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

7. Those rules of old, discover'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

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

* Ver. 88.

+ No. 156.

"any

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

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 subject 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

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study of European fcholars, has not yet

"attained the certainty and stability of science. The rules, that have been hitherto "received, are feldom drawn from any fet"tled principle, or self-evident poftulate; nor are adapted to the natural and invariable "conftitution of things: but will be found

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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, selected those which

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happened to occur to their own reflection; " and then by an edict, which idleness and "timidity were willing to obey, prohibited. any new experiments of wit, restrained

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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 juftly opposed, as it is apparently "derived from them whom they endeavour "to controul; for we are indebted for a << 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 "matter, and the graces of their expreffion, " and then expect honour and reverence for precepts, which they never could have invented; fo that practice has introduced rules, " rather than rules have directed practice.

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"FOR

"For this reason, the laws of every species " of writing have been fettled by the ideas of " him by whom it was first raised to reputa"tion; without much enquiry, whether his

performances were not yet fufceptible of σε improvement. The excellencies and the "faults of celebrated writers have been

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

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THIS liberal and manly cenfure of critical bigotry, extends not to thofe 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 easily out of the main fable; that the action commence as near the catastrophe as poffible: and in the

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drama, that no more events be crowded together, than can be justly supposed to happen during the time of representation, or to be transacted on one individual spot, and the like. But the absurdity here animadverted on, is the fcrupulous nicety of thofe, who bind themfelves to obey frivolous and unimportant laws; fuch as, that an epic poem fhould confift not of less than twelve books; that it should end fortunately; that in the first book there fhould be no fimile; that the exordium fhould be very fimple 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 last unneceffary precept, the poet is deprived of using 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 ob-. ferves, * 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.

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