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At length Erasmus, that great injur'd name, (The glory of the Priesthood, and the shame!)
VER. 693. At length Erafmus, &c.] Nothing can be more artful than the application of this example: or more happy than the turn of the compliment. To throw glory quite round the character of this admirable Perfon, he makes it to be (as in fact it really was) by his affiftance chiefly, that Leo was enabled to restore letters and the fine arts in his Pontificate. W.
This is not exactly true; others had a share in this great important work.
"I have been asked, whether I would decide the question, What was the religion of Erafmus? In one respect, I account myself qualified for the undertaking; for I am unprejudiced, and have nothing to bias me. But I think it beft to leave the reader to judge for himself, and to make his inferences from the premises. Therefore I fhall only obferve, that Erafmus, if he had had an abfolute power to establish a form of religion in any country, would have been a moderate man, and a Latitudinarian, as to the credenda. He would have propofed few articles of faith, and thofe with a primitive fimplicity. This fyftem, indeed, would have been highly disagreeable to the men, who enjoy no comfort in believing, or in pretending to believe, what they think fit, unless they can vex, harrafs, and torment, all those who will not fubmit to their decifions." This is the candid opinion of Dr. Jortin, in his Life of Erafmus, p. 609.
"I am afraid (faid Erafmus) in one of his epiftles, that not having the firmness and spirit of Luther, I should have behaved like St. Peter in the fame circumstances."
VER. 694. The glory of the Priefhood, and the fhame!] Our author elsewhere lets us know what he esteems to be the glory of the priesthood as well as of a chriftian in general, where, comparing himself to Erasmus, he says,
"In Moderation placing all my glory,"
and confequently what he regards as the fhame of it. The whole of this character belonged eminently and almoft folely to Erafmus: For the other Reformers, fuch as Luther, Calvin, and their followers, understood fo little in what true chriftian liberty confifted, that they carried with them, into the reformed churches, that very spirit of perfecution, which had driven them from the church of Rome.
Stem'd the wild torrent of a barb'rous age,
VER. 696. And drove thofe holy Vandals off the flage.] In this attack on the established ignorance of the times, Erafmus fucceeded fo well, as to bring good letters into fashion: to which he gave new fplendor, by preparing for the prefs correct editions of many of the best ancient writers, both ecclefiaftical and prophane. But having laughed and fhamed his age out of one folly, he had the mortification of feeing it run headlong into another. The Virtuofi of Italy, in a fuperftitious dread of that monkish barbarity which he had fo feverely handled, would use no term, (for now almost every man was become a Latin writer), not even when they treated of the highest myfteries of religion, which had not been confecrated in the Capitol, and dispensed unto them from the facred hand of Cicero. Erafmus obferved the growth of this claffical folly with the greater concern, as he discovered under all their attention to the language of old Rome, a certain fondness for its religion, in a growing impiety which difpofed them to think irreverently of the Chriftian Faith. And he no fooner difcovered it than he fet upon reforming it; which he did fo effectually in the Dialogue, entitled Ciceronianus, that he brought the age back to that just temper, which he had been, all his life, endeavouring to mark out to it: Purity, but not pedantry, in Letters; and zeal, but not bigotry, in Religion. In a word, by employing his great talents of genius and literature on subjects of general importance; and by oppofing the extremes of all parties in their turns; he completed the real character of a true Critic and an honeft Man.
VER. 697. But fee! each Mufe, in Leo's golden days,] Hiftory has recorded five ages of the world, in which the human mind has exerted itself in an extraordinary manner; and in which its productions in literature and the fine arts have arrived at a perfection, not equalled in other periods.
The First, is the age of Philip and Alexander; about which time flourished Socrates, Plato, Demofthenes, Ariftotle, Lyfippus, Apelles, Phidias, Praxiteles, Thucydides, Xenophon, Æfchylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Ariftophanes, Menander, Philemon. The
Rome's ancient Genius, o'er its ruins spread, 699 Shakes off the duft, and rears his rev'rend head.
Second age, which feems not to have been taken fufficient notice of, was that of Ptolomy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, in which appeared Lycophron, Aratus, Nicander, Apollonius Rhodius, Theocritus, Callimachus, Eratofthenes, Philichus, Erafiftratus the phyfician, Timæus the hiftorian, Cleanthes, Diogenes the painter, and Softrates the architect. This prince, from his love of learning, commanded the Old Testament to be translated into Greek. The Third age, is that of Julius Cæfar, and Auguftus; marked with the illuftrious names of Laberius, Catullus, Lucretius, Cicero, Livy, Varro, Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Tibullus, Ovid, Phædrus, Vitruvius, Diofcorides. The Fourth age was that of Julius II, and Leo X, which produced Ariosto, Tafso, Fracaftorius, Sannazarius, Vida, Bembo, Sadolet, Machiavel, Guiccardin, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Titian. The Fifth age is that of Louis XIV, in France, and of King William and Queen Anne, in England; in which, or thereabouts, are to be found, Corneille, Moliere, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Boffeet, La Rochefoucault, Pafchal, Bourdaloue, Patru, Malbranche, De Retz, La Bruyere, St. Real, Fenelon, Lully, Le Sæur, Pouffin, La Brun, Puget, Theodon, Gerradon, Edelinck, Nanteuill, Perrault the architect, Dryden, Tillotson, Temple, Pope, Addison, Garth, Congreve, Rowe, Prior, Lee, Swift, Bolingbroke, Atterbury, Boyle, Locke, Newton, Clarke, Kneller, Thornhill, Jervas, Purcell, Mead, Friend.
Leo the Tenth little imagined, that by promoting the revival of ancient literature, and by the discovery and diffusion of that manly and liberal knowledge which it contained, and which opened and enlarged the bigoted minds of men, into boldnefs of thought, and freedom of enquiry on all important subjects, he was gradually undermining the abfurdity and the tyranny of the Romish church, and emancipating its wretched devotees from ignorance and fuperftition. In vain, under fuch circumstances, was the Complutenfian edition of the bible given. Cardinal Pole, it is faid, with great fhrewdness, warned Leo of the confequences of thus enlightening Europe.
In Bayle may be seen, the pains he took, and the expences he incurred, by purchafing curious manufcripts from every country
Then Sculpture, and her fifter-arts revive;
where they could be found; and his liberalities to men of genius need not be enlarged upon. One cannot but lament that the charming Ariofto, who was once fo favoured and careffed by him, was afterwards neglected and forgotten by this Pope, and denied a preferment which he had promised him, which occafioned the feverity with which he treated Leo in his Fifth Satire. It is remarkable, that in the bull which this Pope gave to Ariosto, on the printing his Orlando, he speaks of it as a kind of burlesque poem; as defcribing, Equitum errantium Itinera, ludicro more, longo tamen ftudio, &c.
VER. 699. O'er its ruins Spread,] In the ninth century, it was faid, there were more ftatues than inhabitants, at Rome.
"Sacra fub extremâ fi forte requiritis horâ,
VER. 703. With sweeter notes] I have the best authority, that of the learned, accurate, and ingenious Dr. Burney, for observing, that, in the age of Leo the Tenth, mufic did not keep pace with poetry in advancing towards perfection. Coftantio Fefta was the beft Italian composer during the time of Leo, and Pietro Aron the best Theorift. Palestrina was not born till eight years after the death of Leo. See Hiftory of Mufic, Vol. II. p. 336. In the year 1521, Luther wrote a serious and preffing letter to Leo, exhorting him to retire from the fplendor and vanity of the court, to fome religious folitude, after the example of St. Bernard. We may easily imagine how much our polite fucceffor of St. Peter was diverted with this remonftrance of Luther. Leo did not receive the facrament before he died; on which, Sannazarius wrote this distich;
VER. 705. Immortal Vida:] But Vida was by no means the moft celebrated poet that adorned the age of Leo the Tenth; and mufic received not fo many improvements, as the other fine arts, at that period. When Vida was advanced to a bishopric,
Cremona now fhall ever boaft thy name,
he went to pay a vifit to his aged parents, who were in very low circumstances; but, unhappily found they were juft deceased. An action more meritorious than writing his Poetics.
The merits of Vida feem not to have been particularly attended to in England, till Pope had bestowed this commendation upon him; although the Poetics had been correctly published at Oxford, by Bafil Kennet, fome time before. The Silk-worms of Vida are written with claffical purity, and with a just mixture of the ftyles of Lucretius and Virgil. It was a happy choice to write a poem on Chefs; nor is the execution less happy. The various ftratagems, and manifold intricacies of this ingenious game, fo difficult to be defcribed in Latin, are here expreffed with the greatest perfpicuity and elegance; fo that, perhaps, the game might be learned from this defcription. Amidft many profaic flatneffes there are many fine ftrokes in the Chriftiad; particularly his angels, with respect to their perfons and infignia, are drawn with that dignity which we fo much admire in Milton; who feems to have had his eye on those paffages.
Gravina (Della Ragion. Poet. p. 127.) applauds Vida, for having found out a method to introduce the whole history of our Saviour's life, by putting it into the mouth of St. Joseph and St. John, who relate it to Pilate. But furely this speech, confifting of as many lines as that of Dido to Æneas, was too long to be made on fuch an occafion, when Christ was brought before the tribunal of Pilate, to be judged and condemned to death. The Poetics are, perhaps, the most perfect of his compofitions; they are excellently tranflated by Pitt. Vida had formed himself upon Virgil, who is therefore his hero; he has too much depreciated Homer, and alfo Dante. Although his precepts principally regard epic poetry, yet many of them are applicable to every fpecies of compofition. This poem has the praise
VER. 708. As next in place to Mantua,] Alluding to