, are well fancied and described; and the Lusiad is conducted on the epic plan. The incidents of the poem are magnificent; and, joined with some wildness and irregularity, there is displayed in it much poetic spirit, strong fancy, and bold description. In the poem, however, there is no attempt
toward painting characters. Vasco is the hero, and the only personage that makes any figure.
The machinery of the Lusiad is perfectly extravagant; being formed of an odd. mixture of Christian ideas and Pagan mythology. Pagan divivities appear to be the deities; and Christ and the Holy Virgin to be inferior agents. One great object, however, of the Postuguese expedition is to extend the empire of Christianity, and to extirpate Mahometanism. In this religious undertaking the chief protector of the Portuguese is Venus, and their great adversary is Bacchus. Jupiter is introduced, as foretelling the flownfall of Mahomet. Vasco during a Storm implores the aid of Christ and the Virgin ; and in return to this prayer Venus appears, and, discovering the storm to be the work of Bacchus, complains to Jupiter, and procures the winds to be calmed. All this is most preposterous; but, toward the end of his work, the poet offers an awkward apology for his mythology; making the goddess Thetes inform Vasco, that she and the otber heathen divinities are no more than names to describe the operations of Providence.
In the Lusiad, however, there is some fine machinery of a different kind. The appearance of the genius of the river Ganges, in a dream to Emanuel, king of Portugal, inviting him to discover his secret springs, and acquainting him that he was the monarch, destined to enjoy the treasures of the East, is a happy idea. But in the fifth canto, the poet displays his noblest conception of this sort, where Vasco recounts to the king of Melinda, all the wonders of bis voyage. He tells him, that when the fleet arrived at the Cape
of Good Hope, which had never been doubled before, by any navigator, there appeared to them suddenly a huge phantom, rising out of the sea in the midst of tempest and thunder, with a head that reached the clouds, and a countenance that Killed them with terror. This was the genius of that hitherto unknown ocean; and he menaced them in a voice of thunder for invading those unknown seas; foretelling the calamities that were to befal them if they should proceed; and then with a mighty noise disappeared. This is a very solemn and striking piece of machinery; and shows that Camoens was a poet of a bold and Lofty imagination
THE TELEMACHUS OF FENELON, It would be unpardonable in a review of epic poets to forget the amiable Fenelon. His work, though in prose, is a poem; and the plan in general is well contrived, having epic grandeur and inity of action. He employs the ancient mythology; and excels in application of it. There is great richness as well as beauty in his descriptions. To soft and calm scenes, his genius is inore peculiarly suited; such as the incidents of pastoral life, the pleasures of virtue, or a country flourishing in peace.
His first books are eminently excellent. The adventures of Calypso are the chief beauty of ’his work. Vivacity and interest join in the narsation. In the books which follow, there is less happiness in the execution, and an apparent lan.
guor. The author, in warlike adventures, iş most unfortunate.
Some critics have refused to rank this work among epic poems. Their objection arises from the minute details it exhibits of virtuous policy, and from the discourses of Mentor, which recur too frequently, and too much in the strain of common-place morality. To these peculiarities, however, the author was led by the design with which he wrote, that of forming a young prince to the cares and duties of a virtuous monarch.
Several epic poets have described a descent into hell; and in the prospects they have given us of the invisible world, we may observe the gradual refinemeot in the opinions of men, concerning a future state of rewards and punishments. Homer's descent of Ulysses into hell, is indistinct and dreary. The scene is in the country of the Cimmerians, wbich is always covered with clouds and darkness; and, when the spirits of the dead appear, we hardly know whether Ulysses is above or below ground. The ghosts too, even of the heroes, appear dissatisfied with their condition.
In Virgil, the descent into hell discovers great refinement, corresponding to the progress of philosophy. The objects are more distinct, grand, and awful. There is a fine description of the separate mansions of good and bad spirits. Fenelon's visit of Telemachus to the shades, iş still much more philosophical than Virgil's. He refines the ancient mythology by his knowledge of the true religion, and adorns it with that beautiful enthusiasm, for which he is so remarkable. His relation of the happiness of the just is an excellent description in the mystic strain.