Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

warned his people, according to his duty, against the crimes which public elections frequently produce. His warning was felt by one of his parishioners as pointed particularly at himself. But instead of producing, as might be wished, private compunction and immediate reformation, it kindled only rage and reser ment. He charged his minister, in a public paper, with scandal, defamation, and falsehood. The minister, thus reproached, had his own character to vindicate, upon which his pastoral authority must necessarily depend. To be charged with a defamatory lie is an injury which no man patiently endures in common life. To be charged with polluting the pastoral office with scandal and falsehood was a violation of character still more atrocious, as it affected not only his personal, but his clerical veracity. His indignation naturally rose in proportion to his honesty, and, with all the fortitude of injured honesty, he dared this calumniator in the church, and at once exonerated himself from censure, and rescued his flock from deception and from danger. The man whom he accuses pretends not to be innocent; or, at least, only pretends, for he declines a trial. The crime of which he is accused has frequent opportunities and strong temptations. It has already spread far, with much depravation of private morals, and much injury to public happiness. To warn the people, therefore, against it was not wanton and officious, but necessary and pastoral.

“What, then, is the fault with which this worthy minister is charged ? He has usurped no dominion over conscience. He has exerted no authority in support of doubtful and controverted opinions. He has not dragged into light a bashful and corrigible sinner. His censure was directed against a breach of morality, against an act which no man justifies. The man who appropriated this censure to himself is evidently and notoriously guilty. His consciousness of his own wickedness incited him to attack his faithful reprover with open insolence and printed accusations. Such an attack made defence necessary; and we hope it will be at last decided that the means of defence were just and lawful.”

DIFFICILE EST PROPRIÈ, ETC.

339

No. III.

NOTE ON WILKES'S INTERPRETATION OF HORACE's

DIFFICILE EST PROPRIÈ,” ETC.

[See antè, p. 196.]

My very pleasant friend himself, as well as others who remember old stories, will no doubt be surprised when I observe, that John Wilkes here shows himself to be of the Warburtonian school. It is nevertheless true, as appears from Dr. Hurd the bishop of Worcester's very elegant commentary and notes on the “ Epistola ad Pisones.” It is necessary, to a fair consideration of the question, that the whole passage in which the words occur should be kept in view :

“ Si quid inexpertum scenæ commitis, et audes
Personam formare novam, servetur ad imum
Qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constet.
Difficile est propriè communia dicere: tuque
Rectiùs Iliacum carmen deducis in actus,
Quàm si proferres ignota indictaque primus.
Publica materies privati juris erit, si
Non circa vilem patulumque moraberis orbem,
Nec verbum verbo curabis reddere fidus
Interpres ; nec desilies imitator in arctum
Unde pedem proferre pudor vetat aut operis lex.”

The “ Commentary” thus illustrates it:— “ But the formation of quite new characters is a work of great difficulty and hazard. For here there is no generally received and fixed archetype to work after, but every one judges of common right according to the extent and comprehension of his own idea ; therefore he advises to labour and refit old characters and subjects, particularly those made known and authorized by the practice of Homer and the epic writers.” The note is, Difficile est proprie communia dicere.Lambin's comment is, “ Communia hoc loco appellat Horatius argumenta fabularum à nullo adhuc tractata : et ita, quæ cuivis exposita sunt et in medio quodammodo posita, quasi vacua et a nemine occupata.” And that this is the true meaning of communia is evidently fixed by the words ignota indictaque, which are explanatory of it; so that the sense given it in the commentary is unquestionably the right one. Yet, notwithstanding the clearness of the case, a late critic has this strange passage : “ Difficile quidem esse propriè communia dicere, hoc est, materiem vulgarem, notam et è medio petitam, ita immutare atque exornare, ut nova et scriptori propria videatur, ultro concedimus; et maximi procul dubio ponderis ista est observatio. Sed omnibus utrinque collatis, et tum difficilis tum venusti, tam judicii quam ingenii ratione habitâ, major videtur esse gloria fabulam formare penitùs novam, quàm veterem, utcunque mutatum de novo exhibere.” Poet. Prol. v. ii. p. 164. Where, having first put a wrong construction on the word communia, he employs it to introduce an impertinent criticism. For where does the poet prefer the glory of refitting old subjects to that of inve ing new ones? The contrary is implied in what he urges about the superior difficulty of the latter, from which he dissuades his countrymen, only in respect of their abilities and inexperience in these matters; and in order to cultivate in them, which is the main view of the epistle, a spirit of correctness, by sending them to the old subjects, treated by the Greek writers. For my own part (with all deference for Dr. Hurd, who thinks the case clear), I consider the passage, “ Difficile est propriè communia dicere," to be a crux for the critics on Horace. The explication which my Lord of Worcester treats with so much contempt is, nevertheless, countenanced by authority which I find quoted by the learned Baxter, in his edition of Horace, “ Difficile est propriè communia dicere, h. e. res vulgares disertis verbis enarrare, vel humile thema cum dignitate tractare. Difficile est communes res propriis explicare verbis. Vet. Schol.” I was much disappointed to find that the great critic, Dr. Bentley, has no note upon this very difficult passage, as from his vigorous and illuminated mind I should have expected to receive more satisfaction than I have yet had. Sanadon thus treats of it: “ Propriè communia dicere ; c'est à dire, qu'il n'est pas aisé de former à ces HORAÇe's “ DIFFICILE EST PROPRIÈ, ETC. 341

personnages d'imagination des caractères particuliers et cependant vraisemblables. Comme l'on a été le maître de les former tels qu'on a voulu, les fautes que l'on fait en cela sont moins pardonnables. C'est pourquoi Horace conseille de prendre toujours des sujets connus, tels que sont, par exemple, ceux que l'on peut tirer des poèmes d'Homère." And Dacier observes upon it, “ Après avoir marqué les deux qualités qu'il faut donner aux personnages qu'on invente, il conseille aux poètes tragiques, de n'user pas trop facilement de cette liberté qu'ils ont d'en inventer, car il est très-difficile de réussir dans ces nouveaux caractères. Il est mal aisé, dit Horace, de traiter proprement, c'est à dire, convenablement, des sujets communs; c'est à dire, des sujets inventés, et qui n'ont aucun fondement ni dans l'histoire ni dans la fable ; et il les appelle communs, parcequ'ils sont en disposition à tout le monde, et que tout le monde a le droit de les inventer, et qu'ils sont, comme on dit, au premier occupant.” See his observations at large on this expression and the following. After all, I cannot help entertaining some doubt whether the words Difficile est propriè communia dicere may not have been thrown in by Horace to form a separate article in a “choice of difficulties” which a poet has to encounter who chooses a new subject; in which case it must be uncertain which of the various explanations is the true one, and every reader has a right to decide as it may strike his own fancy. And even should the words be understood, as they generally are, to be connected both with what goes before and what comes after, the exact sense cannot be absolutely ascertained ; for instance, whether propriè is meant to signify in an appropriated manner, as Dr. Johnson here understands it, or, as it is often used by Cicero, with propriety or elegantly. In short, it is a rare instance of a defect in perspicuity in an admirable writer, who, with almost every species of excellence, is peculiarly remarkable for that quality. The length of this note, perhaps, requires an apology. Many of my readers, I doubt not, will admit that a critical discussion of a passage is a favourite classic is very engaging. - BOSWELL.

This passage was the subject of an ingenious discussion be

tween the young Marquis de Sevigné and M. Dacier, which will be found, together with Sanadon's and Dumarsais' opinions, in the last volume of the best edition of Madame de Sevigné's letters. It seems to result from the whole discussion that, in the ordinary meaning of the words, the passage is obscure, and that, to make sense, we must either alter the words, or assign to them an unusual interpretation. All commentators are agreed by the help of the context, what the general meaning must be, but no one seems able verbum verbo reddere fidus interpres. -C.

END OF THE SIXTH VOLUME.

« AnteriorContinua »