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"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 difpofition, 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, fhort, 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 shall 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 ftrong and ruling faculty was like a powerful ftar, which, in the violence of its courfe, drew all things within its vortex. It feemed 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 paffions and affections of mankind, to furnish his characters; and all the outward forms and images of things, for his defcriptions; but, wanting yet an ampler fphere to expatiate in, he opened a new and boundlefs 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 first; 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 epifodes 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. That of the Iliad is the anger of Achilles, the most fhort and fingle subject that ever was chofen by any poct. Yet this he has fupplied with a vafter 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 whose schemes are of the utmost Jatitude and irregularity. The action is hurried on with the most vehement fpirit, 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 those 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 absent himself juft 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 imi tation 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) almoft word for word from Pifander, as the loves of Dido and Eneas 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, thofe fecrets of nature and phyfical philofophy, which Homer is generally fuppofed to have 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 fhadowed! 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 reasonable in the more modern poets to lay it afide, 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 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 efpecially the machines of the Gods. He feems the firft 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 accufa tion 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 fubject 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 gal lant 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, befides, 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 still 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 undiftinguifhed, and where they are marked moft evidently, affect us not in proportion to thofe of Homer. His characters of valour are much alike; even that of Turnus feems po way peculiar but as it is in a fuperior degree; and we
fee nothing that differences the courage of Mneftheus from that of Sergethus, Cloanthus, or the reft. 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 Homer 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 Spoken. 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 himself 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 fpirit 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 fo remarkable a parity with thofe of the fcripture; Duport, in his Gnomologia Homerica, has collected innumerable inftances of this fort. And it is with juftice 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 shall find the invention still predominant. To what elle can we afcribe that vaft comprehenfion of images of every fort, where we fee each circumflance 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 themselves 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 Iefs 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 greatnefs, horror, and confufion It is certain there is not near that number of images and defcriptions in any Epic Poet; though every one has affifted himself with a great quantity out of him and it is evident of Virgil especially, that he has fcarce any comparisons which are not drawn from his master.
If we descend 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 mafters, which difcovers itfelf to be laid on bolely, and executed with rapidity. It is indeed the strongest and most 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 author 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 fense, but justly great in proportion to it. It is the fentiment that fwells and fills out the diction,
which rifes with it, and forms itself about it: for in the fame degree that a thought is war mer, an expreffion will be brighter; as that is more ftrong, this will become more perfpicuous like glafs in the furnace, which grows to a greater magnitude, and refines to a greater clearness, only as the breath within is more powerful, and the heat more intense. To throw his language more out of profe, Homer feems to have affected the compound epithets. This is a fort of compofition peculiarly proper to poetry, not only as it heightened the diction, but as it affifted and filled the numbers with greater found and pomp, and likewife conduced in fome measure to thicken the images. On this laft confideration I cannot but attribute thefe alfo to the fruitfulness of his invention, fince (as he has managed them) they are a fort of fupernumerary pictures of the perfons or things to which they are joined. We fee the motions of Hector's plumes in the epithet xopuSalon, the landscape of Mount Neritus in that of sociqua, and fo of others; which particular images could not have been infifted upon fo long as to exprefs them in a defcription (though but of a fingle line) without diverting the reader too much from the principal action or figure. As a metaphor is a fhort fimile, one of thofe epithets is a fhort defcription.
Laftly, if we confider his verfification, we fhall be fenfible what a fhare of praife is due to his invention in that.. He was not fatisfied with his language as he found it fettled in any one part of Greece, but fearched through its differing dialects with this particular view, to beautify and perfect his numbers: he confidered these as they had a greater mixture of vowels and confonants, and accordingly employed them as the verfe required either a greater smoothnefs or ftrength. What he most affected was the Ionic, which has a peculiar sweetness from its never ufing contractions, and from its cuftom of refolving the dipthongs into two fyllables; fo as to make the words open themselves with a more spreading and fonorous fluency. With this he mingled the Attic contractions, the broader Doric, and the feebler Eolic, which often rejects its afpirate, or takes off its accent; and completed this variety by altering fome letters with the licence of poetry. Thus his meafures, inftead of being fetters to his fenfe, were always in readiness to run along with the warmth of his rapture, and even to give a farther reprefentation of his notions, in the correfpondence of their founds to what they fignified. Out of all these he has derived that harmony, which makes us confefs he had not only the richest head, but the finest ear, in the world. This is fo great a truth, that whoever will but confult the tune of his verses, even without understanding them (with the fame fort of diligence as we daily fee practifed in the cafe of Italian Operas) will find more fweetnefs, variety, and majefty of found, than in any other language or poetry. The beauty of his numbers is allowed by the criticks to be copied but faintly by Virgil himfelf, though they are so just to afcribe it to the nature of the Latin tongue: indeed the Greek has fome advantages both from the natural found of its words, and the turn and cadence of its verfe, which agree with the genius of no other language: Virgil was very fenfible of this, and used the utmost diligence in working up a more intractable language to whatfoever graces it was capable of; and in particular never failed to bring the found of his line to beautiful agreement with its fenfe. If the Grecian poet has not been fo frequently celebrated on this account as the Roman, the only reason is that fewer criticks have understood one language than the other. Dionyfius of Halicarnaffus has pointed out many of our Author's beauties in this kind, in his treatife of the Compofition of Words. It fuffices at prefent to obferve of his numbers, that they flow with fo much eafe, as to make one imagine Homer had no other care than to transcribe as faft as the Mufes dictated: and at the fame time with fo much force and infpired vigour, that they awaken and raife us like the found of a trumpet. They roll along as a plentiful river, always in motion, and always full: while we are borne away by a tide of verfe, the most rapid, and yet the most smooth imaginable.
Thus on whatever fide we contemplate Homer, what principally ftrikes us is his Invention. It is that which forms the character of each part of his work; and accordingly we find it to have made his fable more extenfive and copious than any other, his manpers
more lively and strongly marked, his fpeeches more affecting and tranfported, his fentiments more warm and fublime, his images and defcriptions are full and animated, his expreffion more raised and daring, and his numbers more rapid and various. I hope in what has been faid of Virgil with regard to any of these heads, I have no ways derogated from his character. Nothing is more abfurd or endless, than the common method of comparing eminent writers by an oppofition of particular paffages in them, and forming a judgment from thence of their merit upon the whole. We ought to have a certain knowledge of the principal character and diftinguished excellence of each: it is in that we are to confider him, and in proportion to his degree in that we are to admire him. No author or man ever excelled all the world in more than one faculty; and as Homer has done this in Jnvention, Virgil has in Judgment. Not that we are to think Homer wanted Judgment, becaufe Virgil had it in a more eminent degree; or that Virgil wanted invention, because Homer poffeft a larger fhare of it: each of thefe great authors had more of both than perhaps any man befides, and are only faid to have lefs in comparison with one another. Homer was the greater genius, Virgil the better artist. In one we moft admire the man, in the other the work: Homer hurries and tranfports us with a commanding impetuofity, Virgil leads us with an attractive majefty: Homer scatters with a generous profufion, Virgil bestows with a careful magnificence: Homer, like the Nile, pours out his riches with a boundless overflow; Virgil like a river in its banks, with a gentle and conftant stream. When we behold their battles, methinks the two poets resemble the heroes they celebrate: Homer, boundless and irresistible as Achilles, bears all before him, and fhines more and more as the tumult increases; Virgil, calmly daring, like Æneas, appears undisturbed in the midft of the action; difpofes all about him, and conquers with tranquillity. And when we look upon their machines, Homer feems like his own Jupiter in his terrors, fhaking Olympus, fcattering the lightnings, and firing the heavens; Virgil, like the fame power in his benevolence, counfelling with the Gods, laying plans for empires, and regu larly ordering his whole creation.
But, after all, it is with great parts, as with great virtues; they naturally border on fome imperfection; and it is often hard to diftinguish exactly where the virtue ends, or the fault begins. As prudence may fometimes fink to fufpicion, fo may a great judgment decline to coldnefs; and as magnanimity may run up to profufion or extravagance, fo may a great invention to redundancy or wildnefs. If we look upon Homer in this view, we fhall perceive the chief objections against him to proceed from fo noble a caufe as the ex cefs of this faculty.
Among these we may reckon fome of his Marvellous Fictions, upon which fo much criticifm has been spent, as furpaffing all the bounds of probability. Perhaps it may be with great and fuperior fouls, as with gigantic bodies, which exerting themselves with unufual ftrength, exceed what is commonly thought the due proportion of parts, to be- . come miracles in the whole; and like the old heroes of that make, commit fomething near extravagance, amidst a series of glories and inimitable performances. Thus Homer has his fpeaking horfes, and Virgil his myrtles diftilling blood, where the latter has not fo much as contrived the eafy intervention of a Deity to fave the probability.
It is owing to the fame vaft invention, that his fimiles have been thought too exuberant and full of circumstances. The force of this faculty is feen in nothing more, than in its inability to confine itself to that fingle circumftance upon which the comparison is grounded it runs out into embellishments of additional images, which however are fo managed as not to overpower the main one. His fimiles are like pictures, where the principal figure has not only its proportion given agreeably to the original, but is alfo fet off with occafional ornaments and profpects. The fame will account for his manner of heaping a number of comparisons together in one breath, when his fancy fuggefted to him at once fo many various and correfpondent images. The reader will eafily extend this obfervation to more objections of the fame kind.