Imatges de pÓgina
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ON THE

PRETERNATURAL

B E I N G S.

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heav'n,

And, as Imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to fhape, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

Midfummer Night's Dream.

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ON THE

PRETERNATURAL

BEI

N G S.

As

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 injustice, 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 first 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 prefumption, disclosed their diffenfions, and publifhed their vices: He peopled the woods with I 1 4 Nymphs,

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 series of traditions had established a certain mythology and hiftory, the Poet was no longer permitted to range, uncontrolled, through the boundless dominions of Fancy, but became restrained, in fome measure, to things believed, or known. Though the duty of Poetry to please and to furprise ftill fubfifted, the means varied with the ftate 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

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

Shakespear faw how useful the popular Superftitions 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 fubject 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 enthusiasm, and sanctifies 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 these Poets, by fevere and frigid critics, may have been condemned for giving ornaments not purely claffical,

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