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To form a true judgment of the merit
of any dramatic compofition, we fhould first confider the offices and ends of the Drama; what are its pretenfions, and for what purposes it affumes a manner fo different from any other kind of poetical imitation. The epic Poem and the Tragedy, fays Ariftotle, are purely imitations * *; but the dramatic is an imitation of the actions of men, by the means of action itfelf. The epic is also an imitation of the actions of men, but it imitates by narration. The most perfect, and the best imitation, is certainly that which gives the
most adequate, lively, and faithful copy of the thing imitated. Homer was fo fenfible of the fuperior force and efficacy of the dramatic manner, that he often drops the narrative to affume it; and Aristotle fays, that for having invented the dramatic imitation, and not on account of his other excellencies only, He alone deferves the name of Poet*. It is apparent therefore, how far this great Critic prefers this, every other species of Imitation.
The general object of Poetry, among the ancients, was the inftruction of mankind, in religion, morals, philofophy, &c. To these great purpofes were tuned the harps of Orpheus, Mufæus, Hefiod, Callimachus, &c. Nor in Greece alone was Poetry the teacher, and the guardian, of the fanctities of human fociety. † Our Northern bards affumed the fame holy offices; the fame facred character. They directed the modes of divine worship: they taught the mo
* Chap. 4.
+ Hiftoire des Celtes, 1. 2. c. 9.
ral duties; infpired and celebrated heroic deeds; fung the praises of valour, and the charms of liberty; and fnatched from oblivion the bold achievements, and meritorious acts, of Patriots, and of Heroes. In the Eaft, the Poet veiled his inventions in myfterious allegories and divine ́mythology; and rather endeavoured to raise the mind to heavenly contemplations, than to inftruct it in human affairs.
In Greece, the general mother of arts, arose the mighty Genius of Homer; of whom it may be faid, as it is of Socrates with relation to Philosophy, that he brought Poetry from heaven, to live in cities among men. The moral of the fable of the Iliad is adapted to the political state of Greece, whofe various chiefs are thereby exhorted to unanimity; the Odyffey, to the general condition of human nature; but the epifodical part of his works he has enriched with mythology, phyfical allegory, the fine arts, and whatever adorns the mind of man, or benefits fociety; even rules
rules of domeftic economy, focial behaviour, and all the fweet civilities of life, are taught by this great mafter, of what may be called, in the most enlarged fenfe, the Humanities: Yet firft in the rank of all the eminent perfections of this unequalled Bard, is the invention of the dramatic imitation placed, by a Critic, whose judgment was formed by philosophy, and a deep knowledge of human nature. He faw the powerful agency of living words, joined to moving things, when ftill Narration yields the place to animated Action.
It is as a moral philofopher, not as the mere connoiffeur in a polite art, that Ariftotle gives the preference, above all other modes of poetic imitation, to Tragedy, as capable to purge the paffions, by the means of pity and terror*. The object of the epic Poem is to infpire magnanimity; to give good documents of life; to induce
→ Chap, 6,
good habits*; and, like a wholesome regimen, to preferve the whole moral œconomy in a certain foundness and integrity. But it is not compofed of ingredients of fuch efficacy, as to mitigate the violent diftempers of the mind, nor can apply its art to the benefit of the ignorant vulgar, where those diftempers are in their most exasperated state. An epic Poem is too abftrufe for the people; the moral is too much enveloped, the language too elevated for their apprehenfion; nor have they leifure, or application, to trace the confequences of ill-governed paffions, or erroneous principles, through the long feries of a voluminous work. The Drama is happily conftituted for this purpose. Events are brought within the compass of a short period; precepts are delivered in the familiar of difcourfe: the fiction is conway cealed, the allegory is realized; and Representation and Action take the place of cold unaffecting Narration, A Tragedy
* Du Poeme Epique, par Boffu, 1, 2. C, 17.