BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
No. CCCLI. JANUARY, 1845. Vol. LVII.
Homer, Dante, and Michael Angelo, 1
Settled at Last, Or, Red River Recollections, 18
Borodino. An Ode, 30
A Ramble in Montenegro, 33
AEsthetics of Dress. A Case of Hats, 51
The Three Guardsmen, 59
Marston; Or the Memoirs of a Statesman. Part XV., 75
Janus: From the Fasti of Ovid, 94
To a Blind Girl, 98
The Forced Sale, 99
Vanities in Verse. By B. Simmons, 114
Coleridge and Opium-eating, 117
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BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
NO. CCCLI. JANUARY, 1845. Vol. LVII.
HOMER, DANTE, AND MICHAEL ANGELO.
There is something inexpressibly striking, it may almost be said awful, in the fame of HOMER. Three thousand years have elapsed since the bard of Chios began to pour forth his strains; and their reputation, so far from declining, is on the increase. Successive nations are employed in celebrating his works; generation after generation of men are fascinated by his imagination. Discrepancies of race, of character, of institutions, of religion, of age, of the world, are forgotten in the common worship of his genius. In this universal tribute of gratitude, modern Europe vies with remote antiquity, the light Frenchman with the volatile Greek, the impassioned Italian with the enthusiastic German, the sturdy Englishman with the unconquerable Roman, the aspiring Russian with the proud American. Seven cities, in ancient times, competed for the honour of having given him birth, but seventy nations have since been moulded by his productions. He gave a mythology to the ancients; he has given the fine arts to the modern world. Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Juno, are still household words in every tongue; Vulcan is yet the god of fire, Neptune of the ocean, Venus of love. When Michael Angelo and Canova strove to embody their conceptions of heroism or beauty, they portrayed the heroes of the Iliad. Flaxman's genius was elevated to the highest point in embodying its events. Epic poets, in subsequent times, have done little more than imitate his machinery, copy his characters, adopt his similes, and, in a few instances, improve upon his descriptions. Painting and statuary, for two thousand years, have been employed in striving to portray, by the pencil or the chisel, his yet breathing conceptions. Language and thought itself have been moulded by the influence of his poetry. Images of wrath are still taken from Achilles, of pride from Agamemnon, of astuteness from Ulysses, of patriotism from Hector, of tenderness from Andromache, of age from Nestor. The galleys of Rome were, the line-of-battle ships of France and England still are, called after his heroes. The Agamemnon long bore the flag of Nelson; the Ajax perished by the flames within sight of the tomb of the Telamonian hero, on the shores of the Hellespont; the Achilles was blown up at the battle of Trafalgar. Alexander the Great ran round the tomb of Achilles before undertaking the conquest of Asia. It was the boast of Napoleon that his mother reclined on tapestry representing the heroes of the Iliad, when he was brought into the world. The greatest poets of ancient and modern times have spent their lives in the study of his genius or the imitation of his works. Withdraw from subsequent poetry the images, mythology, and characters of the Iliad, and what would remain? Petrarch spent his best years in restoring his verses. Tasso portrayed the siege of Jerusalem, and the shock of Europe and Asia, almost exactly as Homer had done the contest of the same forces, on the same shores, two thousand five hundred years before. Milton's old age, when blind and poor, was solaced by hearing the verses recited of the poet, to whose conceptions his own mighty spirit had been so much indebted; and Pope deemed himself fortunate in devoting his life to the translation of the Iliad.
No writer in modern times has equalled the wide-spread fame of the Grecian bard; but it may be doubted whether, in the realms of thought, and in sway over the reflecting world, the influence of DANTE has not been almost as considerable. Little more than five hundred years, indeed, have elapsed—not a sixth of the thirty centuries which have tested the strength of the Grecian patriarch—since the immortal Florentine poured forth his divine conceptions; but yet there is scarcely a writer of eminence since that time, in works even bordering on imagination, in which traces of his genius are not to be found. The Inferno has penetrated the world. If images of horror are sought after, it is to his works that all subsequent ages have turned; if those of love and divine felicity are desired, all turn to the Paradise and the Spirit of Beatrice. When the historians of the French Revolution wished to convey an idea of the utmost agonies they were called on to portray, they contented themselves with saying it equalled all that the imagination of Dante had conceived of the terrible. Sir Joshua Reynolds has exerted his highest genius in depicting the frightful scene described by him, when Ugolino perished of hunger in the tower of Pisa. Alfieri, Metastasio, Corneille, Lope de Vega, and all the great masters of the tragic muse, have sought in his works the germs of their finest conceptions. The first of these tragedians marked two-thirds of the Inferno and Paradiso as worthy of being committed to memory. Modern novelists have found in his prolific mind the storehouse from which they have drawn their noblest imagery, the chord by which to strike the profoundest feelings of the human heart. Eighty editions of his poems have been published in Europe within the last half century; and the public admiration, so far from being satiated, is augmenting. Every scholar knows how largely Milton was indebted to his poems for many of his most powerful images. Byron inherited, though often at second hand, his mantle, in many of his most moving conceptions. Schiller has embodied them in a noble historic mirror; and the dreams of Goethe reveal the secret influence of the terrible imagination which portrayed the deep remorse and hopeless agonies of Malebolge.
MICHAEL ANGELO has exercised an influence on modern art little, if at all, inferior to that produced on the realms of thought by Homer and Dante. The father of Italian painting, the author of the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel, he was, at the same time, the restorer of ancient sculpture, and the intrepid architect who placed the Pantheon in the air. Raphael confessed, that he owed to the contemplation of his works his most elevated conceptions of their divine art. Sculpture, under his original hand, started from the slumber of a thousand years, in all the freshness of youthful vigour; architecture, in subsequent times, has sought in vain to equal, and can never hope to surpass, his immortal monument in the matchless dome of St Peters. He found painting in its infancy—he left it arrived at absolute perfection. He first demonstrated of what that noble art is capable. In the Last Judgment he revealed its wonderful powers, exhibiting, as it were, at one view, the whole circles of Dante's Inferno—portraying with terrible fidelity the agonies of the wicked, when the last trumpet shall tear the veil from their faces, and exhibit in undisguised truth that most fearful of spectacles—a naked human heart. Casting aside, perhaps with undue contempt, the adventitious aids derived from finishing, colouring, and execution, he threw the whole force of his genius into the design, the expression of the features, the drawing of the figures. There never was such a delineator of bone and muscle as Michael Angelo. His frescoes stand out in bold relief from the walls of the Vatican, like the sculptures of Phidias from the pediment of the Parthenon. He was the founder of the school of painting both at Rome and Florence—that great school which, disdaining the representation of still life, and all the subordinate appliances of the art, devoted itself to the representation of the grand and the beautiful; to the expression of passion in all its vehemence—of emotion in all its intensity. His incomparable delineation of bones and muscles was but a means to an end; it was the human heart, the throes of human passion, that his master-hand laid bare. Raphael congratulated himself, and thanked God that he had given him life in the same age with that painter; and Sir Joshua Reynolds, in his last address to the Academy, "reflected, not without vanity, that his Discourses bore testimony to his admiration of that truly divine man, and desired that the last words he pronounced in that academy, and from that chair, might be the name of Michael Angelo."
The fame of these illustrious men has long been placed beyond the reach of cavil. Criticism cannot reach, envy cannot detract from, emulation cannot equal them. Great present celebrity, indeed, is no guarantee for future and enduring fame; in many cases, it is the reverse, but there is a wide difference between the judgment of the present and that of future ages. The favour of the great, the passions of the multitude, the efforts of reviewers, the interest of booksellers, a clique of authors, a coterie of ladies, accidental events, degrading propensities, often enter largely into the composition of present reputation. But opinion is freed from all these disturbing influences by the lapse of time. The grave is the greatest of all purifiers. Literary jealousy, interested partiality, vulgar applause, exclusive favour, alike disappear before the hand of death. We never can be sufficiently distrustful of present opinion, so largely is it directed by passion or interest. But we may rely with confidence on the judgment of successive generations on departed eminence; for it is detached from the chief cause of present aberration. So various are the prejudices, so contradictory the partialities and predilections of men, in different countries and ages of the world, that they never can concur through a course of centuries in one opinion, if it is not founded in truth and justice. The vox populi is often little more than the vox diaboli; but the voice of ages is the voice of God.
It is of more moment to consider in what the greatness of these illustrious men really consists—to what it has probably been owing—and in what particulars they bear an analogy to each other.
They are all three distinguished by one peculiarity, which doubtless entered largely into their transcendent merit—they wrote in the infancy of civilization. Homer, as all the world knows, is the oldest profane author in existence. Dante flourished about the year 1300: he lived at a time when the English barons lived in rooms strewed with rushes, and few of them could sign their names. The long life of Michael Angelo, extending from 1474 to 1564, over ninety years, if not passed in the infancy of civilization, was at least passed in the childhood of the arts: before his time, painting was in its cradle. Cimabue had merely unfolded the first dawn of beauty at Florence; and the stiff figures of Pietro Perugino, which may be traced in the first works of his pupil Raphael, still attest the backward state of the arts at Rome. This peculiarity, applicable alike to all these three great men, is very remarkable, and beyond all question had a powerful influence, both in forming their peculiar character, and elevating them to the astonishing greatness which they speedily attained.
It gave them—what Johnson has justly termed the first requisite to human greatness—self-confidence. They were the first—at least the first known to themselves and their contemporaries—who adventured on their several arts; and thus they proceeded fearlessly in their great career. They had neither critics to fear, nor lords to flatter, nor former excellence to imitate. They portrayed with the pencil, or in verse, what they severally felt, undisturbed by fear, unswayed by example, unsolicitous about fame, unconscious of excellence. They did so for the first time. Thence the freshness and originality, the vigour and truth, the simplicity and raciness by which they are distinguished. Shakspeare owed much of his greatness to the same cause; and thence his similarity, in many respects, to these great masters of his own or the sister arts. When Pope asked Bentley what he thought of his translation of the Iliad, the scholar replied, "You have written a pretty book, Mr Pope; but you must not call it Homer." Bentley was right. With all its pomp of language and melody of versification, its richness of imagery and magnificence of diction, Pope's Homer is widely different from the original. He could not avoid it. The "awful simplicity of the Grecian bard, his artless grandeur and unaffected majesty," will be sought for in vain in the translation; but if they had appeared there, it would have been unreadable in that age. Michael Angelo, in his bold conceptions, energetic will, and rapid execution, bears a close resemblance to the father of poetry. In both, the same faults, as we esteem them, are conspicuous, arising from a too close imitation of nature, and a carelessness in rejecting images or objects which are of an ordinary or homely description. Dante was incomparably more learned than either: he followed Virgil in his descent to the infernal regions; and exhibits an intimate acquaintance with ancient history, as well as that of the modern Italian states, in the account of the characters he meets in that scene of torment. But in his own line he was entirely original. Homer and Virgil had, in episodes of their poems, introduced a picture of the infernal regions; but nothing on the plan of Dante's Inferno had before been thought of in the world. With much of the machinery of the ancients, it bears the stamp of the spiritual faith of modern times. It lays bare the heart in a way unknown even to Homer and Euripides. It reveals the inmost man in a way which bespeaks the centuries of self-reflection in the cloister which had preceded it. It is the basis of all the spiritual poetry of modern, as the Iliad is of all the external imagery of ancient, times.
In this respect there is a most grievous impediment to genius in later, or, as we term them, more civilized times, from which, in earlier ages, it is wholly exempt. Criticism, public opinion, the dread of ridicule—then too often crush the strongest minds. The weight of former examples, the influence of early habits, the halo of long-established reputation, force original genius from the untrodden path of invention into the beaten one of imitation. Early talent feels itself overawed by the colossus which all the world adores; it falls down and worships, instead of conceiving. The dread of ridicule extinguishes originality in its birth. Immense is the incubus thus laid upon the efforts of genius. It is the chief cause of the degradation of taste, the artificial style, the want of original conception, by which the literature of old nations is invariably distinguished. The early poet or painter who portrays what he feels or has seen, with no anxiety but to do so powerfully and truly, is relieved of a load which crushes his subsequent compeers to the earth. Mediocrity is ever envious of genius—ordinary capacity of original thought. Such envy in early times is innocuous or does not exist, at least to the extent which is felt as so baneful in subsequent periods. But in a refined and enlightened age, its influence becomes incalculable. Whoever strikes out a new region of thought or composition, whoever opens a fresh vein of imagery or excellence, is persecuted by the critics. He disturbs settled ideas, endangers established reputations, brings forward rivals to dominant fame. That is sufficient to render him the enemy of all the existing rulers in the world of taste. Even Jeffrey seriously lamented, in one of his first reviews of Scott's poems, that he should have identified himself with the unpicturesque and expiring images of feudality, which no effort could render poetical. Racine's tragedies were received with such a storm of criticism as wellnigh cost the sensitive author his life; and Rousseau was so rudely handled by contemporary writers on his first appearance, that it confirmed him in his morbid hatred of civilization. The vigour of these great men, indeed, overcame the obstacles created by contemporary envy; but how seldom, especially in a refined age, can genius effect such a prodigy? how often is it crushed in the outset of its career, or turned aside into the humble and unobtrusive path of imitation, to shun the danger with which that of originality is beset!
Milton's Paradise Lost contains many more lines of poetic beauty than Homer's Iliad; and there is nothing in the latter poem of equal length, which will bear any comparison with the exquisite picture of the primeval innocence of our First Parents in his fourth book. Nevertheless, the Iliad is a more interesting poem than the Paradise Lost; and has produced and will produce a much more extensive impression on mankind. The reason is, that it is much fuller of event, is more varied, is more filled with images familiar to all mankind, and is less lost in metaphysical or philosophical abstractions. Homer, though the father of poets, was essentially dramatic; he was an incomparable painter; and it is his dramatic scenes, the moving panorama of his pictures, which fascinates the world. He often speaks to the heart, and is admirable in the delineation of character; but he is so, not by conveying the inward feeling, but by painting with matchless fidelity its external symptoms, or putting into the mouths of his characters the precise words they would have used in similar circumstances in real life. Even his immortal parting of Hector and Andromache is no exception to this remark; he paints the scene at the Scaean gate exactly as it would have occurred in nature, and moves us as if we had seen the Trojan hero taking off his helmet to assuage the terrors of his infant son, and heard the lamentations of his mother at parting with her husband. But he does not lay bare the heart, with the terrible force of Dante, by a line or a word. There is nothing in Homer which conveys so piercing an idea of misery as the line in the Inferno, where the Florentine bard assigns the reason of the lamentations of the spirits in Malebolge—
"Questi non hanno speranza di morte."
"These have not the hope of death." There speaks the spiritual poet; he does not paint to the eye, he does not even convey character by the words he makes then utter; he pierces by a single expression, at once to the heart.
Milton strove to raise earth to heaven: Homer brought down heaven to earth. The latter attempt was a much easier one than the former; it was more consonant to human frailty; and, therefore, it has met with more success. The gods and goddesses in the Iliad are men and women, endowed with human passions, affections, and desires, and distinguished only from sublunary beings by superior power and the gift of immortality. We are interested in them as we are in the genii or magicians of an eastern romance. There is a sort of aerial epic poem going on between earth and heaven. They take sides in the terrestrial combat, and engage in the actual strife with the heroes engaged in it. Mars and Venus were wounded by Diomede when combating in the Trojan ranks; their blood, or rather the
"Ichor which blest immortals shed,"
flowed profusely; they fled howling to the palaces of heaven. Enlightened by a spiritual faith, fraught with sublime ideas of the divine nature and government, Milton was incomparably more just in his descriptions of the Supreme Being, and more elevated in his picture of the angels and arch-angels who carried on the strife in heaven; but he frequently falls into metaphysical abstractions or theological controversies, which detract from the interest of his poem.
Despite Milton's own opinion, the concurring voice of all subsequent ages and countries has assigned to the Paradise Regained a much lower place than to the Paradise Lost. The reason is, that it is less dramatic—it has less incident and action. Great part of the poem is but an abstract theological debate between our Saviour and Satan. The speeches he makes them utter are admirable, the reasoning is close, the arguments cogent, the sentiments elevated in the speakers, but dialectic too. In many of the speeches of the angel Raphael, and in the council of heaven, in the Paradise Lost there is too much of that species of discussion for a poem which is to interest the generality of men. Dryden says, that Satan is Milton's real hero; and every reader of the Paradise Lost must have felt, that in the Prince of Darkness, and Adam and Eve, the interest of the poem consists. The reason is, that the vices of the first, and the weakness of the two last, bring them nearer than any other characters in the poem to the standard of mortality; and we are so constituted, that we cannot take any great interest but in persons who share in our failings.
Perhaps the greatest cause of the sustained interest of the Iliad is the continued and vehement action which is maintained. The attention is seldom allowed to flag. Either in the council of the gods, the assembly of the Grecian or Trojan chiefs, or the contest of the leaders on the field of battle, an incessant interest is maintained. Great events are always on the wing: the issue of the contest is perpetually hanging, often almost even, in the balance. It is the art with which this is done, and a state of anxious suspense, like the crisis of a great battle kept up, that the great art of the poet consists. It is done by making the whole dramatic—bringing the characters forward constantly to speak for themselves, making the events succeed each other with almost breathless rapidity, and balancing success alternately from one side to the other, without letting it ever incline decisively to either. Tasso has adopted the same plan in his Jerusalem Delivered, and the contests of the Christian knights and Saracen leaders with the lance and the sword, closely resemble those of the Grecian and Trojan chiefs on the plain of Troy. Ariosto has carried it still further. The exploits of his Paladins—their adventures on earth, in air, and water; their loves, their sufferings, their victories, their dangers—keep the reader in a continual state of suspense. It is this sustained and varied interest which makes so many readers prefer the Orlando Furioso to the Jerusalem Delivered. But Ariosto has pushed it too far. In the search of variety, he has lost sight of unity. His heroes are not congregated round the banners of two rival potentates; there is no one object or interest in his poem. No narrow plain, like that watered by the Scamander, is the theatre of their exploits. Jupiter, from the summit of Gargarus, could not have beheld the contending armies. The most ardent imagination, indeed, is satiated with his adventures, but the closest attention can hardly follow their thread. Story after story is told, the exploits of knight after knight are recounted, till the mind is fatigued, the memory perplexed, and all general interest in the poem lost.
Milton has admirably preserved the unity of his poem; the grand and all-important object of the fall of man could hardly admit of subordinate or rival interests. But the great defect in the Paradise Lost, arising from that very unity, is want of variety. It is strung throughout on too lofty a key; it does not come down sufficiently to the wants and cravings of mortality. The mind is awe-struck by the description of Satan careering through the immensity of space, of the battle of the angels, of the fall of Lucifer, of the suffering, and yet unsubdued spirit of his fellow rebels, of the adamantine gates, and pitchy darkness, and burning lake of hell. But after the first feeling of surprise and admiration is over, it is felt by all, that these lofty contemplations are not interesting to mortals like ourselves. They are too much above real life—too much out of the sphere of ordinary event and interest.
The fourth book is the real scene of interest in the Paradise Lost; it is its ravishing scenes of primeval innocence and bliss which have given it immortality. We are never tired of recurring to the bower of Eve, to her devotion to Adam, to the exquisite scenes of Paradise, its woods, its waters, its flowers, its enchantments. We are so, because we feel that it paints the Elysium to which all aspire, which all have for a brief period felt, but which none in this world can durably enjoy.
No one can doubt that Homer was endowed with the true poetic spirit, and yet there is very little of what we now call poetry in his writings. There is neither sentiment nor declamation—painting nor reflection. He is neither descriptive nor didactic. With great powers for portraying nature, as the exquisite choice of his epithets, and the occasional force of his similes prove, he never makes any laboured attempt to delineate her features. He had the eye of a great painter; but his pictorial talents are employed, almost unconsciously, in the fervour of narrating events, or the animation of giving utterance to thoughts. He painted by an epithet or a line. Even the celebrated description of the fires in the plain of Troy, likened to the moon in a serene night, is contained in seven lines. His rosy-fingered morn—cloud-compelling Jupiter—Neptune, stiller of the waves—Aurora rising from her crocus bed—Night drawing her veil over the heavens—the black keel careering through the lashing waves—the shout of the far-sounding sea—and the like, from which subsequent poets and dramatists have borrowed so largely, are all brief allusions, or epithets, which evidently did not form the main object of his strains. He was a close observer of nature—its lights, its shades, its storms and calms, its animals, their migrations, their cries and habits; but he never suspends his narrative to describe them. We shall look in vain in the Iliad, and even the Odyssey, for the lengthened pictures of scenery which are so frequent in Virgil and Tasso, and appear in such rich profusion in Milton. He describes storms only as objects of terror, not to paint them to the eye. Such things are to be found in the book of Job and in the Psalms, but with the same brevity and magical force of emphatic expression. There never was a greater painter of nature than Homer; there never was a man who aimed less at being so.
The portraying of character and event was the great and evident object of the Grecian bard; and there his powers may almost be pronounced unrivalled. He never tells you, unless it is sometimes to be inferred on an epithet, what the man's character that he introduces is. He trusts to the character to delineate itself. He lets us get acquainted with his heroes, as we do with persons around us, by hearing them speak, and seeing them act. In preserving character, in this dramatic way of representing it, he is unrivalled. He does not tell you that Nestor had the garrulity of age, and loved to recur to the events of his youth; but he never makes him open his mouth without descanting on the adventures of his early years, and the degenerate race of mortals who have succeeded the paladins of former days. He does not tell us that Achilles was wrathful and impetuous; but every time he speaks, the anger of the son of Peleus comes boiling over his lips. He does not describe Agamemnon as overbearing and haughty; but the pride of the king of men is continually appearing in his words and actions, and it is the evident moral of the Iliad to represent its pernicious effects on the affairs of the Helenic confederacy. Ulysses never utters a word in which the cautious and prudent counsellor, sagacious in design but prompt in execution, wary in the council but decided in the field, far-seeing but yet persevering, is not apparent. Diomede never falters; alike in the field and the council he is indomitable. When Hector was careering in his chariot round their fortifications, and the king of men counselled retreat, he declared he would remain, were it only with Sthenelus and his friends. So completely marked, so well defined are his characters, though they were all rapacious chiefs at first sight, little differing from each other, that it has been observed with truth, that one well acquainted with the Iliad could tell, upon hearing one of the speeches read out without a name, who was the chief who uttered it.
The two authors, since his time, who have most nearly approached him in this respect, are Shakespeare and Scott. Both seem to have received the pencil which paints the human heart from nature herself. Both had a keen and searching eye for character in all grades and walks of life; and what is a general accompaniment of such a disposition, a strong sense of the ridiculous. Both seized the salient points in mental disposition, and perceived at a glance, as it were, the ruling propensity. Both impressed this character so strongly on their minds, that they threw themselves, as it were, into the very souls of the persons whom they delineated, and made them speak and act like nature herself. It is this extraordinary faculty of identifying themselves with their characters, and bringing out of their mouth the very words which, in real life, would have come, which constitutes the chief and permanent attraction of these wonderful masters of the human heart. Cervantes had it in an equal degree; and thence it is that Homer, Shakspeare, Cervantes, and Scott, have made so great, and, to all appearance, durable impression on mankind. The human heart is, at bottom, every where the same. There is infinite diversity in the dress he wears, but the naked human figure of one country scarcely differs from another. The writers who have succeeded in reaching this deep substratum, this far-hidden but common source of human action, are understood and admired over all the world. It is the same on the banks of the Simois as on those of the Avon—on the Sierra Morena as the Scottish hills. They are understood alike in Europe as Asia—in antiquity as modern times; one unanimous burst of admiration salutes them from the North Cape to Cape Horn—from the age of Pisistratus to that of Napoleon.
Strange as it may appear to superficial observers, Cervantes bears a close analogy, in many particulars, to Homer. Circumstances, and an inherent turn for humour, made him throw his genius into an exquisite ridicule of the manners of chivalry; but the author of Don Quixote had in him the spirit of a great epic poet. His lesser pieces prove it; unequivocal traces of it are to be found in the adventures of the Knight of La Mancha himself. The elevation of mind which, amidst all his aberrations, appears in that erratic character; the incomparable traits of nature with which the work abounds; the faculty of describing events in the most striking way; of painting scenes in a few words; of delineating characters with graphic fidelity, and keeping them up with perfect consistency, which are so conspicuous in Don Quixote, are so many of the most essential qualities of an epic poet. Nor was the ardour of imagination, the romantic disposition, the brilliancy of fancy, the lofty aspirations, the tender heart, which form the more elevated and not less essential part of such a character, wanting in the Spanish novelist.
Sir Walter Scott more nearly resembles Homer than any poet who has sung since the siege of Troy. Not that he has produced any poem which will for a moment bear a comparison with the Iliad—fine as the Lady of the Lake and Marmion are, it would be the height of national partiality to make any such comparison. But, nevertheless, Sir Walter's mind is of the same dimensions as that of Homer. We see in him the same combination of natural sagacity with acquired information; of pictorial eye with dramatic effect; of observation of character with reflection and feeling; of graphic power with poetic fervour; of ardour of imagination with rectitude of principle; of warlike enthusiasm with pacific tenderness, which have rendered the Grecian bard immortal. It is in his novels, however, more than his poetry, that this resemblance appears; the author of Waverley more nearly approaches the blind bard than the author of the Lay. His romances in verse contain some passages which are sublime, many which are beautiful, some pathetic. They are all interesting, and written in the same easy, careless style, interspersed with the most homely and grotesque expressions, which is so well known to all the readers of the Iliad. The battle in Marmion is beyond all question, as Jeffrey long ago remarked, the most Homeric strife which has been sung since the days of Homer. But these passages are few and far between; his poems are filled with numerous and long interludes, written with little art, and apparently no other object but to fill up the pages or eke out the story. It is in prose that the robust strength, the powerful arm, the profound knowledge of the heart, appear; and it is there, accordingly, that he approaches at times so closely to Homer. If we could conceive a poem, in which the storming of Front-de-Boeuf's castle in Ivanhoe—the death of Fergus in Waverley—the storm on the coast, and death scene in the fisher's hut, in the Antiquary—the devoted love in the Bride of Lammermoor—the fervour of the Covenanters in Old Mortality, and the combats of Richard and Saladin in the Talisman, were united together, and intermingled with the incomparable characters, descriptions, and incidents with which these novels abound, they would form an epic poem.
Doubts have sometimes been expressed, as to whether the Iliad and Odyssey are all the production of one man. Never, perhaps, was doubt not merely so ill founded, but so decisively disproved by internal evidence. If ever in human composition the traces of one mind are conspicuous, they are in Homer. His beauties equally with his defects, his variety and uniformity, attest this. Never was an author who had so fertile an imagination for varying of incidents; never was one who expressed them in language in which the same words so constantly recur. This is the invariable characteristic of a great and powerful, but at the same time self-confident and careless mind. It is to be seen in the most remarkable manner in Bacon and Machiavel, and not a little of it may be traced both in the prose and poetical works of Scott. The reason is, that the strength of the mind is thrown into the thought as the main object; the language, as a subordinate matter, is little considered. Expressions capable of energetically expressing the prevailing ideas of the imagination are early formed; but, when this is done, the powerful, careless mind, readily adopts them on all future occasions where they are at all applicable. There is scarcely a great and original thinker in whose writings the same expressions do not very frequently recur, often in exactly the same words. How much this is the case with Homer—with how much discrimination and genius his epithets and expressions were first chosen, and how frequently he repeats them, almost in every page, need be told to none who are acquainted with his writings. That is the most decisive mark at once of genius and identity. Original thinkers fall into repetition of expression, because they are always speaking from one model—their own thoughts. Subordinate writers avoid this fault, because they are speaking from the thoughts of others, and share their variety. It requires as great an effort for the first to introduce difference of expression, as for the last to reach diversity of thought.
The reader of Dante must not look for the heart-stirring and animated narrative—the constant interest—the breathless suspense, which hurries us along the rapid current of the Iliad. There are no councils of the gods; no messengers winging their way through the clouds; no combats of chiefs; no cities to storm; no fields to win. It is the infernal regions which the poet, under the guidance of his great leader, Virgil, visits; it is the scene of righteous retribution through which he is led; it is the apportionment of punishment and reward to crime or virtue, in this upper world, that he is doomed to witness. We enter the city of lamentation—we look down the depths of the bottomless pit—we stand at the edge of the burning lake. His survey is not a mere transient visit like that of Ulysses in Homer, or of AEneas in Virgil. He is taken slowly and deliberately through every successive circle of Malebolge; descending down which, like the visitor of the tiers of vaults, one beneath another, in a feudal castle, he finds every species of malefactors, from the chiefs and kings whose heroic lives were stained only by a few deeds of cruelty, to the depraved malefactors whose base course was unrelieved by one ray of virtue. In the very conception of such a poem, is to be found decisive evidence of the mighty change which the human mind had undergone since the expiring lays of poetry were last heard in the ancient world; of the vast revolution of thought and inward conviction which, during a thousand years, in the solitude of the monastery, and under the sway of a spiritual faith, had taken place in the human heart. A gay and poetic mythology no longer amazed the world by its fictions, or charmed it by its imagery. Religion no longer basked in the sunshine of imagination. The awful words of judgment to come had been spoken; and, like Felix, mankind had trembled. Ridiculous legends had ceased to be associated with the shades below—their place had been taken by images of horror. Conscience had resumed its place in the direction of thought. Superstition had lent its awful power to the sanctions of religion. Terror of future punishment had subdued the fiercest passions—internal agony tamed the proudest spirits. It was the picture of a future world—of a world of retribution—conceived under such impressions, that Dante proposed to give; it is that which he has given with such terrible fidelity.
Melancholy was the prevailing characteristic of the great Italian's mind. It was so profound that it penetrated all his thoughts; so intense that it pervaded all his conceptions. Occasionally bright and beautiful ideas flitted across his imagination; visions of bliss, experienced for a moment, and then lost for ever, as if to render more profound the darkness by which they are surrounded. They are given with exquisite beauty; but they shine amidst the gloom like sunbeams struggling through the clouds. He inherited from the dark ages the austerity of the cloister; but he inherited with it the deep feelings and sublime conceptions which its seclusion had generated. His mind was a world within itself. He drew all his conceptions from that inexhaustible source; but he drew them forth so clear and lucid, that they emerged, embodied as it were, in living images. His characters are emblematic of the various passions and views for which different degrees of punishment were reserved in the world to come; but his conception of them was so distinct, his description so vivid, that they stand forth to our gaze in all the agony of their sufferings, like real flesh and blood. We see them—we feel them—we hear their cries—our very flesh creeps at the perception of their sufferings. We stand on the edge of the lake of boiling pitch—we feel the weight of the leaden mantles—we see the snow-like flakes of burning sand—we hear the cries of those who had lost the last earthly consolations, the hope of death:—
"Quivi sospiri, pianti ed alti guai Risonavan per l' aer senza stelle, Perch' io al cominciar ne lacrimai. Diverse lingue, orribili favelle, Parole di dolore, accenti d' ira, Voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle Facevano un tumulto, il qual s' aggira Sempre 'n quell' aria senza tempo tinta, Come la rena quando 'l turbo spira. * * * * * Ed io: maestro, che e tanto greve A lor che lamentar li fa si forte? Rispose: dicerolti molto breve. Questi non hanno speranza di morte." Inferno, c. iii.
"Here sighs, with lamentations and loud moans, Resounded through the air pierced by no star, That e'en I wept at entering. Various tongues, Horrible languages, outcries of woe, Accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse, With hands together smote that swell'd the sounds, Made up a tumult, that for ever whirls Round through that air with solid darkness stain'd, Like to the sand that in the whirlwind flies. * * * * * I then: Master! What doth aggrieve them thus, That they lament so loud? He straight replied: That will I tell thee briefly. These of death No hope may entertain." CARY'S Dante, Inferno, c. iii.
Here is Dante portrayed to the life in the very outset. What a collection of awful images in a few lines! Loud lamentations, hideous cries, mingled with the sound of clasped hands, beneath a starless sky; and the terrible answer, as the cause of this suffering, "These have not the hope of death."
The very first lines of the Inferno, when the gates of Hell were approached, and the inscription over them appeared, paints the dismal character of the poem, and yet mingled with the sense of divine love and justice with which the author was penetrated.
"Per me si va nella citta dolente; Per me si va nell' eterno dolore; Per me si va tra la perduta gente: Giustizia mosse 'l mio alto Fattore; Fecemi la divina Potestate, La somma Sapienza e 'l primo Amore. Dinanzi a me non fur cose create, Se non eterne; ed io eterno duro: Lasciate ogni speranza voi che 'ntrate." Inferno, c. iii.
"Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lost for aye. Justice the founder of my fabric moved: To rear me was the task of power divine, Supremest wisdom, and primeval love. Before me things create were none, save things Eternal, and eternal I endure. All hope abandon, ye who enter here." CARY'S Dante, Inferno, c. iii.
Dante had much more profound feelings than Homer, and therefore he has painted deep mysteries of the human heart with greater force and fidelity. The more advanced age of the world, the influence of spiritual faith, the awful anticipation of judgment to come, the inmost feelings which, during long centuries of seclusion, had been drawn forth in the cloister, the protracted sufferings of the dark ages, had laid bare the human heart. Its sufferings, its terrors, its hopes, its joys, had become as household words. The Italian poet shared, as all do, in the ideas and images of his age, and to these he added many which were entirely his own. He painted the inward man, and painted him from his own feelings, not the observation of others. That is the grand distinction between him and Homer; and that it is which has given him, in the delineation of mind, his great superiority. The Grecian bard was an incomparable observer; he had an inexhaustible imagination for fiction, as well as a graphic eye for the delineation of real life; but he had not a deep or feeling heart. He did not know it, like Dante and Shakspeare, from his own suffering. He painted the external symptoms of passion and emotion with the hand of a master; but he did not reach the inward spring of feeling. He lets us into his characters by their speeches, their gestures, their actions, and keeps up their consistency with admirable fidelity; but he does not, by a word, an expression, or an epithet, admit us into the inmost folds of the heart. None can do so but such as themselves feel warmly and profoundly, and paint passion, emotion, or suffering from their own experience, not the observation of others. Dante has acquired his colossal fame from the matchless force with which he has portrayed the wildest passions, the deepest feelings, the most intense sufferings of the heart. He is the refuge of all those who labour and are heavy laden—of all who feel profoundly or have suffered deeply. His verses are in the mouth of all who are torn by passion, gnawed by remorse, or tormented by apprehension; and how many are they in this scene of woe!
A distinguished modern critic has said, that he who would now become a great poet must first become a little child. There is no doubt he is right. The seen and unseen fetters of civilization; the multitude of old ideas afloat in the world; the innumerable worn-out channels into which new ones are ever apt to flow; the general clamour with which critics, nursed amidst such fetters, receive any attempts at breaking them; the prevalence, in a wealthy and highly civilized age, of worldly or selfish ideas; the common approximation of characters by perpetual intercourse, as of coins, by continual rubbing in passing from man to man, have taken away all freshness and originality from ideas. The learned, the polished, the highly educated, can hardly escape the fetters which former greatness throws over the soul. Milton could not avoid them: half the images in his poems are taken from Homer, Virgil, and Dante; and who dare hope for emancipation when Milton was enthralled? The mechanical arts increase in perfection as society advances. Science ever takes its renewed flights from the platform which former efforts have erected. Industry, guided by experience, in successive ages, brings to the highest point all the contrivances and inventions which minister to the comfort or elegances of life. But it is otherwise with genius. It sinks in the progress of society, as much as science and the arts rise. The country of Homer and AEschylus sank for a thousand years into the torpor of the Byzantine empire. Originality perishes amidst acquisition. Freshness of conception is its life: like the flame, it burns fierce and clear in the first gales of a pure atmosphere; but languishes and dies in that polluted by many breaths.
It was the resurrection of the human mind, after the seclusion and solitary reflection of the middle ages, which gave this vein of original ideas to Dante, as their first wakening had given to Homer. Thought was not extinct; the human mind was not dormant during the dark ages; far from it—it never, in some respects, was more active. It was the first collision of their deep and lonely meditations with the works of the great ancient poets, which occasioned the prodigy. Universally it will be found to be the same. After the first flights of genius have been taken, it is by the collision of subsequent thought with it that the divine spark is again elicited. The meeting of two great minds is necessary to beget fresh ideas, as that of two clouds is to bring forth lightning, or the collision of flint and steel to produce fire. Johnson said he could not get new ideas till he had read. He was right; though it is not one in a thousand who strikes out original thoughts from studying the works of others. The great sage did not read to imbibe the opinions of others, but to engender new ones for himself; he did not study to imitate, but to create. It was the same with Dante; it is the same with every really great man. His was the first powerful and original mind which, fraught with the profound and gloomy ideas nourished in seclusion during the middle ages, came into contact with the brilliant imagery, touching pathos, and harmonious language of the ancients. Hence his astonishing greatness. He almost worshipped Virgil, he speaks of him as a species of god; he mentions Homer as the first of poets. But he did not copy either the one or the other; he scarcely imitated them. He strove to rival their brevity and beauty of expression; but he did so in giving vent to new ideas, in painting new images, in awakening new emotions. The Inferno is as original as the Iliad; incomparably more so than the AEneid. The offspring of originality with originality is a new and noble creation; of originality with mediocrity, a spurious and degraded imitation.
Dante paints the spirits of all the generations of men, each in their circle undergoing their allotted punishment; expiating by suffering the sins of an upper world. Virgil gave a glimpse, as it were, into that scene of retribution; Minos and Rhadamanthus passing judgment on the successive spirits brought before them; the flames of Tartarus, the rock of Sisyphus, the wheel of Ixion, the vulture gnawing Prometheus. But with Homer and Virgil, the descent into the infernal regions was a brief episode; with Dante it was the whole poem. Immense was the effort of imagination requisite to give variety to such a subject, to prevent the mind from experiencing weariness amidst the eternal recurrence of crime and punishment. But the genius of Dante was equal to the task. His fancy was prodigious; his invention boundless; his imagination inexhaustible. Fenced in, as he was, within narrow and gloomy limits by the nature of his subject, his creative spirit equals that of Homer himself. He has given birth to as many new ideas in the Inferno and the Paradiso, as the Grecian bard in the Iliad and Odyssey.
Though he had reflected so much and so deeply on the human heart, and was so perfect a master of all the anatomy of mental suffering, Dante's mind was essentially descriptive. He was a great painter as well as a profound thinker; he clothed deep feeling in the garb of the senses; he conceived a vast brood of new ideas, he arrayed them in a surprising manner in flesh and blood. He is ever clear and definite, at least in the Inferno. He exhibits in every canto of that wonderful poem a fresh image, but it is a clear one, of horror or anguish, which leaves nothing to the imagination to add or conceive. His ideal characters are real persons; they are present to our senses; we feel their flesh, see the quivering of their limbs, hear their lamentations, and feel a thrill of joy at their felicity. In the Paradiso he is more vague and general, and thence its acknowledged inferiority to the Inferno. But the images of horror are much more powerful than those of happiness; and it is they which have entranced the world. "It is easier," says Madame de Stael, "to convey ideas of suffering than those of happiness; for the former are too well known to every heart, the latter only to a few."
The melancholy tone which pervades Dante's writings was doubtless, in a great measure, owing to the misfortunes of his life; and to them we are also indebted for many of the most caustic and powerful of his verses—perhaps for the design of the Inferno itself. He took vengeance on the generation which had persecuted and exiled him, by exhibiting its leaders suffering in the torments of hell. In his long seclusion, chiefly in the monastery of Santa Croce di Fonte Avellana, a wild and solitary retreat in the territory of Gubbio, and in a tower belonging to the Conte Falcucci, in the same district, his immortal work was written. The mortifications he underwent during this long and dismal exile are thus described by himself:—"Wandering over almost every part in which our language extends, I have gone about like a mendicant; showing against my will the wound with which fortune has smitten me, and which is often falsely imputed to the demerit of him by whom it is endured. I have been, indeed, a vessel without sail or steerage, carried about to divers ports, and roads, and shores, by the dry wind that springs out of sad poverty."
In the third circle of hell, Dante sees those who are punished by the plague of burning sand falling perpetually on them. Their torments are thus described—
"Supin giaceva in terra alcuna gente; Alcuna si sedea tutta raccolta; Ed altra andava continuamente. Quella che giva intorno era piu molta; E quella men che giaceva al tormento; Ma piu al duolo avea la lingua sciolta. Sovra tutto 'l sabbion d'un cader lento Piovean di fuoco dilatate falde, Come di neve in alpe senza vento. Quali Alessandro in quelle parti calde D' India vide sovra lo suo stuolo Fiamme cadere infino a terra salde." Inferno, c. xiv.
"Of naked spirits many a flock I saw, All weeping piteously, to different laws Subjected: for on earth some lay supine, Some crouching close were seated, others paced Incessantly around; the latter tribe More numerous, those fewer who beneath The torment lay, but louder in their grief. O'er all the sand fell slowly wafting down Dilated flakes of fire, as flakes of snow On Alpine summit, when the wind is hush'd. As, in the torrid Indian clime, the son Of Ammon saw, upon his warrior band Descending, solid flames, that to the ground Came down." CARY'S Dante, c. xiv.
The first appearance of Malebolge is described in these striking lines—
"Luogo e in Inferno, detto Malebolge, Tutto di pietra e di color ferrigno, Come la cerchia che d'intorno il volge. Nel dritto mezzo del campo maligno Vaneggia un pozzo assai largo e profondo, Di cui suo luogo contera l' ordigno. Quel cinghio che rimane adunque e tondo Tra 'l pozzo e 'l pie dell' alta ripa dura, E ha distinto in dieci valli al fondo." Inferno, c. xviii.
"There is a place within the depths of hell Call'd Malebolge, all of rock dark-stain'd With hue ferruginous, e'en as the steep That round it circling winds. Right in the midst Of that abominable region yawns A spacious gulf profound, whereof the frame Due time shall tell. The circle, that remains, Throughout its round, between the gulf and base Of the high craggy banks, successive forms Ten bastions, in its hollow bottom raised." CARY'S Dante, c. xviii.
This is the outward appearance of Malebolge, the worst place of punishment in hell. It had many frightful abysses; what follows is the picture of the first:—
"Ristemmo per veder l'altra fessura Di Malebolge e gli altri pianti vani: E vidila mirabilmente oscura. Quale nell' arzana de' Veneziani Bolle l' inverno la tenace pece, A rimpalmar li legni lor non sani— * * * * * Tal non per fuoco ma per divina arte, Bollia laggiuso una pegola spessa, Che 'nviscava la ripa d'ogni parte. I' vedea lei, ma non vedeva in essa Ma che le bolle che 'l bollor levava, E gonfiar tutta e riseder compressa. * * * * * E vidi dietro a noi un diavol nero Correndo su per lo scoglio venire. Ahi quant' egli era nell' aspetto fiero! E quanto mi parea nell' atto acerbo, Con l' ali aperte e sovre i pie leggiero! L' omero suo ch' era acuto e superbo Carcava un peccator con ambo l'anche, Ed ei tenea de' pie ghermito il nerbo. * * * * * Laggiu il butto e per lo scoglio duro Si volse, e mai non fu mastino sciolto Con tanta fretta a seguitar lo furo. Quei s' attuffo e torno su convolto; Ma i demon che del ponte avean coverchio Gridar: qui non ha luogo il Santo Volto. Qui si nuota altramenti che nel Serchio: Pero se tu non vuoi de' nostri graffi, Non far sovra la pegola soverchio. Poi l' addentar con piu di cento raffi, Disser: coverto convien che qui balli, Si che se puoi nascosamente accaffi." Inferno, c. xxi.
"——To the summit reaching, stood To view another gap, within the round Of Malebolge, other bootless pangs. Marvellous darkness shadow'd o'er the place. In the Venetians' arsenal as boils Through wintry months tenacious pitch, to smear Their unsound vessels in the wintry clime. * * * * * So, not by force of fire but art divine, Boil'd here a glutinous thick mass, that round Limed all the shore beneath. I that beheld, But therein not distinguish'd, save the bubbles Raised by the boiling, and one mighty swell Heave, and by turns subsiding fall. * * * * * Behind me I beheld a devil black, That running up, advanced along the rock. Ah! what fierce cruelty his look bespake. In act how bitter did he seem, with wings Buoyant outstretch'd, and feet of nimblest tread. His shoulder, proudly eminent and sharp, Was with a sinner charged; by either haunch He held him, the foot's sinew griping fast. * * * * * Him dashing down, o'er the rough rock he turn'd; Nor ever after thief a mastiff loosed Sped with like eager haste. That other sank, And forthwith writhing to the surface rose. But those dark demons, shrouded by the bridge, Cried—Here the hallow'd visage saves not: here Is other swimming than in Serchio's wave, Wherefore, if thou desire we rend thee not, Take heed thou mount not o'er the pitch. This said, They grappled him with more than hundred hooks, And shouted—Cover'd thou must sport thee here; So, if thou canst, in secret mayst thou filch." CARY'S Dante, c. xxi.
Fraught as his imagination was with gloomy ideas, with images of horror, it is the fidelity of his descriptions, the minute reality of his pictures, which gives them their terrible power. He knew well what it is that penetrates the soul. His images of horror in the infernal regions were all founded on those familiar to every one in the upper world; it was from the caldron of boiling pitch in the arsenal of Venice that he took his idea of one of the pits of Malebolge. But what a picture does he there exhibit! The writhing sinner plunged headlong into the boiling waves, rising to the surface, and a hundred demons, mocking his sufferings, and with outstretched hooks tearing his flesh till he dived again beneath the liquid fire! It is the reality of the scene, the images familiar yet magnified in horror, which constitutes its power: we stand by; our flesh creeps as it would at witnessing an auto-da-fe of Castile, or on beholding a victim perishing under the knout in Russia.
Michael Angelo was, in one sense, the painter of the Old Testament, as his bold and aspiring genius arrived rather at delineating the events of warfare, passion, or suffering, chronicled in the records of the Jews, than the scenes of love, affection, and benevolence, depicted in the gospels. But his mind was not formed merely on the events recorded in antiquity: it is no world doubtful of the immortality of the soul which he depicts. He is rather the personification in painting of the soul of Dante. His imagination was evidently fraught with the conceptions of the Inferno. The expression of mind beams forth in all his works. Vehement passion, stern resolve, undaunted valour, sainted devotion, infant innocence, alternately occupied his pencil. It is hard to say in which he was greatest. In all his works we see marks of the genius of antiquity meeting the might of modern times: the imagery of mythology blended with the aspirations of Christianity. We see it in the dome of St Peter's, we see it in the statue of Moses. Grecian sculpture was the realization in form of the conceptions of Homer; Italian painting the representation on canvass of the revelations of the gospel, which Dante clothed in the garb of poetry. Future ages should ever strive to equal, but can never hope to excel them.
Never did artist work with more persevering vigour than Michael Angelo. He himself said that he laboured harder for fame, than ever poor artist did for bread. Born of a noble family, the heir to considerable possessions, he took to the arts from his earliest years from enthusiastic passion and conscious power. During a long life of ninety years, he prosecuted them with the ardent zeal of youth. He was consumed by the thirst for fame, the desire of great achievements, the invariable mark of heroic minds; and which, as it is altogether beyond the reach of the great bulk of mankind, so is the feeling of all others which to them is most incomprehensible. Nor was that noble enthusiasm without its reward. It was his extraordinary good fortune to be called to form, at the same time, the Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, the glorious dome of St Peter's, and the group of Notre Dame de Pitie, which now adorns the chapel of the Crucifix, under the roof of that august edifice. The "Holy Family" in the Palazzo Pitti at Florence, and the "Three Fates" in the same collection, give an idea of his powers in oil-painting: thus he carried to the highest perfection, at the same time, the rival arts of architecture, sculpture, fresco and oil painting. He may truly be called the founder of Italian painting, as Homer was of the ancient epic, and Dante of the great style in modern poetry. None but a colossal mind could have done such things. Raphael took lessons from him in painting, and professed through life the most unbounded respect for his great preceptor. None have attempted to approach him in architecture; the cupola of St Peter's stands alone in the world.
But notwithstanding all this, Michael Angelo had some defects. He created the great style in painting, a style which has made modern Italy as immortal as the arms of the legions did the ancient. But the very grandeur of his conceptions, the vigour of his drawing, his incomparable command of bone and muscle, his lofty expression and impassioned mind, made him neglect, and perhaps despise, the lesser details of his art. Ardent in the pursuit of expression, he often overlooked execution. When he painted the Last Judgment or the Fall of the Titans in fresco, on the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel, he was incomparable; but that gigantic style was unsuitable for lesser pictures or rooms of ordinary proportions. By the study of his masterpieces, subsequent painters have often been led astray; they have aimed at force of expression to the neglect of delicacy in execution. This defect is, in an especial manner, conspicuous in Sir Joshua Reynolds, who worshipped Michael Angelo with the most devoted fervour; and through him it has descended to Lawrence, and nearly the whole modern school of England. When we see Sir Joshua's noble glass window in Magdalen College, Oxford, we behold the work of a worthy pupil of Michael Angelo; we see the great style of painting in its proper place, and applied to its appropriate object. But when we compare his portraits, or imaginary pieces in oil, with those of Titian, Velasquez, or Vandyke, the inferiority is manifest. It is not in the design but the finishing; not in the conception but the execution. The colours are frequently raw and harsh; the details or distant parts of the piece ill-finished or neglected. The bold neglect of Michael Angelo is very apparent. Raphael, with less original genius than his immortal master, had more taste and much greater delicacy of pencil; his conceptions, less extensive and varied, are more perfect; his finishing is always exquisite. Unity of emotion was his great object in design; equal delicacy of finishing in execution. Thence he has attained by universal consent the highest place in painting.
"Nothing," says Sir Joshua Reynolds, "is denied to well-directed labour; nothing is to be attained without it." "Excellence in any department," says Johnson, "can now be attained only by the labour of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price." These words should ever be present to the minds of all who aspire to rival the great of former days; who feel in their bosoms a spark of the spirit which led Homer, Dante, and Michael Angelo to immortality. In a luxurious age, comfort or station is deemed the chief good of life; in a commercial community, money becomes the universal object of ambition. Thence our acknowledged deficiency in the fine arts; thence our growing weakness in the higher branches of literature. Talent looks for its reward too soon. Genius seeks an immediate recompense; long protracted exertions are never attempted; great things are not done, because great efforts are not made.
None will work now without the prospect of an immediate return. Very possibly it is so; but then let us not hope or wish for immortality. "Present time and future," says Sir Joshua Reynolds, "are rivals; he who solicits the one must expect to be discountenanced by the other." It is not that we want genius; what we want is the great and heroic spirit which will devote itself; by strenuous efforts, to great things, without seeking any reward but their accomplishment.
Nor let it be said that great subjects for the painter's pencil, the poet's muse, are not to be found—that they are exhausted by former efforts, and nothing remains to us but imitation. Nature is inexhaustible; the events of men are unceasing, their variety is endless. Philosophers were mourning the monotony of time, historians were deploring the sameness of events, in the years preceding the French Revolution—on the eve of the Reign of Terror, the flames of Moscow, the retreat from Russia. What was the strife around Troy to the battle of Leipsic?—the contests of Florence and Pisa to the revolutionary war? What ancient naval victory to that of Trafalgar? Rely upon it, subjects for genius are not wanting; genius itself, steadily and perseveringly directed, is the thing required. But genius and energy alone are not sufficient; COURAGE and disinterestedness are needed more than all. Courage to withstand the assaults of envy, to despise the ridicule of mediocrity—disinterestedness to trample under foot the seductions of ease, and disregard the attractions of opulence. An heroic mind is more wanted in the library or the studio, than in the field. It is wealth and cowardice which extinguish the light of genius, and dig the grave of literature as of nations.
SETTLED AT LAST; OR, RED RIVER RECOLLECTIONS.
I had left New Orleans with the full intention of proceeding without stop or delay to my home upon the Red River; but notwithstanding this determination, my wife and myself were unable to resist Richards' pressing invitation to pause for a day or two at his house. Upon our yielding to his solicitations, he proceeded to recruit other guests among our travelling companions, and soon got together a pleasant party. My father-in-law, Monsieur Menou, went on to my plantation, but Julie remained with us, as did also her aunt, Madame Duras, an agreeable old lady with a slight expression of perfidy in her light blue, French-looking eyes, possessed withal of infinite delicacy and finesse—a fervent admirer of the old court school of Louis the Fifteenth, in the chronique scandaleuse of which she was as well versed as if she had been herself a contemporary of that pleasure-loving monarch. Besides these ladies, there was a young Frenchman named Vergennes, the third son of some Gascon viscount, and a distant cousin of the Menous, who had come to America till the scandal occasioned by certain republican scribblings of his in one of the newspapers of the day should have blown over, and till he could revisit his country without risk of obtaining a lodging gratis in the Conciergerie. He had brought with him a head crammed with schemes for the political regeneration of the whole world, and a trunkful of French fashions, neither of which, as I reckoned, were likely to take much with us. He made me laugh inwardly twenty times a-day by his Utopian theories and fancies. Truth to tell, in matters of politics or of sound common sense, these Frenchmen are for the most part mere children, and reach their dying day without ever becoming men. Take them by their weak points, their unlimited vanity or their love of what they call glory, and you may ride them like a horse to water. Vergennes, however, when one could get him off his hobby, was a pleasant gentlemanly fellow enough.
It was impossible to spare Richards more than three days, and at six o'clock on the morning of the fourth, we went on board the steamer Alexandria. I had prevailed on my friend and his wife, and the whole party, to come and pass a week or two at my house, which was now quite ready for the reception of guests. The three days we had remained with Richards had been one continued fete, and considering the good living, and the heat of the weather—the thermometer ranging from 95 deg. to 100 deg.—there were few things more agreeable or better to be done, than to take a steam up the Red River. The fresh breezes on the water might save some of us a touch of fever. On board we went therefore, all in high glee and good-humour with each other.
We had passed the Atchafalaya, and had crossed over to the Francisville side, in order to avoid the powerful current occasioned by the influx of the Red River into the Mississippi. A strong wind had sprung up, and in the middle of the stream the waves were of a considerable height. The Mississippi was full to overflowing, and the mouth of the Red River, as far as the eye could reach, presented the appearance of an extensive lake, with thousands of tree trunks floating upon it. I had left the cabin, and was standing on deck with Richards and Vergennes, looking out upon the broad sheet of water that lay before us. We were just turning into the Red River when I observed a rowboat pulling across from the direction of Woodville, and which had already arrived within a hundred yards of us without attracting the attention of any one on board the steamer. It was cutting in and out amongst the enormous floating trees, with a boldness that, in that part of the river—near the middle of which we were—might almost be called insanity.
"That man must be mad, or in love!" cried the captain.
"It is Ralph Doughby!" exclaimed Richards. "Captain, it is Mister Doughby. Pray, stop the ship and let him come on board."
Doughby it was. The mad fellow was standing bolt upright, and hardly taking the trouble to bend to one side or the other in conformity with the movements of the boat, which was dancing about on the waves and between the tree-trunks, while the six negro rowers were washed over and over by the spray.
"Here's your famous Red River!" shouted the harebrained Doughby. "A fine country for wild-ducks and geese, and alligators too. Hurra, boys!"
"For God's sake, Mr Doughby!" screamed and implored the ladies, as the Kentuckian dashed his boat slap up to the side of the steamer, without waiting till the speed of the vessel was slackened, and hastily caught a rope which was thrown to him. Just at that moment a wave as high as a man rose between the steamer and the boat and separated them, and Doughby still maintaining his hold on the rope, he was dragged out of his skiff and tossed like a feather against the steamer's side, where he hung half in and half out of the water.
"Haul in, boys—haul me in, lads—or your d——d paddles will do it!"
"Pull him in!" shouted we all, "pull him in for God's sake!"
"Ay, pull in!" cried Doughby, and giving a spring upwards he caught hold of the railing of the deck, threw himself over it with a bound, and stood in all safety amongst the astonished and grinny-visaged Cyclops who were hastening to his assistance. We hurried down from the quarterdeck, breathless with astonishment at this desperate and unnecessary piece of daring.
"Pshaw" cried Doughby; "steward, a glass of hot; and, captain, see that my portmanteau comes on board, and that my negers get away with whole skins; and a good morning to you, gentlemen—in five minutes we shall meet again."
And so saying, he emptied the glass which the black steward held out to him, made a slight bow to the ladies on the quarterdeck, sprang into the gentlemen's cabin, and thence into the first state-room that stood open.
"An entree en scene quite a la Doughby," said Richards laughing.
"Quite so," replied I.
Ralph Doughby, Esquire of New Feliciana, La., was an old acquaintance of Richards and myself, and an excellent specimen of a warm-hearted, impetuous, breakneck Kentuckian, with a share of earthquake in his composition that might be deemed large, even in Kentucky. He had come to Louisiana some eight years previously, a voyage of a thousand miles or more down the Cumberland River, the Ohio, and Mississippi, in a flat boat with half a dozen negroes, some casks of flour, hams, and Indian corn, and a few horses, and had settled at Woodville on a couple of thousand acres of good land, bought at five dollars an acre, to be paid in five years. His industry and energy had caused him to thrive, and he was now as well established planter as any on the Mississippi; his six negroes had amounted to forty, his wilderness had become a respectable plantation, his cotton was sought after, and he had not only paid for his acres but had already a large sum in the Planters' Bank. His frank open character had made him friends on all hands, and there was not a more popular man in Louisiana than Major Ralph Doughby.
During the stay I made at Richards' house previously to my marriage, Doughby had passed a day there in company with one Mr Lambton and his daughter, Yankees—the latter a beautiful girl, but cold and formal like most of her countrywomen. An aunt of hers, who possessed large plantations on the Mississippi, had made up a match between Miss Lambton and Doughby, and they were then proceeding to New York, where the marriage was in due time to be solemnized. Richards and myself had observed, however, that the wild headlong manners and character of the Kentuckian, joined though they were to great goodness of heart and many sterling qualities, did not appear very pleasing to the stiff, etiquette-loving fine lady, and it was without any great surprise that we heard, some time afterwards, of the marriage being broken off, in consequence, it was said, of some wild freak of Doughby's. We were asking one another for the particulars of this rupture, which neither of us had heard, when the Kentuckian made his reappearance in the cabin. He had changed his dress, and, taking him altogether, was by no means an ill-looking fellow. His light blue gingham frock and snow-white trousers fitted him well; an elegant straw hat, very fine linen, and a diamond shirt-pin that must have cost the best part of a thousand dollars, contributed to give a sort of genteel planter-like air. His first care upon emerging from his state-room was to empty a glass of toddy. He then approached Richards and myself.
"And Miss Lambton?" said Richards enquiringly.
"Haven't you heard?" said Doughby; "you must have heard! It's all up—she won't hear speak of me—persists in her resolution—won't see me; or give me a chance of making my peace. I'm the most unlucky fellow on the face of the earth," continued he, changing his tone on a sudden to a melancholy sort of whine—"I wish I lay three hundred feet deep in the bed of the Mississippi. I tell you, boys, it's clean up with me, I feel that. I'm a lost man, done for entirely—shall never recover it!"
We burst out into a violent fit of laughter, as who would not have done at the sight of a young giant of seven-and-twenty, with cheeks as red as poppies, shoulders that seemed made like those of Atlas to support a world; pair of dark blue-grey eyes with a laughing devil dancing in them, and a little moist just now from the effects of the toddy, and the man dying of love! He measured five feet thirteen inches in his stockings, with legs that might have belonged to an elephant, and fists calculated to frighten a buffalo.
"Be d——d to your laughing!" cried Doughby—"Steward, another glass—d'ye hear, you cursed neger, where are you hidden? Don't you hear when a gentleman speaks to you? D'ye want me to tattoo your black brainpan? You laugh," he continued to Richards and myself, relapsing into his whimpering tones; "but if you only knew—none of the women will have me—this is the seventh who has packed me off."
"The seventh!" cried I laughing, "what, only the seventh, Doughby? Pshaw! that's nothing; during my bachelor's life I had at least two dozen refusals, and I am only a year older than yourself."
"You be hanged with your two dozen! Steward, the toddy is only fit for old women—too much water in it; you don't know how to make toddy. Tell your captain to come here. I'll have you sent to the devil. No, I tell you my heart is so full, it feels as if it would burst. She won't hear of me. I will tell you all about it, boys—but who is that?" interrupted he, pointing to Vergennes, who was standing near us, and looking on in great wonderment. "Ah, Monshur Tonson! happy to see you, Monshur Tonson! Parleh vouh English? Prenez un seat, et un glass de Madeira. Nous parlerons hansamble le Franseh. Neger, a bottle of Madeira; and let it be good, or you'll get the bottle across your crooked shins. A bottle of Irish for me, d'ye hear, real Irish whisky, or if you haven't any, Scotch will do. No, boys, I tell you I am a gone man. Dismissed, sent away, packed off with a flea in my ear, as they say."
And so saying, he threw himself on a sofa with a violence that made it crack again; the steward brought the Madeira and the whisky, and we drew round the table to condole with the love-stricken Kentuckian. A few minutes passed in the composition of the toddy, which was evidently destined to play the chief part in the way of a consoler; and when Doughby had got a large beer-glass of the comfortable mixture before him, he began his narrative.
"I will tell you how it all happened, and how it was that Miss Lambton—in short you shall hear it all—it's the first time I have spoken about it, but now it shall out; you shall judge and decide between us, by Jove you shall! You recollect it was in the beginning of June that we left your house, Richards, to go up the Mississippi—it was a Friday, a day that I hate. All seamen and hunters do hate it; it's an unlucky day. All the bad luck I ever had, came to me on Fridays. I had a feeling that something would go wrong when we went on board the Helen M'Gregor. I thought Miss Lambton looked shy upon me, and the old gentleman stiffer than ever. I followed the Miss, however, wherever she went, so close, that once or twice I trod the fringe off her petticoats."
"That was bad manners, Doughby."
"Pshaw! What did it matter? I told her not to bother her head about it, that when we got to New York, or even to Cincinnati or Louisville, I would buy her a whole shopful of dresses. She made no answer to that; but when I had the misfortune to tear her third flounce, she said, that if I went on in that way she would not have a whole gown left when she got to Louisville. 'With a whole one or none at all, Miss,' said I, 'you'll always be a charming creature.' That now was as pretty a compliment as ever was paid in Kentucky, but she did not seen to hear it.
"On the third day we were just passing St Helena, when old Lambton came up to me. 'Mister Doughby,' said he, quite confidential like, 'pardon me, my dear good Mister Doughby, but don't you think that you sometimes take rather too much ardent spirits, and thereby injure your health as well as give a bad example to your fellow-citizens, which, on the part of a respectable man like yourself, is very much to be regretted?'
"'Bad example!' says I—'to be regretted, Mister Lambton!—I take too much ardent spirits! I certainly am not of that opinion, Mister Lambton, and if you are I can only say you are very much mistaken. You shall see yourself,' said I, 'how much ballast an old Kentuckian can take in without sinking under it: devil a diving duck ever swallowed more water than a Kentucky man can rum.'
"I thought to let the old squaretoes see that he had a man before him, not one of his spindleshanked tallow-chopped Yankees, who go sneaking about the meeting-house from morning till night, or moping in their rooms, and calculating and speculating how they can best take in honest warm-blooded South and Westlanders. 'You shall see,' said I—but he shook his head and walked away, and I looked after him, and shook my head too. Pah! I found out afterwards that he was president of a temperance society, the devil take them all! Temperance societies! What is rum for, if it isn't to be drank?"
Doughby was rapidly warming with his subject.
"He is a queer old fellow, that Mister Lambton, as stiff and as cold as an icicle on a water-butt. Of a morning he was scarcely out of bed when he knocked at the door of the ladies' cabin in his brocade dressing-gown, and Miss Lambton must come out and hear him read the whole morning service of the Episcopal Church, and make the responses, and so on, for a full hour. Then the whole day he walked about as grave and solemn as the chief-justice of the district court. Before dinner he said a grace which lasted a full quarter of an hour. The soup was often cold, and half the dinner eaten up from under our noses, while this was going on. Sometimes most of the other passengers had done their dinner, and were gone to the bar to take a glass, and he still praying. I was often ready to jump out of my skin with impatience."
"The praying was all well enough, if it had not lasted so long," said I, laughing.
"Pah! I hate people who are always wanting to be a shining light to their fellow-citizens. There's a deal of pride, a deal of arrogance and presumption in it. If a man wishes to pray, let him do so, and I do it myself; but people don't want to be reminded of those things. I tell you I have always found pride behind that sort of piety. The Yankees think we are heathens, and that they are the elect who are to enlighten us. Pshaw! I hate such humbug."
"Not so badly reasoned," observed Richards.
"However," continued Doughby, "I soon saw that, with one thing or another, I was getting out of the old gentleman's good books. He became more and more stiff and silent. That wouldn't have annoyed me much; but one morning the captain came to me and said, in a sort of apologising manner, that the ladies had desired him to beg me not to pay so many visits to their cabin, particularly of a morning, when some of them had not quite finished their toilet, but that I should always ask leave first and have myself announced, as it is set down in the regulations."
"'What!' says I, 'have myself announced when I go to see my own wife, that is to be? What do the other ladies matter to me, whether they've got on silk gowns or cotton ones? I only go to see Miss Lambton.'
"'Miss Lambton was present,' said the captain, 'when the ladies gave me the commission; and she and Mr Lambton most particularly requested me to have the regulations enforced.'
"'Miss Lambton!' said I; 'that's a lie now, captain. She never could have done that.'
"'Mister Doughby,' said he, 'it is no lie; and if another than yourself had said such a thing, I would have struck him down like a mad dog. And I must beg of you to retract your words, and ascertain to your own satisfaction that what I have said is a fact.'
"So I ran off and asked Miss Lambton and Mr Lambton, and they answered me as dry as fagots, and said the captain had spoken the truth. I was a'most raving mad when I heard this, as savage as a panther; and, to console myself, I drank perhaps a trifle more than I should have done. But what else can one do on a voyage up the Mississippi? Much as I like him, old father Mississip, one gets awful sick of him after a time, steaming along for days and weeks together, nothing to be heard but clap-clap-clap, trap-trap-trap, or to be seen but the dull muddy waters and the never-ending forest. Day and night, wood and water, water and wood. It is wearisome work at the best.
"It was exactly two o'clock in the afternoon on the seventh day of our voyage when we got beyond Wolf's Island, which, as you know, lies above New Madrid and below the mouth of the Ohio. The poor Helen M'Gregor burst her boiler since then, as you'll have heard, at that very place, and sent half a hundred passengers into the other world. Past Wolf's Island, we came up with the Ploughboy, the Huntress, the Louisville, and a couple more steamers, all going our way. It made quite a little fleet. I was sitting in the cabin with Miss Lambton and the old gentleman, who were cool and silent enough, when somebody called out, 'Here comes the George Washington.' A glorious steamer it is that George, more like a floating palace than a boat, as it goes skimming along as lightly and smoothly as a swan. It's a real pleasure to see it. I kept my place by Miss Lambton; but, to tell you the truth, I was sitting upon hot coals. What can be the reason that we men feel so deucedly cowed and quailed by the petticoats? Hang me if I know. Suddenly there was a cry upon deck, 'The Washington is passing us.' I could stand it no longer, but bolted up-stairs, and sure enough there it came in all its pride and power, trarara, trarara, rushing and dashing and spitting fire like Emperor Nap. at the head of his guards and dragoons and artillery. It was already in the midst of the other five steamers, passing them all. The whole of our passengers were on deck looking on, and I can tell you that our hearts beat quick as we saw the George walking up to us. The dinner-bell rang. Not a foot moved to go below. 'Captain,' cried I, 'we must not let the George pass us; you can't think of allowing such a thing?' says I; 'must show them that we are Mississippi men.'