« AnteriorContinuar »
be discovered, that is not exemplified, so far as Homer's ideas extended, in the character of Ulysses”;” and it must be allowed, I think, that the essayist has, in a very satisfactory manner, established his point. This amiable man and accomplished scholar died on the 28th of May, 1803, after a painful illness, and in the fifty-eighth year of his age. Among his manuscripts have been found some original plays, and a poem of considerable humour, written in the dialect of his native county, and called “The Ermoor Courtship,” of which a part has since been printed in the fourth volume of Blackwood's Edinburgh-Magazine. I shall now close this slight biography of Mr. Hole with a miniature description of his character from the pen of one of his most intimate friends, being the termination of a tribute to his memory which was read at one of the meetings of the Exeter society. “I need scarcely add in this place,” says the writer, “what Mr. Hole was:—the sincere, the unaffected grief of the whole circle of his family and friends demonstrates, more strikingly than words can paint, his worth, his merits, and his talents. Friendly and affectionate in the more limited circle, he claimed, and obtained, in his turn, the warmest and most sincere attachment. The world in general saw in his character, honour, generosity, learning, and religion, and freely accorded their approbation and regard. His knowledge was solid and well founded; his religion sincere and unaffected ; his benevolence warm and unconfined. Without the parade of superior learning, he gained the esteem and confidence of those with whom he conversed; and never in a single instance lost a friend by a fault of his own. Mr. Jackson, who soon followed Mr. Hole to the grave, remarked, that he had known Hole more than thirty years, without having discovered a single fault in his character. No one possessed a more acute and penetrating discernment; no one was better acquainted with Mr. Hole *.” Having thus made my readers in some slight degree acquainted with the life and general charac
* Essay, p. 143.
more immediate subject of my undertaking, the consideration of his ARTHUR, as that product of his genius to which, as I have before observed, he must owe his reputation with posterity. It is well known from a passage in his Epitaphium Damonis, that Milton had projected an epic poem on the subject of king Arthur, in which, from his manner of mentioning the design, there is every reason to suppose that he would have adopted the legendary fables of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Mr. Hole, however, whilst he faithfully adheres to our general conception of the character of Arthur, declines pursuing this track; telling us, in his preface, when speaking of the doubts which have been unreasonably entertained as to the very existence of his hero, that “whether the extraordinary narrative of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the more consistent testimony of graver historians, outweighs or not the silence of Bede and Gildas, is of little consequence to the Arthur who now appears. HE is merely an ideal personage; his achievements groundless and imaginary; not to be examined at the bar of historic truth, but of poetic credibility.” He then proceeds to inform us that his poem is intended as an imitation of the old metrical
romance, with some of its harsher features softened and modified, and that its heroes and its incidents are constructed rather on the plan of Ariosto than of Homer; “not,” he says, “because the desultory wildness of the one is preferred to the correct fancy of the other—but because the old Gothic fables exhibit a peculiarity of manners and situation, which, if not from their intrinsic excellence, may, from their being less hackneyed, afford more materials for the writer's imagination, and contribute more to the reader's entertainment.” There can be no doubt that in forming his poem on this basis, our author has shown a very COrrect judgment; for we may, in truth, go a step further than he has done, and affirm that not only are the Gothic fictions less hackneyed, but they are intrinsically superior, for all the purposes of poetry, to the mythology of Greece and Rome. There is a wildness and gloomy grandeur in the religious faith of ancient Scandinavia which, mixed up as it is with a firm belief in, and bold display of, the rites of magic and enchantment, appals and harrows up the soul in a degree greatly beyond what classical superstition can effect. When we consider, moreover, as we are entitled to do from the best autho
WOL. II. L
rities, that chivalry sprang up and was nursed in the very bosom of this tremendous creed; that it gradually blended, or contrasted with its terrific features, what was tender, courteous, and gallant, and at length united to all these the fantastic wonders of the East; we cannot be surprised that from such a combination should have arisen a system of fabling better calculated perhaps than any other which the world has yet seen, to excite the imagination of the poet. Of the era which our author has fixed upon for his poem, when the Saxons and the Britons were contending for the sovereignty of this island, it may justly be said that he has exhibited a very profound knowledge; and not only has he shown a perfect intimacy with Northern antiquities, both in his text and notes, but he has, at the same time, very ably and correctly discriminated and opposed to each other the Gothic and Celtic costume, manners, and superstitions. In fact, the very business and action of the poem, and its whole machinery, are founded on the enmity with which the Northern Parcae, or Weird Sisters, are inflamed against Arthur, in conse
quence of his opposition to the designs of their