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The best and most finished books, upon the whole, are the first, the second, the fourth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, and the twelfth. Blair.
30.-On the comparative Merit of Homer and Virgil.
UPON the whole', as to the comparative' merit of those two great princes of epic poetry, Homer' and Virgil'; the former must, undoubtedly, be admitted to be the greater genius'; the latter', to be the more correct' writer. Homer was an original' in his art, and discovers both the beauties' and the defects', which are to be expected in an original' author, compared with those who succeed' him; more boldness', more nature' and ease', more sublimity' and force'; but greater irregularities and negligences' in composition. Virgil hás, all along, kept his eye upon Homer'; in many places, he has not so much imitated', as he has literally translated' him. The description of the storm', for instance, in the first Eneid, and Eneas's speech' upon that occasion, are translations from the fifth book of the Odyssey'; not to mention almost all the similes' of Virgil, which are no other than copies of those of Homer'. The pre-eminence in invention', therefore, must, beyond doubt, be ascribed to Homer. As to the pre-eminence in judgment', though many critics are disposed to give it to Virgil', yet, in my' opinion, it hangs doubtful'. In Homer', we discern all the Greek vivacity'; in Virgil', all the Roman stateliness'. Homer's' imagination is by much the most rich and copious'; Virgil's' the most chaste and correct'. The strength of the former lies, in his power of warming the fancy'; that of the latter', in his power of touching the heart'. Homer's' style is more simple and animated'; Virgil's' more elegant and uniform'. The first' has, on many occasions, a sublimity to which the latter never attains; but the latter', in return, never sinks below a certain degree of epic dignity', which cannot so clearly be pronounced of the former'. Not, however, to detract from the admiration due to both' these great poets, most of Homer's' defects may reasonably be imputed, not to his genius', but to the manners of the age in which he
lived; and for the feeble passages of the Æneid', this' excuse ought to be admitted, that the Æneid' was left an unfinished' work. Blair.
31.-On Human Grandeur.
AN alehouse-keeper near Islington, who had long lived at the sign of the French king, upon the commencement of the last war pulled down his old sign, and put up that of the queen of Hungary. Under the influence of her red face and golden sceptre, he continued to sell ale, till she was no longer the favourite of his customers; he changed her, therefore, some time ago, for the king of Prussia, who may probably be changed, in turn, for the next great man that shall be set up for vulgar admiration.
In this manner the great are dealt out, one after the other, to the gazing crowd. When we have sufficiently wondered at one of them, he is taken in, and another exhibited in his room, who seldom holds his station long; for the mob are ever pleased with variety.
I must own I have such an indifferent opinion of the vulgar, that I am ever led to suspect that merit which raises their shout: at least I am certain to find those great, and sometimes good men, who find satisfaction in such acclamations, made worse by it; and history has too frequently taught me, that the head which has grown this day giddy with the roar of the million, has the very next been fixed upon a pole.
We have seen those virtues which have, while living, retired from the public eye, generally transmitted to posterity, as the truest objects of admiration and praise. Perhaps the character of the late duke of Marlborough may one day be set up, even above that of his more talked-of predecessor; since an assemblage of all the mild and amiable virtues are far superior to those vulgarly called the great ones. I must be pardoned for this short tribute to the memory of a man who, while living, would as much detest to receive any thing that wore the appearance of flattery, as I should to offer it. There is scarce a village in Europe, and not one uni
versity, that is not furnished with its little great men. The head of a petty corporation, who opposes the designs of a prince, who would tyrannically force his subjects to save their best clothes for Sundays; the puny pedant, who finds one undiscovered quality in the polype, or describes an unheeded process in the skeleton of a mole, and whose mind, like his microscope, perceives nature only in detail; the rhymer, who makes smooth verses, and paints to our imagination, when he should only speak to our hearts; all equally fancy themselves walking forward to immortality, and desire the crowd
behind them to look on. The crowd takes them at their word. Patriot, philosopher, and poet, are shouted in their train. "Where was there ever so much merit seen? no times so important as our own! ages, yet unborn, shall gaze with wonder and applause!" To such music the important pigmy moves forward, bustling and swelling, and aptly compared to a puddle in a storm.
I have lived to see generals who once had crowds hallooing after them wherever they went, who were bepraised by newspapers and magazines, those echoes of the voice of the vulgar, and yet they have long sunk into merited obscurity, with scarce even an epitaph left to flatter. A few years ago the herring-fishery employed all Grub-street; it was the topic in every coffeehouse, and the burden of every ballad. We were to drag up oceans of gold from the bottom of the sea; we were to supply all Europe with herrings upon our own terms. At present we hear no more of all this. We have fished up very little gold that I can learn; nor do we furnish the world with herrings, as was expected. Let us wait but a few years longer, and we shall find all our expectations an herring-fishery. Goldsmith.
32.-Ethelgar.-A Saxon Poem.
"Tis not for thee, O man! to murmur at the will of the Almighty. When the thunders roar, the lightnings shine on the rising waves, and the black clouds sit on the brow of the lofty hill; who then protects the flying deer, swift as a sable cloud, tost by the whistling winds,
leaping over the rolling floods, to gain the hoary wood: whilst the lightnings shine on his chest, and the wind rides over his horns? when the wolf roars, terrible as the voice of the Severn; moving majestic as the nodding forests on the brow of Michel-stow; who then commands the sheep to follow the swain, as the beams of light attend upon the morning ?-Know, O man! that Go suffers not the least member of his work to perish, without answering the purpose of their creation. The evils of life, with some, are blessings: and the plant of death healeth the wound of the sword.-Doth the sea of trouble and affliction overwhelm thy soul, look unto the Lord, thou shalt stand firm in the days of temptations, as the lofty hill of Kinwulf; in vain shall the waves beat against thee; thy rock shall stand.
Comely as the white rocks; bright as the star of the evening; tall as the oak upon the brow of the mountain; soft as the showers of dew, that fall upon the flowers of the field, Ethelgar arose, the glory of Exanceastre (Exeter): noble were his ancestors, as the palace of the great Kenrick; his soul, with the lark, every morning ascended the skies; and sported in the clouds: when stealing down the steep mountain, wrapt in a shower of spangling dew, evening came creeping to the plain, closing the flowers of the day, shaking her pearly showers upon the rustling trees; then was his voice heard in the grove, as the voice of the nightingale upon the hawthorn spray; he sung the works of the Lord; the hollow rocks joined in his devotions; the stars danced to his song; the rolling years, in various mantles drest, confest him man. -He saw Egwina of the vale; his soul was astonished, as the Britons who fled before the sword of Kenrick; she was tall as the towering elm; stately as a black cloud bursting into thunder; fair as the wrought bowels of the earth; gentle and sweet as the morning breeze; beauteous as the morning sun; blushing like the vines of the west; her soul as fair as the azure curtain of heaven. She saw Ethelgar; her soft soul melted as the flying snow before the sun. The shrine of St Cuthbert united them. The minutes fled on the golden wings of bliss.-Elgar, their son, was like a young plant
upon the mountain's side, or the sun hid in a cloud; he felt the strength of his sire; and, swift as the lightnings of heaven, pursued the wild boar of the wood. The morn awoke the sun; who, stepping from the mountain's brow, shook his ruddy locks upon the shining dew; Elgar arose from sleep; he seized his sword and spear, and issued to the chace. As waters swiftly falling down a craggy rock, so raged young Elgar through the wood; the wild boar bit his spear, and the fox died at his feet. From the thicket a wolf arose, his eyes flaming like two stars; he roared like the voice of the tempest; hunger made him furious, and he fled like a falling meteor to the war. Like a thunderbolt tearing the black rock, Elgar darted his spear through his heart. The wolf raged like the voice of many waters, and seizing Elgar by the throat, he sought the regions of the blessed.-The wolf died upon his body.-Ethelgar and Egwina wept. They wept like the rains of the spring; sorrow sat upon them as the black clouds the mountains of death: but the power of God settled their hearts.
The golden sun arose to the highest of his power; the apple perfumed the gale; and the juicy grape lighted the eye. Ethelgar and Egwina bent their to the mountain's side, like two stars that move through the sky. The flowers grew beneath their feet; the trees spread out their leaves; the sun played upon the rolling brook; the winds gently passed along. Dark, pitchy clouds veiled the face of the sun; the winds roared like the noise of a battle; the swift hail descended to the ground; the lightnings broke from the sable clouds, and gilded the dark-brown corners of the sky; the thunder shook the lofty mountains; the tall towers nodded to their foundations; the bending oaks divided the whistling wind; the broken flowers fled in confusion round the mountain's side. Ethelgar and Egwina sought the sacred shade, the bleak winds roared over their heads, and the waters ran over their feet. Swift from the dark clouds the lightnings came, the skies blushed at the sight. Egwina stood on the brow of the lofty hill, like an oak in the spring; the lightnings danced about her