The severest critic of his shortcomings or his errors, if not incompetent to appreciate his achievements and his merits, must recognize in Chapman an original poet, one who held of no man and acknowledged no master, but throughout the whole generation of our greatest men, from the birth of Marlowe wellnigh to the death of Jonson, held on his own hard and haughty way of austere and sublime ambition, not without an occasional pause for kindly and graceful salutation of such younger and still nobler compeers as Jonson and Fletcher. With Shakespeare we should never have guessed that he had come at all in contact, had not the intelligence of Mr. Minto divined or rather discerned him to be the rival poet referred to in Shakespeare’s sonnets with a grave note of passionate satire, hitherto as enigmatic as almost all questions connected with those divine and dangerous poems. This conjecture the critic has fortified by such apt collocation and confrontation of passages that we may now reasonably accept it as an ascertained and memorable fact.
The objections which a just and adequate judgment may bring against Chapman’s master-work, his translation of Homer, may be summed up in three epithets: it is romantic, laborious, Elizabethan. The qualities implied by these epithets are the reverse of those which should distinguish a translator of Homer; but setting this apart, and considering the poems as in the main original works, the superstructure of a romantic poet on the submerged foundations of Greek verse, no praise can be too warm or high for the power, the freshness, the indefatigable strength and inextinguishable fire which animate this exalted work, and secure for all time that shall take cognizance of English poetry an honored place in its highest annals for the memory of Chapman.
“They, shut up under their roofs, the prisoners of darkness, and fettered with the bonds of a long night, lay exiled, fugitives from the eternal providence. For while they supposed to lie hid in their secret sins, they were scattered under a dark veil of forgetfulness, being horribly astonished, and troubled with sights.... Sad visions appeared unto them with heavy countenances. No power of the fire might give them light: neither could the bright flames of the stars endure to lighten that horrible night. Only there appeared unto them a fire kindled of itself, very dreadful: for being much terrified, they thought the things which they saw to be worse than the sight they saw not.... The whole world shined with clear light, and none were hindered in their labor: over them only was spread an heavy night, an image of that darkness which should afterward receive them: but yet were they unto themselves more grievous than the darkness.” In this wild world of fantastic retribution and prophetic terror the genius of a great English poet—if greatness may be attributed to a genius which holds