Page images

The op

sense is transmitted from couplet to couplet, and the pauses are varied with all the freedom of blank verse, without exciting any sensation of ruggedness, or offending the nicest ear. But these are minor efforts: the former of these exquisite poets has taken a yet wider range, and in his . Thalaba the Destroyer,' has spurned at all the received laws of metre, and framed a fabric of verse altogether his own.

An innovation so bold as that of Mr. Southey, was sure to meet with disapprobation and ridicule. The world naturally looks with suspicion on systems which contradict established principles, and refuse to quadrate with habits which, as they have been used to, men are apt to think cannot be improved upon. position which has been made to the metre of Thalaba, is, therefore, not so much to be imputed to its want of harmony, as to the operation of existing prejudices; and it is fair to conclude, that, as these prejudices are softened by usage, and the strangeness of novelty wears off, the peculiar features of this lyrical frame of verse will be more candidly appreciated, and its merits more unreservedly acknowledged.

Whoever is conversant with the writings of this author, will have observed and admired that greatness of mind, and comprehension of intellect, by which he is enabled, on all occasions, to throw off the shackles of habit and prepossession. Southey never treads in the beaten track : his thoughts, while they are those of pature, carry that cast of originality which is the stamp and testimony of genius. He views things through a peculiar phasis, and while he has the feelings of a man, they are those of a man almost abstracted from mortality, and reflecting on, and painting the scenes of life, as if he were a mere spectator, uninfluenced by his own

connexion with the objects he surveys. To this faculty of bold discrimination I attribute many of Mr. Southey's peculiarities as a poet, He never seems to inquire how other men would treat a subject, or what may happen to be the usage of the times; but filled with that strong sense of fitness, which is the result of bold and unshackled thought, he fearlessly pursues that course which his own sense of propriety points out.

It is very evident to me, and I should conceive to all who consider the subject attentively, that the structure of the verse, which Mr. Southey has promulgated in his Thalaba, was neither adopted rashly, nor from any vain emulation of originality. As the poet himself happily observes, 'It is the arabesque ornament of an Arabian tale. No one would wish to see the Joan of Arc in such a garb; but the wild freedom of the versification of Thalaba accords well with the romantic wildness of the story; and I do not hesitate to say, that, had any other known measure been adopted, the poem would have been deprived of half its beauty, and all its propriety. In blank verse it would have been absurd; in rhyme, insipid. The lyrical manner is admirably adapted to the sudden transitions and rapid connexions of an Arabian tale, while its variety precludes tædium, and its full, because unshackled, cadence, satisfies the ear with legitimate harmony. At first, indeed, the verse may appear uncouth, because it is new to the ear; but I defy any man who has any feeling of melody, to peruse the whole poem, without paying tribute to the sweetness of its flow, and the gracefulness of its modulations.

In judging of this extraordinary poem, we should consider it as a genuine lyric production,--we should conceive it as recited to the harp, in times when such relations carried nothing incredible with them. Carrying this idea along with us, the admirable art of the poet will strike us with tenfold conviction; the abrupt sublimity of his transitions, the sublime simplicity of his manner, and the delicate touches by which he connects the various parts of his narrative, will then be more strongly observable, and we shall in particular, remark the uncommon felicity with which he has adapted his versification; and, in the midst of the wildest irregularity, left nothing to shock the ear, or offend the judgment.

(No. XI.)


Few histories would be more worthy of attention than that of the progress of knowledge, from its first dawn to the time of its meridian splendour, among the ancient Greeks. Unfortunately, however, the precautions which in this early period, were almost generally taken to confine all knowledge to a particular branch of men, and when the Greeks began to contend for the palm among the learned nations, their backwardness to acknowledge the sources from whence they derived the first principles of their philosophy, have served to wrap this interesting subject in almost impenetrable obscurity. Few vestiges, except the Egyptian hieroglyphics, now remain of the learning of the more ancient world. Of the two millions of verses said to have been written by the Chaldean Zoroaster,* we have no relics : and the oracles which go under his name are pretty generally acknowledged to be spurious.

The Greeks unquestionably derived their philosophy

• Pliny.

from the Egyptians and Chaldeans. Both Pythagoras and Plato had visited those countries for the advantage of learning; and if we may credit the received accounts of the former of these illustrious sages, he was regularly initiated in the schools of Egypt, during the period of twenty-two years that he resided in that country, and became the envy and admiration of the Egyptians themselves. Of the Pythagorean doctrines we have some accounts remaining; and nothing is wanting to render the systems of Platonism complete and intelligible. In the dogmas of these philosophers, therefore, we may be able to trace the learning of these primitive nations, though our conclusions must be cautiously drawn, and much must be allowed to the active intelligence of two Greeks. Ovid's short summary of the Philosophy of Pythagoras deserves attention.

-Isque, licet cæli regione remotos,
Mente Deos adiit: et, quæ natura negabat
Visibus humanis, oculis ea pectoris hausit.
Cumque animo, et vigili perspexerat omnia cura ;
In medium discenda dabat: cætumque silentum,
Dictaque mirantum, magni primordia mundi
Et rerum causas et quid natura docebat,
Quid Deus : unde nives : quæ fulminis esset origo
Jupiter, an venti, discussa nube, tonarent,
Quid quateret terras : quâ sidera lege mearent,

Et quodcumque latet. If we are to credit this account, and it is corroborated by many other testimonies, Pythagoras searched deeply into natural causes. Some have imagined, and strongly asserted, that his central fire was figurative of the sun, and therefore that he had an idea of its real situation; but this opinion, so generally adopted, may be combated with some degree of reason. I should be inclined to think Pythagoras gained his idea of the great central,

vivifying, and creative fire from the Chaldeans, and that, therefore, it was the representative not of the sun but of the Deity. Zoroaster taught that there was one God, Eternal, the Father of the Universe: he assimilated the Deity to light, and applied to him the names of Light, Beams, and Splendour. The Magi, corrupting his representation of the Supreme Being, and, taking literally what was meant as an allegory or symbol, supposed that God was this central fire, the source of heat, light, and life, residing in the centre of the universe; and from hence they introduced among the Chaldeans the worship of fire. That Pythagoras was tainted with this superstition is well known. On the testimony of Plutarch, his disciples held, that in the midst of the four elements is the fiery globe of Unity, or Monad—the procreative, nutritive, and excitive power. The sacred fire of Vesta, among the Greeks and Latins, was a remain of this doctrine.

As the limits of this paper will not allow me to take in all the branches of this subject, I shall confine my attention to the opinions held by these early nations of the nature of the Godhead.

Amidst the corruptions introduced by the Magi, we may discern, with tolerable certainty, that Zoroaster taught the worship of the one true God; and Thales, Pythagoras, and Plato, who had all been instituted in the mysteries of the Chaldeans, taught the same doctrine. These philosophers likewise asserted the omnipotence and eternity of God; and that he was the creator of all things, and the governor of the universe. Plato decisively supported the doctrines of future rewards and punishments; and Pythagoras, struck with the idea of the omnipresence of the Deity, defined him as animus per universas mundi partes omnemque naturam

« PreviousContinue »