Imatges de pÓgina
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Juvenal, which is, without doubt, the most perfect composition of its author, was a daring and a hazardous attempt. Dryden had led the way, and, though occasionally successful, has failed to equal the general merit of the Latin poem. The imitation of Johnson, on the contrary, may be said to vie with the Roman in every line, and in some instances to surpass the original ; particularly in the sketch of Charles, and in the conclusion of the satire, which, though nobly moral as it is in the page of Juvenal, is greatly heightened by the pen of Johnson, and forms one of the finest lessons of piety and resignation discoverable in the works of any uninspired writer. After reprobating the too frequent folly of our wishes and our prayers, it is inquired of the poet, whether we shall upon no occasion implore the mercy of the skies? He replies:

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"Inquirer, cease; petitions yet remain,

Which Heaven may hear, nor deem religion vain.
Still raise for good the supplicating voice,

But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice.
Safe in his power, whose eyes discern afar
The secret ambush of a specious prayer;
Implore his aid, in his decisions rest,
Secure whate'er he gives he gives the best.
Yet when the sense of sacred presence fires,
And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
Obedient passions, and a will resign'd,
For love, which scarce collective man can fill;
For patience, sov'reign o'er transmuted ill;
For faith, that, panting for a happier seat,
Counts death kind nature's signal of retreat :
These goods for man the laws of heaven ordain,

These goods he grants, who grants the power to gain;

With these celestial wisdom calms the mind,
And makes the happiness she does not find."

584. "Irene."

"Irene can boast of a strict adherence to the unities; of harmonious versification; of diction vigorous and splendid; of sentiment morally correct and philosophically beautiful: but its fable is without interest, its characters without discrimination, and neither terror nor pity is excited. If it fail, however, as a drama, in delineating the ebullitions of passion, it will, as a series of ethic dialogues, replete with striking observations on human conduct, and rich in poetic expression, be long studied and admired in the closet. No one of the productions of Johnson, indeed, was more carefully elaborated than his " Irene ;" and, though commenced at an early period of life, no one more evidently discovers his exclusive love of moral philosophy, and his ample store of nervous and emphatic language. Of the numerous passages which illustrate this remark, and which, for their moral excellence, should dwell upon the memory, I shall adduce two, in conception and in execution alike happy. Demetrius, addressing the aged Visier Cali on the danger of protracting the blow which he intended until the morrow, exclaims,

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"To-morrow's action! can that hoary wisdom,

Borne down with years, still doat upon to-morrow!
That fatal mistress of the young, the lazy,
The coward, and the fool, condemn'd to lose
An useless life in waiting for to-morrow,
To gaze with longing eyes upon to-morrow,
Till interposing death destroys the prospect!
Strange! that this gen'ral fraud from day to day
Should fill the world with wretches undetected.
The soldier, lab'ring through a winter's march,
Still sees to-morrow drest in robes of triumph;
Still to the lover's long-expecting arms,
To-morrow brings the visionary bride.
But thou, too old to bear another cheat,
Learn, that the present hour alone is man's."

Aspasia, reprobating the ambition and meditated apostacy of Irene, endeavours to reconcile her mind to the loss of life, rather than of virtue and religion, and bids her

"Reflect that life and death, affecting sounds!
Are only varied modes of endless being;
Reflect that life, like ev'ry other blessing,
Derives its value from its use alone;
Not for itself, but for a nobler end,

Th' Eternal gave it, and that end is virtue.
When inconsistent with a greater good,
Reason commands to cast the less away;
Thus life, with loss of wealth, is well preserved,
And virtue cheaply saved with loss of life."

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In act the first, scene the second, is a passage which has been frequently and justly admired; it is put into the mouth of the Visier Cali, who, execrating the miseries of arbitrary power, alludes to a report which he had received, of the nicely balanced structure of the British Constitution:

"If there be any land, as fame reports,

Where common laws restrain the prince and subject,
A happy land, where circulating power

Flows through each member of th' embodied state;
Sure, not unconscious of the mighty blessing,
Her grateful sons shine bright with ev'ry virtue;
Untainted with the lust of innovation,

Sure all unite to hold her league of rule
Unbroken as the sacred chain of nature,
That links the jarring elements in peace."

"These are British sentiments," remarks Mr. Murphy (writing in 1792): "above forty years ago, they found an echo in the breast of applauding audiences; and to this hour they are the voice of the people, in defiance of the metaphysics and the new lights of certain politicians, who would gladly find their private

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advantage in the disasters of their country; a race of men, quibus nulla ex honesto spes.

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585. Robert Levett.

The stanzas on the death of this man of great but humble utility are beyond all praise. The wonderful powers of Johnson were never shown to greater advantage than on this occasion, where the subject, from its obscurity and mediocrity, seemed to bid defiance to poetical efforts; it is, in fact, warm from the heart, and is the only poem from the pen of Johnson that has been bathed with tears. Would to God, that on every medical man who attends the poor, the following encomiums could be justly passed!

"Well tried through many a varying year,
See Levett to the grave descend;
Officious, innocent, sincere,

Of ev'ry friendless name the friend.
"When fainting nature call'd for aid,

And hov'ring death prepared the blow,
His vig'rous remedy display'd

The power of art without the show.

"In Mis'ry's darkest cavern known,
His useful care was ever nigh,
Where hopeless Anguish pour'd his groan,
And lonely Want retired to die."

How boldly painted, how exquisitely pathetic, as a description of the sufferings of human life, is this last stanza! I am acquainted with nothing superior to it in the productions of the moral muse.

586. "Medea" of Euripides.

To the English poetry of Johnson, may now be added a very beautiful translation of some noble lines from the Medea" of Euripides. It has escaped all the

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editors of his works, and was very lately introduced to the world in a volume of considerable merit, entitled "Translations from the Greek Anthology, with Tales and Miscellaneous Poems."() A parody, indeed, by our author upon this passage of the Grecian poet was published by Mrs. Piozzi (2), but it is of little value, while the following version has preserved all the elegance and pathos of the original:

"The rites derived from ancient days,
With thoughtless, reverence we praise;
The rites that taught us to combine
The joys of music and of wine;
That bade the feast, the song, the bowl,
O'erfill the saturated soul;

But ne'er the lute nor lyre applied,
To soothe Despair or soften Pride,
Nor call'd them to the gloomy cells
Where Madness raves and Vengeance swells,
Where Hate sits musing to betray,
And Murder meditates his prey.
To dens of guilt and shades of care,
Ye sons of melody, repair,

Nor deign the festive hour to cloy
With superfluity of joy ;

The board with varied plenty crown'd
May spare the luxury of sound."

587. Rambler and Adventurer.

As specimens of the style of Johnson, we shall adduce three quotations, taken from the "Rambler" and "Adventurer;" the first on a didactic, the second on a moral, and the third on a religious subject; passages, which will place in a very striking light the prominent peculiarities and excellencies of the most splendid and powerful moralist of which this country can boast. Ani

(1) [By Bland and Merivale, 8vo. 1806.]
(2) [See antè, Vol. IX. p. 22.]

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