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A Poem should have
Quidlibet audendi semper fuit æqua potestas.
Inceptis gravibus plerumque, et magna professis,
has always been conceded an equal privilege of adventuring anything bold and daring. We are aware of this, and we both seek for this indulgence for ourselves when we write, and grant it to others in their turn when we act as critics, but not to the extent that what are savage should coalesce with what are mild, pot to the extent that serpents should be coupled with birds, or lambs with tigers.
It generally happens that to lofty and pompous commencements, and such as make great and ostentatious professions, one or two pieces of purple patchwork, as it were, that may give a diffusive brilliancy to the style, are stitched on: as when the grove and altar of Diana, and meandering streams of water swiftly flowing through a delightful country, or the river Rhine, or the rainbow, are described. But in this case there is no room for these meretricious embellishments. Perhaps, too, you can sketch a cypress. Of what use is this skill of yours, if he who is being painted by you for payment, is swimming hopeless from a shipwreck ? You begin to form a large vase; as the wheel revolves, why does a small pitcher come forth ?
Unity and Consistency.
You'll say that painters, and that poets too,
To grand exordiums, and which promise much,
Denique sit quidvis simplex duntaxat et unum.
Maxima pars vatum, pater et juvenes patre digni, Decipimur specie recti : brevis esse laboro, 25 Obscurus fio; sectantem lenia nervi Deficiunt animique ; professus grandia turget; Serpit humi tutus nimium timidusque procellæ ; Qui variare cupit rem prodigialiter unam, Delphinum silvis appingit, fluctibus aprum.
30 In vitium ducit culpæ fuga, si caret arte.
In short, write what you will, let it only be characterised by a simplicity and unity of design throughout.
Most of us poets—I address you the father, and you young men worthy of having such a father—are deceived by the estimate which we form for ourselves of what constitutes the correctness and beauty of poetic composition. For example, I endeavour to be concise and sententious, I become obscure and unintelligible. Nerve and spirit fail him who aims at a soft and easy style. He who aspires to the sublime and majestic, becomes turgid and bombastical. He who is too cautious and apprehensive of a storm, creeps along the ground; or, in other words, he who is sensitively and over scrupulously afraid of a too soaring and lofty style, degenerates into what is low and grovelling. He who is anxious to diversify and impart variety to a simple subject, by ingrafting upon it marvellous and exciting incidents, paints a dolphin in the woods, or a boar amongst the waves. The very attempt to avoid a fault leads to a vicious error, if there be a deficiency of judicious and well-disciplined tact.
Now let me say at what these precepts aim,
Most of us poets oft are led astray
He who desires with wonders to enrich
A simple theme that wants no startling speech,
Into a fault from want of skill we run.
On the Choice of
Æmilium circa ludum faber imus et ungues Exprimet, et molles imitabitur ære capillos; Infelix operis summa, quia ponere totum Nesciet. Hunc ego me, si quid componere curem, 35 Non magis esse velim, quam naso vivere pravo, Spectandum nigris oculis, nigroque capillo.
Sumite materiem vestris, qui scribitis, æquam Viribus ; et versate diu, quid ferre recusent, Quid valeant humeri. Cui lecta potenter erit res, 40 Nec facundia deseret hunc, nec lucidus ordo.
Ordinis hæc virtus erit et Venus, aut ego fallor,
A sculptor of the lowest class near the Æmilian school will represent nails and imitate delicate hair in brass, while he is unfortunate in the grand outline of his work, because he is deficient in skill to model the entire figure. I would no more wish to be such an artist as this, if I were anxious to compose anything, than to live with a disfigured nose, though remarkable for having black eyes and black hair.
I advise you who are going to write to choose a subject commensurate with your capacity, and consider for a long time what your mental powers refuse, and what they are able to sustain. Neither eloquent fluency of language nor perspicuity of arrangement will desert that man whose theme shall have been selected in proportion to his ability, or with a view to what he is able to execute.
This, or I am mistaken, is the very excellence and elegance of proper systematic arrangement,