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P R E F A C E.
OMER is universally allowed to have had the greatest Invention of any writer
whatever. The praise of judgment Virgil has juftly 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 tlae greatest of poets, who most excelled in that which is the very foundation of poetry. It is the Invention that in diferent degrees distinguistes all great Geniuses : the utmost stretch of human study, learning, and industry, which malters every thing besides, can never attain to this. It furnilhes Ait with all her materials, and without it, Judgment itself can at best but steal wisely ; for Art is only like a prudert steward that lives on managing the riches of Nature. Whatever praises may be given to works of judgment, there is not even a single beauty in them to which the lnvention must not contribute: as in the most regular gardens, Art can only Tedace the beauties of Nature to more regularity, and such a figure, which the common eye may better 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 easier for themselves to pursue their observations through an uniform and bounded walk of Art, than tu comprchend the vast and various extent of Nature.
Our aathor's work is a wild paradise, where if we cannot see all the beauties so distinâly as in an ordered garden, it is only because the number of them is infinitely greater. It is like a copious pursery, which contains the seeds and first productions of every kind, out of which those who followed him have but selected some particular pants, each according to his fancy, to cultivate and beautify. If some things are :oo luxuriant, it is owing to the richness of the soil ; and if others are not arrived to perfection or raturity, it is
only because they are over-run and opprest by those of a stronger nature.
Οι δ' άρ' τσαν, ωσεί τε αυξί χέων πάσα νέμουλο.
" They pour along like a fire that sweeps the whole earth before it." It is however remarkable ihat 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 difpofition, just 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 admire even while we disapprove. Nay, where this appears, though attended with absurdities, it brightens all the rubbish 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, niore Shining than sierce, but every where equal and constant; in Lucan and Statius, it bursts our in sudden, short, and interrupted flames : in Milton it glows like a furnace kept up to an uncommon ardor by the force of art: in 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 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 grcat and peculiar characteristic which distinguishes him from all other authors.
This flrong and ruling faculty was like a powerful star, which, in the violence of its course, dreiv 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 pailions and affections of mankind, to furnish his characters ; and all the outward fornis and images of things, for his defcriptions ; 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 conlidering him in this part, as it is naturally the first; and I speak of it both as it means the delign 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 lliad is the anger of Achilles, the most Mort and single subject that ever was chosen by any poet. Yet this he has fupplied with a valter variety of incidents and events, and crowded with a greater number of counsels, speeches, bariles, and episodes of all kinds, than are to be found even in those poenis 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 general. ly carried it so far as to fuperinduce 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 defigo 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 fame order. If he has funeral games for Patroclus, Virgil has the same for Anchifes ; and Statius (rather than omit them) destroys the unity of his action for those of Archemorus. If Ulysses visits the fades, the Æneas of Virgil, and Scipio of Silius, are sent after him. If he be detained from his return by the allurements of Calypío, fo is Aneas 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 abfent himself just as long on the like account. If he gives his hero a fuit of celestial armour, Virgil
and Taffo make the same present to theirs. Virgil has not only observed this close imi. tation 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 (fays Macrobius) almost word for word from Pifander, as the loves of Dido and Äneas are taken from those of Medea and Jason in Apollonius, and several others in the faine manner.
To proceed to the Allegorical Fable : if we reflect upon those innumerable knowledges, those secrets of nature and physical philofophy, which Homer is generally supposed to hare wrapped up in his Allegories, what a new and ample scene of wonder may this confideration 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 perfons; and to introduce them into actions agreeable to the nature of the things they shadowed! This is a field in which no fucceeding 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 liaving 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 alide, 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 bas set : every attempt of this nature has proved unsuccessful; 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 shall 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 has by their maoners. Nothing can be more exact than the distinctions he has observed in the diffe. rent degrees of virtues and vices. The single quality of courage is wonderfully 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 heavy, and self-confiding : of Hector, active and vigilant; the courage of Agamemnon is infpirited by love of empire and ambition; that of Menelaus mixed with softness and tenderness for his people : we find in Idomeneus, a plain direct foldier, in Sarpedon a gallant and generous one.
Nor is this judicious and astonishing diverlity 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 Ulysses and Nestor confiit in wisdom ; and they are diflinct. in this, that the wisdom of one is artificial and various, of the other natural, open gular. 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 flill upon caution, the other upon experience. It would be endless to produce initances 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, affect us not in proportion to those of Homer. His characters of valour are much alike ; even that of Turnus fecms no way peculiar but as it is in a superior degree; and we
fee nothing that differences the courage of Mnestheus from that of Sergesthus, Cloanthus, or the rett. In like manner it may be remarked of Statius's heroes, that an air of impetuntity runs through them all; the same horrid and savage courage appears in his Capaneus, Tics, Hippomedor, &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 pursue it through the Epic and Tragic writers, he will be convinced how infinitely jupen or in this point the Invention of Homer was to that of all others.
The fpeche's are to be contiered as they fiow from the characters, being perfeci or defrétive as they agree o cisagree with the manners of those who utter them. As there is more vanery of charactcrs in the Iliar', so there is of speeches, than in any other poem. Everything in it has manners (as Aristotle expresses it) that is, every thing is acted or froken. Ii is haruly credible in a work of such length, how small a number of lines are 09: loved in naration. In Virgil the dramatic part is less in proportion to the narrative ; and the ipiteches often confist of general reflections or thoughts, which might be equally jult in any prison's mouth upon the fare occasion. As many of his persons have no ap
ruptchar diurs, lo many of his speeches 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 Homer: all which are the effe&ts of a colder invention, that interests us less in the action leleribed : Homer makes us hearers, and Virgil leaves us readers.
fin the next place we take a view of the sentiments, the fame presiding faculty is eminerr in the lublimity and spirit of his thoughts. Longinus bas given his opinion, that it was in this part Honer principally excelled. What were alone sufficient to prove the grandeur and excellence of his sentiments in general, is, that they have so remarkable a panity with those of the scriptore; Duport, in his Gnomologia Homerica, has collected innumerable instances of this fort. And it is with justice an excellent modern writer al lows, that if Virgil has not so many thoughts that are low and vulgar, he has not so many that are fublime and noble; and that the Roman author seldom rises into very after his fe imenis, where he is not fired by the Iliad.
If we observe iis defcriptions, images, and limiles, we shall find the invention still preduvina.... To what else can we ascribe that vart comprehention of images of every sort, where we see each circumstance 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 beat? Nay, he not only gives us the full prospects of things, but several unexpected peciilarities and Gide-views, unoblerved by any painter but Homer. Nothing is to furprizing as the descriptions of his battles, which take up no less than half the Iliad, and are supe plied with fo vait a variety of incidents, that no one bears a likeness to another; fuch diffcrent kinds of deaths, that no two heroes are wounded in the fame manner; and such a profufion of roble ideas, that every bartle rises above the lalt in greatness, horror, and confufion It is cerain there is not near that number of images and descriptions in any Eic Poes; though every one has affilted himself with a great quantity out of him: and it is evident of Virgil especially, that he has scarce any comparisons which are not drawn fiom bis inater.
If we descend from hence to the expresion, we fee the bright imagination of Honier, firing out in the moft 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 crioning of tone great malters, which discovers itself to be laid on boldly, and exeluid with rapidity. It is indeed the strongest and most glowing imaginable, and touched with be greatti fpirit. Aristotle bad reason to say, He was the only poet who bad found our living woms; there are in him more during figures and metaphors than in any good aacho wlatcrer. An arrow is impatient to be on the wing, and a weapon thirils to drink He blood of an enemy, and the like; yet his exprellion is never too big for the sense, but juftly great in proportion to it. It is the sentiment that swells and Gils out the diction,