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Medea, in the form of her sister, and inflames her with love for Jason. The imitation from Homer of the girdle of Venus is judicious, not servile, but varied so as to suit well the purpose for which it is introduced.
June 26. Read Valerius Flaccus, book vii.; much more interesting. The conflict of passions in the breast of Medea is finely painted. She is determined by Venus, who appears to her in the form of Circe, to assist Jason, and goes to meet him in the night. He overcomes the labour imposed on him by Æetes, of yoking the bulls, &c.
27. Finished Valerius Flaccus. The eighth book, which is left imperfect, contains the success of Jason in obtaining the golden fleece, after the dragon is laid asleep by the incantations of Medea, her flight with Jason, and the pursuit of her by her brother Absystus. The Argonauts wish to give her up, but she perceives their intentions, and the book abruptly ends with her expostulations to Jason, and his answer.
I admire the purity and gravity of Valerius Flaccus, though I cannot think him so superior to Apollonius Rhodius, as he is pronounced to be by a critic (John Baptist Pius), quoted among the “ Testimonials” of Valerius Flaccus, who says, that a little gold of his is worth a great deal of the brass of Apollonius, in the same manner as a small pearl is more precious than a quantity of common stones, however large. The opinion of Boileau, concerning
Tasso's inferiority to Virgil, equally unfounded, seems to have been borrowed from hence. The notes of Heinsius do not always clear up difficulties, and often do not attempt it even. The text seems to be corrupted in many places.
Read Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel. The characters of the Duke of Marlborough and Lord Shaftesbury are finely drawn.
June 28. Read Dryden's Mac Flecnoe, and the two last Sermons of Hooker.
29. Read Plato's Rivals. This is a plain and instructive dialogue, in which wisdom or philosophy is shown to consist not so much in knowledge and erudition, as in action and conduct. [Theages and Anterastae, or Rivals. I have noticed my impression on reading these two before, in my common-place book. They both now appear to me rather jejune after the Republic, Laws, and what I should call the trilogy before Socrates' death, viz. :-Apology, Crito, and Phædo. Since writing this, I find that Schleiermacher supposes these two dialogues not to be Plato's. April, 1841.] I read through Plato in 1794 and 1795, always with pleasure, except in those parts where I could not understand him. It is no disgrace, however, to be ignorant in that, which even Cicero professed himself unable to comprehend.
Read Chaucer : the Tales of the Doctor of Physick, the Pardoner, the Shipman, and the Prioress;
viz., the story of Appius and Virginia, from Livy; of the rioters who conspire to kill Death, and kill one another; of a merchant and monk, from Boccaccio ; and of a Christian child murdered by the Jews in a city of Asia. The last tale has much interest and pathos; at the end of it something of the same sort is hinted at, as having recently happened in England. The Pardoner's Prologue contains some curious information on the impositions of the priesthood in Chaucer's days, which it is unnatural the Pardoner should declare so freely.
June 30. Read the Rime of Sir Topaz, the tale which Chaucer begins, but is hindered from finishing by the host. His address to Chaucer gives us a strong and pleasing idea of the old bard's manners and appearance. Sir Topaz is thought, in my opinion justly, by T. Warton, to be intended as a burlesque on chivalry.
July 1. Read Marmontel; the tale of the Connoisseur.
2. Read in Logan's Sermons. He is a writer of strong imagination, and his quotations from Scripture are often finely introduced. As to originality, Carr does not deserve to be compared with him; indeed Carr's sentiments are generally trite, but expressed with propriety, and well put together.
3. Read Chaucer; his own tale of Melibeus, in prose : so tiresome, that it seems to be waggishly
intended as a ridicule on long and tedious stories, or as a piece of revenge on the host for interrupting him in his first tale; or perhaps as both. Read the Female Werter.
July 10 to 15. Read part of Beattie's Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth.
16 to 20. At Cannock. Read Les Jardins de De Lille. Read some of Atterbury's Sermons.
21. Continued Beattie. 22. Finished Beattie.
25. Began the Choëphoræ of Æschylus, and read to line 303: part of the first chorus is unintelligible in this edition. The meeting between Electra and her brother is highly affecting, though the circumstances of it are ridiculed by Aristophanes, and even by Euripides. Read part of the first of Pope's Moral Essays.
26. Finished the first, and read the second of Pope's Moral Essays.
27. Continued the Choëphoræ to line 476. Read the third, fourth, and fifth of Pope's Moral Essays.
28. Continued the Choëphoræ to line 780; at v. 644 and 645, a sublime and terrific image is presented to the mind. The prattling of the nurse is interesting; and reminds one of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet.
29. Finished the Choëphoræ. The expostulation of Clytemnestra to her son at v. 896 is affecting. The address of Orestes to his father's bloody cloak, brings to the mind the masterly oration of Antony in Shakspeare's Julius Cæsar." The Choëphoræ concludes with the beginning of the madness of Orestes. Began the Electra of Sophocles and read to line 681.
July 30. Finished the Electra. It is pleasing to consider how two great masters have treated the same subject. Æschylus raises more terror, Sophocles more pity, except where Electra is introduced encouraging her brother, while he is taking away his mother's life. The expostulation of the mother at that time is still more pathetic than in Æschylus. The manner in which Orestes makes himself known to his sister is not sufficiently probable in Sophocles, to make her acknowledge him so suddenly. Her incredulity in Æschylus is more pleasing, and perhaps more natural. Sophocles gained a happy occasion of exciting pathos, in causing Orestes to tell Electra of his supposed death; but was it not natural that he should know her ? and if so, it was certainly cruel and useless to deceive her. Her mean and abject appearance is the only thing that could mislead Orestes. Sophocles does not proceed to the insanity of his hero. The other material differences between him and Æschylus are, that by him, viz., Sophocles, the guardian of Orestes is introduced to consult with him instead of Pylades, and that Chrysothemis is added. Began the Electra of Euripides, and read to line 486.