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and for this reason Valerius Flaccus and Statius, who were both Romans, might be justly derided for having chosen the expedition of the Golden Fleece, and the Wars of Thebes, for the subjects of their epic writings.
The poet before us has not only found out an hero in his own country, but raises the reputation of it by several beautiful incidents. The English are the first who take the field, and the last who quit it. The English bring only fifteen hundred to the battle, the Scotch two thousand. The English keep the field with fifty-three; the Scotch retire with fifty-five : all the rest on each side being slain in battle. But the most remarkable circumstance of this kind is the different manner in which the Scotch and English kings receive the news of this fight, and of the great men's deaths, who commanded in it :
This news was brought to Edinburgh,
Where Scotland's king did reign,
Was with an arrow slain.
Scotland can witness be,
Of such account as he.
Within as short a space *,
Was slain in Chevy-Chase.
Sith 't will no better be,
Five hundred as good as he.
But I will vengeance take,
For brave Lord Percy's sake.
* Impossible! for it was more than three times the distance,
This vow full well the king perform'd
After on Humble-down,
With lords of great renown.
Did many thousands die, &c.
At the same time that our poet shews a laudable partiality to his countrymen, he represents the Scots after a manner not unbecoming so bold and brave a people :
Eart Douglas on a milk-white steed,
Most like a baron bold,
Whose armour shone like gold.
His sentiments and actions are every way suitable to an hero. One of us two, says he, must die: I am an earl as well as yourself, so that you can have no pretence for refusing the combat: however, says he, it is pity, and indeed would be a sin, that so many innocent men should perish for our sakes, rather let you and I end our quarrel in single fight :
Ere thus I will out-braved be,
One of us two shall die,
Lord Percy, so am I.
And great offence to kill
For they have done no ill.
And set our men aside;
By whom it is deny'd,
When these brave men had distinguished themselves in the battle, and in single combat with each other, in the midst of a generous parley, full of heroic sentiments, the Scotch earl falls ; and with his dying words encourages his men to revenge his death, representing to them, as the most bitter circumstance of it, that his rival saw him fall :
With that there came an arrow keen
Out of an English bow,
A deep and deadly blow.
Fight on, my merry-men all,
Lord Percy sees my fall.
Merry-men, in the language of those times, is no more than a cheerful word for companions and fellowsoldiers. A passage in the eleventh book of Virgil's Æneid is very much to be admired, where Camilla, in her last agonies, instead of weeping over the wound she had received, as one might have expected from a warrior of her sex, considers only (like the hero of whom we are now speaking) how the battle should be continued after her death :
Tum sic expirans, &c. .
ÆN. xi. 820
Turnus did not die in so heroic a manner; though our poet seems to have had his eye upon Turnus's speech in the last verse :
Lord Percy sees my fall.
- Vicisti, et victum tendere palmas Ausonii videre
Æn. xii. 936. The Latin chiefs have scen me beg my life.
DRYDEN. Earl Percy's lamentation over his enemy is generous, beautiful, and passionate : I must only caution the reader not to let the simplicity of the style, which one may well pardon in so old a poet, prejudice him against the greatness of the thought :
Then leaving life, Earl Percy took
The dead man by the hand,
Would I had lost my land.
With sorrow for thy sake;
Mischance did never take. The beautiful line, “Taking the dead man by the hand,' will put the reader in mind of Æneas' behaviour towards Lausus, whom he himself had slain as he came to the rescue of his aged father :
At vero ut vultum vidit morientis, et ora,
Æn. X. 821.
DRYDEN. I shall take another opportunity to consider the other parts of this old song.
N° 71. TUESDAY, MAY 22, 1711.
The entire conquest of our passions is so difficult a work, that they who despair of it should think of a less difficult task, and only attempt to regulate them. But there is a third thing which may contribute not only to the ease, but also to the pleasure of our life ; and that is refining our passions to a greater elegance than we receive them from nature. When the passion is Love, this work is performed in innocent, though rude and uncultivated minds, by the mere force and dignity of the object. There are forms which naturally create respect in the beholders, and at once inflame and chastise the imagination. Such an impression as this gives an immediate ambition to deserve, in order to please. This cause and effect are beautifully described by Mr. Dryden in the fable of Cymon and Iphigenia. After he has represented Cymon so stupid, that
He whistled as he went, for want of thought; he makes him fall into the following scene, and shews its influence upon him so excellently, that it appears as natural as wonderful :
It happen'd on a summer's holiday,
And whistled as he went, for want of thought.