Imatges de pÓgina

tute fictitious names, under which they exhibited particular characters in such lively colours, that the resemblance could not possibly be mistaken or overlooked. This practice gave rise to what is called the middle comedy, which was but of short duration; for the legislature, perceiving that the first law had not removed the grievance against which it was provided, issued a second ordinance, forbidding, under severe penalties, any real or family occurrences to be represented. This restriction was the immediate cause of improving comedy into a general mirror, held forth to reflect the various follies and foibles incident to human nature; a species of writing called the new comedy, introduced by Diphilus and Menander, of whose works nothing but a few fragments remain.



Having communicated our sentiments touching the origin of poetry, by tracing tragedy and comedy to their common source, we shall now endeavour to point out the criteria by which poetry is distinguished from every other species of writing. In common with other arts, such as statuary and painting, it comprehends imitation, invention, composition, and enthusiasm. Imitation is, indeed, the basis of all the liberal arts invention and enthusiasm constitute genius, in whatever manner it may be displayed. Eloquence of all sorts admits of enthusiasm. Tully says, an orator should be" vehemens ut procella, excitatus ut torrens, incensus ut fulmen; tonat, fulgurat, et rapidis eloquentiæ fluctibus cuncta proruit et proturbat:" "Violent as a tempest, impetuous as a torrent, and glowing intense like the red bolt of heaven; he thunders, lightens, overthrows, and bears down

all before him, by the irresistible tide of eloquence." This is the mens divinior atque os magna sonaturum of Horace. This is the talent,

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We are told, that Michael Angelo Buonaroti used to work at his statues in a fit of enthusiasm, during which he made the fragments of the stone fly about him with surprising violence. The celebrated Lulli being one day blamed for setting nothing to music but the languid verses of Quinault, was animated with the reproach, and running in a fit of enthusiasm to his harpsichord, sung in recitative, and accompanied four pathetic lines from the Iphigenia of Racine, with such expression as filled the hearers with astonishment and horror.

Though versification be one of the criteria that distinguish poetry from prose, yet it is not the sole mark of distinction. Were the histories of Polybius and Livy simply turned into verse, they would not become poems; because they would be destitute of those figures, embellishments, and flights of imagination, which display the poet's art and invention. On the other hand, we have many productions that justly lay claim to the title of poetry, without having the advantage of versification; witness the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, with many beautiful hymns, descriptions, and rhapsodies, to be found in different parts of the Old Testament, some of them the immediate production of divine inspiration; witness the Celtic fragments which have lately appeared in the English language, and are certainly replete with poetical merit. But though good versification

alone will not constitute poetry, bad versification alone will certainly degrade and render disgustful the sublimest sentiments and finest flowers of imagination. This humiliating power of bad verse appears in many translations of the ancient poets; in Ogilby's Homer, Trapp's Virgil, and frequently in Creech's Horace. This last indeed is not

wholly devoid of spirit; but it seldom rises above mediocrity, and, as Horace says,

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Non homines, non Dî, non concessere columnæ.

But gods, and men, and letter'd post denies,

That poets ever are of middling size."

How is that beautiful ode, beginning with "Justum et tenacem propositi virum," chilled and tamed by the following translation:

"He who by principle is sway'd,

In truth and justice still the same,
Is neither of the crowd afraid,

Though civil broils the state inflame;
Nor to a haughty tyrant's frown will stoop,

Nor to a raging storm, when all the winds are up.
Should nature with convulsions shake,

Struck with the fiery bolts of Jove,

The final doom and dreadful crack

Cannot his constant courage move."

That long Alexandrine-" Nor to a raging storm, when all the winds are up," is drawling, feeble, swoln with a pleonasm or tautology, as well as deficient in the rhyme; and as for the "dreadful crack," in the next stanza, instead of exciting terror, it conveys a low and ludicrous idea. How much more elegant and energetic is this paraphrase (1) of the same ode, inserted in one of the volumes of Hume's History of England.

(1) [By Dr. Thomas Blacklock, the blind poet; to whose interests the historian warmly attached himself.]

"The man whose mind on virtue bent,
Pursues some greatly good intent

With undiverted aim,

Serene beholds the angry crowd;

Nor can their clamours fierce and loud
His stubborn honour tame.

"Nor the proud tyrant's fiercest threat,
Nor storms that from their dark retreat
The lawless surges wake;

Nor Jove's dread bolt, that shakes the pole,
The firmer purpose of his soul

With all its powers can shake.

"Should nature's frame in ruins fall

And Chaos o'er the sinking ball

Resume primeval sway,

His courage

chance and fate defies,

Nor feels the wreck of earth and skies

Obstruct its destin'd sway."

If poetry exists independent of versification, it will naturally be asked, how then is it to be distinguished? Undoubtedly, by its own peculiar expression: it has a language of its own, which speaks so feelingly to the heart, and so pleasingly to the imagination, that its meaning cannot possibly be misunderstood by any person of delicate sensations. It is a species of painting with words, in which the figures are happily conceived, ingeniously arranged, affectingly expressed, and recommended with all the warmth and harmony of colouring: it consists of imagery, description, metaphors, similes, and sentiments, adapted with propriety to the subject, so contrived and executed as to soothe the ear, surprise and delight the fancy, mend and melt the heart, elevate the mind, and please the understanding. According to Flaccus :

"Aut prodesse volunt, aut delectare poetæ ;

Aut simul et jucunda et idonea dicere vitæ.

Poets would profit or delight mankind,

And with th' amusing show th' instructive join'd." “Omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci Lectorem delectando, pariterque monendo.

Profit and pleasure mingled thus with art,

To sooth the fancy and improve the heart."

Tropes and figures are likewise liberally used in rhetoric; and some of the most celebrated orators have owned themselves much indebted to the poets. Theophrastus expressly recommends the poets for this purpose. From their source, the spirit and energy of the pathetic, the sublime, and the beautiful, are derived. But these figures must be more sparingly used in rhetoric than in poetry, and even then mingled with argumentation, and a detail of facts altogether different from poetical narration. The poet, instead of simply relating the incident, strikes off a glowing picture of the scene, and exhibits it in the most lively colours to the eye of the imagination. "It is reported that Homer was blind," says Tully in his Tusculan Questions, " yet his poetry is no other than painting. What country, what climate, what ideas, battles, commotions, and contests of men, as well as of wild beasts, has he not painted in such a manner as to bring before our eyes those very scenes, which he himself could not behold!" (2) We cannot, therefore, subscribe to the opinion of some ingenious critics, who have blamed Mr. Pope for deviating in some instances from the simplicity of Homer, in his translation of the Iliad and Odyssey. For example, the Grecian bard says simply, the sun rose; and his translator gives us a beautiful picture of

(1) Namque ab his (scilicet poetis) et in rebus spiritus, et in verbis sublimitas, et in affectibus motus omnis, et in personis decor petitur.— QUINTILIAN, 1. X.

(2) Quæ regio, quæ ora, quæ species formæ, quæ pugna, qui malus hominum, qui ferarum, non ita expictus est, ut quæ ipse non viderit, nos ut videramus, effecerit !

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