« AnteriorContinuar »
labours under two disadvantages ; it is first compared with Pope's inimitable performance, and afterwards with the Pollio of Virgil. It may appear trifling to remark, that he has made the letter o, in the word Virgo, long and short in the same line; VIRGO, VIRGo PA RIT. But the translation has great merit, and some admirable lines. In the odes there is a sweet flexibility, particularly, To his worthy friend Dr. Laurence; on himself at the theatre, March 8, 177 l ; the Ode in the isle of Sky; and that to Mrs. Thrale from the same place.
His English poetry is such as leaves room to think, if he had devoted himself to the Muses, that he would have been the rival of Pope. His first production of this kind was LoNDoN, a poem in imitation of the third satire of Juvenal. The vices of the metropolis are placed in the room of ancient manners. The author had heated his mind with the ardour of Juvenal, and, having the skill to polish his numbers, he became a sharp accuser of the times. The VANITY of HUMAN WIS HES is an imitation of the tenth satire of the same author. Though it is translated
L 4 by
by Dryden, Johnson's imitation approaches nearest to the spirit of the original. The subject is taken from the ALCIBIADEs of PLATO, and has an intermixture of the sentiments of Soc RATES concerning the object of prayers offered up to the Deity. The general proposition is, that good and evil are so little understood by mankind, that their wishes when granted are always destructive. This is exemplified in a variety of instances, such as riches, state-preferment, eloquence, military glory, long life, and the advantages of form and beauty. Juvenal's conclusion is worthy of a Christian poet, and such a pen as Johnson’s. “Let us,” he says, “ leave it to the “gods to judge what is fittest for us. Man “ is dearer to his Creator than to himself. If “we must pray for special favour, let it be “ for a sound mind in a sound body. Let us “pray for fortitude, that we may think the “labours of Hercules and all his sufferings “preferable to a life of luxury and the soft “repose of SARDANAPALUs. This is a “blessing within the reach of every man ; “ this we can give ourselves. It is virtue, “ and virtue only, that can make us happy.” In the translation the zeal of the Christian
conspired with the warmth and energy of the poet; but Juvenal is not eclipsed. For the various characters in the original the reader is pleased, in the English poem, to meet with Cardinal Wolsey, Buckingham stabbed by Felton, Lord Strafford, Clarendon, Charles XII. of Sweden ; and for Tully and Demosthenes, Lydiat, Galileo, and Archbishop Laud. It is owing to Johnson's delight in biography that the name of LY DIAT is called forth from obscurity. It may, therefore, not be useless to tell, that LY DIAT was a learned divine and mathematician in the beginning of the last century. He attacked the doctrine of Aristotle and Scaliger, and wrote a number of sermons on the harmony of the Evangelists. With all his merit, he lay in the prison of Bocardo at Oxford, till Bishop Usher, Laud, and others, paid his debts. He petitioned Charles I. to be sent to Ethiopia to procure manuscripts. Having spoken in favour of monarchy and bishops, he was plundered by the Puritans, and twice carried away a prisoner
from his rectory. He died very poor in 1646.
The Tragedy of Irene is founded on a passage in KNoLLEs’s History of the Turks; 3.I]
an author highly commended in the Rambler, N° 122. An incident in the Life of Mahomet the Great, first emperour of the Turks, is the hinge on which the fable is made to move. The substance of the story is shortly this. In 1453 Mahomet laid siege to Constantinople, and having reduced the place, became enamoured of a fair Greek, whose name was IRENE. The sultan invited her to embrace the law of the Prophet, and to grace his throne. Enraged at this intended marriage, the Janizaries formed a conspiracy to dethrone the emperour. To avert the impending danger, Mahomet, in a full assembly of the grandees, “ Catching with one “ hand,” as KNoLLE's relates it, “ the fair “Greek by the hair of her head, and draw“ing his falchion with the other, he, at one “blow, struck off her head, to the great “ terrour of them all ; and, having so done, “ said unto them, Now, by this, judge whe“ther your emperour is able to bridle his af“fections or not.” The story is simple, and it remained for the author to amplify it with proper episodes, and give it complication and variety. The catastrophe is changed, and horror gives place to terrour and piety.
But, after all, the fable is cold and languid. There is not, throughout the piece, a single situation to excite curiosity, and raise a conflict of passions. The diction is nervous, rich, and elegant; but splendid language, and melodious numbers, will make a fine poem, not a tragedy. The sentiments are beautiful, always happily expressed, but seldom appropriated to the character, and generally too philosophick. What Johnson has said of the Tragedy of Cato may be applied to Irene; “It is rather a poem in dialogue than
“a drama ; rather a succession of just senti
“ments in elegant language, than a representation of natural affections. Nothing excites or assuages emotion. The events are expected without solicitude, and are remembered without joy or sorrow. Of the agents we have no care; we consider not what they are “doing, nor what they are suffering ; we wish “ only to know what they have to say. It is “unaffecting elegance, and chill philosophy.” The following speech, in the mouth of a Turk, who is supposed to have heard of the British constitution, has been often selected from the numberless beauties with which IRENE abounds: