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his father. We abhor these actions while we read them; and what we abhor we never imitate. The poet only shows them, like rocks or quicksands, to be shunned.
By this example the critics have concluded that it is not necessary the manners of the hero should be virtuous. They are poetically good, if they are of a piece : though, where a character of perfect virtue is set before us, it is more lovely ; for there the whole hero is to be imitated. This is the Æneas of our author : this is that idea of perfection in an epic poem which painters and statuaries have only in their minds, and which no hands are able to express. These are the beauties of a god in a human body. When the picture of Achilles is drawn in tragedy, he is taken with those warts, and moles, and hard features, by those who represent him on the stage, or he is no more Achilles ; for his creator Homer has so described him. Yet even thus he appears a perfect hero, though an imperfect character of virtue. Horace paints him after Homer, and delivers him to be copied on the stage with all those imperfections. Therefore they are either not faults in a heroic poem, or faults common to the drama. After all, on the whole merits of the cause, it must be acknowleged that the epic poem is more for the manners, and tragedy for the passions. The passions, as I have said, are violent: and acute distempers require medicines of a strong and speedy operation. Ill babits of the mind are, like chronical diseases, to be corrected by degrees, and cured hy alteratives : wherein, though purges are sometimes necessary, yet diet, good air, and moderate exercise, have the greatest part. The matter being thus stated, it will appear that both sorts of poetry are of use for their proper ends. The stage is more active: the epic poem works at greater leisure, yet is active too, when need requires : for dialogue is imitated by the drama, from the more active parts of it. One puts off a fit, like the quinquina,' and relieves us only for a time; the other roots out the distemper, and gives a healthful habit. The sun enlightens and cheers us, dispels fogs, and warms the ground with his daily beams; but the corn is sowed, increases, is ripened, and is reaped for use in process of time, and in its proper season. I proceed, from the greatness of the action, to the dignity of the actors : I mean to the persons employed in both poems. There likewise tragedy will be seen to bor
row from the epopee; and that which borrows is always of less dignity, because it has not of its own. A subject, it is true, may lend to his sovereign : but the act of borrowing makes the king inferior, because he wants, and the subject supplies. And suppose the persons of the drama wholly fabulous, or of the poet's invention, yet heroic poetry gave him the examples of that invention, because it was first, and Homer the common father of the stage. I know not of any one advantage which tragedy can boast above heroic poetry, but that it is represented to the view, as well as read, and instructs in the closet as well as in the theatre. This is an uncontended excellence, and a chief branch of its preroga. tive; yet I may be allowed to say, without partiality, that herein the actors share the poet's praise. Your lordship knows some modern tragedies which are beautiful on the stage, and yet I am confident you would not read them. * Tryphon the stationer' complains they are seldom asked for in his shop. The poet who florished in the scene, is damned in the 'ruelle ;' nay more, he is not esteemed a good poet by those who see and hear his extravagances with delight. They are a sort of stately fustian, and lofty childishness. Nothing but nature can give a sincere pleasure : where that is not imitated, it is grotesque painting : 'the fine woman ends in a fish's tail.'
I might also add, that many things which not only please, but are real beauties in the reading, would appear absurd on the stage ; and those not only the 'speciosa miracula,' as Horace calls them, of transformations, of Scylla, Antiphates, and the Læstrygons, which cannot be represented even in operas ; but the prowess of Achilles or Æneas would appear ridiculous in our dwarf-heroes of the theatre. We can believe they routed armies, in Homer or in Virgil; but 'ne Hercules contra duos' in the drama. I forbear to instance in many things, which the stage cannot or ought not to repre. sent; for I have said already more than I intended on this subject, and should fear it might be turned against me, that I plead for the pre-eminence of epic poetry because I have taken some pains in translating Virgil, if this were the first time that I had delivered my opinion in this dispute. But I have more than once already maintained the rights of my two masters against their rivals of the scene, even while I wrote
tragedies myself, and had no thoughts of this present undertaking. I submit my opinion to your judgment, who are better qualified than any man I know to decide this contro. versy. You come, my lord, instructed in the cause, and needed not that I should open it. Your Essay of Poetry, which was published without a name, and of which I was not honored with the confidence, I read over and over with much delight, and as much instruction; and—without flattering you, or making myself more moral than I am-not without some envy. I was loath to be informed how an epic poem should be written, or how a tragedy should be contrived and managed, in better verse, and with more judgment, than I could teach others. A native of Parnassus, and bred up in the studies of its fundamental laws, may receive new lights from his contemporaries; but it is a grudging kind of praise which he gives his benefactors. He is more obliged than he is willing to acknowlege : there is a tincture of malice in his commendations; for where I own I am taught, I confess my
want of knowlege. A judge on the bench may, out of good1 nature, at least interest, encourage the pleadings of a puny
counsellor; but he does not willingly commend bis brother serjeant at the bar, especially when he controls his law, and exposes that ignorance which is made sacred by his place. I gave the unknown author his due commendation, I must confess : but who can answer for me, and for the rest of the poets who heard me read the poem, whether we should not have been better pleased to have seen our own names at the bottom of the title-page? Perhaps we commended it the more, that we might seem to be above the censure. naturally displeased with an unknown critic, as the ladies are with a lampooner, because we are bitten in the dark, and know not where to fasten our revenge. But great excellences will work their way through all sorts of opposition. I applauded rather out of decency than affection ; and was ambitious, as some yet can witness, to be acquainted with a man, with whom I had the honor to converse, and that almost daily, for so many years together. Heaven knows if I have heartily forgiven you this deceit. You extorted a praise, which I should willingly have given, had I known you. Nothing had been more easy than to commend a patron of a long standing. The world would join with me, if the enco
miums were just; and, if unjust, would excuse a grateful flatterer. But to come anonymous on me, and force me to commend you against my interest, was not altogether so fair, give me leave to say, as it was politic : for, by concealing your quality, you might clearly understand how your work succeeded, and that the general approbation was given to your merit, not your titles. Thus, like Apelles, you stood unseen behind your own Venus, and received the praises of the passing multitude : the work was commended, not the author : and I doubt not this was one of the most pleasing adventures of your life.
I have detained your lordship longer than I intended in this dispute of preference betwixt the epic poem and the drama, and yet have not formally answered any of the arguments which are brought by Aristotle on the other side, and set in the fairest light by Dacier. But I suppose, without looking on the book, I may have touched on some of the objections : for, in this address to your lordship, I design not a treatise of heroic poetry, but write in a loose epistolary way, somewhat tending to that subject, after the example of Horace, in his first epistle of the second book to Augustus Cæsar, and in that to the Pisos, which we call his Art of Poetry; in both of which he observes no method that I can trace, whatever Scaliger the father, or Heinsius, may have seen, or rather think they had seen. I have taken up, laid down, and resumed as often as I pleased, the same subject : and this loose proceeding I shall use through all this prefatory dedication. Yet all this while I have been sailing with some side-wind or other toward the point I proposed in the beginning; the greatness and excellency of a heroic poem, with some of the difficulties which attend that work. The comparison, therefore, which I made betwixt the epopee and the tragedy was not altogether a digression; for it is concluded on all hands that they are both the master-pieces of human wit.
In the mean time, I may be bold to draw this corollary from what has been already said, that the file of heroic poets is very short: all are not such who have assumed that lofty title in ancient or modern ages, or have been so esteemed by their partial and ignorant admirers.
There have been but one great Ilias, and one Æneis, in so many ages. The next, but the next with a long interval betwixt, was the Jerusalem : I mean not so much in distance of time as in excellency. After these three are entered some lord chamberlain should be appointed, some critic of authority should be set before the door, to keep out a crowd of little poets who press for admission, and are not of quality. Mævius would be deafening your lordship's ears with his
Fortunam Priami cantabo, et nobile bellum-mere fustian, as Horace would tell you from behind, without pressing forward, and more smoke than fire. Pulci, Boiardo, and Ariosto, would cry out, “Make room for the Italian poets, the descendants of Virgil in a right line :' Father Le Moine, with his Saint Louis : and Scudery, with his Alaric, for a godly king and a Gothic conqueror ; and Chapelain would take it ill that his Maid' should be refused a place with Helen and Lavinia. Spenser has a better plea for his Fairy Queen, had his action been finished, or bad been one ; and Milton, if the devil had not been his hero, instead of Adam ; if the giant had not foiled the knight, and driven him out of his stronghold, to wander through the world with his ladyerrant; and if there had not been more machining persons than human in his poem. After these, the rest of our English poets shall not be mentioned. I have that honor for them which I ought to have ; but, if they are worthies, they are not to be ranked amongst the three whom I have named, and who are established in their reputation.
Before I quitted the comparison betwixt epic poetry and tragedy, I should have acquainted my judge with one advantage of the former over the latter, which I now casually remember out of the preface of Segrais, before his translation of the Æneis, or out of Bossu, no matter which : “the style of the heroic poem is, and ought to be, more lofty than that of the dramą.' The critic is certainly in the right, for the reason already urged: the work of tragedy is on the passions, and in a dialogue : both of them abhor strong metaphors, in which the epopee delights. A poet cannot speak too plainly on the stage : for 'volat irrevocabile verbum ;' the sense is lost, if it be not taken flying. But what we read alone we have leisure to digest : there an author may beautify his sense hy the boldness of his expression, which, if we under