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subject. The second Book, indeed, contains many independent apothegms concerning life and manners, from some of which, most excellent hints, political, moral, and divine, might have been drawn, and gracefully enough interspersed in the body of his Poem, though little conducing to the main subject. With regard to the last Book, which chiefly answered his purpose, it is so far from deserving the character he gives to Solomon's works in general, viz. that of confusedly magnificent, that nothing was ever built on a more beautiful and regular plan.
It is ominous, they say, to stumble at the threshold. However, as I concluded, notwithstanding Prior's false supposition, that this Book was not a continued and well-connected discourse, that be must unavoidably have made great use of it, in a Poem which bears the title of Solomon, or, The vanity of the World ; 1 perused the whole piece, in hopes at least of finding some new lights struck out froin such copious matter, by one of his fertile genius; but must confess, that the beauty of his Poetry made me no amends for the diappointment. He has not only passed over the most striking passages, which would have greatly embellished his Poem, even on its present plan, but given to others a sense so low and grovelling, and so widely different from that of the sublime original, as would scarce be pardoned in the most ordinary Writer. We shall produce but one instance, out of many, taken from that noble description of Old Age in the last chapter, where Solomon, after having enuinerated the various infirmities attending old men, till they drop into the grave, mentions the last sympton, immediately forerunning death, viz. the total stagnation of the blood in the heart, under the emblem of a Pitcher shattered in pieces at the Fountain. This allegorical expression is thus turned by Prior,
-“Unhonour'd from the board, 25, “The chrystal Urn, when broken, is thrown by.,
“And apter Utensils their place supply." The plain English of which is, that a Urinal is sabstituted instead of a drinking Cup. A very odd circumstance, indeed, to be taken
notice of, on so' solemn an occasion as the separation of soul and body.
We do not intend what we have here said, as a reflection on that justly admired Writer's poetical talents, but only to express our regret at his not having followed the model set him by so great a Master; and may venture to add, that, had he taken but half as mnch pains in studying and copying the beauties of this sacred book, as he has done with those of the Classics, particularly his favourite Horace, we should probably have had a much finer Poem, beyond all comparison, than we have at present: for as to the reason he has given for so strangely indulging the flights of his own imagination, judicious readers, I believe, will be as much surprized, and as little satisfied, as Monsieur Le Blanc seems to have been, in his criticism on our English Poets, at Solomon's being made to expatiate so largely on the glories of Great Britain, and the wonderful success of our arms in Flanders under Queen Anne. The story, which our Poet has formed, was, no doubt, intended to enliven his piece, which, he thinks, would have appeared too dry and tedious, as it came from the inspired Author's hand; but few, as I apprehend, who examine it with due attention, will agree with him in this particular. For, to say nothing of the narrative part, wherein the Preacher gives so affecting a detail of the various methods he pursued to spend his days in the most pleasing manner, and how little they answered his expectations ; what reader of taste could have been tired with the gravity of the precepts, considering the uncommon strain in which they are delivered, the amazing variety of subjects treated of, in so narrow a compass, the rapid and almost imperceptible transition from one thing to another, and yet the exquisite symmetry and coherence of every part, the whole illustrated and enlivened with the aptest similes, most significant allusions, loftiness of style, and dignity of sentiment ?
With regard to the admired performance above spoken of, this may be said of it in general, without depreciating its merit, that we see too much of Prior in it, and too little of Solomon. The lines, it is true, are, for the most part, both harmonious and sentimental ; but as to the body he bas given to his Poem, although it is dressed up very handsomely, yet still it wants one of the principal graces that distinguishes the original from all other compositions of the same nature, of which we shall presently take notice; and, in short, though it breathes so much of the spirit of Poetry, it seems to have but little of that soul in it which animated the royal Preacher. However, before we take our leave of this celebrated Writer, it may be prudent just to intimate, lest we should be charged with plagiarism, especially from one, on whom we have taken the liberty of criticising, that we have made some use of about three or four of his lines.
As I knew of no others, who have attempted any thing of this kind, either in our own or any other language, I judged it the best and shortest course to recur to the fountain-head, that is, to the Original Hebrew. This I did with great application, consulting, at the same time, both antient and modern Versions, with the most judicious Commentators I could conveniently meet with ; all which assistances are little enough towards coming at the genuine sense of a Book, confessed to be the most difficult and obscure of the metri. cal parts of Scripture, if not of all the Sacred Writings. When, by these helps, I had made myself, as I apprehended, a tolerable master of the subject, I set about the work, which, after all, proved a far more laborious task thap I at first imagined, not only from the phraseology peculiar to this Book, which, in many places, is dark enough in itself, and rendered still darker from the prodigious variety of arbitrary interpretations, but sometimes also from the difficulty of finding out the true connexion of the several parts, which, on a cursory view, seem to have no dependence on each other. It ought likewise to be noted, that the injudicious division of the chapters and verses, which appears in almost all the modern editions and translations of the Bible, very often embarrasses the sense, and adds not a little to its obscurity, especially in the Book now before us.
Those, who are apt to judge of the facility of a Work from its shortness, will scarce believe what pains the present undertaking cost me; and, indeed, had I foreseen the whole fatigue, it is probable, I should have been discouraged from attempting it. But as, in the continued researches I made, so many new beauties occurred, which I had no idea of before, the very fatigue gave me pleasure; and this encouraged me to proceed, till the task was accomplished. Not that I am so vain as to flatter myself, that I may not have been sometimes mistaken in the explanation of a Book, wherein so many passages occur, which have perplexed men of much greater learning and sagacity than I can pretend to. This, however, I may venture to say, that, as I have spared no pains to come at the genuine sense and scope of the Original, so have I not passed over a single passage in the whole piece, (as the anonymous Author, first mentioned, has frequently done, in the specimen he has given us of only a part,) nor inserted any thing of my own, but what seemed naturally to arise from the subject : in which respect I have been so scrupulous as to have marked every verse in the margin, agreeable to the division in our common English Translation ; that the reader, should his curiosity lead him so far, may with the greater ease, compare this Essay with the Text. *
Having premised thus much, it may not be impertinent to say something of the Royal Author, and his motive for writing this inimitable Piece, with a brief account subjoined of its exquisite structure and useful tendency.
As the history of Solomon is so well known, we shall only touch on one particular, which, we are persuaded, will appear in the same extraordinary light to the generality of our readers, as it does to us. Certain foreign Divines, judging of the Almighty from their own sour and gloomy dispositions, have not only mistaken the design of Ecclesiastes, but are filled with such indignation at the Author, as even to call his salvation in question. It appears, say they, from sacred history, that, notwithstanding he had been twice favoured with divine illuminations in so stupendous a manner, he most shamefully apostatized, and this almost at the close of life, when he ought to have had the most serious reflections; that, besides his other enormous excesses, the crime he committed, was in contempt of the true Religion, by erecting public monuments of impiety, to the infinite
* In this edition, the English Translation is printed under the Paraphrase. Ed.
scandal of good men, and the perdition of such as followed his example; that there is no instance on record of his having ever repented; but, on the contrary, that it may be inferred, from the division of the Kingdom, which happened soon after his decease, that God did not pardon his offence.
· It must be acknowledged, indeed, that the apostacy of this great Prince was attended with very aggravating circumstances, and brought down most grievous calamities both on his Family and Kingdom. Yet this instance, glaring as it is, gives no man a right to pry into the secret judgments of Heaven, and much less to pass sentence, in a matter which does not fall under 'human cognizance. There is sufficient reason to believe, that Solomon had a just sense of his errors, and heartily repented his past follies : nor can there, I think, be a stronger proof of this, than the Book now before us, which appears, from a variety of striking circumstances, applicable to none but him, to have been written in his old age, and wherein be lays open, in the most pathetic terms, the source both of his crimes and misfortunes. For what can that expression mean, of his having found Woman more bitter than death, to whose allurements his apostacy was undoubtedly owing, but the most pungent sorrow for his own wilful blindness ? Moreover, it is well worthy of remark, that, after having begun his Poem with this solemn exclamation, 0 vanity of vanities! (for so the words ought to be turned,) when he speaks of himself, he never mentions, either here, or on any other occasion, the name of Solomon, once so glorious, and dear to his people, but only assumes that of the Preacher. And, what is still more observable, when he has laid down his general proposition, of the vanity of all things under the Sun, in order to give the greater weight to his discourse, we are informed that this same Preacher, who' now makes so little account of the grandeur and pleasures of the world, was King of Israel, though he then actually sat on the Throne;
A modern Critic, indeed, has inferred, from this expression, that we are, to look on the whole discourse as a sermon preached by Solomon, long after his decease, or, in other words, published for