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I could a tale unfold, whofe lighteft word
Would harrow up thy foul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like ftars, ftart from their spheres,
Thy knotty and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine :
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood.

Hamlet, act 1. fc. 8.


Gratiano. Poor Desdemona! I'm glad thy father's dead
Thy match was mortal to him; and pure grief
Shore his old thread in twain.
Did he live now,
This fight would make him do a defperate turn:
Yea, curfe his better angel from his fide,
And fall to reprobation.

Othello, act 5. fc. 8.

Objects of horror must be excepted from the foregoing theory; for no defcription, however lively, is fufficient to overbalance the difguft raifed even by the idea of fuch objects. Every thing horrible ought therefore to be avoided in a defcription. Nor is this a fevere law: the poet will avoid fuch scenes for his own fake, as well as for that of his reader; and to vary his descriptions, nature affords plenty of objects that disgust us in fome degree without raifing horror. I am obliged therefore to condemn the picture of Sin in the fecond book of Paradife Loft, though a masterly performance: the original would be a horrid spectacle; and the horror is not much Toftened in the copy:

Penfive here I fat

Alone; but long 1 fat not, till my womb,
Pregnant by thee, and now exceffive grown,
Prodigious motion felt and rueful throes.
At last this odious offspring whom thou seest,
Thine own begotten, breaking violent way,




Tore through my intrails, that with fear and pain
Distorted, all my nether shape thus grew
Transform'd; but he my inbred enemy
Forth iffu'd, brandishing his fatal dart,
Made to deftroy: I fled, and cry'd out Death ;
Hell trembl'd at the hideous name, and figh'd
From all her caves, and back refounded Death.
I fled; but he purfu'd, (though more, it feems,
Inflam'd with luft than rage), and fwifter far,
Me overtook, his mother all difmay'd,
And in embraces forcible and foul
Ingendering with me, of that rape begot
Thefe yelling monsters that with ceafelefs cry
Surround me, as thou faw'ft, hourly conceiv'd
And hourly born, with forrow infinite
To me; for when they lift, into the womb
That bred them they return, and howl and gnaw
My bowels, their repaft; then bursting forth,
Afreth with confcious terrors vex me round,
That reft or intermiflion none I find.

Before mine eyes in oppofition fits
Grim Death, my fon and foe, who fets them on,
And me his parent would full foon devour
For want of other prey, but that he knows,
His end with mine involv'd; and knows that I
Should prove a bitter morfel and his bane,
Whenever that thall be.

Book 2. I.


Iago's character in the tragedy of Othello, is infufferably monstrous and Satanical: not even Shakespear's mafterly hand can make the picture agreeable.

Though the objects introduced in the following fcenes are not altogether fo horrible as Sin is in Milton's defcription; yet with every person of del icacy, difguft will be the prevailing emotion:

-Strophades Graio ftant nomine dictæ Infulæ Ionio in magno: quas dira Celano, Harpyiæque colunt alix: Phineia poftquam Claufa domus, menfafque metu liquere priores.


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Triftius haud illis monftrum, nec fævior ulla
Peftis et ira Deûm Stygiis fefe extulit undis.
Virginei volucrum vultus, fœdiffima ventris
Proluvies, uncæque manus, et pallida femper
Ora fame,

Huc ubi delati portus intravimus: ecce
Læta boum paffim campis armenta videmus,
Caprigenumque pecus, nullo cuftode, per herbas.
Irruimus ferro, et Divos ipfumque vocamus
In prædam partemque Jovem : tunc littore curvo
Extruimufque toros, dapibufque epulamur opimis.
At fubitæ horrifico lapfu de montibus adfunt
Harpyiæ et magnis quatiunt clangoribus alas :
Diripiuntque dapes, contactuque omnia foedant
Immundo: tum vox tetruin dira inter odorem.
Eneid, lib. iii. 210.

Sum patria ex Ithaca, comes in felicis Ulyffei,
Nomen Achemenides: Trojam, genitore Adamafto
Paupere (manfiffetque utinam fortuna !) profectus.
Hic me, dum trepidi crudelia limina linquunt,
Immemores focii vafto Cyclopis in antro
Deferuere. Domus fanie dapibufque cruentis,
Intus opaca, ingens: ipfe arduus, altaque pulfat
Sidera (Dii, talem terris avertite peftem)
Nec vifu facilis, nec dictu affabilis ulli.
Vifceribus miferorum, et fanguine vefcitur atro.
Vidi egomet, duo de numero cum corpora noftro,
Prenfa manu magna, medio refupinus in antro,
Frangeret ad faxum, fanieque afperfa natarent
Limina vidi, atro cum membra fluentia tabo
Manderet, et tepidi tremuerent fub dentibus artus.
Haud impune quidem : nec talia paffus Ulyffes,
Oblitufve fui eft Ithacus difcrimine tanto.
Nam fimul expletus dapibus, vinoque fepultus
Cervicem inflexam, pofuit, jacuitque per antrum
Immenfus, faniem eructans, ac fruita cruento
Per fomnum commixta mero; nos, magna precati
Numina, fortitique vices, unà undique circum
Fundimur, et telo lumen terebramus acuto
Ingens, quod torva folum fub fronte latebat.
Eneid, lib. iii. 613.

T 2




Epic and Dramatic Compofition.

TRAGEDY differs not

RAGEDY differs not from the epic in fubftance in both the fame ends are purfued, namely, inftruction and amufement; and in both the fame mean is employed, namely, imitation of human actions. They differ only in the manner of imitating: epic poetry employs narration; tragedy reprefents its facts as paffing in our fight: in the former, the poet introduces himself as an hiftorian; in the latter, he prefents his actors, and never himself.*

This difference regarding form only, may be thought flight but the effects it occafions, are by no means fo; for what we fee makes a deeper impreffion than what we learn from others. A narrative

The dialogue in a dramatic compofition diftinguifhes it fo clearly from other compofitions, that no writer has thought it neceffary to fearch for any other diflinguifhing mark. But much ufelefs labour has been bestowed, to diffinguifh an epic poem by fome peculiar mark. Boffu defines it to be, “A composition in verse, intended to form the manners by inftructions difguifed under the allegories of an important action;" which excludes every epic poem founded upon real facts, and perhaps includes feveral of Elop's fables. Voltaire reckons verfe fo effential, as for that fingle reafon to exclude the adventures of Telemachus. See his Effay upon Epic Poetry. Others, affected with fubflance more than with form, hefitate not to pronounce that poem to be epic.It is not a little diverting to fee fo many profound critics hunting for what is not they take for granted, without the leaft foundation, that there must be fome precife criterion to diflinguifh epic poetry from every other fpecies of writing. Literary compofitions run into each other, precifely like colours in their ftrong tints they are cafily diftinguished, but are fufceptible of fo much variety, and of fo many different forms, that we never can fay where one fpecies ends and another begins. As to the general tafle, there is little reafon to doubt, that a work where heroic actions are related in an elevated flyle, will, without further requi fite, be deemed an epic poem,


tive poem is a story told by another facts and incidents pafling upon the ftage, come under our own obfervation; and are befide much enlivened by action and gesture, expreffive of many fentiments beyond the reach of words.

A dramatic compofition has another property, independent altogether of action; which is, that it makes a deeper impreffion than narration: in the former, perfons exprefs their own fentiments; in the latter, fentiments are related at fecond hand. For that reafon, Ariftotle, the father of critics, lays it down as a rule, That in an epic poem the author ought to take every opportunity of introducing his actors, and of confining the narrative part within the narrowest bounds.* Homer understood perfectly the advantage of this method; and his two poems abound in dialogue. Lucan runs to the oppofite extreme, even fo far as to ftuff his Pharfalia with cold and languid reflections: the merit of which he affumes to himself, and deigns not to fhare with his actors. Nothing can be more injudicioufly timed, than a chain of fuch reflections, which fufpend the battle of Pharfalia after the leaders had made their speeches, and the two armies are ready to engage.t.

Ariftotle, regarding the fable only, divides tragedy into fimple and complex: but it is of greater moment, with refpect to dramatic as well as epic poetry, to found a diftinction upon the different ends attained by fuch compofitions. A poem, whether dramatic or epic, that has nothing in view but to move the paffions and to exhibit pictures of virtue and vice, may be diftinguished by the name of pa« thetic:

* Poet. chap. 25. scat. 6.

Lib. 7. from line 385, to line 460.

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