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fable. Milton takes the subjects of both his great poems from true history,yet does not gucceed the worse apon that account. But it is to be remembered, that his chief actors are not men, but divine and angelical beings; and that it is the human nature only which suffers by a just representation, and loses in point of dignity, when truly known. Besides, the historical circumstances upon which he builds are so few, and of so extraordinary a nature, that they are easily accommodated to poetical fiction ; and therefore, instead of limiting him, and setting bounds to his invention, they serve only to countenance and give a degree of credibility to whatever he pleases to feign. Shakespeare may like wise be quoted as an exception to the general rule, who takes the subjects of many of his pieces from periods of the English history not very remote, and, notwithstanding, succeeds remarkably, in exciting the heroic passion. That Shakespeare makes us admire bis heroes is undeniable; and no man of common sense will ever pretend to assert, that real characters of great men, touched up and heightened by a poetical fancy, will not very naturally excite admiration. But there are different degrees of this passion, as well as of all others : and it is evident, that the degree of it which Shakespeare intends to raise, is not equal to that which Homer aims at, and the other writers of the epic tribe. We admire no character in Shakespeare's works more than that of Henry V. but the idea which Homer gives us of Achilles is still more noble and august. The tragedian mixes so much of the ordinary man in the character of his hero, that we become too familiar with him to admire him in a high degree : for in those rery pieces in which he is represented as performing his most remarkable exploits, he is often found at his leisure hours amusing himself with a knot of humourists, pickpockets, and buffoons. I do not pretend to censure Shakespeare for this conduct ; because it is not the business of a tragedian to make us admire, but to interest our other affections: and, to make his heroes very much objects of admiration, would possibly be one of the greatest errours that an author of that kind could fall into : for the principle of compassion, to which tragedy is peculiarly addressed, is incompatible with high admiration; and a man, in order either to be loved or pitied, must appear with evident symptoms of the weaknesses common to the rest of the human kind. It is our own image in distress which afflicts us; and we never pity one under calamities, who is not weak enough to be moved by them. Homer, upon this account, never attempts to excite pity, but from such private and domestie distresses as show his heroes in the light of ordiuary men. Sophocles likewise, from a justa apprehension tbat the heroic passion interferes with the proper spirit of tragedy, lessens on purpose the great characters which he introduces, and strips them of more than half their dignity. Though therefore Shakespeare makes us admire his heroes as much as a tragedian ought to do, and even more, in some instances, than the rules of art would justify; yet, as the degree of admiration which he excites is less by far than that which epic poetry aims at, it may well be raised from subjects that are strictly historical, though the higher degrees of that passion cannot. Were my judgment of sufficient authority in matters of criticism, I would have it understood as a rule, that the subjects of epic poetry should be taken from tradition only; that tragedy should keep within the limits of true histors; and that comedy, without meddling at all with historical facts, should expose viee and folly in recent instances, and from living examples. That part of the rule which regards epic poetry, is sufficiently justified from wbat has been already said ; and, concerning tragedy, I have likewise observed, that it ought not to exalt its greatest characters above the standard of real life. From this it will follow, that it may be strictly historical without losing any real advantage,and attain its full perfection without the assistance of table. I believe it will be easily allowed, that where truth and fiction are equally subservient to the purposes of poetry, the first ought always to be preferred; for true bistory carries a weight and authority with it, which seldom attend stories that are merely fictitious, and has many other advantages for interesting our affections above the legends of remote antiquity. But as tragedy should never go so far back as the fabulous ages, neither should it, in my opinion, approach too near to the present times; for though it does not aim at raising and gratifying the passion of admiration, yet it has a degree of dignity to maintain, which it would endanger by trcating of events too recent, and characters too particularly remembered. Comedy, on the other hand, and indeed every species of satire whatsoever, ought to attack living characters only, and the vices and follies of present times. That imperfection which appears in every thing when viewed near, a circumstance so unfavourable to the genius of epic poetry and tragedy, falls in precisely with that of comedy, a kind of writing which has no dignity to support, points always at what is ridiculous, and marks its objects with characters of littleness and contempt. We naturally admire past times, and reverence the dead ; and consequently are not so much disposed to laugh at fools, who have already finished their parts, and retired, as at
fools who are yet upon the stage. The ancient comedy of the Greeks, which proceeded upon this maxim, was certainly, upon that account, the most perfect species of satire that ever was invented. Homer, as he exceeds all other poets in merit, has likewise the advantage of them in point of good fortune; the condition of the age in which he wrote gave him an opportunity of celebrating, in bis poems, events, which though they were in his days of no great antiquity, and consequently the more interesting, yet had fallen, through the want of authentic records, into so happy a degree of obscurity, that he was at full liberty to feign concerning them what he pleased without any danger of confutation. This is an advantage which succeeding poets could not boast of; and therefore have found themselves under a necessity, either of taking their subjects from remote antiquity, as I have done, or, (which, in my opinion, is worse) of attempting to mix fable with true history, which never can be done with success.
The mythology in the following poem will probably give offence to some readers, who will think it indecent for a Christian to write in such a manner as to suppose the truth of a Heathen religion. They will be of opinion, that it would have been better, either to have introduced no religious system at all, or to bave chosen such a subject as would have admitted of the true system. I shall endeavour to answer this objection, by establishing two maxims directly opposite to what is proposed in the preceding alternative, and show not only that divine beings are necessary characters in an epic poem, but likewise that it is highly improper to introduce the true God into a work of that nature. If these two points are fully made out, the force of the objection will be taken away. As to the first of them, let us again consider the end which epic poetry proposes to itself: it aims at exciting admiration, by setting before us images of whatever is great and noble in the human character : it is necessary for this purpose that a poet should give his heroes, not only all those intrinsic qualities which make men admired, but that he should magnify them likewise by a skilful management of outward circumstances. We do not form our notions either of persons or things from their real qualities only; circumstances of a foreign nature, and merely accessory, have as great an influence as these in determining our approbation and dislike. This observation shows the importance of mythology to epic poetry; for nothing can render a person of greater consequence in the eye of the world, than an opinion that the gods regard him with a peculiar degree of attention, and are inuch interested in all that relates to him. If people are once considered as the favourites of Heaven, or instruments chosen for the accomplishment of its important purposes ; poets may tell of them what great things they please, without seeming to exaggerate, or say any thing that exceeds the bounds of probability. Homer was certainly of this opinion, when he ascribed, to his heroes, valour and other great qualities in so immoderate a degree; for, had the gods never interposed in any of the events which he celebrates ; had his chief actors been no ways connected with them, either in point of favour or consanguinity, and represented, at the same time, as performing the high exploits which he ascribes to themi, instead of being applauded as the first of poets, he would have been censured as the most false and most credulous of historians. This argument in favour of poetical mythology, with another which might be taken from the advantage it is of in point of ornament, and a third from its use in allegory, has determined almost all the writers who have followed the epic or heroic style, to allow it a place in their compositions : such of them as have taken their subject from Greek or Roman story, have adopted the mythology of Homer; and the rest, in celebrating more modern heroes, have, instead of that, made use of the true religion, corrupted by an unnatural mixture of northern superstition and Grecian fable. From a practice therefore so universal, we may justly infer, that poets bave looked upon mythology as a thing of great use in their compositions, and almost essential to the art.
It may be alleged, after all that has been said, that, to bring gods into epic poetry, is inconvenient. ou many accounts; that it prevents a proper display of character in the human actors, turning them all into so many machines, to be moved and guided by the immediate impulses of deity ; that it breaks in upon the order of natural causes, and renders all art, either in the plan or conduct of a work, superfluous and unnecessary. If what this objection supposes were true, and that the mixing of gods with men in the action of an epic poem, necessarily turned the whole into miracle ; if it were an unavoidable consequence of this method, that the human actors should be governed in all they do by divine impulse determining them, without regard to their natural characters, and the probable motives which ought to influence them; in short, if mythology could have no place in a poem, but at tbe expense of manners, order, connection, and every other thing that can render a work either beautiful or instructive, it would be an argument against it of such weight, as nothing alleged in its favour would
bemble to counterbalance. But the objection is by no means well founded; for, though there may be an indiscreet application of mythology, productive of all those ill effects which have been mentioned ; yet it is obvious, both from reason and experience, that mythology may be managed in such a manner as to be attended with none of them. And this will appear from a very obvious example : the greatest part of mankind, in every age, have believed that gods and superior beings govern and direct the course of human affairs. Many individuals, and even whole nations, have thought that all the actions and events of our lives are predeterinined by an over-ruling power, and that we suffer the control of an irresistible necessity in all we do : yet this opinion never changes the moral feclings of such as entertain it, and their judgment of characters and actious ; they love and hate, appiove and disapprove, admire and despise, in the same manner as others do who believe that men are absolutely free, and that their final determinations proceed only from themselves. But when it is understood, that people act without consciousness, or that the organs of their bodies are not under the dominion of their own wills, but actuated by some other being without their consent; in short, when mere physical necessity is substituted in place of moral, all idea of character, all sense of approbation and disapprobation immediately ceases. From this fact, the truth of which nobody will dispute, it is easy to judge in what cases the interposition of gods in the action of a poem will prevent a proper display of the human characters, and when not. Volition, as appears by the example now given, is that upon which all our moral ideas are founded : so long then as volition is exerted, there is a character, and, when that cases, the character is lost. If therefore the deities in a poem are employed in animating and deterring the heroes, only by suggesting such motives as are proper to influence their wills; such interposition by no means interferes with the display of character, but rather favours it; for the quality of every mind may be known from the motives by which it is determined ; and Minerva's prevailing with Pandarus to be guilty of a piece of treachery, by suggesting that Paris would reward him for it, discovered the venality of his temper as inuch as if he had done the same action from a like motive occurring to himself.
Poets often make the gods infuse an uncommon degree of vigour into their heroes, for answering some . great occasion, and add to the grace and dignity of their figure. Sometimes they make a secondrate hero the first in a particular action, and, with their assistance, he distinguishes himself above such as are at other times more remarkable for valour and success; all this is so agreeable to what happeus naturally, and from mere mechanical causes, that we forget the gods, and interpret what happens as if they had not interposed at all. For every body knows, that when people are roused to any remarkable exertion of force, they become stronger than they are at other times; and that, when in this manner the spirits rise to an uncommon height, the whole body acquires new graces. Valour is not a fixed and permanent quality, nor is it found in any one always in the same degree. Plutarch observes, that of all the virtues it exerts itself most irregularly, and rises by fits like a divine inspiration. The sense which every man has of these things, makes him look upon the interposition of gods in such cases as a mythological way of expressing what is merely natural, and allow such as perform the great actions in a poem to possess the whole merit of them. It never lessens our opinion of Hec. tor's valour, for instance, that Apollo often assists him; nor do we think Ulysses less prudent, because he is guided by the influence of Minerva. We have as clear impressions of those, and the other Homeric characters, as we have of any characters whatsoever, and discern their limits and distinguishing marks as clearly, as if they had acted altogether of themselves. That superior beings should be employed in governing the events of things, and interposing by thunder, earthquakes, inundations, pestilences, and the like, can never be thought unnatural in poetry, by any one who believes that Providence actually manages the affairs of the world by such means. It belongs to men to design and act, but to Hearen alone to determine events. Though a poet, therefore, should represent an army Weaker and worse conducted, prevailing, in consequence of that kind of interposition which has been thentioned, over another, evidently better and stronger; there would be nothing unnatural in such an aecount, or contrary to what is often experienced in real affairs.
After all that has been said, it must be owned, that if gods are brought in upon slight occasions, and for trifling purposes ; if they are put upon working miracles in order to cover blunders either in the plan or execution of a poem, and employed in cutting such knots as the author himself has not the skill or patience to untie; it must be owned, I say, that this is a very wrong application of mythology, and attended with all the disadvantages which the objection mentions. It is a stratagem, which, if often practised, would teach the reader at last to disregard all appearances, and, when the most important periods of affairs were approaching, to remain quite secure and uninterested, trusting that a
god would always be at hand in time of need to manage every thing as the poet would have it, and put all to rights by the shortest and most effectual methods. I have considered this objection at greater length, because at first view it appears very plausible ; and shall proceed to what remains, after 1 have taken notice of another, which has likewise some appearance of force. It will be thought inconvenient, as it is the design of epic poetry to raise and dignify human characters, that gods should appear with men in the same scenes of action. It will be alleged, that in this case the divine persons will necessarily overshadow the human, lessen them by a comparison, and consequentlŷ produce an effect directly opposite to what is intended. This objection, however plausible, does not seem to be supported by experience ; at least I never found in any instance, that the splendour of the divine characters in a poem eclipsed the human. Besides, this is what cannot easily happen ; for, let us sup pose two parties of boys engaged in some trial, either of force or skill, and that a few men take part in the debate, dividing themselves between the opposite sides, and assisting them against each other, would the exploits of the full-grown men, however remarkable, lessen those of the boys ? by no means; for things that are confessediy unequal, never come into competition, and therefore cannot be either lessened or magnified by appearing together. Are we less disposed to admire the valour of Achilles, because it is understood he was not a match for Jupiter? or the sagacity of Ulysses, because his penetration was not equal to that of Minerva ? But there is one circumstance which renders it absolutely impossible for the gods in epic poetry to eclipse the men in point of heroism ; and it is this, that the gods are immortal, and consequently cannot exert that in which heroisin chiefly consists, viz. the contempt of death. Homer, in order to give his deities as much of that quality as possible, bas made them vulnerable and susceptible of pain ; a freedom which has shocked some of the critics, who did not attend to the reason of his doing so. But Hoiner was too good a judge of propriety, not to be sensible that no person could appear with advantage in military actions, who ventur'd nothiag in point of personal safety; and that stature, force, magnificent armour, and even the highest achievements, will never constitute the heroic character, where patience and a contempt of danger have no opportunity of appearing. It is this circumstance which gives the mortals in epic poetry a manifest advantage over the immortals; and Mars, when ushered into the field with all the pomp and magnificence of Homeric description, is an object less to be admired than Diomed, Ajax, and many others who combat bravely, though conscious of mortality. Homer, who has managed his great characters with the truest judgment and strictest attention to circumstances, takes care to have Achilles early informed that be was to perish at Troy, else he might seem too conscious of safety, from his matchless valour and the armour which he wore, to be great in that which is most to be adınired, the contempt of death, when the danger of it is imminent. It must be acknowledged, that in Milton's Paradise Lost, the persons in machinery over-shadow the human characters, and that the heroes of the poem are all of them immortals: but then it is to be remembered, that Paradise Lost is a work altogether irregular; that the subject of it is not epic, but tragic; and that Adam and Eve are not designed to be objects of admiration, but of pity: it is tragic in its plot, and epic in its dress and machinery: as a tragedy, it doesi not fall under the present question; and as an epic poem, it evades it likewise, by a circumstance very uncommon, viz. that in the part of it which is properly epic, there are no human persons at all,
I have in this manner endeavoured to prove that mythology is necessary to an epic poem, and that the chief objections to the use of it are of little consequence. I proceed to establish the other propos sition which I mentioned, and show, that the true God onght not to be brought into a work of that nature. And if this proposition can be made out, it will easily appear from it and the preceding onetaken together, that poets are under a necessity of having recourse to a false theology, and that they are not to be blamed for doing what the nature of epic poetry on the one hand, and respect to the true religion on the other, render necessary and unavoidable. For proving the point in question, need only observe, that no person can appear with advantage in poetry, who is not represented according to the form and condition of a man. This art addresses itself chiefly to the imagination, a faculty which apprehends nothing in the way of character that is not human, and according to the analogy of that nature of which we ourselves are conscious. But it would be equally impious and absurd to represent the deity in this manner, and to contrive for him a particular character, and method of acting, agreeable to the prejudices of weak and ignorant mortals. In the early ages of the church he thought fit to accommodate bimself, by such a piece of condescension, to the notions and appre hensions of his creatures : but it would be indecent in any man to use the same freedom, and do that for God, which he only has a right to do for himself. The author of Paradise Lost bas offended notam Tiously in this respect; and, though no encomiums are too great for him as a poet, he is justly chargeable with impiety, for presuming to represent the Divine Nature, and the mysteries of religion, according to the narrowness of hunan prejudice: his dialogues between the Father and the Son; his employing a Being of infinite wisdom in discussing the subtleties of school divinity; the sensual views which he gives of the happiness of Heaven, admitting into it, as a part, not only real eating and drinking, but another kind of animal pleasure too by no means more refined: these, and such like circumstances, though perfectly poetical, and agreeable to the genius of an art which adapts every thing to the human mode, are, at the same time, so inconsistent with truth, and the exalted ideas which we ought to entertain of divine things, that they must be highly offensive to all such as have just impressions of religion, and would vot choose to see a system of doctrine revealed froin Heaven, reduced to a state of Conformity with heathen superstition. True theology ought not to be used in an epic poem, for another reason, of no less weight than that which has been mentioned, viz. That the human characters which it represents should never be formed upon a perfect moral plan, but have their piety (for instance) tinctured with superstition, and their general behaviour influenced by affection, passion, and prejudice. This will be thought a violent paradox, by such as do not know that imperfect characters interest us more than perfect ones, and that we are doubly instructed when we see, in one and the same example, both what we ought to follow and what we ought to avoid. Accordingly Horace, in his Epistle to Lollius, where he bestows the highest encomiums upon thc Iliad, as a work which delineated vice and virtue better than the writings of the most celebrated philosophers, says of it, notwithstanding, that it is taken up in describing the animosities of foolish kings and infatuated nations. To go to the bottom of this matter, it will be proper to observe, that men are capable of two sorts of character, which may be distinguished by the names of natural and artificial. The natural character implies all those feelings, passions, desires, and opinions, which men have from nature and common experience, independent of speculation and moral refinement. A person of this character looks upon outward prosperity as a real good, and considers the calamities of life as real evils ; loves his friends, hates his enemies, admires his superiors, is assuming with respect to his inferiors, and stands upon terms of rivalship with his equals; in short, is governed by all those passions and opinions that possess the hearts and determine the actions of ordinary men. The force and magnitude of this character is in proportion to the strength of these natural dispositions; and its virtue consists in having the generous and beneficent ones predominant. As to that sort of character, again, which I distinguished by the name of artificial; it consists in a habit of miod formed by discipline, according to the cool and dispassionate dictates of reason. This character is highly moral, but, in my opinion, far less poetical than the other, by being less fit fur interesting our affections, which are formed by the wise Author of our nature for embracing such beings as are of the same teinper and complexion with ourselves, and are marked with the common infirmities of human nature. Persons of the high pbilosophic character, are too firm and unmoved, amidst the calamities they meet with, to excite much sympathy, and are too much superior to the sallies of passion and partial affection, the popular marks of generosity and greatness of mind, erer to be much admired by the bulk of mankind. If the most accomplished poet in the world should take a rigid philosopher for the chief character either of an epic poem or a tragedy, it is easy to conjecture what pould be the success of such an attempt; the work would assume the character of its hero, and be culd, dispassionate, and uninteresting. There is, however, a species of panegyric proper for such sort of perfection, and it may be represented to advantage, either in history or prose dialogue, but it will nerer strike the bulk of mankind. Plato, in his apology of Socrates, deceives us; as Mr. Addison likewise does in his tragedy of Cato: for both of them attempt to persuade us, that we are affected with the contemplation of unshaken fortitude, while we are only sympathizing with suffering innocence. The tenderness of humanity appearing through the hardness of the philosophic character, is that which affects us in both instances, and not that unconquered greatness of mind, which occasions rather wonder and astonishment than genuine aflection.
From what has been said, it is easy to infer, that the great characters, both in epic poetry and tragedy, ought not to be formed upor a perfect moral plan; and therefore hcrocs themselves must often be represented as acting from such motives, and governed by such affections, as impartial reason cannot approre of: but it would be highly indecent to make a being, whoin religion teaches us to consi. der as perfect, enter into the views of such persons, and exert bimself in order to promote their extra, ragant enterprizes. This would be to bring down the infinite wisdom of God to the level of human fully, and to make hiin altogether such an oue as ourselves,