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Sed leve vulnus erat, quia se retrahebat ab ictu,
Cedendo fecit, nec longius ire sinebat. P. 118,1. 6.— And flings the future, &c.] The description of men rising out of the ground is as beautiful a passage as any in Ovid: it strikes the imagination very strongly; we see their motion in the first part of it, and their multitude in the messis virorum at last.
Ibid. 1. 11.- The breathing harvest, &c.] Messis clypeata virorum. The beauty of these words would have been greater, had only messis virorum been expressed without clypeota ; for the reader's mind would have been delighted with two such different ideas compounded together, but can scarce attend to such a complete image as is made out of all three.
This way of mixing two different ideas together in one image, as it is a great surprise to the reader, is a great beauty in poetry, if there be sufficient ground for it in the nature of the thing that is described. The Latin poets are very full of it, especially the worst of them, for the more correct use it but sparingly, as, indeed, the nature of things will seldom afford a just occasion for it. When anything we describe has accidentally in it some quality that seems repugnant to its nature, or is very extraordinary and uncommon in things of that species, such a compounded image as we are now speaking of is made, by turning this quality into an epithet of what we describe. Thus Claudian, having got a hollow ball of crystal, with water in the midst of it, for his subject, takes the advantage of considering the crystal as hard, stony, precious water, and the water as soft, fluid, imperfect crystal; and thus sports off above a dozen epigrams, in setting his words and ideas at variance among one another. He has a great many beauties of this nature in him, but he gives himself up so much to this way of writing, that a man may easily know where to meet with them when he sees his subject, and often strains so hard for them that he many times makes his descriptions bombastic and unnatural. What work would he have made with Virgil's golden bough, had he been to describe it! We should certainly have seen the yellow bark, golden sprouts, radiant leaves, blooming metal, branching gold, and all the quarrels that could have been raised between words of such different natures: when we see Virgil contented with his auri frondentis ; and what is the
same, though much finer expressed, -Frondescit virga metallo. This composition of different ideas is often met with in a whole sentence, where circumstances are happily reconciled that seem wholly foreign to each other; and is often found among Latin poets, (for the Greeks wanted art for it,) in their descriptions of pictures, images, dreams, apparitions, metamorphoses, and the like ; where they bring together two such thwarting ideas, by making one part of their descriptions relate to the representation, and the other to the thing that is represented. Of this nature is that verse, which, perhaps, is the wittiest in Virgil, Attollens humeris famamque et fata nepotum, Æn. 8, where he describes Æneas carrying on his shoulders the reputation and fortunes of his posterity; which, though very odd and surprising, is plainly made out, when we consider how these disagreeing ideas are reconciled, and his posterity's fame and fate made portable by being engraven on the shield. Thus, when Ovid tells us that Pallas tore in pieces Arachne's work, where she had embroidered all the
rapes that the gods had committed, he says— Rupit cælestia crimina. I shall conclude this tedious reflection with an excellent stroke of this nature, out of Mr. Montagu's Poem to the King ; where he tells us how the king of France would have been celebrated by his subjects, if he had ever gained such an honourable wound as King William's at the fight of the Boyne:
His bleeding arm had furnished all their rooms,
FAB. II. P. 118, 1. 35.—Here Cadmus reigned.] This is a pretty solemn transition to the story of Actæon, which is all naturally told. The goddess, and her maids undressing her, are described with diverting circumstances. Acteon's flight, confusion, and griefs, are passionately represented; but it is pity the whole narration should be so carelessly closed up.
Ut abesse queruntur,
Non etiam sentire, canum fera facta suorum.
before our eyes.
and the Greek names Ovid uses would sound a great deal
He closes up his own catalogue with a kind of a jest on it, quosque referre mora est—which, by the way, is too light and full of humour for the other serious parts of this story.
This way of inserting catalogues of proper names in their poems, the Latins took from the Greeks, but have made them more pleasant than those they imitate, by adapting so many delightful characters to their persons' names; in which part Ovid's copiousness of invention, and great insight into nature, has given him the precedence to all the poets that ever came before or after him. The smoothness of our Engligh verse is too much lost by the repetition of proper names, which is otherwise very natural and absolutely necessary in some cases; as before a battle, to raise in our minds an answerable expectation of the event, and a lively idea of the numbers that are engaged. For had Homer or Virgil only told us in two or three lines before their fights, that there were forty thousand of each side, our imagination could not possibly have been so affected, as when we see every leader singled out, and every regiment in a manner drawn
FAB. III. P. 122, 1. 14.—How Semele, &c.] This is one of Ovid's finished stories. The transition to it is
and unforced : Juno, in her two speeches, acts incomparably well the parts of a resenting goddess and a tattling nurse: Jupiter makes a very majestic figure with his thunder and lightning, but it is still such a one as shows who drew it; for who does not plainly discover Ovid's hand in the
Qua tamen usque potest, vires sibi demere tentat.
Tela Secunda vocant superi. P. 123, 1. 2.-“'Tis well,” says she, &c.] Virgil has made a Beroë of one of his goddesses in the fifth Æneid; but if we compare the speech she there makes with that of her name-sake in this story, we may find the genius of each poet discovering itself in the language of the nurse: Virgil's Iris could not have spoken more majestically in her own shape ; but Juno is so much altered from herself in Ovid, that the goddess is quite lost in the old woman.
FAB. V. P. 126, 1. 11.-- She can't begin, &c.] If playing on words? be excusable in any poem, it is in this, where Echo is a speaker ; but it is so mean a kind of wit, that if it deserves excuse, it can claim no more.
Mr. Locke, in his Essay of Human Understanding, has given us the best account of wit, in short, that can anywhere be met with. Wit,” says he,“ lies in the assemblage of ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy.” Thus does true wit, as this incomparable author observes, generally consist in the likeness of ideas, and is more or less wit, as this likeness in ideas is more surprising and unexpected. But as true wit is nothing else but a similitude in ideas, so is false wit the similitude in words, whether it lies in the likeness of letters only, as in anagram and acrostic; or of syllables, as in doggrel rhymes ; or whole words, as puns, echoes, and the like. Besides these two kinds of false and true wit, there is another of a middle nature, that has something of both in it. When in two ideas that have some resemblance with each other, and are both expressed by the same word, we make use of the ambiguity of the word to speak that of one idea included under it, which is proper to the other. Thus, for example, most languages have hit on the word, which properly signifies fire, to express love by (and therefore we may there is some resemblance in the ideas mankind have of them); from hence the witty poets of all languages, when they have once called love a fire, consider it no longer as the
' If playing on words.] The translator would insinuate, that he omitted the courtship of Echo, in this place, because it was a play on words; but he had another, and better reason, which shows, at once, the decency of the poet, and the unaffected virtue of the man ; who, not to make a merit of his moral scruples, pretends only a critical. For, that this last was nothing more than a pretence, ap] ars from the following story of Narcissus; where Echo is, again, introduced by Ovid playing on words, but so inoffensively, that our critical translator condescends to play with her.
Ah youth! beloved in vain, Narcissus cries ;
passion, but speak of it under the notion of a real fire, and, as the turn of wit requires, make the same word in the same sentence stand for either of the ideas that is annexed to it. When Ovid's Apollo falls in love, he burns with a new flame; when the sea-nymphs languish with this passion, they kindle in the water; the Greek epigrammatist fell in love with one that flung a snow-ball at him, and therefore takes occasion to admire how fire could be thus concealed in
In short, whenever the poet feels any thing in this love that resembles something in fire, he carries on this agreement into a kind of allegory; but if, as in the preceding instances, he finds any circumstance in his love contrary to the nature of fire, he calls his love a fire, and by joining this circumstance to it, surprises his reader with a seeming contradiction. I should not have dwelt so long on this instance, had it not been so frequent in Ovid, who is the greatest admirer of this mixed wit of all the ancients, as our Cowley is among the moderns. Homer, Virgil, Horace, and the greatest poets scorned it, as indeed it is only fit for epigram and little copies of verses; one would wonder, therefore, how so sublime a genius as Milton could sometimes fall into it, in such a work as an epic poem.
But we must attribute it to his humouring the vicious taste of the age he lived in, and the false judgment of our unlearned English readers in general, who have few of them a relish of the more masculine and noble beauties of poetry.
FAB. VI. Ovid seems particularly pleased with the subject of this story, but has notoriously fallen into a fault he is often taxed with, of not knowing when he has said enough, by his endeavouring to excel. How has he turned and twisted that one thought of Narcissus's being the person beloved, and the lover too ? Cunctaque miratur quibus est mirabilis ipse.
Qui probat, ipse probatur.
Uror amore mei flammas moreoque feroque, &c. But we cannot meet with a better instance of the extravagance and wantonness of Ovid's fancy, than in that particular