The interesting publication of Mr. Dunster on the "Prima Stamina" of Paradise Lost, has attracted the attention of the public to the productions of an old and almost forgotten poet. The Translation of the Divine Weeks and Works of Du Bartas, by JOSHUA SYLVESTER, was in part published in the year 1598, and reprinted and completed in 1605. Since that period three editions in quarto, and as many in folio have appeared, whose rapid succession evidently proves the popularity and esteem, which the author once enjoyed among his contemporaries. The folio, however, bearing the date of 1641, was the last which the public called for, and towards the close of the seventeenth century, Sylvester and his Translations were apparently merged in complete oblivion.
To the malignant attack on the reputation of Milton by Lauder, in 1750, they were indebted, it is true, for a transient resuscitation, but it was not until after a second repose of half a century, that they revisited the realms of light in such a form as to arrest attention. In the elegant little work of Mr. Dunster, though the primary object be to prove the judicious use which Milton made of Sylvester's bulky volume, a secondary one has been to select what the Editor, not improperly, terms, The Beauties of Sylvester's Du Bartas.
No production of our elder poetry, is, perhaps, better calculated for a selection of this kind, than the Translation of Sylvester. As a whole, in its general structure and execution it is insufferably heavy and tedious, nor will a reader, in the present day, be easily found, who shall possess perseverance and patience adequate to its complete perusal. In this mass of deterring materials, however, and which abounds with quaintnesses, puerilities and vulgarisms, of almost every description, are to be discovered, beauties of no common kind. These, it may be presumed, appear more brilliant, from being contrasted with the opacity, which usually surrounds them in their original station; but even when detached, they will generally be allowed to possess great merit, and, in expression and versification, to approach, in a very singular degree, the refinements of the present age.
The occasional excellence, indeed, which displayed in the construction of the couplet, was not unnoticed in the criticism of his time, and the epithet "silver-tongued," was, from the superior sweetness of his harmony, commonly applied to him by his brethren of Parnassus. The passages, nevertheless, in which these beautiful cadences occur, are not numerous, when compared with the bulk of the whole, and would, to a superficial observer, seem rather the effect of accident than design. That they are, however, the result of elaborate study, I am well convinced, and justly, therefore, they entitle the poet, to the honour of improving our versification. Many of these elegancies are apparent in the extracts already before the public, and many more will be perceived in the selections for these essays.
When the perusal, indeed, of Mr. Dunster's collection, induced me to refer to, and to labour through the entire work of Sylvester, I was much surprised to find many passages of the most undoubted excellence omitted. That the specimens he has chosen in general, do credit to his taste, will not, probably, be denied, but that the pictures now detached and arranged, and which are equal, if not superior, to any exhibited in his essay, should have been wholly overlooked, is not easily to be accounted for. They are, for the most part, descriptions, not dependent on technical beauty or local sketching, but calculated for universal acceptance, and must have struck every reader of the version with the most pleasing astonishment, for such, as I have observed before, is the great inequality of this poem, that pages of extreme dullness and imbecility, usually intervening, admiration is consequently strongly excited, and the eye dwells with rapture on portions, so unexpectedly polished and interesting.
To the flowers, therefore, as arranged by Mr. Dunster, every judge of elegance will, I have no doubt, add, as of equal fragrance and colour, the present collection, and, probably, without presumption, it may be now affirmed, that every specimen, worth preserving, has been selected from this rude and neglected garden, and that what remains may be considered as little else than weeds or noxious plants, without utility and without beauty.
To have treated any old poem of general excellence in this way, would have been both mischievous and absurd, but, in the present instance, even every lover of old English literature, will, I should imagine, be thankful for the attempt; for what was of value in the version was utterly inadequate to its entire preservation, and was in imminent danger of perishing with the whole.
With the view of rendering these numbers more interesting, I shall annex to my quotations, such illustrations, observations, and parallel passages, as the lines immediately before me may suggest, and it may be necessary, ere I proceed, to say, that I have consulted two copies of my author, the quarto of 1608, which was the second edition, and the folio of 1641, which was the last.
The poem of Du Bartas, entitled Days and Weeks, is divided into two Weeks, and these are again subdivided into Days. The First Week, or Birth of the World, contains seven books or days, viz. 1. The Chaos. 2. The Elements. 3. The Sea and Earth. 4. The Heavens, Sun, Moon, &c. 5. The Fishes and Fowls. 6. The Beasts and Man. 7. The Sabaoth. Of the Second Week the poet only lived to finish Four Days, viz. Adam. Noah. Abraham. David. The three remaining, which would have completed the design, were to have been named Zedechias, Messias, and the Eternal Sabbath. The Four Days of the Second Week are broken each into four parts, under the following heads; First Day. Eden. The Imposture. The Fairies. The Handy-Crafts. Second Day. The Ark. Babylon. The Colonies. The Columns. Third Day. The Vocation. The Fathers. The Law. The Captains. Fourth Day. The Trophies. The Magnificence. The Schism. The Decay.
I have given this outline of the plan of the poem, in order to facilitate the system of reference I have adopted, and which will apply to the various editions quarto or folio. No liberty of any kind has been taken with the quotations, except that of omitting a line or two, judged infinitely inferior and injurious to the general merit of the passage,
and, whenever this is done, it is paticularised by the mark of an ellipsis.
Before we enter, however, into the immediate object of our Essay, some account of our learned poet will probably be expected, especially by those who may not have seen the ingenious Considerations of Mr. Dunster. Of the few who have thought proper to perpetuate, through the medium of biography, the name and character of Sylvester, Wood, in his Athenae, appears to have given the most accurate detail, and, in his homely but emphatic language, therefore, we present a short sketch of his life. Speaking of George Chapman, the Translator of Homer, the Biographer thus proceeds.
"Contemporary with this worthy poet was another, Joshua Sylvester, usually called, by the poets of his time, Silver-tongued Sylvester. Whether he received any academical education (having had his muse kindly fostered by his uncle, William Plumb, Esq.) I cannot say. In his manly years, he is reported to have been a merchant-adventurer. Queen Elizabeth had a great respect for him; King James I. had a greater; and Prince Henry greatest of all; who valued him so much, that he made him his first poet-pensioner. He was much renowned by his virtuous fame and by those of his profession, and such as admired poetry, esteemed a Saint on earth, a true Nathaniel, a Christian Israelite. They tell us farther, that he was very pious and sober; religious in himself and family, and courageous to withstand adversity also that he was adorned with the gift of tongues, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian and Latin. But this must be known, that he, taking too much liberty upon him to correct the vices of the times, as George Wither and Jo. Viccars, poets, afterwards did, suffered several times some trouble; and thereupon it was as I presume, that his step-dame country did ungratefully cast him off, and became most unkind to him. He hath translated from French into English the Divine Weeks and Works, with a complete Collection of all the other most delightful Works of Will. de Salluste Sieur du Bartas. At length this eminent poet, Joshua Sylvester, (a name worthily dear to the age he lived in) died at Middleburgh, in Zealand, on the 28th of September, 1618, aged 55."
The popularity of Sylvester, which continued nearly unimpaired for half a century after his decease, was so great during his life time, that most of the celebrated poets of his age addressed him in encomiastic verses, among the signatures of which, as prefixed to his version of Du Bartas, are to be found the names of Ben Jonson, Davies, Hall, Daniel and Viccars. The following sonnets however, to which the initials of R. N. are annexed, is, in my opinion, far superior to the rest, and, with the exception of one word, which I have taken the liberty to alter, flows with ease and harmony. I give it as a specimen of the encomia lavished on this pious poet.
Whom Envy scarce could hate; whom all admir'd,
Who liv'd beloved, and a Saint expir'd.
Had golden Homer, and great Maro kept
In envious silence their admired measures,
A thousand Heroes* worthy deeds had slept,
They, reft of praise, and we of learned pleasures:
But O! what rich incomparable treasures
Had the world wanted, had this modern glory,
Divine Du Bartas, hid his heavenly ceasures,
Singing the mighty Worlds immortal story?
O then how deeply is our isle beholding
To Chapman, and to Phaer! but, yet much more
To thee, dear Sylvester, for thus unfolding
These holy wonders, hid from us before.
Those works profound, are yet profane; but thine,
Grave, learned, deep, delightful, and divine.
[*I have substituted this for the original word "Worthies" to avoid the jingle, which, however, was esteemed a beauty in the days of Sylvester, and eagerly sought after.]
Had the general tenor of Sylvester's version borne any similitude to the passages adduced in this Essay, the present age had ratified the verdict of his contemporaries, and given him a high rank among the improvers and refiners of our language and versification; but, as it is doubtful whether his example were not rather more injurious than beneficial to the poetic style of his period, the insulated extracts of Mr. Dunster's volume and of the present papers, will, probably, form the basis of his reputation with posterity, while the folio, from which they have been taken, will remain, except to Commentators on our elder Bards, neglected and unknown.
The first specimen I have selected has been chosen for the excellence of the last line the poet is inculcating the duty of contemplating God in his works, and exclaims—
It glads me much to view this frame; wherein,
As in a glass, God's glorious face is seen:
I love to look on God; but in this robe
Of his great works, this universal globe.
For, if the Sun's bright beams do blear the sight
Of such as fixtly gaze against his light;
Who can behold, above th' empyreal skies,
"The lightning splendour of God's glorious eyes."
Week 1. Day 1.
To point out the beauties and blemishes of the quotations as they come before us, may tend, in some degree, to improve both Judgment and taste, and of the present morsel it may be observed, that the term "blear" is mean and vulgar, and was probably adopted for the sake of the alliteration, but that the concluding line is an admirable one, the thought sublime, and the cadence sonorous.
In accounting for the power of evil spirits in imitating the genuine miracles of God, especially those performed by Moses in Egypt, the following lines occur.
To counterfeit the wond'rous works of God,
"His rod turn serpent, and his serpent rod?"
To change the pure streams of th' Egyptian Hood,
From clearest water into crimson blood?
To rain down frogs, and grasshoppers to bring
In the bed-chambers of the stubborn King?
"For, as he is a spirit, unseen he sees
The plots of Princes and their policies;
Unfelt, he feels the depth of their desires,
Who harbours vengeance, and whose heart aspires."
W. 1. D. 1.
The artificial but pleasing structure of the versification in this passage is remarkable; the frequent turn upon the words and the alliteration have here a good effect, and the termination is such, as would do honour to the most polished poet.
The chief faults of Sylvester are turgidity and bombast, together with a very defective taste in the choice of expression; portions, however, may he found, of which chastity of phrase and simplicity of style are the prominent features; and of this kind, in my opinion, is the annexed simile.
But, as the beauty of a modest Dame,
Who, well content with Nature's comely frame,
And native fair, as it is freely given
In fit proportion by the hand of Heaven,
Doth not, with painting, prank and set it out,
With helps of art, sufficient fair without;
Is more praise-worthy than the wanton glance,
The affected gait, th' alluring countenance—
So do I more the sacred tongue esteem,
Though plain and rural it do rather seem,
Than school'd Athenian.
W. 1. D. 2.
In the thirty-fourth number of this work, I have introduced an exquisite passage from Isaac Walton, as descriptive of the song of the Nightingale, and which I, at that time, thought superior to any poetical attempt, which had been made, in our language, at least, to record the harmony of this sweet bird. I was equally pleased and astonished, however, to find in Sylvester's Du Bartas a series of lines on this subject, which may certainly enter into competition with this admirable extract, and will, perhaps, be thought more minute and highly finished. Both authors are probably indebted to Pliny, who, as a Naturalist, has given, with great accuracy, the history of this bird, and its mode of singing and teaching its young; this last circumstance, termed, by the bird-catchers, recording, Mr. Barrington, in his Experiments and Observations on the Singing of Birds, mentions, as having been unnoticed by any writer, except Statius, who, in his Sylvae, thus alludes to it:
—Nunc volucrum novi
Quaestus, inexpertumque carmen,
Quod tacita statuere bruma.
Now in new strains the feather'd choir complain,
And untried lays, in silent winter plann'd.
The passage of Pliny, however, is direct to the purpose in speaking of this initiation. "Meditantur aliae juniores," says he "versusque, quos imitentur, accipiunt. Audit discipula intentione magna, et reddit: vicibusque reticent. Intelligitur emendatae correptio, et in docente quaedam reprehensio." Nor is the close of the following quotation from Sylvester less striking or particular, with regard to the musical education of this favourite of the woodland choir. After celebrating the strains of the Lark, the Linnet, and the Finch, observes,
All this is nothing to the Nightingale,
Breathing so sweetly from a breast so small
So many tunes, whose harmony excels
Our voice, our viols, and all music else.
Good Lord! how oft in a green oaken grove,
In the cool shadow have I stood, and strove
To marry mine immortal lays to theirs,
Rapt with delight of their delicious airs?
And yet, methinks, in a thick thorn! hear
A Nightingale to warble sweetly clear:
One while she bears the bass, anon the tenor,
Anon the treble, then the counter-tenor:
Then, all at once, as it were, challenging
The rarest voices with herself to sing:
Thence thirty steps, amid the leafy sprays,
Another Nightingale repeats her lays,
Just note for note, and adds some strain at last,
That she had conned all the winter past:
The first replies, and descants thereupon;
With divine warbles of Division,
Redoubling quavers, and so, turn by turn,
Alternately they sing away the morn:
So that the conquest in this curious strife,
Doth often cost the one her voice and life:
Then, the glad victor all the rest admire,
And after count her Mistress of the Quire,
"At break of day, in a delicious song,
She sets the Gamut to a hundred young:
And, when as, fit for higher tunes she sees them,
Then learnedly she harder lessons gives them;
Which, strain by strain, they studiously recite,
And follow all their Mistress rules aright."
W. 1. D. 5.
Nothing can be more explicit on, and descriptive of, recording, than the last six lines of this passage.
"The first essay," remarks Mr. Barrington, "does not seem to have the least rudiments of the future song; but as the bird grows older and stronger, one may begin to perceive what the nestling is aiming at. Whilst the scholar is thus endeavouring to form his song, when he is once sure of a passage, he commonly raises his tone, which he drops again when he is not equal to what he is attempting; just as a singer raises his voice, when he not only recollects certain parts of a tune with precision, but knows that he can execute them. What the nestling is not thus thoroughly master of, he hurries over, lowering his tone, as if he did not wish to be heard, and could not yet satisfy himself."
In no part of his version is Sylvester so frequently happy, as in the delineation of rural beauty and felicity; on these topics, if a few quaintnesses and ill-timed witticisms be withdrawn, the residue will be often found to possess sterling merit. The most valuable quotations, therefore, in these essays, will necessarily be of this description, and the first that occurs in the volume, worth preserving, on the plan of avoiding all those passages, which Mr. Dunster had previously selected, is enriched with many picturesque and genuine touches from Nature.
5. The cunning Painter, that with curious care,
Limning a landscape, various, rich, and rare,
Hath set to work, in all and every part,
Invention, judgment, nature, use, and art;
And hath at length, t' immortalise his name,
With weary pencil perfected the same;
Forgets his pains; and, inly fill'd with glee,
Still on his picture gazeth greedily.
First, in a mead he marks a frisking lamb,
Which seems, tho' dumb, to bleat unto the dam,
Then he observes a wood, seeming to wave:
Then, th' hollow bosom of some hideous cave:
Here a highway, and there a narrow path:
Here pines, there oaks, torn by tempestuous wrath:
Here from a craggy rock's steep-hanging boss,
Thrumm'd half with ivy, half with crisped moss,
A silver brook in broken streams doth gush,
And head-long down the horned cliff doth rush;
Then winding thence above and under ground,
A goodly garden it bemoateth round:
There, on his knee, behind a box-tree shrinking,
A skilful Gunner, with his left eye winking,
Levels directly at an oak hard by,
Whereon a hundred groaning Culvers cry;
Down falls the cock, up from the touch-pan flies
A ruddy flash that in a moment dies,
Off goes the gun, and thro' the forest rings
The thundering bullet borne on fiery wings.—
Here, in the shade, a pretty Shepherdess
Brings softly home her bleating happiness:
Still as she goes, she spins; and as she spins,
A man would think some sonnet she begins.
Here runs a river, there springs forth a fountain;
Here vails a valley, there doth rise a mountain,
Here smokes a castle, there a city fumes,
And here a ship upon the Ocean looms.
In brief, so lively, Art hath Nature shap't,
That in his work the Workman's self is rapt,
Unable to look off; for, looking still,
The more he looks, the more he finds his skill.
W. 1. D. 7.
As it immediately fell beneath the province of the poet to notice the various works of creation, his book, as might naturally be supposed, abounds with numerous delineations, taken from the three kingdoms of Nature. Many of these, especially his zoological sketches, are minute, and would have been truly pleasing, had the author been less credulous, and had the language been better adapted to the subject, more simple and less loaded with concetti. So greatly indeed, do they, in general, offend all the rules of taste, that they excite, for the most part, ludicrous ideas, and there are very few, whose diction, sentiment, or versification, can do honour, either to the author or translator. One description, however, of considerable merit, I have already given of the Nightingale, and I subjoin two more, as well entitled to preservation, of animals, very contrasted in their size and form, the spider and the war-horse; the former is first noticed in a simile.
6. —like a Spider, who, confin'd
in her web's centre, "shak't with every wind,"
Moves in an instant, if the "buzzing fly
Stir but a string of her lawn canopy."
W. 1. D.6.
Again in the succeeding day,
7. Still at the centre she her warp begins,
"Then round, at length, her little threads she pins,
And equal distance to their compass leaves."
Then neat and nimbly her new web she weaves,
With her "fine shuttle circularly drawn"
Through all the circuit of her open lawn;
Open, least else th' "ungentle winds" should tear
"Her cypress tent weaker than any hair;"
And that the foolish fly might easier get
Within the "meshes" of her "curious" net:
Which he no sooner doth begin to shake,
But straight the male doth to the centre make,
That he may conquer more securely there
The "humming" creature "hamper'd" in his snare.
W. 1. D. 7.
These morsels are well written, and unpolluted by the usual faults of Sylvester; the lines in Italics are particularly illustrative of the spider's mode of spinning, and of the fragile nature of her material's and web. Thomson has given us a more terrific view of this patient and industrious insect, and has painted in colours, which make the reader shudder, the savage exultation of the spoiler over his defenceless prey.
—chief to heedless flies the window proves
A constant death; where, gloomily retir'd,
The villain spider lives, cunning and fierce,
Mixture abhor'd! Amid a mangled heap
Of carcasses, in eager watch he sits,
O'erlooking all his waving snares around.
Near the dire cell the dreadless wanderer oft
Passes, as oft the ruffian shows his front;
The prey at last ensnar'd, he dreadful darts,
With rapid glide, along the leaning line;
And, fixing in the wretch his cruel fangs,
Strikes backward grimly pleas'd: the fluttering wing
And shriller sound declare extreme distress,
And ask the helping hospitable hand.
Summer L. 267.
This picture, from the poet of Nature, differs from the preceding one of Sylvester, in being principally confined to the attack of the spider on his captive, and the expression "strikes backward grimly pleas'd," is one of those minute, but faithful strokes, which places the very action before the eye, and for which the bard has been, so justly celebrated.
In order to estimate more perfectly, the zoologic fidelity with which the English Du Bartas has pourtrayed that noble animal the horse; to ascertain how far be has copied an exquisite original with spirit, and whether be has imparted any additional colouring from observation, I shall, in the first place, claim the attention of the reader to the masterly delineation of Virgil.
Continuo pecoris generosi pullus in arvis
Altius ingreditur, et mollia crura reponit:
Primus et ire viam, et fluvios tentare minaces
Audet, et ignoto sese committere ponti:
Nec vanos horret strepitus. Illi ardua cervix,
Argutumque caput, brevis alvus, obesaque terga;
Luxuriatque toris animosum pectus: honesti
Spadices, glaucique: color deterrimus albis,
Et gilvo: tum, si qua sonum procul arma dedere,
Stare loco nescit, micat auribus, et tremit artus,
Collectumque premens volvit sub naribus ignem.
Densa juba, et dextro jactata recumbit in armo.
At duplex agitur per lumbos spina; cavatque
Tellurem, et solido graviter sonat ungula cornu.
Georg. Lib. 3. 75.
By sure presages shows his generous kind,
Of able body, sound of limb and wind.
Upright he walks, on pasterns firm and straight;
His motions easy; prancing in his gait.
The first to lead the way, to tempt the flood
To pass the bridge unknown, nor fear the trembling wood;
Dauntless at empty noises; lofty neck'd;
Sharp-headed, barrel-belly'd, broadly back'd.
Brawny his chest, and deep, his colour grey;
For beauty dappled, or the brightest bay:
Faint white and dun will scarce the rearing pay.
The fiery courser, when he hears from far
The sprightly trumpets, and the shouts of wars
Pricks up his ears; and trembling with delight,
Shifts place, and paws; and hopes the promis'd fight.
On his right shoulder his thick mane reclin'd,
Ruffles at speed, and dances in the wind.
His horny hoofs are jetty black and round;
His chine is double; starting with a bound
He turns the turf, and shakes the solid ground.
Fire from his eyes, clouds from his nostrils flow:
He bears his Rider headlong on the foe.
Notwithstanding the far-famed and justly deserved celebrity of these fine lines, the following, from our obsolete Translator, though not so beautifully polished, will, in point of correctness and energy, endure the comparison, and the last six lines are, assuredly, highly poetical.
He chooseth one for his industrious proof,
With round, high, hollow, smooth, brown jetty hoof,
With pasterns short, upright, but yet in mean;
"Dry sinewy shanks; strong fleshless knees and lean;
With hart-like legs," broad breast, and large behind,
With body large, smooth flanks, and double chin'd:
A crested neck, "bow'd like a half-bent bow,"
Whereon a long, thin curled main doth flow;
A firm, full tail, touching the lowly ground
With dock between two 'burly haunches' drown'd.
A pricked ear, that rests as little space
As his light foot; a lean, bare, bony face,
Thin joul, and head but of a middling size;
Full, lively, flaming, quickly-rowling eyes,
Great foaming mouth, hot fuming nostril wide,
Of chesnut hair, his "fore-head starrified,"
Three milky feet, a feather on his breast,
Whom seven years old, at the next grass, he guess'd.—
His pace is fair and free; his trot as light
As tigers course, as swallow's nimble flight:
And his brave gallop seems as swift to go
As Biscan darts, or shafts from Russian bow—
—'Anon,' rising and rayning proudly,
Striking the turf, stamping and neighing loudly,
He calls the combat, plunges, leaps and praunces,
"Befoams the path," with sparkling eyes he glaunces,
Champs on his burnish'd bit, and gloriously
"His nimble fetlocks lifteth belly-high;"
Shunning himself, his sinnewy strength he stretches
"Flying the earth, the flying air he catches,"
Borne whirlwind-like: he makes the trampled ground
Shrink under him, and shake with doubling sound
And when the sight no more pursue him may,
In fieldy clouds he vanisheth away.
W. 2 D. 1. Part 4.
The only liberties I have taken with this quotation are, altering the position of four lines, and inserting the three words marked with inverted commas. To the circumstances mentioned by Virgil, are added those I have particularised by Italics, and which appear to be material and characteristic additions. It should be observed, however, that the expressions "body large" and "thin curled mane," are in direct opposition to the "brevis alvus" and "densa juba" of the Latin poet.
The couplets commencing "His pace is fair and free" to the conclusion, are wrought up with great animation, nor is the perspicuity tarnished any where but in the last line, in which the epithet "fieldy" is certainly obscure.
Upon the whole, this passage has considerable merit; the prior portion being comprehensive in its imagery, yet nervous and compressed in point of diction, whilst the latter takes a loftier flight and breathes the warm spirit of enthusiasm.
The part we have now arrived at in our progress through this bulky volume, is occupied by a description of the Garden of Eden; a subject which should inspire every genuine poet with rapture, and call forth all the resources of his genius. What our immortal Milton has done, is known to every lover of English poetry, and as Mr. Dunster has rendered it very probable, that he had repeatedly read the pages before us, nothing can well afford a higher idea of his taste and talents, than to contrast the simple beauty of his lovely description, with the artificial, quaint, and, generally, absurd delineation of Du Bartas, and, consequently, to reflect on the judicious use he has made of a bard, so infinitely his inferior; for that he has imitated, here and there, the imagery and expression of Sylvester's Translation, cannot, upon comparison, be denied.
My principal intention, however, in making these extracts, is not to point out the obligations of Milton, which has already been in part done, and will, probably, be continued by the same writer; neither is it my wish to impart to the reader, any idea of the general style and manner of Du Bartas and his Translator, which are certainly not worth preservation; the sole purport I have in view, is to snatch a few gems of high value, hitherto unnoticed, from the crude and worthless ore which surrounds them, and in executing this, if, on the same subject, I could take a dozen beautiful couplets from three or four pages, whose connection was just and pleasing, I have not failed to do it. Even this liberty is known by an elliptic mark, and every other, as I have already observed, by inverted commas.
On the subject of Eden, where simplicity is more particularly called for, it requires little penetration to suppose, that Du Bartas must have egregiously failed. There is, however, in the language of his translator, especially on rural subjects, an occasional felicity which astonishes, and some pieces of this kind will be quoted toward the conclusion of these papers, which are, indeed, truly exquisite. Here, however, though placed in a Garden, the immediate creation of the Almighty, not much, either of the pastoral or picturesque, can be extracted, and, in the little which is worth preserving, I shall have occasion to repeat eight lines, already selected by Mr. Dunster; these shall be distinguished by small capitals.
'There' honey sweet, from hollow rocks did drain,
'There' fostering milk flow'd up and down the plain;
'There' sweet as roses, smelt th' ill-savory rew:
'There' in all soils, all seasons, all things grew
'There' never guttur-gorging dirty muds
Defil'd the chrystal of smooth-sliding floods,
Whose waters past, in pleasant taste, the drink
That now in Candia decks Cerathus brink:
There shady groves of noble palm-tree sprays,
Of amorous myrtles, and immortal bays
Never unleav'd; but evermore, their new
Self-arching arms in thousand arbours grew:
Where thousand sorts of birds, both night and day,
Did bill and woo, and hop about, and play;
"And, marrying their sweet tunes to th' Angels lays,
Sung Adam's bliss and their great Maker's praise:—"
["There" in this quotation, is five times in succession substituted for "that."]
'And' Echo, haunting woods among—
She bore her part, and full of curious skill,
They ceasing sung, they singling ceased still:
There Music reign'd, and ever on the plain,
A sweet sound rais'd the dead-live voice again.—
'While' Zephyr did sweet musky sighs afford,
"Which breathing through the Garden of the Lord,"
Gave bodies vigour, verdure to the field,
That verdure flowers, those flowers sweet savor yield.
W. 2. D. 1. P. 1.
Of this passage the lines in Italics, especially the last, have much beauty, while the fifth, the nineteenth and the twenty-first are injured, by the debasing peculiarities of the Translator's diction: "guttur-gorging" and "dead-alive," are compounds truly Sylvestrian.
In mentioning the necessary labour of Adam and Eve, in maintaining the fertility and beauty of Paradise, he observes—
In brief, it was a pleasant exercise,
A labour-lik'd, a pain much like the guise
Of cunning Dancers, — who again, full merry,
Renew their dance, of dancing never weary,
Or else of Hunters, that, with happy luck,
Rousing betimes some often-breathed buck,
Spur on and spare not, following their desire,
"Themselves unweary, though their hacknies tire."
W. 2. D. 1. P. 1.
Here the close presents us with one of those cadences, so frequently met with in modern poetry, and which, though pleasing, has been almost repeated to satiety.
The poet next enumerates the recreations, which Adam derived from the rural variety around him, for
—yet in league with Heaven and Earth he lives,
Enjoying all the goods th' Almighty gives—
Here, underneath a fragrant hedge reposes,
Full of all kinds of sweet all-colour'd Roses
Anon he walketh in a level lane
On either sIde beset with shady plane,—
ANON HE STALKETH WITH AN EASY STRIDE,
BY SOME CLEAR-RIVER'S LILLY-PAVED SIDE,
WHOSE SANDS PURE GOLD, WHOSE PEBBLES PRECIOUS GEMS,
AND LIQUID SILVER ALL THE CURLING STREAMS:
And th' artless bridges over-thwart this torrent,
Are rocks self-arched by the eating current:
Now, far from noise, he creepeth covertly
Into a cave of kindly porphyry;
There, laid at ease, a cubit from the ground,
Upon a jasper fring'd with ivy round,
Purfled with veins, thick thrumm'd with mossy beaver,
He falls asleep fast by a silent river,
Whose captive streams, thro' crooked pipes still rushing,
Make sweetest music with their gentle gushing;—
Musing, anon through crooked walks he wanders,
Round-winding rings, and intricate meanders;
THEN, UP AND DOWN A FOREST THICK HE PACETH,
WHICH SELFLY-OPENING IN HIS PRESENCE BASETH
HER TREMBLING TRESSES NEVER-FADING SPRING,
FOR HUMBLE HOMAGE TO HER MIGHTY KING.
W 2. D. 1. P. 1.
There is much that deserves praise in these couplets, which, as here thrown together, form a beautiful and connected whole. The cave of porphyry, however, and the couch of jasper, must be considered as a little "outre."
In a subsequent part of the work and after the Fall, Adam and Eve are represented as clothing themselves with the produce of the groves, a description which, as possessing some merit, and closing with a spirited and well woven couplet, is entitled to insertion,
Sometimes they do the far-spread gourd unleave,
Sometimes the fig-tree of his branch bereave:
Sometimes the plane, sometimes the vine they sheer,
Choosing their fairest tresses here and there:—
Sometimes the ivy's climbing stems they strip,—
Which with green lace in artificial order
The wrinkled bark of th' acorn tree doth border,
And with his arms his slender twigs entwining,
A many branches in one tissue joining,
Frames a loose 'net-work,' whose light nimble quaking
Wagg'd by the winds, is like the "wanton shaking
Of golden spangles that in stately pride
Dance so the tresses of a noble bride."
W. 2. D. 1. P. 4.
In the first book of Paradise Lost, Milton, after enumerating the male and female deities of the Heathen world, whom he supposes to have been Demons, attributes certain privileges to spiritual agency.
—Spirits when they please
Can either sex assume, or both; so soft
And uncompounded is their essence pure,
Not ty'd or manacled with joint or limb,
Nor founded on the brittle strength of bones,
Like cumbrous flesh; but in what shape they choose
Dilated or condensed, bright or obscure,
Can execute their aery purposes,
And works of love or enmity fulfil.
B. 1. L. 423.
Bishop Newton has supposed these notions in have been borrowed from a dialogue of Michael Psellus, concerning the operation of Demons, but I think it is more probable they were suggested by a parallel passage in Sylvester.
—Devils, having bodies light,
Quick, nimble, active, "apt to change with sleight,
In shapes or shews,—"
In brief, like the air whereof they are compos'd:
For, as the air, with scattered clouds bespread,
Is here and there, black, yellow, white and red,
Resembling armies, monsters, mountains, dragons,
Rocks, fiery castles, forests, ships and waggons,
And such to us thro' glass transparent clear
From form to form varying it doth appear:
"So, these seducers can grow great, or small,
Or round, or square, or strait, or short, or tall,
As fits the passions they are moved by."
W. 2. D. 1. P. 2.
The Invention of Music, a topic well calculated to arouse the feelings and exertions of a poet, has given little elevation to the Muse of Sylvester, and the subjoined lines, which ascribe the origin of the Lute to Jubal, are the best I could select; of these, the last couplet, which is admirably descriptive, has been quoted by Mr. Dunster.
An open Tortoise lying on the ground,
Within the which there nothing else remain'd
Save three dry sinews on the shell stiff-strain'd:
This empty house Jubal doth gladly bear,
Strikes on those strings, and lends attentive ear;
And by this mould frames the melodious lute
That makes woods harken, and the winds be mute.
Lions be tame, and tempests quickly fade—
Mid rocky concaves of the babbling vales,
And bubbling rivers roll'd with gentle gales.
W. 2. D. 1. P. 4.
On this very subject, the lyric muse of Dryden has produced one of the most exquisite and picturesque stanzas in the compass of English poetry. There is nothing in the celebrated Alexander's Feast of this author which is superior to it; and it has been truly observed, that to embody the idea, the painter has nothing to do but to substitute colours for words, the design being finished to his hands.
What passion cannot music raise and quell!
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
His list'ning brethren stood around,
And wondering on their faces fell,
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell,
Within the hollow of that shell,
That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot music raise and quell!
Seth having requested of Adam an explanation of the origin and creation of the world, the latter implores the inspiration of the Deity, which, being granted, its effects are thus exhibited on the person of Adam.
—As th' imperial, airy people's prince
With stately pinions soaring high from hence,
Cleaves through the clouds—
So Adam, mounted on the burning wings
Of a seraphic love, leaves earthly things,
Feeds on sweet ether, cleaves the starry spheres,
And on God's face his eyes he fixtly bears;
His brows seem brandish'd with a sun-like fire,
And his purg'd body seems a cubit higher.
W. 2. D. 1. P 4.
Of this simile the last six lines flow with peculiar harmony, and the concluding couplet is perfectly in the style of the best modern versification, in the mechanism of which the present age has certainly attained to great excellence.
In accounting for the various changes of language, Sylvester has given us a very good translation of some well known lines of Horace, in terms at once simple and correct.
Ut silvae foliis pronos mutantur in annos;
Prima cadunt: ita verbotum vetus interit aetas,
Et juvenum ritu florent modo nata vigentque.—
Nedum sermonum stet honos, et gratia vivax.
Multa renascentur, quae jam cecidere; cadentque
Quae nunc sunt in honore vocabula—
—Licuit, semperque licebit
Signatum praesente nota procudere nomen.
EPIST. AD PISONES.
As branching woods let fall, and change the leaves,
Our language too a change of words receives:
Year after year drop off the ancient race,
While young ones bud and flourish in their place:—
And words are grac'd and honour'd but a day:
Many shall wake reviv'd, that now lie dead;
Many shall fade and all their glories shed;
And we, our Sires, and Sons, without a crime
May stamp on words the coinage of the time.
Although the version of Mr. Colman be, without doubt, the best hitherto produced of the Ars Poetica of Horace, the attempt of Sylvester, in this single passage, is, in point of perspicuity and strength of diction, perhaps superior.
For, as in forests, leaves do fall and spring,
Even so the words which whilome flourishing,
In sweet orations shin'd with pleasing lustre,
Like snow-white lillies in a fresh green pasture
Pass now no more; but banish'd from the court,
Dwell with disgrace, among the country sort:
And those, which Eld's strict doom did disallow,
And damn for bullion, go for current now.
A happy wit, with gracious judgment join'd,
May give a passport to the words new coin'd:
—also adopt the strange,
Ingraft the wild: enriching, with such change
His powerful style.
W. 2. D. 2. P. 2.
A prominent peculiarity in the style of Sylvester, is a frequent use of eleven feet in a line, which sometimes is productive of a pleasing effect; but the licence is carried to an unbounded lengths and more generally disfigures than improves his versification. In the quotation just given, it is introduced in the second couplet, and though no positive beauty has been acquired by the introduction, the result is not injurious. In several of the preceding passages, indeed, the reader may have observed it to have been practised with success, nor in the lines we are about to quote has it been used without propriety.
To awaken dormant sensibility, to excite the tenderest feelings of the heart, and call forth the tear of pity, require the most arduous exertions of the poet. To sympathy of the most susceptible kind, must be added great simplicity of thought and expression, and great chastity of structure in versification. That Sylvester, from the general tenor of his composition, was not calculated to excel in this department, will be the opinion of every one who has perused his works; and accordingly, in his version of Du Bartas, there are very few passages, indeed, which have any pretension to be termed pathetic. A quaint expression, a witticism, or a single ludicrous epithet or compound, all of which frequently crowd the pages, of this poem, would be instantly destructive of genuine pathos. With the liberty, however, of omitting a few couplets of this description, the following lines may be considered as exhibiting, in appropriate language, some tender ideas, and as forming, perhaps, the most pathetic portion in the work. Abraham, on the eve of leaving Chaldea at the command of God, bursts forth into exclamations, suggested by the retrospect of the happiness he had enjoyed in his native fields,
Alas! said Abram, must I needs forego
These happy fields where Euphrates doth flow?
Here, from my mother's breast, as soft as silk,
My tender gums suck'd the first drop of milk,
Here, with the pleasure of nine infant smile—
Her cares and 'sorrows' I did oft beguile: ["Cumbers"]
Here, many a time, I wantonly have clung,
And on my father's wrinkled neck have hung.
Here, I have past my 'youth' so fair and good; ["Lad-age"]
Here, first the soft down on my chin did bud:
Here, I have learnt heaven's motions and the nature
And various force of fire, air, earth and water:
Here, I have shown the noblest tokens forth
Both of my mind's and of my bodies worth:
Here, I have spent the best part of mine age;
Here, I possess a plenteous heritage:
Here, I have got me many friends and fame;
And by my deeds attain'd a glorious name:
And must I hence, and leave this certain state,
To roam uncertain
O'er fearful hills, and thorough foaming torrents
That rush down mountains with their roaring currents,
"In dreadful desarts, where heaven's hottest beam
Shall burn without, within as thirst extreme:
And gloomy forests full of ghastly fear
Of yelling monsters that are dwelling there?"
To seek a country, God knows where, and whither,
Whose unknown name hath yet scarce sounded hither?—
"Is't possible I should endure to see
The sighs and tears my friends will shed for me?
O! can I thus my native soil forsake?
O! with what words shall I my farewel take?
Farewel Chaldea, dear delights adieu,
Friends, Brothers, Sisters, farewel all of you,
Farewel for ever!"
W. 2. D. 3. P. 1.
The whole of this series of couplets is tolerably well compacted, and the two parts distinguished by Italics, more particularly merit praise; the first for its strength of painting and adaptation of epithet, the second for its power in appealing to the domestic affections.
It has been observed, that single lines of uncommon excellence frequently occur in Sylvester; the line concluding the annexed passage, may be truly termed a golden one, and would be noticed for its peculiar beauty and melody in a first rate poet.
I know, to man the Earth seems altogether,
No more a Mother, but a step-dame rather;
Because, alas! unto our loss she bears
"Blood-shedding steel, and gold the ground of cares."
W. 1. D. 3.
It is somewhat astonishing, and indicates very defective or, unchastised ear, that cadences of such sweetness and strength should only now and then occur, amid masses of the most rugged and careless versification; that he who could fabricate lines of a structure so elegant, and correct, should not immediately perceive the infinite inferiority, the total want of harmony of the surrounding context. This striking inequality, however, though, perhaps, in no poet so remarkable as in Sylvester, is the common fault of our ancient bards, at a time when taste was immature, and the ear as yet unaccustomed to the stately march and dignified tones, of which our heroic verse is susceptible.
As we proceed, however, we shall find the versification of Sylvester improving, and passages of considerable length occurring, in which nothing is reprehensible as to the mechanism, and very little with regard to sentiment and imagery. In the latter part of the following extract, I have made use of some transposition, though without altering a syllable of the original. Moses is represented, as in Leviticus, pronouncing, conditionally, blessings and curses upon Israel,
"If this thou do," thy heaven-blest fleecy flocks,
Shall bound about thy pastures, downs and rocks;
As thick as skip in summer, in a mead,
The grass-hoppers that all with dew are fed:
Thy fruitful ewes fat twins shall bring thee ever,
And of their milk shall make a plenteous river:—
Sons of thy sons shall serve thy reverend eld:
Thou shalt die quiet, thou shalt live unquell'd:
Blessed at home, and blessed in the plain;
The blessed God shall send thee timely rain,
And wholesome winds, and with his keys of grace
Open Heav'ns store-house to thy happy race:
Thy proud fell foes with troops of armed men
Shall charge thee one way, but shall fly thee ten:
The peace-plant olive, or triumphant bay
Shall shade thy gates: thy valour shall dismay
And daunt the earth: and, with his sacred awe,
Thy Saviour-King shall give the world the law.
Thou never shalt thine adverse host survey,
But to be beaten, or to run away:
And then, thy remnant, far dispers'd from home,
O'er all the corners of the earth shall roam:
Thou shalt reap little where thou much hast shed,
And with that little shall thy foe be fed;
Accurst at home, accursed in the plain,
Thy labour bootless, and thy care in vain.
W. 2. D. 3. P. 3.
If the versification in this passage be, in many parts entitled to approbation; what we have next to quote will convey a still higher idea of the occasional powers of Sylvester in this department. He has frequently, at the termination of the different divisions of the Days and Weeks, introduced a page or two of original matter, either alluding to some remarkable circumstance or event of the times in which he lived, reprobating the vices of the age, extolling the virtues of the sovereign, or enumerating the prosperity and prowess of his native country.
Though the version throughout has much the air of an original, yet, in these attempts, freed entirely from the shackles, which ever, in some degree, bind the most successful translator, the structure of his verse appears more free and easy, and, with the exception of a few exquisite passages in the body of the work, is more uniformly melodious and correct.
From these appendices to the poem of Du Bartas, I have selected a portion from one, which struck me as the most interesting and the most highly finished. The poet, after requesting protection from his country in his old age, dwells upon the glory, riches and happiness of old England, and concludes by taxing her with ingratitude to the giver of all things, reminding her of former visitations, and inculcating the necessity of penitence and prayer.
Ah, courteous ENGLAND, thy kind arms I see
Wide-stretched-out, to save and welcome me.
Thou, tender Mother! wilt not suffer age
To snow my locks in foreign pilgrimage:
That fell Brasil my breathless corse should shroud,
Or golden Peru of my praise be proud.
All, hail, dear Albion! Europe's pearl of price,
The world's rich garden, earth's rare paradise:
Thrice-happy Mother, which ay bringest forth
Such chivalry as daunteth all the earth,
Planting the trophies of thy glorious arms
By sea and land, where ever Titan warms,—
About thy borders, O Heav'n-blessed isle!
There never crawls the noisome Crocodile;
Nor bane-breath'd serpent, basking in thy sand,
Measures an acre of thy flow'ry land;
The swift-foot tiger, or fierce lioness
Haunt not thy mountains, nor thy wilderness;
Nor ravening wolves worry thy render lambs,
Bleating for help unto their helpless dams.
What though thy Thames and Tweed have never roll'd
Among their gravel, massy grains of gold?
What though thy mountains 'pour' no silver streams?
Though every hillock yield not precious gems?
Though in thy forests hang no silken fleeces?
Nor sacred incense, nor delicious spices?
What though he clusters of thy colder vines
Distil not clarets, sacks, nor muscadines?
Yet are thy wools, thy corn, thy cloth, thy tin,
Mines rich enough to make thee Europe's Queen,
Yea Empress of the world; yet not sufficient
To make thee thankful to the Cause efficient
Of all thy blessings!—
O wanton England! why hast thou forgot
Thy visitation, as thou had'st it not
Thou hast seen signs, and thou hast felt the rod
Of the revenging wrathful hand of God.
The frowning heav'ns in fearful sights forespoke
Thy Roman, Saxon, Dane and Norman yoke;
And since, alas! unkinder wounds than those,
The civil rents of thy divided Rose.
[These eight lines begining "O wanton England" are taken from some original lines subjoined to Week the first, Day the second.]
Dear Mother England! bend thine aged knee,
And to the heav'ns lift up thy hands with me;
Off with thy pomp, hence with thy pleasures past;
Thy mirth be mourning, and thy feast a fast.
W. 2. D. 2. P. 3.
The texture of these lines is perfectly modern; their energy and melody are great, and they are entirely free from affectation, quaintness, or puerility.
In this passage are clearly discernible the excellencies in metre and modulation, which acquired their author the epithet "of silver-tongued." I know not that from any of his contemporaries, Jonson, Chapman, Daniel, Drayton, Davis or Hall, a specimen, so nearly approaching the present polished state of the rhymed pentameter, so well-woven and condensed, can, after the most diligent search be produced. After the pathetic apostrophe to his beloved country for protection in his old age, it is with extreme regret we learn, that persecution, on account of his religious opinions, which were those of rigid Calvinism, compelled him to expatriate, and that Middleburgh, in Zealand, according to Wood, gave that last asylum to his remains, which his native island ungratefully refused.
It has been observed, that Sylvester frequently terminates the Days and distributions into Parts of Du Bartas's Work, with additional couplets of his own production; he has also often taken the liberty of inserting, in various places throughout the poem, wherever an opportunity was, with propriety, afforded him by the French original, strictures and observations on the manners, customs, politics, and religion of his countrymen. Many of these are extremely severe, and afford striking proof of the satyrical powers of their author.
For a specimen of these, and to place in a due light the varied abilities of Sylvester, I shall quote a passage from the concluding part of the sections called "The Decay," in which our Translator has happily brought in some fine original lines on Sycophants and Time-servers. These are harmonized in his best manner, and will, probably, remind the reader, of the style and versification of our lamented Cowper. The last quotation, indeed, of the preceding Essay, particularly the paragraph "O wanton England," bears a strong resemblance to this poet; the same impressive and forcible diction, and a similar construction of metre are discoverable in both writers.
Such are the occasional strength, energy, and harmony, of certain portions of this old version, that it is probable had Sylvester been more fortunate in the choice of his original, he had, in a great measure, been exempt from the numerous faults, which now disgrace his composition. The mean, the tumid and extravagant, the ludicrous and disgusting, characterise the style of Du Bartas, and the English bard has but too faithfully trodden in his footsteps. These fetters are, however, sometimes entirely shaken off, and the native powers of Sylvester become apparent.
To the collection, therefore, of whatever morsels may have been written, translated, or original, under the influence of this laudable exertion, the following severe but nervous lines must be added.
'Yea,' such are those, whose wily, waxen mind
Takes every seal, and sails with every wind;—
Loose with the lewd; among the gracious grave:
With saints, a saint, and among knaves a knave.—
Lo! these scene-servers that so loud have cried
'Gainst Prelates sweeping in their silken pride—
Their courting, sporting, and non-residence,
Their avarice, their sloth, and negligence:
Till some fat morsels in their mouths do fall;
And then, as choak'd, and sudden chang'd withal,
Themselves exceed in all of these, much more
Than the "Right Rev'rend" whom they tax'd before,
W. 2. D. 4. P. 4.
From the province of satire, at all times a rugged and ungracious soil, let us now pass into a more cheerful and diversified scene.
The Adjuration of the Gabaonites, when they endeavoured to make a league with Israel, is thus given by Sylvester, in language at once beautiful and impressive.
We adjure you therefore in the sacred name
Of that dread God to whom your vows you frame,
By the sweet air of this delightful coast,
By the good angel that conducts your host,
By dear embraces of your dearer wives,
And by your babes even dearer than your lives;
By each of these, and all of these together
And by your arms, whose fame has drawn us hither,
Have pity on us.
W. 2. D. 3. P. 4.
Nor is the following apostrophe to the Bride of Solomon, less entitled to the praise of pleasing melody and appropriate diction.
But O, fair Fairy! who art thou, whose eyes
Inflame the seas, the air, the earth and skies?
Tell us, what art thou, O thou fairest fair
That trimm'st the trammels of thy golden hair
With myrtle, thyme, and roses; and thy breast
Gird'st with a rich and odoriferous cest;
Whose robe's embroider'd with pomegranate boughs,
Button'd with sapphires, edg'd with beryl rowes.
W. 2. D. 4. P. 2.
The description of comets and meteors, and of the superstitions associated by the vulgar with their appearance, has been a favourite subject of poetry. Thomson, to whom the theme was congenial, has painted these phenomena with much effect.
A blaze of meteors shoots—
From look to look, contagious thro' the crowd,
The panic runs, and into wond'rous shapes
Th' appearance throws: Armies meet in array,
Throng'd with aerial spears, and steeds of fire;
Till the long lines of full extended war
In bleeding fight commixt, the sanguine flood
Rolls a broad slaughter o'er the plains of heaven
As thus they scan the visionary scene,
On all sides swells the superstitious din,
Incontinent and busy frenzy talks
Of blood and battle; cities overturn'd;
And late at night in swallowing earthquake sunk,
Or hideous wrapt in fierce ascending flame;
Or sallow famine, inundation, storm;
Of pestilence, and every great distress;
Autumn, L. 1107.
Sylvester has, however, anticipated him in nearly every part of the picture; the annexed lines, displaying, very accurately, the varied hues and shapes, which sometimes, during the night, shoot along the cope of heaven, and alarm the ignorant and unphilosophic.
Such are the forms it in the air resembles;
At sight whereof, th' amazed Vulgar trembles:
Here, in the night, appears a flaming spire,
There a fierce dragon folded all in fire;
Here a bright comet, there a burning beam,
Here flying lances, there a fiery stream:—
There, with long bloody hair, a blazing star
Threatens the world with famine, plague and war.
To princes, death: to kingdoms, many crosses:
To all estates, inevitable losses:
To herdmen, rot: to ploughmen, hapless seasons:
To sailors, storms: to cities, civil treasons.
W. 1. D. 2.
Milton, who has so admirably discriminated the sexes in his delineation of the garden of Eden, must have read, with no common pleasure, a part of the description which Sylvester has drawn of our first parents; the lines, considering the period at which they were written, are truly exquisite, both as to imagery and versification.
Could have the Lover from his Love decry'd,
Or known the Bridegroom from his gentle Bride:
Saving that she had a more smiling eye,
A smoother chin, "a cheek of purer dye,"
A fainter voice, a more enticing face,
A deeper tress, a more delighting grace,
"And in her bosom, more than lilly-white,
Two swelling mounts of ivory, panting light."
W. 1. D. 6.
The portion marked by Italics in this quotation, strongly recals to my recollection four beautiful lines in the Luciad of Camoens, as translated by Mickle.
Ah, who can boast he never felt the fires,
The trembling throbbings of the young desires,
When he beheld the breathing roses glow,
And the soft heavings of the living snow.
The character and abilities of David afford ample scope for poetical eulogy, and, in the work before us, some fancy and many lines are devoted to the memory of the sacred Bard. I have selected a few from the mass, which are well worth preservation.
Scarce was he born, when in his cradle prest
The Nightingale to build her tender nest;—
And th' heav'nly Muse, under his roof descending,
As in the summer, with a train down-bending,
We see some meteor, winged brightly fair
With twinkling rays, glide thro' the crystal air,
And suddenly, after long-seeming flight,
To seem amid the new-shorn fields to light.
Him softly in her ivory arms infolds
Live, live, sweet Babe! thou miracle of mine,
Live ever saint, and grow thou all divine:—
May thy sweet voice, in peace, resound as far
And speed as 'swift' as thy dread arm in wary
'Thy voice,' so sweet, that it shall ever be
Th' immortal nectar to posterity:
So clear, that Poesy, "whose pleasure is
To bathe in seas of heav'nly mysteries,
Her chastest feathers in the same shall die,"
And dew with all her choicest workmanship:—
O sooner shall sad Boreas take his wing
At Nilus head, and boist'rous Auster spring
From th' icy floods of Iceland, than thy fame
Shall be forgot, or honour fail thy name.—
Nought but thine airs thro' air and seas shall sound;
In high-built temples shall thy songs resound
Thy sacred verse shall clear God's cloudy face,
And in thy steps the noblest wits shall trace.
Gross Vulgar, hence! with hands profanely vile,
Such holy things presume not to defile,
Touch not these sacred stops, these silver strings
This kingly harp is only meet for kings.
W. 2. D. 4. P. 1.
In this passage, three lines, which I have distinguished by Italics, have been quoted by Mr. Dunster; the whole, however, as here selected, is excellent. The second, third, and fourth couplets, have much that is Miltonic in their style and imagery, and the address of the heavenly Muse may be justly termed apposite and melodious.
Israel having offended the Almighty, he permits the Canaanites to prevail, and their Prince, who is represented of an immense stature, is introduced arming his gigantic form. Numerous have been the attempts in poetry to describe Beings beyond the common dimensions of mankind, and the picture, in Sylvester's version, will hold no mean rank in the collection.
Arms the broad mountain of his hairy breast
With horrid scales of Nilus greedy beast:
His brawny arms and shoulders, with the skin
Of the dart-darting wily Porcupine:
He wears for Helm a Dragon's ghastly head,
Whereon for plume a huge horse-tail doth spread;
Not much unlike a birch-tree bare below,
Which at the top in a thick tuft doth grow,
Waving with every wind, and made to kiss
Th' earth, now on that side, and anon on this;
In quiver made of lizard's skins he wears
His poison'd arrows; and the bow he bears
Is of a mighty tree, strung with a cable;
His shaft a lever, whose keen head is able
To pierce all proof, stone, steel and diamant:
Thus furnished, the Tyrant thus doth vaunt:
Sirs, shall we suffer this ignoble race,
Thus shamefully us from our own to chace?
Shall they be victors ere they overcome?
Shall our possessions and our plenty come
Among these mongrels? Tush! let children quake
At dreams of Abram: let faint women shake
At their dread God, at their sea-drying Lord
I know no Gods above my glittering sword:
This said, he sallies, and assaults the foe
With furious skirmish, and doth charge them so
As stormy billows rush against a rock;
As boisterous winds, that have their prison broke,
Roar on a forest.
W. 2. D. 3. P. 4.
The speech of this Herculean Warrior is spirited and characteristic, and the similies, at the close, have force and propriety.
As a contrast to the above, in point of imagery, I shall now present a delineation, which, I think, in any poet, would be esteemed admirable. Indeed I know not that any alteration could render it more correct or beautiful. It is one of those sketches of rural Nature, for which the genius of Sylvester seems to have been peculiarly adapted.
Under the gentle Equinoctial line,
Fair amorous Nature waters freshly fine
A little grove clad in eternal green,
Where all the year long lusty May is seen,
Suiting the lawns in all her pomp and pride
Of lively colours, lovely varified:
There smiles the ground, the starry flowers each one
There mounts the more, the more th' are trod upon:
There, all grows toiless, or, if till'd it were,
Sweet Zephyrus is th' only Husband there.
There Auster never roars, nor hail disleaves
Th' immortal grove, nor any branch bereaves.
There the straight palm tree stoopeth in the calm
To kiss his spouse, his loyal female palm;
There with soft whispers whistling all the year,
The broad-leav'd plane-tree courts the plane his pheer,
The poplar woos the poplar, and the vine
About the elm her slender arms doth twine:
Th' ivy about the oak; there all doth prove,
That there, all springs, all grows, all lives in love.
W. 2. D. 4. P. 2.
Of this elegant and finished description, whose melody and simplicity of expression are singularly pleasing; the last four couplets form a paraphrastic translation of some celebrated lines in Claudian.
Vivunt in venerem frondes; nemus omne per altum
Felix arbor amat; nutant ad mutua palmae
Faedera, populeo suspirat populus ictu,
Et platini platanis, alnoque assibilat alnus.
Few are the passages in this version of Sylvester, which are calculated to excite emotions of terror, principally owing to the want of dignity and solemnity in the language employed. The extract, however, which we are about to quote, has certainly, in this department, merit, though it should he observed, that many couplets, which would have considerably injured the effect, have been omitted. Thus given, the better part being thrown together, it may even boast of Shaksperian graces.
The well-known relation of the Witch of Endor, evoking the spirit of Samuel, at the request of Saul, forms the subject of our piece.
In Endor dwelt a Beldam in those days,
Deep skill'd in charms—
In secret murders, sudden tragedies;
Her drink, the blood of babes; her dainty feast
Men's marrow, brains and liver, late deceas'd;—
Sometimes, they say, she dims the heav'nly lamps,
She haunts the graves, she talks with ghosts, she stamps
And calls up spirits, and with a wink controuls
Th' infernal tyrant, and the tortur'd souls:—
'She on steep' mountains stops the swiftest currents,—
From driest rocks draws rapid rolling torrents,
Turns day to night holds winds within her hand,
Makes the spheres move, and the sun still to stand,
"'To Her' the unfaithful Saul"
O thou all knowing Spirit! deign with thy spell
To raise up here renowned Samuel
To satisfy my doubtful soul.—
Importun'd twice or thrice, she, that before
Resembled one of those grim ghosts of yore
Which she was wont with her unwholesome breath
To re-bring back from the black gates of death,
Grows now more ghastly:—
The place about darker than night she darks,—
And in unheard, horrid, barbarian terms,
She mutters strange and execrable charms:—
Eternal Shades! infernal Deities!
Death, Horrors, Terrors, Silence, Obsequies,
Demons dispatch! if this 'blue-gleaming' taper
Be of mine own son's fat; if here, for paper,
I write, detested, on the tender skins
Of timeless infants, and abortive twins
Torn from the womb—
If this black sprinkle, tuft with Virgin's tress,
Be, at your altar, dipt in kinsman's blood;—
Haste, haste you Fiends, you subterranean Powers.
If impiously, as fits these rites of yours,
I have invok'd your 'awful' Majesties,
Harken, O Furies! to my blasphemies,
Regard my charms and mine enchanting spell,
Reward my sins and send up Samuel;
Dispatch, I say!—
What! stubborn Ghost! The Palfries of the Sun
Do fear my spells, and, when I 'chide' they run:
The planets bow, the plants give ear to me,
The forests stoop, and even the strongest tree,
At dreary sound of my sad whisperings,
Doth prophesy, foretelling future things:
Yea, maugre Jove, by mine almighty charms,
Through heaven I thunder with imperious arms:
And com'st not thou?—
W. 2. D. 4. P. 1.
The last paragraph of these lines, the address to the lingering spirit of the prophet, for its awful and impressive energy, its gloomy grandeur and emphatic diction, is entitled to high encomium.
I am now approaching toward the termination of these Essays on Sylvester's Version, and I have reserved, for my concluding quotation, a description of the pleasures of a country life. Virgil, at the end of the second Georgic, has given us a most exquisite and elaborate picture of rural felicity, and many poets have since attempted a similar delineation. That from the forgotten poem now before us, however, an extract can be taken, and that of considerable length too, which may be put into competition with almost any eulogium on the country, written since the era of the Mantuan Bard, will, I dare say, excite some surprise. This will be heightened when I venture to assert, that English rural or pastoral poetry, has not, either in point of beauty, sentiment, or engaging simplicity, a nobler passage to produce.
O how I grieve, dear Earth! that, given to gays,
Most of best wits contemn thee now-a-days;
And noblest hearts proudly abandon quite,
Study of herbs, and Country-life's delight.—
O thrice, thrice happy he, who shuns the cares
Of city-troubles, and of state affairs;
And, serving Ceres, tills with his own team
His own free land, left by his friends to him!
Never pale Envy's poisonous heads do hiss
To gnaw his heart; nor vulture Avarice:
His field's bounds bound his thoughts: he never sups
For nectar, poison mixt in silver cups:—
His hands his bowl, better than plate or glass,
The silver brook his sweetest hypocrass.
Milk, cheese and fruit, fruits of his own endeavour,
Drest without dressing, hath he ready ever.
No fained chiding, no foul-jarring noise
Break his 'cool' brain, or interrupt his joys,
But chearful birds, chirping him sweet good morrows,
With nature's music do beguile his sorrows;
Teaching the fragrant forests, day by day,
The diapason of their heavenly lay,
"And leading all his life at home in peace,
Always in sight of his own smoke; no seas,
No other seas he knows, nor other torrent,
Than that which waters with his silver current
His native meadows: and that very earth
Shall give him burial, which first gave him birth."
To summon timely sleep, he doth not need
Aethiop's cold rush, nor drowsy poppy seed,
But on green carpets, thrumm'd with mossy beaver,
Fringing the round skirts of his winding river,
"The streams mild murmur, as it gently gushes,
His healthy limbs in quiet slumber hushes."
Drum, fife and trumpet with their loud alarms,
Make him not start out of his sleep to arms:
The crested cock sings 'his proud note' to him,
Limits his rest, and makes him stir betime
"To walk the mountains, or the flowery meads,
Impearl'd with tears, that sweet Aurora sheds;"
And the open sky, where at full breath he lives,
Still keeps him sound, and still new stomach gives:
"And Death, dread Servant of the eternal Judge,
Comes very late to his sole-seated Lodge."
His wretched years in Prince's courts he spends not,
His thralled will on Greatmen's wills depends not,—
"But all self-private, serving God, he writes
Fearless, and sings but what his heart indites."
What though his wardrobe be not stately stuft
With sumptuous silks, pinked and pounc'd and puft,
With gold-ground velvets, and with silver tissue,
And all the glory of old Eve's proud issue!
What though his feeble coffers be not cramm'd
With Miser's idols, golden ingots ramm'd!
He is warm wrapped in his own grown wool;
Of unbought wines his cellar's ever full;
His garners stor'd with grain, his ground with flocks,
His barns with fodder, with sweet streams his rocks.
"Let me, Good Lord! among the Great unkenn'd,
My rest of days in the calm country end:
My company, purr thoughts, to work thy will,
My court, a cottage on a lowly hill."
W. 1. D. 3.
The omission of some lines, which broke in upon and marred the beauty of the design, and the transposition of one couplet, are the only liberties taken with this admirable description, of which the parts distinguished by italics, appear to me singularly beautiful.
Such are the extracts which, notwithstanding the pre-selection of Mr. Dunster, the perusal of this obsolete version has afforded me. They have been chosen, not merely for their merit, as contrasted with the cold and heavy materials which enveloped them, but for their positive excellencies, and I therefore flatter myself, that, insulated as they are, they can suffer nothing by the separation, and will be deemed, by every lover of our ancient literature, as gems worthy of preservation, and entitled to live long, after the ore in which they were embedded has ceased to exist.
In presenting these detached beauties to the reader, it will he found, upon reference to the work, that I have faithfully copied the language of my author, except where an epithet, from vicissitude in language or association of idea, would have thrown a ludicrous air over the context, and, in this case, the substituted word has been always pointed out by typographical marks. These substitutions, however, it will be perceived, are very infrequent and very trifling. It is in selection and omission that taste is principally exercised, whilst quoting from our Translator; the passages already given in these Essays, will, I have no doubt, vindicate my conduct in the first of these departments, and he who shall patiently consult the entire poem, will, I hope, as to the second, discover, that nothing is retained which should have been omitted, nothing, I trust omitted, which could, with propriety, have been retained.