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N° 89. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 1753.
Præcipua tamen ejus in commovendâ miseratione virtus, ut quidam in hac eum parte omnibus ejusdem operis autoribus praferant. QUINTILIAN.
His great excellence was in moving compassion, with respect to which many give him the first place of all the writers of that kind.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
It is usual for scholars to lament, with indiscriminating regret, the devastations committed on ancient libraries, by accident and time, by superstition, ignorance, and gothicism; but the loss is very far from being in all cases equally irreparable, as the want of some kinds of books may be much more easily supplied than that of others. By the interruption that sometimes happens in the succession of philosophical opinions, the mind is emancipated from traditionary systems, recovers its native elasticity which had been benumbed by custom, begins to examine with freedom and fresh vigour, and to follow truth instead of authority. The loss of writings, therefore, in which reasoning is concerned, is not, perhaps, so great an evil to mankind, as of those which describe characters and facts.
To be deprived of the last books of Livy, of the satires of Archilochus, and the comedies of Menander, is a greater misfortune to the republic of
literature, than if the logic and the physics of Aristotle had never descended to posterity.
Two of your predecessors, Mr. Adventurer, of great judgment and genius, very justly thought that they should adorn their lucubrations by publishing, one of them a fragment of Sappho, and the other an old Grecian hymn to the Goddess Health: and, indeed, I conceive it to be a very important use of your paper, to bring into common light those beautiful remains of ancient art, which by their present situation are deprived of that universal admiration they so justly deserve, and are only the secret enjoyment of a few curious readers. In imitation, therefore, of the examples I have just mentioned, I shall send you, for the instruction and entertainment of your readers, a fragment of Simonides and of Menander.
Simonides was celebrated by the ancients for the sweetness, correctness, and purity of his style, and his irresistible skill in moving the passions. It is a sufficient panegyric that Plato often mentions him with approbation. Dionysius places him among those polished writers, who excel, in a smooth volubility, and flow on, like plenteous and perennial rivers, in a course of even and uninterrupted harmony.
It is to this excellent critic that we are indebted for the preservation of the following passage, the tenderness and elegance of which scarcely need be pointed out to those who have taste and sensibility. Danaë, being by her merciless father enclosed in a chest and thrown into the sea with her child, the poet proceeds thus far to relate her distress:
Οτε λαρνακι ἐν δαιδαλέα ανεμος
When the raging wind began to roar, and the waves to beat so violently on the chest as to threaten to overset it, she threw her arm fondly around Perseus, and said, the tears trickling down her cheeks, ‘Ο my son, what sorrows do I undergo! But thou art wrapt in a deep slumber; thou sleepest soundly like a sucking child, in this joyless habitation, in this dark and dreadful night, lighted only by the glimmerings of the moon! Covered with thy purple mantle, thou regardest not the waves that dash around thee, nor the whistling of the winds. Ο thou beauteous babe! If thou wert sensible of this calamity, thou wouldest bend thy tender ears to my complaints. Sleep on, I beseech thee, O my child! Sleep with him, O ye billows! and sleep likewise my distress!'
Those who would form a full idea of the delicacy of the Greek, should attentively consider the following happy imitation of it, which I have reason to believe, is not so extensively known or so warmly admired as it deserves; and which, indeed, far excels the original.
The poet, having pathetically painted a great princess taking leave of an affectionate husband on his death-bed, and endeavouring afterwards to com
fort her inconsolable family, adds the following particular.
His conatibus occupata, ocellos
Quà nutrix placido sinû fovebat:
Dormi, parvule! nec mali dolores
The contrast betwixt the insensibility of the infant and the agony of the mother; her observing that the child is unmoved with what was most likely to affect him, the sorrows of his little brothers, the many mournful countenances, and the dismal silence that reigned throughout the court; the circumstances of the father playing with the child on his knees or in his arms, and teaching him to speak; are such delicate master-strokes of nature and parental tenderness, as shew the author is intimately acquainted with the human heart, and with those little touches of passion that are best calculated to move it. The affectionate wish of dormi, parvule,' is plainly imitated from the fragment of Simonides; but the sudden exclamation that follows, when, O when, shall I sleep like this infant!' is entirely the property of the author, and worthy of, though not excelled by, any of the ancients. It is making the most artful and the
most striking use of the slumber of the child, to aggravate and heighten by comparison, the restlessness of the mother's sorrow; it is the finest and strongest way of saying, my grief will never cease,' that has ever been used. I think it not exaggeration to affirm, that in this little poem are united the pathetic of Euripides and the elegance of Catullus. It affords a judicious example of the manner in which the ancients ought to be imitated; not by using their expressions and epithets, which is the common method, but by catching a portion of their spirit, and adapting their images and ways of thinking to new subjects. The generality of those who have proposed Catullus for their pattern, even the best of the modern Latin poets of Italy seem to think they have accomplished their design, by introducing many florid diminutives, such as tenellula, and columbula :' but there is a purity and severity of style, a temperate and austere manner in Catullus, which nearly resembles that of his contemporary Lucretius, and is happily copied by the author of the poem which has produced these reflections. Whenever, therefore, we sit down to compose, we should ask ourselves in the words of Longinus a little altered, How would Homer or Plato, Demosthenes or Thucydides, have expressed themselves on this occasion; allowing for the alteration of our customs, and the different idioms of our respective languages?' This would be following the ancients, without tamely treading in their footsteps; this would be making the same glorious use of them that Racine has done of Euripides in his Phædra and Iphigenia, and that Milton has done of the Prometheus of Eschylus in drawing the character of Satan.
If you should happen not to lay aside this paper among the refuse of your correspondence, as the