« PreviousContinue »
the capital of the island of Chios, in which he resided,) in order to enjoy the sweets of retirement whilst he instructed his scholars. The inhabitants of that island, indeed, still glory in shewing to travellers the seats where the venerable master and his pupils were accustomed to pursue their studies, and in pointing out the very cavity in which the immortal bard had so often discussed the pleasures of literary retirement, or instructed his youthful devotees in the art of poetry-an art in which he himself so admirably excelled. It happen. ed, whilst Maurice was making a very earnest and emphatic harangue upon the peculiàr beauties of epic poetry, followed by a succinct account of the plan of Homer's Iliad, and with a lively description of the resentment of Achilles, and its fatal consequences in the Grecian army before the walls of Troy, that Mr. C. and his daughter Clara happened acci
dentally to pass the spot just as the youthful orator was in the midst of his speech ; their attention was immediately arrested, and they stopped for a moment to listen to the juvenile declamation ; the latter was highly amused with her brother's eloquence, and, as they walked on, the conversation naturally turned upon epic poetry and upon its peculiar and distinguishing characteristics.
“ Epic poetry,” said Mr. C., “ concentrates all that is sublime in action, description, or sentiment, and is universally allowed to be, of all poetical works, the most dignified, and, at the same time, the most difficult in execution.”
“ I suppose, papa,” said Clara, “ that it relates to action and enterprise, at least if I may judge from the extracts I have heard my brother repeat. Do you know, I should have imagined it much easier to relate events, than to describe the pleasures of rural life, as pastoral poetry does, or to convey instruction, as is expected from didactic poetry.” . “Experience, my love," said Mr. C., smiling, “ Experience,
• That costly good that none e'er bought or sold
For gem or pearl, or miser's store, twice told," can alone enable you to decide the question. In writing an epic poem, a story, whether founded on fact or fiction, must be told which shall please and interest all readers, by being at once entertaining, important, and instructive ; enlivened with a variety of characters and descriptions, and, at the same time, related in an elevated style of expression and of sentiment. In short, so great is the genius required for an epic poem, that strict crities. will scarcely allow any poems to bear that appellation except the Iliad and the Æneid; though any poetical recitals of extraordinary
adventures are placed under that denomination."
" Then, papa, the plain account of an epic poem is, that it is the recital of some illustrious enterprise in a poetical form."
“Yes : that is a very just and proper definition."
And do you know, papa, that although my brother Maurice is so fond of the Iliad of Homer, I think it a very dry, dull, uninteresting looking book, full of dreadful wars and battles, instead of delightful descriptions of rural happiness: I cannot conceive the use of commemorating such things as these !!!, .“ Epic poetry is, in fact, a sort of history, given in a poetical form instead of being a prose composition,” said Mr. C.,
and, surely, my dear Clara, you will allow. that many advantages may accrue froin a proper acquaintance with history,
whether ancient or modern, even if it do abound with dreadful wars and battles, heroic achievements, victories and conquests. By contemplating the great and good actions of mankind, we are stimulated to exertion; taught to redson and reflect; to trace effects to their causes, and to endeavour to discover by what means they rendered themselves illustrious : whilst their follies may possibly teach us to correct our dwn; for I know not where we can find more striking exemplars of the pride, the arrogance, and the insignificance of man, than is presented in history; at the same time, that, by ascribing all events to a Divine interposition, it inculcates the belief of a superintending Providence, and teaches us that many unforeseen and apparently afflicting dispensations have ultimately tended to the good of the community."