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expositors is he that wrote for the dauphin's use, who has very well shown the meaning of the author, but seldom reflects on his beauties or imperfections; for in most places he rather acts the geographer than the critic, and instead of pointing out the fineness of a description, only tells you in what part of the world the place is situated. I shall therefore only consider Ovid under the character of a poet, and endeavour to show him impartially, without the usual prejudice of a translator; which I am the more willing to do, because I believe such a comment would give the reader a truer taste of poetry than a comment on any other poet would do; for in reflecting on the ancient poets, men think they may venture to praise all they meet with in some, and scarce anything in others; but Ovid is confessed to have a mixture of both kinds, to have something of the best and worst poets, and by consequence to be the fairest subject for criticism.
P. 93. 1. 13. My son, says he, etc. Phoebus's speech is very nobly ushered in, with the Terque quaterque concutiens illustre caput-and well represents the danger and difficulty of the undertaking; but that which is its peculiar beauty, and makes it truly Ovid's, is the representing them just as a father would to his young son :
Per tamen adversi gradieris cornua Tauri,
For one while he scares him with bugbears in the way:
·Vasti quoque rector Olympi,
Qui fera terribili jaculetur fulmina dextra
Deprecor hoc unum quod vero nomine Pœna,
Non honor est. Poenam, Phaeton, pro munere poscis :
and in other places perfectly tattles like a father, which, by the way, makes the length of the speech very natural, and concludes with all the fondness and concern of a tender parent:
-Patrio pater esse metu probor, aspice vultus
P. 95. l. 13. A golden axle, etc. Ovid has more turns and repetitions in his words than any of the Latin poets, which are always wonderfully easy and natural in him. The repetition of Aureus, and the transition to Argenteus, in the description of the chariot, give these verses a great sweetness and majesty :
Aureus axis erat, temo aureus, aurea summæ
Curvatura rota; radiorum argenteus ordo.
P. 96. 1. 7. Drive them not on directly, etc. Several have endeavoured to vindicate Ovid against the old objection, that he mistakes the annual for the diurnal motion of the sun. The dauphin's notes tell us, that Ovid knew very well the sun did not pass through all the signs he names in one day, but that he makes Phoebus mention them only to frighten Phaeton from the undertaking. But though this may answer for what Phœbus says in his first speech, it cannot for what is said in this, where he is actually giving directions for his journey, and plainly
Sectus in obliquum est lato curvamine limes,
Effugit australem, junctamque Aquilonibus Arcton,
describes the motion through all the zodiac.
P. 95. 1. 23. And not my chariot, etc. Ovid's verse is consiliis non curribus utere nostris. This way of joining two such different ideas as chariot and counsel to the same verb is mightily used by Ovid, but is a very low kind of wit, and has
always in it a mixture of pun, because the verb must be taken in a different sense when it is joined with one of the things, from what it has in conjunction with the other. Thus in the end of this story he tells you that Jupiter flung a thunderbolt at Phaeton-Pariterque, animâque, rotisque expulit aurigam, where he makes a forced piece of Latin (animâ expulit aurigam), that he may couple the soul and the wheels to the same verb.
P. 97. 1. 17. The youth was in a maze, etc. It is impossible for a man to be drawn in a greater confusion than Phaeton is; but the antithesis of light and darkness a little flattens the description. Suntque oculis tenebræ per tantum lumen aborta.
Ibid. 1. 20. Then the seven stars, etc. I wonder none of Ovid's commentators have taken notice of the oversight he has committed in this verse, where he makes the Triones grow warm before there was ever such a sign in the heavens; for he tells us in this very book, that Jupiter turned Calisto into this constellation, after he had repaired the ruins that Phaeton had made in the world.
P. 99. 1. 12. Athos and Tmolus, etc. Ovid has here, after the way of the old poets, given us a catalogue of the mountains and rivers which were burnt. But, that I might not tire the English reader, I have left out some of them that make no figure in the description, and inverted the order of the rest according as the smoothness of my verse required.
P. 100. 1. 5. 'Twas then, they say, the swarthy Moor, etc. This is the only metamorphosis in all this long story, which, contrary to custom, is inserted in the middle of it. The critics may determine whether what follows it be not too great an excursion in him, who proposes it as his whole design to let us know the changes of things. I dare say that if Ovid had not religiously observed the reports of the ancient mythologists, we should have seen Phaeton turned into some creature or other that hates the light of the sun; or perhaps into an eagle, that still takes pleasure to gaze on it.
P. 100. 1. 26. The frighted Nile, etc. Ovid has made a great many pleasant images towards the latter end of this story. His verses on the Nile
Nilus in extremum fugit perterritus orbem
Occuluitque caput, quod adhuc latet: ostia septem
are as noble as Virgil could have written; but then he ought not to have mentioned the channel of the sea afterwards,
Mare contrahitur, siccæque est campus arenæ ;
because the thought is too near the other. The image of the Cyclades is a very pretty one;
-Quos altum texerat æquor
Existunt montes, et sparsas Cycladas augent:
But to tell us that the swans grew warm in Cäyster,
and that the dolphins durst not leap,
-Nec se super æquora curvi
Tollere consuetas audent Delphines in auras,
is intolerably trivial on so great a subject as the burning of the world.
P. 101. 1. 17. The earth at length, etc. We have here a speech of the earth, which will doubtless seem very unnatural to an English reader. It is, I believe, the boldest prosopopœia of any in the old poets; or if it were never so natural, I cannot but think she speaks too much in any reason for one in her condition.
ON EUROPA'S RAPE, P. 126.
L. 3. The dignity of empire, etc. This story is prettily told, and very well brought in by those two serious lines,
Non bene conveniunt, nec in unâ sede morantur,
Majestas et amor. Sceptri gravitate relictâ, etc.
without which the whole fable would have appeared very profane.
P. 127. 1. 11. The frighted nymph looks, etc. This consternation and behaviour of Europa
-Elusam designat imagine tauri
Europen: verum taurum, freta vera putares.
is better described in Arachne's picture in the sixth book, than it is here, and in the beginning of Tatius his Clitophon and Leucippe, than in either place. It is indeed usual among the Latin poets (who had more art and reflection than the Grecian) to take hold of all opportunities to describe the picture of any place or action, which they generally do better than they could the place or action itself; because in the description of a picture you have a double subject before you, either to describe the picture itself, or what is represented in it.
ON THE STORIES IN THE THIRD BOOK, p. 128.
There is so great a variety in the arguments of the Metamorphoses, that he who would treat of them rightly ought to be a