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admitting nothing, however well established in the general opinion, that was supernatural.
And as here he did too much, so in another respect, it may be observed, he did too little. The romancers, before spoken of, had carried their notions of gallantry in ordinary life, as high, as they had done those of preternatural agency, in their marvellous fictions. Yet here this original genius, who was not to be held by the shackles of superstition, suffered himself to be entrapped in the silken net of love and honour. And so hath adopted, in his draught of characters, that elevation of sentiment which a change of manners could not but dispose the reader to regard as fantastic in the Gothic romance, at the same time that he rejected what had the truest grace in the ancient epic, a sober intermixture of religion.
The execution of his poem was answerable to the general method. His SENTIMENTs are frequently forced, and so tortured by an 'affectation of wit, that every stanza hath the air of an epigram. And the EXPRESSION, in which he cloaths them, is so quaint and figurative, as turns his description almost into a continued riddle.
Such was the effect of a studious affectation of originality in a writer, who, but for this 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.
was not his own, that is, not suggested by his own observation of nature.
- The case you see, in these instances, is the same as if an English landskip-painter should choose to decorate his Scene with an Italian sky. The Connoisseur would say, he had copied this particular from Titian, and not from Nature. I presume then to give it for a certain note of Imitation, when the properties of one clime are given to another.
ll. You will draw the same conclusion whenever
find “ The Genius of one people given to another.”
1. Plautus gives us the following true picture of the Greek mánners :
- In hominum aetate multa eveniunt hujus
modi Irae interveniunt, redeunt rursum in gratiam. Verùm irae siquae fortè eveniunt hujusmodi, Inter eos rursum si reventum in gratiam est, Bis tanto amici sunt inter se, quàm prius.
AMPHYT. A. HI. S. 2.
You are better acquainted with the modern Italian writers than I am; but if ever you find