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Such late was Walsh–the Muse's judge and friend,
him so eminent in the didactical manner, that no man, with justice, can affirm, he was ever equalled by any of our own nation, without confessing, at the same time, that he is inferior to none. In some other kinds of writing, his genius seems to have wanted fire to attain the point of perfection; but who can attain it?"-Edit. 12mo.
Warton. Ver. 729.] Several lines were here added to the first edition, concerning Walsh.
Warton. Ver. 729. Such late was Walsh—the Muse's judge and friend,] If Pope has here given too magnificent an eulogy to Walsh, it must be attributed to friendship, rather than to judgment. Walsh was, in general, a flimsy and frigid writer. The Rambler calls his works, pages of inanity. His three letters to Pope, however, are well written. His remarks on the nature of pastoral poetry, on borrowing from the ancients, and against florid conceits, are worthy perusal. Pope owed much to Walsh ; it was he who gave him a very important piece of advice, in his early youth; for he used to tell our author, that there was one way
for him, by which he might excel any of his predecessors, which was, by correctness: that though, indeed, we had several great poets, we as yet could boast of none that were perfectly correct; and that therefore he advised him to make this quality his particular study.
Correctness is a vague term, frequently used without meaning and precision. It is perpetually the nauseous cant of the French critics, and of their advocates and pupils, that the English writers are generally incorrect. If correctness implies an absence of petty faults, this perhaps may be granted. If it means, that, because their tragedians have avoided the irregularities of Shake
(Her guide now lost) no more attempts to rise,
spear, and have observed a juster oeconomy in their fables, therefore the Athalia, for instance, is preferable to Lear, the notion is groundless and absurd. Though the Henriade should be allowed to be free from any very gross absurdities, yet who will dare to rank it with the Paradise Lost? Some of their most perfect tragedies abound in faults as contrary to the nature of that species of poetry, and as destructive to its end, as the fools or grave-diggers of Shakespear. That the French may boast some excellent critics, particularly Bossu, Boileau, Fenelon, and Brumoy, cannot be denied; but that these are sufficient to form a taste upon, without having recourse to the genuine fountains of all polite literature, I mean the Grecian writers, no one but a superficial reader can allow.
Warton. Ver. 741. Careless of censure,] These concluding lines bear a great resemblance to Boileau's conclusion of his Art of Poetry, but are perhaps superior,
“ Censeur un peu facheux, mais souvent necessaire ;
Plus enclin à blâmer, que sçavant à bien faire." Our author has not, in this piece, followed the examples of the ancients, in addressing their didactic poems to some particular person; as Hesiod to Perses ; Lucretius to Memmius; Virgil to Mæcenas; Horace to the Pisos; Ovid, his Fasti, to Germanicus ; Oppian to Caracalla. In later times, Fracastorius addressed P. Bembo; Vida, the Dauphin of France. But neither Boileau in his Art, nor Roscommon nor Buckingham in their Essays,* nor Akenside nor Armstrong, have followed this practice. Warton.
* Akenside's last copy of the Pleasures of Imagination, is addressed to his friend Dyson, and he mentions the circumstance of their early friendship, in a most interesting manner, and with uncommon sweetness of verse.
Averse alike to flatter, or offend;
The precepts of the art of poesy were posterior to practice; the rules of the Epopea were all drawn from the Iliad and the Odyssey; and of Tragedy, from the Edipus of Sophocles. A petulant rejection, and an implicit veneration, of the rules of the ancient critics, are equally destructive of true taste. “ It ought to be the first endeavour of a writer (says the Rambler, No. 156,) to distinguish nature from custom; or that which is established because it is right, from that which is right, only because it is established; that he may neither violate essential principles by a desire of novelty, nor debar himself from the attainment of
beauties within his view, by a needless fear of breaking rules, which no literary dictator had authority to prescribe.”
This liberal and manly censure of critical bigotry, extends not to those fundamental and indispensable rules, which nature and necessity dictate, and demand to be observed ; such for instance, as in the higher kinds of poetry, that the action of the Epopea, be one, great, and entire; that the hero be eminently distinguished, move our concern, and deeply interest us; that the episodes arise easily out of the main fable; that the action commence as near the catastrophe as possible ; and in the drama, that no more events be crowded together, than can be justly supposed to happen during the time of representation, or to be transacted on one individual spot, and the like. But the absurdity here animadverted on, is the scrupulous nicety of those who bind themselves to obey frivolous and unimportant laws; such as, that an epic poem should consist not of less than twelve books; that it should end fortunately; that in the first book there should be no simile; that the exordium should be very simple and unadorned ; that in a tragedy, only three personages should appear at once upon the stage; and that every tragedy should consist of five acts; by the rigid observation of which last unnecessary precept, the poet is deprived of using many a moving story, that would furnish matter enough for three perhaps, but not for five acts; with other rules of the like indifferent nature. For the rest, as Voltaire observes, whether the action of an Epopea be simple or complex, completed in a month, or a year, or a longer time, whether the scene be fixed on one spot, as in the Iliad; or that the hero voyages from sea to sea, as in the Odyssey; whether he be furious like Achilles, or pious like Eneas; whether the action pass on land or sea; on the coast of Africa, as in the Luziada of Camoens; in America, as in the Araucana of Alonzo d'Ercilla; in heaven, in hell, beyond the limits of our world, as in the Paradise Lost; all these circumstances are of no consequence, the poem will be for ever an epic poem, an heroic poem; at least till another new title be found proportioned to its merit. " If you scruple (says Addison) to give the title of an Epic Poem to the Paradise Lost of Milton, call it, if you choose, a Divine Poem; give it whatever name you please, provided you confess, that it is a work as admirable in its kind as the Iliad.”
It has become a fashionable attempt of late, to censure and decry an obedience to the rules laid down by ancient Critics ; while one party, loudly and frequently exclaim,
Vos exemplaria Græca
Nocturnà versate manu, versate diurna; Another, instantly answers,
O imitatores servum pecus ! One of the ablest defenders of literary liberty expresses himself thus :
“ From the time of Homer, epic poetry became an artificial composition, whose rules were, in reality, drawn from the practice of the Grecian Bard, rather than from the principles of nature. Lyric and dramatic poetry were in like manner fixed, though at a later period, by Grecian models; so that the Roman writers of similar performances could not be said to bring any thing of their own to their works. The same shackles of imitation have hung upon the poetry of modern Europe; whence a fair comparison of the powers and genius of different periods is rendered scarcely practicable. The leading species of poetry, like the orders of architecture, have come down to us subject to certain proportions, and requiring certain ornamental accompaniments, which perhaps, have had no foundation whatever, but the casual practice of the earliest masters; nay, possibly, the whole existence of some of the species has had the same accidental origin.
“ Meantime the veneration for the ancients has been raised to the highest pitch by this perpetual reference to them as models ; and it has been concluded, that works which have engaged the study, and called forth the imitation of so many succeeding ages,
must possess a superior degree of excellence. But after all, their reputation may have been much more owing to accident than is commonly supposed. That the Grecian poets, continually recording the deeds of their countrymen, and offering incense to the national vanity, should have been held in high esteem at home, was natural. That the Romans, receiving all their literature from Greece, should adopt its principles and prejudices, was also to be expected. · But that they should transmit them to so large a portion of the civilized world, and this, not only during the period of their domination, but to new races of men, so many centuries after the downfall of their empire, must be reckoned accident, as far as any thing in human affairs can be called accidental. Had not the Christian religion established a kind of second Roman empire, even more capable of swaying the opinions of mankind than the first, it is highly improbable that we should at this day have been commenting upon the classical writers of Greece and Rome. It is indeed astonishing to reflect, by what a strange concatenation of cause and effect, the youth of Christian Europe should be instructed in the fables of Greek and Latin mythology, which were fallen into contempt even before Rome ceased to be heathen.
“ It certainly has not been on account of their wisdom and beauty that they have survived the wreck of so many better things. They have been embalmed in the languages which contained them, and which, by becoming likewise the depositaries of Christian doctrine, have been rendered sacred languages."
To this sort of reasoning, the imitators of the Ancients, by way of answer, must say, that all they mean in adhering to rules, is to adopt, “ that method of treating any subject, that may render it most interesting to a reader.” This, for instance, was the reason why Aristotle gives the preference to those Tragedies, where there is a discovery and peripetic. And hence, they will say, the Edipus of Sophocles is as perfect a model of dramatic, as the Medicean Venus is of female beauty. The learned and ingenious translator of Aristotle's Treatise on Poetry, is of a different opinion. “When we speak (says he) of the Greek tragedies, as perfect and correct models, we seem merely to conform to the established language of prejudice, and content ourselves with echoing without reflection or examination, what has been said before us. I should be
to be ranked in the class of those critics, who prefer that poetry which has the fewest faults, to that which has the greatest beauties. Į