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I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Hamlet, act 1. fc. 8.
Gratiano. Poor Desdemona! I'ın glad thy father's dead :
Did he live now,
Othello, alt 5. sc. 8.
Objects of horror must be excepted from the foregoing theory; for no description, however lively, is fufficient to overbalance the difgust raifed even by the idea of such objects. Every thing horrible ought therefore to be avoided in a description. Nor is this a severe law : the poet will avoid such scenes for his own sake, as well as for that of his reader and to vary his descriptions, nature affords plenty of objects that disgust us in some degree without raising horror. I am obliged therefore to condemn the picture of Sin in the second book of Paradise Lost, though a masterly performance : the original would be a horrid spectacle ; and the horror is not much Toftened in the copy :
Pensive here I fat
Tore through my intrails, that with fear and pain
Book 2. l. 777
Iago's character in the tragedy of Othello, is insuffera. bly monstrous and Satanical : not even Shakespear's masterly hand can make the picture agreeable.
Though the objects introduced in the following scenes are not altogether so horrible as Sin is in Milton's description ; yet with every person of delo icacy, disgust will be the prevailing emotion :
-Strophades Graio ftant nomine diar
Tristius haud illis monstrum, nec sævior ulla
Æneid, lib. iii. 210.
Eneid, lib. iii. 613.
CHA P. XXII.
Epic and Dramatic Composition.
TRAGEDY differs not from the epic in substance : in both the fame ends are pursued, namely, instruction and amusement ; and in both the same mean is employed, namely, imitation of human actions. They differ only in the manner of imitating: epic poetry employs narration ; tragedy represents its facts as passing in our sight: in the former, the poet introduces himself as an historian ; in the latter, he presents his actors, and never himself.*
This difference regarding form only, may be thought Night : but the effects it occasions, are by no means fo ; for what we fee makes a deeper impression than what we learn from others.
* The dialogue in a dramatic compoGtion distinguifhes it fo clearly from other compositions, that no writer has thought it necefsary to search for any other dillinguishing mark. But much useless labour has been beltowed, to dislinguish an epic poem by some peculiar mark, Bossu defines it to be, “ A composition in verse, intended to form the manners by instructions disguised under the allegories of an important ac, ijon;" which excludes every epic poem founded upon real facts, and perhaps includes several of Ælop's fables. Voltaire reckons verfe so effential, as for that single reason to exclude the adventures of Telemachus. See his Eljay upon Epic Poetry. Others, affected with subliance more than with form, heftate not to pronounce that poem to be epic. It is not a little diverting to fee so many profound critics hunting for what is not : they take for granted, without the leaft foundation, that there must be some precise criterion to diflinguish epic poetry from every other fpecies of writing. Literary compositions run into each other, precisely like colours : in their strong tints they are casily distinguished, but are susceptible of so much variety, and of so many different forms, that we never can say where one species ends and another begins. As to the general taste, there is little reason to doubt, ibat a work where heroic actions are related in an elevated Nyle, will, without further requi. fitę, be deemed an epic poena,
tive poem is a story told by another : facts and incidents passing upon the stage, come under our own observation ; and are beside much enlivened by action and gesture, expressive of many sentiments beyond the reach of words.
A dramatic composition has another property, independent altogether of action ; which is, that it makes a deeper impression than narration : in the former, persons express their own sentiments ; in the latter, sentiments are related at second hand. For that reason, Aristotle, 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 opposite extreme, even so far as to stuff his Pharsalia with cold. and languid reflections: the merit of which he alLumes to himself, and deigns not to share with his actors. Nothing can be more injudiciously timed, than a chain of such reflections, which suspend the battle of Pharsalia after the leaders had made their speeches, and the two armies are ready to engage.t.
Aristotle, regarding the fable only, divides tragedy into simple and complex : but it is of greater moment, with respect to dramatic as well as epic poetry, to found a distinction upon the different ends attained by such compositions. A poem, whether dramatic or epic, that has nothing in view but to move the passions and to exhibit pictures of virtue and vice, may be distinguished by the name of paa
* Poet, chap. 25. fcat. 6.
7. from line 385, to linc 460.