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sary, Two eminent authors of the French nation have left to posterity their opinions of the book in the following words: viz. “ The Imitation is the finest book which has proceeded from the pen of any man since the days of the evangelists :" M. de Fontenelle's Life of the Great Corneille. “The Imitation of Jesus Christ is one of the most excellent treatises which was ever composed, Happy the person, who, not content to admire its beauties, earnestly endeavours to reduce its precepts to practice!". M. Leibnitz's Letters, p. 77.
I am, &c. 1772, Dec.
LV. Superiority of Shakespeare's Description of Night,
MR. URBAN, OF all the topics on which the poets, ancient and modern, have exercised their imagination, and vied, as it were, with each other, for the victory, there is no one that has been more generally or more successfully attempted, than the Description of the Night Homer and Apollonius among the Greek, Virgil and Statius among the Roman writers, seem to have put forth all their strength on this favourite argument; and have each found their several admirers, who have weighed and adjusted their respective pretensions with a scrupulous exactness. Great as their merits are, I shall, with the leaye of the critics, venture to assert, that they have all been eclipsed, in this one article, by the poets of our own nation. The copy of Homer's Night-piece has received some delicate touches, and exquisite heightenings, from the pencil of Pope, which render it superior to the original; and Shakespeare's dreadful description in Mac, beth (not to mention the pleasingly picturesque one of Milton) infinitely excels all that have preceded it, as being an assemblage of the most striking images, perhaps, that nature itself can afford, or poetic fancy can form,
Now o'er one half the world
(Alarum'd by his centinel, the wolf,
Moves like a ghost. This is truly a night of horror. We see here one half the globe buried in the profoundest sleep, except the three great enemies of mankind, lust, witchcraft, and murder; and them too waking only to perpetrate their deeds of dark
We shudder whilst we read. We look round, affrighted and alarmed, expecting every moment to see the assassin's dagger lifted against us. The additional horror, which Mr. Garrick's inimitably-awful pronunciation breathed over this soliloquy, the last time I heard him repeat it, threw me into this train of thinking, and occasioned me, at my return home, to turn to the several descriptions before alluded
to, and to some other celebrated ones of our English authors. Among these, none, I think, approaches so near the merit of Shakespeare's, as that of Marston, his contemporary, in the opening of his tragedy called Antonio's Revenge. As this play is not easily to be met with, I shall transcribe the passage.
Save meagre ghosts, Piero, and black thoughts, My edition of this play is of the year 1602: it cannot, therefore, be doubted but Shakespeare had read it, before he wrote his Macbeth; probably had played a part in it, since we learn from Langhaine (Catalogue of Dramatic Authors, article MARSTON), that all Marston's pieces had been performed, and “approved by the audience at Blackfriars. It is, however, very observable, that, although this description consists of so many just and natural images, and is worked up in such strength and propriety of diction, with some of the most expressive and characteristic epithets in the English language; yet, such is the orginality of Shake speare's genius, that he has not copied even a single image (for the ghost is introduced only by way of simile), nor adopted more than one epithet in his own description, and that too has been considerably improved in his hands, by the
manner in which he has applied it. Marston confines his ideas to the night alone, and this, by a bold metaphor, he represents as being actually dead: Shakespeare, with a much bolder flight of fancy, extends the epithet to nature herself; but, at the same time, with the strictest attention to propriety and truth, qualifies its force by the verb he makes use of : nature seems dead. Dryden, struck with the beauty, and forcibleness of this image, has transplanted it into that well-known description in the Conquest of Mexico :
All things are hush'd, as nature's self lay dead: Where it constitutes the principal figure in the piece, being equally just and noble in itself, and rising still higher in estimation, from a comparison with the many concetti, and affected prettinesses that appear in the succeeding lines ;
The mountains seem to nod their drowsy head;
And sleeping flow'rs beneath the night-dew sweat, There is another Description of the Night, which has been much and deserveuly admired; I mean that of Lee, in his Theodosius : but had one* of the critics who has noticed it known how greatly it is indebted to Marston's for its principal beauties, he would not, probably, have passed over the old bard, without allowing him his due proportion of praise :
'Tis night, dead night, and weary nature lies
* Trapp, in his notes on the fourth book of the Æneid.
Almost every image is evidently taken from Marston ;, that of the stars, which are quaintly termed heaven's centry, is from a passage of the old poet, no less quaint, in the same scene with his Description of the Night :
You horrid scouts That centinel swart night. It is, however, somewhat surprising, that Lee, when he was copying, should omit the finest image in the whole--black thoughts, especially as it would so admirably have suited the temper and situation of Varanes's mind, at the time the
poet puts these beautiful lines into his mouth, which is just before he destroys himself. Caerhayes, near Tregony, in
Q Cornwall, Jan. 27.
Mr. URBAN, As one of your correspondents has given Shakespeare's, celebrated Description of Night, and asserted that it is not equalled by any other poet; I am desirous, by means of your Magazine, to contrast it with a passage from my favourite poet Dr. Young, and let the impartial public determine which has the preference.
" Now o'er one half the world
Do not imagine I mean to detract from the fame of the immortal Shakespeare, by the above parallel; I hold him in too much reverence to be capable of the thought: but, in my opinion, the beauty of the passage cited from Macbeth consists principally in the happy allusion of the imagery to the circumstances of Macbeth. Dr. Young's Description of Night is beautiful in the highest degree, considered as a general description; and is equally so in whatever circumstance you suppose the writer to be. The images are strong, bold, and natural, whether they are put into the mouth of a murderer, a traveller, or a philosopher. It is not so with the celebrated speech of Macbeth; the chief beauty there arises from the peculiar circumstances of the speaker at the time. All the inages, though sublime, are horrible, and suited to the mind of a man bent on a horrid design. It is unnatural, considered merely as a Description of Night; but considered as the speech of a murderer, just about to commit the horrid deed, it is in the highest degree just and nalural: and, in this light the poet undoubtedly meant it should be considered. I may therefore repeat, without injustice to Shakespeare, that Dr. Young's Description of Night, considered merely as such, is much more natural and sublime than Shakespeare's; and is not, I believe, to be equalled by any poet, ancient or modern.
I am, your constant reader, reb. 12, 1774. 1774, Jan. Feb,
LVI. Objections to Pepe's Translation of Homer's Description of
“ the copy of Homer's Night-piece has received some delicate touches, and exquisite beightenings, from the pencil of Pope, which render it superior to the original." I happen to be of a very different opinion, and Aatter myself most of your readers will be so too, when they compare them both, and consider what I shall offer in arrest of judgment,