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Lokman, which are promised in the title page. From the Homaiún-nameh, from which this French version was taken, was also made a modern Spanish translation, by Bratutti. But none of these various editions, though some of them seem to have enjoyed a temporary popularity, have maintained a permanent hold on public opinion. This may, perhaps, be sufficiently accounted for by the consideration, that it rarely happens, that he who is ambitious of trying the depths of an unexplored literature, has also the talent and the taste requisite for transferring its riches into a different language.
It is now time to close this history of a book, which, together with the game of chess, and their system of numerals, gives the Hindoos, in their own opinion, a superiority over all other nations of the world. We have already recorded our obligations to the “ Memoire Historique" of M. Silvestre de Sacy, but we cannot quit the subject without reminding the reader, that he may find in that and in his other writings on this work, much minute information, which is here omitted. It is to be regretted that no elegant translation of Cashefi's most elegant paraphrase of the original fables, exists in our language; but we are convinced that such a version might be made acceptable to the public, if undertaken by any one, who, to the more obviously necessary qualifications, should unite sufficient taste to render the spirit of this romantic composition, without too closely adhering to its excess of ornament, and to its unnatural conceits.
The poetry would usually bear as literal a rendering, as that of more northern climes; the prose would require to be more freely paraphrased, than is generally the case in translations of European verse.
Art. IV.- Plays, written by Mr. Nathaniel Lee. Lond. 1722; . 3 vols. 12mo.
Nat. Lee may exclaim, with his own Alexander,
“ All find my spots, but few my brightness take.” His cotemporaries gave him a bad name, and it sticks to him. Yet, with their censures, there was a not undeserved mixture of praise and popularity. Unfortunately for his fame, a school of wits and critics was then forming, from which no mercy, no justice even, was to be expected for a poet, however worthy of the name, whose failings were of that class which is most prominent in his compositions. He began with that fantastic, wild,
could need of polish, anns
ast to emples, from rest up in
and gorgeous creature, the Heroic Play, and afterwards closely approximated to the good old English Drama; but in the reign of Queen Anne, or rather in the reign of Addison and of Pope, who cared for either, except as a laughing-stock? As soon as the sovereignty of regularity, polish, and tameness, was proclaimed, he was attainted of treason and condemned. Cato and Alexander could not breathe the same atmosphere. This was, however, “ greatly falling with a falling state,” for the revolution of taste was complete. Classical models, drest up in French fashions, were enshrined in the temples, from which the native gods of our idolatry were cast to the moles and the bats. People became too nice to muddy their fingers, even to pick up diamonds. Genius was apprenticed to a dancing-master, to make him measure his steps; and Nature taught by a fashionable milliner, how to compress her waist and carry her arms. The noble bonfire, which used to blaze in gunpowder-plot times, was extinguished, and that neat, little, coloured, silver-mounted, wax taper of poesy kindled, of which the last snuff has gone out with Mr. Hayley. Through this period, Lee has the honour of having been occasionally condemned, and generally neglected; and he has it in common with most of those great original writers, who have since, as it were, risen from the dead, to give a new and glorious impulse to the human mind. That his sentence emanated from that court, whose decrees have been of late so frequently reversed, should excite a suspicion of its justice. This has not been the case. The noble companions of his exile have been brought back in triumphal procession, but he followed not in their train. His Theodosius lingered for some time on the stage; but now nothing remains of him there but Alerander, by no means one of his best plays, and, by its extravagancies, as much adapted to keep alive the prejudice against him as any which could be selected. His name is associated with rant and fustian. Nor dare we hope, that the sentence which is gone forth against him will be repealed. So much may be alleged in its support, that we shall scarcely venture to move for a new trial; yet, we think we may successfully plead in mitigation of punishment, and shew a number of redeeming qualities, and some specimens of genuine dramatic power in his scenes, which justify our own resort to him occasionally for a little excitement, and may convince our readers, that public opinion bas dealt hardly with him.
The extravagance of Lee was not the sheer extravagance of the common herd of heroic-play manufacturers. Though it be madness, yet there's method in it. His frenzy is the frenzy of a poet. The hyperboles of others, even of Dryden himself, were forced, cold, and far-fetched. They cut lofty capers, because they judged it proper or profitable so to do; Lee only
indulged his natural exuberance. For this indulgence' he apologizes, in his dedication of Theodosius to the Dutchess of Richmond.
“ It has been often observed against me, that I abound in ungoverned fancy; but I hope the world will pardon the sallies of youth: Age, despondence, and dullness, come too fast of themselves. I dis. commend no man for keeping the beaten road; but I am sure the noble hunters that follow the game must leap hedges and ditches sometimes, and run at all, or never come into the fall of the quarry. My comfort is, I cannot be so ridiculous a creature to any man as I am to myself; for who should know the house so well as the good man at home? who, when his neighbours come to see him, still sets the best rooms to view ; and, if he be not a wilful ass, keeps the rubbish and lumber in some dark hole, where nobody comes but himself, to mortifie at melancholy hours.”
This apology is honourable to him. There is truth and feeling in it; and it shews, that he neither implicitly followed the advice, or swallowed the praise which Dryden gave him, on his Alexander.
“ Such praise is yours; while you the passions move,
Is in your power; you need but stoop and take.”
It would have been well, if he had more frequently stooped and taken it; although this was scarcely to be expected, while such commendations greeted the glaring fruits of his tropical genius. Still Dryden has not praised without discrimination, for he has clearly intimated the distinctive character of Lee's extravagance. There is a soul of genuine passion in it, as will appear from many of the extracts which we shall have occasion to make. And it has, besides, a picturesque beauty, which is rarely to be met with in heroic ravings. His conceptions are not abortive, though they may be grotesque. His forms are strange enough, but they are well defined, and thrown out in bold relief. His visions Alit palpably before us. To muster the troops of hell in our imaginations,
“ Black, swarthy demons hold a hollow cloud,
We feel much as if standing on the verge of a cliff, when Caligula's ghost tells where he comes from.
“ The infernal cave—the wide, the low
The metaphor is as ferocious as the slaughter, when Hannibal tells us of
“ direful Cannæ,
Although this is tame to the distilled venom of Guise's hatred :
“ Were I in heaven, and saw him scorch'd in flames,
Brutus, in his wrath with the traitorous and insolent priests who conducted the conspiracy for restoring Tarquin, has made a very proper instrument of them :
“ You deeper fiends than any of the Furies,
In Grillon's expression of his momentary hope that his niece had retained her innocence, and his speedy abandonment of that hope, there may be a little oddity, but it is, in our minds, completely absorbed by the beauty :
“ There's heaven still in thy voice; but that's a sign
In the following description of Pope Alexander the Sixth, VOL. III. PART II.
we would not part with what some may deem extravagance ; for where does a flower more charm than at the foot of such a frowning cliff?
“ A master of his breast,
This is beauty sleeping on the lap of horror. We think these quotations sufficient for our present purpose, of shewing that Lee's worst passages are frequently not altogether bad; that when his muse is most unfortunate, she has yet some conceit in her misery, which is not always a miserable conceit. Through the clouds which he raises we have frequent and bright glimpses of genius, which make his scenes (to borrow one of his own expressions)
“ Like Night's black locks all powder'd o'er with stars."
Lee's dramatic works consist of Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow ; Nero; Gloriana, or the Court of Augustus Cæsar ; Alexander ; Mithridates; Theodosius ; Casar Borgia; Lucius Junius Brutus; Constantine; Edipus ; Duke of Guise ; Massacre of Paris; and the Princess of Cleves. We shall pass over the four last mentioned, of which the first two were written in conjunction with Dryden, and have been noticed, and so noticed, we trust, as to do something towards disposing the reader to a favourable attention to the present article, in the critique on Dryden's Plays in our first Number. The last two were produced towards the close of the unfortunate author's irregular and unhappy life, and after he had been more decidedly the victim of that malady to which he had always perhaps a strong tendency, and from which they scarcely allow us to consider his recovery as more than an imperfect one. They bear evident marks of a shattered mind. Much of the Massacre of Paris is copied from the Duke of Guise; and the parts thus taken are ill-jointed with the original composition. The comic parts of the Princess of Cleves are offensively gross, even to loathsomeness. Considering the time of their production, these pieces call for pity rather than criticism. Yet even here the character of the Princess herself is not unworthy of his better days; she “sojourns undefiled in the tabernacles of corruption," and presents a singular picture of purity and delicacy in the midst of all that is foul and revolting.