Imágenes de páginas

ftitution of the human body, and the character, at least the ato cidental character, of the human mind, i. e, its present sensations, impressions, passions, and habits : but the particular effects of this connection between physics and morals have not been ofteri circumftantiaily pointed out, as they are, with more or less ac. curacy and truth, in the Memoir before us. The Author fhews, by examples taken from the characters and manners of all the nacions that compose our globe, the effects of climate, diet; and the constitution they form, upon mind, genius, rentiments and moral3.—He even reckons education among physical causes, because, according to him, its secret springs are set in motion by them; he, however, acknowledges, that every mind has a yundamental character, bent, nature, or propensity, which phyfical causes affect, modify, and influence, but can never entirely destroy; and thus he keeps clear of the bottomles pit of materialism; he even acknowledges, that physical causes are often counteracted by moral ones, and thus explains the many excep. . tions that prove a suspension of the general influence of climate, diet, and other material agents. His description of the influence of cold and warm climates on the northern and fouchern inhabitants of the globe, though not new, is circumftantial, and sometimes ingenious; exhibiting to the reader a curious mixture of fancy, philosophy, and geographical morality.

BELLES - LETTRES. MEMOIR I. Concerning the Infuence of the Sciences on Poetry

FirPart- II. MEMOIR. By M. MERI.3 N. It is with particular pleasure that we continue to follow this elegant scholar and philosopher in his poetical journey through Greece. After the days of Homer, he finds a great chafon in the history of Grecian poetry, at the end of which, the Lyric Bards, his admirers, arose, and finding his heroic verse too sublime for their vein, struck out other numbers, that were more suitable to the subjects they treated. Archilochus, Alcmanus, Tyrtæus, Stefichorus, Sappho, and Alceus, are mentioned by our Author, as the best known of that class, by the fragments of their writings, that have come down to our times; buc none of there had any pretensions to science and philosophy: wine, love, and the pleasures of the table, were their chicf pursuitg- to celebrate these, they strung their lyres, and, to judge by their Atrains, they seemed to be as much intoxicated by Venus and Bacchus as they were inspired by the Muses. Tyrisus, says our Academician, was a poor Jame schoolmaster, who was looked upon, at Athens, as a stupid fellow, was sent in derision to the Spartans, to command their army againft the Messenians, though, in the event, he astonished them by his valour, and the prodigies he performed by his verses : Archilochus and Alceus were soldiers and runaways : Alomanus gives himself

[ocr errors]

out for a great eater, ToruBewu atos, and Bacchus and Venus were the gods of Anacreon. Pindar has left behind him no vestige of his acquaintance with philosophy, but the fimple mention of the Three Transmigrations of Pythagoras in his second Olympic, wbich may have been an old cale or tradition, or the expression of some ceremony in the mysteries of Eleusis, which both poets and philosophers have made a part of their domain : all bis accounts of a future state, of the happiness of the juft, and the pains of the wicked in a Palingeneha, are poetical doctrines; he speaks of wisdom; but his wisdom was poetry, and his fages were poets ;-the graces are his darling goddesses—and bis piety, which was remarkable, was of the poetical kind. M. MERIAN proves all this in a long series of discussions and examples ; he describes, with all the powers of fine colouring and bold expression, the spirit and genius of this immortal bard: and these colours and expressions are often borrowed from the poet himself.

Dramatic Poetry of the Greeks. " While Pindar (says our Author) was singing the praises of his gods and heroes, rescuing from oblivion che virtues of the golden age, and raising immortal monuments of fame to the Olympic victors, the dramatic stage rises at Athens, the waggon of Thespis is changed into a splendid scene, adorned with statues, colonades, temples, and palaces, and Æschylus comes covered with glory from the plains of Marathon, the battle of Salamis, and the field of Platea, to transport the Athenians with this new entertainment, and to twine around his head the mixed laurels of Mars and Melpomene. Æschylus appeared in his tragedies, as he had appeared in his battles, always elevated and sublime, always full of bold ideas, daring figures, and exalted images.' — Such is the tone, and almost such also are the terms of our Author, who returns to his main object, and observes, that a genius of this kind, whose austerc mule breathes nothing but terror, could receive little or no nourilhment from the subtilties of philosophy, and that it was neither from the academy of Athens, nor from the schools of the philosophers, nor from abstract reflections on the nature and essence of the drama, that tragedy derived either its origin or its perfection. The desire of transforming a recital into a scene of action, and the illustrious models of dramatic action that are exhibited in the Iliad, gave, undoubtedly, the first notion of tragedy, of which the pbilosopher Polemon called Sophocles the Homer.

Neither the tragic art, nor any of the fine arts are the offspring of fiience, according to M. Merian : they are the fruits of passion and genius. Science, after they come forth from the bofom of nature, may examine and criticize them, reduce them to methad, and exalt them into theories, but it can never


create them. The different branches of poetry were created by pocts: the , master-pieces of the tragic scene existed before rules were thought on; and they produced the art, instead of being produced by it. Our Author criticizes Stanley for looking upon Æschylus as a follower of Pythagoras, and for finding his tragedies impregnated with the philosophy of that fect; and not without reason.

M. Merian acknowledges, and indeed cannot deny that Euripides had studied philosophy with great success; but he denies, that his tragic productions gained by this circumstance; • for, says he, the moral maxims and political discussions that discover in the tragedies of Euripides, the disciple of Anaxagoras and Socrates, give them a certain scholastic air; and, notwithstand ing the national and local merit they might have at Athens, they are, after all, but heterogeneous beauties, which diminith the effect of the piece, and make the scene languith. This defect, continues our Academician, was accompanied, indeed, with great and excellent qualities: Euripides speaks, with feeling and propriety, the language of the passions, particularly the soft and tender ones: his versification is admirable and full of harmony: his style is the quintessence of attic elegance; but these excellencies make his eflential defect more striking; and this defect renders him much inferior to Sophocles, the first, in merit of the Greek, and perhaps of all o:her tragic poets.' Our Academician enters into a long account of the philosophy of Euripides, who scattered throughout his pieces certain lines of the physics and cosmology of Anaxagoras, as well as of the morals of Socrates.

The Grecian Comedy does not greatly engage our Academician; because it is not there that science is to be expected so much as in tragedy, whose aspect is solemn and serious. It was ad. mitted, indeed, into the comedies of Aristophanes, because this Cynical and licentious mocker could not sacrifice cosmology, physics, geometry, and philosophy, in general, to the laughter and amusement of the populace, without having some know, ledge of these sciences. But this abominable taite, this odious abuse of satire, did not last long: even Aristophanes himself survived it, and was obliged to change his tone. The comic poets, indeed, after him directed often their pleasantry against the philosophers, but not with those disgusting personalities that disgrace the productions of Aristophanes. The philofophers, in their turn, treated the poets with no small degree of severity; so that science and poetry seem to have been always by the ears. Plato, 'is true, composed dichyrambics and hymns in his early youth ; but he soon took leave of the muses, and looked with contempt upon poetry as a frivolous and dangerous art, the enemy of miorals, veracity, and science. Aril


Ny Teko and science in keeps its 'poetical prody wich of his poems. "Zeno pare either in from the philoso but in

totle distinguished himself by some poetical productions; but in these the poetical vein keeps its distance from the philosophical fpirit, and science has no part either in the subject or in the style of his poems. Zeno looked upon poetry as incompatible with the study of the sciences, and even Epicurus represented it to his disciples as a childish amusement, which they would do well to avoid with the utmost care ; from all which our Author concludes that, generally speaking, there was no great union betwen the Grecian philosophers and poets, and chat science had very little influence upon poetry, and could have no influence on it, but what was pernicious. But if it is difficult, adds he, to attribute to science the honour of the progress of poetry in Greece, it would be still more fo to account, on this hypothefis, for the high degree of perfection to which poetry role in the periods we have hitherto been considering, periods in which the sciences were in a state of infancy. The lyric, epic, and dramatic poetry of the Greeks, says our Academician, have always been looked upon as models, and those of the mos derns who have shone most in this enchanting art, revere the ancients as their guides; while ancient science is sunk in obli. vion, and philosophers in after-times were obliged to pull down entirely the edifice, and to erect another on its ruins. This is true with respect to natural philosophy, but we maintain it false with respect to that nobler branch of philosophical science, the master-science of sentiments, life and manners.

Of Grecian Poetry under Alexander and the Ptolemies. Our Academician finds his ideas confirmed by a literary phænomenon, that was visible under this period, viz. that Grecian poetry suffered an eclipse, at the very time that philosophy was rising to a high degree of luftre, and forming sects and sckools that were to transmit its progress to future ages. Poetry made but a sorry figure under the reign of Alexander: the writers of the new comedy belong to the times of his succeflors ; for the first piece of Menander was not acted before the 3d or 4th year of the 114th Olympiad. Under his succellors, poetry revived, particularly in Egypt; which under the three first Ptolemies became a second Athens :--but our Academician (who seems to have sworn the bitterest enmity to the alliance between poetry and science) tells us that the famous poetical Pleiad of that time, were much in: ferior to the luminaries that arose upon Greece in the days of its freedom ; and had, moreover, their lustre tarnished by the exhalations (we believe our Author says smoke) of erudition and science, Euclid taught his elements at Alexandria : this city swarmed with natural philosophers, and, what was still worse for poetry, with rhetoricians, critics, and grammarians, who were serioully occupied in counting syllables, measuring verses, and weighing phrases. Callimachus was one of these formalifts


that clipped the wings of genius, and his own productions seem to have gone through that operation. He, indeed, excludedfrom the class of poets all those whom Apollo did not inspire, and pronounced the philosophers incapable (not excepting even: Plato) of poetical composition, and of judging concerning it; but notwithstanding this, his poems discover the constraint of a courtier and the formality of a grammarian. The same observation is applicable to Apollonius, improperly called the Rhodian, whose poem, on the Argonautic expedition, is entertaining and agreeable, and sustains, throughout, its middle course between the sublime and the bathos. • The most eminent bard of the Pleiad, and the most worthy of being ranked among those of the Golden Age of poetry, was the amiable shepherd of Syracuse, whose Doric lay resounds with such melody in the Sicilian, vales, and even under the gilded roof of Ptolemy, his benefactor, and the friend of the Muses. He (continues our Academia cian) was the child of the Graces; and his genius, taste, and subjects remove him far from all pretensions to philosophy. It would be difficult ever to find him guilty of science, or of any respect for those that professit.'

Such is the manner in which our ingenious Academician speaks of Theocritus, to whom he joins Bion and Moschus, his contemporaries, or immediate successors, whose pastoral strains are full of amenity and elegance, and breathe a spirit of gallantry, which savours somewhat of the modern taste, but are disengaged from every thing that looks like science and philofophy.

The three last bards of the Pleiad are Ararus, Nicander, and Lycophron; and our Author mentions them only to fhew the antipathy that there is between the language of poetry and the subjccts they treated. The first of these he considers as a subtile pedant and a plagiary, the second as a therapeutic bard, who verlified for the apothecaries, a grinder of antidotes ; who sung of scorpions, toads, and spiders; and the third, as a kind of a fool, who places all his glory in being obscure and unintelligible; and whose commentator Tzetzes, fupposes that many of his verses were composed when he came home drunk from the table of Ptolemy.-Lycophron was the inventor of anagrams ; he made several for the king and the queen, and by dislocating the name of Arsinoe he was lucky enough to find in it the Violet of Yuno;-a rare and delightful discovery, no doubt, for the Grecian and African beauties at the court of Ptolemy. Oui Academician dates from this period also the invention of poems in the forms of eggs, wings, hatchets, and altars ;-a wretched, triAing, and Jack-a-dandy method that portended, or rather accompanied, and succeeded, the decline of true taste, and the extinction of poetical genius. It is our Author's opinion, that

APP, Rev. Vol. Ixi. LI


« AnteriorContinuar »