Theophilus Cibber.

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V online

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which ought to be ascribed to it. Some have made no scruple in defiance
of the authority of a name, to prefer it to Dryden's, both in exactness,
as to his author's sense, and even in the charms of poetry. This
perhaps, will be best discovered by producing a few shining passages of
the Aeneid, translated by these two great masters.

In biographical writing, the first and most essential principal is
candour, which no reverence for the memory of the dead, nor affection
for the virtues of the living should violate. The impartiality which we
have endeavoured to observe through this work, obliges us to declare,
that so far as our judgment may be trusted, the latter poet has done
most justice to Virgil; that he mines in Pitt with a lustre, which
Dryden wanted not power, but leisure to bestow; and a reader, from
Pitt's version, will both acquire a more intimate knowledge of Virgil's
meaning, and a more exalted idea of his abilities. - Let not this detract
from the high representations we have endeavoured in some other places
to make of Dryden. When he undertook Virgil, he was stooping with age,
oppressed with wants, and conflicting with infirmities. In this
situation, it was no wonder that much of his vigour was lost; and we
ought rather to admire the amazing force of genius, which was so little
depressed under all these calamities, than industriously to dwell on his
imperfections.

Mr. Spence in one of his chapters on Allegory, in his Polymetis, has
endeavoured to shew, how very little our poets have understood the
allegories of the antients, even in their translations of them; and has
instanced Mr. Dryden's translation of the Aeneid, as he thought him one
of our most celebrated poets. The mistakes are very numerous, and some
of them unaccountably gross. Upon this, says Mr. Warton, "I was desirous
to examine Mr. Pitt's translation of the same passages; and was
surprized to find near fifty instances which Mr. Spence has given of
Dryden's mistakes of that kind, when Mr. Pitt had not fallen into above
three or four." Mr. Warton then produces some instances, which we shall
not here transcribe, as it will be more entertaining to our readers to
have a few of the most shining passages compared, in which there is the
highest room for rising to a blaze of poetry.

There are few strokes in the whole Aeneid, which have been more admired
than Virgil's description of the Lake of Avernus, Book VI.

Spelunca alta fuit, vastoque immanis hiatu,
Scrupea, tuta lacu nigro, nemorumque tenebris;
Quam super haud ullæ poterant impune volantes.
Tendere iter pennis; talis sese halitus atris,
Faucibus effundens supera ad convexa ferebat:
Unde locum Graii dixerunt nomine Aornon.
Quatuor hic primum nigrantes terga juvencos
Constituit, frontique invergit vina sacerdos;
Et, summas carpens media inter cornua setas,
Ignibus imponit sacris libarmina prima,
Voce vocans Hecaten, cæloque ereboque potentem.


DRYDEN.

Deep was the cave; and downward as it went,
From the wide mouth, a rocky wide descent;
And here th'access a gloomy grove defends;
And there th'innavigable lake extends.
O'er whose unhappy waters, void of light,
No bird presumes to steer his airy flight;
Such deadly stenches from the depth arise,
And steaming sulphur that infects the skies.
From hence the Grecian bards their legends make,
And give the name Aornus to the lake.
Four fable bullocks in the yoke untaught,
For sacrifice, the pious hero brought.
The priestess pours the wine betwixt their horns:
Then cuts the curling hair, that first oblation burns,
Invoking Hecate hither to repair;
(A powerful name in hell and upper air.)


PITT.

Deep, deep, a cavern lies, devoid of light,
All rough with rocks, and horrible to sight;
Its dreadful mouth is fenc'd with sable floods,
And the brown horrors of surrounding woods.
From its black jaws such baleful vapours rise,
Blot the bright day, and blast the golden skies,
That not a bird can stretch her pinions there,
Thro' the thick poisons, and incumber'd air,
But struck by death, her flagging pinions cease;
And hence Aornus was it call'd by Greece.
Hither the priestess, four black heifers led,
Between their horns the hallow'd wine she shed;
From their high front the topmost hairs she drew,
And in the flames the first oblations threw.
Then calls on potent Hecate, renown'd
In Heav'n above, and Erebus profound.

The next instance we shall produce, in which, as in the former, Mr. Pitt
has greatly exceeded Dryden, is taken from Virgil's description of
Elysium, which says Dr. Trap is so charming, that it is almost Elysium
to read it.

His demum exactis, perfecto munere divæ,
Devenere locos lætos, & amoena vireta
Fortunatorum nemorum, sedesque beatas.
Largior hic campos æther & lumine vestit
Purpureo; solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.
Pars in gramineis exercent membra palæstris,
Contendunt ludo, & fulva luctanter arena:
Pars pedibus plaudunt choreas, & carmina dicunt.
Necnon Threicius longa cum veste sacerdos
Obloquitur numeris septem discrimina vocum:
Jamque eadem digitis, jam pectine pulsat eburno.


PITT.

These rites compleat, they reach the flow'ry plains,
The verdant groves, where endless pleasure reigns.
Here glowing Æther shoots a purple ray,
And o'er the region pours a double day.
From sky to sky th'unwearied splendour runs,
And nobler planets roll round brighter suns.
Some wrestle on the sands, and some in play
And games heroic pass the hours away.
Those raise the song divine, and these advance
In measur'd steps to form the solemn dance.
There Orpheus graceful in his long attire,
In seven divisions strikes the sounding lyre;
Across the chords the quivering quill he flings,
Or with his flying fingers sweeps the strings.


DRYDEN.

These holy rites perform'd, they took their way,
Where long extended plains of pleasure lay.
The verdant fields with those of heav'n may vie;
With Æther veiled, and a purple sky:
The blissful seats of happy souls below;
Stars of their own, and their own suns they know.
Their airy limbs in sports they exercise,
And on the green contend the wrestlers prize.
Some in heroic verse divinely sing,
Others in artful measures lead the ring.
The Thracian bard surrounded by the rest,
There stands conspicuous in his flowing vest.
His flying fingers, and harmonious quill,
Strike seven distinguish'd notes, and seven at once they fill.

In the celebrated description of the swiftness of Camilla in the VIIth
Aeneid, which Virgil has laboured with so much industry, Dryden is more
equal to Pitt than in the foregoing instances, tho' we think even in
this he falls short of him.

Illa vel intactæ segetis per summa volaret
Gramina, nec teneras curfu læsisset aristas:
Vel mare per medium, fluctu suspensa tumenti
Ferret iter; celeres nec tingeret æquore plantas.


DRYDEN.

- The fierce virago fought, -
Outstrip'd the winds, in speed upon the plain,
Flew o'er the fields, nor hurt the bearded grain:
She swept the seas, and as she skim'd along,
Her flying feet, unbath'd, on billows hung.


PITT.

She led the rapid race, and left behind,
The flagging floods, and pinions of the wind;
Lightly she flies along the level plain,
Nor hurts the tender grass, nor bends the golden grain;
Or o'er the swelling surge suspended sweeps,
And smoothly skims unbath'd along the deeps.

We shall produce one passage of a very different kind from the former,
that the reader may have the pleasure of making the comparison. This is
the celebrated simile in the XIth Book, when the fiery eagerness of
Turnus panting for the battle, is resembled to that of a Steed; which is
perhaps one of the most picturesque beauties in the whole Aeneid.

Qualis, ubi abruptis fugit præsepia vinc'lis,
Tandem liber equus, campoque potitus aperto;
Aut ille in pastus armentaque tendit equarum,
Aut assuetus aquæ perfundi flumine noto
Emicat; arrectisque fremit cervicibus alte
Luxurians, luduntque jubæ per colla, per armos.


DRYDEN.

Freed from his keepers, thus with broken reins,
The wanton courser prances o'er the plains:
Or in the pride of youth, o'erleaps the mounds,
And snuffs the females in forbidden grounds.
Or seeks his wat'ring in the well-known flood,
To quench his thirst, and cool his fiery blood:
He swims luxuriant in the liquid plain;
And o'er his shoulders flows his waving main.
He neighs, he snorts, he bears his head on high;
Before his ample chest, the frothy waters fly.


PITT.

So the gay pamper'd steed with loosen'd reins,
Breaks from the stall, and pours along the plains;
With large smooth strokes he rushes to the flood,
Bathes his bright sides, and cools his fiery blood;
Neighs as he flies, and tossing high his head,
Snuffs the fair females in the distant mead;
At every motion o'er his neck reclin'd,
Plays his redundant main, and dances in the wind.

From the above specimens, our readers may determine for themselves to
whose translation they would give the preference. Critics, like
historians, should divest themselves of prejudice: they should never be
misguided by the authority of a great name, nor yield that tribute to
prescription, which is only due to merit. Mr. Pitt, no doubt, had many
advantages above Dryden in this arduous province: As he was later in the
attempt, he had consequently the version of Dryden to improve upon. He
saw the errors of that great poet, and avoided them; he discovered his
beauties, and improved upon them; and as he was not impelled by
necessity, he had leisure to revise, correct, and finish his excellent
work.

The Revd. and ingenious Mr. Joseph Warton has given to the world a
compleat edition of Virgil's works made English. The Aeneid by Mr. Pitt:
The Eclogues, Georgics, and notes on the whole, by himself; with some
new observations by Mr. Holdsworth, Mr. Spence, and others. This is the
compleatest English dress, in which Virgil ever appeared. It is enriched
with a dissertation on the VIth Book of the Aeneid, by Warburton. On the
Shield of Aeneas, by Mr. William Whitehead. On the Character of Japis,
by the late Dr. Atterbury bishop of Rochester; and three Essays on
Pastoral, Didactic, and Epic Poetry, by Mr. Warton.


* * * * *


Mr. HAMMOND.

This Gentleman, known to the world by the Love Elegies, which some years
after his death were published by the Earl of Chesterfield, was the son
of a Turkey merchant, in the city of London. We cannot ascertain where
he received his education; but it does not appear that he was at any of
the universities. Mr. Hammond was early preferred to a place about the
person of the late Prince of Wales, which he held till an unfortunate
accident stript him of his reason, or at least so affected his
imagination, that his senses were greatly disordered. The unhappy cause
of his calamity was a passion he entertained for one Miss Dashwood,
which proved unsuccessful. Upon this occasion it was that he wrote his
Love Elegies, which have been much celebrated for their tenderness. The
lady either could not return his passion with a reciprocal fondness, or
entertained too ambitious views to settle her affections upon him, which
he himself in some of his Elegies seems to hint; for he frequently
mentions her passion for gold and splendour, and justly treats it as
very unworthy a fair one's bosom. The chief beauty of these Elegies
certainly consists in their being written by a man who intimately felt
the subject; for they are more the language of the heart than of the
head. They have warmth, but little poetry, and Mr. Hammond seems to have
been one of those poets, who are made so by love, not by nature.

Mr. Hammond died in the year 1743, in the thirty-first year of his age,
at Stow, the seat of his kind patron, the lord Cobham, who honoured him
with a particular intimacy. The editor of Mr. Hammond's Elegies
observes, that he composed them before he was 21 years of age; a period,
says he, when fancy and imagination commonly riot at the expence of
judgment and correctness. He was sincere in his love, as in his
friendship; he wrote to his mistress, as he spoke to his friends,
nothing but the true genuine sentiments of his heart. Tibullus seems to
have been the model our author judiciously preferred to Ovid; the former
writing directly from the heart to the heart, the latter too often
yielding and addressing himself to the imagination.

As a specimen of Mr. Hammond's turn for Elegiac Poetry, we shall quote
his third Elegy, in which he upbraids and threatens the avarice of
Neæra, and resolves to quit her.

Should Jove descend in floods of liquid ore,
And golden torrents stream from every part,
That craving bosom still would heave for more,
Not all the Gods cou'd satisfy thy heart.

But may thy folly, which can thus disdain
My honest love, the mighty wrong repay,
May midnight-fire involve thy sordid gain,
And on the shining heaps of rapine prey.

May all the youths, like me, by love deceiv'd,
Not quench the ruin, but applaud the doom,
And when thou dy'st, may not one heart be griev'd:
May not one tear bedew the lonely tomb.

But the deserving, tender, gen'rous maid,
Whose only care is her poor lover's mind,
Tho' ruthless age may bid her beauty fade,
In every friend to love, a friend shall find.

And when the lamp of life will burn no more,
When dead, she seems as in a gentle sleep,
The pitying neighbour shall her loss deplore;
And round the bier assembled lovers weep.

With flow'ry garlands, each revolving year
Shall strow the grave, where truth and softness rest,
Then home returning drop the pious tear,
And bid the turff lie easy on her breast.


* * * * *


Mr. JOHN BANKS.

This poet was the son of Mr. John Banks of Sunning in Berkshire, in
which place he was born in 1709. His father dying while our author was
very young, the care of his education devolved upon an uncle in law, who
placed him at a private school, under the tuition of one Mr. Belpene, an
Anabaptist. This schoolmaster, so far from encouraging young Banks to
make a great progress in classical learning, exerted his influence with
his relations to have him taken from school, and represented him as
incapable of receiving much erudition. This conduct in Mr. Belpene
proceeded from an early jealousy imbibed against this young man, who, so
far from being dull, as the school-master represented him, possessed
extraordinary parts, of which he gave very early proofs.

Mr. Belpene was perhaps afraid, that as soon as Mr. Banks mould finish
his education, he would be preferred to him as minister to the
congregation of Anabaptists, which place he enjoyed, independent of his
school. The remonstrances of Mr. Belpene prevailed with Mr. Banks's
uncle, who took him from school, and put him apprentice to a Weaver at
Reading. Before the expiration of the apprenticeship, Mr. Banks had the
misfortune to break his arm, and by that accident was disqualified from
pursuing the employment to which he was bred. How early Mr. Banks began
to write we cannot determine, but probably the first sallies of his wit
were directed against this school-master, by whom he was injuriously
treated, and by whose unwarrantable jealousy his education, in some
measure, was ruined. Our author, by the accident already mentioned,
being rendered unfit to obtain a livelihood, by any mechanical
employment, was in a situation deplorable enough. His uncle was either
unable, or unwilling to assist him, or, perhaps, as the relation between
them was only collateral, he had not a sufficient degree of tenderness
for him, to make any efforts in his favour. In this perplexity of our
young poet's affairs, ten pounds were left him by a relation, which he
very oeconomically improved to the best advantage. He came to London,
and purchasing a parcel of old books, he set up a stall in
Spital-Fields.

Much about this time Stephen Duck, who had wrote a poem called The
Thresher, reaped very great advantages from it, and was caressed by
persons in power, who, in imitation of the Royal patroness, heaped
favours upon him, perhaps more on account of the extraordinary regard
Queen Caroline had shewn him, than any opinion of his merit. Mr. Banks
considered that the success of Mr. Duck was certainly owing to the
peculiarity of his circumstances, and that the novelty of a thresher
writing verses, was the genuine cause of his being taken notice of, and
not any intrinsic excellence in the verses themselves. This reflexion
inspired him with a resolution of making an effort of the same kind; but
as curiosity was no more to be excited by novelty, the attempt was
without success. He wrote, in imitation of The Thresher, The Weaver's
Miscellany, which failed producing the intended effect, and, 'tis said,
never was reckoned by Mr. Banks himself as any way worthy of particular
distinction. His business of selling books upon a stall becoming
disagreeable to him, as it demanded a constant and uncomfortable
attendance, he quitted that way of life, and was received into the shop
of one Mr. Montague a bookbinder, and bookseller, whom he served some
time as a journeyman. During the time he lived with Mr. Montague, he
employed his leisure hours in composing several poems, which were now
swelled to such a number, that he might sollicit a subscription for them
with a good grace. He had taken care to improve his acquaintance, and as
he had a power of distinguishing his company, he found his interest
higher in the world than he had imagined. He addressed a poem to Mr.
Pope, which he transmitted to that gentleman, with a copy of his
proposals inclosed. Mr. Pope answered his letter, and the civilities
contained in it, by subscribing for two setts of his poems, and 'tis
said he wrote to Mr. Banks the following compliment,

'May this put money in your purse:
For, friend, believe me, I've seen worse.'

The publication of these poems, while they, no doubt, enhanced his
interest, added likewise something to his reputation; and quitting his
employment at Mr. Montague's, he made an effort to live by writing only.
He engaged in a large work in folio, entitled, The Life of Christ, which
was very acceptable to the public, and was executed with much piety and
precision.

Mr. Banks's next prose work, of any considerable length, was A Critical
Review of the Life of Oliver Cromwell. We have already taken notice that
he received his education among the Anabaptists, and consequently was
attached to those principles, and a favourer of that kind of
constitution which Cromwell, in the first period of his power, meant to
establish. Of the many Lives of this great man, with which the biography
of this nation has been augmented, perhaps not one is written with a
true dispassionate candour. Men are divided in their sentiments
concerning the measures which, at that critical Æra, were pursued by
contending factions. The writers, who have undertaken to review those
unhappy times, have rather struggled to defend a party, to which they
may have been swayed by education or interest, than, by stripping
themselves of all partiality, to dive to the bottom of contentions in
search of truth. The heats of the Civil War produced such animosities,
that the fervour which then prevailed, communicated itself to posterity,
and, though at the distance of a hundred years, has not yet subsided. It
will be no wonder then if Mr. Banks's Review is not found altogether
impartial. He has, in many cases, very successfully defended Cromwell;
he has yielded his conduct, in others, to the just censure of the world.
But were a Whig and a Tory to read this book, the former would pronounce
him a champion for liberty, and the latter would declare him a subverter
of truth, an enemy to monarchy, and a friend to that chaos which Oliver
introduced.

Mr. Banks, by his early principles, was, no doubt, biassed to the Whig
interest, and, perhaps, it may be true, that in tracing the actions of
Cromwell, he may have dwelt with a kind of increasing pleasure on the
bright side of his character, and but slightly hinted at those facts on
which the other party fasten, when they mean to traduce him as a
parricide and an usurper. But supposing the allegation to be true, Mr.
Banks, in this particular, has only discovered the common failing of
humanity: prejudice and partiality being blemishes from which the mind
of man, perhaps, can never be entirely purged.

Towards the latter end of Mr. Banks's life, he was employed in writing
two weekly news-papers, the Old England, and the Westminster Journals.
Those papers treated chiefly on the politics of the times, and the trade
and navigation of England. They were carried on by our author, without
offence to any party, with an honest regard to the public interest, and
in the same kind of spirit, that works of that sort generally are. These
papers are yet continued by other hands.

Mr. Banks had from nature very considerable abilities, and his poems
deservedly hold the second rank. They are printed in two volumes 8vo.
Besides the poems contained in these volumes, there are several other
poetical pieces of his scattered in news-papers, and other periodical
works to which he was an occasional contributer. He had the talent of
relating a tale humorously in verse, and his graver poems have both
force of thinking, and elegance of numbers to recommend them.

Towards the spring of the year 1751 Mr. Banks, who had long been in a
very indifferent state of health, visibly declined. His disorder was of
a nervous sort, which he bore with great patience, and even with a
chearful resignation. This spring proved fatal to him; he died on the
19th of April at his house at Islington, where he had lived several
years in easy circumstances, by the produce of his pen, without leaving
one enemy behind him.

Mr. Banks was a man of real good nature, of an easy benevolent
disposition, and his friends ever esteemed him as a most agreeable
companion. He had none of the petulance, which too frequently renders
men of genius unacceptable to their acquaintance. He was of so composed
a temper, that he was seldom known to be in a passion, and he wore a
perpetual chearfulness in his countenance. He was rather bashful, than
forward; his address did not qualify him for gay company, and though he
possessed a very extensive knowledge of things, yet, as he had not much
grace of delivery, or elegance of manner, he could not make so good a
figure in conversation, as many persons of his knowledge, with a happier
appearance. Of all authors Mr. Banks was the farthest removed from envy
or malevolence. As he could not bear the least whisper of detraction, so
he was never heard to express uneasiness at the growing reputation of
another; nor was he ever engaged in literacy contests. We shall conclude
this article in the words of lord Clarendon. 'He that lives such a life,
need be less anxious at how short warning it is taken from him [1].'

[1] See lord Clarendon's character of the lord Falkland.


* * * * *


Mrs. LÆTITIA PILKINGTON.

This unfortunate poetess, the circumstances of whose life, written by
herself, have lately entertained the public, was born in the year 1712.
She was the daughter of Dr. Van Lewen, a gentleman of Dutch extraction,
who settled in Dublin. Her mother was descended of an ancient and
honourable family, who have frequently intermarried with the nobility.

Mrs. Pilkington, from her earliest infancy, had a strong disposition to
letters, and particularly to poetry. All her leisure hours were
dedicated to the muses; from a reader she quickly became a writer, and,
as Mr. Pope expresses it,

'She lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came.'

Her performances were considered as extraordinary for her years, and
drew upon her the admiration of many, who found more pleasure in her
conversation, than that of girls generally affords. In consequence of a
poetical genius, and an engaging sprightliness peculiar to her, she had
many wooers, some of whom seriously addressed her, while others meant no
more than the common gallantries of young people. After the usual
ceremony of a courtship, she became the wife of Mr. Matthew Pilkington,
a gentleman in holy orders, and well known in the poetical world by his
volume of Miscellanies, revised by dean Swift. As we have few materials


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Online LibraryTheophilus CibberThe Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V → online text (page 22 of 25)