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PREFACE

TO

HOMER'S ILIAD.

PREFACE

TO

HOMER'S ILIAD.

HOMER is universally allowed to have had the greatest invention of any writer whatever. The praise of judgment Virgil has justly contested with him, and others may have their pretensions as to particular excellences; but his invention remains yet unrivalled. Nor is it a wonder if he has ever been acknowledged the greatest of poets, who most excelled in that which is the very foundation of poetry. It is the invention that, in different degrees, distinguishes all great geniuses: the utmost stretch of human study, learning, and industry, which master every thing besides, can never attain to this. It furnishes art with all her materials, and without it, judgment itself can at best steal wisely : for art is only like a prudent steward that lives on managing the riches of nature. Whatever praises may be given to works of judgment, there is not even a single beauty in them, to which the invention must not contribute. As in the most regular gardens, art can only reduce the beauties of nature to more regularity, and such a figure, which the common eye may better take in, and is therefore more entertained with. And perhaps the reason why common critics are inclined to prefer a judicious and methodical genius to a great and fruitful one, is, because they find it easier for themselves to pursue their observations through an uniform and bounded walk of art, than to comprehend the vast and various extent of nature.

Our author's work is a wild paradise', where if we cannot see all the beauties so distinctly as in an ordered garden, it is only because the number of them is infinitely greater. It is like a copious nursery, which contains the seeds and first productions of every kind, out of which those who followed him have but selected some particular plants, each according to his fancy, to cultivate and beautify. If some things are too luxuriant, it is owing to the richness of the soil; and, if others are not arrived to perfection or maturity, it is only because they are overrun and oppressed by those of a stronger nature.

It is to the strength of this amazing invention we are to attribute that unequalled fire and rapture, which is so forcible in Homer, that no man of a true poetical spirit is master of himself while he reads him. What he writes, is of the most animated nature imaginable; every thing moves, every thing lives, and is put in action. If a council be called, or a battle fought, you are not coldly informed of what was said or done as from a third person; the reader is hurried out of himself by the force of the poet's imagination, and turns in one place to a hearer, in another to a spectator. The course of his verses resembles that of the army lie describes,

Οι δ' άρ' ίσαν, ωσεί τε πυρί χθών πάσα νέμοιτο.

1 These words seem to imply that the Iliad is deficient in point of regularity and conduct of the fable. Whereas one of its most transcendent and unparalleled excellences is the coherence, the consistency, the simplicity, and the perspicuity of its plan ; all which qualities are the result of judgment as well as of invention ; and all which the best critics, from Aristotle to Clarke, have joined in admiring and applauding. Let Quintilian speak for all the rest ; in dispositione totius operis nonne humani generis modum excessit? And he excels Virgil as much in judgment as invention ; and in exact disposition, just thought, correct elocution, and polished numbers, as in poetical fire. Mad. Dacier was vehemently angry at Mr. Pope for this paragraph. In fact, we do see the beauties of this well-ordered garden ; which is not a mere nursery ; its plants are not too luxuriant, and are arrived to perfection and maturity. Warton.

They pour along like a fire that sweeps the whole earth before it. It is however remarkable, that his fancy, which is every where vigorous, is not discovered immediately at the beginning of his poem in its fullest splendor: it grows in the progress both upon himself and others, and becomes on fire like a chariot-wheel, by its own rapidity. Exact disposition, just thought, correct elocution, polished numbers, may have been found in a thousand; but this poetical fire, this Vivida vis animi, in a very few. Even in works where all those are imperfect or neglected, this can overpower criticism, and make us admire even while we disapprove. Nay, where this appears, though attended with absurdities, it brightens all the rubbish about it, till we see nothing but its own splendor. This fire is discerned in Virgil, but discerned as through a glass, reflected from Homer, more shining than fierce, but every where equal and constant: in Lucan and Statius, it bursts out in sudden, short, and interrupted flashes : in Milton? it glows like

age."

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? Of all passages in our author's works, I most wish he had never written this tasteless and unjust comparison. But indeed he never speaks of our divine bard, con amore. This has lately been done by Mr. Hayley, in his curious and animated Life of Milton. I do not honour Sir John Denham so much for his writing Cooper's Hill, as I do for being the very first

person that spoke highly of Paradise Lost ; who coming one day into the House of Commons with a proof sheet of this poem,

wet from the press, and being asked what paper he held in his hand, replied :

• It is part of the noblest poem that was ever written in any language, or in any

Milton,” says Warburton, with his usual love of bringing every thing into system, "found Homer possessed of the province of Morality ; Virgil, of Politics ; and nothing left for him, but that of Religion. This he seized, as aspiring to share with them in the government of the poetic world ; and by means of the superior dignity of his subject, hath gotten to the head of that triumvirate, which took so many ages in forming. These are the three species of the epic poem ; for its largest sphere is human action, which can be considered but in a MORAL, POLITICAL, or Religious View ; and these the three makers ; for each of their poems was struck at a heat, and came to perfection from its first essay. Here then the grand scene was closed, and all farther improvements of the epic at an end." А cruel sentence indeed, and a very severe statute of limitation ! enough, if it had any foundation, to destroy every future attempt of any exalted genius that might arise. But, in truth, the assertion is totally groundless and chimerical. Each of the three poets might change the stations here VOL. V.

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