صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

if the former suppose his work a compleat epic poem, and the latter take the contrary for granted. A poet has an undoubted right to indulge his genius in any known species of writing; or, if he think proper, to invent a new one : but, by the same rule that he is allowed the privilege of inventing a new species, he ought not to endeavour to corrupt and deftroy the old. The world, in general, has been long agreed, as to the effentials of a genuine epic poem; and a work that is not distinguished by them, whatever poetical beauties it may otherwise possess, can lay no claim to the confummate merit of the Epopæia. To cenfure, or justify Ariosto ớn this head is therefore, in our opinion, as absurd, as to rank him in the number of genuine epic poets; as we should, for our own part, almost as soon rank Spenser's Fairy Queen among the epic poems, as the celebrated allegorical performance of Ariosto.

Our readers must not hence, however, imagine us so hy. percritical as to expect, that Olian should have composed with as much poetical propriety as Homer or Virgil. On the contrary, we are sensible of the moral impoflibility of its being fo. There are so many requisites to the perfection, and even to the constitution of an epic poem, that the greatest powers of genius are not alone equal to the task. A happy collision of the times and circumstances in which the poet lived, has had a great share in contributing to the perfection of such compositions. In the very early infancy of languages and states, when the manners of men were simple, and their intercourse confined, they must evidently want the means of acquiring an extensive knowlege of mankind, and thereby of a very intimate acquaintance with the various faculties and operations of the human mind. Hence the poet must be necessarily, in a great degree, deficient in the powers of diversifying his personages, distinguishing them by mental characteristics, and making them express themselves with a propriety of speech and sentiment, justly adapted to their characters on every occafion. Had Offian therefore possessed even a superior genius to Homer, we conceive he could not, in the age wherein he is said to have lived, have produced an epic poem of equal merit with that of the Iliad. On the other hand, that exceffive refinement of manners, that extensive knowlege and accuracy of reasoning, which prevail in a very polite age, are equal obstacles to the success of the epic poet. In the former times, the imagination of the poet will be more luxuriant, bis sentiments more animated and striking, and his style bold


evidently to imple, annguages

and metaphorical, even to absurdity. His ideas being few, and their combination less diffuse and complex, external objects will have all their effect on his senses, and make a vigorous and lasting impression on his unburthened memory. Hence, in a variegated soil and climate, he may produce an infinite variety of beautiful descriptions. In reading his productions, we shall admire the loose, though nervous outlines of his figures, the sublimity of his expressions, and the daring boldness of his fimilies. We shall be captivated with the fe

ductive glare of his style, while the cast of obscurity that en· velopes the whole, will excite in us a kind of veneration, which precise ideas, correct imagery, and perfect fimilitude of allufion could never inspire. He will be found also to excel chiefly in still life. In describing the passions, and their effects, he will naturally express them as they appear in such an age of barbarous simplicity, undiversified by those various accidents, and numerous arts of diffimulation, which form or modify the factitious characters of more polished times. In thefe again, the perfection of epic poetry is counteracted by contrary means. As knowlege increases, precision and propriety, those enemies to the sublime, are a constant check on the powers of genius, and cool the warmth of imagination. When manners become greatly refined, the play of the pasfions also is concealed under the curtain of civility, the heart is disguised, and a certain sameness of conversation and action intensibly creeps in, to the utter destruction of sentiment and character. The age of Oslian was not that of cri. tical propriety, nor is the present that of poetical rhapsody. Homer lived in an age characterised by a happy mixture of. both, and the Iliad was the perfect work of a great genius, fortunately circumstanced for its production. Virgil, it is true, wrote in politer times; but with all his original merit, he was still an imitator; and had not Homer gone before him, the Auguftan age had, in all probability, never produced an heroic poem worth transmitting to posterity. '

For these reasons, it is with reluctance we should enter into a strict examination of the work before us, as an epic poem ; in which light, however, we conceive ourselves, in fome measure, obliged to consider it, as many of its admirers have allowed it consummate merit as such, and have

risked its reputation, perhaps a little unadvisedly, on a com· parison with the more perfect works of the kind among the

ancients. Aristotle distinguishes the essential parts, which enter into the composition of an epic poem, by the appella


tions of pūles, on, die vond, and 6815.-Mübos, or the fable, includes the composition and contexture of the whole work. This ought to depend on one general subject, and be uniform and confiftent throughout; subject, however, to the admiffion of episodes, formed on circumstances naturally arising from, and depending on, the main business of the poem. The construction of the fable is, according to the Stagyrite, the most arduous talk of an heroic poet. Mégisov de 78TTU ESIVA TWY Weay MATWY SUSAT 15. And though he has not alligned his particular reasons for this opinion, it is confirmed, by the experience of all ages, that power of imagination, which can happily combine the circumstances of any great tranfaction into one consistent plan, creating at the fame time, and blending therewith, fuch incidents, and delineating such characters, as may inake the whole great, interesting, and various ;—this power being, undoubtedly, that faculty of the soul, which is most rarely to be found in the human mind. And thus, in order to produce that happy contexture of fable, which perfectly corresponds with the characteristics of the Epopeia, the poet is freed from the servile method of relating things as they really happened ; otherwise he would be precluded from the means of composition: for which reason, he has a right to create all fuch probable incidents as are necessary to the perfection of his plan. In proportion therefore as an epic poem is defective in its fable, its merit declines; and, without affording in stances of invention, however happy the poet may prove in his versification, or in embellishing his style with the flowers of rhetoric, his performance must still continue to be deemed an hiftory in verse. For, as the Stagyrite observes, should any one versify the works of Herodotus, they would, nevertheless, compose an history in that state, as well as they do in prose ; a Poet being distinguished from an Historian, in that the former selects those incidents and circumstances which ought to compose the Epopeia, and the latter relates things as they really existed. Ein gág är Hoodáre sis jetpa ToSevan, sy doen nslov åv sin isopros Tus fuera petp%, ñ äveu petowy αλλα τετο διαφερι, τω τον μεν τα γενόμενα λέγειν, τον δε οία αν γενοιτο, • The conduct of an epic poem, therefore, should be such as may exhibit the various operations of the human mind, by a diversity of objects and circumstances, so as to affect the readers with the sensations of pain and pleasure, according to the nature of the subject and design of the poet : and this is

. to

to be effected by the introduction of a number of capital perfonages, each distinctly marked by different characteristics, and who, by the artful management of the writer, are made to exemplify, by action and expression, the good and ill effects of virtue or vice, agreeable to their respective situations and characters. For this reason, none of those personages thould appear, on any occasion, to deviate from those ruling principles that constitute their several characters; every action should be consentaneous to the general design, and afford in itself a rational motive for its being introduced ; the whole fable being, at the same time, so constructed, that no part of it could be left out, without manifest injury to the re- , mainder. * Subject to these restrictions, the narrative, or ftory, of an epic poem may proceed, without any variety of striking incidents or revolution of events, directly to that conclufion of good or ill fortune intended by the poet. But, notwithItanding this fimplicity of fable is not contrary to the rules of the Epopæia, the merit of an epic poem is rendered incomparably greater, when it includes those parts of the fable, which are denominated by Αriftotle περιπέτεια and αναγνώρισις; by the former being meant those incidents which, though unforeseen, arise naturally from the circumstances of the story, retard the progress of affairs, and create those unexpected perplexities and revolutions, which fill the soul with pleasing suspense or surprize, and strongly impress the sensations of pleasure and pain, aversion or pity, on the mind of the reader. By the addition of this part of the fable, the poet has a more extensive field, on which to display his knowlege of the human heart and mind, and captivate the paflions of his readers. By the avaqvácuois is meant that sudden change produced in the soul, as from enmity to friendship, from pity to revenge, &c. occasioned by the recollection of the person with whom another is engaged, either by remembering his features, feeing some known mark in veftment or armour, or otherwise; which, reviving the ideas of a former acquaintance, renews his friendship, or inflames his resentment.

The avkyvapois is most successfully introduced, and its end most happily effected, when it is immediately followed by the TESIT ETELU The happy effects of these parts of composition are every day seen in tragedy; and it is necdless to explain how essential they are to the perfection of the Epopæia, how much the superior genius of the poet is manifested by their proper application, and how imperfect the piece must necessarily be wherein such embellishments are wanting.


n fetadmitted income mythology, thitecture, dressina

There is yet another part of the fable, which is distinguished by the word mados, and consifts in the representarion of some visible injurious act, such as the inflicting death, wounds, &c. which vigorously affects the reader, and induces him to sympathize with the suffering object. Next to the jūlos, or construction of the fable, on, or the manners, become the great object of the Poet's consideration. There, which should be juftly deduced from the times in which the transactions of the Poem are supposed to have happened, should also, like the medium through which we behold visible objects, impart one general colour to cvery character and circumstance; throwing an additional caft over thote peculiar lights and shades, whereby each is particularly distinguished. In consequence of this rule, nothing animate or inanimate is to be admitted incongruous to such ära and people. The national religion and mythology, their influence and tenets, are to be aptly applied. Their architecture, dress, armour, way of living, &c. are all to be confiftent with, and confentaneous to, the respective times and nations : the whole refembling a finished picture from the masterly hand of the painter, where, in one grand compofition, every figure expreffes its peculiar character, and in what manner it is affected by the same object, agreeable to their various dispofitions ; at the fame time, the inanimate parts of the piece, or what the Italians call the Coffúme, ascertaining the country and æra of the artist's fubject.

The next in degree of excellence in the essential parts of the Epopcia, is the Accévoice, or the effect of that pervading faculty of the mind, which can penetrate into the inmost receffes of nature, and select those parts alone which are beft adapted to illustrate and sustain the whole, as it ought to exist in the reason of things, and nature of the composition. ,

To the preceding succeeds Arkus, or the power of diction. It is the business of this to express with energy and propriety those ideas, which are best adapted to the lituation and circumstances in which every person is placed by the dispofition of the fable, varying itself, by turns, agreeable to the language of joy or grief, tenderness or ferocity, complacency or horror, the simple or the sublime, according to the design of the Poet; whose style inay, and ought to be, occasionally decorated with metaphor and fimile, and diversified by the tropes and figures of rhetoric. . .

Such are the rules by which, as Critics, we should judge of the merits of an Epic Poem; rules that have received, in


« السابقةمتابعة »