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ART. VII. Modern Greece: a Poem. 8vo. pp. 67. Murray. London, 1817.
THE magic name of Greece is always accompanied with emotions of admiration and regret. Long have we contemplated that country through the medium of her poets and historians, her philosophers and orators, and have thence learned, from our infancy, to glow at a name consecrated by every elegant and classic allusion. We have walked and reasoned with the sages of her academic groves; we have followed her animated crowds to the scenes of forensic or theatrical eloquence; we have paced her marble temples, and felt all the powers of fancy, of thought, and of feeling, entranced by the splendid forms of architecture and sculpture, which have burst every moment upon the imagination. Every great idea, every elevated sensation, even every imperfect reminiscence, has seemed to assume a local habitation, and a name. There Pericles harangued the people; there Phidias exhibited his forms of ideal grandeur and celestial sublimity; there the agonistic champion encircled his brows with imperishable garlands; there the undaunted matron animated her sons to deeds of heroic glory; there the embryo statesman drank deep at the fountains of Attic wisdom, or learned to embody the exalted conceptions of his free-born-mind in the pure and majestic strains of Athenian eloquence. Not a state, or city, or mountain, or river, can occur to the memory, without bringing with it the recollection of deeds and personages of heroic fame. It is a world of enchantments; we forget ourselves and all around us, and seem inspired with new souls and new bodies, the moment we touch in idea this Elysian ground, this land of ever-pleasing delights and fascinating associations. A sedate majesty, a pensive tenderness, a breathless veneration, steal over the mind, when it muses, in silence, upon scenes connected with all the pleasures and pains of our youthful studies, and all the fairy visions of our more matured contemplations. At the name of Greece are awakened the loveliest ideas of beauty, the proudest conceptions of sublimity, the loftiest aspirations of liberty; in a word, all that fires, or exalts, or expands the soul; all that adds elasticity and ardour to mortal energies, and gives to the ordinary passions and pursuits of men an aspect of poetical dignity and mental elevation.
It is true, that when we behold ancient Greece by the light of a holier lamp, much, if not all, of this delusive splendour fades away, and a scene of lust, and ambition, and blood is presented in its place: cruelty and rapine fill every palace, and violate
every temple. Man did not-could not attain the true majesty
In these more exalted, and indeed more rational points of
tropolis of many, and indeed many of the best, of those illus trious monuments which have conferred on Greece, whether ancient or modern, its greatest charm. A few years ago, and even at the commencement of the present century, our island could scarcely boast of more than a few insulated relics of Grecian sculpture in private collections: the Arundelian marbles at Oxford, disposed in a manner wholly unworthy of their importance, were almost the only public collection of any considerable value.
It was in the year 1808, that the celebrated Townleian marbles were first thrown open for public inspection in the British Museum. Mr. Townley, it is well known, had employed half a century in perfecting his extensive collection, both Greek and Roman; and soon after his death, in 1805, they were purchased by Parliament for the sum of 20,000l.
The public effect, however, of these numerous, and some of them most exquisite specimens, was not immediately visible; and indeed it was not till within the last two years, and since the purchase of the Phygalian, and still more especially the Elgin collection, that the taste of the nation for sculpture began decidedly to display itself. Artists and amateurs, it is true, had visited and studied the latter, at the residence of their noble proprietor, long before; but the public at large were not only dead to their beauties, but even ignorant of their existence. Indeed, we are not sure, even now, that the ardour excited by the Elgin marbles was not, at first, more owing to the peculiar circumstances which attended their removal, and the controversy to which it gave rise, than to any public relish for ancient sculpture. But at all events, however the taste might originate, there can be no doubt that, with such inimitable models under constant inspection, it will continue to improve; and in examining the poem before us, which our readers will soon perceive has a close relation to the preceding remarks, we shall take occasion to make a few observations upon the effects which such collections may be expected to produce upon the public mind. Greece has become more than ever interesting to us; we not only imagine, but actually see those efforts of genius, which we were accustomed, even by the bare description, to admire, without ever hoping to behold. In our own metropolis are exhibited those very pieces which were the boast of antiquity, and the school of rival genius; a new Athens has arisen within the walls of the British Museum, open with a becoming liberality to persons of every age, and sex, and nation, where may be constantly seen a considerable number of young men, emulously studying from the purest models the graces and sublimities of Roman or Grecian art, and preparing to transfer to British
canvas, or infuse into modern marble, all that adorned and dignified the proudest cities of the ancient world.
The very elegant and classical poem before us opens with a description of the sensations experienced by a feeling and enthusiastic mind, at the recollections excited by this "land of Phidias, theme of lofty strains." The whole train of pensive ideas is very sweetly and tenderly brought before the mind:
"Where soft the sunbeams play, the zephyrs blow,
And mantling woodbine veils the withered tree,-
That the dark shades the night hath o'er thee cast
Once proud in freedom, still in ruin fair,
Thy fate hath been unmatch'd-in glory and despair." (P. 5.)
Our author proceeds to exhibit an affecting picture of a Grecian outcast bursting the link that attached him to his own enslaved country, and wandering in search of that liberty which he cannot enjoy at home. In vain would he look to the East, where, though" earth is fruitfulness, and air is balm," man is still wretched and insecure, and tyrant and slave are the only forms of human existence. From Syria's mountains, therefore, and Yeman's groves, and the genii-haunted waves of Tigris, he turns to that new fair world,
"Whose fresh unsullied charms
Welcomed Columbus from the western wave;"
A world where, amidst the wild magnificence of nature, he hopes to rear his lonely bower, in primeval woods, which despots have never trod. Chateaubriand expressly mentions that he found Greek emigrants, who had thus settled themselves in the forests of Florida, a circumstance of which our author has properly taken advantage.
"There, by some lake, whose blue expansive breast
In tints like those that float o'er poet's dreams;
Scarce have the paths been trod by Indian huntsman's feet.
"The forests are around him in their pride,
And stillness, and luxuriance-o'er his head
And from those green arcades a thousand tones
"And there, no traces left by brighter days,
For glory lost may wake a sigh of grief,
Some grassy mound perchance may meet his gaze,
The lone memorial of an Indian chief.
There man not yet hath marked the boundless plain
The forest is his everlasting fane,
The palm his monument, the rock his tower.
Remind him but that they, like him, are wildly free.” (P. 8, 9.)
But who ever relinquished home, and especially such a home as Greece, without a pang; or who, therefore, can be astonished that our wanderer sighs for his native gales, and pines amidst his day-dreams for a land which, although oppressed and blighted, is still endeared to him by every tender association.
"In vain for him the liannes entwine,
Or the green fire-fly sparkles through the brakes,