Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

off the stage

seven nights; and none spake a word unto him, for they saw that his grief was very great.' Let us candidly confess, that this noble passage is equal, if not superior, to_that celebrated description of parental sorrow in Æschylus : where that venerable father of tragedy, whose fire and enthusiasm sometimes force him forwards to the very borders of improbability, has in this instance justly represented Niobe sitting disconsolately three days together upon the tomb of her children, covered with a veil, and observing a profound silence. Such silences have something more affecting and more strongly expressive of passion, than the most artful speeches. In Sophocles, when the unfortunate Deianira discovers her mistake in having sent a poisoned vestment to her husband Hercules, her surprise and sorrow are unspeakable, and she answers not her son who acquaints her with the disaster, but

goes without uttering a syllable. A writer unacquainted with nature and the heart, would have put into her mouth twenty florid lambics, in which she would bitterly have bewailed her misfortunes, and informed the spectators that she was going to die.

In representing likewise the desolation and destruction of the cities of Babylon and Tyre, these Jewish writers have afforded many instances of true pathos. One of them expresses the extreme distress occasioned by a famine, by this moving circumstance. • The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst; the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them; the hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children.' Which tender and affecting stroke reminds me of the picture of a sacked city by Aristides the Theban, on which we have so often gazed with inexpressible delight; that great artist has expressed the concern of a bleeding and dying mother, lest her infant,

who is creeping to her side, should lick the blood that flows from her breast, and mistake it for her milk.

In the ninth book of the Iliad, Homer represents the horrors of a conquered city, by saying, that her heroes should be slain, her palaces overthrown, her matrons ravished, and her whole race enslaved. But one of these Jewish poets, by a single circumstance, has far more emphatically pointed out the utter desolation of Babylon : 'I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a single person than the golden wedge of Ophir.'

What seems to be particularly excellent in these writers, is their selection of such adjuncts and circumstances upon each subject, as are best calculated to strike the imagination and embellish their descriptions. Thus, they think it not enough to say, that Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, shall never more be inhabited;' but they add a picturesque stroke, neither shall the Arabian pitch his tent there;

the wild beasts of the island shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces.'

You have heard me frequently observe, how much visions, or images, by which a writer seems to behold objects that are absent, or even non-existent, contribute to the true sublime. For this reason I have ever admired Minerva's speech in the fifth book of the Iliad, where she tells her favourite Diomede, that she will

his
eyes

from the mists of mortality, and give him power clearly to discern the gods that were at that time assisting the Trojans, that he might not be guilty of the impiety of wounding any of the celestial beings, Venus excepted.' Observe the superior strength and liveliness of the following image: 'Jehovah,' the tutelar God of the Jews, 'opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses, and chariots of fire round about him!'

purge

Do we start, and tremble, and turn pale, when Orestes exclaims that the furies are rushing forward to seize him ? and shall we be less affected with the, writer, who breaks out into the following question ? • Who is this that cometh from Edom with dyed garments from Bosra; this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength ?' It is the avenging God of the oppressed Jews, whom the poet imagines he beholds, and whose answer follows, “I that am mighty to save.' • Wherefore, resumes the poet, art thou red in thy apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine-fat?'. • I have trodden the wine-press alone,' answers the God; and of the people there were none with me; for I will tread them in mine anger and trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.' Another writer, full of the idea of that destruction with which his country was threatened, cries out, · How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet !' And to represent total desolation, he imagines he sees the universe reduced to its primitive chaos : *I beheld the earth, and lo! it was without form and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.'

Above all I am marvellously struck with the beauty and boldness of the Prosopopæias, and the rich variety of comparisons, with which every page of these extraordinary writings abounds.

When I shall have pointed out a few of these to your view, I shall think your curiosity will be sufficiently excited to peruse the book itself from which they are drawn. And do not suffer yourself to be pre

judiced against it, by the reproaches, raillery, and satire, which I know my friend and disciple Porphyry is perpetually pouring upon the Jews. Farewell.

Z.

N° 52. SATURDAY, MAY 5, 1753.

[blocks in formation]

Though there are many calamities to which all men are equally exposed, yet some species of intellectual distress are thought to be peculiar to the vicious. The various evils of disease and poverty, pain and sorrow, are frequently derived from others; but shame and confusion are supposed to proceed from ourselves, and to be incurred only by the misconduct which they punish. This supposition is indeed specious; but I am convinced by the strongest evidence that it is not true: I can oppose experience to theory; and as it will appear that I suffer considerable loss by my testimony, it must be allowed to have the most distinguishing characteristic of sincerity.

That every man is happy in proportion as he is virtuous, was once my favourite principle; I advanced and defended it in all companies; and as the last effort of my genius in its behalf, I contrived a series of events by which it was illustrated and established: and that I might substitute action for narrative, and decorate sentiment with the beauties of poetry, I regulated my story by the rules of the drama, and with great application, and labour wrought it into a tragedy.

When it was finished, I sat down, like Hercules after his labours, exulting in the past, and enjoying the future by anticipation. I read it to every friend who favoured me with a visit, and when I went abroad I always put it into my pocket. Thus it became known to a circle that was always increasing; and was at length mentioned with such commendation to a very great lady, that she was pleased to favour me with a message, by which I was invited to breakfast at nine the next morning, and acquainted that a select company would then expect the pleasure of hearing me read my play.

The delight that I received from the contemplation of my performance, the encomium of my friends, and especially this message, was in my opinion an experimental proof of my principles, and a reward of my merit. I reflected with great self-complacence, upon the general complaint that genius was without patronage; and concluded, that all who had been neglected were unworthy of notice. I believed that my own elevation was not only certain but near; and that the representation of my play would be secured by a message to the manager, which would render the mortifying drudgery of solicitation and attendance unnecessary.

Elated with these expectations, I rose early in the morning, and being dressed long before it was time

« ZurückWeiter »