Графични страници
PDF файл

text, I have thought it proper to introduce them to the reader's acquaintance by some general remarks, from which an estimate of their character might be preparatively formed, and at one view.

Our author is said to be the first Englishman, who after the restoration of letters wrote Latin verses with classic elegance. But we must at least except some of the hendecasyllables and epigrams of Leland, one of our first literary reformers, from this hasty determination.

In the Elegies, Ovid was professedly Milton's model for language and versification. They are not, however, a perpetual and uniform tissue of Ovidian phraseology. With Ovid in view, he has an original manner and character of his own, which exhibit a remarkable perspicuity of contexture, a native facility and Auency. Nor does his observation of Roman models oppress or destroy our great poet's inherent powers of invention and sentiment. I value these pieces as much for their fancy and genius, as for their style and expression.

That Ovid among the Latin poets was Milton's favourite, appears not only from his elegiac but his hexametric poetry. The versification of our author's hexameters has yet a different structure from that of the Metamorphoses : Milton's is more clear, intelligible, and flowing ; less defultory, less familiar, and less embarrassed with a frequent recurrence of


periods. Ovid is at once rapid and abrupt. He wants dignity: he has too much conversation in his manner of telling a story. Prolixity of paragraph, and length of sentence, are peculiar to Milton. This is seen, not only in some of his exordial invocations in the PARADISE LOST, and in many of the religious addresses of a like cast in the proseworks, but in his long verse. It is to be wished that in his Latin compositions of all sorts, he had been more attentive to the simplicity of Lucretius, Virgil, and Tibullus.

Dr. Johnson prefers 'the Latin poetry of May and Cowley to that of Milton, and thinks May to be the first of the three. May is certainly a sonorous dactylist, and was sufficiently accomplished in poetical declamation for the continuation of Lucan's PH ARSALIA. But May is scarcely an author in point. His skill is in parody; and he was confined to the peculiarities of an archetype, which, it

may be presumed, he thought excellent. As to Cowley when compared with Milton, the same critic observes, “ Milton is generally content to

express the thoughts of the antients in their language: Cowley, without much loss of purity or

elegance, accommodates the diction of Rome to “ his own conceptions. The advantage seems to lie “ on the side of Cowley.” But what are these conceptions ? Metaphysical conceits, all the unnatural extravagancies of his English poetry ; such as will not bear to be cloathed in the Latin language, much less are capable of admitting any degree of


pure Latinity. I will give a few instances, out of a great multitude, from the DAVIDEIS.

Hic fociatorum facra constellatio vatum,
Quos felix virtus evexit ad æthera, nubes

Luxuriæ supra, tempeftatesque laborum'.

Temporis ingreditur penetralia celsa futuri,

Implumesque videt nidis cælestibus annos. And, to be short, we have the Plusquam visus aquilinus of lovers, Natio verborum, Exuit vitam aeriam, Menti auditur symphonia dulcis, Naturæ archiva, Omnes fymmetria fenfus congerit, Condit aromatica prohibetque putrescere laude. Again, where Aliquid is personified, Monogramma exordia mundi".

It may

be said, that Cowley is here translating from his own English DAVIDEIS. But I will bring examples from his original Latin poems. In praise of the spring,

Et refonet toto musica verna libro; Undique laudis odor dulciffimus halet, &c. And in the same poem, in a party worthy of the pastoral pencil of Watteau.

Hauserunt avide Chocolatam Flora Venusqueo. Of the Fraxinella. Tu tres metropoles humani corporis, armis

Propugnas, uterum, cor, cerebrumque, tuis'.

* See Cowley's POEMATA Latina, Lond. 1668. 8vo. p. 398.

& PLANTAR: Ibid p. 399.

• Ibid. p. 386. 397. 399. 400. Lib.ii. p. 137 · Liiv, p. 254•

f L. iv. p. 207.


He calls the Lychnis, Candelabrum ingens. Cupid is Arbiter formæ criticus. Ovid is Antiquarius ingens. An ill smell is shunned Olfactus tetricitate sui. And in the same page, is nugatoria pestis ?

But all his faults are conspicuously and collectively exemplified in these stanzas, among others, of his Hymn on Light ".

Pulchra de nigro foboles parente,
Quam Chaos fertur peperisse primam,
Cujus ob formam bene risit olim

Mafsa severa !
Risus O terræ facer et polorum,
Aureus vere pluvius Tonantis,
Quæque de cælo fluis inquieto

Gloria rivo! -
Te bibens arcus Jovis ebriosus
Mille formosos revomit colores,
Pavo cælestis, variamque pascit

Lumine caudam. And afterwards, of the waves of the sea, perpes tually in motion.

Lucidum trudis properanter agmen :
Sed refiftentum super ora rerum
Leniter stagnas, liquidoque inundas

Cuncta colore:
At mare immensum oceanusque Lucis
Jugiter cælo fuit

Hinc inexhausto per utrumque mundum

Funditur ore.
• See L. iv. p. 210. L. iii. p. 186. 170. L.ii. p. 126.
P. 407, feq. Ştanding still,


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


Milton's Latin poems may be justly considered as legitimate classical compositions, and are never disgraced with such language and such imagery. Cowley's Latinity, dictated by an irregular and unrestrained imagination, presents a mode of diction half Latin and half English. It is not so much that Cowley wanted a knowledge of the Latin style, but that he suffered that knowledge to be perverted and corrupted by false and extravagant thoughts. Milton was a more perfect scholar than Cowley, and his mind was more deeply tinctured with the excellencies of antient literature. He was a more just thinker, and therefore a more just writer. In a word, he had more taste, and more true poetry, and consequently more propriety. If a fondness for the Italian writers has sometimes infected his English poetry with false ornaments, his Latin verses, both in diction and sentiment, at least are free from those depravations.

Some of Milton's Latin poems were written in his first year at Cambridge, when he was only seventeen: they must be allowed to be very correct and manly performances for a youth of that age. And considered in that view, they discover an extraordinary copiousness and command of ancient fable and history. I cannot but add, that Gray resembles Milton in many instances. Among others, in their youth they were both strongly attached to the cultivation of Latin poetry.


« ПредишнаНапред »