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OMER is universally allowed to have had the greatest Invention of any writer
whatever. The praise of judgment Virgil has justly contested with him, and others may have their pretensions as to particular excellencies; but his Invention remains yet unrivaled. Nor is it a wonder if he has ever been acknowledged the greatest of poets, who most excelled in that which is the very foundation of poetry. It is the Invention that in different degrees distinguishes all great Geniuses: the utmost stretch of human study, learning, and induttry, which maiters every thing besides, can never attain to this. It furnishes Art with all her materials, and without it, Judgment itself can at best but steal wisely ; for Art is only like a pruderit steward that lives on managing the riches of Nature. Whatever praises may be given to works of judgment, there is not even a firmele beauty in them to which the lnvention must not contribute : as in the most regular gardens, Art can only reduce the beauties of Nature to more regularity, and such a figure, which the common eye may beiter take in, and is therefore more entertained with. And perhaps the reason why common critics are inclined to prefer a judicious and methodical genius to a great and fruitful one, is, because they find it eafier for themselves to pursue their obfervations through an uniform and bounded walk of Art, than tu comprehend the vast and various extent of Nature.
Our author's work is a wild paradise, where if we cannot see all the beauties so distinctly as in an ordered garden, it is only because the number of them is infinitely greater. It is like a .copious nursery, which contains the seeds and first productions of every kind, out of which those who followed him have but selected some particular plants, each according to his fancy, to cultivate and beautify. If some things are too luxuriant, it is owing to the richness of the soil; and if others are not arrived to perfection or maturity, it is only because they are over-run and opprest by those of a stronger nature.
It is to the strength of this amazing Invention we are o attribute that unequalled fire and rapture, which is so forcible in Homer, that no man of a true poetical spirit is master of himself while he reads him. What he writes, is of the most animating nature imaginable ; every thing moves, every thing lives, and is put in action. It a council be called, or a battle fought, you are not coldly informed of what was said or done as from a third person ; the reader is burried out of himself by the force of the Poet's imagination, and turns in one place to a hearer, in another to a spectator. The course of his verses rese.nbles that of the army he describes. Qi da žę irar, wo si te auge x two ažca vévoilo.
“ They pour along like a fire that sweeps the whole earth before it.” It is however remarkable that his fancy, which is every where vigorous, is not discovered immediately at the beginning of his poem in its fullest splendor : it grows in the progress both upon himself and others, and becomes on fire, like a chariot-wheel, by its own rapidity. Exact disposition, juit thought, correct elocution, polished numbers, may have been found in a thousand; but this poetical fire, this " vivida vis animi,” in a very few. Even in works where all those are imperfect or neglected, this can overpower criticism, and make us ad. mire even while we disapprove. Nay, where this appears, though attended with absurdities, it brightens all the rubbilh about it, till we fee nothing but its own fplendor. This fire is discerned in Virgil, but discerned as through a glass, reflected from Homer, more fhining than fierce, but every where equal and conftant; in Lucan and Statius, it bursts out in sudden, Mort, and interrupted Halhes : in Milton it glows like a furnace kept up to an uncommon ardor by the force of art: io Shakespeare 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 irrelistibly.
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 (trong and ruling faculty was like a powerful ftar, which, in the violence of its course, drew all things within its vortex. It seemed not enough to have taken in the whole circle of arts, and the whole compass of nature, to supply his maxims and reflections; all the inward patrons and affections of mankind, to furnish his characters ; 'and all the outward fornis 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 fort is the main story of an Epic poem, the return of Ulysses, the settlemenç of the Trojans in Italy, or the like. That of the Iliad is the anger of Achilles, the most short and single subject that ever was chosen by any poet. Yet this he has supplied with a valter variety of incidents and events, and crowded with a greater number of counsels, 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 fpirit, and its whole duration employs not so much as fifty days. Virgil, for want of lo warm a genius, aided himself by taking in a more extensive subject, as well as a greater length of time, and contra&ting 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 general. ly 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 desige 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 visits 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 Arnida. 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 Taffo make the fame present to theirs. Virgil has not only observed this close imitation of Homer, but, where he 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
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
this conIderation afford us! how fertile will that imagination appear, which was able to clothe all the properties of elenients, 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 fhadowed! 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 is 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 there was not in his time that demand upon him of so great an invention, as might be capable of furnishing all those allegorical parts of a poem.
The marvellous Fable includes whatever is supernatural, and especially the machines of the Gods. He seems the first who brought them into a system of machinery for poetry, and such a one as makes its greatest importance and dignity For we find those authors who have been offended at the literal notion of the Gods, constantly laying their accusation against Homer as the chief support of it. But whatever cause there might be to blame his machines in a philosophical or religious view, they are so perfect in the poetic, that mankind have been ever since contented to follow them : none have been able to enlarge the sphere of poetry beyond the limits he has set : every attempt of this nature has proved unluccessful; and after all the various changes of times and religions, his Gods continue to this day the Gods of poetry.
We come now to the characters of his persons ; and here we fall find no author has ever drawn so many, with so visible and surprizing a variety, or given us such lively and affecting impressions of them. Every one has something so fingularly his own, that no painter could have distinguished them more by their features, than the poet bas by their manners. Norbing can be more exact than the distinctions he has observed in the different degrees of virtues and vices. The single quality of courage is w.ndersully diversified in the several characters of the Iliad. That of Achilles is furious and intractable ; that of Diomede forward, yet listening to advice, and subject to command ; that of Ajax is beavy, and self-confiding : of Hector, active and vigilant; the courage of Agamemnon is inspirited by love of empire and ambition; that of Menelaus mixed with softness and tenderness for his people : we find in Idomeneus, a plain direct soldier, in Sarpedon a gallant and generous one. Nor is this judicious and astonishing diversity to be found only in the principal quality which constitutes the main of each character, but even in the under parts of it, to which he takes care to give a tincture of that principal one.
For example, the main characters of Ulyffes and Nestor consist in wisdom ; and they are distinct in this, that the wisdom of one is artificial and various, of the other natural, open and regrlar. But they have, besides, characters of courage ; and this quality also takes a different turn in each from the difference of his prudence ; for one in the war depends still upon caution, the other upon experience. It would be endless to produce instances of these kinds. The characters of Virgil are far from striking us in this open manner; they lie in a great degree hidden and undistinguished, and where they are marked most evidently, affe&t us not in proportion to those of Homer. His characters of valour are much alike; even that of Turnus seems no way peculiar but as it is in a fuperior degrees and we
fee nothing that differences the courage of Mnestheus from that of Sergefthus, Cloanthus, of the rest. In like manner it may be remarked of Statius's heroes, that an air of impetuolity runs through them all; the same horrid and favage courage appears in his Capaneus, Tydeus, Hippomedon, &c. They have a parity of character, which makes them seem brothers of one family, I believe when the reader is led into this track of reflection, if he will porsue it through the Epic and Tragic writers, he will be convinced how infinitely superior in this point the Invention of Homer was to that of all others.
The fpeches are to be considered as they tlow from the characters, being perfect or defective as they agree o difagree with the manners of those who utter them. As there is more variety of characters in the Iliad, fo there is of speeches, than in any other poem. Every thing in it has manners (as Aristotle expreffes it) that is, every thing is acted or fpokén. It is hardly credible in a work of fuch length, how small a number of lines are employed in narration. In Virgil the dramatic part is lefs in proportion to the narrative ; and the speeches often consist of general reflections or thoughts, which might be equally just in any person's mouth upon the fame occasion. As many of his perfons have no apparent characters, so many of his fpeeches escape being applied and judged by the rule of propriety. We oftner think of the author himself when we read Virgil, than when we are engaged in Honier: all which are the effects of a colder invention, that interests us less in the action described : Homer makes us bearers, and Virgil leaves us readers.
If in the next place we cake a view of the sentiments, the same presiding faculty is eminent in the fublimity and spirit of Iris thoughts. Longinos has given his opinion, that it was in this part Homer principally excelled. What were alone fufficient to prove the grandeur and excellence of his sentiments in general, is, that they have so remarkable a parity with those of the scripture ; Duport, in his Gnomologia Homerica, has collected innumerable instances of this fort. And it is with justice an excellent modern writer allows, that if Virgil has not so many thoughts that are low and volgar, he has not fo many that are fublime and noble ; and that the Roman author seldom rises into very astonishing sentiments, where he is not fired by the Iliad.
If we observe his descriptions, images, and (miles, we shall find the iovention still predominant. To what else can we ascribe that valt comprehension of images of every fort, where we see cach circunstance of art, and individual of nature fummoned together by the extent and fecundity of his imagination : to which all things in their various views presented themselves in an instant, and had their impressions taken off to perfection at a heat? Nay, he not only gives us the full prospects of things, but several unexpeted peculiarities and side-views, unobserved by any painter but Homer. Nothing is fo furprizing as the descriptions of his battles, which take up no lefs than half the, Iliad, and are supplied with so vast a variety of incidents, that no one bears a likeness to another; such different kinds of deaths, that no two heroes are wounded in the fame manner; and such à prcfusion of noble ideas, that every battle rises above the last in greatness, horror, and confusion It is certain there is not near that number of images and descriptions in any Epic Poet; though every one has affitted himself with a great quantity out of him: and it is evident of Virgil eljecially, that he has scarce any comparisons which are not drawn from his nafter.
If we descend from hence to the expression, we see the bright imagination of Homer, thining out in the most enlivened forms of it. We acknowledge him the father of poetical diction, the first who taught that language of the Gods to men. His expression is like the colouring of some great malers, which discovers itself to be laid on boldly, and executed with rapidity. It is indeed the strongest and most glowing imaginable, and touched with the greatest spirit. Aristoile had reason to say, He was the only poet who had found rut living words; there are in him more daring figures and metaphors than in any good a thor whatever. An arrow is impatient to be on the wing, and a weapon thirsts to drink tie blood of an enemy, and the like ; yet his expression is never too big for the fense, but jullis arcat in proportion to it. It is ihe sentiment that swells and fills out the diction,