Page images
PDF
EPUB

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start 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 fielh and blood.

Hamlet, act 1. fc. 8.

Gratiano. Poor Desdemona! I'ın 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, curse his better angel from his fide,
And fall to reprobation.

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

Tora
YOL, II. T

Tore through my intrails, that with fear and pain
Distorted, all my nether shape thus grew
Transformd ; but he my inbred enerny
Forth issu'd, brandishing his fatal dart,
Made to destroy : I fed, 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 pursu'd, though more, it seems
Intam'd with lust than rage), and swifter far,
Me overtook, his mother all dismay'd,
And in embraces forcible and foul
Ingendering with me, of that rape begot
These yelling monsters that with ceaseless cry
Surround me, as thou saw'st, hourly conceiv'd
And hourly born, with forrow infinite
To me ; for when they list, into the womb
That bred them they return, and howl and gnaw
My bowels, their repast, then bursting forth,
Afreth with conscious terrors vex me round,
That rest or intermission none I find.
Before mine cycs in opposition sits
Grim Death, my fon and foe, who sets them on,
And me his parent would full soon devour
For want of other prey, but that he knows,
His end with mine involu'd ; and knows that I
Should prove a bitter morsel and his bane,
Whenever that shall be.

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
Insulæ lonio in magno : quas dira Celano,
Harpyixque colunt alix : Phineia poftquam
· Clausa domus, mensasque metu liquere priores.

Tristius

Tristius haud illis monstrum, nec sævior ulla
Peltis et ira Deûm Stygiis sese extulit undis.
Virginei volucrum vultus, foedissima ventris
Proluvies, uncæque manus, et pallida semper
Ora fame,
Huc ubi delati portus intravimus : ecce
Læta boum paflim campis armenta videmus,
Caprigenumque pecus, nullo cultode, per herbas.
Irruiinus ferro, et Divos ipsumque vocamus
In prædam partemque sovem : tunc littore curvo
Extruimusque toros, dapibusque epulamur opimis.
At subitz horrifico lapsu de montibus adsunt
Harpyiæ : et magnis quatiunt clangoribus alas :
Diripiuntque dapes, contactuque omnia fædant
Immundo ; tum vox tetruin dira inter odorem.

Æneid, lib. iii. 210.
Sum patria ex Ithaca, comes in felicis Ulyssei,
Nomen Achemenides : Trojain, genitore Adamasto
Paupere (manfiffetque utinam fortuna!) profectus.
Hic me, dum trepidi crudelia limina linquunt,
Immemores socii vasto Cyclopis in antro
Deseruere. Domus sanie dapibusque cruentis,
Intus opaca, ingens : ipfe arduus, altaque pulsat
Sidera : (Dii, talem terris avertite peftem)
Nec visu facilis, nec dictu affabilis ulli.
Visceribus miserorum, et sanguine vescitur atro.
Vidi egomet, duo de numero cum corpora noftro,
Prensa manu magna, medio resupinus in antro,
Frangeret ad faxum, sanieque alperla natarent
Limina : vidi, atro cum membra fluentia tabo
Manderet, et tepidi tremuerent sub dentibus artus.
Haud impune quidem : nec talia paffus Ulyiles,
Oblitusve sui elt Ithacus discrimine tanto.
Nam fimul expletus dapibus, vinoque fepultus
Cervicem infiexam, posuit, jacuitque per antrum
Immenfus, faniem eructans, ac fruita cruento
Per fomnum commixta mero; nos, inagna precati
Numina, fortitique vices, unà undique circum
Fundimur, et telo lumen terebramus acuto
Ingens, quod torva solum sub fronte latebat.

Eneid, lib. iii. 613.

С НАР.

[ocr errors]

T2

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.

A narra

tive

* 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,

[ocr errors]

tive poem is a story told by another : facts and incidents passing upon the stage, come under our own obfervation, and are beside much enlivened by action and gesture, expressive of many sentiments beyond the reach of words. A dramatic composition has another property,

ins dependent 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 compofitions. A poem, whether dramatic or epic, that has nothing in view but to move the passions and to exhibir pictures of virtue and vice, may be distinguished by the name of pa

thetic i

* Poet, chap. 25. fcat. 6. + Lih.

7. from line 385, to linc 460.

« PreviousContinue »