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ORALISTS of all ages have recom
mended Poetry as an art no less instructive than amusing; tending at once to improve the heart, and entertain the fancy. The genuine and original Poet, peculiarly favoured by nature, and intimately acquainted with the constitution of the human mind, not by a long train of metaphysical deductions, but, as it were, by immediate intuition, displays the workings of every affection, detects the origin of every passion, traceth its progress, and delineates its character. Thus, he teaches us to know ourselves, inspires us with magnanimous sentiments, animates our love of virtue, and confirms our hatred of vice. Moved by his striking pictures of the instability of human enjoyments, we
moderate the vehemence of our desires, fortify our minds, and are enabled to suftain adversity,
Among the antient Greeks, the study of the Poets constituted an effential part in their celebrated fyftems of education. Plutarch observes, in his treatise on this curious and interesting subject, that, as mandrakes planted among vines, imparting their virtue to the grape, correct its acidity, and improve its flavour; so the poetic art, adorning the precepts of philofophy, renders them eafy and agreeable. Socrates, according to Xenophon, was alfiduous in applying the works of Homer and Hefiod to the valuable purposes of moral instruction. Discoursing on the character of Therfites, he displayed the meanness of calumny, and the folly of presumption; he argued, that modesty was the companion of merit, and that effrontery was the proper object of ridicule and re
proach. Discoursing on the story of Circes he illustrated the fatal effects of intemperance ; and rehearsing the fable of the Syrens, he warned his disciples against the allurements of false delight. This great teacher of virtue was so fully convinced of the advantages resulting from the connection of poetry with philosophy, that he assisted Euripides in composing his tragedies, and furnished him with many excellent sentiments and observations. The propriety of bestowing attention on the study of human nature, and of borrowing assistance from the poets, and especially from Shakespeare, will be more particuă larly illustrated in the following remarks.
The study of human nature has been often and variously recommended. “ Know thyself,” was a precept so highly esteemed by the venerable sages of antiquity, that they ascribed it to the Delphian oracle *. A 2
Ву * Cic. de legibus,
By reducing it to practice, we learn the dignity of human nature : Our emulation is excited by contemplating our divine original : And, by discovering the capacity and extent of our faculties, we become desirous of higher improvement.
Nor would the practice of this apophthegm enable us merely to elevate and enlarge our desires, but also, to purify and refine them; to withstand the follicitations of groveling appetites, and subdue their violence : For improvement in virtue confifts in duly regulating our inferior appetites, no less than in cultivating the principles of benevolence and magnanimity. Numerous, however, are the desires, and various are the passions that agitate the human heart. Every individual is actuated by feelings peculiar to himself, insensible even of their existence; of their precise force and tendency often ignorant. But, to prevent the inroads of vice, and preserve