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R A MA;
O form a true judgment of the merit we 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 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 adequate,
* Arift. Poet. C. 1, Chap. 3.
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 says, that for having invented the dramatic imitation, and not only on account of his other excellencies, He alone deserves the name of poet*. It is apparent, therefore, how far this great critic prefers this, to every other fpecies of imitation.
The general object of poetry, among the ancients, was the inftruction of mankind, in religion, morals, philofophy, &c. To thefe great purposes 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 moral duties; infpired and celebrated heroic deeds; fung the praises of valouf, and the charms of *Chap. 4. + Hiftoire des Celtes, 1. 2. c. 9.