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reflected from Homer, more shining than fieree, but every where equal and constant: in Lucan and Statius, it burst out in sudden, short, and interrupted flashes : in Milton” it glows like a furnace kept up
? Of all passages in our Author's Works, I most wish he had never written this tasteless and unjust comparison. But indeed he never speaks of our divine Bard, con amore. This has lately been done by Mr. Hayley, in his curious and animated Life of Milton. I do not honour Sir John Denham so much for his writing Cooper's Hill, as I do for being the very first person that spoke highly of Paradise Lost; who coming one day into the House of Commons with a proof-sheet of this Poem, wet from the press, and being asked what paper he held in his hand, replied, " It was part of the noblest poem that was ever written in any language, or in any age."
Milton,” says Warburton, with his usual love of bringing every thing into system, “ found Homer possessed of the province of Morality; Virgil of Politics; and nothing left for him, but that of Religion. This he seized, as aspiring to share with them in the government of the poetic world; and by means of the supe- : rior dignity of his subject, hath gotten to the head of that triumvirate, which took so many ages in forming. These are the three species of the Epic Poem; for its largest sphere is human action, which can be considered but in a MORAL, POLITICAL, or RELIGIOUS View; and these the three makers; for each oftheir poems was struck at a heat, and came to perfection from its first essay. Here then the grand scene was closed, and all farther improvements of the Epic at an end.” A cruel sentence indeed, and a very severe statute of Limitation ! enough, if it had any foundation, to destroy every future attempt of any exalted genius that might arise. But, in truth, the assertion is totally groundless and chimerical. Each of the three poets might
' change the stations here assigned to them. Homer might assüme to himself the province of politics ; Virgil of morality; and Milton of both ; who is also a strong-proof that human action is not the largest sphere of Epic Poetry. But of all Dr. Warburton's forced and fanciful interpretations, next to his extraordinary interpretation of the Sixth Book of the Æneid, is the supposition, that Virgil, by the episode of Nisus and Euryalus, ineant to recommend the Grecian institution of the Band of Lovers and Friends that fought at each other's sides : and, also,
tó an uncommon ardour by the force of art: in Shakspeare, it strikes before we are aware, like an accidental fire from heaven: but in Homer, and in him only, it burns every where clearly, and every where irresistibly.
I shall here endeavour to shew, how this vast Invention exerts itself in a manner superior to that of any poet, through all the main constituent parts of his work, as it is the great and peculiar characteristic which distinguishes him from all other authors.
This strong and ruling faculty was like a powerful star, which, in the violence of its course, drew all things within its vortex. It seemed not enough
that by the behaviour and death of Amata, and her celebration of the Bacchic Rites in the Seventh Book, Virgil meant to proscribe and expose the abominable abuses that had crept into the mysteries. I lament that Mr. Gibbon, in his able confutation of the notion of Augustus's Initiation, has not touched on this topic.
3 Convinced that this Translation is the most spirited and the best ever given of any ancient Poet, and most suited to modern times and readers; yet I have always been of opinion, that Pope would have made it still more excellent, and would have profited much, if he could have seen Blackwell's Enquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer; a work, though written indeed with some affectation of style, that abounds in curious researches and observations, and places Homer in a new light; by endeavouring to shew how it has happened that no poet has ever equalled him for upwards of two thousand years; namely, by the united influence of the happiest climate ; the most natural manners to paint ; the boldest language to use; the most expressive religion ; and the richest subject to work upon. Nature, after all, is the surest rule, and real characters the best ground of fiction. The passions of the human mind, if truly awaked, and kept up by objects fitted to them, dictate a language peculiar to themselves. Homer has copied it, and done justice to nature. We see her image in his draft: and this work is the great Drama of Life, acted in our view. A most ingenious theory, if not solid, in every respect. .
to have taken in the whole circle of arts, and the whole compass of nature, to supply his maxims and reflections ; all the inward passions and affections of mankind, to furnish his characters; and all the outward forms and images of things for his descriptions : but wanting yet an ampler sphere to expatiate in, he opened a new and boundless walk for his imagination, and created a world for himself in the invention of Fable. That which Aristotle calls the Soul of Poetry, was first breathed into it by Homer. I shall begin with considering him in this part, as it is naturally the first, and I speak of it both as it means the design of a poem, and as it is taken for fiction.
Fable may be divided into the probable, the allegorical, and the marvellous. The probable fable is the recital of such actions as, though they did not happen, yet might, in the common course of nature: or of such as though they did, become fables by the additional episodes and manner of telling them. Of this sort is the main story of an Epic Poem, the return of Ulysses, the settlement of the Trojans in Italy, or the like.
That of the Iliad is the anger of Achilles, the most short and single subject that was ever chosen by any Poet. Yet this he has supplied with a vaster variety of incidents and events, and crowded with a greater number of councils, speeches, battles, and episodes, of all kinds, than are to be found even in those poems whose schemes are of the utmost latitude and irregularity. The action is hurried on with the most vehement spirit, and its whole duration employs not so much as fifty days.
Virgil, for want of so warm a genius, aided himself by taking in a more extensive subject, as well as a greater length of time, and contracting the design of both Homer's poems into one, which is yet but a fourth part as large as his. The other Epic Poets have used the same practice, but generally carried it so far as to superinduce a multiplicity of fables, destroy the unity of action, and lose their readers in an unreasonable length of time. Nor is it only in the main design that they have been unable to add to his invention, but they have followed him in every episode and part of story. If he has given a regular catalogue of an army, they all draw up
their forces in the same order. If he has funeral games for Patroclus, Virgil has the same for Anchises, and Statius (rather than omit them) destroys the unity of his action for those of Archemorus. If Ulysses visit the shades, the Æneas of Virgil and Scipio of Silius are sent after him. If he be detained from his return by the allurements of Calypso, so is Æneas by Dido, and Rinaldo by Armida. If Achilles be absent from the army on the score of a quarrel through half the poem, Rinaldo must absent himself just as long, on the like account. If he gives his hero a suit of celestial armour, Virgil and Tasso make the same present to theirs. Virgil has not only observed this close imitation of Homer, but where he
• The learned and judicious Heyne, in the Preface to his edition of Virgil, has exhausted all that can be said of his Imitations of Homer ; but he does not assent to what Dr. Hurd has urged on this subject, in his Discourse on Poetical Imitation. Heyne lays a great stress on the following observation, p. 45. v. 2. “ In Virgilio vel reprehendendo, vel laudando, id,
had not led the way, supplied the want from other Greek authors. Thus the story of Sinon and the taking of Troy was copied (says Macrobius) almost word for word from Pisander, as the loves of Dido and Æneas are taken from those of Medea and Jason in Apollonius, and several others in the same manner.
To proceed to the allegorical fable: If we reflect upon those innumerable knowledges, those secrets of nature and physical philosophy, which Homer is generally supposed to have wrapped up in his allegories, what a new and ample scene of wonder may this consideration afford us! How fertile will that imagination appear, which was able to clothe all the properties of elements, the qualifications of the mind, the virtues and vices, in forms and persons; and to introduce them into actions agreeable to the nature of the things they shadowed! This is a field in which no succeeding poets could dispute with Homer; and whatever commendations have been allowed them on this head, are by no means for their invention in having enlarged his circle, but for their judgment in having contracted it. For when the mode of learning changed in following ages, and science was delivered in a plainer manner, it then became as reasonable in the more modern poets to lay it aside, as it was in Homer to make use of it. And perhaps it was no unhappy circumstance for Virgil, that
quod primo loco reputandum erat, non meminerant viri docti; poetam, etiamsi ingenium cum ad nova et intacta tulisset, hoc suæ ætati suisque popularibus tribuere debuisse, aut saltem in opinione ejus temporis communi excusationem habere, cum ad artem poetæ et ad majorem carminis suavitatem pertinere crederetur, si multa ex Græcis essent expressa vel adumbrata.”