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AFTER Homer and Virgil, the next great epic poet of ancient times, who presents himself, is Lucan. He is a poet who deserves our attention, on account of a very peculiar mixture of great beauties, with great faults. Though his Pharsalia discover too little invention, and be conducted in too historical a manner, to be accounted a perfect regular epic poem, yet it were the mere squeamishness of criticism, to exclude it from the epic class. The boundaries, as I formerly remark ed, are far from being ascertained by any such precise limit, that we must refuse the epic name to a poem, which treats of great and heroic adventures, because it is not exactly conformable to the plans of Homer and Virgil. The subject of the Pharsalia carries, undoubtedly, all the epic grandeur and dignity; neither does it want unity of object, viz. the triumph of Cæsar over the Roman liberty. As it stands at present, it is, indeed, brought to no proper close. But either time has deprived us of the last books, or it has been left by the author an incomplete work.

Though Lucan's subject be abundantly heroic, yet I cannot reckon him happy in the choice of it. It has two defects. The one is, that civil wars, especially when as fierce and cruel as those of the Romans, present too many shocking objects to be fit for epic poetry, and give odious and disgusting views of human nature. Gallant and honourable achievements, furnish a more proper theme for the epic muse. But Lucan's genius, it must be confessed, seems to delight in savage scenes; he dwells upon them too much; and not content with those.

which his subject naturally furnished, he goes out of his way to introduce a long episode of Marius and Sylla's proscriptions, which abounds with all the forms of atrocious cruelty.

The other defect of Lucan's subject is, its being too near the times in which he lived. This is a circumstance, as I observed in a former Lecture, always unlucky for a poet; as it deprives him of the assistance of fiction and machinery; and thereby renders his work less splendid and amusing. Lucan has submitted to this disadvantage of his subject; and in doing so, he has acted with more propriety, than if he had made an unseasonable attempt to embellish it with machinery; for the fables of the gods, would have made a very unnatural mixture with the exploits of Cæsar and Pompey; and instead of raising, would have diminished the dignity of such recent, and wellknown facts.

With regard to characters, Lucan draws them with spirit, and with force. But, though Pompey be his professed hero, he does not succeed in interesting us much in his favour. Pompey is not made to possess any high distinction, either for magnanimity in sentiment, or bravery in action; but on the contrary, is always eclipsed by the superior abilities of Cæsar. Cato, is in truth, Lucan's favourite character; and wherever he introduces him, he appears to rise above himself. Some of the noblest, and most conspicuous passages in the work, are such as relate to Cato; either speeches put into his mouth, or descriptions of his behaviour. His speech, in particular, to Labienus, who urged him to inquire at the oracle of Jupiter Ammon, concerning the issue of the war, [book ix. 564] deserves to be remarked, as equal, for moral sublimity, to any thing that is to be found in all antiquity.

In the conduct of the story, our author has attached himself too much to chronological order. This renders the thread of his narration broken and interrupted, and makes him hurry us too often from place to place. He is too digressive also; frequently turning aside from his subject, to give us, sometimes, geographical descriptions of a country; sometimes philosophical disquisitions concerning natural objects; as, concerning the African serpents in the ninth book, and the sources of the Nile in the tenth.

There are, in the Pharsalia, several very poetical and spirited descriptions. But the author's chief strength does not lie, either in narration or description. His narration is often dry and harsh; his descriptions are often over-wrought, and employed too upon disagreeable objects. His principal merit consists in his sentiments, which are generally noble and striking, and expressed in that glowing and ardent manner, which peculiarly distinguishes him. Lucan is the most philosophical and the most public-spirited poet, of all antiquity. He was the nephew of the famous Seneca, the philosopher; was himself a stoic; and the spirit of that philosophy breathes throughout his poem. We must observe too, that he is the only ancient epic poet whom the subject of his poem really and deeply interested. Lucan recounted no fiction. He was a Roman, and had felt all the direful effects of the Roman civil wars, and of that severe despotism which succeeded the loss of liberty. His high and bold spirit made him enter deeply into his subject, and kindle, on many occasions, into the most real warmth. Hence, he abounds in exclamations and apostrophes, which are, almost always, well-timed, and supported with a vivacity and fire that do him no small honour.

But it is the fate of this poet, that his beauties can never be mentioned without their suggesting his blemishes also. As his principal excellency is a lively and glowing genius which appears, sometimes, in his descriptions, and very often in his sentiments, his great defect in both is, want of moderation. He carries every thing to an extreme. He knows not where to stop. From an effort to aggrandise his objects, he becomes tumid and unnatural; and it frequently happens, that where the second line of one of his descriptions is sublime, the third, in which he meant to rise still higher, is perfectly bombast. Lucan lived in an age when the schools of the declaimers had begun to corrupt the eloquence and taste of Rome. He was not free from the infection; and too often, instead of showing the genius of the poet, betrays the spirit of the declaimer.

On the whole, however, he is an author of lively and original genius. His sentiments are so high, and his fire, on occasions, so great, as to atone for many of his defects;and passages may be produced from him, which are inferior to hone in any VOL. II.


261. WEST

poet whatever. The characters, for instance, which he draws of Pompey and Cæsar in the first book, are masterly; and the comparison of Pompey to the aged decaying oak is highly poetical:

.................... totus popularibus auris
Impelli, plausuque sui gaudere theatri;

Nec reparare novas vires, multumque priori
Credere fortunæ ; stat magni nominis umbra.
Qualis, frugifero quercus sublimis in agro,
Exuvias veteres populi, sacrataque gestans
Dona ducum ; nec jam validis radicibus hærens,
Pondere fixa suo est ; nudosque per aëra ramos
Effundens, trunco, non frondibus, efficit umbram.
At quamvis primo nutet casura sub Euro,
Et circum sylvæ firmo se robore tollant,
Sola tamen colitur. Sed non in Cæsare tantum
Nomen erat, nec fama ducis ; sed nescia virtus
Stare loco; solusque pudor non vincere bello;
A cer et indomitus.#.

L.I. 32%

But when we consider the whole execution of his poem, we are obliged to pronounce, that his poetical fire was not under

* With gifts and liberal bounty sought for fame,
And lov'd to hear the vulgar shout his name ;
In his own theatre rejoic'd to sit,


Amidst the noisy praises of the pit.
Careless of future ills that might betide,
No aid he sought to prop his falling side,
But on his former fortune much rely'd.
Still seem'd he to possess, and fill his place;
But stood the shadow of what once he was.
So, in the field with Ceres' bounty spread,
Uprears some ancient oak his rev'rend head:
Chaplets and sacred gifts his boughs adorn,
And spoils of war by mighty heroes worn;
But the first vigour of his root now gone,
He stands dependant on his weight alone;
All bare his naked branches are display'd,
And with his leafless trunk he forms a shade:
Yet though the winds his ruin daily threat,
As every blast would heave him from his seat
Though thousand fairer trees the field supplies,
That rich in youthful verdure round him rise,
Fix'd in his ancient seat, he yields to none,
And wears the honours of the grove alone.
But Cæsar's greatness, and his strength was more
Than past renown and antiquated power;
'Twas not the fame of what he once had been,
Or tales in old records or annals seen;
But 'twas a valour, restless, unconfin'd,
Which no success could sate, nor limits bind ;
"Twas shame, a soldier's shame, untaught to yield,
That blush'd for nothing but an ill-fought field.


the government of either sound judgment or correct taste. His genius had strength, but not tenderness ; nothing of what might be called amenity, or sweetness. In his style, there is abundance of force; but a mixture of harshness, and frequently of obscurity, occasioned by his desire of expressing himself in a pointed and unusual manner. Compared with Virgil, he may be allowed to have more fire and higher sentiments, but in every thing else, falls infinitely below him, particularly in purity, elegance, and tenderness.

As Statius and Silius Italicus, though they be poets of the epic class, are too inconsiderable for particular criticism, I proceed next to Tasso, the most distinguished epic poet in modern ages.

His Jerusalem Delivered, was published in the year 1574. It is a poem regularly and strictly epic in its whole construction; and adorned with all the beauties that belong o that species of composition. The subject is, the Recovery of Jerusalem from the Infidels, by the united powers of Christendom; which, in itself, and more especially acccording to the ideas of Tasso's age, was a splendid, venerable, and heroic enterprise The opposition of the Christians to the Saracens, forms an interesting contrast. The subject produces none of those fierce and shocking scenes of civil discord, which hurt the mind in Lucan, but exhibits the efforts of zeal and bravery, inspired by an honourable object. The share which religion possesses in the enterprize both tends to render it more august, and opens a natural field for machinery and sublime description. The action too lies in a country, and at a period of time, sufficiently remote to allow an intermixture of fabulous tradition and fiction with true history.

In the conduct of the story, Tasso has shown a rich and fertile invention, which, in a poet, is a capital quality. He is full of events; and those too abundantly various, and diversified in their kind. He never allows us to be tired by mere war and fighting. He frequently shifts the scene; and, from camps and battles, transports us to more pleasing objects. Sometimes the solemnities of religion; sometimes the intrigues of love; at other times, the adventures of a journey, or even the incidents of pastoral life, relieve and entertain the reader. At the

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