« PredošláPokračovať »
From this time they, who took upon themselves the office of commenting and recommending the great writers of Greece, discharged it in a very different manner. Their researches grew fevere, inquifitive, and rational. And no wonder; for the perfon, who now took the lead in these ftudies, and fet the fashion of them, was a philofopher, and, which was happy for the advancement of this art, the justest philofopher of antiquity. Hence fcientific or specu lative criticifm attained to perfection, at once; and appeared in all that severity of reafon and accuracy of method, which Ariftotle himself could bestow upon it.
But now this might almost seem as violent an extreme as the other. For though to understand be better than to admire, yet the generality of readers cannot, or will not, understand, where there is nothing for them to admire. So
So that reafon, for her own fake, is obliged to borrow fomething of the drefs, and to mimic the airs, of fancy : And Ariftotle's reafon was too proud to submit to this management.
Hence, the critical plan, which the Stagyrite had formed with fuch rigour of fcience, however it might fatisfy the curious fpeculatift, wanted to be relieved and fet off to the common eye by the heightenings of eloquence. This, I obferved, was the eafier tafk of the two; and yet it was very long before it was fuccessfully attempted. Amongst other reafons of this delay, the principal, as you observe, might be the fall of the public freedom of Greece, which foon after followed. For then, instead of the free and manly efforts of genius, which alone could accomplish fuch a reformation, the trifling spirit of the times declined into mere verbal amufements. Whence, as you fay, so
"great a cloud of fcholiafts and grammarians fo foon overfpread the learning of Greece, when once that "famous community had lost its liberty [b]."
And what Greece was thus unable, of a long time, to furnish, we shall in vain feek in another great community, which foon after flourished in all liberal ftudies. The genius of Rome was bold and elevated enough for this task. But Criticifm of any kind was little cultivated, never profeffed as an art, by this people. The fpecimens we have of their ability in this way (of which the most elegant, beyond difpute, are the two epiftles to Auguftus and the Pifos) are flight occafional attempts; made in the negligence of common fenfe, and adapted to the peculiar exigencies of their own taste and learning: and not by any
[b] Pope's Works, vol. v. p. 244. 8**.
means the regular productions of art, profeffedly bending itself to this work, and ambitious to give the last finishing to the critical fyftem.
For fo great an effort as this, we are to look back to the confines of Greece. And there at length, and even from beneath the depression of flavery (but with a spirit that might have done honour to its age of greatest liberty), a
CRITIC arofe, fingularly qualified for fo generous an undertaking. His His profeffion, which was that of a rhetorical fophift, required him to be fully inftructed in the graces and embellifhments. of eloquence; and thefe, the vigour of his genius enabled him to comprehend in their utmost force and beauty. In a word, LONGINUS was the perfon, whom, of all the critics of antiquity, nature seems to have formed with the proper talents to give the laft honour
to his profeffion, and foul of fine writing.
penetrate the very
Yet fo bounded is human wit, and with fuch difficulty is human art compleated, that even here the advantage, which had been fo'fortunately gained on the one hand, was, in great meafure, loft and forfeited on the other. He had foftened indeed the feverity of Ariftotle's plan; but, in doing this, had gone back again too far into the manner of the admiring Rhapfodift. In fhort, with the brightest views of nature and true beauty, which the fineft imagination could afford to the beft critic, he now wanted, in a good degree, that precifion, and depth of thought, which had fo eminently dif tinguished his predeceffor. For, as Plotinus long ago obferved of him, though he had approved himself a mafter of polite literature, he was NO Philofopher; ΦΙΛΟΛΟΓΟΣ ΜΕΝ, ΦΙ
ΛΟΣΟΦΟΣ ΔΕ ΟΥΔΑΜΩΣ,