Imatges de pÓgina
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ON THE

PRÆTERNATURAL

BEINGS.

Α

S the genius of Shakespear, through the whole extent of the Poet's province, is the object of our enquiry, we should do him great injuftice, if we did not attend to his peculiar felicity in those fictions and inventions, from which Poetry derives its highest distinction, and from whence it firft affumed its pretenfions to divine inspiration, and appeared the affociate of Religion.

The ancient Poet was admitted into the fynod of the Gods: he difcourfed of their natures, he repeated their counfels, and, without the charge of impiety or presumption, disclosed their diffenfions, and published their vices: He peopled the woods with I 3

Nymphs,

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Nymphs, the Rivers with Deities; and, that he might still have fome Being within call to his affiftance, he placed refponfive Echo in the vacant regions of Air.

In the infant ages of the world, the credulity of Ignorance greedily received every marvellous tale: but, as mankind increased in knowledge, and a long feries of traditions had established a certain mythology and history, the Poet was no longer permitted to range, uncontrolled, through the boundlefs dominions of Fancy, but became restrained, in fome measure, to things believed, or known. Though the duty of Poetry to pleafe and to surprise ftill fubfifted, the means varied with the state of the world, and it foon grew neceffary to make the new Inventions lean on the old Traditions.The human mind delights in novelty, and is captivated by the marvellous, but even in fable itself requires the credible.-The Poet, who can give to fplendid inventions, and to fictions new and bold, the air and authority of reality and truth, is mafter of the genuine

fources

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fources of the Caftalian fpring, and may justly be faid to draw his infpiration from the well-bead of pure poefy.

Shakespear faw how useful the popular Superstitions had been to the ancient Poets : he felt that they were neceffary to Poetry itself. We need only read fome modern French heroic poems, to be convinced how poorly Epic Poetry fubfifts on the pure elements of History and Philofophy: Taffo, though he had a subject so popular, at the time he wrote, as the deliverance of Jerufalem, was obliged to employ the operations of magic, and the interpofition of angels and dæmons, to give the marvellous, the fublime, and, I may add, that religious air to his work, which ennobles the enthufiafm, and fanctifies the fiction of the poet. Ariofto's excurfive mufe wanders through the regions of Romance, attended by all the fuperb train of chivalry, giants, dwarfs, and enchanters; and however thefe Poets, by fevere and frigid critics, may have been condemned for giving ornaments not purely L 4 claffical,

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claffical, to their works; I believe every reader of taste admires, not only the fertility of their imagination, but the judgment with which they availed themselves of the superstition of the times, and of the customs and modes of the country, in which they laid the scenes of action.

To recur, as the Learned fometimes do, to the Theology and Fables of other ages, and other countries, has ever a poor effect: Jupiter, Minerva, and Apollo, only embellish a modern ftory, as a print from their statues adorns the frontispiece. - We admire indeed the art of the sculptors who give their images with grace and majesty; but no devotion is excited, no enthusiasm kindled, by the representations of characters whofe divinity we do not acknowledge.

When the Pagan temples ceased to be revered, and the Parnaffian mount existed no longer, it would have been difficult for the Poet of later times to have preserved the divinity of his muse inviplate, if the western world

world too had not had its facred fables. While there is any national fuperftition which credulity has confecrated, any hallowed tradition long revered by vulgar faith; to that fanctuary, that afylum, may the Poet refort. Let him tread the holy ground with reverence; respect the established doctrine; exactly obferve the accustomed rites, and the attributes of the object of veneration; then shall he not vainly invoke an inexorable or abfent deity. Ghofts, Fairies, Goblins, Elves, were as propitious, were as affiftant to Shakespear, and gave as much of the Sublime, and of the Marvellous, to his fictions, as Nymphs, Satyrs, Fawns, and even the triple Geryon, to the works of ancient Bards. Our Poet never carries his præternatural Beings beyond the limits of the popular tradition. It is true, that he boldly exerts his poetic genius, and fascinating powers in that magic circle, in which none e'er durft walk but he: but as judicious as bold, he contains himself within it. He calls up all the stately phantoms in the regions of superstition, which our faith will

receive

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