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gil has happily avoided both : but Milton has painted this passion, as distinct from all others, with such peculiar truth and beauty, that we cannot think Voltaire's encomium too high, when he says, that love in all other poetry seems a weakness, but in Paradise Lost a virtue. - There are many good strokes of nature in Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd
; but the author's passion for the Rus verum betrays him into some indelicacies
a censure that falls with greater weight upon Theocritus, who is often absolutely indecent. The Italian pastoral of Tasso and Guarini, and the French of Fontenelle, run into the opposite extreme, (though in some parts beautifully simple), and display a system of rural manners, fo quaint and affected as to outrage all probability. I should oppose several great names, if I were to say, that Virgil has given us the pastoral poem in its most perfect state; and yet I cannot help being of this opinion, though I have not time at present to specify my reasons.
In fact, though mediocrity of execution in poetry be allowed to deserve the doom
* The language of this poem has been blamed, on account of its vulgarity: The Scorch dialect is sufficiently rustic, even in its most improved state : but in the Gentle Shepherd it is often debased by a phraseology not to be met with, except among the most illiterate penple. Writers on pastoral have not always been careful to distinguish between coarseness and fimplicity; and yet a plain suit of cloaths and a bundle of rags are not more ditferent,
pronounced pronounced upon it by Horace *; yet is it true, notwithstanding, that in this art, as in many other good things, the point of excellence lies in a middle between two extremes; and has been reached by those only who fought to improve nature as far as the genius of their work would permit, keeping at an equal distance from rusticity on the one hand, and affected elegance on the other.
If it were asked, what effects a view of nature degraded, or rendered less perfect than the reality, would produce in poetry; I should answer, The same which caricatura produces in painting; - it would make the piece ludicrous.
In almost every countenance, there are some exceptionable features, by heightening the deformity whereof, it is easy to give a ridiculous likeness even of a good face. And in most human characters there are blemishes, moral, intellectual, or corporeal, by exaggerating which to a certain degree, you may form a comic character; as by raising the virtues, abilities, or external advantages of individuals, you form Epic or Tragic characters. I say, to a certain degree; for if, by their vices, want of understanding, or bodily infirmities, they should raise disgust, pity, or any other important emotion, they are then no longer the objects of comic ridicule; and it is an egregious fault
• Hor. Ar. Poet. verf. 373.
in a writer to attempt to make them fo *. It is a fault, because it proves his judgement to be perverted, and tends to pervert the sentiments, and ruin the morals of mankind.
But is nature always degraded in Comic performances ? I answer, No; neither is it always improved, as we remarked already, in serious poetry. Some human characters are fo truly heroic, as to raise admiration, without any heightenings of poetical art; and some are so truly laughable, that the comic writer would have nothing to do, but to represent them as they are. Besides, to raise laughter is not always the aim, either of the Epic Comedy t, or of the Dramatic : sublime passions and characters are sometimes introduced; and these may be heightened as much as the poet finds necessary for his purpose, provided that, in his style, he affect no heroical elevation; and that his action, and the rank of his persons, be such as might probably be met with in common life. In regard to fable, and the order of events, all Comedy requires, or at least admits, as great perfection as Epic poetry itself.
* See Essay on Laughter, chap. 3.
+ Of the Epic Comedy, which might perhaps be called rather the Comic Epopee, Tom Jones and Amelia are examples.
AN from his birth is prone to imi
tation, and takes great pleasure in it. At a time when he is too young to understand or attend to rules, he learns, by imitating others, to speak, and walk, and do many other things equally requisite to life and happiness. Most of the sports of children are imitative, and many of them dramatical. Mimickry occasions laughter; and a just imitation of human life upon the stage is highly delightful to perfons of all ranks, conditions, and capacities.
Our natural propensity to imitation may in part account for the pleasure it yields : for that is always pleasing which gratifies natural propensity; nay, to please, and to gratify, are almost synonymous terms. Yet the peculiar charm of imitation be accounted for upon other principles. To compare a copy with the original, and trace out the particulars wherein they differ and wherein they resemble, is in itself a pleasing exercise to the mind; and, when accompanied with admiration of the object imitated, and of the genius of the imitator, conveys a most intense delight; which may be rendered ftill more intense by the agreeable qualities of the instrument of imitation, -by the beauty of the colours in painting, by the harmony of the language in poetry; and in music, by the sweetness, mellowness, pathos, and other pleasing varieties of vocal and instrumental sound. And if to all this there be added, the merit of a moral design, Imitation will then shine forth in her molt amiable form, and the enraptured heart acknowledge her
powers of pleasing to be irresistible.
Such is the delight we have in imitation, that what would in itself give neither pleasure nor pain, may become agreeable when well imitated. We fee without emotion many faces, and other familiar objects; but a good picture even of a stone, or common plant, is not beheld with indifference. No
er, then, that what is agreeable in itfelf, should; when surveyed through the medium of skilful imitation, be highly agreeable. A good portrait of a grim countenance is pleasing; but a portrait equally good of a beautiful one is still more so. Nay, though a man in a violent passion, a mionQ_2