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I conclude these remarks with a remarkable fact. In no polished nation, after criticism has been much studied, and the rules of writing established, has any very extraordinary work appeared. This has visibly been the case in Greece, in Rome, and in France ; after Aristotle, Horace, and Boileau, had written their Arts of Poetry. In our own country the rules of the drama, for instance, were never more completely understood than at present; yet what uninteresting, though faultless tragedies, have we lately seen? So much better is our judgment than our execution. How to account for the fact here mentioned, adequately and justly, would be attended with all those difficulties that await discussions relative to the productions of the human mind; and to the delicate and secret causes that influence them. Whether or no, the natural powers be not confined and debilitated by that timidity and caution which is occasioned by a rigid regard to the dictates of art; or whether that philosophical, that geometrical, and systematical spirit so much in vogue, which has spread itself from the sciences even into polite literature, by consulting only reason, has not diminished and destroyed sentiment; and made our poets write from and to the head, rather than the heart; or whether, lastly, when just models, from which the rules have necessarily been drawn, have once appeared, succeeding writers, by vainly and ambitiously striving to surpass those just models, and to shine and surprise, do not become stiff, and forced and affected, in their thoughts and diction.
I am happy to find these opinions confirmed by the learned and judicious Heyne, in his Opuscula, p. 116.
“ Et initio quidem ipsa ingenii humani doctrinæque humanæ natura haud facile alium rerum cursum admittit, quam ut doctrinæ auctus ingenii damna sequantur ; infringitur ipsa rerum copia ingenii vis ac vigor; subtilitas grammatica, historica ac philosophica, in rebus exquirendis ac diluendis, magnos et audaces animi sensus incidit ; luxuriantius ingenium a simplicitate ad cultum et ornatum, hinc ad fucum et lasciviam prolabitur. Est idem animorum et ingeniorum, qui vitæ et reipublicæ, ab austeritate ad elegantiam, ab hac ad luxum et delicias, progressus; quo gradu uti semel rerum vices constitere, ad interitum eas vergere necesse est."
It is not improper to observe what great improvements the Art of Criticism has received since this Essay was written. For without recurring to pieces of earlier date, and nearer the time
in which it was written; namely, the essays in the Spectator and Guardian ; Shaftesbury's Advice to an Author ; Spence on the Odyssey; Fenton on Waller; Blackwell's Enquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer : even of late years, we have had the Treatises of Harris; Hurd's Remarks on Horace; Observations on the Fairy Queen ; Webb on Poetry and Music ; Brown's Dissertation on the same; the Dissertations of Beattie; the Elements of Criticism, of Kaimes; the Lectures of Blair; the Editions of Milton, by Newton and Warton; and of Shakspeare and Spenser, by Malone, Stevens, and Upton; the History of English Poetry; the critical papers of the Rambler, Adventurer, World, and Connoisseur; and The Lives of the Poets, byJohnson; the Biographia Britannica; and the Poetics of Aristotle, translated, and accompanied with judicious notes, by Twining and Pye; and the translation, with notes, of Horace's Art of Poetry, by Hurd and Colman ; and the Epistles of Hayley.