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we must allow, that one chief thing attended to in its compofition must have been, to give it charms fufficient to engage the ear and captivate the heart of an unthinking audience. In latter times, the true poet, though in chufing materials he never loft fight of utility, yet in giving them form, (and it is the form chiefly that distinguishes poetry from other writings), has always made the entertainment of mankind his principal concern. Indeed, we cannot conceive, that, independently on this confideration, men would ever have applied themselves to arts fo little neceffary to life, and withal fo difficult, as mufic, painting, and poetry. Certain it is, that a poem, containing the most important truths, would meet with a cold reception, if destitute of thofe graces of found, invention, and language, whereof the fole end and aim is, to give pleasure.
But is it not the end of this art, to inftruel, as well as to pleafe? Verfes, that give pleafure only, without profit, what are they but chiming trifles? And if a poem were to pleafe, and at the fame time, instead of improving, to corrupt the mind, would it not deferve to be confidered as a poifon ren
$36. 37.; and Tufc. Queft. lib. 5. § 5.). It is probably a gradual thing, the effect of many co-operating caufes; and proceeding rather from favourable accidents, or the fpecial appointment of Heaven, than from the at and contrivance of men.
dered doubly dangerous and detestable by its alluring qualities?-All this is true and yet pleasure is undoubtedly the immediate aim of all thofe artifices by which poetry is distinguished from other compofitions, — of the harmony, the rhythm, the ornamented language, the compact and diverfified fable: for I believe it will be allowed, that a plain treatise, destitute of all these beauties, might be made to convey more inftruction than any poem in the world. As writing is more. excellent than painting, and fpeech than mufic, on account of its fuperior usefulness; fo a discourse, containing profitable information even in a rude style, may be more excellent, because more ufeful, than any thing in Homer or Virgil: but fuch a difcourfe partakes no more of the nature of poetry, than language does of melody, or a manuscript of a picture; whereas an agreeable piece of writing may be poetical, though it yield little. or no inftruction. To inftruct, is an end common to all good writing, to all poetry, all hiftory, all found philofophy. But of thefe laft the principal end is to inftruct; and if this fingle end be accomplished, the philofopher and the hiftorian will be allowed to have acquitted themselves well but the poet muft do a great deal for the fake of pleasure only; and if he fail to please, he may indeed deferve praise on other accounts, but as a poet he has done nothing. But do not hiftorians and philofophers, as well as
poets, make it their study to please their readers? They generally do: but the former please, that they may inftruct; the latter inftruct, that they may the more effectually please. Pleafing, though uninftructive, poetry may gratify a light mind; and what tends even to corrupt the heart may gratify profligates: but the true poet addreffes his work, not to the giddy, nor to the worthlefs, nor to any party, but to mankind; and, if he means to please the general taste, must often employ instruction as one of the arts that minister to this kind of pleasure.
The neceffity of this arifes from a circumftance in human nature, which is to man (as Erafmus in Pope's opinion was to the priesthood) at once his glory and his fhame;" namely, that the human mind, unlefs when debafed by paffion or prejudice, never fails to take the fide of truth and virtue: a fad reflection, when it leads us to confider the debafing influence of paffion and prejudice; but a moft comfortable one, when it directs our view to the original dignity and rectitude of the human foul. To favour virtue, and speak truth, and take pleasure in those who do fo, is natural to man; to act otherwise, requires an effort, does violence to nature, and always implies fome evil purpose in the agent. The firft, like progreffive motion, is cafy and graceful; the laft is unfeemly and difficult, like walking fide-ways, or backwards. The one is
fo common, that it is little attended to, and when it becomes the object of attention, is always confidered as an energy fuitable to moral and rational nature: the other has a ftrangeness in it, that provokes at once our furprise and difapprobation. And hence the virtuous character of the ancient chorus * was reconcileable, not only to probability, but to real matter of fact. -The dramatic poets of Greece rightly judged, that great perfons, like those who appear in tragedy, engaged in any great action, are never without attendants or fpectators, or those at least who obferve their conduct, and make remarks upon it. And therefore, together with the perfons principally concerned, they always introduced attendants or fpectators
* Actoris partes chorus, officiumque virile Defendat
Ille bonis faveatque, et confilietur amice,
"Let the chorus, like the player, fupport a charac
er, and let it act a manly part. Let it favour the "good, and give friendly counfel, and restrain the angry, "and love to compofe the fwellings of paffion. Let it
celebrate the praifes of temperance, of falutary ju"ftice, of law, and of peace, with open gates: let it "be faithful to its truft, and fupplicate the Gods, and << pray, that fortune may return to the afflicted, and "forfake the haughty."
on the stage, who, by the mouth of one of their number, joined occafionally in the dialogue, and were called the Chorus. That. this artifice, though perhaps it might not fuit the modern drama, had a happy effect in beautifying the poetry, illuftrating the morality, and heightening the probability, of the ancient, is a point, which in my opinion admits of fufficient proof, and has in fact been fully proved by Mr Mafon, in his Letters, and admirably exemplified in his Elfrida and Caractacus; two poems that do honour to the English tongue, and to modern genius. But I do not now enter into any controverfy on the subject: I fpeak of it with a view only to obferve, that the propriety of the character affigned to the chorus. is founded on that moral propenfity above mentioned. For to introduce a company of unprejudiced perfons, even of the vulgar, witneffing a great event, and yet not pitying the unfortunate, nor exclaiming against tyranny and injuftice, nor rejoicing when the good are fuccefsful, nor wifhing well to the worthy, would be to feign what feldom or never happens in real life; and what, therefore, in the improved state of things that poetry imitates, muft never be fuppofed to happen. Sentiments that betray a hard heart, a depraved understanding, unwarrantable pride, or any other moral or intellectual perversity, never fail to give offence, except where they appear to be introduced