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CHAPTER IV.

MODERN CRITICS OF THE EXPLANATORY KIND, COMMENTING MODERN

WRITERS-LEXICOGRAPHERS-GRAMMARIANS-TRANSLATORS.

Though much historical explanation has been bestowed on the ancient classics, yet have the authors of our own country by no means been forgotten, having exercised many critics of learning and ingenuity.

Mr. Thomas Warton (besides his fine edition of Theocritus) has given a curious history of English poetry during the middle centuries; Mr. Tyrwhitt, much accurate and diversified erudition upon Chaucer; Mr. Upton, a learned comment on the Fairy Queen of Spencer; Mr. Addison, many polite and elegant Spectators on the conduct and beauties of the Paradise Lost; Dr. Warton, an Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, a work filled with speculations, in a taste perfectly pure. The lovers of literature would not forgive me, were I to omit that ornament of her sex and country, the critic and patroness of our illustrious Shakspeare, Mrs. Montagu. For the honour of criticism, not only the divines already mentioned, but others also, of rank still superior, have bestowed their labours upon our capital poets," suspending for a while their severer studies, to relax in these regions of genius and imagination.

The dictionaries of Minshew, Skinner, Spelman, Sumner, Junius, and Johnson, are all well known, and justly esteemed. Such is the merit of the last, that our language does not possess a more copious, learned, and valuable work. For grammatical knowledge, we ought to mention with distinction the learned prelate, Dr. Lowth, bishop of London ; whose admirable tract on the Grammar of the English Language, every lover of that language ought to study and understand, if he would write, or even speak it, with purity and precision.

Let my countrymen, too, reflect, that in studying a work upon this subject, they are not only studying a language in which it becomes them to be knowing, but a language which can boast of as many good books as any among the living or modern languages of Europe. The writers, born and educated in a free country, have been left for years to their native freedom. Their pages have been never defiled with an index expurgatorius, nor their genius ever shackled with the terrors of an inquisition.

May this invaluable privilege never be impaired either by the hand of power, or by licentious abuse.

Perhaps with the critics just described I ought to arrange translators, if it be true that translation is a species of explana

k Shakspeare, Milton, Cowley, Pope.

tion, which differs no otherwise from explanatory comments, than that these attend to parts, while translation goes to the whole.

Now as translators are infinite, and many of them (to borrow a phrase from sportsmen) unqualified persons, I shall enumerate only a few, and those such as for their merits have been deservedly esteemed.

Of this number I may very truly reckon Meric Casaubon, the translator of Marcus Antoninus; Mrs. Carter, the translator of Epictetus; and Mr. Sydenham, the translator of many of Plato's Dialogues. All these seem to have accurately understood the original language from which they translated.' But that is not all. The authors translated being philosophers, the translators appear to have studied the style of their philosophy, well knowing that in ancient Greece every sect of philosophy, like every science and art, had a language of its own.

To these may be added the respectable name of Melmoth and of Hampton, of Franklyn and of Potter; nor should I omit a few others, whose labours have been similar, did I not recollect the trite, though elegant admonition,

Fugit irreparabile tempus,
Singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.

Virg. Yet one translation I can by no means forget, I mean that of Xenophon's Cyropædia, or the Institution of Cyrus, by the Hon. Maurice Ashley Cowper, son to the second earl of Shaftesbury, and brother to the third, who was author of the Characteristics. This translation is made in all the purity and simplicity of the original, and to it the translator has prefixed a truly philosophical dedication, addressed to my mother, who was one of his sisters.

I esteem it an honour to call this author my uncle, and that not only from his rank, but much more from his learning, and unblemished virtue; qualities which the love of retirement (where he thought they could be best cultivated) induced him to conceal, rather than to produce in public.

The first edition of this translation, consisting of two octavo volumes, was published soon after his decease, in the year 1728. Between this time and the year 1770, the book has passed through a second and a third edition, not with the eclat of popular applause, but with the silent approbation of the studious few.

| See Hermes, p. 195.

CHAPTER V.

RISE OF THE THIRD SPECIES OF CRITICISM, THE CORRECTIVE-PRACTISED

BY THE ANCIENTS, BUT MUCH MORE BY THE MODERNS, AND WHY.

But we are now to inquire after another species of criticism. All ancient books, having been preserved by transcription, were liable through ignorance, negligence, or fraud, to be corrupted in three different ways; that is to say, by retrenchings, by additions, and by alterations.

To remedy these evils, a third sort of criticism arose, and that was criticism corrective. The business of this at first was painfully to collate all the various copies of authority; and then, from amidst the variety of readings thus collected, to establish by good reasons either the true, or the most probable. In this sense we may call such criticism, not only corrective, but authoritative.

As the number of these corruptions must needs have increased by length of time, hence it has happened that corrective criticism has become much more necessary in these latter ages, than it was in others more ancient. Not but that even in ancient days various readings have been noted. Of this kind there are a multitude in the text of Homer; a fact not singular, when we consider his great antiquity. In the comments of Ammonius and Philoponus upon Aristotle, there is mention made of several in the text of that philosopher, which these his commentators compare and examine.

We find the same in Aulus Gellius, as to the Roman authors; where it is withal remarkable, that, even in that early period, much stress is laid upon the authority of ancient manuscripts," a reading in Cicero being justified from a copy made by his learned freedman, Tiro; and a reading in Virgil's Georgics, from a book which had once belonged to Virgil's family.

But since the revival of literature, to correct has been a business of much more latitude, having continually employed, for two centuries and a half, both the pains of the most laborious, and the wits of the most acute. Many of the learned men before enumerated were not only famous as historical critics, but as corrective also. Such were the two Scaligers, (of whom one has been already mentioned,") the two Casaubons, Salmasius, the Heinsii, Graevius, the Gronovii, Burman, Kuster, Wasse, Bentley, Pearce, and Markland. In the same class, and in a rank highly eminent, I place Mr. Toupe of Cornwall, who, in his Emendations upon Suidas, and his edition of Longinus, has shewn a critical acumen, and a compass of learning, that may justly

m See Aulus Gellius, lib. i. c. 7. and 21. Macrob. Saturn. lib. i. c. 5. n Page 392.

arrange him with the most distinguished scholars. Nor must I forget Dr. Taylor, residentiary of St. Paul's; nor Mr. Upton, prebendary of Rochester. The former, by his edition of Demosthenes, (as far as he lived to carry it,) by his Lysias, by his comment on the Marmor Sandvicense, and other critical pieces; the latter, by his correct and elegant edition, in Greek and Latin, of Arrian's Epictetus, (the first of the kind that had any pretensions to be called complete :) have rendered themselves, as scholars, lasting ornaments of their country. These two valuable men were the friends of my youth; the companions of my social as well as my literary hours. I admired them for their erudition; I loved them for their virtue: they are now no more.

His saltem accumulem donis, et fungar inani
Munere.

Virg.

CHAPTER VI.

CRITICISM MAY HAVE BEEN ABUSEDYET DEFENDED, AS OF THE LAST

IMPORTANCE TO THE CAUSE OF LITERATURE.

79 o

But here was the misfortune of this last species of criticism. The best of things may pass into abuse. There were numerous corruptions in many of the finest authors, which neither ancient editions nor manuscripts could heal. What, then, was to be done ? Were forms so fair to remain disfigured, and be seen for ever under such apparent blemishes? “No, (says a critic,) conjecture can cure all: conjecture, whose performances are, for the most part, more certain than any thing that we can exhibit from the authority of manuscripts.

We will not ask, upon this wonderful assertion, how, if so certain, can it be called conjecture? It is enough to observe, (be it called as it may,) that this spirit of conjecture has too often passed into an intemperate excess; and then, whatever it may have boasted, has done more mischief by far than good. Authors have been taken in hand, like anatomical subjects, only to display the skill and abilities of the artist; so that the end of many an edition seems often to have been no more than to exhibit the great sagacity and erudition of an editor. The joy of the task was the honour of mending; while corruptions were sought with a more than common attention, as each of them afforded a testimony to the editor and his art.

And here I beg leave, by way of digression, to relate a short story concerning a noted empi. “Being once in a ball-room crowded with company, he was asked by a gentleman, What he

• Plura igitur in Horatianis his curis ex sidio ; et, nisi me omnia fallunt, plerumque conjectura exhibemus, quam ex codicum sub- certiora.—Bentleii Præfat. ad Horat.

thought of such a lady? was it not pity that she squinted? Squint! sir! replied the doctor, I wish every lady in the room squinted; there is not a man in Europe can cure squinting but myself."

But to return to our subject. Well, indeed, would it be for the cause of letters, were this bold conjectural spirit confined to works of second rate, where, let it change, expunge, or add, as happens, it may be tolerably sure to leave matters as they were; or if not much better, at least not much worse. But when the divine geniuses of higher rank, whom we not only applaud, but in a manner revere, when these come to be attempted by petulant correctors, and to be made the subject of their wanton caprice, how can we but exclaim, with a kind of religious abhorrence,

Procul! 0! procul este profani! These sentiments may be applied even to the celebrated Bentley. It would have become that able writer, though in literature and natural abilities among the first of his age, had he been more temperate in his criticism upon the Paradise Lost; had he not so repeatedly and injuriously offered violence to its author, from an affected superiority, to which he had no pretence. But the

rage

of conjecture seems to have seized him, as that of jealousy did Medea ;P a rage which she confessed herself unable to resist, although she knew the mischiefs it would prompt her to perpetrate.

And now, to obviate an unmerited censure, (as if I were an enemy to the thing, from being an enemy to its abuse,) I would have it remembered, it is not either with criticism or critics that I presume to find fault. The art, and its professors, while they practise it with temper, I truly honour; and think that, were it not for their acute and learned labours, we should be in danger of degenerating into an age of dunces.

Indeed, critics (if I may be allowed the metaphor) are a sort of masters of the ceremony in the court of letters, through whose assistance we are introduced into some of the first and best company. Should we ever, therefore, by idle prejudices against pedantry, verbal accuracies, and we know not what, come to slight their art, and reject them from our favour, it is well we do not slight also those classics with whom criticism converses, becoming content to read them in translations, or (what is still worse) in translations of translations, or (what is worse even than that) not to read them at all. And I will be bold to assert, if that should ever happen, we shall speedily return into those days of darkness, out of which we happily emerged upon the revival of ancient literature.

P See the Medea of Euripides, v. 1078. See also Philosoph. Arrangements, p. 374.

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