« PreviousContinue »
umbrellas was not unknown to them-and that they were as fond of their cats as their husbands. JUVENAL, it might be added, hath gratified us with an express intimation of a like fashionable foible:
Morte viri cupiunt animam fervare catelle!
Such were the customs and fashions of the fair sex, in elder days; not very diffimilar from the present. Their manners, too, resembled the modern; though it is to be presumed that we do not see the exact likenesses of women either in the portraits of JUVENAL or POPE. To attempt a discrimination of the characters of PRAXINOE and GORGO might, possibly, be fanciful; though not only in the domestic scene, but afterwards in the walk to the festival of ADONIS, there seems to be a shade of difference in their behavior and manners. They are both talkative enough, but Gorgo possesses a greater degree of prudence and decorum, amidst her loquacity. PRAXINOE shews a propenfity throughout to rail against her husband. Her friend very cautiously checks her raillery, as unseasonable, at least in the presence of her little son, who had sense and observation enough to understand that his father was treated difrespectfully. And this (by the way) conveys a very striking admonition to those parents, who, having little at heart the morality of their children, too frequently carry on converfations in their presence, which may at all seasons be improper, but are then peculiarly ill-timed. Such, however, is the eagerness of PRAXINOE to resume her favorite topic, that she proceeds to expose her husband, couching her story in terms above the comprehension of little ZOPYRION, or
rather affuming a concealed manner; by which our poet probably glances at that mysterious air of conversation so frequent among females, who, though interrupted by a third person, in the thread of their discourse, still carry on their tale through hints and expressions allusive to times, circumstances, and persons. The stupidity of PRAXINOE's husband (which she thus exposes) consisted in mistaking falt for nitre. Gorgo, on this, takes occasion to betray the weakness of her good man in his purchases, but it is soon passed over; while the very mention of his commission proves a key to her character. The circumstance of his purchasing the fleeces for the purpose of spinning, may be taken as a hint of her industry; while, on the contrary, PRAXINOE's nitre seems to intimate her attention to ornament and the fashions. The roving disposition of the latter is implied in her husband's removing her from the neighbourhood of her dissipated acquaintance; in her great impatience at Gorgo's delaying to fulfil her appointment; and in her regretting her exile from the busy world, and the consequent impossibility of her feasting on the news of the day. Mixed with vulgarity and pertness, she discovers all the affected airs of the woman of quality. On her arrival at the scene of ADONIS'S festival, her remarks on the tapestry betray her ignorance and conceit. And, on the stranger's interruption, (rude enough, it must be confessed) her observation is precisely such as, from our preconceptions of her, one might naturally have expected; and (whatever may be the opinion of HEINSIUS) the passage conveys no other sentiment than the burden of her song--her husband's tyranny.
The song of the Greek Girl hath a fine effect, in contrast with the preceding conversation. Of all the pictoresque pieces of THEOCRITUS, it is the most finished, elegant, and beautiful! Of all the Greek poetry, it is, without exception, the most exquisitely polished! Its subject was the favorite of the Grecian Muse; who seems never so sweet an enthufiaft, as when she gives music to the sighs of VENUS, over the dead yet beautiful Adonis!
THE origin of the Panegyrical poem may be traced to the heroic
ages of Greece. In the unlettered infancy, indeed, of every nation, the benefactor and the cheiftain have inspired the rude minstrelly of the harp. And it is the gratitude—the admiration of an ignorant people that invests heroes with the attributes of gods: hence the deities of fancy become the objects of worship; and fill live, transmitted from age to age, by the power of superstitious credulity. From the earliest times we find the poet associated with the prince. And though his character hath always lost its facred and venerable aspect, in proportion as the manners have been diffused, this connection hath ftill fubfifted, in a certain degree, amidst all the flucluations of custom and fashion. Yet it is rather,
to be wondered, that the wildest extravagance of encomium -of panegyric that deifies all it approaches with its Barbaric touch, should be grateful to a civilized monarch. But the nature of man is unalterable; and praise, however administered, will soothe the ear of vanity. AUGUSTUS had his VIRGIL and his VARIUS; and ALEXANDER the Great could even listen to a CHÆRILUS. His successor however was more fortunate, with seven famous poets in his train; among whom was the panegyrist before us.*
The GRACES, or HIERO, were probably written before THEOCRITUS had an opportunity of celebrating the atá chievements of PTOLEMY PHILADELPHUS. It appears that this elegant performance was not the first exertion of our poet's encomiastic talents, in praise of the Sicilian king. But his harp, however musical, was unhonoured and neglected. In the present piece, there is much dexterity of address: yet alļ its delicate flattery was as fruitless as the former attempt. The poet artfully touches on Hiero's military virtues; wishes him all possible prosperity; and prays, amidst other circumstances of good fortune, that he may be blest with attendant bards, to celebrate those actions, which so well deserve the plaudit of the Muse! The first part of the poem consists in a deduction of instances from antiquity, to evince the dignity of the poetical profession; and the power with which it was invested, of conferring immortality.
* Pindar had his ftipend for celebrating the victors in the games of Greece: and at Constantinople, when the Emperor appeared in public on any grand festival, poets were always hired to write verses on the occasion. . VOL. II.
The Encomium on PTOLEMY appears to be the applause of gratitude. In the Graces, there is a plaintive air, mingled with elaborate adulation: the complaint is natural, while the flattery is studied. But the Encomium is the product of admiration and enthusiasm. And history seems to fan&tion these ardors, whilst she represents, in concurrence with the poet, the liberal taste, the indefatigable industry, the unpaa rallelled generosity, the riches and the magnificence of the Ægyptian king.
These then are the specimens, which THEOCRITUS (or rather chance) hath left us of the eneomiafic poem; more perspicuous, though lefs adorned, than PINDAR; and more spirited, though less insinuating, than Horace. He had written, it is said, a poem, in honor of BERENICE; but, among a variety of his other pieces, it is lost in the wreck of time. Perhaps it perished with the Alexandrian repofitory of learning. Over the ashes of a monument the most splendid in the world of literature, we may well pause, to lament and to meditate in silence: but let us not protract the melancholy moment. Patronage did not expire with PTOLEMY; or genius with the Alexandrian library! We have scenes before us, more interesting and luminous than the brightest prospects of antiquity. It is in our own country, that polite scholarship is eminently exerted; and as conspicuously rewarded. It is here, that the elegance of the arts adds luftre to the dignity of the Sovereign; and that he, who adorned a learned university, in the profession of poetry, hath hung the laureate wreath on the throne of munificence and taste. Surely then we might an.