Page images
PDF
EPUB

SONGS FOUND IN A GRECIAN URN.

It was in the Autumn of 1830 that I left Oxford, in company with two friends of my own College, upon a journey I had long meditated through Greece and Asia Minor. I had been reading with incessant earnestness for a double first class, and although I was fortunate enough to obtain the object of my ambition, it was dearly purchased by a melancholy exhaustion of mind, and a still more serious injury to my bodily health. The energies of the understanding had been overwrought, and their relaxation was proportionate to their tension. The reader may easily imagine with what delight I packed up all my college books, without much regard to neatness or regularity, and having selected only an old interleaved Homer - it had been my father's!-and a few leaves of Dr. Clarke's Travels, I bade adieu for some months to the City of the Muses.

It was quaintly observed, I believe by Sir Philip Sidney, "that the best scholler is fittest for a traveller, as being able to make the most useful remarks," and without admitting the truth of the aphorism universally, its justice may be generally acknowledged; but as neither I nor my companions undertook the tour with the intention of publishing an account of it on our return, we neglected to inquire whether or not our learning were equal to our enthusiasm. We did not, like Michaëlis, expect to find the identical tables upon which the laws of Moses were graven, among the ruins of Palestine; nor to bring back, like Ibn Batuta, in a fly leaf of our Journal, the exact length and breadth of our Saviour's footsteps. We had formed humbler hopes and more rational expectations. We did not wander among the plains of Troy, like Lady Montague, with the tale of La Fontaine more vividly in our recollection than the hero's who had consecrated the banks of the Simois and the Scamander. The feelings of my companions fortunately accorded with my own, and we listened to the nightingales singing above the violets of Colonos, and beheld the moonlight breaking in among the reeds of the poet-loved Ilissus, as the wind bowed them to and fro, with equal sentiments of delight. We were absent during several months, but I look back to the time passed in Cyprus as the most grateful in its associations. The heart must indeed "thrill and the pulse quicken at the very names of Paphos and Amathus." Homer celebrates the island in his glorious verse.

« Σευατ' επί Τροίην, προλιπουσι ευωδια Κυπριν.”

The three days we spent at Baffa, (which is supposed to stand on the site of the ancient Paphos,) where Venus was carried by the Zephyrs from the golden waters, formed a summer dream of celestial phantasies. But the principal modern town is Nicotia, and here we took up our abode in the house of M. de to whom we had letters of introduction. The worship of the Queen of Love is not yet forgotten among the ladies of Cyprus, and Pococke considered their dresses to be such as ought to distinguish the descendants of the Idalian Enchantress. During his sojourn at Athens, Chateaubriand was waited on by a female clothed in the

drapery of the old Greeks, and distinguished by those very undulating folds which characterise the ancient statues. We had equal reason to congratulate ourselves upon our good fortune while residing in Nicotia. Our fair attendant was in her fifteenth year and exquisitely beautiful; her eyes, which were peculiarly large and brilliant, possessed that extraordinary richness of colour which the Greeks expressed by the word vypov, and to which the Persian poet might have alluded when comparing his love to the golden stag of the morning. The reader, I doubt not, remembers the picturesque account given by Clarke of the women of Cyprus. Their costume has undergone no variation in the course of years, and Ægle, (the name we gave to one beautiful demoiselle,) still "dyed her hair of a fine brown colour" by means of the henna, teaching it to fall behind in long braids, while in some of the ringlets near the face she was fond of weaving "blossoms of the jessamine" in a graceful and fanciful manner. Like all Greek women she had wreathed several golden coins in her hair, and we were unsuccessful in all our endeavours to persuade her to part with any of them. We may trace this mode of decoration as far back as the Trojan war. We read in the second Iliad, when Euphorbus falls beneath the spear of Menelaus,

"His locks which e'en the Graces might have own'd,
Blood sullied, and his ringlets wound about
With twine of gold and silver, swept the dust."

The more fashionable young men of Athens used to fasten their curls with golden pins. The soldiers of Ali Pacha had their hair close shaven in front and flowing down behind. But we are wandering from our charming friend, and if the reader could have seen her for an instant in her upper tunic of rose-coloured silk embroidered in gold, and her long scarlet pantaloons, he would readily allow that an absence from such a creature could never be voluntary.

We had been wandering all day among the scenes of beauty which surrounded us, and were ruminating in that delicious state of languor which Thomson paints in the "Castle of Indolence," when we were suddenly startled by the entrance of Egle, bearing a very elegant vase, which the now practised eyes of myself and companions discovered to be one of the finest specimens of the later manufacturers. But the object which immediately attracted our attention, to the total oblivion of the urn and its makers, was a collection of MSS. which the young Greek assured us had been found in the urn.

The MSS., which seemed to be the production of the second or third century, were in excellent preservation, and I was enabled on my return to Oxford, with the assistance of the learned and benevolent Professor G—, to make a very perfect text, from which the following translations have been made. The poetry, I think, may be assigned to about the second century of the Christian era, and, in one instance, perhaps to a still later period; I allude to the song which I have entitled The Athenian Lover to his Mistress, in which we trace the affected yet picturesque features which distinguished the euphuism of the graceful and musical Philostratus. The touching fragment from Euripides, which I found prefixed to it, evinced however that the popularity of the great Master of Tears was then undimi

nished. The poem itself may be considered indeed an amplification of the idea contained in the very exquisite lines which I subjoin.

« Γυναι, φίλον μεν φέγγος ηλιου τόδε,
Καλον δε ποντου χευμ' ίδειν ευηνεμον,

Γη τ' ηρινον θαλλουσα, πλουσιον θ' ύδωρ,
Πολλων τ' επαινον εστι μοι λέξαι καλων.
Αλλ' ουδεν ούτω λαμπρον, ουδ' ίδειν καλον,
Ως τοις απαισι και ποθῳ δεδηγμένοις,

Παίδων νεογνων εν δόμοις ίδειν φαος.”—Eurip. Frag. Danae.

THE FIRST-BORN.*

"Beautiful, O woman! the sun on flower and tree,

And beautiful the balmy wind that dreameth on the sea;
And softly soundeth in thine ear, the song of peasants reaping,
The dove's low chaunt among the leaves, its twilight vigil keeping.

And beautiful the hushing of the linnet in her nest,

With her young beneath her wings, and the sunset on her breast:
While hid among the flowers, where the dreamy bee is flitting,
Singing unto its own glad heart, the poet-child is sitting.

It stirreth up the soul, upon the golden waves to see,
The galley lifting up her crowned head triumphantly—

Io! lo! now she laugheth like a Queen of Araby,

While Joy and Music strew with flowers the pathway of her Chariotry!

And beautiful unto thy soul, at summer time to wait,

Till Moonlight with her sweet pale feet, comes dancing to thy gate;
Thy violet-eyes upturn'd unto thy love with timid grace,
He feels thine arm about his neck, thy kisses on his face.

Beautiful, O gentle girl, these pleasant thoughts to thee,
These chosen sheaves, long harvested within thy memory!
But when thy face grows dim, with weariness and care,
Thy heart, forgetting all its songs, awaketh but to prayer!
Thou lookest for a gleeful face, thine opening eyes to greet,
While coldness gathers on thy breast, the shadow round thy feet-
Beautiful, O woman, the green earth and the flowers may be,

But sweeter in that hour the voice of thy First-born Child to thee!" The next may be taken as a specimen of the quaint, yet in my opinion, beautiful love-songs so universally admired in the decline of Grecian literature. The idea contained in the first stanza is the same we meet with so frequently in the epistles of the erotic writers of the third and fourth centuries. Ποσάκις σοι τους οφθαλμους ανέωξα, OTɩ amελons, which may be rendered-" How often have I opened my eyes that thou mayest depart!"

THE ATHENIAN LOVER TO HIS MISTRESS.

"The spirit of mine eyes is faint
With gazing on thy light;
I close my eyelids, but within,
Sweet, thou art shining bright,
Sitting amid the purple gloom,

Like a flower-bird at night!

We cannot resist the temptation of legging the reader, who in these days seldom willingly turns to verse, to note, in despite of a few occasional affectations, the exceedng beauty of some of the following lines.-ED.

Thy beauty walketh by my side
By the green-wood, on the sea;
I hear thee in the bird that sings
Upon the orange tree :

Thy face upon the haunted streams
Is looking up to me.

Gentle one, in grief I linger
Beside the glimmering nest,
Till evening sinketh in the flowers,
Like a weary fawn to rest,
Yea, my heart is sick with longing
To dream upon thy breast!
From the dark of their golden lids
Thy singing eyes look out,
Like doves in the olives hearing
The shepherd's jocund shout,
As he wandereth with his pipe
The sunny glen about.

I have opened mine eyes

Thy beauty will not part,

But thy feet are dancing round me,

Lovely! that thou art

The sweet breath of thine eyes doth fall,
Like odour on my heart !"

The "sweet breath of the eyes," which might have been applied by the euphuist of Queen Elizabeth's time to the eyes of his ladylove, may be traced to the TvEvμата оμμатwv of Philostratus, and so may the image which paints the face of his love dwelling in his eyes, to the Evdov, of the same author. I remember a passage in an Arabic ode almost similar in its sentiment. "Thou declarest that her abode is in thine eye, and when thou closest it, in thine heart." The Indian poets, with a like extravagant imagery, celebrate "the maiden's eyes which played like a pair of water-birds with azure plumage," and in other places by a metaphor equally daring, celebrate the antelopes of her eyes." I have only space for one more :—

TO AN ARCADIAN CHILD SLEEPING.

"Sleep on-sleep on-the silver flowers
A pillow for thy head may be,

While Evening with her band of hours
Sits by thee silently.

From morning in the vine-yards straying-
Sweet child, so fair and meek!

She lieth down, and tired of playing,

Darkens the bright grass with her cheek.

One arm upon her eyes she foldeth,
O'er which her hair is softly fann'd,

And still with fainting grasp she holdeth
The lilies in her hand.

Oh-wake her not! the forest streams

With balmy lips are breathing rest;

Nor stir the garland of sweet dreams

Which Sleep hath bound upon her breast."

MONTHLY COMMENTARY.

Suicide of Mr. Fletcher-The Delicacy of Affection-Copyright in Music-Ultimus Romanorum the last of the Jockies-Cholera, or No Cholera-The Banker-Premier -Labours of the Court of Review-Governesses-The Ugliness of Cambridgeshire.

SUICIDE OF MR. FLETCHER.-Everybody knows the physician's receipt to prepare cucumber for the table-the careful paring, the thin slicing, the due admixture of vinegar and pepper, and then the unexpected ejection out of the window. We should give similar instructions for the rearing of an author-let him be carefully trained at school, spare no expense at college, give him every advantage of instruction and society, and then-let him shoot himself. We never gave this admirable recipe to poor Mr. Fletcher, the author of the "History of Poland," but he seems to have had a due sense of its truth and value, and what is more, to have taken it. To be sure he was young, amiable, well-informed, able with his pen, ardent in his temper, and of considerable energy of mind; but who wants these qualities? a little money is far better, a little rank or family connexion is worth a wilderness of such qualities. The bar is overstocked with brilliant talent; every one knows this obvious truth; the church has no demand for education or ability; the public service is content with the offshoots of an ancient line, or a wealthy or titled house. What is a poor man of talent and education to do? the alternatives presenting themselves to the mind of Mr. Fletcher were, to become usher in a school or to write a book; the situation of coalwhipper on the Thames is not to be had without a recommendation from the Trinity House, and the post of ticket-porter is by no means so easily procured as some may imagine. Mr. Fletcher chose book-writing, followed naturally by long labour on his own part, and bills at long dates on the part of his publisher. The alternatives then were changed in character and multiplied in number; starvation, pistols, prussic acid, a halter or a handkerchief, and the chilly Thames," sullen and slow," as it darkles under the gloomy arches of Westminster or Waterloo. l'istols were the readiest, and the author of the generous history of the struggles of Poland ended all his own earthly trials by the payment down on the nail of one ounce of lead. Education is a famous thing, but the art of getting a livelihood is really a subject that ought to be attended to in this world. It is the

duty of " parents and guardians," to teach youth that they may as well hope to get a living by blowing soap-bubbles or shooting at a mark, as by literature as a profession. The errors and fatal mistakes committed on this head are painfully numerous, and to discuss them would carry us far beyond the limits of a note.

Suicide is, however, to say the least, a foolish thing; let any young man similarly situated, sell his books and instruments, buy a short jacket and an axe and cut his way to the backwoods of America. He had better be a squatter than a bill sticker, or even than a corpse.

THE DELICACY OF AFFECTION.-Reflection is so little able to keep pace with publication, and people are so much more given to writing than thinking, that when a work appears, in which, in the course of three volumes, we may glean here and there some scattered fragments of original observation and acute remark, which at the same time will stand the test of examination, we are pleased and congratulate ourselves. "The Opera," a novel, has claims of this kind; there are numerous shrewd observations which prove the authoress to be a thinker as well as a smart writer. The following reflection is one of those observations which, though perhaps never written down before, must be acknowledged as true as well as remarkable, as soon as it is read.

"How strange, how passing strange, the reluctance which renders it so difficult to address a person, with whom we live in the confidence of individual affection, on any subject

« PreviousContinue »