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ancient epic, for which he saw no cause in nature, and which, he supposed, had been followed merely from a blind deference to the authority of the first model, he resolved to construct an heroic poem on the narrower and, as he conceived, juster plan of the dramatic poets. And, because it was their practice, for the purpose of raising the passions by a close accelerated plot, and for the convenience of representation, to conclude their subject in five acts, he affects to restrain himself within the same limits. The cvent was, that, cutting himself off, by this means, from the opportunity of digressive ornaments, which contribute so much to the pomp of the epic poetry; and, what is more essential, from the advantage of the most gradual and circumstantiated narration,' which gives an air of truth and reality to the fable, he failed in accomplishing the proper end of this poem, ADMIRATION; produced by a grandeur of design and variety of important incidents, and sustained by all the energy and minute particularity of description.
2. It was essential to the ancient epos to raise and exalt the fable by the intervention of supernatural agency. This, again, the poet mistook for the prejudice of the affected imitators of Homer, “ who had so often led them
misconduct, had been in the first rank of our poets. His endeavour was to keep clear of the models, in which his youth had been instructed, and which he perfectly understood. And in this indeed he succeeded. But the success lost him the possession of, what his large soul appears to have been full of, a true and permanent glory; which hath ever arisen, and can only arise, from the unambitious simplicity of nature; contemplated in her own proper form, or, by reflexion, in the faithful mirror of those very models, he so much dreaded.
In short, from what hath been here advanced, and especially as confirmed by so uncommon an instance, I think myself entitled to come at once to this general conclusion, which they, who have a comprehensive view of the history of letters, in their several periods, and a just discernment to estimate their state in them, will hardly dispute with me,
“ that, though many “ causes concur to produce a thorough degene
racy of taste in any country; yet the princi“pal, ever, is, THIS ANXIOUS DREAD OF IMITA
TION IN POLITE AND CULTIVATED WRITERS.'
And, if such be the case, among the other uses of this Essay, it may perhaps serve for a seasonable admonition to the poets of our time, to relinquish their vain hopes of originality,
and turn themselves to a stricter imitation of the best models. I say, a seasonable admonition ; for the more polished a nation is, and the more generally these models are understood, the greater danger there is, as was now observed, of running into that worst of literary faults, affectation. But, to stimulate their endeavours to this practice, the judgment of the public should first be set right; and their readers prepared to place a just value upon
it. In this respect, too, I would willingly contribute, in some small degree, to the service of letters. For the poet, whose object is fame, will always adapt himself to the humour of those, who confer it. And till the public taste be reduced, by sober criticism, to a just standard, strength of genius will only enable a writer to pervert it still further, by a too successful compliance with its vicious expectations.