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O form a true judgment of the merit
of any dramatic composition, we should first consider the offices and ends of the Drama ; what are its pretensions, and for what purposes it assumes a manner so different from any other kind of poetical imitation. The epic Poem and the Tragedy, says Aristotle, are purely imitations * ; but the dramatic is an imitation of the actions of men, by the means of action itself. The epic is also an imitation of the actions of men, but it imitates by narration. The most perfect, and the best imitation, is certainly that which gives the most adequate, * Arist. Poet. C. 1. Chap. 3.
lively, and faithful copy of the thing imitated. Homer was so sensible of the superior force and efficacy of the dramatic manner, that he often drops the narrative to assume it; and Aristotle says, that for having invented the dramatic imitation, and not on account. of his other excellencies, He alone deferves the name of Poet *. It is apparent therefore, how far this great Critic prefers this, to every other species of Imitation. 1
The general object of Poetry, among the ancients, was the instruction of mankind, in religion, morals, philosophy, &c. To these great purpofes were tuned the harps of Orpheus, Musæus, Hefiod, Callimachus, &c. Nor in Greece alone was Poetry the teacher, and the guardian, of the fanctities of human society. 4 Our Northern bards affumcd the fame holy offices; the same facred character. They directed the modes of divine worship: they taught the moral duties; infpired and celebrated heroic deeds; fung the praises of valour, and the charms of + Histoire des Celtes, 1. 2. c. 9.
* Chap 4
liberty; and snatched from oblivion the bold achievements, and meritorious acts, of Patriots, and of Heroes. In the East, the Poet veiled his inventions in mysterious allegories and divine mythology; and rather endeavoured to raise the mind to heavenly contemplations, than to instruct it in hu
In Greece, the general mother of arts, arose the mighty Genius of Homer; of whom it may be said, as it is of Socrates with relation to Philosophy, that he brought Poetry from heaven, to live in cities among
The moral of the fable of the Iliad is adapted to the political state of Greece, whofe various chiefs are thereby exhorted to unanimity; the Odyssey, to the general condition of human nature ; but the episodical part of his works he has enriched with mythology, physical allegory, the fine arts, and whatever adorns the mind of man, or benefits fociety ; even rules of domestic æconomy, social behaviour, and all the fweet civilities of life, are taught by this great
master, of what may be called, in the most enlarged sense, the Humanities. Yet first in the rank of all the eminent perfections of this unequalled Bard, is placed the invention of the dramatic imitation, by a Critic, whose judgment was formed by philosophy, and a deep knowledge of human nature. He saw the powerful agency of living words, joined to moving things, when still Narration yields the place to animated Action..
It is as a moral philosopher, not as the mere connoisseur in a polite art, that Arifa totle gives the preference, above all other modes of poetic imitation, to Tragedy, as capable to purge the passions, by the means of pity and terror *. The object of the epic Poem is to inspire magnanimity ; to give good documents of life; to induce good habits ot; and, like a wholesome regimen, to preserve the whole moral economy in a certain soundness and integrity. But it is not composed of ingredients of such efficacy, as to mitigate the violent distempers of the mind, * Chap. 6. + Du Poeme Epique par Bossu, l. 2. c. 17.