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work : the former may be investigated upon the principles of reason and philosophy.

Thefe two classes of rules, however different, have often been confounded by critical writers, without any material injury to art, or any great inconvenience, either to the artist or to his disciple. For frequently it happens, that fashion and philosophy coincide; and that an artist gives the law in his profession, whose principles are as just as his performance is excellent. Such has been the fate of Poetry in particular. Homer, whom we consider as the founder of this art, because we have none more ancient to refer to, appears, in the structure of his two poems, to have proceeded upon a view of things equally comprehensive and rational: nor had Aristotle, in laying down the philosophy of the art, any thing more to do, than to trace out the principles of his contrivance. What the great

critic has left on this subject, proves Homer to have been no less admirable as a philosopher than as a poet; poffesfed not only of unbounded imagination, and all the powers of language, but also of a most exact judgement, which could at once propose a noble end, and devise the very best means of attaining it.

An art, thus founded on reason, could not fail to be durable. The propriety of the Homeric mode of invention has been acknowledged by the learned in all ages; every real improvement which particular branch

es

es of the art may have received since his time, has been conducted upon his principles; and poets, who never heard of his name, have, merely by their own good sense, been prompted to tread the path, which he, guided by the same internal monitor, had trod before them. And hence, notwithstanding its apparent licentiousness, true Poetry is a thing perfectly rational and regular; and nothing can be more strictly philosophical, than that part of criticism may and ought to be, which unfolds the general characters that diftinguish it from other kinds of compofition.

Whether the following discourse will in any degree justify this last remark, is submitted to the reader. It aspires to little other praise, than that of plain language and familiar illustration; disclaiming all paradoxical opinions and refined theories, which are indeed showy in the appearance, and not of difficult invention, but have no tendency to diffuse knowledge, or enlighten the human mind; and which, in matters of taste that have been canvassed by mankind these two thousand years, would seem to be peculiarly incongruous.

The train of thought that led me into this inquiry was suggested by a conversation many years ago, in which I had taken the freedom to offer an opinion different from what was maintained by the company, but warranted, as I then thought, and still think,

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by the greatest authorities and the best reafons. It was pleaded against me, that taste is capricious, and criticism variable ; and that the rules of Aristotle's Poetics, being founded in the practice of Sophocles and Homer, ought not to be applied to the poems of other ages and nations. I admitted the plea, as far as these rules are local and temporary; but asserted, that many of them, being founded in nature, were indispenfable, and could not be violated without such impropriety, as, though overlooked by some, would always be offensive to the great er part of readers, and obstruct the general end of poetical composition: and that it would be no less absurd, for a poet to violate the essential rules of his art, and justify himself by an appeal from the tribunal of Aristotle, than for a mechanic to construct an engine on principles inconsistent with the laws of motion, and excuse himself by difclaiming the authority of Sir Isaac Newton.

The characters that distinguish poetry from other works of literature, belong either to the SUBJECT, or to the LANGUAGE: so that this discourse naturally resolves itself into two parts.

- What we have to say on Mufic will be found to belong to the first.

PART

P A R T I.

1

POETRY CONSIDERED WITH
RESPECT TO

ITS

MATTER OR SUBJECT.

W

'HEN we affirm, that every art or contrivance which has a meaning

must have an end, we only repeat an identical proposition : and when we say, that the essential or indispensable rules of an art are those that direct to the accomplishment of the end proposed by the artist, we repeat a definition whereof it would be captious to controvert the propriety. And therefore, before we can determine any thing in regard to the essential rules of this art, we must form an idea of its End or DESTINATION,

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CHAP

CHAPTER I.

Of the end of Poetical Composi

tion.

TH

Hat one end of Poetry, in its first in

ftitution, and in every period of its progress, must have been, TO GIVE PLEASURE, will hardly admit of

any
doubt.

If men first employed it to express their adoration of superior and invisible beings, their gratitude to the benefactors of mankind, their admiration of moral, intellectual, or corporeal excellence, or, in general, their love of what was agreeable in their own species, or, in other parts of Nature; they must be suppofed to have endeavoured to make their poetry pleasing ; because, otherwise, it would have been unsuitable to the occasion that gave it birth, and to the sentiments it was intended to enliven. Or if,

Or if, with Horace, we were to believe, that it was first used as a vehicle to convey into savage minds the principles of government and civility *; still

we

* The honour of civilizing mankind, is by the poets. ascribed to poetry, (Hor. Ar. Poet. verf. 391.); — by the orator, to oratory, (Cicero, de Orat. lib. 1. § 33.); and by others to philosophy, (Cicero, de Orat. lib. 1.

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