Page images

ROPE, or the hiftory of Louis XIV, would alone have immortalized.

7. Thofe rules of old, difcover'd not devis'd, Are nature ftill, but nature methodiz'd; Nature, like liberty, is but reftrain'd

By the fame laws which first herself ordain'd. *

THE precepts of the art of poefy, were pofterior to practise; the rules of the Epopea were all drawn from the Iliad and the Odysfey; and of Tragedy, from the EDIPUS of Sophocles. A petulant rejection, and an implicit veneration, of the rules of the ancient critics, are equally deftructive of true taste. "It ought to be the firft endeavour of a "writer, fays the excellent RAMBLER, † to


distinguish nature from cuftom, or that "which is established, because it is right, "from that which is right, only because it "is eftablifhed; that he may neither violate "effential principles by a defire of novelty, "nor debar himself from the attainment of

Ver. 88.

+ No. 156.


(( any beauties within his view, by a need"lefs fear of breaking rules, where no liter

[ocr errors]

ary dictator had authority to prescribe." The fame penetrating and judicious author, who always thinks for himself, has also another paffage too full of strong sense, and too appofite to the fubject before us, to be here omitted.

"CRITICISM, though dignified, from the "earliest ages, by the labours of men emi"nent for knowledge and fagacity, and fince "the revival of polite literature, the favorite

[ocr errors]

study of European scholars, has not yet "attained the certainty and stability of fci

ence. The rules, that have been hitherto "received, are feldom drawn from any fet"tled principle, or felf-evident poftulate; nor

[ocr errors]

are adapted to the natural and invariable "constitution of things: but will be found

upon examination, to be the arbitrary edicts "of dictators exalted by their own authority, "who out of many means by which the same "end may be attained, felected those which

[ocr errors][merged small]


happened to occur to their own reflection;

" and then by an édict, which idleness and

[ocr errors]

timidity were willing to obey, prohibited

any new experiments of wit, restrained "fancy from the indulgence of her innate "inclination to hazard and adventure, and "condemned all the future flights of genius, "to perfue the path of the Mæonian eagle.

"THE authority claimed by critics may "be more justly oppofed, as it is apparently "derived from them whom they endeavour "to controul; for we are indebted for a cc very fmall part of the rules of writing to "the acuteness of those by whom they are "delivered. The critics have generally no "other merit, than that of having read the "works of great authors with attention; they "have obferved the arrangement of their (c matter, and the graces of their expreffion, " and then expect honour and reverence for "precepts, which they never could have inven"ted; fo that practice has introduced rules, " rather than rules have directed practice.


"For this reafon, the laws of every species " of writing have been fettled by the ideas of "him by whom it was firft raised to reputa"tion; without much enquiry, whether his "performances were not yet fufceptible of improvement. The excellencies and the "faults of celebrated writers have been

equally recommended to pofterity; and fo "far has blind reverence prevailed, that the NUMBER of their BOOKS has been thought worthy of imitation.” *

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

THIS liberal and manly cenfure of critical bigotry, extends not to those fundamental and indifpenfable rules, which nature and neceffity dictate, and demand to be observed; fuch, for inftance, in the higher kinds of poetry, that the action of the epopea be one, great, and entire; that the hero be eminently diftinguished, move our concern, and deeply interest us; that the episodes arise eafily out of the main fable; that the action commence as near the catastrophe as poffible: and in the

[blocks in formation]

drama, that no more events be crowded together, than can be justly supposed to happen during the time of reprefentation, or to be tranfacted on one individual spot, and the like. But the abfurdity here animadverted on, is the fcrupulous nicety of those, who bind themfelves to obey frivolous and unimportant laws; fuch as, that an epic poem fhould confift not of lefs than twelve books; that it should end fortunately; that in the first book there fhould be no fimile; that the exordium should be very simple and unadorned :* that in a tragedy, only three perfonages should appear at once upon the stage; and that a tragedy must consist of five acts; by the rigid observation of which laft unneceffary precept, the poet is deprived of ufing many a moving story, that would furnish matter enough for three perhaps, but not for five acts; with others of the like nature. For the reft, as Voltaire obferves, whether the action of an epopea be fimple or complex, completed in a month or in a year, or a longer time, whether the

*Effay fur la poefie Epique, pag. 339. Tom. 1.


« EelmineJätka »