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TOMER is univerfally allowed to have had the greateft Invention of any writer whatever. The praife of judgment Virgil has juftly contefted with him, and others may have their pretenfions 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 moft 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 industry, which mafters every thing besides, can never attain to this. It furnishes Art with all her materials, and without it, Judgment itself can at best but fteal wifely; for Art is only like a prudent fteward that lives on managing the riches of Nature. Whatever praises may be given to works of judgment, there is not even a fingle beauty in them to which the Invention must not contribute: as in the most regular gardens, Art can only reduce the beauties of Nature to more regularity, and fuch 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 purfue their obfervations through an uniform, and bounded walk of Art, than to comprehend the vaft and various extent of Nature.
Our author's work is a wild paradife, where if we cannot fee all the beauties fo diftinctly 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 feeds and first productions of every kind, out of which thofe who followed him have but felected fome particular plants, each according to his fancy, to cultivate and beautify. If fome things are too luxuriant, it is owing to the richness of the foil; 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 ftrength of this amazing Invention we are to attribute that unequalled fire and rapture, which is fo 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. If a council be called,
or a battle fought, you are not coldly informed of what was faid or done as from a third perfon; the reader is hurried out of himfelf 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 refembles that of the army he defcribes.
Οἱ δ ̓ ἄρ ̓ ἦσαν, ὡσεί τε πυξὶ χρὼν πᾶσα κέμυλο.
"They pour along like a fire that fweeps 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 fulleft fplendor: it grows in the progress both upon himfelf and others, and becomes on fire, like a chariot-wheel, by its own rapidity. Exact disposition, just thought, correct elocution, polished numbers, may have been found in a thoufand; but this poetical fire, this "vivida vis animi," in a very few. Even in works where all thofe are imperfect or neglected, this can overpower criticism, and make us admire even while we difapprove. Nay, where this appears, though attended with abfurdities, it brightens all the rubbish about it, till we fee nothing but its own fplendor. This fire is difcerned in Virgil, but difcerned 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 fudden, short, and interrupted flashes 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 irrefiftibly.
I fhall here endeavour to fhew, how this vaft Invention exerts itself in a manner fuperior to that of any poet, through all the main constituent parts of his work, as it is the great and peculiar characteristic which diftinguishes him from all other authors.
This frong and ruling faculty was like a powerful star, 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 fupply his maxims and reflections; all the inward pathons and affections of mankind, to furnish his characters; and all the outward forms 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 Ariftotle calls the "Soul of poetry," was firft breathed into it by Homer. I fhall begin with confidering him in this part, as it is naturally the firft; and I fpeak 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 fuch actions as though they did not happen, yet might, in the common courfe of nature; or of fuch as, though they did, become fables by the additional episodes and manner of telling them. Of this fort is the main ftory of an Epic poem, the return of Ulyffes, the fettlement of the Trojans in Italy, or the like. of the Iliad is the anger of Achilles, the most fhort and fingle fubject that ever was chofen by any poet. Yet this he has fupplied with a valter variety of incidents and events, and crowded with a greater number of counfels, fpeeches, battles, and episodes of all kinds, than are to be found even in thofe poems whofe fchemes are of the utmost latitude and irregularity. The action is hurried on with the moft vehement spirit, and its whole duration employs not fo much as fifty days. Virgil, for want of fo warm a genius, aided himself by taking in a more extenfive fubject, as well as a greater length of time, and contracting the defign 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 fame practice, but generally carried it fo far as to fuperinduce a multiplicity of fables, deftroy the unity of action, and lofe their readers in an unreasonable length of time. Nor is it only in the main defign that they have been unable to add to his invention, but they have followed him in every epifode and part of ftory. 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 fame for Anchifes; and Statius (rather than omit them) deftroys the unity of his action for thofe of Archemorus. If Ulyffes vifits the fhades, the Æneas of Virgil, and Scipio of Silius, are fent after him. If he be detained from his return by the allurements of Calypfo, fo is Æneas by Dido, and Rinaldo by Armida. If Achilles be abfent from the army on the fcore 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 celeftial armour, Virgil
and Taffo make the fame prefent to theirs. Virgil has not only obferved this clofe imitation of Homer, but, where he had not led the way, fupplied the want from other Greek authors. Thus the ftory of Sinon, and the taking of Troy was copied (fays Macrobius) almost word for word from Pifander, as the loves of Dido and Æneas are taken from those of Medea and Jafon in Apollonius, and feveral others in the fame
To proceed to the Allegorical Fable: if we reflect upon thofe innumerable knowledges, those secrets of nature and phyfical philofophy, which Homer is generally fuppofed to have wrapped up in his Allegories, what a new and ample fcene 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 difpute with Homer; and whatever commendations have been allowed them on this head, are by no means for their invention in having enlarged his circle, but for their judgment in having contracted it. For when the mode of learning changed in following ages, and fcience was delivered in a plainer manner; it then became as reafonable 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 circumftance for Virgil, that there was not in his time that demand upon him of fo great an invention, as might be capable of furnishing all thofe allegorical parts of a poem.
The marvellous Fable includes whatever is fupernatural, and especially the machines of the Gods. He feems the first who brought them into a fyftem of machinery for poetry, and fuch a one as makes its greatest importance and dignity. For we find thofe authors who have been offended at the literal notion of the Gods, conftantly laying their accufation against Homer as the chief fupport of it. But whatever caufe there might be to
blame his machines in a philofophical or religious view, they are fo perfect in the poetic, that mankind have been ever fince contented to follow them none have been able to enlarge the sphere of poetry beyond the limits he has fet: every attempt of this nature has proved unfuccefsful; 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 perfons; and here we fhall find no author has ever drawn fo many, with fo vifible and furprizing a variety, or given us fuch lively and affecting impreffions of them. Every one has fomething fo fingularly his own, that no painter could have diftinguished them more by their features, than the poet has by their manners. Nothing can be more exact than the diftinctions he has obferved in the different degrees of virtues and vices. The fingle quality of courage is wonderfully diverfified in the feveral characters of the Iliad. That of Achilles is furious and intractable; that of Diomede forward, yet liftening to advice, and subject to command; that of Ajax is heavy, and felf-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 tendernefs for his people: we find in Idomeneus, a plain direct foldier, in Sarpedon a gallant and generous one. Nor is this judicious and aftonishing diverfity to be found only in the principal quality which conftitutes 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 Neftor confift in wifdom; and they are diftinct in this, that the wisdom of one is artificial and various, of the other natural, open and regular. But they have, besides, characters of courage; and this quality alfo takes a different turn in each from the difference of his prudence; for one in the war depends ftill upon caution, the other upon experience. It would be endless to produce inftances of thefe kinds. The characters of Virgil are far from ftriking us in this open manner; they lie in a great degree hidden and undiftinguished, and where they are marked most evi, dently, affect us not in proportion to thofe of Homer. His characters of valour are much alike; even that of Turnus feems no way peculiar but as it is in a fuperior degree; and we
fee nothing that differences the courage of Mneftheus from that of Sergefthus, Cloanthus, or the rest. In like manner it may be remarked of Statius's heroes, that an air of impetuofity runs through them all; the fame horrid and favage courage appears in his Capaneus, Tydeus, Hippomedon, &c. They have a parity of character, which makes them feem brothers of one family. I believe when the reader is led into this track of reflection, if he will purfue it through the Epic and Tragic writers, he will be convinced how infinitely fuperior in this point the Invention of Honier was to that of all others.
The fpeches are to be confidered as they flow 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 fpeeches, than in any other poem. Every thing in it has manners (as Ariftotle expreffes it) that is, every thing is acted or fpoken. It is hardly credible in a work of fuch length, how fmall a number of lines are employed in narration. In Virgil the dramatic part is lefs in proportion to the narrative; and the fpeeches often confift of general reflections or thoughts, which might be equally juft in any perfon's mouth upon the fame occafion. As many of his perfons have no apparent characters, fo many of his fpeeches efcape being applied and judged by the rule of propriety. We oftner think of the author himfelf when we read Virgil, than when we are engaged in Homer: all which are the effects of a colder invention, that interests us lefs in the action defcribed: Homer makes us hearers, and Virgil leaves us readers.
If in the next place we take a view of the fentiments, the fame prefiding faculty is eminent in the fublimity and spirit of his thoughts. Longinus 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 fentiments in general, is, that they have so remarkable a parity with thofe of the fcripture; Duport, in his Gnomologia Homerica, has collected innumerable inftances of this fort. And it is with justice an excellent modern writer allows, that if Virgil has not fo many thoughts that are low and vulgar, he has not fo many that are fublime and noble; and that the Roman author feldom rifes into very aftonishing fentiments, where he is not fired by the Iliad.
If we obferve his defcriptions, images, and fimiles, we fhall find the invention still predominant. To what elfe can we afcribe that vaft comprehenfion of images of every fort, where we fee 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 prefented themfelves in an inftant, and had their impreffions taken off to perfection at a heat? Nay, he not only gives us the full profpects of things, but feveral unexpected peculiarities and fide-views, unobferved by any painter but Homer. Nothing is fo furprizing as the defcriptions of his battles, which take up no less than half the Iliad, and are fupplied with fo vaft a variety of incidents, that no one bears a likeness to another; fuch different kinds of deaths, that no two heroes are wounded in the fame manner; and fuch a profufion of noble ideas, that every battle rifes above the laft in greatness, horror, and confufion. It is certain there is not near that number of images and deferiptions in any Epic Poet; though every one has affifted himself with great quantity out of him and it is evident of Virgil efpecially, that he has scarce any comparisons which are not drawn from his master.
If we defcend from hence to the expreffion, we fee the bright imagination of Homer, fhining 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 expreffion is like the colouring of fome great maflers, which difcovers itself to be laid on bolely, and executed with rapidity. It is indeed the ftrongeft and moft glowing imaginable, and touched with the greateft fpirit. Ariftotle had reafon to fay, He was the only poet who had found out living words; there are in him more daring figures and metaphors than in any good anthor whatever. An arrow is impatient to be on the wing, and a weapon thirfts to drink. the blood of an enemy, and the like; yet his expreffion is never too big for the fenfe, but jally great in proportion to it. It is the fentiment that fwells and fills out the diction,