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much every thing is improved in the hands of a man of genius.
BAUCIS AND PHILEMON.—This poem is very fine, and, though in the same strain with the preceding, is yet superior.
ELEGY ON THE DEATH OF MR. Addison.—This elegy, by Mr. Tickell, is one of the finest in our language. There is so little new that can be said upon a death of a friend, after the complaints of Ovid and the Latin Italians in this way, that one is surprised to see so much novelty in this to strike us, and so much interest to affect.
COLIN AND LUCY. A Ballad. — Through all Tickell's works there is a strain of ballad-thinking, if I may so express it; and in this professed ballad he seems to have surpassed himself. It is, perhaps, the best in our language in
THE TEARS OF SCOTLAND.—This ode, by Dr. Smollett, does rather more honour to the author's feelings than his taste. The mechanical part, with regard to numbers and language, is not so perfect as so short a work as this requires; but the pathetic it contains, particularly in the last stanza but one, is exquisitely fine.
ON THE DEATH OF THE LORD PROTECTOR.–Our poetry was not quite harmonized in Waller's time ; so that this, which would be now looked upon as a slovenly sort of versification, was, with respect to the times in which it was written, almost a prodigy of harmony. A modern reader will chiefly be struck with the strength of thinking, and the turn of the compliments bestowed upon the usurper. Every body has heard the answer our poet made Charles II. who asked him how his poem upon Cromwell came to be finer than his panegyric upon himself? “ Your Majesty,” replies Waller, “ knows that poets always succeed best in fiction."
THE STORY OF PHæBUS AND DAPHNE APPLIED.—The
French claim this as belonging to them. To whomsoever it belongs, the thought is finely turned.
Night Thoughts.—These seem to be the best of the collection ; from whence only the two first are taken. They are spoken of differently, either with exaggerated applause or contempt, as the reader's disposition is either turned to mirth or melancholy.
SATIRES.—Young's Satires were in higher reputation when published than they stand in at present. He seems fonder of dazzling than pleasing; of raising our admiration for his wit, than our dislike of the follies he ridicules.
A PASTORAL BALLAD.--The ballads of Mr. Shenstone are chiefly commended for the natural simplicity of the thoughts, and the harmony of the versification. However, they are not excellent in either.
PHEBE. A Pastoral.—This, by Dr. Byrom, is a better effort than the preceding.
A Song.“ Despairing beside a clear stream.”—This, by Mr. Rowe, is better than any thing of the kind in our language.
An Essay on POETRY.- This work, by the Duke of Buckingham, is enrolled among our great English productions. The precepts are sensible, the poetry not indifferent, but it has been praised more than it deserves.
CADENAS AND VANESSA.—This is thought one of Dr. Swift's correctest pieces; its chief merit, indeed, is the elegant ease with which a story, but ill-conceived in itself, is told.
ALMA; or, thE PROGRESS OF THE MIND.—What Prior meant by this poem I cannot understand: by the Greek motto to it
Πάντα γέλως, και πάντα κόνις, και πάντα το μηδέν.
Πάντα γάρ εξ αλόγων εστι τα γιγνόμενα.one would think it was either to laugh at the subject or his reader. There are some parts of it very fine; and let them save the badness of the rest.
THE ROMAN HISTORY; FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE CITY OF ROME TO THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WESTERN
2 vols. 8vo. 1769. (1) There are some subjects on which a writer must decline all attempts to acquire fame, satisfied with being obscurely useful. After such a number of Roman histories, in almost all languages, ancient and modern, it would be but imposture to pretend new discoveries, or to expect to offer any thing in a work of this kind, which has not been often anticipated by others. The facts which it relates have been a hundred times repeated, and every occurrence has been so variously considered, that learning can scarcely find a new anecdote, or genius give novelty to the old. I hope, therefore, for the reader's indulgence, if, in the following attempt, it shall appear, that my only aim was to supply a concise, plain, and unaffected narrative of the rise and decline of a
(1) [Good works of this kind, which comprise within moderate compass national history—and of such a nation-for a long series of years, are rare. To be well executed, the writer must possess talents of a peculiar kind; and if not well done, they are useless, and soon neglected. Skilful abridgment, or condensation, is one of the most difficult tasks in literature. It requires a mind at once comprehensive and minute, neither superficial nor dry, fitted to embrace and arrange great things, and yet not neglect small; to these must be added that charm of genius, without which such works, though even carefully executed, seldom survive the year of their publication. If success be the criterion of excellence in this department, no writer of our country has approached Goldsmith in popularity; for without professing to investigate facts, to be in the slightest degree original, or to give even a new version of a known incident, he has contrived to fix attention upon his narratives, divide popular favour with more ample enquirers into historical affairs, while the editions of his works may be counted by dozens. ]
well known empire. I was contented to make such a book as could not fail of being serviceable, though of all others the most unlikely to promote the reputation of the writer. Instead, therefore, of pressing forward among the ambitious, I only claim the merit of knowing my own strength, and falling back among the hindmost ranks, with conscious inferiority.
I am not ignorant, however, that it would be no difficult task to pursue the same art by which many dull men, every day, acquire a reputation in history: such might easily be attained, by fixing on some obscure period to write upon, where much seeming erudition might be displayed, almost unknown, because not worth remembering ; and many maxims in politics might be advanced, entirely new, because altogether false. But I have pursued a contrary method, choosing the most noted period in history, and offering no remarks, but such as I thought strictly true. The reasons of my choice were, that we had no history
, of this splendid period in our language, but what was either too voluminous for common use, or too meanly written to please. Catrou and Rouille’s history, in six volumes, folio, translated into our language by Bundy, is entirely unsuited to the time and expense mankind usually choose to bestow upon this subject. Rollin and his continuator Crevier, making nearly thirty volumes octavo, seem to labour under the same imputation; as likewise Hooke, who has spent three quartos upon the Republic alone, the rest of his undertaking remaining unfinished. (1) There only, therefore, remained the history by Echard, in five volumes octavo, whose plan and mine seemed to coincide; and, had
(1) (Hooke's three quartos reach only to the end of the Gallic war. А fourth volume, to the end of the Republic, was afterwards published in 1771. Goldsmith's preface was written in 1769. Hooke's quarto edition has been republished in cleven volumes octavo.]
his execution been equal to his design, it had precluded the present undertaking. But the truth is, it is so poorly written, the facts so crowded, the narration so spiritless, and the characters so indistinctly marked, that the most ardent curiosity must cool in the perusal ; and the noblest transactions that ever warmed the human heart, as described by him, must cease to interest.
I have endeavoured, therefore, in the present work, or rather compilation, to obviate the inconveniences arising from the exuberance of the former, as well as from the unpleasantness of the latter.
It was supposed, that two volumes might be made to comprise all that was requisite to be known, or pleasing to be read, by such as only examined history, to prepare them for more important studies. Too much time may be given even to laudable pursuits, and there is none more apt than this to allure the student from the necessary branches of learning, and, if I may so express it, entirely to engross his industry. What is here offered, therefore, may be sufficient for all, except such who make history the peculiar business of their lives : To such, the most tedious narrative will seem but an abridgment, as they measure the merits of a work, rather by the quantity than the quality of its contents: others, however, who think more soberly, will agree, that in so extensive a field as that of the transactions of Rome, more judgment may be shown by selecting what is important, than by adding what is obscure.
The history of this empire has been extended to six volumes folio; and I aver, that with very little learning, it might be increased to sixteen more ; but what would this be, but to load the subject with unimportant facts, and so to weaken the narration, that, like the empire described, it must necessarily sink beneath the weight of its own acquisitions ?