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To form a true judgment of the merit of any dramatic composition, we should first consider the offices and ends of the drama; what are its pretensions, and for what purposes it assumes a manner so different from any other kind of poetical imitation. The epic poem and the tragedy, says Aristotle, are purely imitations*; but the dramatic is an imitation of the actions of men, by the means of action itself. 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
*Arist. Poet. c. 1. chap. 3.
quate, lively, and faithful copy of the thing imitated. Homer was so sensible of the superior force and efficacy of the dramatic manner, that he often drops the narrative, to assume it; and Aristotle says, that for having invented the dramatic imitation, and not on account of his other excellencies only, he alone deserves the name of poet *. It is apparent therefore, how far this great critic prefers this, to every other species of imitation.
The general object of poetry, among the ancients, was the instruction of mankind, in religion, morals, philosophy, &c. To these great purposes were tuned the harps of Orpheus, Musæus, Hesiod, Callimachus, &c. Nor in Greece alone was poetry the teacher and the guardian, of the sanctities of human society. Our Northern bards assumed the same holy offices; the same sacred character. They directed the modes of divine worship: they taught the mo
* Chap. 4.
+ Histoire des Celtes, 1. 2. c. 9.