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tinent, all particulars in the round of the story, which would unnecessarily obstruct his course to it
a plan essentially necessary to the legitimate epic-he first glances at the injudicious violation of this method in a certain poem on the return of Diomed, and then illustrates and lays open the superior art and beauty of the Iliad. And all this, as appears, for the sole purpose of explaining and inforcing the precept about forming the plots of tragedies from epic poems. Whence we see, how properly the examples of the errors, here condemned, are taken, not from the drama, as the less attentive reader might expect, but solely from the epos ; for, this being made the object of imitation to the dramatic poet, as the tenor of the place shews, it became necessary to guard against the influence of bad models. Which I observe for the sake of those, who, from not apprehending the connection of this and such like passages in the epistle, hastily conclude it to be a confused medley of precepts concerning the art of poetry, in general; and not a regular well-conducted piece, uniformly tending to lay open the state, and to remedy the defects, of the Roman stage.
148. SEMPER AD EVENTUM FESTINAT; &c.] The disposition, here recommended to the poet, might be shewn universally right from the clearest principles. But the propriety and beauty of it will, perhaps, be best apprehended by such, as are unused
to the more abstract criticism, from attending to a particular instance. Let us conceive an objector then to put the following query: "Supposing the "author of the Æneis to have related, in the natu"ral order, the destruction of Troy, would not the subject have been, to all intents and purposes, as "much one, as it is under its present form; in "which that event is told, in the second book, by
way of episode?" I answer by no means. The reason is taken from the nature of the work, and from the state and expectations of the reader.
1. The nature of an epic or narrative poem is this, that it lays the author under an obligation of shewing any event, which he formally undertakes in his own person, at full length, and with all its material circumstances. Every figure must be drawn in full proportion, and exhibited in strong, glowing colours. Now had the subject of the second book of the Æneis been related, in this extent, it must
not only have taken up one, but many books. By this faithful and animated drawing, and the time it would necessarily have to play upon the imagina'tion, the event had grown into such importance, that the remainder could only have passed for a kind of Appendix to it.
2. The same conclusion is drawn from considering the state of the reader. For, hurried away by an instinctive impatience, he pursues the proposed event with eagerness and rapidity. So circumstantial a detail, as was supposed, of an intermediate
action not necessarily connected with it, breaks the course of his expectations, and throws forward the point of view to an immoderate distance. In the mean time the action, thus interposed and presented to his thoughts, acquires by degrees, and at length ingrosses his whole attention. It becomes the important theme of the piece; or, at least, what follows sets out with the disadvantage of appearing to him, as a new and distinct subject.
But now being related by way of episode, that is, as a succinct, summary narration, not made by the poet himself, but coming from the mouth of a person, necessarily ingaged in the progress of the action, it serves for a short time to interrupt, and, by that interruption to sharpen, the eager expectation of the reader. It holds the attention, for a while, from the main point of view; yet not long enough to destroy that impatient curiosity, which looks forward to it. And thus it contributes to the same end, as a piece of miniature, properly introduced into a large picture. It amuses the eye with something relative to the painter's design, yet not so, as to with-hold its principal observation from falling on the greater subject. The parallel will not hold very exactly, because the painter is, of necessity, confined to the same instant of time; but it may serve for an illustration of my meaning. Suppose the painter to take, for his subject, that part of Æneas's story, where, with his penates, his father, and his son, he is preparing to set sail for Italy. To draw
Troy in flames, as a constituent part of this picture,
143. TU, QUID EGO ET POPULUS, &c.] The connexion is this. "But though the strict observance "of these rules will enable the poet to conduct his plot to the best advantage, yet this is not all which "is required to a perfect tragedy. If he would "seize the attention, and secure the applause, of "the audience, something further must be at"tempted. He must (to return to the point, from "which I digressed, v. 127) be particularly studious " to express the manners. Besides the peculiarities "of office, temper, condition, country, &c. before "considered, all which require to be drawn with the utmost fidelity, a singular attention must be " had to the characteristic differences of age.”
Etatis cujusque notandi sunt tibi mores.
The reason of this conduct is given in the commentary. It further serves to adorn this part of the
epistle [which is wholly preceptive from v. 89 to 202] with those beautiful pourtraitures of human life, in its several successive stages, which nature ́and Aristotle had instructed him so well to paint.
157. MobilibusQUE DECOR NATURIS dandus et ANNIS.] MOBILIBUS] non levibus aut inconstantibus, sed quæ variatis ætatibus immutantur. Lamhin. NATURIS] By this word is not meant, simply, that instinctive natural biass, implanted in every man, to this or that character, but, in general, nature, as it appears diversified in the different periods of life. The sense will be: A certain decorum or propriety must be observed in painting the natures or dispositions of men varying with their years.
There is then no occasion for changing the text, with Dr. Bentley, into
Mobilibusque decor, maturis dandus et annis.
179. AUT AGITUR RES IN SCENIS, AUT ACTA REFERTUR : &c.] &c.] The connexion is this. The misapplication, just now mentioned, destroys the crèdibility. This puts the poet in mind of another misconduct, which hath the same effect, viz. intus digna geri promere in scenam. But, before he makes this observation, it was proper to premise a concession to prevent mistakes, viz.
Segnius irritant animos, &c.