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chosen a very short text to enlarge upon, says Cynthio: I should as soon expect to see a critic on the posie of a ring, as on the inscription of a medal.
I have seen several modern coins, says Philander, that have had part of the legend running round the edges, like the decus et tutamen in our milled money; so that a few years will probably wear out the action that the coin was designed to perpetuate. The ancients were too wise to register their exploits on so nice a surface. I should fancy, says Eugenius, the moderns may have chosen this part of the medal for the inscription, that the figures on each side might appear to a greater advantage. I have observed in several old coins a kind of confusion between the legend and the device. The figures and letters were so mingled together, that one would think the coiner was hard put to it on what part of the money to bestow the several words of his inscription. You have found out something like an excuse, says Philander, for your milled medals, if they carried the whole legend on their edges. But at the same time that they are lettered on the edges, they have other inscriptions on the face and the reverse. Your modern designers cannot contract the occasion of the medal into an inscription that is proper to the volume they write upon: so that having scribbled over both sides, they are forced, as it were, to write upon the margin. The first fault, therefore, that I shall find with a modern legend, is its diffusiveness. You have some
times a whole side of a medal overrun with it. One would fancy the author had a design of being Ciceronian in his Latin, and of making a round period. I will give you only the reverse of a coin stamped by the present emperor of Germany, on the raising of the siege of Vienna. VIENNA AVSTRIAE IVLII AB ACHMETE II. OBSESSA SEPT. EX INSPERATO AB EO DESERTA EST. I should take this, says Cynthio, for the paragraph of a gazette, rather than the inscription of a medal. I remember you represented your ancient coins as abridgments of history; but your modern, if there are many of them like this, should themselves be epitomized. Compare with this, says Philander, the brevity and comprehensiveness of those legends that appear on
Salus Generis humani. Tellus stabilita. Gloria Orbis Terræ. Pacator Orbis. Restitutor Orbis Terrarum. Gaudium Reipublicæ. Hilaritas
populi Romani. Bono Reipub. nati. Roma renascens. Libertas resti tuta. Sæculum Aureum. Puellæ Faustinianæ. Rex Parthis datus. Victoria Germanica. Fides Mutua. Asia Subacta. Judæa capta. Amor mutuus. Genetrix orbis. Sideribus recepta. Genio Senatûs. Fides exercitus. Providentia Senatus. Restitutori Hispaniæ. Adventui Aug. Britanniæ. Regna Adsignata. Adlocutio. Discipulina Augusti. Felicitas publica. Rex Armenis datus.
What a majesty and force does one meet with in these short inscriptions! Are not you amazed to see so much history gathered into so small a compass? You have often the subject of a volume in a couple of words.
If our modern medals are so very prolix in their prose, they are every whit as tedious in their verse. You have sometimes a dull epigram of four lines. This, says Cynthio, may be of great use to immortalize puns and quibbles, and to let posterity see their forefathers were a parcel of blockheads. A coin, I find, may be of great use to a bad poet. If he cannot become immortal by the goodness of his verse, he may by the durableness of the metal that supports it. I shall give you an instance, says Philander, from a medal of Gustavus Adolphus, that will stand as an eternal monument of dulness and bravery.
Miles ego Christi, Christo duce sterno tyrannos,
Papicolas Christus dux meus en animat.
It is well, says Cynthio, you tell us this is a medal of the great Gustavus: I should have taken it for some one of his Gothic predecessors. Does it not bring into your mind Alexander the Great's being accompanied with a Chærilus in his Persian expedition? If you are offended at the homeliness of this inscription, says Philander, what would you think of such as have neither sense nor grammar in them? I assure you I have seen the face of many a great monarch hemmed in with false Latin. But it is not only the stupidity and tediousness of these inscriptions that I find fault with; supposing them of a moderate length and proper sense, why must they be in verse? We should be surprised to see the title of a serious book in rhyme, yet it is every whit as ridiculous to give the subject of a medal in a piece of an hexameter. This, however, is the practice of our modern medallists. If you look into the ancient inscriptions, you see an air of simplicity in the words, but a great magnificence in
the thought; on the contrary, in your modern medals you have generally a trifling thought wrapt up in the beginning or end of an heroic verse. Where the sense of an inscription is low, it is not in the power of dactyls and spondees to raise it where it is noble, it has no need of such affected ornaments. I remember a medal of Philip the Second, on Charles le Quint's resigning to him the kingdom of Spain, with this inscription, Ut quiescat Atlas. The device is a Hercules with the sphere on his shoulders. Notwithstanding the thought is poetical, I dare say you would think the beauty of the inscription very much lost, had it been-requiescat ut Atlas. To instance a medal of our own nation. After the conclusion of the peace with Holland, there was one stampt with the following legend-Redeant Commercia Flandris. The thought is here great enough, but in my opinion it would have looked much greater in two or three words of prose. I think, truly, says Eugenius, it is ridiculous enough to make the inscription run like a piece of a verse when it is not taken out of an old author. But I would fain have your opinion on such inscriptions as are borrowed from the Latin poets. I have seen several of this sort, that have been very prettily applied, and I fancy when they are chosen with art, they should not be thought unworthy of a place in your medals.
Whichever side I take, says Philander, I am like to have a great party against me. Those who have formed their relish on old coins, will by no means allow of such an innovation; on the contrary, your men of wit will be apt to look on it as an improvement on ancient medals. You will oblige us, however, to let us know what kind of rules you would have observed in the choice of your quotations, since you seem to lay a stress on their being chosen with art. You must know then, says Eugenius, I do not think it enough that a quotation tells us plain matter of fact, unless it has some other accidental matter to set it off. Indeed, if a great action, that seldom happens in the course of human affairs, is exactly described in the passage of an old poet, it gives the reader a very agreeable surprise, and may therefore deserve a place. on a medal.
Again, if there is more than a single circumstance of the action specified in the quotation, it pleases a man to see an
old exploit copied out as it were by a modern, and running parallel with it in several of its particulars.
In the next place, when the quotation is not only apt, but has in it a term of wit or satire, it is still the better qualified for a medal, as it has a double capacity of pleasing.
But there is no inscription fitter for a medal, in my opinion, than a quotation that, besides its aptness, has something in it lofty and sublime: for such a one strikes in with the natural greatness of the soul, and produces a high idea of the person or action it celebrates, which is one of the principal designs of a medal.
It is certainly very pleasant, says Eugenius, to see a verse of an old poet, revolting, as it were, from its original sense, and siding with a modern subject. But then it ought to do it willingly of its own accord, without being forced to it by any change in the words, or the punctuation: for, when this happens, it is no longer the verse of an ancient poet, but of him that has converted it to his own use.
You have, I believe, by this time exhausted your subject, says Philander; and I think the criticisms you have made on the poetical quotations that we so often meet with in our modern medals, may be very well applied to the mottoes of books, and other inscriptions of the same nature. But before we quit the legends of medals, I cannot but take notice of a kind of wit that flourishes very much on many of the modern, especially those of Germany, when they represent in the inscription the year in which they were coined. As to mention to you another of Gustavus Adolphus. CHRISTVS DVX ERGO TRIVMPHVS. If you take the pains to pick out the figures from the several words, and range them in their proper order, you will find the amount of 1627, the year in which the medal was coined; for, do not you observe, some of the letters distinguish themselves from the rest, and top it over their fellows? these you must consider in a double capacity, as letters or as ciphers. Your laborious German wits will turn you over a whole dictionary for one of these ingenious devices. You would fancy, perhaps, they were searching after an apt classical term, but, instead of that, they are looking out a word that has an L, an M, or a D, in it. When, therefore, you see any of these inscriptions, you are not so much to look in them for the thought, as for
the year of the Lord. There are foreign universities where this kind of wit is so much in vogue, that as you praise a man in England for being an excellent philosopher or poet, it is an ordinary character among them to be a great chronogrammatist. These are, probably, says Cynthio, some of those mild provinces of acrostic land, that Mr. Dryden has assigned to his anagrams, wings, and altars. We have now done, I suppose, with the legend of a medal. I think you promised us in the next place to speak of the figures.
As we had a great deal of talk on this part of a coin, replied Philander, in our discourse on the usefulness of ancient medals, I shall only just touch on the chief heads wherein the ancient and the modern differ. In the first place, the Romans always appear in the proper dress of their country, insomuch that you see the little variations of the mode in the drapery of the medal. They would have thought it ridiculous to have drawn an emperor of Rome in a Grecian cloak or a Phrygian mitre.. On the contrary, our modern medals are full of togas and tunicas, trabeas and paludamentums, with a multitude of the like antiquated garments, that have not been in fashion these thousand years. You see very often a king of England or France dressed up like a Julius Cæsar. One would think they had a mind to pass themselves upon posterity for Roman emperors. The same observation may run through several customs and religions, that appear in our ancient and modern coins. Nothing is more usual than to see allusions to Roman customs and ceremonies on the medals of our own nation. Nay, very often they carry the figure of a heathen god. If posterity takes its notions of us from our medals, they must fancy one of our kings paid a great devotion to Minerva, that another was a professed worshipper of Apollo, or at best, that our whole religion was a mixture of Paganism and Christianity. Had the old Romans been guilty of the same extravagance, there would have been so great a confusion in their antiquities, that their coins would not have had half the uses we now find in them. We ought to look on medals as so many monuments consigned over to eternity, that may possibly last when all other memorials of the same age are worn out or lost. They are a kind of present that those who are actually in being make over to such as lie hid in the depths of futurity. Were they only designed to instruct the three or