« السابقةمتابعة »
to develope the taste of an author, the taste of a painter or a ftatuary? and yet we may speak of a work of taste with the fame propriety, as we do of a man of taste. It should seem therefore as if this definition went only to that denomination of taste, which we properly call an acquired taste; the productions of which generally end in imitation, whilst those of natural tafte bear the stamp of originality: Another characteristic of natural taste will be fimplicity; for how can nature give more than fhe possesses, and what is nature but fimplicity? Now when the mind of any man is endued with a fine natural taste, and all means of profiting by other men's ideas are out of the question, that taste will operate by disposing him to select the faireft subjects out of what he sees either for art or imagination to work upon : Still his production will be marked with simplicity; but as it is the province of taste to separate deformity or vulgarity from what is merely simple, so accorda ing to the nature of his mind who possesses it, beauty or sublimity will be the result of the operation : If his taste inclines him to what is fair and elegant in nature, he will produce beauty; if to what is lofty, bold and tremendous, he will strike out sublimity. Agreeably to this, we may observe in all lite
rary and enlightened nations, their earliest au. thors and artists are the most simple : First, adventurers represent what they see or conceive with simplicity, because their impulse is unbiassed by emulation, having nothing in their fight either to imitate, avoid, or excel; on the other hand their successors are sensible, that one man's description of nature must be like another's, and in their zeal to keep clear of imitation, and to outstrip a predecessor, they begin to compound, refine, and even to distort. I will refer to the Venus de Medicis and the Laëcoon for an illustration of this : I do not concern myself about the dates or sculptors of these figures ; but in the former we see beautiful fimplicity, the fairest form in nature, selected by a fine taste, and imitated without affectation or distortion, and as it should seem without even an effort of art: In the Laöcoon we have a complicated plot; we unravel a maze of ingenious contrivance, where the artist has compounded and distorted Nature in the ambition of furpassing her.
Virgil possessed a fine taste acccording to Mr. Addison's definition, which I before observed applies only to an acquired taste : He had the faculty of discerning the beauties of an Author with pleasure, and the imperfections with VOL. III,
dislike : He had also the faculty of imitating what he difcerned; so that I cannot verify what I have advanced by any stronger instance than his. I should think there does not exist a poet, who has gone fuch lengths in imitation as Virgil; for to pass over his paftoral and bucolic poems, which are evidently drawn from Theocritus and Hefiod, with the assistance of Aratus in every thing that relates to the scientific part of the ugns and seasons, it is supposed that his whole narrative of the destruction of Troy, with the incident of the wooden horse and the episode of Sinon, are an almost literal translation of Pifander the epic poet, who in his turn perhaps might copy his account from the Ilias Minor; (but this last is mere suggestion). As for the Æneid, it does little elfe but reverfe the order of Homer's epic, making Æneas's voyage precede his wars in Italy, whereas the voyage of Ulysies is subsequent to the operations of the Iliad. As Apollo is made hostile to the Greeks, and the cause of his offence is introduced by Homer in the opening of the Iliad,, so Juno in the Æneid stands in his place with every cir. cumstance of imitation. It would be an end. less talk to trace the various instances throughout the Æneid, where scarce a single incident can be found which is not copied from Homer :
Neither is there greater originality in the executive parts of the poem, than in the constructive; with this difference only, that he has copied paffages from various authors, Roman as well as Greek, though from Homer the most. Amongst the Greeks, the dramatic poets Ælchylus, Sophocles, and principally Euripides, have had the greateft fhare of his attention ; Aristo. phanes, Menander and other : comic authors, Callimachus and some of the lyric writers, also may be traced in his imitations. A vast collection of pafleges from Ennius chiefly, from Lucretius, Furius, Lucilius, Pacuvius, Suevius, Nævius, Varius, Catullus, Accius and others of his own nation, 'has been made by Macro bius in his Saturnalia, where Virgil has done little else but put their sentiments into more elegant verfe ; so that in strictness of speaking we may fay of the Æneid, « that it is a misW cellaneous compilation of poetical passages, y composing all together an epic poem, formed
upon the model of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey; ► abounding in beautiful versification, and justly
to be admired for the fine acquired taste of its
author, "but devoid of originality eịther of se construction or execution.” Besides its ge- Aeral inferiority as being a copy from Homer, it particularly falls off from its original in the
conception and prefervation of character: It does not reach the sublimity and majesty of its model, but it has in a great degree adopted the fimplicity, and entirely avoided the rusticity of Homer.
Lucan and Claudian in later ages were perhaps as good versifiers as Virgil, but far inferior to him in that fine acquired taste, which he excelled in: They are ingenious, but not fimple; and execute better than they contrive, A passage from Claudian, which I Ihall beg the reader's leave to compare with one from Virgil (where he personifies the evil passions and plagues of mankind, and posts them at the entrance of hell, to which Æneas is descending) will exemplify what I have said ; for at the same time that it will bear a dispute, whether Claudian's description is not even superior to Virgil's in poetical merit, yet the judicious manner of introducing it in one case, and the evident want of judgment in the other, will help to shew, that the reason why we prefer Virgil to Claudian, is more on account of his superiority of taste than of talents.
Claudian's description stands in the very front of his poem on Ruffinus; Virgil's is woven inta his fable, and will be found in the fixth book of his Æneid, as follows: