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Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vafto.
VIRG. En. 1. ver. 112.
"One here and there floats on the vast abyss."
Among the mutilated poets of antiquity, there is none whofe fragments are fo beautiful as thofe of Sappho. They give us a tafte of her way of writing, which is perfectly conformable with that extraordinary character we find of her, in the remarks of those great critics who were converfant with her works when they were intire. One may fee by what is left of them, that The followed nature in all her thoughts, without defcending to thofe little points, concerts, and turns of wit, with which many of our modern lyrics are so miserably infected. Her foul feems to have been made up of love and poetry: fhe felt the paffion in all its warmth, and defcribed it in all its fymptoms. She is called by ancient authors the tenth mufe; and by Plutarch is compared to Cacus the fon of Vulcan, who breathed out nothing but flame. I do not know by the character that is given of her works, whether it is not for the benefit of mankind that they are loft. They were filled with fuch bewitching tendernefs and rapture, that it might have been dangerous to have given them a reading.
An inconftant lover, called Phaon, occafioned great calamities to this poetical lady. She fell defperately in love with him, and took a voyage into Sicily, in purfuit of him, he having withdrawn himself thither on purpose to avoid her. It was in that ifland, and on this occafion, she is supposed to have made the hymn to Venus, with a tranflation of which I fhall prefent my reader. Her hymn was ineffectual for the procuring that happiness which he prayed for in it. Phaon was ftill obdurate, and Sappho fo tranfported with the violence of her paffion, that she was refolved to get rid of it at any price.
There was a promontory in Acarnania called Leucate, on the top of which was a little temple dedicated to Apollo. In this temple it was ufual for defpairing lovers to make their vows in fecret, and afterwards to fling themselves from the top of the precipice into the fea, where they were fometimes taken up alive. This place was therefore called "The Lover's Leap ;" and whether
or no the fright they had been in, or the refolution that could push them to fo dreadful a remedy, or the bruifes which they often received in their fall, banished all the tender fentiments of love, and gave their fpirits another turn; thofe who had taken this leap were obferved never to relapse into that paffion. Sappho tried the cure, but perished in the experiment.
After having given this fhort account of Sappho, fo far as it regards the following ode, I fhall fubjoin the tranflation of it as it was fent me by a friend, whofe admirable paftorals and Winter-piece have been already fo well received. The reader will find in it that pathetic fimplicity which is fo peculiar to him, and fo fuitable to the ode he has here tranflated. This ode in the Greek, befides thofe beauties obferved by madam Dacier, has feveral harmonious turns in the words, which are not loft in the English. I must farther add, that the translation has preferved every image and fentiment of Sappho, notwithstanding it has all the eafe and fpirit of an original. In a word, if the ladies have a mind to know the manner of writing practifed by the fo much celebrated Sappho, they may here fee it in its genuine and natural beauty, without any foreign or affected orna
An HYMN to VENUS.
"O Venus, beauty of the skies,
"If ever thou haft kindly heard
"Thou once didft leave almighty Jove,
"The birds difmifs'd (while you remain)
"What frenzy in my bofom rag'd,
"Tho' now he fhuns thy longing arms,
"Tho' now he freeze, he foon shall burn,
"Celestial vifitant, once more
Madam Dacier obferves, there is fomething very pretty in that circumftance of this ode, wherein Venus is defcribed as fending away her chariot upon her arrival at Sappho's lodgings, to denote that it was not a fhort tranfient vifit which fhe intended to make her, This ode was preserved by an eminent Greek critic,
who inferted it intire in his works, as a pattern of perfection in the ftructure of it.
Longinus has quoted another ode of this great poetess, which is likewise admirable in its kind, and has been tranflated by the fame hand with the foregoing one. I fhall oblige my reader with it in another paper. In the mean while, I cannot but wonder, that these two finifhed pieces have never been attempted before by any of our own countrymen. But the truth of it is, the compofitions of the ancients, which have not in them any of thofe unnatural witticisms that are the delight of ordinary readers, are extremely difficult to render into another tongue, fo as the beauties of the original may not appear weak and faded in the translation.
Friday, November 16.
-Fulgente trabit conftrictos gloria curru
Non minùs ignotos generofis- HOR. Sat. 6. I. 1. v. 23.
F we look abroad upon the great multitude of mankind, and endeavour to trace out the principles of action in every individual, it will, I think, feem highly probable that ambition runs through the whole fpecies, and that every man in proportion to the vigour of his complexion is more or lefs actuated by it. It is indeed no uncommon thing to meet with men, who by the natural bent of their inclinations, and without the difcipline of philofophy, afpire not to the heights of power and grandeur; who never fet their hearts upon a numerous train of clients and dependencies, nor other gay appendages of greatness; who are contented with a competency,and will not moleft their tranquillity to gain an abundance: but it is not therefore to be concluded that fuch a man is not ambitious: his defires may have cut out another channel, and determined him to other purfuits; the motive however may be still the fame; and
in these cafes likewife the man may be equally pufhed on with the defire of diftinction.
Though the pure confcioufnefs of worthy actions, abftracted from the views of popular applaufe, be to a generous mind an ample reward, yet the defire of diftinction was doubtless implanted in our natures as an additional incentive to exert ourselves in virtuous excellence.
This paffion indeed, like all others, is frequently perverted to evil and ignoble purposes; fo that we may account for many of the excellencies and follies of life, upon the fame innate principle, to wit, the defire of being remarkable for this, as it has been differently cultivated by education, study and converfe, will bring forth fuitable effects as it falls in with an ingenuous difpofition, or a corrupt mind; it does accordingly exprefs itfelf in acts of magnanimity or felfifh cunning, as it meets with a good or weak understanding. As it has been employed in embellishing the mind, or adorning the outfide, it renders the man eminently praife-worthy or ridiculous. Ambition therefore is not to be confined only to one paffion or purfuit; for as the fame humours, in conftitutions otherwise different, affect the body after different manners, fo the fame afpiring principle within us fometimes breaks forth upon one object, fometimes upon another.
It cannot be doubted, but that there is as great a defire of glory in a ring of wrestlers or cudgel players, as in any other more refined competition for fuperiority. No man that could avoid it, would ever fuffer his head to be broken but out of a principle of honour. This is the fecret fpring that pufhes them forward; and the fuperiority which they gain above the undiftinguished many, does more than repair thofe wounds they have received in the combat. It is Mr. Waller's opinion, that Julius Cæfar, had he not been mafter of the Roman empire, would in all probability have made an excellent wrestler.
"Great Julius, on the mountains bred,