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VI.-CARDINAL DE POLIGNAC'S “ANTI-LUCRETIUS."
[From the Monthly Review, 1757. “ Anti-Lucretius, of God
and Nature; a Poem. Written in Latin by the Cardinal De Polignac. Rendered into English by the Translator of Paradise Lost.” (1) 4to.]
It is a doubt whether the Cardinal de Polignac be better known to the statesmen of Europe as a politician, or to the learned as a poet : it is certain, his talent of persuasion in both capacities was extraordinary; and it is somewhat surprising, that amidst such a multiplicity of state negociations, as might seem sufficient to engross all his attention, he found leisure for the intricate disquisitions of philosophy. As neither his editor nor our translator have mentioned what first gave rise to this poem, it may not be improper to mention it here: “ A seeming chance," as we are told, “ first put Polignac upon this undertaking. The author, in his return from Poland, made some stay in Holland, where, becoming acquainted with M. Bayle, he asked him, which
(1) (John Dobson, of New College, Oxford. For translating Paradise Lost into Latin verse, Mr. Auditor Benson, who erected a monument to Milton in Westminster Abbey, gave him one thousand pounds.
“ Dobson had acquired great reputation by his translation of Prior's Solomon, the first book of which he finished when he was a scholar at Winchester College. He had not, at that time, as he told me (for I knew him well), read Lucretius, which would have given a richness and force to his verses. Mr. Pope wished him to translate the Essay on Man; which he began to do, but relinquished on account of the impossibility of imitating its brevity in another language. Though he had so much facility in translating, his original poems, of which I have seen many, were very feeble and flat, and contained no mark of genius."- Dr. Joseph Wartox.
“ There is one translation which I greatly admire. I mean Dobson's * Paradisus Amissus :' my son studied, and, I believe, read every line of it. It is more true to the original, both in sense and spirit, than any other poetical version of length that I have seen. The author must have had an amazing command of Latin phraseology, and a very nice ear in harmony. All that I could ever hear of Dobson's private life was, that in bis old age he was given to drinking "- Dr. Brattie.]
of the sects in vogue he professed ? Bayle eluded the ques. tion, by repeating some lines out of Lucretius ; and being closer pressed, he made no other answer than that he was a true Protestant. The Abbé still urging him, he answered with some emotion, “ Yes, Sir, I am a true Protestant, and to the utmost extent of the word, for I protest against all that is said or done;' which was followed by another more energetic repetition from Lucretius. The Abbé finding that le arned
gone in the system of Epicurism, or at least of Scepticism, and that these notions were seducingly advanced in his celebrated Dictionary, immediately conceived a design of refuting those errors, and his two relegations (to the States) proved fortunate for the accomplishment.”
Certainly nothing can be a more proper antidote than the “ Anti-Lucretius” against the mischievous doctrines of the charming poet, but indifferent philosopher, here controverted by our author. It must be confessed Lucretius has more poetic enthusiasm , and more frequently amuses his reader with the glowing descriptions of a fine imagination. Our author, with greater severity, seems always in quest of truth, and never loses the philosopher in the poet. Lucretius strikes his reader with the brilliancy of his arguments; the demonstrations of Polignac operate more slowly, but then they are sure to carry conviction. The one aims at instruction merely to please ; the other pleases merely to instruct. In short, the fictions of the disciple of Epicurus seem to acquire additional graces from poetry, while poetry receives new graces from his antagonist, by being employed in the service of truth.
Lucretius has long ago been translated into our language. This, in some measure, implied a necessity for translating his opponent also; and the first book of the Anti-Lucretius in English verse, is here submitted, by the ingenious Mr. Dobson, as a specimen of his abilities for the whole. He certainly seems every way equal to the laborious undertaking, if we may be allowed to judge from this part of his performance now before us. He ever preserves the sense, and very seldom loses the spirit of his original. Sometimes, however, he seems inferior to him in strength ; thus, line 32, in the original :
“ Incute vim dictis, propriamque ulciscere causam," he translates less energetically thus :
inspire My song, and vindicate thy sovereign cause." Where the poet rapturously cries out,
“O utinam, dum te regionibus infero sacris” the translator coolly says,
“ Were mine the gift, as o'er the sacred clime--But that the reader may not rest solely upon our judgment, it may be proper to select a specimen or two of the original, to which subjoining the translation, we shall leave him to determine for himself. The author thus addresses the atheist :
“ Si virtutis eras avidus, rectique bonique
“ Were you with ardent love of virtue fir'd,
Why should Religion's sacred laws offend ?
“ Quid si autem invenies quod credimus, ultima cum te
“ But should you find (what merits firmest faith),
The Anti-Lucretius is not a refutation of Lucretius only, but of those in general who seem to have been favourers of Atheism. Democritus, Aristotle, Epicurus, Hobbes, and Spinosa, are confuted; and among the number of those whom he has opposed, we are sorry to find Newton, Locke, and Gassendus, whose opinions concerning a vacuum, &c., he has taken great pains to obviate; but his reasonings on natural subjects seem chiefly drawn from the stores of Des Cartes, in whose amusing systems our author had been early initiated ; and it is but natural to controvert any opinions that tend to discover the futility of our former researches into nature. If the translator proceeds in this performance, (as we sincerely hope he will) some notes added in those places where the author erroneously controverts the great men already mentioned, would certainly be not less useful than pleasing to the English reader. His vacuums and his gravity of atoms, may be given up to Lucretius, while still our obligations will remain to the author for impugning the rest of his doctrines. (1)
[From the Monthly Review, 1757. Odes. By Mr. Gray. 4to.]
As this publication seems designed for those who have formed their taste by the models of antiquity, the generality of readers cannot be supposed adequate judges of its merit; nor will the poet, it is presumed, be greatly disappointed if he finds them backward in commending a performance not entirely suited to their apprehensions. (2) We
(1) [Another translation of the first book of the "Anti-Lucretius” was published in 1767, by George Canning, Esq., father of the late Right Honourable George Canning. Mr. Canning died the 11th of April 1771; upon which day bis eminent and highly-gifted son had completed his first year.]
(2) (“My friends tell me that the Odes do not succeed, and write me many topics of consolation on that head. In short, I have heard of nobody but an actor and a doctor of divinity that profess their esteem for them.”—Gray to Dr. Hurd, Aug. 25, 1757.