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IDEA OF UNIVERSAL POETRY.
WHEN we speak of poetry, as an art, we mean such a way or method of treating a subject, as is found most pleasing and delightful to us.
In all other kinds of literary composition, pleasure is subordinate to use: in poetry only, PLEASURE is the end, to which use itself (however it be, for certain reasons, always pretended) must submit.
This idea of the end of poetry is no novel one, but indeed the very same which our great philosopher entertained of it; who gives it as the essential note of this part of learning THAT IT SUBMITS THE SHEWS OF THINGS TO THE
DESIRES OF THE MIND: WHEREAS REASON DOTH
BUCKLE AND BOW THE MIND UNTO THE NATURE
OF THINGS. For to gratify the desires of the mind, is to PLEASE: Pleasure then, in the
idea of Lord Bacon, is the ultimate and
appropriate end of poetry; for the sake of which it accommodates itself to the desires of the mind, and doth not (as other kinds of writing, which are under the controul of reason) buckle and bow the mind to the nature of things.
But they; who like a principle the better for seeing it in Greek, may take it in the words of an old philosopher, ERATOSTHENES, who affirmed – ποιητήν πάντα στοχάζεσθαι ψυχαγω- , yias, å diwaonanías - of which words, the definition given above, is the translation.
This notion of the end of poetry, if kept steadily in view, will unfold to us all the mysteries of the poetic art. There needs but to evolve the philosopher's idea, and to apply it, as occasion serves. The art of poetry will be, universally, THE ART OF PLEASING; and all its rules, but so many means, which experience finds most conducive to that end ;
SIC ANIMIS natuin inventumque poema JUVANDIS.
Aristotle has delivered and explained these rules, so far as they respect one species of poetry, the dramatic, or, more properly speaking, the tragic: And when such a writer,
as he, shall do as much by the other species, then, and not till then, a complete ART or POETRY will be formed.
I have not the presumption to think myself, in any degree, equal to this arduous task: But from the idea of this art, as given above, an ordinary writer may undertake to deduce some general conclusions, concerning Universal Poetry, which seem preparatory to those nicer disquisitions, concerning its several sorts or species.
I. It follows from that IDEA, that it should neglect no advantage, that fairly offers itself, of appearing in such a dress or mode of language, as is most taking and agreeable to us. We may expect then, in the language or style of poetry, a choice of such words as are most sonorous and expressive, and such an arrangement of them as throws the discourse out of the ordinary and common phrase of conversation. Novelty and variety are certain sources of pleasure: a construction of words, which is not vulgar, is therefore more suited to the ends of poetry, than one which we are every day accustomed to in familiar discourse. Some manners of placing them are, also, more agreeable to the ear, than others: Poetry, then, is studious of these, as it would by all means, not manifestly absurd, give pleasure: And hence a certain musical cadence, or what we call Rhythm, will be affected by the poet.
But, of all the means of adorning and enlivening a discourse by words, which are infinite, and perpetually grow upon us, as our knowledge of the tongue, in which we write, and our skill in adapting it to the ends of poetry, increases, there is none that pleases more, than figurative expression.
By figurative expression, I would be una derstood to mean, here, that which respects the pictures or images of things. · And this sort of figurative expression is universally pleasing to us, because it tends to impress on the mind the most distinct and vivid concep, tions; and truth of representation being of less account in this way of composition, than the liveliness of it, poetry, as such, will delight -in tropes and figures, and those the most
strongly and forceably expressed. And though the application of figures will admit of great variety, according to the nature of the subject, and the management of them must be suited to the taste and apprehension of the people, to whom they are addressed, yet, in some way