« السابقةمتابعة »
leading requisites of poetry; and, it is remarkable, includes the three primary branches of composition, viz. the art of addressing our reason, in order to be useful; the imagination, to be agreeable; and the passions, in order to persuade and gain upon our affections. Here then we have poesy, eloquence, and argument, united; and most assuredly, that performance will be found the most excellent in its kind, which is the most highly finished with regard to these three essentials.
Epic poetry has always had the pre-eminence; and, I suppose, the reason of this determination is, because it affords the freest and most ample room for a display of the three primary and original species of writing. It is by observing how these friendly colours mix and blend with each other, that we are to deduce a judgment upon the different authors who have proved any way eminent in the literary world; referring to the first principles, being the only criterion in every art. Bossu, and other critics, have informed us, that the epic fable must involve one entire action; that this action must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They have told us, that the poet must not take up the thread of his narrative too near the clue; but that he must hasten into the midst of things,
and occasionally give a retrospect to such things as are necessary to be known. They have treated largely of the machinery, of the time the fable should include, with many other particulars, which, though proper to be explained, do not any way conduce to the refinement of taste, or the improvement of true genius. It is most certainly, by observing from what principles in the human frame each art is deducible, that any real or valuable criticism can be formed.
It is manifest, then, that the epic writer has free latitude of inserting all the graces of every kind of composition. All nature lies at his command; wherever he cast his eyes, he is lord of the manor ; he can turn a road by poetical act of parliament, through lawns and groves, and scenes of pasturage; the four seasons obey his directions, and he need never be at a loss for agreeable exhibitions of nature, to please the imagination. The whole system of ethics is also his; he may frequently take occasion to improve his readers by short sentences, and transient reflections on human life, and by these means he may gain upon our reason to approve his performances. The whole art of eloquence is likewise perfectly open to the epic author, and from thence he may derive an irresistible
power over our passions. In this last mentioned requisite, the Abbe du Bos places the consummate perfection of fine poetry. Certain it is, the mind of man never feels such intense pleasure from any of the imitative arts, as when its passions are awakened, and it finds itself roused from an impassive state, and unexpectedly agitated by the skilful touches of a master-poet. The author just quoted, ascribes this ideal appearance, to the satisfaction which the soul enjoys at the perception of its own activity: may we not add to this, what is suggested, if I remember right, by the author of the Pleasures of the Imagination? "Our moral sense receives, on the occasion, an additional delight, to see that the social affections are in harmony and proportion, and feelingly awake to the due sensations of humanity; and this, in conjunction with the gratifications which we are apt to take, in comparing the ideas which reality has suggested with those excited by the art of imitation, conspire to render a warm and wellexecuted passage in poetry, so agreeable to all mankind in general."
Were I to declare in which of the three powers of the mind, already mentioned, I think Homer, Virgil, and Milton, to be most eminently shining, I should ascribe to Homer the
strongest and most vigorous efforts of imagination, and an amazing faculty of alarming us with noble and amazing descriptions of all the magnificent objects in nature. As to our own Milton, I should be inclined to declare him a rival of the Greek poet, for a comprehensive sublimity of conception; and Virgil's excellence I should place in beautiful touches of poetic eloquence. His whole fourth book I take to be a master-piece in this way. The various agitations of mind which Dido endures, her love, her jealousy, her rage, her tenderness, her many mixed emotions, are perhaps the finest strokes in poetry. In his sixth book, also, there are several scenes of the most tender nature; and, in the ninth book, the grief of the mother after the death of Nisus and Euryalus, and the. lamentations of Evander, are all to be ranked in the same class, and, in my opinion, afford a pleasure not to be met with in either of the other poets, even though Homer has succeeded so well in Hector's last scene with Andromache, and though our great Milton has a great deal of finely impassioned dialogue, in his justlycelebrated poem. Virgil more frequently applies himself to the passions of his readers, than the other two; and, notwithstanding some pretty strong improbabilities, he does not so frequently
shock our reason, as the Grecian poet, who certainly, in some particulars, is extravagant to the highest degree. Milton has the advantage of having founded his story upon traditions which our religion has sanctified, otherwise I should consider his fallen angels, and the war waged by them, together with the invention of cannon, and many other circumstances, highly chimerical, even though they expand our fancy with grand and surprising appearances.
I shall take another opportunity to consider how far tragedy may dispute with the epic for the preference; and shall only add, at present, that I have ever been of opinion, that all the writers of heroic poesy have, in general, been too fond of the marvellous. By this I would not be understood to censure the use of machinery, which, when introduced with sobriety and discretion, serves to present agreeable scenery to the mind; and I could wish that the correctness of Mr. Glover's judgment had not entirely excluded it from his poem of Leonidas, which certainly has many passages of warm poetic eloquence, many pieces of beautiful imagery, and several strictures of useful and improving morality, artfully interwoven with the ground-work of his fable.
I shall beg leave to conclude with an obser