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most scope for long descriptions. Put these pieces together, and throw all the adventures you fancy into one tale. Then take a hero whom you may choose for the sound of his name, and put him into the midst of these adventures. There let him work for twelve books; at the end of which you may take him out ready prepared to conquer, or to marry; it being necessary that the conclusion of an epic poem be fortunate.
To make an Episode.—Take any remaining adventure of your former collection, in which you could no way involve your hero; or any unfortunate accident that was too good to be thrown away; and it will be of use applied to any other person, who may be lost and evaporate in the course of the work, without the least damage to the composition.
For the Moral and Allegory.—These you may extract out of the fable afterwards, at your leisure. strain them sufficiently.
Be sure you
FOR THE MANNERS.
For those of the hero, take all the best qualities you can find in all the celebrated heroes of antiquity; if they will not be reduced to a consistency, lay them all on a heap upon him. But be sure they are qualities which your patron would be thought to have; and, to prevent any mistake which the world may be subject to, select from the alphabet those capital letters that compose his name, and set them at the head of a dedication before your poem. However, do not absolutely observe the exact quantity of these virtues, it not being determined whether or no it be necessary for the hero of the poem to be an honest man. For the under characters, gather
translated into English in 1598. It was one of the most celebrated Spanish romances of chivalry, and was reprieved by the curate in Don Quixote, when the barber made a bonfire of the Don's library.
them from Homer and Virgil, and change the names as occasion serves.
FOR THE MACHINES.
Take of deities, male and female, as many as you can use. Separate them into two equal parts, and keep Jupiter in the middle. Let Juno put him in a ferment, and Venus mollify him. Remember on all occasions to make use of volatile Mercury. If you have need of devils, draw them out of Milton's Paradise, and extract your spirits from Tasso. The use of these machines is evident; and since no epic poem can possibly subsist without them, the wisest way is to reserve them for your greatest necessities. When you cannot extricate your hero by any human means, or yourself by your own wits, seek relief from heaven, and the gods will do your business very readily. This is according to the direct prescription of Horace in his Art of Poetry:
Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice Nodus
But for a business worthy of a God.- Roscommon. That is to say, a poet should never call upon the gods for their assistance but when he is in great perplexity.
FOR THE DESCRIPTIONS.
For a Tempest. - Take Eurus, Zephyr, Auster, and Boreas, and cast them together in one verse. Add to these of rain, lightning, and of thunder (the loudest you can) quantum sufficit. Mix your clouds and billows well together until they foam, and thicken your description here and there with a quicksand. Brew your tempest well in your head, before you set a blowing.
For a Battle. — Pick a large quantity of images and descriptions from Homer's Iliad, with a spice or two of Virgil, and if there remain any overplus you may lay
them by for a skirmish. Season it well with similes, and it will make an excellent battle.
For Burning a Town. — If such a description be necessary, because it is certain there is one in Virgil, Old Troy is ready burnt to your hands. But if you fear that would be thought borrowed, a chapter or two of the Theory of the Conflagration', well circumstanced, and done into verse, will be a good succedaneum.
As for Similes and Metaphors, they may be found all over the creation; the most ignorant may gather them, but the danger is in applying them. For this, advise with your bookseller.
FOR THE LANGUAGE.
(I mean the diction.) Here it will do well to be an imitator of Milton, for you will find it easier to imitate him in this than anything else. Hebraisms and Grecisms are to be found in him, without the trouble of learning the languages. I knew a painter, who like our poet) had no genius, made his daubings to be thought originals by setting them in the smoke. You may in the same manner give the venerable air of antiquity to your piece, by darkening it up and down with Old English. With this you may be easily furnished upon any occasion by the dictionary commonly printed at the end of Chaucer.
I must not conclude, without cautioning all writers without genius in one material point, which is never to be afraid of having too much fire in their works. I should advise rather to take their warmest thoughts, and spread them abroad upon paper; for they are observed to cool before they are read.
1 A reference to the Sacred Theory of the Earth, by Thos. Burnet, D.D., 1689.
GEORGE COLMAN-BONNEL THORNTON. (1732-1794.)
XXVII. THE OCEAN OF INK.
Suave mari magno, turbantibus æquora ventis,
E writers of essays, or (as they are termed) periodical
papers, justly claim to ourselves a place among the modern improvers of literature. Neither Bentley nor Burman', nor any other equally sagacious commentator, has been able to discover the least traces of
similar productions among the ancients: except we can suppose that the history of Thucydides was retailed weekly in sixpenny numbers; that Seneca dealt out his morality every Saturday, or that Tully wrote speeches and philosophical disquisitions, whilst Virgil and Horace clubbed together to furnish the poetry for a Roman magazine.
There is a word, indeed, by which we are fond of distinguishing our works, and for which we must confess ourselves indebted to the Latin. Myself, and every petty journalist, affect to dignify our hasty performances by styling them Lucubrations; by which we mean, if we mean anything, that as the day is too short for our labours, we are obliged to call in the assistance of the night: not to mention the modest insinuation that our compositions are so correct, that (like the orations of Demosthenes) they may be said to smell of the lamp. We would be understood to follow the directions of the Roman Satirist, "to grow pale by the midnight candle";
1 Peter Burman (d. 1741), an eminent classical commentator, and professor at Leyden.
though, perhaps, as our own Satirist1 expresses it, we may be thought
Sleepless ourselves, to give our readers sleep. But as a relief from the fatigue of so many restless hours, we have frequently gone to sleep for the benefit of the public: and surely we, whose labours are confined to a sheet and a half, may be indulged in taking a nap now and then, as well as those engaged in longer works; who (according to Horace) are to be excused if a little drowsiness sometimes creeps in upon them.
After this preface, the reader will not be surprised, if I take the liberty to relate a dream of my own. It is usual on these occasions to be lulled to sleep by some book: and most of my brethren pay that compliment to Virgil or Shakespeare: but as I could never discover any opiate qualities in those authors, I chose rather to doze over some modern performance. I must beg to be excused from mentioning particulars, as I would not provoke the resentment of my contemporaries: nobody will imagine that I dipped into any of our modern novels, or took up any of our late tragedies. Let it suffice that I presently fell fast asleep.
I found myself transported in an instant to the shore of an immense sea, covered with innumerable vessels; and though many of them suddenly disappeared every minute, I saw others continually launching forth, and pursuing the same course. The seers of visions and dreamers of dreams have their organs of sight so considerably improved, that they can take in any object, however distant or minute. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that I could discern everything distinctly, though the waters before me were of the deepest black. While I stood contemplating this amazing scene, one
Pope, Dunciad, i. 94.