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B E IN G S.
A extent poet's pro
S the genius of Shakespear, through
of the vince, is the object of our enquiry, we fhould do him great injuftice, if we did not
attend to his peculiar felicity, in those fictions and inventions, from which poetry derives its highest distinction, and from whence it first affumed its pretenfions to divine inspiration, and appeared the associate of religion.
The ancient poet was admitted into the fynod of the Gods: he discoursed of their natures, he repeated their counfels, and, without the charge of impiety or prefumption, disclosed their diffenfions, and published their vices. He peopled the woods with
nymphs, the rivers with deities; and, that he might still have some being within call to his affistance, he placed refponfive echo in the vacant regions of air.
In the infant ages of the world, the credulity of ignorance greedily received every marvellous tale: but, as mankind increased in knowledge, and a long feries of traditions had established a certain mythology and hiftory, the poet was no longer permitted to range, uncontrolled, through the boundless dominions of fancy, but became restrained, in fome meafure, to things believed or known. Though the duty of poetry to please and to furprife ftill fubfifted, the means varied with the state of the world, and it foon grew neceffary to make the new inventions lean on the old traditions.-The human mind delights in novelty, and is captivated by the marvellous, but even in fable itself requires the credible. The poet, who can give to fplendid inventions, and to fictions new and bold, the air and authority of reality and truth, is mafter of the genuine fources
fources of the Caftalian fpring, and máy juftly be said to draw his inspiration from the wellhead of pure poefy.
Shakespear faw how useful the popular fuperftitions had been to the ancient poets? he felt that they were neceffary to poetry itself. One needs only to read fome modern French heroic poems to be convinced how poorly epic poetry fubfifts on the pure èlements of history and philofophy: Taffo, though he had a fubject so popular, at the time he wrote, as the deliverance of Jerufalem, was obliged to employ the operations of magic, and the interpofition of angels and dæmons, to give the marvellous, the fublime, and, I may add, that religious air to his work, which ennobles the enthufiafm, and fanctifies the fiction of the poet. Ariofto's excurfive mufe wanders through the regions of romance, attended by all the superb train of chivalry, giants, dwarfs, and enchanters; and however these poets, by the fevere and frigid critics may have been condemned for giving ornaments not purely claffical,
claffical, to their works; I believe every reader of taste admires, not only the fertility of their imagination, but the judgment with which they availed themselves of the fuperftition of the times, and of the cuftoms and modes of the country, in which they laid their scenes of action.
To recur, as the learned fometimes do, to the mythology and fables of other ages, and other countries, has ever a poor effect; Jupiter, Minerva, and Apollo, only embellish a modern story, as a print from their statues adorns the frontispiece.We admire indeed the art of the fculptors who give their images with grace and majesty; but no devotion is excited, no enthusiasm kindled, by the reprefentations of characters whose divinity we do not acknowledge.
When the Pagan temples ceafed to be revered, and the Parnaffian mount exifted no longer, it would have been difficult for the poet of later times to have preserved the divinity of his muse inviolate, if the western world