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He touched very deeply the chord of curiosity in the human breast. What he told the Greeks appears a dream to us, but it was matter of fact and faith to them; and Greece appears to have forgot his faults in gratitude for his imparting what the multitude (at least) probably thought to be profound knowledge.
The history of Greek epic poetry from Hesiod down to the age of Alexander, thus supplies us only with fragments, and titles, and materials for conjecture. Its history after that period shall be the subject of a separate part of these Lectures. In the mean time, I shall revert to a general view of the poetical literature that preceded the Alexandrian school.
Mock-heroic Poetry.--The Greeks were fond of all sorts of parodies, and particularly of those on Homer.* An epic or tragic passage, happily and comically imitated, would set the Athenian theatre in a roar; and even such philosophers as Plato and Diogenes are said to have amused themselves with parodying Homer. It is absurd to consider parodies as a mark of contempt. They may be ill-natured, but they are not necessarily so. One may laugh very heartily at the journeyman conspirator in our own Tragedy for Warm Weather, addressing the conclave of master-tailors in the words of Othello, “my very worthy and approved good masters,” without the slightest disparagement to Shakspeare. The taste among the Greeks for parodies that could be enjoyed by the people at large in a theatre, marks their entire familiarity with their best poets; though perhaps it also indicates a shrewd and gay spirit, unlike the romantic feelings of an age of great epic poetry.
It would still, however, be more desirable to possess one authentic mock-heroic of the genuine Attic school, than a hundred works of the serious body of Cyclic poetry. The extant fragments of this burlesque kind of Greek humour are unhappily few and unsatisfactory. Only one of them amounts to an hundred lines, and most of them are exceedingly short. Among the short ones preserved by Athenæus, there is the scrap of an Homerically described contest between a barber and a potter about the wife of the former, whom the potter wished unjustly to carry away from him. The man of pots is called Pelides, in punning allusion to the Greek word for clay, and the barber also plays upon the similarity of the Greek term for a damsel and for his own vocation. The onls considerable fragment of this kind in Athenæus is Matron's description of an Athenian supper. It begins thus
“The suppers many and most sumptuous
Aristotle, in his Poetics, calls Hegemon the inventor of parodies. Polemo, Athenæus, and others, speak of Hipponax, a much older poet, (the witty satirist who was chased from Ephesus for making too free with its tyrants,) as the earliest parodist. Possibly Aristotle only meant that Hegemon was the first writer who brought parodies on the stage. † Fabricius, vol. i. p. 550. Ed. Harles, 1790.
l of course exclude the mock-heroic Battle of the Frogs and Mice, which is ascribed, as I have already mentioned, by the best judges, to the school of Alexandria.
Strode to the threshold to receive his guests,
To hasten or delay sweet supper time.” Didactic Poetry.—The Greeks abounded also in didactic poetry, From the accounts and relics of this body of their literature we may gather, that it comprehended religious, moral, and physiological instruction. Probably it for the most part united them; although we find works mentioned by Plato* which must have been didactic poems, of an expressly religious nature, namely, for the direction of sacrifices and purifications. These were evidently the compositions of priests; and whatever philosophy they contained must have been mystic. Indeed both the religion and early philosophy of Greece were deeply infected with mysticism. But still there are traces of very old and simple moral poetry in Greece, calculated to instruct the people in the plain and practical duties of life. Tradition assigns much of this Gnomic poetry to statesmen and philosophers; and. we cannot doubt of such public characters having delivered their precepts in verse, whatever we may think of the authenticity of verses ascribed to particular sages. Nor can we wonder that moral proverbs should have been put into verse, when infant science and law itself were tuned to numbers. For, ludicrous as it would be to us to hear of the Statutes at large being set to music, yet the laws of Charondas were publicly sung at the primitive banquets of the Athenians.
The chief of the Gnomic poets were Solon, Theognis, Phocylides, and Pythagoras. The largest extant Gnomic reliques are those ascribed to Theognis, which are obviously a farrago of moral sentences from many different writers, without connexion or consistency of parts. The supposed speaker of the sentiments even changes his existence, and on one occasion exclaims, “I am a beautiful mare,” without deigning to account for his metamorphosis into a quadruped. The greater part of the lines ascribed to Phocylides are also palpable fabrications, and the pious forger has even helped the old Pagan bard to speak like a good Christian about the resurrection. The golden verses of Pythagoras do honour to heathen morality, and may be believed to be classically old, though their having come from Pythagoras himself is at least apocryphal.
Empedocles of Agrigentum seems to have been the first poet of the language who gave its didactic poetry a magnificent and systematic form. He is, unhappily, among the lost writers: since even of his few fragments the whole are not authentic. But his name stands pre-eminent in the history of ancient philosophy and philosophical poetry. His great work on the Nature of things was the object of Cicero's admiration and of Lucretius's ardent, and probably imitative regard. “Carmina divini pectoris ejus (says Lucretius) Vociferantur et exponunt præclara reperta, Ut vix humanâ videatur sorte creatus.”
The numbers rolling from his breast divine Reveal such bold and bright discoveries That scarce he seems a soul of human birth.
* Plato de Rep. t. vi. p. 221.
Like many other wonderful proficients in early science, he acquired the reputation of a magician who could appease the winds and reanimate the dead. It is amusing to find antiquaries, of no very distant date, labouring to exculpate Empedocles from this heavy charge on his memory
In my next Lecture I shall finish this synopsis of the classes of
LINES WRITTEN IN SICKNESS.
FRAGMENT FROM MY POCKET-BOOK.
Upon the rude ungovernable waves,
'Midst rocks and quicksands, often toils and slaves.
So often and so safe-in vain he craves
Or, if remember'd, tend to aggravate
He cries:-the danger o'er he tempts his fate
W. NO II.
LETTERS ON A TOUR IN SWITZERLAND.
“ E'en here, where Alpine solitudes extend,
I sit me down, a pensive hour to spend.”—GOLDSMITH. Geneva is an irregular and dirty city, with lofty unsightly ranges of buildings; no handsome monuments of architecture or art: and only one pleasing promenade, called The Treille, on the walls of the town, where are the residences of the family of Saussure, and of some of the other principal families of Geneva. The “ blue rushing of the arrowy Rhone” is the only pleasing object within the walls of the city. Water probably never was of so lovely a hue, -except, as I hear, in the Bay of Naples. Its transparency renders every object at the bottom distinctly visible at a depth of twenty feet. As the waters of the lake precipitate themselves in a torrent through the bridges over the two branches of the Rhone, their colour is a deep ultra-marine, which sea or sky rarely or never equals. Our rooms at the inn (the best at Geneva, but one of the worst in Switzerland) projected on piles into the lake; and I used to hang out of my window in a sunny day, admiring the lovely expanse of the lake bathing the city and the green slopes of Savoy and the Pays de Vaud, watching the gainbols of the finny tribe, and the eddies and gurgling currents of the blue waters. Unluckily, just before my windows, in the middle of the lake, was a long building, a public wash-house, where several score of washerwomen were perpetually rubbing and soaping away their linen in the water of the lake, and beguiling their labours with Genevese gossip and Billingsgate. The cathedral is, in its exterior, a respectable and venerable church. Its interior has all the bald unornamented character of a Calvinistic meeting-house. Bare walls, without pictures or monuments; no altar-place; an oak desk and pulpit uncushioned and undraped-with the number and page of the psalms for the day indicated on a deal board; the nave and aisles filled with uncovered oak benches. Not a shred or remnant of the abominable splendours of Peter's vest is here left to offend the rigid optics of the followers of brother Jack. The high place of Calvinistic worship is not unworthy of the unsparing severity of its founder and its dogmas. It might at first appear curious, that that doctrine which builds itself the most exclusively upon unquestioning faith, and rejects the most contemptuously the lights of human reason, should exclude the most rigidly from its forms of worship every ceremonial calculated to impress the imagination, or to kindle devotional rapture. But if the Roinish church had been a simple and plain one, the Calvinistic worship would have been pompous and ceremonious. Opposition to an adversary was all that was considered—"reverse of wrong was taken to be right.”—I confess I think we Lutherans, or Calvinistic-Lutherans, to speak properly, order these matters much better. A cathedral and cathedral service (thanks, in part, to archbishop Laud) are very fine and inspiring things in England. There is a chastened pomp and grandeur in its sober and devout ceremonies, a dignity without gorgeousness, a poetry without theatrical display, an inspiring fervour and a subduing melancholy in the scene, which make religion imposing without being bombastic, and inviting without being meretricious. And surely, notwithstanding our vocal boys, our altars, our canons, and our anthems and our chaunts, we are as righteous enemies to plenary indulgence
and transubstantiation as our worthy friends at Geneva, with their black caps and gowns.
We drove to Ferney, or Ferney-Voltaire, as the road-posts call it, on a fine eminence, two leagues from Geneva. Voltaire's chateau is one of the prettiest little French chateaux on a small scale that I have seen, —with a stiff garden and avenues, with terraces, statues, and bosquets, à la Francaise, --commanding one of the noblest views of Mont Blanc, the lake, and the lower Alps. Voltaire addresses his favourite abode:
“O maison d’Aristippe! O jardins d'Epicure !
Ce qui souvent manque à mes vers,
Le merite de l'art soumise à la nature.” An unmerited compliment to his gardening, at the expense of his verses. Nature is certainly not the predominant charm of either, but his verses have more of it than his avenues. A slight effort of imagination would place Voltaire in one of them, with his court suit, sword, and ruffles, spouting one of his own scenes, or grinning and bowing gallantry to some French marchioness. His saloon and bed-room are in the state in which he left them. Over his bed hang portraits of Frederic of Prussia, the empress Catherine, Madame du Chatelet, and Le Kain the actor -the friends of the man of genius, presented by themselves. Voltaire himself, in his best youthful looks and full dress, is, of course, of the party. A variety of little portrait engravings, including Newton, Milton, Franklin, Washington, &c. &c. hang round the room. Beside the chateau is the small church built by Voltaire, with an inscription" Deo erexit Voltaire ;" his tomb is by the side of it; and our conductor showed us the little private door by which he used to enter the church.
From Geneva to Chamounix, by way of La Bonneville and Sallanche, is one of the most magnificent rides that Nature can present. The road follows back the course of the Arve, which rises in the glaciers at Chamounix. The valley is at first wide, smiling, and fertile; the Saleve mountain rising on the right, and the grand Voirons and pyramidal Mole mountain at some distance on the left. You pass from the Genevese territory into Savoy, about a league from Geneva. Very near this frontier Mons. Sismondi has a delightful little summer-residence, with a garden and pleasure-ground, very much in the English taste. We had the pleasure of visiting him here, and of enjoying a little of that interesting and eloquent conversation, which all who know him appreciate. The lot of a such a mind in such a situation appears truly enviable—with the world of history and philosophy for his daily study and investigation, and the blue lake, the green valleys of Savoy, and the eternal Mont Blanc for his familiar external objects. We stopped to dine at La Bonneville, a little dirty decayed Savoyard town, at the foot of the green Mole mountain, and surrounded by gigantic heights on all sides. The Arve pours its troubled torrent through a narrow glen of pasture, in which the town stands. The population are dirty and wretched, and the church, which is tumbling into ruins, is bedizened with more than the average quantum of ex voto offerings,
rude pictures and images, and laced and fowered figures of the Virgin and our Saviour. A crucifix, with a suspended effigy of our Saviour as large as life, stood by the church-door, with exact wooden representations of the crown of thorns, the pincers, the hyssop-sponge, and every VOL. III. No. 15.-1822.