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What should he do, who twice had lost his love?
Fierce tigers couch'd around, and loll'd their fawning tongues.
So, close in poplar shades, her children gone,
By stealth, convey'd th' unfeather'd innocence. But she supplies the night with mournful trains;
And melancholy music fills the plains.
And sent a plague among thy thriving bees. With vows and suppliant pray'rs their pow'rs appease;
The soft Napæan race will soon repent
The pow'rs aton'd, he to the grove repairs.
Dark as a cloud, they make a wheeling flight,
And of the waxen work of lab'ring bees;
With arts of peace the willing people draws;
THE MOST HONOURABLE
LORD MARQUIS OF NORMANBY, EARL OF MULGRAVE,* &c. AND KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER.
A HEROIC poem, truly such, is undoubtedly the greatest work which the soul of man is capable to perform. The design of it is to form the mind to heroic virtue by example. It is conveyed in verse, that it may delight, while it instructs the action of it is always one, entire, and great. The least and most trivial episodes, or under-actions, which are interwoven in it, are parts either necessary or convenient to carry on the main design; either so necessary, that, without them, the poem must be imperfect, or so convenient, that no others can be imagined more suitable to the place in which they are. There is nothing to be left void in a firm building; even the cavities ought not to be filled with rubbish, (which is of a perishable kind, destructive to the strength,) but with brick or stone, though of less pieces, yet of the same nature, and fitted to the crannies. Even the least portions of them must be of the epic kind: all things must be grave, majestical, and sublime; nothing of a foreign nature, like the trifling novels, which Ariosto,* and others, have inserted in their poems; by which the reader is misled into another sort of pleasure, opposite to that which is designed in an epic poem. One raises the soul, and hardens it to virtue; the other softens it, and unbends it into vice. One conduces to the poet's aim, the completing of his work, which he is driving on, labouring and hastening in every line; the other slackens his pace, diverts him from his way, and locks him
The early editions, by an absurd and continued blunder, read Aristotle. Ariosto, and indeed all the heroic Italian poets, Tasso excepted, have chequer ed their romantic fictions with lighter stories, such as those of Jocondo and of Adonio, in the "Orlando Furioso." But neither Ariosto, nor his predecessors Boiardo and Pulci, ever entertained the idea of writing a regular epic poem after the ancient
up, like a knight-errant, in an enchanted castle, when he should be pursuing his first adventure. Statius, as Bossu has well observed, was ambitious of trying his strength with his master Virgil, as Virgil had before tried his with Homer. The Grecian gave the two Romans an example, in the games which were celebrated at the funerals of Patroclus. Virgil imitated the invention of Homer, but changed the sports. But both the Greek and Latin poet took their occasions from the subject; though to confess the truth, they were both ornamental, or, at best, convenient parts of it, rather than of necessity arising from it. Statius, who, through his whole poem, is noted for want of conduct and judgment, instead of staying, as he might have done, for the death of Capaneus, Hippomedon, Tydeus, or some other of his seven champions, (who are heroes all alike,) or more properly for the tragical end of the two brothers, whose exequies the next successor had leisure to perform when the siege was raised, and in the interval betwixt the poet's first action and his second-went out of his way, as it were on prepense malice, to commit a fault. For he took his opportunity to kill a royal infant by the means of a serpent, (that author of all evil,) to make way for those funeral honours which he intended for him. Now, if this innocent had been of any relation to his Thebais-if he had either furthered or hindered the taking of the town-the poet might have found some sorry excuse, at least, for de
rules. On the contrary, they often drop the mask in the middle of the romantic wonders which they relate; and plainly show, how very far they are from considering the narrative as serious. It was, therefore, consistent with their plan, to admit such light and frivolous narratives, as might relieve the general gravity of their tale, which resembled an epic poem as little as a melo-drama does a tragedy.
*Mulgrave's early and Intimate connexion with our author has been often noticed in this edition. In the reign of William III. he remained in a sort of disgrace, from his attachment to the exiled king; yet, in 1694, he was created Marquis of Normanby; in the reign of the queen, he rose still higher; and it is said that the dignities, offices, and influence, which he then enjoyed, were the reward of the ambitious love which he had dared to entertain for that princess, when she was only the Lady Anne, second daughter to the Duke of York.-See Dryden's Life; also Dedication to Aurung-Zebe,
taining the reader from the promised siege. On these terms, this Capaneus of a poet engaged his two immortal predecessors; and his success was answerable to his enterprise.*
If this economy must be observed in the minutest parts of an epic poem, which, to a common reader, seem to be detached from the body, and almost independent of it; what soul, though sent into the world with great advantages of nature, cultivated with the liberal arts and sciences, conversant with histories of the dead, and enriched with observations on the living, can be sufficient to inform the whole body of so great a work? I touch here but transiently, without any strict method, on some few of those many rules of imitating nature, which Aristotle drew from Homer's Iliads and Odysseys, and which he fitted to the drama; furnishing himself also with observations from the practice of the theatre,when it flourished under schylus, Euripides, and Sophocles: for the original of the stage was from the epic poem. Narration, doubtless, preceded acting, and gave laws to it: what at first was told artfully, was, in process of time, represented gracefully to the sight and hearing. These episodes of Homer, which were proper for the stage, the poets amplified each into an action; out of his limbs they formed their bodies; what he had contracted, they enlarged; out of one Hercules, were made infinity of pigmies, yet all indued with human souls; for from him, their great creator, they have each of them the divinæ particulum auræ. They flowed from him at first, and are at last resolved into him. Nor were they only animated by him, but their measure and symmetry was owing to him. His one, entire, and great action was copied by them according to the proportions of the drama. If he finished his orb within the year, it sufficed to
* I quote, from Mr. Malone, Mr. Harte's vindication of Statius; premising, however, that it is far from amounting to an exculpation of that boisterous author, whose works have fallen into oblivion even among scholars, in due proportion to the ripening of poetical taste.
"Mr. Dryden, in his excellent Preface to the Eneid, takes occasion to quarrel with Statius, and calls the present book (the Sixth)' an ill-timed and injudicious episode.' I wonder so severe a remark could pass from that gentleman, who was an admirer of our author, even to superstition. I own I can scarce forgive myself to contradict so great a poet, and so good a critic: talium enim virorum ui admiratio maxima, ita censura difficilis. However, the present case may admit of very alleviating cir cumstances. It may be replied, in general, that the design of this book was to give a respite to the main action, introducing a mournful, but pleasing variation, from terror to pity. It is also highly probable, that Statius had an eye to the funeral obsequies of Polydore and Anchises, mentioned in the third and fifth books of Virgil. We may also look upon them as a prelude, opening the mind by degrees to receive
teach them, that their action being less, and being also less diversified with incidents, their orb, of consequence, must be circumscribed in a less compass, which they reduced within the limits either of a natural or an artificial day; so that, as he taught them to amplify what he had shortened, by the same rule, applied the contrary way, he taught them to shorten what he had amplified. Tragedy is the miniature of human life; an epic poem is the draught at length. Here, my lord, I must contract also; for before I was aware, 1 was almost running into a long digression, to prove, that there is no such absolute necessity that the time of a stage action should so strictly be confined to twenty-four hours, as never to exceed them, for which Aristotle contends, and the Grecian stage has practised. Some longer space on some occasions, I think, may be allowed, especially for the English theatre, which requires more variety of incidents than the French. Corneille himself, after long practice, was inclined to think, that the time allotted by the ancients was too short to raise and finish a great action: and better a mechanic rule were stretched or broken, than a great beauty were omitted. To raise, and afterwards to calm the passions-to purge the soul from pride, by the examples of human miseries, which befall the greatest-in few words, to expel arrogance, and introduce compassion, are the great effects of tragedy; great, I must confess, if they were altogether as true as they are pompous. But are habits to be introduced at three hours' ing? are radical diseases so suddenly removed? A mountebank may promise such a cure, but a skilful physician will not undertake it. An epic poem is not in so much haste it works leisurely; the changes which it makes are slow; but the cure is likely to be more perfect. The effects of tragedy, as
the horrors of a future war. This is intimated in some measure by the derivation of the word Archemorus."-Note on Mr. Walter Harte's Translation of the Sixth Book of the Thebaid.
Notwithstanding what Mr. Harte has stated, our author seldom mentions Statius, without reprobating his turgid and bombast style.
+ Dryden, as was excellently observed by Sir Samuel Garth, in his "Funeral Eulogy," always thought that species of composition most excellent upon which his labour had been more immediately employed. In the "Essay upon Dramatic Poesy," he had preferred the tragedy to the epic poem, and here he has reversed their station, and rank. I think the principal distinction is noticed below. Tragedy is addressed, as it were, to the eye; and, the whole scene, to be enjoyed, even in perusal, must be supposed present to the observation. But epic poetry is, by its nature, narrative; and, therefore, while it is capable of the beauties of more extended description, and more copious morality, it is excluded from that immediate and energetic appeal to the senses manifested in the drama.
them; and what we abhor we never imitate. The poet only shows them, like rocks or quicksands, to be shunned.
I said, are too violent to be lasting. If it be
The cant of supposing, that the Iliad contained an obvious and intentional moral, was at this time so established among the critics, that even Dryden durst not shake himself free of it. In all probability, the ancient blind bard only thought of so arranging his splendid tale of Troy divine, that it should arrest the attention of his hearers. Doubtless, an admirable moral may be often extracted from his poem;
By this example, the critics have concluded, that it is not necessary the manners of the hero should be virtuous. They are poetically good, if they are of a piece; though, where a character of perfect virtue is set before us, it is more lovely; for there the whole hero is to be imitated. This is the Eneas of our author; this is that idea of perfection in an epic poem, which painters and statuaries have only in their minds, and which no hands are able to express. These are the beauties of a god in a human body. When the picture of Achilles is drawn in tragedy, he is taken with those warts, and moles, and hard features, by those who represent him on the stage, or he is no more Achilles; for his creator, Homer, has so described him. Yet even thus he appears a perfect hero, though an imperfect character of virtue. Horace paints him after Homer, and delivers him to be copied on the stage with all those imperfections.* Therefore they are either not faults in a heroic poem, or faults common to the drama. After all, on the whole merits of the cause, it must be acknowledged, that the epic poem is more for the manners, and tragedy for the passions. The passions, as I have said, are violent; and acute distempers require medicines of a strong and speedy operation. Ill habits of the mind are like chronical diseases, to be corrected by degrees, and cured by alteratives; wherein, though purges are sometimes necessary, yet diet, good air, and moderate exercise, have the greatest part. The matter being thus stated, it will appear, that both sorts of poetry are of use for their proper ends. The stage is more active; the epic poem works at greater leisure, yet is active
because it contains an accurate picture of human nature, which can never be truly presented, without conveying a lesson of instruction. But it may shrewdly be suspected, that the moral was as little intended by the author, as it would have been the object of a historian, whose work is equally pregnant with morality, though a detail of facts be only intended. We may be pretty sure, that Homer meant his Achilles, the favourite of the gods, as a character approaching perfection; and if he is cruel, proud, disobedient, and vengeful, I am afraid it was only because these attributes, in a savage state, are deemed as little derogatory from the character of a hero, as dissipation and gallantry are blemishes in that of a modern fine gentleman.
* The opinion of Horace is a confirmation of what is stated above. None of the ancients ventured to impute the rudeness of Homer's characters to the barbarity of the poet's age. The faults which they could not shut their eyes against, must, they thought, have been equally apparent to the bard himself; although, in all probability, he meant, that these very attributes in his heroes should be considered as virtues.
too, when need requires; for dialogue is imitated by the drama, from the more active parts of it. One puts off a fit, like the quinquia, and relieves us only for a time; the other roots out the distemper, and gives a healthful habit. The sun enlightens and cheers us, dispels fogs, and warms the ground with his daily beams; but the corn is sowed, increases, is ripened, and is reaped for use in process of time, and in its proper season. I proceed, from the greatness of the action, to the dignity of the actors; I mean to the persons employed in both poems. There likewise tragedy will be seen to borrow from the epopee; and that which borrows is always of less dignity, because it has not of its own. A subject, it is true, may lend to his sovereign; but the act of borrowing makes the king inferior, because he wants, and the subject supplies. And suppose the persons of the drama wholly fabulous, or of the poet's invention, yet heroic poetry gave him the examples of that invention, because it was first, and Homer the common father of the stage. I know not of any one advantage which tragedy can boast above heroic poetry, but that it is represented to the view, as well as read, and instructs in the closet, as well as on the theatre. This is an uncontended excellence, and a chief branch of its prerogative; yet I may be allowed to say, without partiality, that herein the actors share the poet's praise. Your lordship knows some modern tragedies which are beautiful on the stage, and yet I am confident you would not read them. "Tryphon the stationer"* complains, they are seldom asked for in his shop. The poet who flourished in the scene, is damned in the ruelle ;† nay more, he is not esteemed a good poet by those, who see and hear his extravagancies with delight. They are a sort of stately fustian, and lofty childishness. Nothing but nature can give a sincere pleasure; where that is not imitated, it is grotesque painting; "the fine woman ends in a fish's tail."
I might also add, that many things, which not only please, but are real beauties in the reading, would appear absurd upon the stage; and those not only the speciosa miracula, as Horace calls them, of transformations, of Scylla, Antiphates, and the Læstrygons, which cannot be represented even in operas; but the prowess of Achilles or Æneas would appear ridiculous in our dwarfheroes of the theatre. We can believe they
* "Bibliopola Tryphon," a character twice mentioned by Martial, Epig. lib. iv. 72. xiii. 3. Dryden probably means Tonson.
A Gallicism for the toilet, at which the ladies of Dryden's time, in imitation of their neighbours of France, were wont to receive visits, and hear recitations and readings.
routed armies, in Homer or in Virgil; but ne Hercules contra duos in the drama. I forbear to instance in many things, which the stage cannot or ought not to represent; for I have said already more than I intended on this subject, and should fear it might be turned against me, that I plead for the pre-eminence of epic poetry, because I have taken some pains in translating Virgil, if this were the first time that I had de livered my opinion in this dispute. But I have more than once already maintained the rights of my two masters against their rivals of the scene,* even while I wrote tragedies myself, and had no thoughts of this present undertaking. I submit my opinion to your judgment, who are better qualified than any man I know, to decide this controversy. You come, my lord, instructed in the cause, and needed not that I should open it. Your "Essay of Poetry," which was published without a name, and of which I was not honoured with the confidence, I read over and over with much delight, and as much instruction, and, without flattering you, or making myself more moral than I am not without some envy. I was loth to be informed how an epic poem should be written, or how a tragedy should be contrived and managed, in better verse, and with more judgment, than I could teach others. A native of Parnassus, and bred up in the studies of its fundamental laws, may receive new light from his contemporaries; but it is a grudging kind of praise which he gives his benefactors. He is more obliged, than he is willing to acknowledge; there is a tincture of malice in his commendations; for where I own I am taught, I confess my want of knowledge. A judge upon the bench may, out of good nature, or at least interest, encourage the pleadings of a puny counsellor; but he does not willingly commend his brother sergeant at the bar, especially when he controls his law, and exposes that ignorance which is made sacred by his place. I gave the unknown author his due commendation, I must confess; but who can answer for me and for the rest of the poets who heard me read the poem,