Page images
[ocr errors]

the understanding can affume in reafoning, which he hath traced for it, he hath fo closely confined it, that it cannot depart from them, without arguing inconfequentially. His Phyfics contain many ufeful obfervations, particularly his Hiftory of Animals; to affift him in which, Alexander gave orders, that creatures of different climates and countries fhould, at a great expence, be brought to him, to pafs under his infpection. His Morals are perhaps the pureft system in antiquity. His Politics are a moft valuable monument of the civil wisdom of the ancients; as they preserve to us the defcription of several governments, and particularly of Crete and Carthage, that otherwife would have been unknown. But of all his compofitions, his Rhetoric and Poetics are moft complete. No writer has fhewn a greater penetration into receffes of the human heart, than this philofopher, in the fecond book of his Rhetoric where he treats of the different manners and paffions, that diftinguifh each different age and. condition of man; and from whence Horace

[blocks in formation]


plainly took his famous defcription, in the Art of Poetry.* La Bruyere, Rochefoucault, and Montaigne himself, are not to be compared to him in this refpect. No fucceeding writer on eloquence, not even Tully, has added any thing new or important on this fubject. His Poetics, which I fuppofe are here by POPE chiefly referred to, feem to have been written for the use of that prince, with whofe education Ariftotle was honoured, to give him a just taste in reading Homer and the tragedians to judge properly of which, was then thought no unneceffary accomplishment in the character of a prince. To attempt to understand poetry without having diligently digefted this treatife, would be as abfurd and impoffible, as to pretend to a skill in geometry, without having ftudied Euclid. The fourteenth, fifteenth, and fixteenth chapters, wherein he has pointed out the properest methods of exciting TERROR and PITY, convince us, that he was intimately acquainted with thofe objects, which moft forcibly affect the

[blocks in formation]

heart. The prime excellence of this precious treatise is the fcholaftic precifion, and philofophical closeness, with which the subject is handled, without any addrefs to the paffions, or imagination. It is to be lamented, that the part of the Poetics in which he had given. precepts for comedy, did not likewife defcend to pofterity.

38. HORACE ftill charms with graceful negligence,
And without method talks us into sense. *

THE vulgar notion, that Horace wrote his Epiftle to the Pifos without method, has been lately confuted, as we hinted before. + It is equally false that, that epistle contains a complete Art of Poetry; it being folely confined to the state and defects of the Roman drama. The tranfitions in the writings of Horace, are some of the most exquifite strokes of his art: many of them pafs at present unobserved ; and that his cotemporaries were equally blind to this beauty, he himself complains, though with a feeming irony,

* Ver. 654.

+ Pag. 101.


Z 2

Cum lamentamur, non APPARERE labores
Noftros, et TENUI deducta poemata filo. *

It seems alfo to be another common mistake, that one of Horace's characteristics is the SUBLIME: of which indeed he has given a very few strokes, and those taken from Pindar, and, probably, from Alcæus. His excellence lay in exquifite obfervations on human life, and in touching the foibles of mankind with delicacy, and urbanity. 'Tis easy to perceive this moral turn in all his compositions: the writer of the epiftles is discerned in the odes. Elegance, not fublimity, was his grand characteristic. Horace is the most popular author of all antiquity; the reason is, because he abounds in images drawn from familiar life, and in remarks, that "come "home to mens business and bofoms." Hence he is more frequently quoted and alluded to, than any poet of a higher caft.

39. See DIONYSIUS Homer's thoughts refine,
And call new beauties forth from ev'ry line, t

Epift. I. ver. 224. lib. z.

+ Ver. 666.



THESE profaic lines, this fpiritlefs elogy,

much below the merit of the critic whom they are intended to celebrate. POPE feems here rather to have confidered Dionyfius, as the author only of his little Treatife concerning Homer, and to have in fome measure overlooked, or at leaft not to have fufficiently infifted on, his moft excellent book, ПEPI ΣΥΝΘΗΣΕΩΣ ΟΝΟΜΑΤΩΝ, in which he has unfolded all the fecret arts that render compofition harmonious. One part of this discourse, I mean from the beginning of the twenty-first to the end of the twentyfourth Section, is perhaps one of the most ufeful pieces of criticism extant. He there difcuffes the three different fpecies of compofition; which he divides into the NERVOUS and AUSTERE, the SMOOTH and FLORID, and the MIDDLE, which partakes of the nature of the two others. As examples of the first fpecies, he mentions Antimachus and Empedocles in heroics, Pindar in lyric, Aschylus in tragic poetry, and Thucydides in hiftory. As examples of the fecond, he produces Hefiod


« EelmineJätka »