Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ner: and in India, Vishnu himself was the rudder of the ship, that conveyed the distressed people to land. Similar tales exist among all the ancient nations in this quarter of the globe, adapted to the traditions and circumstances of each : and convincing as they are, that the deluge of which they speak was general throughout Alia, they help us at once out of the strait, in which we unnecessarily confine ourselves, when we take every circumstance of a familyhistory exclusively for a history of the world, and thus deprive the. history itself of its well-founded credibility.

• The genealogical table of this race afier the deluge proceeds in a funilar manner : it is confined within the limits of the country and its topography, not stretching beyond them into Hindoftan, China, Eastern Tartary, &c. The three chief branches of those who were saved are evidently the people on either side the western Añatic mountains, including tbe eastern coast of Europe, and ibe northern of Africa, as far as they were known to the collector of the traditions. He traces them as well as he can, and endeavours to connect them with his genealogical table ; but does not give us a general map of the world, or a genealogy of all nations. The pains that have been taken to make all the people of the earth, according to this genealogy, descendants of the Hebrews, and half-brothers of the Jew's, are contradictory, not only to chronology and universal history, but to the true point of view of the narrative itself, the credibility of which has been nearly destroyed by its being thus overstretched. On all the primitive mountains of the world, nations, languages, and kingdoms, were formed, after the deluge, without waiting for envoys from a Chaldean family: and in the cast of Ala, man's primitive and most populous feat, we still evidently find the moit ancient customs and languages, of which ihis western race of a later people knew nothing, and could not be otherwise than ignorant. It would not be much less impertinent to inquire, whether the Chinese descended from Cain or Abel, that is from a tribe of troglodytes, husbandmen, or thepherds, than to what beam of Noah's ark the American bradypus hung: but on this subject I thall not here enlarge ; and even the investigation of points so important to our history as the abridgement of the duration of man's life, and the general deluge itfelf, I must defer to another place. Suffice it, that the firm central point of the largest quarter of the globe, the primitive mountains of Asia, prepared the first abode for the human race, and has maintained itself through every revolution of the earth. Not first raised naked from the bottom of the sea by the deluge, but, as both natural history and the most ancient traditions teftify, the original country of man, it was the first grand theatre of nations, the instructive inspection of which we fhall now pursue.' P. 286.

With the clue just laid down. M. Herder examines the an. cient and modern races of men, beginning fro.n China, Japan,

and Tartary, including Hindestan and Thibet. Some late pub. lications would have essentially afsifted him; but of the ma- , terials in his hands he has made the best use, and illuminated the obscure recesses of ancient history by the torches of philofophy and good sense. We belitate not to say, that more light is thrown on ancient history in a few pages of the present work than in many very bulky volumes. He proceeds with the same spirit to examine the traces of the early history of Babylon, Allyria, and Chaldæa; of the Niedes, Perfians, and Hebrews; of Pienicia, Carthage, and Egypt. It is impoilble to follow him in this detail, but we shall select what he has observed of the ancient Egyptians, rather because Egypt has of late engaged much of our attention, than that it deserves peculiar preference. Indeed his observations on the early kingdoms of Aflyria and the political situation of the Hebrews, were not the remarks too extensive, are apparently more valuable and original.

• In my opinion the natural history of the country is sufficient to show, that the Egyptians are no primitive indigenous nation : for not only ancient tradition, but every rational geogony expressly days, that Upper Egypt was the earlier peopled, and that the lower cou'ry was in reality gained from the nud of the Nile by the ikilful industry of man. Ancient Egypt, therefore, was on the mountains of the Thebaid; where too was the residence of its ancient kings ; for had the land been peopled by the way of Suez, it is inconceivable why the first kings of Egypt Mould have chosen the barren Thebaid for their abode. If, on the other hand, we follow the population of Egypt, as it lies before our eyes, in it we tall likewise find the cause, why its inhabitants became such a singular and distinguished people, even from their cultivation. They urere no amiable Circassians, but, in ali probability, a people of the south of Asia, who came westwards across the Red Sea, or perhaps farther off, and gradually spread from Ethiopia over Upper Egypt. The land here being bounded as it were by the inundations and marthes of the Nile, is it to be wondired, that they began to construct their habitations as troglodytes in the rocks, and afterwards gradually gained the whole of Egypt by their industry, improving themselves as they improved the land? The account Diodorus gives of their futhern descent, though internvingled with various tables of his Ethiopia, is not oniy probable in the highest degree, but the fole key to an explanation of this people, and its singular agreement wiih fone distant nations in the east of Asia.

As I could pursue this hypothesis here but very imperfectly, it must be deferred to another place, availing myself only of fome of is evident consequences, with regard to the figure made by this people in the history of mankind. The Egyptians were a quiet, induitrious, u cil. meaning people, as their poliçical conftitution, their

arts, and their religion, collectively demonstrate. No temple, no column of Egypt, has a gay, airy, Grecian appearance: of this design of art they had no idea, it never was their aim. The muinmies show that the figure of the Egyptians was by no means beauciful; and as the human form appeared to them, such would necessarily be their imitations of it. Wrapped up in their own land, as in their own religion and constitution, they had an averfion to foreigners; and as, conformably to their character, fidelity and precision were their principal objects in the imitative arts; as their skill was altogether mechanical, and indeed in its application to religious purpoles was confined to a particular tribe, while at the same time it turned chiefly on religious conceptions; no deviations toward ideal beauty, which without a natural prototype is a mere phantom, were in the least to be expected in this country. In recompense they turned their attention so much the more to folidity, durability, and gigantic magnitude ; or to finishing with the utmoit industry of art. In that rocky land, their ideas of temples were taken from vast caverns: hence in their architecture they were fond of majestic iminensity. Their mummies gave the hint of their statues : whence their legs were naturally joined, and their arms closed to the body; a posture of itself tending to durability. To support cavities and separate tombs, pillars were formed ; and as the Egyptians derived their architecture from the vaults of rocks, and understood not our mode of erecting arches, the pillar, frequently gigantic, was indispensable. The deferts, by which they were surrounded, the regions of the dead, which from religious notions floated in their minds, also moulded their statues to mummies, wherein not action, but eternal rest, was the character, on which their art fixed.' P. 342.

When M. Herder treats of Greece, the prospec is more pleafing. M. Herder derives the inhabitants from the north-east of Alia, without glancing at an Egyptian origin, an idle fable of modern theorists, drawn from one or two equivocal expressions in ancient claflics. The language, the mythology, and the poetry of Greece, display equally the author's learning and taste : indeed this part of the work will prove to the classical scholar peculiarly attractive. The arts of the Greeks lie desives from their religion adınitting representations of the deities, and of course obliging the artists to seek for something superior to nature, the fine ideal ; adding, probably with strict cruth, that "no nation, to which representations of the gods were prohibited, ever made any great advancement in the initative arts. Their moral and political accomplishments, with their scientific acquisitions, are noticed in a masterly comprehensive manner, and the subject concludes with a history of the revolutions of Greece.

Rome next engages M, Herder's attention, and he developes,

with philosophical accuracy, the constitution of that state, from the disposition as well as the manners of the Romans. Rome was a military state, and all its inititutions were of this kind; hence may be dated its origin, its decline and fall. This indeed is but an outline ; yet of a history so extensive in a political, military, and literary view, an outline only can be admitted.

From an historical survey of the nations of this glove, we fee vice and wickedness triumph, while virtue and integrity link into distress. Where then is the superintending Providence, whose wisdom we admire and whose benevolence we adore, at every step we take in the natural world? This is the next subject of inquiry, before M. Herder proceeds to the history of more modern nations. In the solution of the difficulty he is not however very satisfactory; or at least, to have ensured conviction, the principle on which it rests should have been more perfpicuously developed. The exisience of the baleful pafsions and their triumphs are the storins and hurricanes, the hemlock and the serpents of the moral world, designed perhaps to exercisé our faith, our patience, and attention, working filently, though sometimes severely, to a happy conclufion. Where philosophy and diligent inquiry have extended our field of view, we very clearly perceive the truth of this posicion, so that we ought to rest with confidence on the same tendency of those powers whose immediate influence we do not so clearly dife cern. M. Herder thinks that the destructive powers'must ultimately yield to the inaintaining powers,' and be at last subfervient to the general good, while, after various ebbs and flows, civilisation and happiness, which are wholly founded on reason and justice, will be established. This is the foundation of our author's solution, which he has expanded in many different ways, and established, on the whole, with some fuccess. Our explanation differs in this, that virtue and relia gion, though they suffer in the contest, are really promoted in the struggle.

(To be continued.)

The Georgies of Virgil translated: by William Sotheby, Esq.

F.R.S. &c. 8vo. 75. Boards. Wright, 1800.

IN consequence of the decision of Aristotle, many a severe and servile critic of posterior eras has denied the rank and praise of poetry to fubjecis of a didactic nature. Many will perhaps argue, that Aristotle was as much in the right as Plutarch, and that Castelvetro was in the wrong. The stagirite pretended not to lay down rules à priori; but, from the best examples before him, concentratcd a code of precepts

. to corre&t and guide the taste of his own and future ages. His judgement respecting the ode was formed from the sublime numbers of Pindar, and his ideas of the epopea from the nervous harmony of Horner ; but, in the epoch of Aristotle, there was no didactic poet who could, in any measure, be put in competition with these great founders of lyric and heroic composition. Heliod he found a mere chronologist; and Theocritus, though possessed of much suavity of tyle, too defective in spirit and energy for a man inspired by the muses. The poem of Empedocles « On the Nature of Things, and the Four Elements,' is totally lost to modern times, but appears to be the only one that had a chance of pleading in favour of didactic subjects at the period in which Aristotle wrote. The candid and polite Lucretius has paid a compliment to Empedocles for this philosophic effufion, which will endure as long as literature is cultivated in any country; and the Grecian critic himself has condescended to denominate him 'Ounpixos, deivos Toep:opapir, MetaPopixos ; · Homeric, energetic, metaphoric. But, nevertheless, he does not appear to have possessed these qualifications in a sufficient degree to have entitled him to the appellation of a poet in the judgement of Aristotle ; and, after this attempt of Empedocles, he deemed it impoffible for didactic subjects of any kind to be proper vehicles for the harmony of the muses, and therefore excluded, or at least teftified a wish to exclude, all such disquisitions from the catalogue of poems.

But what Greece could not effect, Rome amply accomplished. The sweet, sublime, and pathetic numbers of Lucretius and Virgil, both labourers in the didactic vineyard, prove evidently that Aristotle was in an error, and leave no room to doubt that, if his poetics had been compiled in a period posterior to the time of these imunortal bards, he would as readily have admitted the idea of didactic as of heroic or lyric poetry. The laws of Aristotle, therefore, which were drawn, in every inslance, from the actual existence of archetypes before him, and which ex, tended no farther than thole archetypes would justify, were perfect in his own æra, but have been defective for many ages lince. He however is amply justined, and entitled to the thanks of the literary world, for having done all that was, pollible at the time in which he wrote: but the apology will not attach to critics of succeeding ages; who, with the force of demonstration before them, itili continue blind to its irradiation, and flavishly feltered by the obsolete opinions of their great master. The fact is, that every true poet is a Midas; and though, unluckily, he cannot convert every thing he couches isito goid, he can convert it into poetry. A dry ca.

« AnteriorContinuar »