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liberty and fnatched from oblivion the bold achievements, and meritorious acts, of patriots, and of heroes. In the East, the poet veiled his inventions in mysterious 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 philofophy, 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 ftate of Greece, whose various chiefs are thereby exhorted to unanimity; the Odyffy, to the general condition of human nature; but the epifodical part of his works he has enriched with mythology, physical allegory, the fine arts, and whatever adorned the mind of man, of bleft fociety; even rules of domestic œco→ nomy, focial behaviour, and all the fweet civilities of life, are taught by this great master,
master, of what may be called, in the most
It is as a moral philosopher, not as the mere connoiffeur in a polite art, that Aristotle 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 good habits §, and, as a wholesome regimen, to preserve the whole moral economy in a certain foundness and integrity. But it is not composed of ingredients of fuch efficacy as to fubdue the violent diftempers of the mind,
Chap. 6. § Du Poeme Epique par Boffu, l. 2. c. 17.
nor can apply its art to the benefit of the ignorant vulgar, where those diftempers are in their most exafperated 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 leisure, 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 way of difcourfe: the fiction is concealed, the allegory is realized: and representation and action take the place of cold unaffect-ing narration. A tragedy is a fable exhibited to the view, and rendered palpable to the fenses; and every decoration of the stage is contrived to impose the delusion on the spectator, by confpiring with the imitation. It is addressed to the imagination, through which it opens to itself a communication to the heart, where it is to excite certain paffions and affections: each character being perfo
perfonated, and each event exhibited, the attention of the audience is greatly captivated, and the imagination fo far aids in the delufion, as to fympathize with the representation. To the mufe of tragedy, therefore, Mr. Pope has affigned the noble task,
To wake the foul by tender ftrokes of art,
He afcribes fuch power to a well-wrought fcene, as to afk,
When Cato groans who does not wish to bleed?
He would not have fupposed the death of Hector, or Sarpedon, to have had an equal effect on any reader of the Iliad; fuch enthufiasm is to be caught only from the stage, and is the effect alone of ftrong-working fympathy, and paffions agitated by the peculiar force and activity of the dramatic manner. Writers of feeble genius, in their compofitions for the ftage, frequently deviate into the narrative and descriptive style; a fault for which nothing can atone; for the drama is a fpecies of poetry,
poetry, as diftinct from the epic, as ftatuary from painting; and can no more receive that merit which specifically belongs to it, and conftitutes its' perfection, from fine verfification, or any other poetical ornaments, than a ftatue can be rendered a fine fpecimen of fculpture, from being beautifully coloured, or highly polished. It is frivolous and idle, therefore, to infift on any little incidental and acceffory beauties, where the main part, the very constitution of the thing, is defective. is defective. Yet on fome trivial beauties do the French found all their pretenfions to fuperiority and excellence in the drama.
According to Ariftotle there can be no tragedy without action *, Mr. Voltaire confeffes that fome of the most admired tragedies, in France, are rather converfations, than reprefentations of an action. It will hardly be allowed to those who fail in the most effential part of an art, to fet
their performances as models.
*Arift. chap. vi.