Imágenes de páginas

ral duties; inspired and celebrated heroic deeds; sung the praises of valour, and the charms of liberty; and snatched from oblivion the bold achievements, and meritorious acts, of patriots, and of heroes. In the East, the poet veiled his inventions in mysterious allegories and divine mythology; and rather endeavoured to raise the mind to heavenly contemplations, than to instruct it in human affairs.

In Greece, the general mother of arts, arose the mighty genius of Homer; of whom it may be said, as it is of Socrates with relation to philosophy, that he brought poetry from heaven, to live in cities among men. The moral of the fable of the Iliad is adapted to the political state of Greece, whose various chiefs are thereby exhorted to unanimity; the Odyssey, to the general condition of human nature: but the episodical part of his works he has enriched with mythology, physical allegory, the fine arts, and whatever adorns the mind of man, or benefits society; even


rules of domestic economy, social behaviour, and all the sweet civilities of life, are taught by this great master, of what may be called, in the most enlarged sense, the humanities. Yet first in the rank of all the eminent perfections of this un-equalled bard is the invention of the dramatic imitation placed, by a critic, whose judgment was formed by philosophy, and a deep knowledge of human nature. saw the powerful agency of living words, joined to moving things, when still narration yields the place to animated action.


It is as a moral philosopher, not as the mere connoisseur in a polite art, that Aristotle gives the preference, above all other modes of poetic imitation, to tragedy, as capable to purge the passions, by the means of pity and terror*. The object of the epic poem is to inspire magnanimity; to give good documents of life; to induce

* Chap.


good habits*; and like a wholesome regimen, to preserve the whole moral œconomy in a certain soundness and integrity. But it is not composed of ingredients of such efficacy, as to mitigate the violent distempers of the mind, nor can apply its art to the benefit of the ignorant vulgar, where those distempers are in their most exasperated state. An epic poem is too abstruse for the people; the moral is too much enveloped, the language too elevated for their apprehension; nor have they leisure, or application, to trace the consequences of ill-governed passions, or erroneous principles, through the long series of a voluminous work. The Drama is happily constituted for this purpose. Events are brought within the compass of a short period: precepts are delivered in the familiar way of discourse: the fiction is concealed, the allegory is realized; and representation and action take the place of cold unaffecting narration. A tragedy

* Du Poëme Epique, par Bossu, 1. 2. c. 17.


is a fable exhibited to the view, and rendered palpable to the senses; and every decoration of the stage is contrived to impose the delusion on the spectator, by conspiring with the imitation. It is addressed to the imagination, through which it opens to itself a communication with the heart, where it is to excite certain passions and affections; each character being personated, and each event exhibited, the attention of the audience is greatly captivated, and the imagination so far assists in the delusion, as to sympathize in the representation. To the Muse of Tragedy, therefore, Mr. Pope has assigned the noble task,

To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius, and to mend the heart;
To make mankind in conscious virtue bold,
Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold.

He ascribes such power to a well-wrought scene,as to ask,

When Cato groans, who does not wish to bleed?


He would not have supposed the death of Hector, or Sarpedon, could have produced an equal effect on any reader of the Iliad; such enthusiasm is to be caught only from the stage, and is the effect alone of strongworking sympathy, and passions agitated by the peculiar force and activity of the dramatic manner. Writers of feeble genius, in their compositions for the stage, frequently deviate into the narrative and descriptive style; a fault for which nothing can atone; for the Drama is a species of poetry, as distinct from the Epic, as Statuary from Painting; and can no more claim that merit which specifically belongs to it, and constitutes its perfection, from fine versification, or any other poetical ornaments, than a statue can be rendered a fine specimen of sculpture, from being beautifully coloured, or highly polished. It is frivolous and idle, therefore, to insist on any little incidental and accessory beauties, where the main part, the very constitution of the thing, is defective. Yet on such trivial beauties do the French found all their pre


« AnteriorContinuar »