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THERE is something inexpressi- times, have done little more than bly striking, it may almost be said imitate his machinery, copy his chaawful, in the fame of HOMER. Three racters, adopt his similes, and, in a thousand years have elapsed since few instances, improve upon his dethe bard of Chios began to, pour scriptions Painting and statuary, forth his strains; and their réputa: for two thousand years, have been tion, so far from declining, is on the employed in striving to portray, by increase. Successive nations are em- the pencil or the chisel, his yet ployed in celebrating his works ; gene- breathing conceptions. Language and ration after generation of men are thought itself have been moulded by fascinated by his imagination. Dis- the influence of his poetry. Images crepancies of race, of character, of of wrath are still taken from Achilles, institutions, of religion, of age, of the of pride from Agamemnon, of astuteworld, are forgotten in the common ness from Ulysses, of patriotism from worship of his genius. In this uni- Hector, of tenderness from Androversal tribute of gratitude, modern mache, of age from Nestor. The galEurope vies with remote antiquity, leys of Rome were, the line-of-battle the light Frenchman with the vo- ships of France and England still are, latile Greek, the impassioned Ita- called after his heroes. The Agalian with the enthusiastic German, memnon long bore the flag of Nelson; the sturdy Englishman with the un- the Ajax perished by the flames within conquerable Roman, the aspiring sight of the tomb of the Telamonian Russian with the proud American. hero, on the shores of the Hellespont; Seven cities, in ancient times, com- the Acbilles was blown up at the peted for the honour of having given battle of Trafalgar. Alexander the him birth, but seventy nations have Great ran round the tomb of Achilles since been moulded by his produc- before undertaking the conquest of tions. He gave a mythology to the Asia. It was the boast of Napoleon ancients; he has given the fine arts that his mother reclined on tapestry to the modern world. Jupiter, Sa- representing the heroes of the Iliad, turn, Mars, Juno, are still household when he was brought into the world. words in every tongue; Vulcan is yet The greatest poets of ancient and the god of fire, Neptune of the ocean, modern times have spent their lives Venus of love. When Michael An- in the study of his genius or the imigelo and Canova strove to embody tation of his works. Withdraw from their conceptions of heroism or beauty, subsequent poetry the images, mythey portrayed the heroes of the thology, and characters of the Niad, Iliad. Flaxman's genius was elevated and what would remain ? Petrarch to the highest point in embodying its spent his best years in restoring events. Epic poets, in subsequent his verses. Tasso portrayed the siege
VOL. LVII. NO. CCCLI.
of Jerusalem, and the shock of Europe have been published in Europe within and Asia, almost exactly as Homer the last half century; and the public had done the contest of the same admiration, so far from being satiated, forces, on the same shores, two thou- is augmenting. Every scholar knows sand five hundred years before. Mil- how largely Milton was indebted to his ton's old age, when blind and poor, poems for many of his most powerful was solaced by hearing the verses images. Byron inherited, though often recited of the poet, to whose con- at second hand, his mantle, in many of ceptions his own mighty spirit had his most moving conceptions. Schilbeen so much indebted; and Pope ler has embodied them in a noble deemed himself fortunate in devo- historic mirror; and the dreams of ting his life to the translation of the Goethe reveal the secret influence of Iliad.
the terrible imagination which porNo writer in modern times has trayed the deep remorse and hopeless equalled the wide-spread fame of agonies of Malebolge. the Grecian bard; but it may be MICHAEL ANGELO has exercised doubted whether, in the realms of an influence on modern art little, if thought, and in sway over the at all, inferior to that produced on reflecting world, the influence of the realms of thought by Homer aud DANTE has not been almost as consi- Dante. The father of Italian paintderable. Little more than five hun- ing, the author of the frescoes on the dred years, indeed, have elapsed – Sistine Chapel, he was, at the same not a sixth of the thirty centuries time, the restorer of ancient sculpwhich have tested the strength of the ture, and the intrepid architect who Grecian patriarch-since the immor- placed the Pantheon in the air. Ratal Florentine poured forth his divine phael confessed, that he owed to the conceptions; but yet there is scarcely contemplation of his works his most a writer of eminence since that time, in elevated conceptions of their divine works even bordering on imagination, art. Sculpture, under his original in which traces of his genius are not to hand, started from the slumber of a be found. The Inferno has penetrated thousand years, in all the freshness the world. If ages of horror are of youthful vigour; architecture, in sought after, it is to his works that subsequent times, has sought in vain all subsequent ages have turned; if to equal, and can never hope to surthose of love and divine felicity are pass, his immortal monument in the desired, all turn to the Paradise and matchless dome of St Peter's. He the Spirit of Beatrice. When the found painting in its infancy-he left historians of the French Revolution it arrived at absolute perfection. He wished to convey an idea of the ut- first demonstrated of what that noblo most agonies they were called on to art is capable. In the Last Judgment portray, they contented themselves he revealed its wonderful powers, exwith saying it equalled all that the hibiting, as it were, at one view, the imagination of Dante had conceived whole circles of Dante's Infernoof the terrible. Sir Joshua Reynolds portraying with terrible fidelity the has exerted his highest genius in de- agonies of the wicked, when the last picting the frightful scene described trumpet shall tear the veil from their by him, when Ugolino perished of faces, and exhibit in undisguised truth hunger in the tower of Pisa. Alfieri, that most fearful of spectacles -a Metastasio, Corneille, Lope de Vega, naked human heart. Casting aside, and all the great masters of the perhaps with undue contempt, the tragic muse, have sought in his works adventitious aids derived from finishthe germs of their finest conceptions. ing, colouring, and execution, he The first of these tragedians marked threw the whole force of his genius two-thirds of the Inferno and Paradiso into the design, the expression of the as worthy of being committed to me- features, the drawing of the figures. mory. Modern novelists have found in There never was such a delineahis prolific mind the storehouse from tor of bone and muscle as Michael which they have drawn their noblest Angelo. His frescoes stand out in imagery, the chord by which to strike bold relief from the walls of the Vatithe profoundest feelings of the human can, like the sculptures of Phidias heart. Eighty editions of his poems from the pediment of the Parthenon. He was the founder of the school of different countries and ages of the painting both at Rome and Florence world, that they never can concur —that great school which, disdaining through a course of centuries in one the representation of still life, and all opinion, if it is not founded in truth the subordinate appliances of the art, and justice. The vox populi is often devoted itself to the representation of little more than the vox diaboli; but the grand and the beautiful; to the the voice of ages is the voice of God. expression of passion in all its vehe- It is of more moment to consider mence—of emotion in all its intensity. in what the greatness of these illusHis incomparable delineation of bones trious men really consists—to what it and muscles was but a means to an has probably been owing—and in what end; it was the human heart, the particulars they bear an analogy to throes of human passion, that his each other. master-hand laid bare. Raphael con- They are all three distinguished by gratulated himself, and thanked God one peculiarity, which doubtless enthat he had given him life in the tered largely into their transcendent same age with that painter; and Sir merit—they wrote in the infancy of Joshua Reynolds, in his last address civilization. Homer, as all the world to the Academy, " reflected, not with knows, is the oldest profane author in out vanity, that his Discourses bore existence. Dante flourished about testimony to his admiration of that the year 1300: he lived at a time truly divine man, and desired that the when the English barons lived in last words he pronounced in that aca- rooms strewed with rushes, and demy, and from that chair, might be few of them could sign their names. the name of Michael Angelo." * The long life of Michael Angelo, ex
The fame of these illustrious men tending from 1474 to 1564, over has long been placed beyond the reach ninety years, if not passed in the of cavil. Criticism cannot reach, envy infancy of civilization, was at least cannot detract from, emulation cannot passed in the childhood of the arts : equal them. Great present celebrity, before his time, painting was in its indeed, is no guarantee for future and cradle. Cimabue had merely unenduring fame; in many cases, it is folded the first dawn of beauty at the reverse; but there is a wide dif- Florence; and the stiff figures of ference between the judgment of the Pietro Perugino, which may be traced present and that of future ages. The in the first works of his pupil Raphael, favour of the great, the passions of still attest the backward state of the the multitude, the efforts of reviewers, arts at Rome. This peculiarity, apthe interest of booksellers, a clique of plicable alike to all these three great authors, a coterie of ladies, accidental men, is very remarkable, and beyond events, degrading propensities, often all question had a powerful influence, enter largely into the composition of both in forming their peculiar characpresent reputation. But opinion is ter, and elevating them to the astofreed from all these disturbing in- nishing greatness which they speedily fluences by the lapse of time. The attained. grave is the greatest of all purifiers. It gave them—what Johnson has Literary jealousy, interested partiali- justly termed the first requisite to ty, vulgar applause, exclusive favour, human greatness — self-confidence. alike disappear before the hand, of They were the first—at least the first death. We never can be sufficiently known to themselves and their condistrustful of present opinion, so large- temporaries—who adventured on their ly is it directed by passion or interest. several arts; and thus they proceeded But we may rely with confidence on fearlessly in their great career. They the judgment of successive genera- had neither critics to fear, nor lords tions on departed eminence; for it is to flatter, nor former excellence to detached from the chief cause of pre- imitate. They portrayed with the sent aberration. So various are the pencil, or in verse, what they severalprejudices, 80 contradictory the par- ly felt, undisturbed by fear, unswayed tialities and predilections of men, in by example, unsolicitous about fame,
* Reynolds' Discourses, No. 16, ad finem.
unconscious of excellence. They did grievous impediment to genius in so for the first time. Thence the later, or, as we term them, more civifreshness and originality, the vigour lized times, from which, in earlier and truth, the simplicity and raciness ages, it is wholly exempt. Criticism, by which they are distinguished. public opinion, the dread of ridiculeShakspeare owed much of his great then too often crush the strongest ness to the same cause; and thence minds. The weight of former examhis similarity, in many respects, to ples, the influence of early habits, the these great masters of his own or the halo of long-established reputation, sister arts. When Pope asked Bent- force original genius from the untrodley what he thought of his translation den path of invention into the beaten of the Iliad, the scholar replied, “You one of imitation. Early talent feels have written a pretty book, Mr Pope; itself overawed by the colossus which but you must not call it Homer.” all the world adores; it falls down Bentley was right. With all its pomp and worships, instead of conceiving. of language and melody of versifica- The dread of ridicule extinguishes tion, its richness of imagery and mag- originality in its birth. Immense is nificence of diction, Pope's Homer is the incubus thus laid upon the efforts widely different from the original. of genius. It is the chief cause of the He could not avoid it. The “awful degradation of taste, the artificial simplicity of the Grecian bard, his style, the want of original conception, artless grandeur and unaffected ma- by which the literature of old nations jesty," will be sought for in vain in is invariably distinguished. The early the translation ; but if they had ap- poet or painter who portrays what peared there, it would have been un- he feels or has seen, with no anxiety readable in that age. Michael An- but to do so powerfully and truly, is gelo, in his bold conceptions, ener- relieved of a load which crushes his getic will, and rapid execution, bears subsequent compeers to the earth. a close resemblance to the father of Mediocrity is ever envious of geniuspoetry. In both, the same faults, as ordinary capacity of original thought. we esteem them, are conspicuous, Such envy in early times is innocuous arising from a too close imitation of or does not exist, at least to the exnature, and a carelessness in reject- tent which is felt as so baneful in ing images or objects which are of an subsequent periods. But in a refined ordinary or homely description. Dante and enlightened age, its influence bewas incomparably more learned than comes incalculable. Whoever strikes either : he followed Virgil in his de- out a new region of thought or comscent to the infernal regions; and position, whoever opens a fresh vein exhibits an intimate acquaintance of imagery or excellence, is persewith ancient history, as well as that cuted by the critics. He disturbs setof the modern Italian states, in the tled ideas, endangers established repuaccount of the characters he meets in tations, brings forward rivals to domithat scene of torment. But in his nant fame. That is sufficient to renown line he was entirely original. der him the enemy of all the existing Homer and Virgil had, in episodes of rulers in the world of taste. Even their poems, introduced a picture of the Jeffrey seriously lamented, in one of his infernal regions ; but nothing on the first reviews of Scott's poems, that he plan of Dante's Inferno had before been should have identified himself with the thought of in the world. With much of unpicturesque and expiring images of the machinery of the ancients, it bears feudality, which no effort could renthe stamp of the spiritual faith of der poetical. Racine's tragedies were modern times. It lays bare the heart received with such a storm of critiin a way unknown even to Ilomer cism as wellnigli cost the sensitive and Euripides. It reveals the inmost author his life; and Rousseau was so man in a way which bespeaks the rudely handled by contemporary wricentụies of self-reflection in the ters on his first appearance, that it cloister which had preceded it. It is confirmed him in his morbid hatred of the basis of all the spiritual poetry of civilization. The vigour of these modern, as the Iliad is of all the ex- great men, indeed, overcame the obternal imagery of ancient, times. stacles created by contemporary en
In this respect there is a most vy; but how seldom, especially in a