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Be Homer's works your study and delight,
When first young Maro in his boundless mind A work toutlast immortal Rome design’d,
Ver. 130. When first young Maro, &c.] Virg. Eclog. vi.
“ Cum canerem reges et proelia, Cynthius aurem
Vellit.” It is a tradition preserved by Servius, that Virgil began with writing a poem of the Alban and Roman affairs ; which he found above his years, and descended, first to imitate Theocritus on rural subjects, and afterwards to copy Homer in Heroic poetry. P.
“ That Virgil, not only in his general plan, but in most of the subordinate parts, was a close copyist of Homer, is undeniable, whatever be thought of the supposition, that he set out with a design of drawing from the sources of nature, and was diverted from it by the discovery that “Nature and Homer were the same.” The
this verse, originally inserted the following, which he has however omitted in all the editions :
Zoilus, had these been known, without a name
sung of Kings and Wars,
Perhaps he seem'd above the Critic's law,
modern idolatry of Shakspeare has elevated him to the same degree of authority among us; and critics have not been wanting, who have confidently drawn from his characters the proofs and illustrations of their theories on the human mind. But what can be more unworthy of the true critic and philosopher, than such an implicit reliance on any man, how exalted soever his genius, especially on those who lived in the infancy of their art? If an epic poem be a representation of nature in a course of heroic action, it must be susceptible of as much variety as nature herself: and surely it is more desirable that a poet of original genius should give full scope to his inventive powers, under the restriction of such laws only as are founded on nature, than that he should fetter himself with rules derived from the practice of a predecessor. When Pope praises the ancient rules for composition, on the ground that they were “ discovered, not devised," and were only “nature methodized,” he gives a just notion of what they ought to be. But when he supposes Virgil to have properly “checked in his bold design of drawing from Nature's fountains," and in consequence,' to have confined his work within rules as strict,
“ As if the Stagyrite o'erlook'd each line;" how can he avoid the force of his own ridicule, where a little further, in this very piece, he laughs at Dennis for
“ Concluding all were desp'rate sots and fools
Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules ?" Such are the inconsistencies of a writer who sometimes utters notions derived from reading and education ; sometimes, the suggestions of native good sense !”—Dr. Aikin's Letters to his Son.
Warton. Ver. 138. As if the Stagyrite) According to a fine precept in
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem;
Some beauties yet no precepts can declare,
Ver. 141. Some beauties yet no precepts can declare, &c.] Our author, in these two general directions for studying Nature and her Commentators, having considered Poetry as it is, or may be reduced to Rule; lest this should be mistaken as sufficient to attain PERFECTION either in writing or judging, he proceeds [from ver. 140 to 201.) to point up to those sublimer beauties which Rules will never reach, nor enable us either to execute or taste: beauties, which rise so high above all precept as not even to be described by it: but being entirely the gift of Heaven, Art and Reason have no further share in them than just to regulate their operations. These Sublimities of Poetry (like the Mysteries of Religion, some of which are above Reason, and some contrary to it) may be divided into two sorts, such as are above Rules, and such as are contrary to them.
by it ?”
the fourteenth section of Longinus, who exhorts us, when we aim at any thing elevated and sublime, to ask ourselves while we are composing, “ how would Homer, or Plato, or Demosthenes, have exerted and expressed themselves on this subject ? And still more, if we should continue to ask ourselves ; what would Homer or Demosthenes, if they had been present, and had heard this passage, have thought of it, and how would they have been affected
Warton. Ver. 141. Some beauties yet no precepts] Pope in this passage seems to have remembered one of the essays of Bacon, of which he is known to have been remarkably fond. “ There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. A man cannot tell whether Apelles, or Albert Durer, were the more trifler: whereof the one would make a personage by geometrical proportions; the other, by taking the best parts out of divers faces to make one excellent. Such personages, I think, would please nobody but the painter that made them. Not but I think, a painter may make a better face than ever was; but he must do it by a
Music resembles Poetry ; in each
Ver. 146. If, where the rules, &c.] The first sort our author describes [from ver. 145 to 152.] and shews that where a great beauty is in the Poet's view, which no stated Rules will authorise him how to reach, there, as the purpose of rules is only to attain an end like this, a lucky Licence will supply the place of them: nor can the Critic fairly object, since this Licence, for the reason given above, has the proper force and authority of a Rule.
kind of felicity, as a musician that maketh an excellent air in music, and not by rule. A man shall see faces, that if you examine them, part by part, you shall find never a good one; and
altogether do well."
“ Non ratione aliqua (says Quintilian finely) sed motû nescio an inerrabili judicatur. Neque ab hoc ullo satis explicari puto, licet multi tentaverint.”—Quintil. Inst. lib. vi. In short, in poetry, we must judge by taste and sentiment, not by rules and reasoning. Different theories of philosophy, and different systems of theology, are maintained and exploded in different ages; but true and genuine pictures of nature and passion, are not subject to such revolutions and changes. The doctrines of Plato, Epicurus, and Zeno; of Descartes, Hobbes, and Malebranche, and Gassendi, yield in succession to each other ; but Homer, Sophocles, Terence, and Virgil, being felt and relished by all men, still retain and preserve, unaltered and undisputed, admiration and applause. Warton.
Ver. 143. Music resembles Poetry, &c.] Dr. Warton has remarked this
that he had been informed by one of the best musicians of the age, that this observation was not accurate, nor agreeable to the rules of the art of music. It is not true, if applied to the rules of harmonic combinations, yet the analogy between the two arts, which Pope intended to illustrate in the lines before us, is accurate. The most scientific musician will never
Some lucky Licence answer to the full
Ver. 152. Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend, &c.] He describes next the second sort, the beauties against rule. And even here, as he observes [from ver. 151 to 161.] the offence is so glorious, and the fault so sublime, that the true Critic will not dare either. to censure or reform them. Yet still the Poet is never to abandon himself to his imagination: the rules laid down for his
learn by rule to introduce those inimitable touches which are to be found in many of the oldest and most artless melodies. These can be derived from nature alone, nor will the study of the poetical art infuse into the soul that spirit which alone can dictate its happiest efforts. But it is true of both sciences, that a masterhand, that is, the hand of one who combines science with genius, can alone reach that height of perfection which is to be obtained by directing the effusions of nature, and reducing them within those rules which are founded on invariable principles. Bowles.
Ver. 146. If, where the rules, &c.] “ Neque enim rogationibus plebisve scitis sancta sunt ista præcepta, sed hoc, quicquid est, Utilitas excogitavit. Non negabo autem sic utile esse plerumque ; verum si eadem illa nobis aliud suadebit Utilitas, hanc relictis magistrorum autoritatibus, sequemur."-Quintil. lib. ii.
P. Ver. 150. Thus Pegasus, &c.] We have observed how the precepts for writing and judging are interwoven throughout the whole poem. Our Author first describes the sublime flight of a poet soaring above all vulgar bounds, to snatch a grace directly which
lies PARALLEL PASSAGES. Ver. 152, gloriously offend,] Dryden's Aurengzebe :
“ Mean soul, and dar’st not gloriously offend !" Stevens.