Puslapio vaizdai

The Cretan jav'lin reach'd him from afar,

And pierc'd his shoulder as he mounts his car.

Iliad, v. 57.

It is ftill worse to fall back to the paft in the for this is an anticlimax in defcrip

fame period;


Through breaking ranks his furious courfe he bends,
And at the goddess his broad lance extends;
Through her bright veil the daring weapon drove,
Th' ambrofial veil, which all the graces wove:
Her fnowy hand the razing fteel profan'd,
And the transparent skin with crimson ftain'd.

Iliad, v. 415.

Again, defcribing the fhield of Jupiter,

Here all the terrors of grim War appear,
Here rages Force, here tremble Flight and Fear,
Here ftorm'd Contention, and here Fury frown'd,
And the dire orb portentous Gorgon crown'd.

Iliad, v. 914.

Nor is it pleasant to be carried backward and forward alternately in a rapid fucceffion :

Then dy'd Seamandrius, expert in the chace,
In woods and wilds to wound the favage race;
Diana taught him all her fylvan arts,

To bend the bow and aim unerring darts:

But vainly here Diana's arts he tries,

The fatal lance arrests him as he flies;


From Menelaus' arm the weapon fent,

Through his broad back and heaving bofom went:
Down finks the warrior with a thund'ring found,
His brazen armor rings against the ground.

Iliad, v. 65.

It is wonderful to obferve, upon what flight foundations nature, fometimes, erects her most folid and magnificent works. In appearance at leaft, what can be more flight than ideal presence of objects and yet from it is entirely derived that extensive influence which language hath over the heart; an influence, which, more than any ơther means, strengthens the bond of fociety, and attracts individuals from their private fyftem to exert themselves in acts of generofity and benevolence. Matters of fact, it is true, and truth in general, may be inculcated without taking advantage of ideal prefence; but without it, the fineft speaker or writer would in vain attempt to move any paffion: our fympathy would be confined to objects that are really prefent; and language would lofe entirely its fignal power of making ús fympathize with beings removed at the greatest distance of time as well as of place. Nor is the influence of language, by means of ideal prefence, confined to the heart: it reacheth alfo the understanding, and contributes to belief. For when events are related in a lively manner, and every circumftance appears as paffing before us, we fuffer not patiently the truth of the facts


to be questioned; an hiftorian accordingly who hath a genius for narration, feldom fails to engage our belief. The fame facts related in a manner cold and indiftinct, are not fuffered to pafs without examination: a thing ill described is like an object seen at a distance, or through a mist; we doubt whether it be a reality or a fiction. For this reafon, a poet who can warm and animate his reader, may employ bolder fictions than ought to be ventured by an inferior genius: the reader, once thoroughly engaged, is in that fituation fufceptible of the ftrongest impreffions:

Veraque conftituunt, quæ belle tangere poffunt
Aureis, et lepido quæ funt fucata fonore,

Lucretius, lib. 1. l. 644,

A mafterly painting has the fame effect: Le Brun is no small support to Quintus Curtius: and among the vulgar in Italy, the belief of scripturehistory is perhaps founded as much upon the authority of Raphael, Michael Angelo, and other celebrated painters, as upon that of the facred writers *.

At quæ Polycleto defuerunt, Phidiæ atque Alcameni dantur. Phidias tamen diis quam hominibus efficiendis melior artifex tradi tur: in ebore vero longe citra æmulum, vel fi nihil nifi Minervam Athenis, aut Olympium in Elide Jovem feciffet, cujus pulchritudo adjeciffe aliquid etiam receptæ religioni videtur; adeq majeftas operis Deum æquavit.

Quintilian, lib. 12. cap. 10. § 1.


The foregoing theory must have fatigued the reader with much dry reasoning: but his labour will not be fruitless; because from this theory are derived many useful rules in criticifm, which shall be mentioned in their proper places. One fpecimen, being a fine illustration, fhall be our prefent entertainment. Events that furprise by being unexpected, and yet are natural, make the life of an epic poem: but in fuch a poem, if it pretend to copy human manners and actions, no improbable incident ought to be admitted; that is, no incident contrary to the order and course of nature. A chain of imagined incidents linked together according to the order of nature, finds eafy admittance into the mind; and a lively narrative of fuch incidents, occafions complete images, including ideal prefence: but our judgement revolts against an improbable incident; and if we once begin to doubt of its reality, farewell relifh and concern. This is an unhappy effect; for after that it requires more than an ordinary effort, to restore the waking dream, and to make the reader conceive even the more probable incidents as paffing in his prefence.

I never was an admirer of machinery in an epic poem, and I now find my tafte juftified by reafon; the foregoing argument concluding ftill more strongly against imaginary beings, than against improbable facts: fictions of this nature may amuse by their novelty and fingularity; but they never move the fympathetic paffions, be



cause they cannot impofe on the mind any perception of reality. I appeal to the difcerning reader, whether this obfervation be not applicable to the machinery introduced by Taffo and by Voltaire : fuch machinery is not only in itself cold and uninterefting, but is remarkably hurtful, by giving an air of fiction to the whole compofition. A burlefque poem, fuch as the Lutrin or the Dif penfary, may employ machinery with fuccefs; for thefe poems, though they affume the air of hifto ry, give entertainment chiefly by their pleasant and ludicrous pictures, to which machinery contributes: it is not the aim of fuch a poem, to raife our fympathy; and for that reafon, a ftrict imitation of nature is not required. A poem profeffedly ludicrous, may employ machinery to great advantage; and the more extravagant the better.

Having affigned the means by which fiction can, command our paffions; what only remains for accomplishing our prefent task, is to affign the final caufe. I have already mentioned, that fiction, by means of language, has the command of our fympathy for the good of others. By the fame means, our fympathy may also be raised for our own good; which will appear as follows. In the third fection of the prefent chapter, it is obferved, that examples both of virtue and of vice raife virtuous emotions; which becoming ftronger by exercife, tend to make us virtuous by habit as well as by principle. I now further obferve,

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