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were in reality, as will appear
in the course of the poem, going to draw water, and that there was such a place as Hippocrene, that is a horsepond, at the top of the hill; but, on the whole, I think the text, as I have adopted it, to be the better reading.
Having ascertained the names and conditions of the parties, the reader becomes naturally inquisitive into their employment, and wishes to know whether their occupation is worthy of them. This laudable curiosity is abundantly gratified in the succeeding lines; for
Jack aud Gill
Went up a hill
Here we behold the plan gradually unfolding, a new scene opens to our view, and the description is exceedingly beautiful. We now discover their object, which we were before left to conjecture. We see the two friends, like Pylades and Orestes, assisting and cheering each other in their labours, gaily ascending the hill, eager to arrive at the summit, and to-fill their bucket.--Here too is a new elegance. Our acute author could not but observe the necessity of machinery, which has been so much commended by critics, and admired by readers. Instead, however, of introducing a host of gods and godesses, who might have only impeded the journey of his heroes, by the intervention of the bucket, which is, as it ought to be, simple and conducive to the progress of the poem, he has considerably improved on the ancient plan. In the management of it also he has shown much judgment, by making the influence of the machinery and the subject reciprocal: for while the utensil carries on the heroes, it is itself carried on by them. In this part, too, we have a
deficiency supplied, to wit, the knowledge of their relationship, which as it would have encumbered the opening, was reserved for this place. Even now there is some uncertainty whether they were related by the ties of consanguinity; but we may rest assured they were friends, for they did join in carrying the instrument; they must, from their proximity of situation, have been amicably disposed, and if one alone carried the utensil, it exhibits an amiable assumption of the whole labour. The only objection to this opinion is an old adage, “ Bonus dux bonum facit militem,” which has been translated “A good Jack makes a good Gill,” thereby intimating a superiority in the former. If such was the case, it seems the poet wished to show his hero in retirement, and convince the world, that, however illustrious he might be, he did not despise manual labour. It has also been objected, (for every Homer has his Zoilus,) that their employment is not sufficiently dignified for epic poetry; but, in answer to this, it must be remarked, that it was the opinion of Socrates, and many other philosophers, that beauty should be estimated by utility, and surely the purpose of the heroes must have been beneficial. They ascended the rugged mountain to draw water, and drawing water is certainly more conducive to human happiness than drawing blood, as do the boasted heroes of the Iliad, or roving on the ocean, and invading other men's property, as did the pious Æneas. Yes! they went to draw water. Interesting scene! It might have been drawn for the purpose of culinary consumption; it might have been to quench the thirst of the harmless animals who relied on them for support; it might have been to feed a sterile soil, and to revive the drooping plants, which they raised by their labours. Is not our author more judicious than Apollonius, who chooses for the heroes of his Argonautics a set of rascals,
undertaking to steal a sheep skin? And, if dignity is to be considered, is not drawing water a circumstance highly characteristic of antiquity? Do we not find the 'amiable Rebecca busy at the well-does not one of the maidens in the Odyssey delight us by her diligence in the same situation, and has not a learned Dean proved that it was quite fashionable in Peloponnesus?-Let there be an end to such frivolous remarks. But the descriptive part is now finished, and the author hastens to the catastrophe. At what part of the mountain the well was situated, what was the reason of the sad misfortune, or how the prudence of Jack forsook him, we are not informed, but so, alas! it happened,
Jack fell down
Unfortunate John! At the moment when he was nimbly, for aught we know, going up the hill, perhaps at the moment when his toils were to cease, and he had filled the bucket, he made an unfortunate step, his centre of gravity, as the philosophers would say, fell beyond his base, and he tumbled. The extent of his fall does not, however, appear
until the next line, as the author feared to overwhelm us by too immediate a disclosure of his whole misfortune. Buoyed by hope, we suppose his affliction not quite remediless, that his fall is an accident to which the way-farers of this life are daily liable, and we anticipate his immediate rise to resume his labours.
But how are we deceived by the heart-rending tale, that
Jack fell down
Nothing now remains but to deplore the premature fate of the unhappy John. The mention of the crown has
much perplexed the commentators. The learned Microphilus, in the 513th page of his “ Cursory Remarks” on the
poem, thinks he can find in it some allusion to the story of Alfred, who, he says, is known to have lived during his concealment in a mountainous country, and as he watched the cakes on the fire, might have been sent to bring water. But his acute annotator, Vandergruten, has detected the fallacy of such a supposition, though he falls into an equal error in remarking that Jack might have carried a crown or a half crown in his hand, which was fractured in the fall. My learned reader will doubtless agree with me in conjecturing that as the crown is often used metaphorically for the head, and as that part is, or without any disparagement to the unfortunate sufferer might have been, the heaviest, it was really his pericranium which sustained the damage. Having seen the fate of Jack, we are anxious to know the lot of his companion. Alas!
And Gill came tumbling after.
Here the distress thickens on us. Unable to support the loss of his friend, he followed him, determined to share his disaster, and resolved, that as they had gone up together, they should not be separated as they came down.*
In the midst of our afflictions, let us not, however, be unmindful of the poet's merit, which, on this occasion, is conspicuous. He evidently seems to have in view the
* There is something so tenderly querimonious in the silent grief and devotion of Gill, something which so reminds us of the soft complaint of the hapless sister of Dido, that it must delight every classical reader.
excellent observation of Adam Smith, that our sympathy arises not from a view of the passion, but of the situation which excites it. Instead of unnecessary lamentation, he gives us the real state of the case; avoiding, at the same time, that minuteness of detail, which is so common among pathetic poets, and which, by dividing a passion, and tearing it to rags, as Shakspeare says, destroys its force. Thus, when Cowley tells us, that his mistress shed tears enough to save the world if it had been on fire, we immediately think of a house on fire, ladders, engines, crowds of people, and other circumstances, which drive away every thing like feeling: when Pierre is describing the legal plunder of Jaffier's house, our attention is diverted from the misery of Belvidera to the goods and chattels of him the said Jaffier: but in the
before us the author has just hit the dividing line between the extreme conciseness which might conceal necessary circumstances, and the prolixity of narration, which would introduce immaterial ones. So happy, indeed, is the account of Jack's destruction, that had a physician been present, and informed us of the exact place of the skull which received the hurt, whether it was the occipitis, or which of the ossa bregmatis that was fractured, or what part of the lambdoidal suture was the point of injury, we could not have a clearer idea of his misfortune. Of the bucket we are told nothing, but as it is probable that it fell with its supporters, we have a scene of misery, unequalled in the whole compass of tragic description. Imagine to ourselves Jack rapidly descending, perhaps rolling over and over down the mountain, the bucket, as the lighter, moving along, and pouring forth (if it had been filled) its liquid stream, Gill following in confusion, with a quick and circular and headlong motion; add to this the dust, which they might have collected and dispersed, with the blood which must