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" True, papa, true : history is useful, I grant, because it may, as you observe, stimulate people to great and noble actions, and warn them to avoid those which are base or hurtful. The fall of Buonaparte, for instance, shews what a vain attempt it is to subject all Europe to one man; and the virtues which adorned and dignified the characters of Alfred the Great, Henry the Fifth, and George the Third, may afford examples to other kings of the advantages which result from moderation, justice, and unblemished morals. Men may learn perseverance from Alexander the Great, and virtue and wisdom from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who, it is said, regarded every human foible with the eye of benevolence, and diffused around him universal peace and happiness. But what I contend for, papa, is, that those events which are right and
interesting in history--that is, in prose --do not appear to me suited to poetry, because poetry seems to require something beautiful as its subject.”
“You, my love, have perhaps been accustomed to prefer such poetry as is calculated to please the fancy and amuse the imagination ."
“No! no, indeed !--do not say so, my dear papa, for I am sure I have long considered that such poetry as describes real objects is far superior to that whose only design is to give
* To airy nothing a local habitation and a name,'
and to entertain the fancy by conducting it to
* Sunny bowers 'mong balmy flowers' that never in reality existed.”
6. Well, then, I must recall what I.. said. You have been accustomed to
prefer poetry which describes real objects and real events, provided those objects are beautiful and those events interesting, or such as are calculated to awaken the tenderer emotions. You admire Cowper's description of the greenhouse, for instance, because he characterizes your favourite plants; you admire his verses on the receipt of his mother's picture too, because they so sweetly depict the scenes of his infantile pleasures, the delightful home of his youthful years, and display so much filial piety and affectionate regard for the memory of the beloved parent whose virtues and whose loss they commemorate. But it is necessary to recollect, my dear, that although you are accustomed to prefer the calm tranquillity of domestic life, and the poetry which describes it, there are others who prefer accounts of achievement and enterprise, victory and con
quest, illustrious deeds, and noble ac tions. Such would tell you that the great examples which epic poetry places before us are calculated to awaken the finest feelings of our nature, to warm our hearts, and to fill them with exalted sentiments of enterprise and virtue ; for in fact the end which epic poetry proposes is to extend our ideas of human perfection. Now this, they would say, can be accomplished only by minute representations of heroic deeds and accurate delineations of virtuous characters; and as eminent virtue is an object which every one admires, epic poems are, and must be, favourable to the cause of virtue. Truth, justice, valour, friendship, piety, fidelity, and magnanie mity, are the objects which in the course of such compositions are presented to our mental eye under the most splendid and honourable colours. Our affections become engaged in behalf of virtuous characters; we are interested in their joys and sorrows ; our sympathy is awakened, and our minds are imperceptibly impelled to take part in their concerns and designs; our feelings, and indeed our thoughts, become so closely assimilated to theirs, that, for the time, their opinions have considerable influence on our own, and with them we rise and fall.”
“Ah, papa, I have often experienced this temporary delusion! were it but to become a reality I would quickly select some of our most eminent characters as my models, whose example I would endeavour implicitly to follow." .“ We have all talents, my dear, capable of great improvement; it is wiser, therefore, to cultivate them to the utmost, than to pant after that genius which is denied; or to desire opportu