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and observation, has arrived at a perfect knowledge of mankind; who has acquainted himself with the natural powers of the human mind, and the causes by which the passions are excited and repressed; who not only in words can explain, but can delineate to the senses, every emotion of the soul; who can excite, can temper and regulate the passions—such a man, though he may not have acquired erudition by the common methods, I esteem a true philosopher. The passion of jealousy, its causes, circumstances, its progress and effects, I hold to be more accurately, more copiously, more satisfactorily described in one of the dramas of Shakspeare, than in all the disputations of the schools of philosophy.
Now, if Tragedy be of so truly a philosophical nature; and if, to all the force and gravity of wisdom, it add graces and allurements peculiarly its own—the harmony of verse, the contrivance of the fable, the excellence of imitation, the truth of action; shall we not say that philosophy must yield to poetry in point of utility ? or shall we not rather say, that the former is greatly indebted to the latter, of whose assistance and recommendation it makes so advantageous a use, in order to attain its particular purpose, utility, or improvement?
“ But if the force of imitation and fable be so great, the force of truth itself must surely appear much greater: we should therefore apply to history rather than to poetry, for instruction in morals.” This, however, is a mistaken notion. History is confined within too narrow limits; history is subject to laws peculiar to itself, and too severe to admit of such an application. It relates things as they really were, it traces events under the guidance of authority; it must exbibit what has happened, not what might or ought to have happened. It must not deviate in quest of reasonable instruction or plausible conjecture, but confine itself to that path which the stubbornness of fact has prescribed. History treats of things and persons which have been in actual existence; the subjects of poetry are infinite and universal. The one investigates causes through the uncertain medium of conjecture; the other demonstrates them with clearness and certainty. The one catches the casual glimpses of truth, whenever they break forth to the view; the other contemplates her unclouded appearance. History pursues her appointed journey by a direct path; poetry ranges uncontrolled over the wide expanse of nature.
The former must make
her precepts subservient to the subject; the latter forms a subject subordinate to her precepts and design. For these reasons poetry is defined by Aristotle to be something of a more serious and philosophical nature than history :* nor is our Bacon (a name not inferior in literature) of a different sentiment. The subject itself, and the authority of so great a man, require that the passage should be quoted in his own words. “ Since the sensible world is in dignity inferior to the rational soul, poetry seems to endow human nature with that which lies beyond the power of history, and to gratify the mind with at least the shadow of things where the substance cannot be had. For, if the matter be properly considered, an argument may be drawn from poetry, that a superior dignity in things, a more perfect order, and a more beautiful variety delights the soul of man, than is found in nature since the fall. As, therefore, the actions and events which are the subject of true history, are not of sufficient amplitude to content the mind of man; poetry is at hand, and invents actions of a more heroic nature. Because true history reports the success of events not proportionably to desert, or according to the virtue or vice that has been displayed in them; poetry corrects this, and represents events and fortunes according to justice and merit: Because true history, from the obvious similarity of actions, and the satiety which this circumstance must occasion, frequently creates a distaste in the mind; poetry cheers and refreshes it, exhibiting things uncommon, varied, and full of vicissitude. As poetry, therefore, contributes not only to pleasure, but to magnanimity and good morals, it is deservedly supposed to participate in some measure of divine inspiration; since it raises the mind, and fills it with sublime ideas, by proportioning the appearances of things to the desires of the mind, and not submitting the mind to things, like reason and history.”+
That elevation of sentiment, that inspiration, that usefulness in forming the manners, is, however, by no means so peculiar to the Epic, (to which that great man chiefly refers in this passage), as to exclude the claim of every other species of poetry: there are others which also deserve to partake in the commendation; and first the Ode,
“ With thoughts that breathe, and words that burn;"
Arist. Poel, c. 9.
* Και φιλοσοφωτιρον και σπουδαιοτερον ποιησις ισοριας εσιν. - Author's Nole.
+ De Augm, Scient. I. ii, 13.
which, though in some respects inferior to what are called the higher species of poetry, yields to none in force, ardour, and sometimes even in dignity and solemnity. Every species of poetry has in fact its peculiar mode of acting on the human feelings; the general effect is perhaps the same. The epic accomplishes its design with more leisure, with more consideration and care, and therefore probably with greater certainty. It more gradually insinuates itself—it penetrates, it moves, it delights ; now rising to a high degree of sublimity, now subsiding to its accustomed smoothness; and, conducting the reader through a varied and delightful scene, it applies a gentle constraint to the mind, making its impression by the forcible nature of this application, but more especially by its continuance. The ode, on the contrary, strikes with an instantaneous effect, amazes, and as it were storms the affections. The one may be compared to a flame, which, fanned by the winds, gradually spreads itself on all sides, and at last involves every object in the conflagration; the other to a flash of lightning, which instantaneously bursts forth,
“ With instant ruin threats great nature's frame,
And shoots thro' every part the vivid fame.” The amazing power of Lyric poetry, in directing the passions, in forming the manners, in maintaining civil life, and particularly in exciting and cherishing that generous elevation of sentiment on which the very existence of public virtue seems to depend, will be sufficiently apparent by only contemplating those monuments of genius which Greece has bequeathed to posterity. If we examine the
of Pindar, (which though by no means accounted the most excellent of their kind, by some strange fatality are almost the only specimens that remain), how exquisite must have been the pleasure, how vivid the sensation to the Greek, whose ordinary amusement it was to sing, or hear them sung ! For, this kind of entertainment was not confined to persons of taste and learning, but had grown into general use. When he heard his gods, his heroes, his ancestors received into the number of the gods, celebrated in a manner so glorious, so divine, would not his bosom glow with the desire of fame, with the most fervid emulation of virtue, with a patriotism, immoderate perhaps, but honourable and useful in the highest degree? Is it wonderful, that he should be so elevated with this greatness of mind, (shall I call it?) or ra
ther insolence and pride, as to esteem every other people mean, barbarous, and contemptible, in comparison with himself and his own countrymen? It is almost unnecessary to remind this assembly, that in the sacred games (which afforded so much support to the warlike virtue of Greece *) no inconsiderable share of dignity and esteem resulted from the verses of the poets; nor did the Olympic crown exhibit a more ample reward to the candidate for victory, than the encomium of Pindar or Stesichorus. I wish, indeed, that time had not invidiously deprived us of the works of the latter, whose majesty and excellence commanded universal applause, whom Dionysius + preferred before every other lyric poet, because he made choice of the sublimest and most splendid subjects, and in the amplification of them preserved most completely the manners and the dignity of his characters. To Alcæus, however, the same author attributes the most excellent manner of treating political subjects. As a man, indeed, how great! as a citizen, how strenuous ! What a spirited defender of the laws and constitution of his country! what a vigorous opposer of tyrants ! who consecrated equally his sword and his lyre on the altar of freedom ! whose prophetic muse, ranging through every region, acted as the sacred guardian, not for the present moment only, but for future ages ; not of his own city alone, but of the whole commonwealth of Greece. Poetry such as this, so vehement, so animated, is certainly to be esteemed highly efficacious, as well in exciting the human mind to virtue, as in purifying it from every mean and vicious propensity; but still more especially does it conduce to cherish and support that vigour of soul, that generous temper and spirit, which is both the offspring and guardian of liberty. Could an apprehension arise that another Pisistratus would meditate the enslaving of that city, where at every banquet, nay, in the streets and in the meanest assemblies of the common people, that convivial ode was daily sung which bears the name of Callistratus? an author known to us only by this composition, which, however, sufficiently demonstrates him to have been an admirable poet and an excellent citizen:S
* Consult the Dissertation of the learned Gilbert West on the Olympic Games, sect. xvii. + Dion. Halicar. T. ii. p. 123. Edit. Hudson.
Ibid. $ Athenæus, lib. xv. This Skolion (or convivial song) some have attributed to Alcæus; but not conformably with strict chronology, for Alcæus
Verdant myrtle's branchy pride
Shall my thirsty blade entwine:
Such, Aristogiton, thine.
Not like recreant idlers dead;
And with godlike Diomed.
While the Muse your fame shall tell ;
At your feet the tyrant fell.
Equal laws and liberty :
flourished about eighty years before the death of Hipparchus. But Hesychius has preserved the name of the author from oblivion, directly assigning the poem to Callistratus. This poem was so celebrated at Athens, that it was sung at almost every banquet, as we learn from Aristophanes, Axapr. 977.
“ Grim-visag'd War shall never be my guest,
Nor at my table sing Harmodius' praise :
Such lawless riot mars our temp'rate joys.” “ He shall never sing Harmodius with me;" that is, he shall never be my guest. Upon this passage the Scholiast: “ In their convivial meetings they sung a certain ballad of Harmodius, which begins Pia Zeels Aquodis. *. a. Also in the same comedy, 1092, these songs are enumerated among the other apparatus of the entertainment:
“ The sprightly dance, Harmodius! thy delight.” There is an allusion to the same, Auris. 633.
“ My sword I'll bear hid in a myrtle branch;
And like Aristogiton walk in arms.' It is evident from this ballad, that the conspirators, when they assaulted Hipparchus, concealed their daggers in those myrtle garlands, which, if I mistake not, were carried by all who assisted at the sacred rites of the Panathenaic sacrifice: and this is indeed confirmed by the Scholiast upon Aristophanes, in the passage before referred to: “ For these men, Harmodius and Aristogiton, hastily drawing their swords out of the myrtle boughs, fell furiously upon the
ant.” Hence, perhaps, arose the custom, that whoever sung any convivial song in company, always held a branch of myrtle in his hand. See Plutarch, i. Symp. Quest. 1.--Author's Note.
Our Collins, in particular, has attributed this poem to Alcæus, in the following beautiful lines:
“ What new Alcæus, fancy blest,
Shall sing the sword in myrtles drest,
(What place so fit to seal a deed renown'd?)
Ode to Liberty.