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50 Love, strong as Death, the Poet led
To the pale nations of the dead,
And the pale spectres dance; The Furies sink upon their iron beds, And snakes uncurld hang list’ning round their heads.
Ver. 49. But when] See Divine Legation, book ii. sect 1. where Orpheus is considered as a Philosopher, a Legislator, and a Mystagogue. In vol. v. of the Memoirs of Inscriptions, &c. p. 117, is a very curious dissertation upon the Orphic Life, by the Abbé Fraguier. He was the first critic who rightly interpreted the words of Horace, Cædibus et fædo victu, as meaning an abolition of eating human flesh.
Though the Hymns that remain are not the work of the real Orpheus, yet are they extremely ancient, certainly older than the Expedition of Xerxes against Greece.
By the streams that ever flow,
O'er th’ Elysian flow'rs;
Or Amaranthine bow'rs;
Wand'ring in the myrtle grove,
He sung, and hell consented
To hear the Poet's prayer:
him back the fair.
Ver. 77.] These images are picturesque and appropriated, and are such notes as might
Draw iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
And make hell grant what love did seek. Pope, being insensible of the effects of music, inquired of Dr. Arbuthnot, whether Handel really deserved the applause he met with. The Duchess of Queensberry told me, that Gay could play on the flute, and that this enabled him to adapt so happily some airs in the Beggar's Opera.
Warton. Ver. 87.] These numbers are of so burlesque, so low, and ridiculous a kind, and have so much the air of a vulgar drinking
A conquest how hard and how glorious !
Tho' fate had fast bound her
With Styx nine times round her, Yet Music and Love were victorious.
But soon, too soon, the lover turns his eyes :
Now under hanging mountains,
song, that one is amazed and concerned to find them in a serious ode. Addison thought this measure exactly suited to the comic character of Sir Trusty in his Rosamond ; by the introduction of which he has so strangely debased that very elegant opera. It is observable, that this ludicrous measure is used by Dryden, in a song of evil spirits, in the fourth act of the State of Innocence.
Warton. Ver. 97.] These scenes, in which Orpheus is introduced as making his lamentations, are not so wild, so savage, and dismal, as those mentioned by Virgil; and convey not such images of desolation and deep despair, as the caverns on the banks of Strymon and Tanais, the Hyperborean deserts, and the Riphæan solitudes. And to say of Hebrus, only, that it rolls in meanders, is flat and feeble, and does not heighten the melancholy of the place. He that would have a complete idea of Orpheus's anguish and situation, must look at the exquisite figure of him (now in the possession of Sir Watkin Williams Wynne) painted by Mr. Dance, a work that does honour to the true genius of the artist, and to the age in which it was produced.
And calls her ghost,
105 Now with Furies surrounded, Despairing, confounded, He trembles, he glows,
Amidst Rhodope's snows: See, wild as the winds, o'er the desert he flies ; 110 Hark! Hæmus resounds with the Bacchanals' cries
Ah see, he dies ! Yet ev'n in death Eurydice he sung, Eurydice still trembled on his tongue, Eurydice the woods,
115 Eurydice the floods, Eurydice the rocks, and hollow mountains rung.
Ver. 112.) The death is expressed with a brevity and abruptness suitable to the nature of the ode. Instead of he sung, Virgil says, vocabut, which is more natural and tender, and adds a moving epithet, that he called miseram Eurydicen. The repetition of Eurydice in two very short lines hurts the ear, which Virgil escaped by interposing several other words; and the name itself happens not to be harmonious enough to suffer such repetition.
Our joys below it can improve,
And antedate the bliss above.
Th' immortal pow'rs incline their ear;
And Angels lean from heav'n to hear. 130 Of Orpheus now no more let Poets tell,
To bright Cecilia greater pow'r is giv'n; His numbers rais'd a shade from hell,
Her's lift the soul to heav'n.
Ver. 131. It is observable that this ode, as well as that of Dryden, concludes with an epigram of four lines; a species of witty writing as flagrantly unsuitable to the dignity, and as foreign to the nature of the lyric, as it is of the epic muse.
Mr. St. John, afterwards Lord Bolingbroke, happening to pay a morning visit to Dryden, whom he always respected, found him in an unusual agitation of spirits, even to a trembling, quiring the cause, “I have been up all night (replied the old bard), my musical friends made me promise to write them an ode for their feast of St. Cecilia : I have been so struck with the subject which occurred to me, that I could not leave it till I had completed it: here it is, finished at one sitting." And immediately he showed him this Ode;, which places the British lyric poetry above that of
any other nation. This anecdote, as true as it is curious, was imparted by Lord Bolingbroke to Pope, by Pope to Mr. Gilbert West, by him to my ingenious friend Mr. Berenger, who communicated it to me. The rapidity, and yet the perspicuity of the thoughts, the glow and the expressiveness of the images, those certain marks of the first sketch of a master, conspire to corroborate the fact. It is not to be understood, that this piece was not afterwards reconsidered, retouched, and corrected. Warton.