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After carrying on together epic and dramatic compositions, I shall mention circumstances peculiar to each ; begining with the epic kind. In a theatrical entertainment, which employs both the eye and the ear, it would be a gross absurdity, to introduce upon the stage superior beings in a visible shape. There is no place for such objection in an epic poem ; and Boileau,* with many other critics, declares strongly for that sort of machinery in an epic poem. But waving authority, which is apt to impose upon the judgment, let us draw what light we can from reason. I begin with a preliminary remark, That this matter is but indictinetly handled by critics: the poetical priva ilege of animating insensible objects for enlivening a description, is very different from what is termed machinery, where deities, angels, devils, or other supernatural powers, are introduced as real personages, mixing in the action, and contributing to the catastrophe ; and yet these are constantly jumbled together in the reasoning. The former is founded on a natural principle it but can the latter claim the fame authority? far from it ; nothing is more unnatural. Its effects, at the same time, are deplorable. First, it gives an air of fiction to the whole ; and prevents that impression of reality, which is requisite to interest our affections, and to move our pasions.* This of itfelf is sufficient to explode machinery, whatever entertainment it may afford to readers of a fantastic taste or irregular imagination. And, next, were it possible, by disguising the fiction, to delude us into a notion of reality, which I think can hardly be ; an insuperable, objection would still remain, that the aim or end of an epic poem can never be attained in any perfection, where machinery is introduced ; for an evident reason, that virtuous emotions cannot be raised successfully, but by the actions of those who are endued with passions and affections like our own, that is, by human actions : and as for moral instruction, it is clear, that none can be drawn from beings who act not upon the same principles
chaque interlocuteur est toujours celui de briller. Presque tout s'enonce en maximes générales. Quelque agités qu'ils puissent être, ils fongene roujours plus au public qu'à eux mêmes; une sentence leur coute moins qu'un sentiment; les pieces de Racine et de Moliere exceptées, le je est presque aussi scrupuleusement banni de la scene Françoise que des écrits de Port-Royal ; et les paflions humaines, aussi modeftes que l'hu. milité Chrétienne, n'y parlent jamais que par on. Il y a encore une certaine dignité manierée dans la gefle et dans le propos, qui ne permet jamais à la pasion de parler exactement fon language, ni à l'auteur de revetir fon personage, et de se transporter au lieu de la scene ; mais le tient tous jours enchainé sur le théatre, et sous les yeux des spectateurs. Aufli les Ttuations les plus vives ne lui font-elles jamais oublier un bel arrangement de phrases, ni des attitudes élégantes ; et fi le de felpoir lui plonge un poignard dans le caur, non content d'obferver la décence en rombant comme Polixene, il ne tombe point; la décence le maintient debout après sa mort, et tous ceux qui viennent d'expirer s'en retournene l'ina ftant d'après sur leurs jambes.
Rouffieu. * Third part of his art of poetry, + Chap. 20. sect. 1,
A fable in Æsop's manner is no objection to this reasoning : his lions, bulls, and goats, are truly men in disguise : they act and feel in every rea fpect as human beings ; and the moral we draw is founded on that supposition. Homer, it is true, introduces the gods into his fable : but the religion of his country authorised that liberty ; it being an are ticle in the Grecian creed, that the gods often interpofe visibly and bodily in human affairs. I must however observe, that Homer's deities do no hona our to his poems : fictions that tranfgress the bounds of nature, seldom have a good effect : they may ina flame the imagination for a moment, but will not be relished by any person of a correct taste. They may
be of fome use to the lower rank of writers; but an author of genius has much finer materials of Nature's production, for elevating his subject, and make ing it interesting
One would be apt to think, that Boileau, declaring for the Heathen deities as above, intended them only for embellishing the diction : but unluckily he banishes angels and devils, who undoubtedly make a figure in poetic language, equal to the Heathen deities. Boileau, therefore, by pleading for the latter in opposition to the former, 'certainly meant, if he had any distinct meaning, that the Heathen deities be introduced as actors. And, in fact, he himself is guilty of that glaring absurdity, where it is not so pardonable as in an epic poem. In his ode upon the taking of Namur he demands with a most serious countenance, whether the walls were built by Apollo or Neptune ? and in relating the passage of the Rhine anno 1672, he describes the god of that river as fighting with all his might to oppose the French monarch : which is confounding fiction with reality at a strange rate. The French writers in general run into this error : wonderful the effect of custom, to hide from them how ridiculous such fictions are !
That this is a capital error in the Gierufalemme liberata, Taflo's greatest admirers must acknowledge: a situation can never be intricate, nor the reader ever in pain about the catastrophe, as long as there is an angel, devil, or magician, to lend a helping hand. Voltaire, in his essay upon epic poetry, talking of the Pharsalia, obferves judiciously, “ That the proximity of time, the notoriety of events, the character of the age, enlightened and political, joined with the folidity of Lucan's subject, deprived him of poetical fiction.” Is it not amazing, that a
critic who reasons fo justly with respect to others, can be fo blind with respect to himfelf? Voltaire, not satisfied to enrich his language with images drawn from invisible and fuperior beings, introduces them into the action : in the sixth canto of the Henriade St. Louis appears in perfon, and terrifies the soldiers in the seventh canto, St. Louis sends the god of Sleep to Henry ; and in the tenth, the demons of Discord, Fanaticisin, War, &c. aslift Aumale in a single combat with Turenne, and are driven away by a good angel brandishing the sword of God. Tó blend such fictitious personages in the same action with mortals, makes a bad figure at any rate ; and is intolerable in a history fo recent as that of Henry IV. But perfection is not the lot of man.
I have tried serious reasonings upon this subject : but ridicule, I suppose, will be found a more successful weapon, which Addison has applied in an elegant manner : “ Whereas the time of a general peace is, in all appearance, drawing near; being informed that there are several ingenious persons who intend to show their talents on so happy an occasion, and being willing, as much as in me lies, to prevent that effusion of nonsense, which we have good cause to apprehend , I do hereby ftri&ly require every perfon who shall write on this subject, to remember that he is a Christian, and not to sacrifice his catechism to his poetry. In order to it, I do expect of him, in the first place, to make his own poem without depending upon Phæbus for any part of it, or calling out for aid upon any of the muses by name. I do likewife pofitively forbid the sending of Mercury withi any particular message or dispatch. relating to the pe: ce ; and shall by no means suffer Minerva to take upon her the shape of any plenipotentiary concerned in this great work. I do farther declare, that I shall not allow the destiniez to have had an hand in the deaths of the several thousands who have been flain in the late war ; being of opinion that all such deaths may be well accounted for by the Christian system of powder and ball. I do therefore strictly forbid the fates to cut the thread of man's life upon any pretence whatsoever, unless it be for the sake of the rhyme. And whereas I have good reason to fear, that Neptune will have a great deal of business on his hands in several poems which we may now suppose are upon the anvil, I do also prohibit his appearance, unless it be done in metaphor, fimile, or any very short allufion : and that even here he may not be permitted to enter, but with great caution and circumspection. I desire that the same rule may be extended to his whole fraternity of Heathen gods ; it being my design, to condemn every poem to the flames in which Jupiter thunders, or exercises any other act of authority which does not belong to him. In short, I expect that no Pagan agent hall be introduced, or any fact related which a man cannot give credit to with a good conscience. Provided always, that nothing herein contained shall extend, or be construed
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* When I commenced author, my aim was to amuse, and perhaps to inftru&, but never to give pain. I accordingly avoided every living author, till the Henriade occurred to me as the best instance I could find for illustrating the doctrine in the text; and I yielded to the temptation, judging that my flight criticisms would never reach M. de Voltaire They have, however reached him ; and have, as I am informed, flised up some resentment. I am afflicted at this information ; for what title have I 10 wound the mind more than the body ? It would befide fhow ingratitude to a celebrated writer, who is highly enteriaining, and who has bestowed on me many a delicious morsel. My only excuse for give ing offence is, that it was undefigned ; 'for to plead thar the censure is jylt, is no excuse. As the offence was public, I take this opponimy to make the apology equally so. I hope it will be satisfactory : perhaps Dot.-I owe it however to my own character.