Page images

It is but justice to add, that the fourteen succeeding verses, in the


before us, containing the character of a TRUE CRITIC, are superior to any thing in Boileau's Art of Poetry :: from which, however, Pope has borrowed many observations.

38. The mighty STAGIRITE first left the shore,

Spread all his sails, and durst the deep explore;
He steer'd securely, and discover'd far,
Led by the light of the Mæonian star.*

A noble and just character of the first and the best of critics; and sufficient to repress the fashionable and nauseous petulance of several impertinent moderns, who have attempted to discredit this great and useful writer. Whoever surveys the variety and perfection of his productions, all delivered in the chastest style, in the clearest order, and the most pregnant brevity, is amazed at the immensity of his genius. His logic, however at present neglected for those redundant and verbose systems which took their rise from Locke's Essay on the Human Under

standing, standing, is a mighty effort of the mind; in which are discovered the principal sources of the art of reasoning, and the dependencies of one thought on another; and where, by the different combinations he hath made of all the forms the understanding can assume in reasoning, which he hath traced for it, he hath so closely confined it, that it cannot depart from them, without arguing inconsequentially. His Physics contain many useful observations, particularly his History of Animals, which Buffon highly praises; to assist him in which, Alexander gave orders, that creatures of different climates and countries should, at a great expense, be brought to him, to pass under his inspection. His Morals are, perhaps, the purest system in antiquity. His Politics are a most valuable monument of the civil wisdom of the ancients; as they preserve to us the description of several governments, and particularly of Crete and Carthage, that otherwise would have been unknown. But of all his compositions, his Rhetoric and Poetics are most excellent. No writer has shewn a greater penetration into the recesses of the human heart than this philosopher, in the second book of his Rhe

* Ver. 645.




toric; where he treats of the different manners and passions that distinguish each different age and condition of man; and from whence Horace plainly took his famous description in the Art of Poetry.* La Bruyere, La Rochefoucault, and Montaigne himself, are not to be compared to him in this respect. No succeeding writer on eloquence, not even Tully, has added any thing new or important on this subject. His Poetics, which I suppose are here by Pope chiefly referred to, seem to have been written for the use of that prince, with whose education Aristotle was honoured, to give him a just taste in reading Homer and the tragedians; to judge properly of which, was then thought no unnecessary accomplishment in the character of a prince. To attempt to understand poetry, without having diligently digested this treatise, would be as absurd and impossible, as to pretend to a skill in geometry, without having studied Euclid. The fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, wherein he has' pointed out the properest methods of exciting TERROR and Pity, convince us, that he


* Ver. 157.

was intimately acquainted with those objects which most forcibly affect the heart. The prime excellence of this precious treatise is the scholastic precision, and philosophical closeness, with which the subject is handled, without any address to the passions, or imagination. It is to be lamented, that the part of the Poetics in which he had given precepts for comedy, did not likewise descend to posterity.

39. Horace still charms with graceful negligence,

And without method talks us into sense.*

The vulgar notion, that Horace's Epistle to the Pisos contains a complete Art of Poetry, is totally groundless; it being solely confined to the state and defects of the Roman drama. The transitions in the writings of Horace, are some of the most exquisite strokes of his art: many of them pass at present unobserved : and that his contemporaries were equally blind to this beauty, he himself complains, though with a seeming irony,

[blocks in formation]

* Ver. 653.

Cum lamentamur non APPARERE labores
Nostros, et tenui deducta poemata filo. *

It seems also to be another common mistake, that one of Horace's characteristics is the SUBLIME; of which, indeed, he has given a very few strokes, and those taken from Pindar, and, probably, from Alcæus.f His excellence lay in exquisite observations on human life, and in touching the foibles of mankind with delicacy and urbanity, 'Tis easy to perceive this moral I turn in


* Epist. I. ver. 224. lib. 2.

+ “ De Horatio quidem ita sentimus; si Græcorum Lyricą extarent, futurum, ut illius furta quamplurima deprehende. rentur : qui tamen imitatores servum pecus appellare non dubitarit.Ex Alcæo, ut opinor, (Horatii) multa, &c." Scaliger. Poet. L. 5. c. 7. This is also the opinion of Heyne. Disquisit. Æneid.

It was this turn of mind, which, if I am not deceived, made Horace more fond of Euripides thau of Sophocles ; at least if we may judge from his more frequent allusions to the works of the former than of the latter. The dispute about the burying of Ajax, is almost the only passage of Sophocles alluded to in his works. Sat. iii. b. ii. 187. But to the works of Euripides there are many: such as the sacrifice of Iphigenia in the same epistle; the dialogue between Bacehus and Pentheus, at the end of 16 epis. of the 1st book; and the allusion


« PreviousContinue »