Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

and strongly impresses terror and amazement. The modesty and good sense of the ancients is, in this particular, as in others, remarkable. The same writer never presumed to undertake more than one kind of dramatic poetry, if we except the Cyclops of Euripides. A poet never presumed to plead in public, or to write history, or, indeed, any considerable work in prose. The same actors never recited tragedy and comedy: this was observed long ago by Plato, in the third book of his Republic. They seem to have held that diversity, nay, universality, of excellence, at which the moderns frequently aim, to be a gift unattainable by man. We, therefore, of Great Britain, have, perhaps, more reason to congratulate ourselves on two very singular phenomena; I mean Shakespeare's being able to pourtray characters so very different as Falstaff and Macbeth; and Garrick's being able to personate so inimitably a Lear or an Abel Drugger. Nothing can more fully demonstrate the extent and versatility of these two original geniuses. Corneille, whom the Frenchare so fond of opposing to Shakespeare, produced very contemptible comedies; and the 14 P'laideubes Plaideures of Racine is so close a resemblance of Aristophanes, that it ought not to be here urged. The most universal of authors seems to be Voltaire, who has written almost equally well both in prose and verse; and whom either the tragedies of Merope and Mahomet, or the History of Louis XIV. or Charles XII. would alone have immortalized.

7. Those rules of old, discover'd, not devis'd,
Are nature still, but nature methodiz'd:
Nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd
By the same laws which first herself ordain'd.*

The precepts of the art of poesy were posterior to practice; the rules of the Epopea were all drawn from the Iliad and the Odyssey; and of Tragedy, from the (edipus of Sophocles. A petulant rejection, and an implicit veneration, of the rules of the ancient critics, are equally destructive of true taste. "It ought to be the first endeavour of a writer (says the excellent RambleRf) to distinguish nature from custom; or that which is established, because it is right,

from

* Ver. 88. t No. 156.

from that which is right, only because it is established; that he may neither violate essential principles, by a desire of novelty, nor debar himself from the attainment of any beauties within his view, by a needless fear of breaking rules, where no literary dictator had authority to prescribe." ^

This liberal and manly censure of critical bigotry, extends not to those fundamental and indispensable rules which nature and necessity dictate, and demand to be observed; such, for instance, as in the higher kinds of poetry, that the action of the epopea be one, great, and entire; that the hero be eminently distinguished, move our concern, and deeply interest us; that the episodes arise easily out of the main fable; that the action commence as near the catastrophe as possible: and, in the drama, that no more events be crowded together, than can be justly supposed to happen during the time of representation, or to be transacted on one individual spot, and the like, But the absurdity here animadverted on, is the scrupulous nicety of those who bind themselves to obey frivolous and unimportant tant laws; such as, that an epic poem should consist not of less than twelve books; that it should end fortunately; that in the first book there should be no simile; that the exordium should be very simple, and unadorned: that in a tragedy, only three personages should appear at once upon the stage; and that every tragedy should consist of five acts; by the rigid observation of which last unnecessary precept, the poet is deprived of using many a moving story, that would furnish matter enough for three, perhaps, but not for five acts; with other rules of the like indifferent nature. For the rest, as Voltaire observes,* whether the action of an epopea be simple or complex, completed in a month or in a year, or a longer time; whether the scene be fixed on one spot, as in the Iliad; or that the hero voyages from sea to sea, as m the Odyssey; whether he be furious, like Achilles, or pious, like Eneas; whether the action pass on land or sea;' On the coast of Africa, as in the Luziada of Camoens; in America, as in the Araucana of Alonzo D'Ercilla; in heaven, in hell, beyond the H-' '" . mits

* Essay sur laPoesie Epique, pag. 339. torn. i.

nrits of our world, as in the Paradise Lost; all these circumstances are of no consequence: the poem will be for ever an Epic poem, an Heroic poem; at least, till another new title be found proportioned to its merit. "If you scruple (says Addison) to give the title of an Epic poem to the Paradise Lost of Milton, call it, if you choose, a Divine poem: give it whatever name you please, provided you confess, that it is a work as admirable in its kind as the Iliad."

8. Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules indites,
When to repress and when indulge our flights.*

*' • . '.

In the second part of Shaftesbury's Advice to an Author, is a judicious and elegant account of the rise and progress of arts and sciences in ancient Greece; to subjects of which sort, it were to be wished this author had always confined himself, as he indisputably understood them well») rather than have blemished and belied his patri-< otism, by writing against the religion of his country. I shall give the reader a passage that relates to the origin of criticism, which i$ curious 2 . and

* Ver. 92.

« ZurückWeiter »