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I UNDERTAKE, in the following discourse, to consider two QUESTIONS, in which the credit of almost all great writers, since the time of Homer, is vitally concerned.
First, “ Whether that Conformity in Phrase or Sentiment between two writers of different times, which we call IMITATION, may “ not with probability enough, for the most
part, be accounted for from general causes, “ arising from our common nature; that is, " from the exercise of our natural faculties “ on such objects as lie in common to all ob
Secondly, “ Whether, in the case of con"fessed Imitations, any certain and necessary
conclusion holds to the disadvantage “ of the natural Genius of the imitator P”QUESTIONS, which there seems no fit method of resolving, but by taking the matter pretty deep, and deducing it from its first principles.
All Poetry, to speak with Aristotle and the Greek critics (if for so plain a point authorities be thought wanting) is, properly, imitation. It is, indeed, the noblest and most extensive of the mimetic arts; having all creation for its object, and ranging the entire circuit of universal being. In this view every. wondrous original, which ages have gazed at, as the offspring of creative fancy; and of which poets themselves, to do honour to their inventions, have feigned, as of the immortal panoply of their heroes, that it came down from heaven, is itself but a copy, a transcript from some brighter page of this vast volume of the uni
Thus all is derived; all is unoriginal. And the office of genius is but to select the fairest forms of things, and to present them in due place and circumstance, and in the richest colouring of expression, to the imagination. This primary or original copying, which in the ideas of Philosophy is Imitation, is, in the language of Criticism, called INVENTION.