This essay appeared unsigned (as was customary, even though written in the first person) in the Athenæum in four parts: on 26 February and 5, 12, and 19 March 1842. The essay was preceded in the Athenæum of 8 January by EBB’s introduction and translations of three poems by Gregory Nazianzen. In June it was followed by a similar survey of British literature as a five-part review of the unsigned anthology The Book of the Poets: Chaucer to Beattie (published by Scott, Webster, & Geary, London, 1842): Athenæum, 4, 11, and 25 June and 6 and 13 August 1842. EBB also reviewed a collection of poems by William Wordsworth, Poems, chiefly of early and late years, including The Borderers, a Tragedy, in August of 1842 in The Athenæum (pp. 757-59), and an overview of American poetry in the form of a review of Cornelius Matthews’s Poems on Man in His Various Aspects under the American Republic (New York, 1843) was published in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine (XII) in June of 1845.
The text has been emended in two places where two errors, one factual and one typographical, were noted by EBB in her correspondence. In a letter to H. S. Boyd on 29 March (The Brownings’ Correspondence, vol. 5, p. 285), EBB notes that the Greek quotation by Gregory Nazianzen in paper two was about Julius Constantius, not, as she said there, about Constantine, his brother (Athenæum, col. 1, p. 210); see note on p. 285 of BC 5. In a letter to R. H. Horne on 21 March 1842 (BC 5, p. 264), she notes the misprint in paper three of "altar" for "attar" in referring to the work of Synesius (col. 1, p. 229).
Five other typographical errors have been emended: in essay one, in the discussion of Gregory Nazianzen, "what if we swamp for a moment" is changed to "what if we swap for a moment" (Athenæum, col. 1, p. 190). In essay three, also referring to Gregory, "censor" is changed to "censer" (col. 1, p. 229). And in essay four, two authors’ names are corrected: John Tzetzes (not Izetza, cols. 3 and 4, p. 215) and Ioachimus (not Isachimus, col. 4).
"the worse" to "the worst" p. 190, col. 3, top
comma after "friend," not period p. 210, col. 1, top
"dieth" not "dyeth," p. 211, col. 3, bottom.
The essay was reprinted posthumously in 1863, together with EBB’s review of The Book of the Poets and also her review of William Wordsworth’s The Borderers, in an edition that Robert Browning oversaw titled The Greek Christian Poets and the English Poets. It appears with an extended introduction and annotations in volume 4 of The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. S. Donaldson, et al. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2010), pp. 347-442. Of the errors noted above, the following have been fixed: "attar," "censer," and "Tzetzes."
Acknowledgements: Karen Dieleman, Kevin Kalish, Philip Kelley, Jane Stewart Laux, and Amy Watkin.
SOME ACCOUNT OF THE GREEK CHRISTIAN POETS
THE Greek language was a strong intellectual life, stronger than any similar one which has lived in the breath of "articulately speaking men," and survived it. No other language has lived so long and died so hard, – pang by pang, each with a dolphin colour – yielding reluctantly to that doom of death and silence which must come at last to the speaker and the speech. Wonderful it is to look back fathoms down the great past, thousands of years away – where whole generations lie unmade to dust – where the sounding of their trumpets, and the rushing of their scythed chariots, and that great shout which brought down the birds stone dead from beside the sun, are more silent than the dog breathing at our feet, or the fly's paces on our window-pane; and yet, from the heart of which silence, to feel words rise up like a smoke – words of men, even words of women, uttered at first, perhaps, in "excellent low voices," but audible and distinct to our times, through "the dreadful pother" of life and death, the hissing of the steam-engine and the cracking of the cerement! It is wonderful to look back and listen. Blind Homer spoke this Greek after blind Demodocus, with a quenchless light about his brows, which he felt through his blindness. Pindar rolled his chariots in it, prolonging the clamour of the games. Sappho's heart beat through it, and heaved up the world's. Æschylus strained it to the stature of his high thoughts. Plato crowned it with his divine peradventures. Aristophanes made it drunk with the wine of his fantastic merriment. The later Platonists wove their souls away in it, out of sight of other souls. The first Christians heard in it God's new revelation, and confessed their Christ in it from the suppliant's knee, and presently from the bishop's throne. To all times, and their transitions, the language lent itself. Through the long summer of above two thousand years, from the grasshopper Homer sang of, to that grasshopper of Manuel Phile, which might indeed have been "a burden," we can in nowise mistake the chirping of the bloodless, deathless, wondrous, creature. It chirps on in Greek still. At the close of that long summer, though Greece lay withered to her root, her academic groves and philosophic gardens all leafless and bare, still from the depth of the desolation rose up the voice –
O cuckoo, shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering voice?
which did not grow hoarse, like other cuckoos, but sang not unsweetly, if more faintly than before. Strangely vital was this Greek language –
Some straggling spirits were behind, to be
Laid out with most thrift on its memory.
It seemed as if nature could not part with so lovely a tune, as if she felt it ringing on still in her head – or as if she hummed it to herself, as the watchman used to do, with "night wandering round" him, when he watched wearily on the palace roof of the doomed house of Atreus.
But, although it is impossible to touch with a thought the last estate of Greek poetical literature without the wonder occurring of its being still Greek, still poetry, – though we are startled by the phenomenon of life-like sounds coming up from the ashes of a mighty people – at the aspect of an Alcestis returned from the dead, veiled but identical, – we are forced to admit, after the first pause of admiration, that a change has passed upon the great thing we recognize, a change proportionate to the greatness, and involving a caducity. Therefore, in adventuring some imperfect account of the Greek ecclesiastical poets it is right to premise it with the full and frank admission, that they are not accomplished poets, – that they do not, in fact, reach with their highest lifted hand, the lowest foot of those whom the world has honoured as Greek poets, but who have honoured the world more by their poetry. The instrument of the Greek tongue was, at the Christian era, an antique instrument, somewhat worn, somewhat stiff in the playing, somewhat deficient in notes which it had once, somewhat feeble and uncertain in such as it retained. The subtlety of the ancient music, the variety of its cadences, the intersections of sweetness in the rise and fall of melodies, rounded and contained in the unity of its harmony, are as utterly lost to this later period as the digamma was to an earlier one. We must not seek for them; we shall not find them; their place knows them no more. Not only was there a lack in the instrument, – there was also a deficiency in the players. Thrown aside, after the old flute-story, by a goddess, it was taken up by a mortal hand – by the hand of men gifted and noble in their generation, but belonging to it intellectually, even by their gifts and their nobleness. Another immortal, a true genius, might, nay, would, have asserted himself, and wrung a poem of almost the ancient force from the infirm instrument. It is easy to fancy, and to wish that it had been so – that some martyr or bishop, when bishops were martyrs, and the earth was still warm with the Sacrificial blood, had been called to the utterance of his soul's devotion, with the emphasis of a great poet's power. No one, however, was so called. Of all the names which shall presently be reckoned, and of which it is the object of this sketch to give some account, beseeching its readers to hold several in honourable remembrance, not one can be crowned with a steady hand as a true complete poet's name. Such a crown is a sacred dignity, and, as it should not be touched idly, it must not be used here. A born Warwick could find, here, no head for a crown.
Yet we shall reckon names "for remembrance," and speak of things not ignoble – of meek heroic Christians, and heavenward faces washed serene by tears – strong knees bending humbly for the very strength's sake – bright intellects burning often to the winds in fantastic shapes, but oftener still with an honest inward heat, vehement on heart and brain – most eloquent fallible lips that convince us less than they persuade – a divine loquacity of human falsities – poetical souls, that are not souls of poets! Surely not ignoble things! And the reader will perceive at once that the writer's heart is not laid beneath the wheels of a cumbrous ecclesiastical antiquity – that its intent is to love what is loveable, to honour what is honourable, and to kiss both through the dust of centuries, but by no means to recognize a hierarchy, whether in the church or in literature.
If, indeed, an opinion on the former relation might be regarded here, it would be well to suggest, that to these "Fathers," as we call them filially, with heads turned away, we owe more reverence for the greyness of their beards than theologic gratitude for the outstretching of their hands. Devoted and disinterested as many among them were, they, themselves, were at most times evidently and consciously surer of their love, in a theologic sense, than of their knowledge in any. It is no place for a reference to religious controversy; and if it were, we are about to consider them simply as poets, without trenching on the very wide ground of their prose works and ecclesiastical opinions. Still one passing remark may be admissible, since the fact is so remarkable – how any body of Christian men can profess to derive their opinions from "the opinions of the Fathers," when all bodies might do so equally. These fatherly opinions are, in truth, multiform, and multitudinous as the fatherly "sublime grey hairs." There is not only a father a-piece for every child, but, not to speak it unfilially, a piece of every father for every child. Justin Martyr would, of himself, set up a wilderness of sects, besides "something over" for the future ramifications of each several one. What then should be done with our "Fathers"? Leave them to perish by the time-Ganges, as old men innocent and decrepit, and worthy of no use or honour? Surely not. We may learn of them, if God will let us, love, and love is much – we may learn devotedness of them and warm our hearts by theirs; and this, although we rather distrust them as commentators, and utterly refuse them the reverence of our souls, in the capacity of theological oracles.
Their place in literature, which we have to do with to-day, may be found, perhaps, by a like moderation. That place is not, it has been admitted, of the highest; and that it is not of the lowest the proof will presently be attempted. There is a mid-air kingdom of the birds called Nephelococcygia, of which Aristophanes tells us something; and we might stand there a moment so as to measure the local adaptitude, putting up the Promethean umbrella to hide us from the "Gods," if it were not for the "men and columns" lower down. But as it is, the very suggestion, if persisted in, would sink all the ecclesiastical antiquity it is desirable to find favour for, to all eternity, in the estimation of the kindest reader. No! the mid-air kingdom of the birds will not serve the wished for purpose even illustratively, and by grace of the nightingale. "May the sweet saints pardon us" for wronging them by an approach to such a sense, which, if attained and determined, would have consigned them so certainly to what St. Augustine called – when he was moderate too – "mitissima damnatio," a very mild species of damnation.
It would be, in fact, a rank injustice to the beauty we are here to recognize, to place these writers in the rank of mediocrities, supposing the harsh sense. They may be called mediocrities as poets among poets, but not so as no poets at all. Some of them may sing before gods and men, and in front of any column, from Trajan's to that projected one in Trafalgar Square, to which is promised the miraculous distinction of making the National Gallery sink lower than we see it now. They may, as a body, sing exultingly, holding the relation of column to gallery, in front of the whole "corpus" of Latin ecclesiastical poetry, and claim the world's ear and the poet's palm. That the modern Latin poets have been more read by scholars, and are better known by reputation to the general reader, is unhappily true: but the truth involves no good reason why it should be so, nor much marvel that it is so. Besides the greater accessibility of Latin literature, the vicissitude of life is extended to posthumous fame, and Time, who is Justice to the poet, is sometimes too busy in pulverizing bones to give the due weight to memories. The modern Latin poets, "elegant," – which is the critic's word to spend upon them, – elegant as they are occasionally, polished and accurate as they are comparatively, stand cold and lifeless, with statue-eyes, near these good, fervid, faulty Greeks of ours – and we do not care to look again. Our Greeks do, in their degree, claim their ancestral advantage, not the mere advantage of language, – nay, least the advantage of language – a comparative elegance and accuracy of expression being ceded to the Latins – but that higher distinction inherent in brain and breast, of vivid thought and quick sensibility. What if we swap for a moment the Tertullians and Prudentiuses, and touch, by a permitted anachronism, with one hand VIDA, with the other GREGORY NAZIANZEN, what then? What though the Italian poet be smooth as the Italian Canova – working like him out of stone – smooth and cold, disdaining to ruffle his dactyls with the beating of his pulses – what then? Would we change for him our sensitive Gregory, with all his defects in the glorious "scientia metrica"? We would not – perhaps we should not, even if those defects were not attributable, as Mr. Boyd, in the preface to his work on the Fathers, most justly intimates, to the changes incident to a declining language.
It is, too, as religious poets, that we are called upon to estimate these neglected Greeks – as religious poets, of whom the universal church and the world's literature would gladly embrace more names than can be counted to either. For it is strange, that although Wilhelm Meister's uplooking and downlooking aspects, the reverence to things above and things below, the religious all-clasping spirit, be, and must be, in degree and measure, the grand necessity of every true poet's soul, of religious poets, strictly so called, the earth is very bare. Religious "parcel- poets" we have, indeed, more than enough; writers of hymns, translators of scripture into prose, or of prose generally into rhymes, of whose heart-devotion a higher faculty were worthy. Also there have been poets, not a few, singing as if earth were still Eden; and poets, many, singing as if in the first hour of exile, when the echo of the curse was louder than the whisper of the promise. But the right "genius of Christianism" has done little up to this moment, even for Chateaubriand. We want the touch of Christ's hand upon our literature, as it touched other dead things – we want the sense of the saturation of Christ's blood upon the souls of our poets, that it may cry through them in answer to the ceaseless wail of the Sphinx of our humanity, expounding agony into renovation. Something of this has been perceived in art when its glory was at the fullest. Something of a yearning after this may be seen among the Greek Christian poets, something which would have been much with a stronger faculty. It will not harm us in any case, as lovers of literature and honest judges, if we breathe away, or peradventure besom away, the thick dust which lies upon their heavy folios, and besom away, or peradventure breathe away, the inward intellectual dust which must be confessed to lie thickly, too, upon the heavy poems, and make our way softly and meekly into the heart of such hidden beauties (hidden and scattered) as our good luck, or good patience, or, to speak more reverently, the intrinsic goodness of the Fathers of Christian Poetry, shall permit us to discover. May gentle readers favour the endeavour, with "gentle airs," if any! readers not too proud to sleep, were it only for Homer's sake; nor too passionate, at their worst displeasure, to do worse than growl in their sleeves, after the manner of "most delicate monsters." It is not intended to crush this forbearing class with folios, nor even with a folio; only to set down briefly in their sight what shall appear to the writer the characteristics of each poet, and to illustrate the opinion by the translation of a few detached passages, or, in certain possible cases, of short entire poems. And so much has been premised, simply that too much be not expected.
It has the look of an incongruity, to begin an account of the Greek Christian poets with a Jew; and Ezekiel is a Jew in his very name, and a "poet of the Jews" by profession. Moreover he is wrapt in such a mystery of chronology that nobody can be quite sure of his not having lived before the Christian era – and one whole whisper establishes him as a unit of the famous seventy or seventy-two, under Ptolemy Philadelphus. Let us waive the chronology in favour of the mystery. He is brought out into light by Clemens Alexandrinus; and being associated with Greek poets, and a writer himself of Greek verses, we may receive him in virtue of the τοτοτοτοτοτοτοτοτοτοτιγξ, with little fear, in his case, of implying an injustice in that middle bird-locality of Nephelococcygia. The reader must beware of confounding him with the prophet; and the circumstance of the latter's inspiration is sufficiently distinguishing. Our Greek Ezekiel is, indeed, whatever his chronology may be, no vatis in the ancient sense. A Greek tragedy, (and some fragments of a tragedy are all that we hold of him,) by a Jew, and on a Jewish subject, "The Exodus from Egypt," may startle the most serene of us into curiosity – with which curiosity begins and ends the only strong feeling we can bring to bear upon the work; since, if the execution of it is somewhat curious too, there is a gentle collateral dulness which effectually secures us from feverish excitement. Moses prologizes after the worst manner of Euripides (worse than the worst), compendiously relating his adventures among the bulrushes and in Pharaoh's household, concluded by his slaying an Egyptian, because nobody was looking. So saith the poet. Then follows an interview between the Israelite and Zipporah, and her companions, wherein he puts to her certain geographical questions, and she (as far as we can make out through fragmentary cracks) rather brusquely proposes their mutual marriage: on which subject he does not venture an opinion; but we find him next confiding his dreams in a family fashion to her father, who considers them satisfactory. Here occurs a broad crack down the tragedy – and we are suddenly called to the revelation from the bush by an extraordinarily ordinary dialogue between Diety and Moses. It is a surprising specimen of the kind of composition adverted to some lines ago, as the translation of Scripture into prose; and the sublime simplicity of the scriptural narrative being thus done (away) into Greek for a certain time, the following reciprocation, – to which our old moralities can scarcely do more, or less, than furnish a parallel – prays for an English – exposure. The Divine Being is supposed to address Moses: –
But what is this thou holdest in thine hand? –
Let thy reply be sudden.
Moses. 'Tis my rod –
I chasten with it quadrupeds and men.
Voice from the Bush. Cast it upon the ground – and straight recoil;
For it shall be, to move thy wonderment,
A terrible serpent.
Moses. It is cast. But THOU,
Be gracious to me, Lord. How terrible!
How monstrous! Oh, be pitiful to me!
I shudder to behold it, my limbs shake.
The reader is already consoled for the destiny which mutilated the tragedy, without requiring the last words of the analysis. Happily characteristic of the "meekest of men," is Moses's naïve admission of the uses of his rod – to beat men and animals withal – of course "when nobody is looking."
Clemens Alexandrinus, to whom we owe whatever gratitude is due for our fragmentary Ezekiel, was originally an Athenian philosopher, afterwards a converted Christian, a Presbyter of the Church at Alexandria, and preceptor of the famous Origen. Clemens flourished at the close of the second century. As a prose writer – and we have no prose writings of his, except such as were produced subsequently to his conversion – he is learned and various. His ‘Pedagogue' is a wanderer, to universal intents and purposes, – and his ‘Tapestry,' if the ‘Stromata' may be called so, embroidered in all cross-stitches of philosophy, with not much scruple as to the shading of colours. In the midst of all is something, ycleped a dithyrambic ode, addressed to the Saviour, composite of fantastic epithets in the mode of the old litanies, and almost as bald of merit as the Jew-Greek drama, though Clemens himself (worthier in worthier places) be the poet. Here is the opening, which is less fanciful than what follows it: –
Curb for wild horses,
Wing for bird-courses
Never yet flown!
Helm, safe for weak ones,
Shepherd, bespeak once,
The young lambs thine own.
Rouse up the youth,
Shepherd and feeder,
So let them bless thee,
Praise and confess thee, –
Pure words on pure mouth, –
Christ, the child-leader!
O, the saints' Lord,
Holding, by Christdom,
God's highest wisdom!
Column in place
When sorrows seize us, –
Endless in grace
Unto man's race,
Saving one, Jesus!
Pastor and ploughman,
Helm, curb, together, –
Pinion that now can,
(Heavenly of feather)
Raise and release us!
Fisher who catcheth
Those whom he watcheth....
It goes on; but we need not do so. "By the pricking of our thumbs," we know that the reader has had enough of it. We shall resume our story of the Greek poets another week.
[Continued – Paper 2; 5 March 1842]
PASSING rapidly into the fourth century, we would offer our earliest homage to Gregory Nazianzen,
"That name must ever be to us a friend,"
when the two Apolinarii cross our path and intercept the "all hail." Apolinarius the grammarian, formerly of Alexandria, held the office of presbyter in the church of Laodicæa, and his son Apolinarius, an accomplished rhetorician, that of reader, an ancient ecclesiastical office, in the same church. This younger Apolinarius was a man of indomptable energies and most practical inferences; and when the edict of Julian forbade to the Christians the study of Grecian letters, he, assisted perhaps by his father's hope and hand, stood strong in the gap, not in the attitude of supplication, not with the gesture of consolation, but in power and sufficiency to fill up the void and baffle the tyrant. Both father and son were in the work, by some testimony; the younger Apolinarius standing out, by all, as the chief worker, and only one in any extensive sense. "Does Julian deny us Homer?" said the brave man in his armed soul – "I am Homer!" and straightway he turned the whole Biblical history, down to Saul's accession, into Homeric hexameters, – dividing the work, so as to clench the identity of first and second Homers, into twenty-four books, each superscribed by a letter of the alphabet, and the whole acceptable, according to the expression of Sozomen, αυτι της Όμηρου ποιησεως, in the place of Homer's poetry. "Does Julian deny us Euripides?" said Apolinarius again – "I am Euripides!" and up he sprang, – as good a Euripides (who can doubt it?) as he ever was a Homer. "Does Julian forbid us Menander? – Pindar? – Plato? – I am Menander! – I am Pindar! – I am Plato!" And comedies, lyrics, philosophics, flowed fast at the word; and the gospels and epistles adapted themselves naturally to the rules of Socratic disputation. A brave man, forsooth, was our Apolinarius of Laodicæa, and literally a man of men – for, observe, says Sozomen, with a venerable innocence, at which the gravest may smile gravely, – as at a doublet worn awry at the council of Nice, – that the old authors did each man his own work, whereas this Apolinarius did every man's work in addition to his own – and so admirably, – intimates the ecclesiastical critic, – that if it were not for the common prejudice in favour of antiquity, no ancient could be missed in the all-comprehensive representativeness of the Laodicæan writer. So excellent was his ability, to "outbrave the stars in several kinds of light," besides the Cæsar! Whether Julian, naturally mortified to witness this germination of illustrious heads under the very iron of his searing, vowed vengeance against the Hydra-spirit, by the sacred memory of the animation of his own beard, we do not exactly know. To embitter the wrong, Apolinarius sent him a treatise upon truth – a confutation of the pagan doctrine, apart from the scriptural argument – the Emperor's notice of which is both worthy of his Cæsarship, and a good model-notice for all sorts of critical dignities. Ανεγνων εγνων κατεγνων, is the Greek of it; so that, turning from the letter to catch something of the point, we may write it down – "I have perused, I have mused, I have abused" – which provoked as imperious a retort – "Thou mayest have perused, but thou hast not mused – for hadst thou mused, thou wouldst not have abused." Brave Laodicæan!
Apolinarius's laudable double of Greek literature has perished, the reader will be concerned to hear, from the face of the earth, being, like other luses, or marvels, or monsters, brief of days. One only tragedy remains, with which the memory of Gregory Nazianzen has been right tragically affronted, and which Gregory, – ει τις αισΘησις, as he said of Constantius, – would cast off with the scorn and anger befitting an Apolinarian heresy. For Apolinarius, besides being an epoist, dramatist, lyrist, philosopher, and rhetorician, was, we are sorry to add, in the eternal bustle of his soul, a heretic, – possibly for the advantage of something additional to do. He not only intruded into the churches hymns which were not authorized, being his own composition – so that reverend brows grew dark to hear women with musical voices sing them softly to the turning of their distaff, – but he fell into the heresy of denying a human soul to the perfect MAN, and of leaving the Divinity in bare combination with the Adamic dust. No wonder that a head so beset with many thoughts and individualities should at last turn round! – that eyes rolling in fifty fine phrenzies of twenty-five fine poets should at last turn blind! – that a determination to rival all geniuses should be followed by a disposition more baleful in its exercise, to understand "all mysteries"! Nothing can be plainer than the step after step, whereby, through excess of vain glory and morbid mental activity, Apolinarius, the vice poet of Greece, subsided into Apolinarius the chief heretic of Christendom.
To go back sighingly to the tragedy, where we shall have to sigh again – the only tragedy left to us of all the tragic works of Apolinarius (but we do not sigh for that!) – let no voice evermore attribute it to Gregory Nazianzen. How could Mr. Alford do so, however hesitatingly, in his "Chapters," attaching to it, without the hesitation, a charge upon the writer, whether Gregory or another man, that he, whoever he was, had of his own free will and choice, destroyed the old Greek originals out of which his tragedy was constructed, and left it a monument of their sacrifice as of the blood on his barbarian hand? The charge passes, not only before a breath, but before its own breath. The tragedy is, in fact, a specimen of centoism, which is the adaptation of the phraseology of one work to the construction of another; and we have only to glance at it to perceive the Medæa of Euripides, dislocated into the CHRISTUS PATIENS. Instead of the ancient opening –
Oh, would ship Argo had not sailed away
To Cholchos by the rough Symplegades!
Nor ever had been felled in Pelion's grove
The pine, hewn for her side! * *
So she, my queen
Medæa, had not touched this fatal shore,
Soul-struck by love of Jason!
Apolinarius opens it thus –
Oh, would the serpent had not glode along
To Eden's garden-land, – nor ever had
The crafty dragon planted in that grove
A slimy snare! So she, rib-born of man,
The wretched misled mother of our race,
Had dared not to dare on beyond worst daring,
Soul-struck by love of – apples!
"Let us alone for keeping our countenance" – and at any rate we are bound to ask gravely of Mr. Alford [i]s the Medæa destroyed? – and if not, did the author of the ‘Christus Patiens' destroy his originals? – and if not, may we not say of Mr. Alford's charge against that author, "O, would he had not made it!" So far from Apolinarius being guilty of destroying his originals, it was his reverence for them which struggled with the edict of the persecutor, and accomplished this dramatic adventure; – and this adventure, the only remaining specimen of his adventurousness, may help us to the secret of his wonderful fertility and omnirepresentativeness, which is probably this – that the great majority of his works, tragic, comic, lyric, and philosophic, consisted simply of centos. Yet we pray for justice to Apolinarius: we pray for honour to his motives and energies. Without pausing to inquire whether it had been better and wiser to let poetry and literature depart at once before the tyranny of the edict, than to drag them back by the hair into attitudes grotesquely ridiculous – better and wiser for the Greek Christian schools to let them forego altogether the poems of their Euripides, than adapt to the meek sorrows of the tender Virgin-mother, the bold, bad, cruel phrenzy of Medæa, in such verses as these –
She howls out ancient oaths, invokes the faith
Of pledged right hands, and calls for witness, God!
– we pray straightforwardly for justice and honour to the motives and energies of Apolinarius. "Oh, would that" many lived now, as appreciative of the influences of poetry on our schools and country, as impatient of their contraction, as self-devoted in the great work of extending them! There remains of his poetical labours, besides the tragedy, a translation of David's Psalms into "heroic verse," which the writer of these remarks has not seen, – and of which those critics, who desire to deal gently with Apolinarius, seem to begin their indulgence by doubting the authenticity.
It is pleasant to turn shortly round, and find ourselves face to face, not with the author of ‘Christus Patiens,' but with one antagonistical both to his poetry and his heresy, Gregory Nazianzen. A noble and tender man was this Gregory, and so tender, because so noble; a man to lose no cubit of his stature for being looked at steadfastly, or struck at reproachfully. "You may cast me down," he said, "from my bishop's throne, but you cannot banish me from before God's." And bishop as he was, his saintly crown stood higher than his tiara, and his loving martyr-smile, the crown of a nature more benign than his fortune, shone up toward both. Son of the bishop of Nazianzen, and holder of the diocese which was his birthplace, previous to his elevation to the level of the storm in the bishopric of Constantinople, little did he care for bishoprics or high places of any kind, – the desire of his soul being for solitude, quietude, and that silent religion, which should "rather be than seem." But his father's head bent whitely before him, even in the chamber of his brother's death, – and Basil, his beloved friend, the "half of his soul," pressed on him with the weight of love, and Gregory feeling their tears upon his cheeks, did not count his own, but took up the priestly office. Poor Gregory! not merely as a priest, but as a man, he had a sighing life of it. His student days at Athens, where he and Basil read together poems and philosophies and holier things, or talked low and misopogonistically of their fellow student Julian's bearded boding smile, were his happiest days. He says of himself,
As many stones
Were thrown at me, as other men had flowers.
Nor was persecution the worst evil. For friend after friend, beloved after beloved, passed away from before his face, and the voice which charmed them living, spoke brokenly beside their graves – his funeral orations marked severally the wounds of his heart, – and his genius served, as genius often does, to lay an emphasis on his grief. The passage we shall venture to translate, is rather a cry than a song –
Where are my wingèd words? Dissolved in air.
Where is my flower of youth? All withered. Where
My glory? Vanished! Where the strength I knew
From comely limbs? Disease hath changed it too,
And bent them. Where the riches and the lands? –
GOD HATH THEM! Yea, and sinners' snatching hands
Have grudged the rest. Where is my father, mother,
And where my blessed sister, my sweet brother? –
Gone to the grave! – There did remain for me
Alone my fatherland, till destiny,
Malignly stirring a black tempest, drove
My foot from that last rest. And now I rove
Estranged and desolate a foreign shore,
And drag my mournful life and age all hoar
Throneless and cityless, and childless save
This father-care for children, which I have,
Living from day to day on wandering feet.
Where shall I cast this body? What will greet
My sorrows with an end? What gentle ground
And hospitable grave will wrap me round?
Who last my dying eye-lids stoop to close –
Some saint, the Saviour's friend? or one of those
Who do not know him? – The air interpose,
And scatter these words too.
The return upon the first thought is highly pathetic, – and there is a restlessness of anguish about the whole passage, which consecrates it with the cross of nature. His happy Athenian associations gave a colour, unwashed out by tears, to his mind and works. Half apostolical he was, and half scholastical; and while he mused, on his bishop's throne, upon the mystic tree of twelve fruits, and the shining of the river of life, he carried, as Milton did, with a gentle and not ungraceful distraction, both hands full of green trailing branches from the banks of the Cephissus, nay, from the very plane-tree which Socrates sate under with Phædrus, when they two talked about beauty to the rising and falling of its leaves. As an orator, he was greater, all must feel if some do not think, than his contemporaries – and the "golden mouth" might confess it meekly. Erasmus compares him to Isocrates, but the unlikeness is obvious – Gregory was not excellent at an artful blowing of the pipes. He spoke grandly, as the wind does, in gusts; and as, in a mighty wind, which combines unequal noises, the creaking of trees and rude swinging of doors, as well as the sublime sovereign rush along the valleys, we gather the idea from his eloquence, less of music than of power. Not that he is cold as the wind is – the metaphor goes no further: Gregory cannot be cold, even by disfavour of his antithetic points. He is various in his oratory, full and rapid in allusion, briefly graphic in metaphor, equally sufficient for indignation or pathos, and gifted peradventure with a keener dagger of sarcasm than should hang in a saint's girdle. His orations against Julian have all these characteristics, but they are not poetry, and we must pass down lower, and quite over his beautiful letters, to Gregory the poet.
He wrote thirty thousand verses, among which are several long poems, severally defective in a defect common but not necessary to short occasional poems, and lamentable anywhere, a want of unity and completeness. The excellencies of his prose are transcribed, with whatever faintness, in his poetry – the exaltation, the devotion, the sweetness, the pathos, even to the playing of satirical power about the graver meanings. But although noble thoughts break up the dulness of the groundwork, – although, with the instinct of greater poets, he bares his heart in his poetry, and the heart is worth baring, still monotony of construction without unity of intention is the most wearisome of monotonies, and, except in the case of a few short poems, we find it everywhere in Gregory. The lack of variety is extended to the cadences, and the pauses fall stiffly "come corpo morto cade." Melodious lines we have often: harmonious passages scarcely ever – the music turning heavily on its own axle, as inadequate to living evolution. The poem on his own life (‘De vitâ suâ') is, in many places, interesting and affecting, yet faulty with all these faults. The poem on Celibacy, which state is commended by Gregory as becometh a bishop, has occasionally graphic touches, but is dull enough generally to suit the fairest spinster's view of that melancholy subject. If Hercules could have read it, he must have rested in the middle – from which the reader is entreated to forbear the inference that the poem has not been read through by the writer of the present remarks, seeing that that writer marked the grand concluding moment with a white stone, and laid up the memory of it among the chief triumphs, to say nothing of the fortunate deliverances, vitæ suæ. In Gregory's elegiac poems, our ears, at least, are better contented, because the sequence of pentameter to hexameter necessarily excludes the various cadence which they yearn for under other circumstances. His anacreontics are sometimes nobly written, with a certain brave recklessness as if the thoughts despised the measure – and we select from this class a specimen of his poetry, both because three of his hymns have already appeared in the Athenæum, and because the anacreontic in question includes to a remarkable extent, the various qualities we have attributed to Gregory, not omitting that play of satirical humour with which he delights to ripple the abundant flow of his thoughts. The writer, though also a translator, feels less misgiving than usual in offering to the reader, in such English as is possible, this spirited and beautiful poem.
Soul and Body.
What wilt thou possess or be?
O my soul, I ask of thee.
What of great, or what of small,
Counted precious therewithal?
Be it only rare, and want it,
I am ready, soul, to grant it.
Wilt thou choose to have and hold
Lydian Gyges' charm of old,
So to rule us with a ring,
Turning round the jewelled thing,
Hidden by its face concealed,
And revealed by it's revealed? –
Or preferrest Midas' fate –
He who died in golden state,
All things being changed to gold?
Of a golden hunger dying,
Through a surfeit of "would I"-ing!
Wilt have jewels brightly cold?
Or may fertile acres please?
Or the sheep of many a fold,
Camels, oxen, for the wold?
Nay! – I will not give thee these!
These to take thou hast not will –
These to give I have not skill –
Since I cast earth's cares abroad,
That day when I turned to God.
Wouldst a throne, – a crown sublime,
Bubble blown upon the time?
So thou mayest sit to-morrow
Looking downward in meek sorrow,
Some one walking by thee scorning,
Who adored thee yester morning,
Some malign one? – Wilt be bound
Fast in marriage? (joy unsound!)
And be turnèd round and round
As the time turns? Wilt thou catch it,
That sweet sickness? and to match it
Have babies by the hearth, bewildering?
And if I tell thee the best children
Are none – what answer?
Wilt thou thunder
Thy rhetoricks – move the people under?
Covetest to sell the laws
With no justice in thy cause,
And bear on, or else be borne,
Before tribunals worthy scorn?
Wilt thou shake a javelin rather
Breathing war? or wilt thou gather
Garlands from the wrestler's ring?
Or kill beasts for glorying?
Covetest the city's shout,
And to be in brass struck out?
Cravest thou that shade of dreaming,
Passing air of shifting seeming,
Rushing of a printless arrow,
Clapping echo of an hand?
What to those who understand
Are to-day's enjoyments narrow,
Which to-morrow go again, –
Which are shared with evil men, –
And of which no man in his dying
Taketh aught for softer lying?
What then wouldst thou, if thy mood
Choose not these? what wilt thou be,
O my soul? a deity?
A God before the face of God,
Standing glorious in his glories,
Choral in his angels' chorus?
Go! upon thy wing arise,
Plumèd by quick energies,
Mount in circles up the skies:
And I will bless thy wingèd passion,
Help with words thine exaltation,
And, like a bird of rapid feather,
Outlaunch thee, Soul, upon the æther.
But thou, O fleshly nature, say,
Thou with odours from the clay,
Since thy presence I must have
As a lady with a slave,
What wouldst thou possess or be,
That thy breath may stay with thee?
Nay! I owe thee nought beside,
Though thine hands be open wide.
Would a table suit thy wishes,
Fragrant with sweet oils and dishes
Wrought to subtle niceness? where
Stringèd music strokes the air,
And blythe hand-clappings, and the smooth
Fine postures of the tender youth
And virgins wheeling through the dance
With an unveiled countenance, –
Joys for drinkers, who love shame,
And the maddening wine-cup's flame? –
Wilt thou such, howe'er decried? –
Take them, – and a rope beside!
Nay! this boon I give instead,
Unto friend insatiated, –
May some rocky house receive thee,
Self-roofed, to conceal thee chiefly;
Or if labour there must lurk,
Be it by a short day's work!
And for garment, camel's hair,
As the righteous clothèd were,
Clothe thee! or the bestial skin,
Adam's bareness hid within, –
Or some green thing from the way,
Leaf of herb, or branch of vine,
Swelling, purpling as it may,
Fearless to be drunk for wine!
Spread a table there beneath thee,
Which a sweetness shall up-breathe thee,
And which the dearest earth is giving,
Simple present to all living!
When that we have placed thee near it,
We will feed thee with glad spirit.
Wilt thou eat? soft, take the bread,
Oaten cake, if that bested –
Salt will season all aright,
And thine own good appetite,
Which we measure not, nor fetter:
'Tis an uncooked condiment,
Famine's self the only better.
Wilt thou drink? why here doth bubble
Water from a cup unspent,
Followed by no tipsy trouble,
Pleasure sacred from the grape!
Wilt thou have it in some shape
More like luxury? we are
No grudgers of wine-vinegar!
But if all will not suffice thee,
And thou covetest to draw
In that pitcher with a flaw,
Brimful pleasures heaven denies thee!
Go, and seek out, by that sign,
Other help than this of mine!
For me, I have not leisure so
To warm thee, sweet, my household foe,
Until, like a serpent frozen,
New-maddened with the heat, thou loosen
Thy rescued fang within mine heart!
Wilt have measureless delights
Of gold-roofed palaces, and sights
From pictured or from sculptured art,
With motion near their life; and splendour
Of bas-relief, with tracery tender,
And varied and contrasted hues?
Wilt thou have, as nobles use,
Broidered robes to flow about thee?
Jewelled fingers? Need we doubt thee?
Gauds for which the wise will flout thee?
I most, who of all beauty, know
It must be inward, to be so!
And thus I speak to mortals low,
Living for the hour, and o'er
Its shadow, seeing nothing more!
But for those of nobler bearing,
Who live more worthily of wearing
A portion of the heavenly nature –
To low estate of clayey creature,
See, I bring the beggar's meed,
Nutriment beyond the need!
O, beholder of the Lord,
Prove on me the flaming sword!
Be mine husbandman, to nourish
Holy plants, that words may flourish
Of which mine enemy would spoil me,
Using pleasurehood to foil me!
Lead me closer to the tree
Of all life's eternity;
Which, as I have pondered, is
The knowledge of God's greatnesses:
Light of One, and shine of Three,
Unto whom all things that be
Flow and tend!
In such a guise,
Whoever on the earth is wise
Will speak unto himself, – and who
Such inner converse would eschew,
We say perforce of that poor wight,
"He lived in vain!" and if aright,
It is not the worst word we might.
Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, was beloved and much appreciated by Gregory, and often mentioned in his writings. Few of the works of Amphilochius are extant, and of these only one is a poem. It is a didactic epistle to Seleucus, ‘On the Right Direction of his Studies and Life,' and has been attributed to Gregory Nazianzen by some writers upon very inadequate evidence, – that adduced (the similar phraseology which conveys, in this poem and a poem of Gregory's, the catalogue of canonical scriptures) being as easily explained by the imitation of one poet, as by the identity of two. They differ, moreover, upon ground more important than phraseology: Amphilochius appearing to reject, or, at least, to receive doubtfully, Jude's epistle, and the Second of Peter. And there is a harsh force in the whole poem, which does not remind us of our Nazianzen, while it becomes, in the course of dissuading Seleucus from the amusements of the amphitheatre, graphic and effective. We hear, through the description, the grinding of the tigers' teeth, the sympathy of the people with the tigers showing still more savage.
They sit unknowing of these agonies,
Spectators at a show. When a man flies
From a beast's jaw, they groan, as if at least
They missed the ravenous pleasure, like the beast,
And sate there vainly. When, in the next spring,
The victim is attained, and, uttering
The deep roar or quick shriek between the fangs,
Beats on the dust the passion of his pangs,
All pity dieth in their glaring look –
They clap to see the blood run like a brook:
They stare with hungry eyes, which tears should fill,
And cheer the beasts on with their soul's good will;
And wish more victims to their maw, and urge
And lash their fury, as they shared the surge,
Gnashing their teeth, like beasts, on flesh of men.
There is an appalling reality in this picture. The epistle consists of 333 lines, which we mention specifically, because the poet takes advantage of the circumstance to illustrate or enforce an important theological doctrine: –
Three hundred lines, three decads, monads three,
Comprise my poem. Love the Trinity.
It would be almost a pain, and quite a regret, to pass from this fourth century, without speaking a word which belongs to it – a word which rises to our lips, a word worthy of honour – HELIODORUS. Though a bishop and an imaginative writer, his ‘ÆTHIOPICA' has no claim on our attention, either by right of Christianity or poetry; and yet we may be pardoned on our part for love's sake, and on account of the false position into which, by negligence of readers or insufficiency of translators, his beautiful romance has fallen, if we praise it heartily and faithfully even here. Our tears praised it long ago – our recollection does so now – and its own pathetic eloquence and picturesque descriptiveness are ripe for any praise. It has, besides, a vivid Arabian Night charm, almost as charming as Scheherazade herself, suggestive of an Arabian Night story drawn out "in many a winding bout," and not merely on the ground of extemporaneous loving and methodical (must we say it?) lying. In good sooth – no, not in good sooth, but in evil leasing – every hero and heroine of them all, from Abou Hassan to "the divine Chariclæa," does lie most vehemently and abundantly by gift of nature and choice of author, whether bishop or sultana. "It is," as Pepys observes philosophically of the comparative destruction of gin-shops and churches in the Great Fire of London, "pretty to observe" how they all lie. And although the dearest of story-tellers, our own Chaucer, has told us that "some leasing is, of which there cometh none advauntage to no wight," even that species is used by them magnanimously in its turn, for the bare glory's sake, and without caring for the "advauntage." With equal liberality, but more truth, we write down the bishop of Tricca's romance charming, and wish the charm of it (however we may be out of place in naming him among poets,) upon any poet who has not yet felt it, and whose eyes, giving honour, may wander over these Remarks. The poor bishop thought as well of his book as we do, perhaps better; for when commanded, under ecclesiastical censure, to burn it or give up his bishopric, he gave up the bishopric. And who blames Heliodorus? He thought well of his romance; he was angry with those who did not; he was weak with the love of it. Let whosoever blames, speak low. Romance-writers are not educated for martyrs, and the exacted martyrdom was very very hard. Think of that English bishop who burnt his hand by an act of volition – only his hand, and which was sure to be burnt afterwards; and how he was praised for it! Heliodorus had to do with a dearer thing – handwriting, not hands. Authors will pardon him, if bishops do not.
Nonnus of Panopolis, the poet of the DIONYSIACA, a work of some twenty-two thousand verses, on some twenty-two thousand subjects, shaken together, flourished, as people say of many a dry-rooted soul, at the commencement of the fifth century. He was converted from paganism, but we are sorry to make the melancholy addition, that he never was converted from the ‘Dionysiaca.' The only Christian poem we owe to him – a paraphrase, in hexameters, of the apostle John's gospel – does all that a bald verbosity and an obscure tautology can do or undo, to quench the divinity of that divine narrative. The two well-known words, bearing on their brief vibration the whole passion of a world saved through pain from pain, are thus traduced: –
They answered him,
"Come and behold." Then Jesus himself groaned,
Dropping strange tears from eyes unused to weep.
"Unused to weep!" Was it so of the man of sorrows? O, obtuse poet! We had translated the opening passage of the Paraphrase, and laid it by for transcription, but are repelled. Enough is said. Nonnus was never converted from the DIONYSIACA.
[Continued – Paper 3; 12 March 1842]
SYNESIUS, of Cyrene, learnt Plato's philosophy so well of Hypatia of Alexandria at the commencement of the fifth century, or rather before, that, to the obvious honour of that fair and learned teacher, he never, as bishop of Ptolemais, could attain to un-learning it. He did not wish to be bishop of Ptolemais; he had divers objections to the throne and the domination. He loved his dogs, he loved his wife; he loved Hypatia and Plato as well as he loved truth; and he loved beyond all things, under the womanly instruction of the former, to have his own way. He was a poet, too; the chief poet, we do not hesitate to record our opinion, – the chief, for true and natural gifts, of all our Greek Christian poets; and it was his choice to pray lyrically between the dew and the cloud rather than preach dogmatically between the doxies. If Gregory shrank from the episcopal office through a meek self-distrust and a yearning for solitude, Synesius repulsed the invitation to it through an impatience of control over heart and life, and for the earnest joy's sake of thinking out his own thought in the hunting-grounds, with no deacon or disciple astuter than his dog to watch the thought in his face, and trace it backward or forward, as the case might be, into something more or less than what was orthodox. Therefore he, a man of many and wandering thoughts, refused the bishopric, – not weepingly, indeed, as Gregory did, nor feigning madness with another of the "nolentes episcopari" of that earnest period, – but with a sturdy enunciation of resolve, more likely to be effectual, of keeping his wife by his side as long as he lived, and of doubting as long as he pleased to doubt upon the resurrection of the body. But Synesius was a man of genius, and of all such true energies as are taken for granted in the name; and the very sullenness of his "nay" being expressive to grave judges of the faithfulness of his "yea and amen," he was considered too noble a man not to be made a bishop of in his own despite and on his own terms. The fact proves the latitude of discipline, and even of doctrine, permitted to the churches of that age; and it does not appear that the church at Ptolemais suffered any wrong as its result, seeing that Synesius, recovering from the shock militant of his ordination, in the course of which his ecclesiastical friends had "laid hands upon him" in the roughest sense of the word, performed his new duties willingly, – was no sporting bishop otherwise than as a "fisher of men" – sent his bow to the dogs, and his dogs to Jericho, that nearest Coventry to Ptolemais, silencing his "staunch hound's authentic voice" as soon as ever any importance became attached to the authenticity of his own. And if, according to the bond, he retained his wife and his Platonisms, we may honour him by the inference, that he did so for conscience sake still more than love's, – since the love was inoperative in other matters. For spiritual fervour and exaltation, he has honour among men and angels; and however intent upon spiritualizing away the most glorified material body from "the heaven of his invention," he held fast and earnestly, as any body's clenched hand could an horn of the altar, the Homoousion doctrine of the Christian heaven, and other chief doctrines emphasizing the divine sacrifice. But this poet has a higher place among poets than this bishop among bishops; the highest, we must repeat our conviction, of all yet named or to be named by us as "Greek Christian poets." Little, indeed, of his poetry has reached us, but this little is great in a nobler sense than that of quantity; and when of his odes, anacreontic for the most part, we cannot say praisefully that "they smell of Anacreon," it is because their fragrance is holier and more abiding, – it is because the human soul burning in the censer, effaces from our spiritual perceptions the attar of a thousand rose trees whose roots are in Teos. These odes have, in fact, a wonderful rapture and ecstasy. And if we find in them the phraseology of Plato or Plotinus, for he leant lovingly to the later Platonists, – nay, if we find in them oblique references to the out-worn mythology of paganism, even so have we beheld the mixed multitude of unconnected motes wheeling, rising in a great sunshine, as the sunshine were a motive energy, – and even so the burning, adoring poet-spirit sweeps upward the motes of world-fancies (as if being in the world their tendency was God-ward) upward in a strong stream of sunny light, while she rushes into the presence of "The Alone." We say the spirit significantly in speaking of this poet's aspiration. His is an ecstasy of abstract intellect, of pure spirit, cold though impetuous; the heart does not beat in it, nor is the human voice heard; the poet is true to the heresy of the ecclesiastic, and there is no resurrection of the body. We shall attempt a translation of the ninth ode, closer if less graceful and polished than Mr. Boyd's, helping our hand to courage by the persuasion that the genius of its poetry must look through the thickest blanket of our dark.
Well-beloved and glory-laden,
Born of Solyma's pure maiden!
I would hymn thee, blessed Warden,
Driving from thy Father's garden
Blinking serpent's crafty lust,
With his bruised head in the dust!
Down thou camest, low as earth,
Bound to those of mortal-birth;
Down thou camest, low as hell,
Where shepherd-Death did tend and keep
A thousand nations like to sheep,
While weak with age old Hades fell
Shivering through his dark to view thee,
And the Dog did backward yell
With jaws all gory to let through thee!
So redeeming from their pain,
Choirs of disembodied ones,
Thou didst lead whom thou didst gather,
Upward in ascent again,
With a great hymn to the Father,
Upward to the pure white thrones!
King, the dæmon tribes of air
Shuddered back to feel thee there!
And the holy stars stood breathless,
Trembling in their chorus deathless;
A low laughter fillèd æther –
Harmony's most subtle sire
From the seven strings of his lyre,
Stroked a measured music hither –
Io pæan! victory!
Smiled the star of morning – he
Who smileth to foreshow the day!
Smilèd Hesperus the golden,
Who smileth soft for Venus gay!
While that hornèd glory holden
Brimful from the fount of fire,
The white moon, was leading higher
In a gentle pastoral wise
All the nightly deities!
Yea, and Titan threw abroad
The far shining of his hair
'Neath thy footsteps holy-fair,
Owning thee the Son of God;
The Mind artificer of all,
And his own fire's original!
And THOU upon thy wing of will
Mounting, – thy God-foot uptill
The neck of the blue firmament;
Soaring, didst alight content
Where the spirit-spheres were singing,
And the fount of good was springing,
In the silent heaven!
Where Time is not with his tide
Ever running, never weary,
Drawing earth-born things aside
Against the rocks; nor yet are given
The plagues death-bold that ride the dreary
Tost matter-depths. Eternity
Assumes the places which they yield!
Not aged, howsoe'er she held
Her crown from everlastingly –
At once of youth, at once of eld,
While in that mansion which is hers,
To God and gods she ministers!
How the poet rises in his "singing clothes" embroidered all over with the mythos and the philosophy! Yet his eye is to the Throne: and we must not call him half a heathen by reason of a Platonic idiosyncrasy, seeing that the esoteric of the most suspicious turnings of his phraseology, is "Glory to the true God." For another ode Paris should be here to choose it – we are puzzled among the beautiful. Here is one with a thought in it from Gregory's prose, which belongs to Synesius by right of conquest: –
O my deathless, O my blessèd,
Maid-born, glorious son confessèd,
O my Christ of Solyma!
I who earliest learnt to play
This measure for thee, fain would bring
Its new sweet tune to citern-string –
Be propitious, O my King!
Take this music which is mine
Anthem'd from the songs divine!
We will sing thee deathless One,
God himself, and God's great Son –
Of sire of endless generations,
Son of manifold creations!
Nature mutually endued,
Wisdom in infinitude!
God, before the angels burning –
Corpse, among the mortals mourning!
What time Thou wert pourèd mild
From an earthy vase defiled,
Magi with fair arts besprent,
At thy new star's orient,
Trembled inly, wondered wild,
Questioned with their thoughts abroad –
"What then is the new-born child?
WHO the hidden God?
God, or corpse, or king? –
Bring your gifts, oh hither bring
Myrrh for rite, – for tribute, gold –
Frankincense for sacrifice!
God! thine incense take and hold!
King! I bring thee gold of price!
Myrrh with tomb will harmonize!"
For Thou, entombed, hast purified
Earthly ground and rolling tide,
And the path of dæmon nations,
And the free air's fluctuations,
And the depth below the deep!
Thou God, helper of the dead,
Low as Hades did'st thou tread!
Thou King, gracious aspect keep!
Take this music which is mine
Anthem'd from the songs divine.
Eudocia – in the twenty-first year of the fifth century – wife of Theodosius, and empress of the world, thought good to extend her sceptre –
(Hac claritate gemina
O gloriosa fœmina!)
over Homer's poems, and cento-ize them into an epic on the Saviour's life. She was the third fair woman accused of sacrificing a world for an apple, having moved her husband to wrath, by giving away his imperial gift of a large one to her own philosophic friend Paulinus; and being unhappily more learned than her two predecessors in the sin, in the course of her exile to Jerusalem, she took ghostly comfort, by separating Homer's ειδωλον from his φρενες. There she sate among the ruins of the holy city, addressing herself most unholily, with whatever good intentions and delicate fingers, to pulling Homer's gold to pieces bit by bit, even as the ladies of France devoted what remained to them of virtuous energy "pour parfiler" under the benignant gaze of Louis Quinze. She, too, who had no right of the purple to literary ineptitude, – she, born no empress of Rome, but daughter of Leontius the Athenian, what had she to do with Homer, "parfilant"? Was it not enough for Homer that he was turned once, like her own cast imperial mantle, by Apolinarius into a Jewish epic, but that he must be unpicked again by Eudocia for a Christian epic? The reader, who has heard enough of centos, will not care to hear how she did it. That she did it was too much; and the deed recoiled. For mark the poetical justice of her destiny; let all readers mark it; and all writers, especially female writers, who may be half as learned, and not half as fair, – that although she wrote many poems, one "on the Persian war," whose title and merit are recorded, not one, except this cento, has survived. The obliterative sponge, we hear of in Æschylus, has washed out every verse except this cento's "damned spot." This remains. This is called Eudocia! this stands for the daughter of Leontius, and this only in the world! O fair mischief ! she is punished by her hand.
And yet, are we born critics any more than she was born an empress, that we should not have a heart? and is our heart stone, that it should not wax soft within us while the vision is stirred "between our eyelids and our eyes," of this beautiful Athenais, baptized once by Christian waters, and once by human tears, into Eudocia, the imperial mourner? – this learned pupil of a learned father, crowned once by her golden hair, and once by her golden crown, yet praised more for poetry and learning than for beauty and greatness by such grave writers as Socrates and Evagrius, the ecclesiastical historians? – this world's empress, pale with the purple of her palaces, an exile even on the throne from her Athens, and soon twice an exile, from father's grave and husband's bosom? We relent before such a vision. And what if, relentingly, we declare her innocent of the Homeric cento? – what if we find her "a whipping boy" to take the blame? – what if we write down a certain Proba "improba," and bid her bear it? For Eudocia having been once a mark to slander, may have been so again; and Falconia Proba having committed centoism upon Virgil, must have been capable of anything. The Homeric cento has been actually attributed to her by certain critics, with whom we would join in all earnestness our most sour voices, gladly, for Eudocia's sake, who is closely dear to us, and not malignly for Proba's, who was "improba" without our help. So shall we impute evil to only one woman, and she not an Athenian; while our worst wish, even to her, assumes this innoxious shape, that she had used a distaff rather than a stylus, though herself and the yet more "Sleeping Beauty" had owned one horoscope between them! Amen to our wish! A busy distaff and a sound sleep to Proba!
And now, that golden-haired, golden-crowned daughter of Leontius, for whom neither the much learning nor the much sorrow drove Hesperus from her sovran eyes . . . . let her pass on unblenched. Be it said of her, softly as she goes, by all gentle readers – "She is innocent, whether for centos or for apples! She wrote only such Christian Greek poems as Christians and poets might rejoice to read, but which perished with her beauty, as being of one seed with it."
Midway in the sixth century we encounter Paul Silentiarius, called so in virtue of the office held by him in the court of Justinian, and chiefly esteemed for his descriptive poem on the Byzantine church of St. Sophia, which, after the Arian conflagration, was rebuilt gorgeously by the emperor. This church was not dedicated to a female saint, according to the supposition of many persons, but to the second person of the Trinity, the ἁγια σοφια – holy wisdom; while the poem being recited in the imperial presence, and the poet's gaze often forgetting to rise higher than the imperial smile, Paul Silentiarius dwelt less on the divine dedication and the spiritual uses of the place, than on the glory of the dedicator and the beauty of the structure. We hesitate, moreover, to grant to his poem the praise which has been freely granted to it by more capable critics, of its power to realize this beauty of structure to the eyes of the reader. It is highly elaborate and artistic; but the elaboration and art appear to us architectural far more than picturesque. There is no sequency, no congruity, no keeping, no light and shade. The description has reference to the working as well as to the work, to the materials as well as to the working. The eyes of the reader are suffered to approach the whole only in analysis, or rather in analysis analyzed. Every part, part by part, is recounted to him excellently well . . . . is brought close till he may touch it with his eyelashes; but when he seeks for the general effect, it is in pieces . . . . there is none of it. Byron shows him more in the passing words, –
I have beheld Sophia's bright roofs swell
Their glittering mass i' the sun,
than Silentiarius in all his poem. Yet the poem has abundant merit in diction and harmony; and besides higher noblenesses, the pauses are modulated with an artfulness not commonly attained by these later Greeks, and the ear exults in an unaccustomed rhythmetic pomp which the inward critical sense is inclined to murmur at, as an expletive verbosity.
Whoever looketh with a mortal eye
To heaven's emblazoned forms, not steadfastly
With unreverted neck can bear to measure
That meadow-round of star-apparelled pleasure,
But drops his eyelids to the verdant hill,
Yearning to see the river run at will,
With flowers on each side, – and the ripening corn,
And grove thick set with trees, and flocks at morn
Leaping against the dews, – and olives twined,
And green vine-branches trailingly inclined, –
And the blue calmness skimmed by dripping oar
Along the Golden Horn.
But if he bring
His foot across this threshold, never more
Would he withdraw it; fain, with wandering
Moist eyes, and ever-turning head, to stay,
Since all satiety is driven away
Beyond the noble structure. Such a fane
Of blameless beauty hath our Cæsar raised
By God's perfective grace, and not in vain!
O emperor, these labours we have praised,
Draw down the glorious Christ's perpetual smile:
For thou, the high-peaked Ossa didst not pile
Upon Olympus' head, nor Pelion throw
Upon the neck of Ossa, opening so
The æther to the steps of mortals! no!
Having achieved a work more high than hope,
Thou dost not need these mountains as a slope
Whereby to scale the heaven! Wings take thee thither
From purest piety to highest æther.
The following passage, from the same "Description," is hard to turn into English, through the accumulative riches of the epithets. Greek words atone for their vain-glorious redundancy by their beauty, but we cannot think so of these our own pebbles.
Who will unclose me Homer's sounding lips,
And sing the marble mead that over-sweeps
The mighty walls and pavements spread around,
Of this tall temple, which the sun has crowned?
The hammer with its iron tooth was loosed
Into Carystus' summit green, and bruised
The Phrygian shoulder of the dædal stone; –
This marble, coloured after roses fused
In a white air, and that, with flowers thereon
Both purple and silver, shining tenderly!
And that which in the broad fair Nile sank low
The barges to their edge, the porphyry's glow
Sown thick with little stars! and thou may'st see
The green stone of Laconia glitter free!
And all the Carian hill's deep bosom brings,
Streaked bow-wise, with a livid white and red, –
And all the Lydian chasm keeps coverèd, –
A hueless blossom with a ruddier one
Soft mingled! all besides, the Libyan sun
Warms with his golden splendour, till he make
A golden yellow glory for his sake,
Along the roots of the Maurusian height!
And all the Celtic mountains give to sight
From crystal clefts: black marbles dappled fair
With milky distillations here and there!
And all the onyx yields in metal-shine
Of precious greenness! – all that land of thine,
Ætolia, hath on even plains engendered
But not on mountain-tops, – a marble rendered
Here nigh to green, of tints which emeralds use,
Here with a sombre purple in the hues!
Some marbles are like new dropt snow, and some
Alight with blackness! – Beauty's rays have come,
So congregate, beneath this holy dome!
And thus the poet takes us away from the church and dashes our senses and admirations down these marble quarries! Yet it is right for us to admit the miracle of a poem made out of stones! and when he spoke of unclosing Homer's lips on such a subject, he was probably thinking of Homer's ships, and meant to intimate that one catalogue was as good for him as another.
John Geometra arose in no propitious orient probably with the seventh century, although the time of his "elevation" appears to be uncertain within a hundred years.
He riseth slowly, as his sullen car
Had all the weights of sleep and death hung on it.
Plato, refusing his divine fellowship to any one who was not a geometrician or who was a poet, might have kissed our Joannes, who was not divine, upon both cheeks, in virtue of his other name and in vice of his verses. He was the author of certain hymns to the Virgin Mary, as accumulative of epithets and admirations as ten of her litanies, inclusive of a pious compliment, which, however geometrically exact in its proportions, sounds strangely.
O health to thee! new living car of the sky
Afire on the wheels of four virtues at once!
O health to thee! Seat, than the cherubs more high,
More pure than the seraphs, more broad than the thrones.
Towards the close of the last hymn, the exhausted poet empties back something of the ascription into his own lap, by a remarkable "mihi quoque."
O health to me, royal one! if there belong
Any grace to my singing, that grace is from thee.
O health to me, royal one! if in my song
Thou hast pleasure . . . . oh, thine is the grace of the glee!
We may mark the time of George Pisida, about thirty years deep in the seventh century. He has been confounded with the rhetorical archbishop of Nicomedia, but held the office of scævophylax, only lower than the highest, in the metropolitan church of St. Sophia, and was a poet, singing half in the church and half in the court, and considerably nearer to the feet of the Emperor Heraclius than can please us in any measure. Hoping all things, however, in our poetical charity, we are willing to hope even this, – that the man whom Heraclius carried about with him as a singing man when he went to fight the Persians, and who sang and recited accordingly, and provided notes of admiration for all the imperial notes of interrogation, and gave his admiring poems the appropriate and suggestive name of acroases – auscultations, – things intended to be heard, might nevertheless love Heraclius the fighting man, not slave-wise, or flatterer-wise, but man-wise or dog-wise, in good truth, and up to the brim of his praise; and so hoping, we do not dash the praise down as a libation to the infernal task-masters. Still it is an impotent conclusion to a free-hearted poet's musing on the "Six days' work," to wish God's creation under the sceptre of his particular friend! It looks as if the particular friend had an ear like Dionysius, and the poet – ah! the poet! – a mark as of a chain upon his brow in the shadow of his court laurel.
We shall not revive the question agitated among his contemporaries, whether Euripides or George Pisida wrote the best iambics; but that our George knew the secret of beauty, and that, having noble thoughts, he could utter them nobly, is clear, despite of Heraclius. That he is, besides, unequal; often coldly perplexed when he means to be ingenious, only violent when he seeks to be inspired; that he premeditates ecstasies, and is inclined to the attitudes of the orators; in brief, that he not only and not seldom sleeps but snores – are facts as true of him as the praise is. His Hexámëron, to which we referred as his chief work, is rather a meditation or rhythmetical speech upon the finished creation, than a retrospection of the six days – and also there is more of Plato in it than of Moses. It has many fine things, and whole passages of no ordinary eloquence, though difficult to separate and select.
Whatever eyes seek God to view his Light,
As far as they behold him close in night!
Whoever searcheth with insatiate balls
Th' abysmal glare, or gazeth on Heaven's walls
Against the fire-disk of the sun, the same
According to the vision he may claim,
Is dazzled from his sense. What soul of flame
Is called sufficient to view onward thus
The way whereby the sun's light came to us!
O distant Presence in fixed motion! Known
To all men, and inscrutable to one:
Perceived – uncomprehended! unexplained
To all the spirits, yet by each attained,
Because its God-sight is thy work! O Presence,
Whatever holy greatness of thine essence
Lie virtue-hidden – thou hast given our eyes
The vision of thy plastic energies; –
Not shown in angels only (those create
All fiery-hearted, in a mystic state
Of bodiless body,) but if order be
Of natures more sublime than they or we,
In highest Heaven, or mediate æther, or
This world now seen, or one that came before
Or one to come, – quick in Thy purpose – there!
Working in fire and water, earth and air –
In every tuneful star, and tree, and bird –
In all the swimming, creeping life unheard,
In all green herbs, and chief of all, in ᴍᴀɴ.
There are other poems of inferior length, ‘On the Persian War,' in three books, or, alas, "auscultations" – ‘The Heracliad,' again on the Persian War, and in two (of course) auscultations again, – ‘Against Severus,' ‘On the Vanity of Life,' ‘The War of the Huns,' and others. From the ‘Vanity of Life,' which has much beauty and force, we shall take a last specimen: –
Some yearn to rule the state, to sit above,
And touch the cares of hate as near as love –
Some their own reason for tribunal take,
And for all thrones the humblest prayers they make!
Some love the orator's vain-glorious art, –
The wise love silence and the hush of heart, –
Some to ambition's spirit-curse are fain,
That golden apple with a bloody stain;
While some do battle in her face (more rife
Of noble ends) and conquer strife with strife!
And while your groaning tables gladden these,
Satiety's quick chariot to disease,
Hunger the wise man helps, to water, bread,
And light wings to the dreams about his head.
The truth becomes presently obvious, that –
The sage o'er all the world his sceptre waves,
And earth is common ground to thrones and graves.
John Damascenus, to whom we should not give by any private impulse of admiration, the title of Chrysorrhoas, accorded to him by his times, lived at Damascus, his native city, early in the eighth century, holding an unsheathed sword of controversy until the point drew down the lightning. He retired before the affront rather than the injury; and in company with his beloved friend and fellow poet, Cosmas of Jerusalem, (whose poetical remains the writer of these Remarks has vainly sought the sight of, and therefore can only, as by hearsay, ascribe some value to them,) hid the remnant of his life in the monastery of Saba, where Phocas of the twelfth century looked upon the tomb of either poet. John Damascenus wrote several acrostics on the chief festivals of the churches, which are not much better, although very much longer, than acrostics need be. When he writes out of his heart, without looking to the first letters of his verses, – as, indeed, in his anacreontic his eyes are too dim for iota-hunting, – he is another man, and almost a strong man; for the heart being sufficient to speak, we want no Delphic oracle – "Pan is NOT dead." In our selection from the anacreontic hymn, the tears seem to trickle audibly – we welcome them as a Castalia, or, rather, "as Siloa's brook," flowing by an oracle more divine than any Grecian one: –
From my lips in their defilement,
From my heart in its beguilement,
From my tongue which speaks not fair,
From my soul stained everywhere,
O my Jesus, take my prayer!
Spurn me not for all it says, –
Not for words and not for ways, –
Not for shamelessness endued!
Make me brave to speak my mood,
O my Jesus, as I would!
Or teach me, which I rather seek,
What to do and what to speak.
I have sinned more than she,
Who learning where to meet with Thee,
And bringing myrrh, the highest priced,
Anointed bravely from her knee,
Thy blessed feet accordingly –
My God, my Lord, my Christ! –
As Thou saidest not "Depart,"
To that suppliant from her heart,
Scorn me not, O Word, that art
The gentlest one of all words said!
But give thy feet to me instead,
That tenderly I may them kiss
And clasp them close, and never miss
With over-dropping tears as free
And precious as that myrrh could be,
T'anoint them bravely from my knee!
Wash me with my tears: draw nigh me,
That their salt may purify me:
THOU remit my sins who knowest
All the sinning, to the lowest –
Knowest all my wounds, and seest
All the stripes Thyself decreest;
Yea, but knowest all my faith,
Seest all my force to death, –
Hearest all my wailings low,
That mine evil should be so!
Nothing hidden but appears
In thy knowledge, O Divine,
O Creator, Saviour mine –
Not a drop of falling tears,
Not a breath of inward moan,
Not a heart-beat . . . . which is gone! –
After this deep pathos of Christianity, we dare not say a word – we dare not even praise it as poetry – our heart is stirred, and not "idly." The only sound which can fitly succeed the cry of the contrite soul, is that of Divine condonation or of angelic rejoicing. Let us who are sorrowful still, be silent too.
[Concluded – Paper 4; 19 March 1842]
ALTHOUGH doubts, as broad as four hundred years separate the earliest and latest period talked of in the age of Simeon Metaphrastes by those "viri illustrissimi" the classical critics, we may set him down, without much peril to himself or us, at the close of the tenth century, or very early in the eleventh. He is chiefly known for his ‘Lives of the Saints,' which have been lifted up as a mark both for honour and dishonour; which Psellus hints at as a favourite literature of the angels, which Leo Allatius exalts as chafing the temper of the heretics, and respecting which we, in an exemplary serenity, shall straightway accede to one-half of the opinion of Bellarmine – that the work speaketh not as things actually happened, but as they might have happened – "non ut res gestæ fuerant, sed ut geri potuerant." Our half of this weighty opinion is the first clause – we demur upon "ut geri potuerant," – and we need not go farther than the former to win a light of commentary for the term "metaphrases," applied to the saintly biographies in otherwise a doubtful sense, and worn obliquely upon the sleeve of the biographer Metaphrastes, in no doubtful token of his skill in metamorphosing things as they were into things as they might have been. And Simeon having received from Constantinople the honour of his birth within her walls, and returning to her the better honour of the distinctions and usefulness of his life, – so writeth Psellus, his encomiast, with a graceful turn of thought, – expired in an "odour of sanctity" befitting the biographer of all the saints, – breathing out from his breathless remains such an incense of celestial sweetness, that if it had not been for the mal-adroitness of certain unfragrant persons whose desecration of the next tomb acted instantly as a stopper, the whole earth might at this day be metaphrased to our nostrils, as steeped in an attar-gul of Eden or Ede! – we might be dwelling in a phœnix nest at this day. Through the mal-adroitness, however, in question, there is lost to us every sweeter influence from the life and death of Simeon Metaphrastes than may result from the lives and deaths of his saints, and from other works of his, whether commentaries, orations, or poems; and we cannot add that the aroma from his writings bears any proportion in value to the fragrance from his sepulchre. Little of his poetry has reached us, and we are satisfied with the limit. There were three Simeons, who did precede our Simeon, as the world knoweth, and whose titles were Stylitæ or Columnarii, because it pleased them in their saintly volition to take the highest place and live out their natural lives supernaturally, each upon the top of a column. Peradventure the columns which our Simeon refused to live upon, conspired against his poetry: peradventure it is on their account that we find ourselves between two alphabetic acrostics, written solemnly by his hand, and take up one wherein every alternate line begins with a letter of the alphabet; its companion in the couplet being left to run behind it, out of livery and sometimes out of breath. Will the public care to look upon such a curiosity? Will our verse writers care to understand what harm may be done by a conspiration of columns – gods and men quite on one side? And will candid readers care to confess at last, that there is an earnestness in the poem, acrostic as it is, – a leaning to beauty's side, – which is above the acrosticism? Let us try: –
Ah, tears upon mine eyelids, sorrow on mine heart!
I bring thee soul-repentance, Creator as thou art.
Bounding joyous actions, deep as arrows go –
Pleasures self-revolving, issue into woe!
Creatures of our mortal, headlong rush to sin –
I have seen them; – of them – ah me, – I have been!
Duly pitying Spirits, from your spirit-frame,
Bring your cloud of weeping, – worthy of the same!
Else I would be bolder – If that light of thine,
Jesus, quell the evil, let it on me shine.
Fail me truth, is living, less than death forlorn,
When the sinner readeth – "better be unborn"?
God, I raise toward thee both eyes of my heart,
With a sharp cry – "Help me!" – while mine hopes depart.
Help me! Death is bitter, all hearts comprehend;
But I fear beyond it – end beyond the end!
Inwardly behold me, how my soul is black –
Sympathize in gazing, do not spurn me back!
Knowing that thy pleasure is not to destroy,
That thou fain wouldst save me – this is all my joy.
Lo, the lion, hunting spirits in their deep,
(Stand beside me!) roareth – (help me!) nears to leap!
May'st Thou help me, Master – Thou art pure alone –
Thou alone art sinless – one Christ on a throne.
Nightly deeds I loved them – hated day's instead –
Hence this soul-involving darkness on mine head!
O Word, who constrainest things estranged and curst,
If thy hand can save me, that work were the first!
Pensive o'er my sinning, counting all its ways,
Terrors shake me, waiting adequate dismays.
Quenchless glories many, hast Thou – many a rod –
Thou, too, hast Thy measures – Can I bear, Thee, God?
Rend away my counting from my soul's decline,
Show me of the portion of those saved of Thine!
Slow drops of my weeping to thy mercy run –
Let its rivers wash me, by that mercy won.
Tell me what is worthy, in our dreary now,
As the future glory? (madness!) what, as Tʜᴏu!
Union, oh, vouchsafe me to Thy fold beneath,
Lest the wolf across me gnash his gory teeth.
View me, judge me gently! spare me, Master bland, –
Brightly lift thine eyelids, kindly stretch thine hand!
Winged and choral angels! 'twixt my spirit lone,
And all deathly visions, interpose your own!
Yea, my Soul, remember death and woe inwrought –
After-death affliction, wringing earth's to nought.
Zone me, Lord, with graces! Be foundations built
Underneath me; save me! as thou know'st and wilt!
The omission of our X, (in any case too sullen a letter to be employed in the service of an acrostic,) has permitted us to write line for line with the Greek; and we are able to infer, to the honour of the Greek poet, that, although he did not live upon a column, he was not far below one, in the virtue of self-mortification. We are tempted to accord him some more gracious and serious justice, by breaking away a passage from his ‘Planctus Mariæ,' the lament of Mary on embracing the Lord's body; and giving a moment's insight into a remarkable composition, which, however deprived of its poetical right of measure, is, in fact, nearer to a poem, both in purpose and achievement, than any versified matter we have looked upon from this metaphrastic hand: –
"O, uncovered corse, yet Word of the Living One! self-doomed to be uplifted on the cross for the drawing of all men unto thee, – what member of thine hath no wound? O, my blessed brows, embraced by the thorn-wreath which is pricking at my heart! O beautiful and priestly One, who hadst not where to lay thine head and rest, and now wilt lay it only in the tomb, resting there; – sleeping, as Jacob said, a lion's sleep! O cheeks turned to the smiter! O lips, new hive for bees, yet fresh from the sharpness of vinegar and bitterness of gall! O mouth, wherein was no guile, yet betrayed by the traitor's kiss! O hand, creative of man, yet nailed to the cross, and since, stretched out unto Hades, with help for the first transgressor! O feet, once walking on the deep to hallow the waters of nature! O me, my son! . . . Where is thy chorus of sick ones? – those whom thou didst cure of their diseases, and bring back from the dead? Is none here, but only Nicodemus, to draw the nails from those hands and feet? – none here but only Nicodemus, to lift thee from the cross, heavily, heavily, and lay thee in these mother-arms, which bore thee long ago, in thy babyhood, and were glad then? These hands, which swaddled thee then, let them bind thy grave-clothes now. And yet, – O, bitter funerals! – O, Giver of life from the dead, liest Thou dead before mine eyes? Must I, who said ‘hush' beside thy cradle, wail this passion upon thy grave? I, who washed thee in thy first bath, must I drop on Thee these hotter tears? I, who raised thee high in my maternal arms, – but then thou leapedst, – then thou springedst up in thy child-play . . . ."
It is better to write so than to stand upon a column. And, although the passage does, both generally and specifically, in certain of its ideas, recall the antithetic eloquence of that Gregory Nazianzen before whom this Simeon must be dumb, we have touched his "oration," so called, nearer than our subject could permit us to do any of Gregory's, because the ‘Planctus' involves an imagined situation, is poetical in its design. Moreover, we must prepare to look downwards; the poets were descending from the gorgeous majesty of the hexameter and the severe simplicity of iambics, down through the mediate "versus politici," a loose metre, adapted to the popular ear, to the lowest deep of a "measured prose," – which has been likened – but which we will not liken – to the blank verse of our times. Presently, we may offer an example from Psellus of a prose acrostic – the reader being delighted with the prospect! "A whole silver threepence, mistress."
Michael Psellus lived midway in the eleventh century, and appears to have been a man of much aspiration towards the higher places of the earth. A senator of no ordinary influence, preceptor of the emperor Michael previous to that accession, he is supposed to have included in his instructions the advantages of sovereignty, and in his precepts the most subtle means of securing them. We were about to add, that his acquirements as a scholar were scarcely less imperial than those of his pupil as a prince – but the expression might have been inappropriate. There are cases not infrequent, not entirely opposite to the present case, and worthy always of all meditation by such intelligent men as affect extensive acquisition, – when acquirements are not ruled by the man, but rule him. Whatever originates from the mind cannot obstruct her individual faculty; nay, whatever she receives inwardly and marks her power over by creating out of it a tertium quid, according to the law of the perpetual generation of spiritual verities, is not obstructive but impulsive to the evolution of faculty; but the erudition, whether it be erudition as the world showed it formerly, or miscellaneous literature, as the world shows it now, the accumulated acquirement of whatever character, which remains extraneous to the mind, is and must be in the same degree an obstruction and deformity. How many are there from Psellus to Bayle, bound hand and foot intellectually with the rolls of their own papyrus – men whose erudition has grown stronger than their souls! How many whom we would gladly see washed in the clean waters of a little ignorance, and take our own part in their refreshment! Not that knowledge is bad, but that wisdom is better; and that it is better and wiser in the sight of the angels of knowledge to think out one true thought with a thrush's song and a green light for all lexicon – or to think it without the light and without the song; – because truth is beautiful, where they are not seen or heard; – than to mummy our benumbed souls with the circumvolutions of twenty thousand books. And so Michael Psellus was a learned man.
We have sought earnestly, yet in vain, – and the fact may account for our ill-humour – a sight of certain iambics upon vices and virtues, and Tantalus and Sphinx, which are attributed to this writer, and cannot be in the moon after all – earnestly, yet with no fairer encouragement to our desire than what befals it from his poems (!) ‘On the Councils,' the first of which, and only the first, through the softness of our charities, we bring to confront the reader: –
Know the holy councils, King, to their utmost number,
Such as roused the impious ones from their world-wide slumber!
Seven in all those councils were – Nice the first containing,
When the godly master-soul Constantine was reigning,
What time at Byzantium, hallowed with the hyssop,
In heart and word, Metrophanes presided as archbishop!
It cut away Arius' tongue's maniacal delusion,
Which cut off from the Trinity the blessed Homoousion –
Blasphemed (O miserable man!) the maker of the creature,
And low beneath the Father cast the equal Filial nature.
The prose acrostic, contained in an office written by Psellus to the honour of Simeon, is elaborated on the words "I sing thee who didst write the metaphrases;" every sentence being insulated, and beginning with a charmed letter.
"Say in a dance how we shall go,
Who never could a measure know?"
why thus – (and yet Psellus, who did know everything, wrote a synopsis of the metres!) – why thus:
"Inspire me, Word of God, with a rhythmetic chant, for I am borne onward to praise Simeon Metaphrastes, and Logothetes, as he is fitly called, the man worthy of admiration.
"Solemnly from the heavenly heights did the Blessed Ghost descend on thee, wise one, and finding thine heart pure, rested there, there verily in the body!"
Surely we need not write any more. But Michael Psellus was a very learned man.
John, of Euchaita, or Euchania, or Theodoropolis, – the three names do appear through the twilight to belong to one city – was a bishop, probably contemporary with Psellus – is only a poet now – we turn to see the voice which speaks to us. It is a voice with a soul in it, clear and sweet and living; and we who have walked long in the desert, leap up to its sound as to the dim flowing of a stream, and would take a deep breath by its side both for the weariness which is gone and the repose which is coming. But it is a rarer thing than a stream in the desert: it is a voice in the desert – the only voice of a city. The city may have three names, as we have said, or the three names may more fitly appertain to three cities – scholars knit their brows and wax doubtful as they talk; but a city, denuded of its multitudes it surely is, ruined even of its ruins it surely is; no exhalation arises from its tombs – the foxes have lost their way to it – the bittern's cry is as dumb as the vanished population – only the Voice remains. John Mauropus, of Euchaita, Euchania, Theodoropolis! one living man among many dead, as the Arabian tale goes of the city of enchantment! – one speechful voice among the silent, sole survivor of the breath which maketh words, effluence of the soul replacing the bittern's cry – speak to us! And thou shalt be to us as a poet – we will salute thee by that high name. For have we not stood face to face with Michael Psellus and him of the metaphrases? Surely as a poet may we salute thee?
His poetry has, as if in contrast to the scenery of circumstances in which we find it, or to the fatality of circumstances in which it has not been found, (and even Mr. Clarke in his learned work upon Sacred Literature, which is, however, incommunicative generally upon sacred poetry, appears unconscious of his being and his bishoprick) his poetry has a character singularly vital, fresh, and serene. There is nothing in it of the rapture of inspiration, little of the operativeness of art – nothing of imagination in a high sense, or of ear-service in any – he is not, he says, of those –
Who rain hard with redundancies of words,
And thunder and lighten out of eloquence.
His Greek being opposed to that of the Silentiarii and the Pisidæ by a peculiar simplicity and ease of collocation which the reader feels lightly in a moment, the thoughts move through its transparency with a certain calm nobleness and sweet living earnestness, with holy upturned eyes and human tears beneath the lids, till the reader feels lovingly too. We startle him from his reverie with an octave note on a favourite literary fashion of the living London, drawn from the voice of the lost city; discovering by that sound the first serial illustrator of pictures by poems, in the person of our Johannes. Here is a specimen from an annual of Euchaita, or Euchania, or Theodoropolis – we may say "annual" although the pictures were certainly not in a book, but were probably ornaments of the beautiful temple in the midst of the city, concerning which there is a tradition. Here is a specimen selected for love's sake, because it "illustrates" a portrait of Gregory Nazianzen: –
What meditates thy thoughtful gaze, my father?
To tell me some new truth? Thou canst not so!
For all that mortal hands are weak to gather,
Thy blessed books unfolded long ago.
These are striking verses, upon the Blessed among women, weeping, –
O Lady of the passion, dost thou weep?
What help can we then through our tears survey,
If such as thou a cause for wailing keep?
What help, what hope, for us, sweet Lady, say?
"Good man, it doth befit thine heart to lay
More courage next it, having seen me so.
All other hearts find other balm to-day –
The whole world's consolation is my woe!"
Would any hear what can be said of a Transfiguration before Raffael's: –
Tremble, spectator, at the vision won thee –
Stand afar off, look downward from the height, –
Lest Christ too nearly seen should lighten on thee,
And from thy fleshly eye-balls strike the sight,
As Paul fell ruined by that glory white, –
Lo, the disciples prostrate, each apart,
Each impotent to bear the lamping light!
And all that Moses and Elias might,
The darkness caught the grace upon her heart
And gave them strength for! Thou, if evermore
A God-voice pierce thy dark, – rejoice – adore!
Our poet was as unwilling a bishop as the most sturdy of the "nolentes;" and there are poems written both in depreciation of, and in retrospective regret for, the ordaining dignity, marked by noble and holy beauties which we are unwilling to pass without extraction. Still we are constrained for space, and must come at last to his chief individual characteristic – to the gentle humanities which, strange to say, preponderate in the solitary voice – to the familiar smiles and sighs which go up and down in it to our ear. We will take the poem "To his old house," and see how the house survives by his good help, when the sun shines no more on the golden statue of Constantine: –
Oh, be not angry with me, gentle house,
That I have left thee empty and deserted!
Since thou thyself that evil didst arouse,
In being to thy masters so false-hearted –
In loving none of those who did possess thee, –
In minist'ring to no one to an end –
In no one's service caring to confess thee,
But loving still the change of friend for friend,
And sending the last, plague-wise, to the door!
And so, or ere thou canst betray and leave me,
I, a wise lord, dismiss thee, servitor,
And antedate the wrong thou may'st achieve me
Against my will, by what my will allows,
Yet not without some sorrow, gentle house!
For O, beloved house! what time I render
My last look back on thee I grow more tender!
Pleasant possession, hearth for father's age,
Dear gift of buried hands, sole heritage!
My blood is stirred – and love that learnt its play
From all sweet customs moves mine heart thy way!
For thou wert all my nurse and helpful creature, –
For thou wert all my tutor and my teacher –
In thee through lengthening toils I struggled deep –
In thee I watched all night without its sleep –
In thee I worked the wearier daytime out,
Exalting truth, or trying by a doubt.
. . . . . . .
And oh, my father's roof ! the memory leaves
Such pangs as break mine heart, beloved eaves,
But God's word conquers all! * *
He is forced to a strange land, reverting with this benediction to the "dearest house:"
Farewell, farewell, mine own familiar one,
Estranged for evermore from this day's sun,
Fare-thee-well so! Farewell, O second mother,
O nurse and help, – remains there not another!
My bringer-up to some sublimer measure
Of holy childhood and perfected pleasure!
Now other spirits must thou tend and teach,
And minister thy quiet unto each,
For reasoning uses, if they love such use,
But nevermore to me! God keep thee, house,
God keep thee, faithful corner, where I drew
So calm a breath of life! And God keep you,
Kind neighbours! Though I leave you by His grace,
Let no grief bring a shadow to your face,
Because whate'er He willeth to be done
His will makes easy, makes the distant one,
And soon brings all embraced before his throne!
We pass Philip Solitarius, who lived at the close of this eleventh century, even as we have passed one or two besides of his fellow poets: because they, having hidden themselves beyond the reach of our eyes and the endeavour of our hands, and we being careful to speak by knowledge rather than by testimony, nothing remains to us but this same silent passing – this regretful one, as our care to do better must testify – albeit our fancy will not, by any means, account them, with all their advantages of absence, "the best part of the solemnity."
Early in the twelfth century we are called to the recognition of Theodore Prodromus, theologian, philosopher, and poet. His poems are unequal, consisting principally of a series of tetrastics – Greek epigrams for lack of point, French epigrams for lack of poetry – upon the Old and New Testaments, and the Life of Chrysostom, – all nearly as bare of the rags of literary merit as might be expected from the design; and three didactic poems upon Love, Providence, and against Bareus the heretic, into which the poet has cast the recollected life of his soul. The soul deports herself as a soul should, with a vivacity and energy which work outward and upward into eloquence. The sentiments are lofty, the expression free; there is an instinct to a middle and an end. Music we miss, even to the elementary melody: the poet thinks his thoughts, and speaks them; not indeed what all poets, so called, do esteem a necessary effort, and indeed what we should thank him for doing; but he sings them in nowise, and they are not of that divine order which are crowned by right of their divinity with an inseparable aureole of sweet sound. His poem upon Love, – φιλια says the Greek word, but friendship does not answer to it, – is a dialogue between the personification and a stranger. It opens thus dramatically, the stranger speaking: –,
Love! Lady diademed with honour, whence
And whither goest thou? Thy look presents
Tears to the lid – thy mien is vext and low –
Thy locks fall wildly from thy drooping brow –
Thy blushes are all pale – thy garb is fit
For mourning in, and shoon and zone are loose!
So changed thou art to sadness every whit,
And all that pomp and purple thou didst use,
That seemly sweet, – that new rose on the mouth, –
Those fair-smoothed tresses, and that graceful zone,
Bright sandals, and the rest thou haddest on,
Are all departed, gone to nought together!
And now thou walkest mournful in the train
Of mourning women! – where and whence, again?
Love. From earth to God my Father.
Stranger. Dost thou say
That earth of Love is desolated?
It so much scorned me.
Love. And cast me out
From its door.
Stranger. From its door?
Love. As if without
I had my lot to die!
Love consents to give her confidence to the wondering stranger; whereupon, as they sit in the shadow of a tall pine, she tells a Platonic story of all the good she had done in heaven before the stars, and the angels, and the throned Triad, and of all her subsequent sufferings on the melancholy and ungrateful earth. The poem, which includes much beauty, ends with a quaint sweetness in the troth-plighting of the stranger and the lady. May'st thou have been faithful to that oath, O Theodore Prodromus! but thou didst "swear too much to be believed . . so much."
The poems ‘On Providence' and ‘Against Bareus' exceed the ‘Love' perhaps in power and eloquence to the full measure of the degree in which they fall short of the interest of the latter's design. Whereupon we dedicate the following selection from the ‘Providence,'to Mr. Carlyle's "gigmen" and all "respectable persons": –
Ah me! what tears mine eyes are welling forth,
To witness in this synagogue of earth
Wise men speak wisely while the scoffers sing,
And rich men folly, for much honoring!
Melitus trifles, – Socrates decrees
Our further knowledge! Death to Socrates,
And long life to Melitus! . . .
. . . . . . .
Chiefdom of evil, gold! blind child of clay,
Gnawing with fixèd tooth earth's heart away!
Go! perish from us! objurgation vain
To soulless nature, powerless to contain
One ill unthrust upon it! Rather perish
That turpitude of crowds, by which they cherish
Bad men for their good fortune, or condemn,
Because of evil fortune, virtuous men!
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .
Oh, for a trumpet-mouth! an iron tongue
Sufficient for all speech! foundations hung
High on Parnassus' top to bear my feet, –
So from that watch-tower, words which shall be meet,
I may out-thunder to the nations near me –
"Ye worshippers of gold, poor rich men, hear me!
Where do ye wander? – for what object stand?
That gold is earth's ye carry in your hand,
And floweth earthward! bad men have its curse
The most profusely! would yourselves be worse
So to be richer? – better in your purse?
Your royal purple – 'twas a dog that found it!
Your pearl of price – a sickened oyster owned it!
Your glittering gems are pebbles dust-astray –
Your palace pomp was wrought of wood and clay,
Smoothed rock and moulded plinth! earth's clay! earth's wood!
Earth's common-hearted stones! Is this your mood,
To honour earth, to worship earth . . nor blush?" –
What dost thou murmur, savage mouth? Hush, hush!
Thy wrath is vainly breathed – The depth to tread
Of God's deep judgments, was not Paul's, he said.
The "savage mouth" speaks in power, with whatever harshness: and we are tempted to contrast with this vehement utterance another short poem by the same poet, a little quaint withal, but light, soft, almost tuneful, – as written for a ‘Book of Beauty,' and that not of Euchaita! The subject is ‘LIFE.'
Oh, take me, thou mortal, . . thy LIFE for thy praiser!
Thou hast met, found, and seized me, and know'st what my ways are.
Nor leave me for slackness, nor yield me for pleasure,
Nor look up too saintly, nor muse beyond measure!
There's the veil from my head – see the worst of my mourning!
There are wheels to my feet – have a dread of their turning!
There are wings round my waist – I may flatter and flee thee!
There are yokes on my hands – fear the chains I decree thee!
Hold me! hold a shadow, the winds as they quiver;
Hold me! hold a dream, smoke, a track on the river.
Oh, take me thou mortal, . . thy Life for thy praiser,
Thou hast met not and seized not – nor know'st what my ways are!
Nay, frown not, and shrink not – nor call me an aspen;
There's the veil from my head! I have dropped from thy clasping!
A fall back within it, I soon may afford thee;
There are wheels to my feet – I may roll back toward thee –
There are wings round my waist – I may flee back and clip thee –
There are yokes on my hands – I may soon cease to whip thee!
Take courage! I rather would hearten than hip thee!
John Tzetzes divides the twelfth century with his name, which is not a great one. In addition to an iambic fragment upon education, he has written indefatigably in the metre politicus, what must be read, if read at all, with a corresponding energy, – thirteen "Chiliads" of "variæ historiæ," so called after Ælian's, – Ælian's without the "honey tongue," – very various histories indeed, about crocodiles and flies, and Plato's philosophy and Cleopatra's nails, and Samson and Phidias, and the resurrection from the dead, and the Calydonian boar, – "everything under the sun" being, in fact, their imperfect epitome. The omission is simply POETRY! there is no apparent consciousness of her entity in the mind of this versifier; no aspiration towards her presence, not so much as a sigh upon her absence. We do not, indeed, become aware, in the whole course of this laborious work, of much unfolding of faculty; take it lower than the poetical; of nothing much beyond an occasional dry, sly, somewhat boorish humour, which being good humour besides, would not be a bad thing were its traces only more extended. But the general level of the work is a dull talkativeness, a prosy adversity, who is no "Daughter of Jove," and a slumberousness without a dream. We adjudge to our reader the instructive history of the Phœnix.
A phœnix is a single bird and synchronous with nature,
The peacock cannot equal him in beauty or in stature!
In radiance he outshines the gold; the world in wonder yieldeth;
His nest he fixeth in the trees, and all of spices buildeth.
And when he dies, a little worm from out his body twining,
Doth generate him back again whene'er the sun is shining;
He lives in Ægypt, and he dies in Æthiopia only, as
Asserts Philostratus, who wrote the Life of Apollonius.
And as the wise Ægytian scribe, the holy scribe Chœremon,
Hath entered on these Institutes, all centre their esteem on,
Seven thousand years and six of age, this phœnix of the story,
Expireth from the fair Nile side, whereby he had his glory!
In the early part of the fourteenth century, Manuel Phile, pricked emulously to the heart by the successful labours of Tzetzes, embraced into identity with himself the remaining half of Ælian, and developed in his poetical treatise ‘On the Properties of Animals,' to which Ioachimus Camerarius provided a conclusion – the Natural History of that industrious and amusing Greek-Roman. The Natural History is translated into verse, but by no means glorified; and yet the poet of animals, Phile, has carried away far more of the Ælian honey clinging to the edges of his patera, than the poet of the Chiliads did ever wot of. What we find in him is not beauty, what we hear in him is not music, but there is an open feeling for the beautiful which stirs at a word, and we have a scarcely confessed contentment in hearkening to those twice-told stories of birds and beasts, and fishes, measured out to us in the low monotony of his chaunting voice. Our selections shall say nothing of the live grasshopper, called, with the first breath of these papers, an emblem of the vital Greek tongue; because the space left to us closes within our sight, and the science of the age does not thirst to receive, through our hands, the history of grasshoppers, according to Ælian or Phile either. Everybody knows what Phile tells us here, that grasshoppers live upon morning dew, and cannot sing when it is dry. Everybody knows that the lady grasshopper sings not at all. And if the moral, drawn by Phile from this latter fact, of the advantage of silence in the female sex generally, be true and important, it is also too obvious to exact our enforcement of it. Therefore we pass by the grasshopper, and the nightingale too, for all her fantastic song, – and hasten to introduce to European naturalists a Philhellenic species of heron, which has escaped the researches of Cuvier, and the peculiarities of which may account to the philosophic reader for that instinct of the "wisdom of our forefathers," which established an English university in approximation with the fens. It is earnestly to be hoped that the nice ear in question for the Attic dialect, may still be preserved among the herons of Cambridgeshire: –
A Grecian island nourisheth to bless
A race of herons in all nobleness.
If some barbarian bark approach the shore,
They hate, they flee, – no eagle can outsoar!
But if by chance an Attic voice be wist,
They grow softhearted straight, philhellenist;
Press on in earnest flocks along the strand,
And stretch their wings out to the comer's hand.
Perhaps he nears them with a gentle mind, –
They love his love, though foreign to their kind!
For so the island giveth wingèd teachers
In true love lessons, to all wingless creatures.
He has written, besides, ‘A Dialogue between Mind and Phile,' and other poems; and we cannot part without taking from him a more solemn tone, which may sound as an "Amen!" to the good we have said of him. The following address to the Holy Spirit is concentrated in expression:–
O living Spirit, O falling of God-dew,
O Grace which dost console us and renew;
O vital light, O breath of angelhood,
O generous ministration of things good –
Creator of the visible, and best
Upholder of the great unmanifest!
Power infinitely wise, new boon sublime,
Of science and of art, constraining might;
In whom I breathe, live, speak, rejoice, and write,
Be with us in all places, for all time!
"And now," saith the patientest reader of all, "you have done. Now we have watched out the whole night of the world with you, by no better light than these poetical rushlights, and the wicks fail, and the clock of the universal hour is near upon the stroke of the seventeenth century, and you have surely done!" Surely not, we answer; for we see a hand which the reader sees not, which beckons us over to Crete, and clasps within its shadowy fingers a roll of hymns anacreontical, written by Maximus Margunius! and not for the last of our readers would we lose this last of the Greeks, owing him salutation. Yet the hymns have, for the true anacreontic fragrance, a musty odour, and we have scant praise for them in our nostrils. Their inspiration is from Gregory Nazianzen, whose "Soul and body" are renewed in them by a double species of transmigration; and although we kiss the feet of Gregory's high excellencies, we cannot admit any one of them to be a safe conductor of poetical inspiration. And in union with Margunius's plagiaristic tendencies, there is a wearisome lengthiness, harder to bear. He will knit you to the whole length of an "Honi soit qui mal y pense," till you fall asleep to the humming of the stitches, what time you should be reading the "moral." We ourselves once dropped into a "distraction," as the French say, – for nothing could be more different from what the English say, than our serene state of self-abnegation – at the beginning of a house-building by this Maximus Margunius: when, reading on some hundred lines with our bare bodily eyes, and our soul starting up on a sudden to demand a measure of the progress, behold, he was building it still, with a trowel in the same hand: it was not forwarder by a brick. The swallows had time to hatch two nestfulls in a chimney while he finished the chimney-pot! Nevertheless he has moments of earnestness, and they leave beauties in their trance. Let us listen to this extract from his fifth hymn: –
Take me as an hermit lone,
With a desert life and moan;
Only Thou anear to mete
Slow or quick my pulse's beat;
Only Thou, the night to chase,
With the sunlight in Thy face!
Pleasure to the eyes may come
From a glory seen afar,
But if life concentre gloom
Scattered by no little star,
Then, how feeble, God, we are!
Nay, whatever bird there be
(Æther by his flying stirred,)
He, in this thing, must be free –
And I, Saviour, am thy bird,
Pricking with an open beak
At the words that thou dost speak!
Leave a breath upon my wings,
That above these nether things
I may rise to where thou art, –
I may flutter next thine heart!
For if a light within me burn,
It must be darkness in an urn,
Unless within its crystalline,
That unbeginning light of thine
Shine! – oh! Saviour, let it shine!
He is the last of our Greeks. The light from Troy city, with which all Greek glory began, "threw three times six," said Æschylus, that man with a soul, – beacon after beacon, into the heart of Greece. "Three times six," too, threw the light from Greece, when her own heart-light had gone out like Troy's, onward along the ridges of time. Three times six – but what faint beacons are the last! – sometimes only a red brand; sometimes only a small trembling flame; sometimes only a white glimmer, as of ashes breathed on by the wind; faint beacons and far! How far! We have watched them along the cloudy tops of the great centuries, through the ages dark but for them, – and now stand looking with eyes of farewell upon the last pale sign on the last mist-bound hill. But it is the sixteenth century. Beyond the ashes on the hill a red light is gathering – above the falling of the dews a great sun is rising: there is a rushing of life and song upward; let it still be UPWARD! – Shakspeare is in the world! And the Genius of English Poetry, she who only of all the earth is worthy, (Goethe's spirit may hear us say so, and smile,) stooping, with a royal gesture, to kiss the dead lips of the Genius of Greece, stands up her successor in the universe, by virtue of that chrism, and in right of her own crown.