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You then whose judgment the right course would
steer, Know well each ANCIENT'S proper character; His fable, subject, scope in ev'ry page;
120 Religion, country, genius of his age:
Ver. 118. You then whose judgment, &c.] He comes next to the ancient Poets, the other and more intimate commentators of Nature. And shews (from ver. 117 to 141.) that the study of these must indispensably follow that of the ancient Critics, as they furnish us with what the Critics, who only give us general rules, cannot supply : while the study of a great original Poet, in
“ His Fable, Subject, scope in ev'ry page:
Religion, Country, genius of his Age;" will help us to those particular rules which only can conduct us safely through every considerable work we undertake to examine ; and without which, we may cavil indeed, as the poet truly observes, but can never criticise. We might as well suppose that Vitruvius's book alone would make a perfect judge of architecture, without the knowledge of some great master-piece of science, such as the Rotunda at Rome, or the Temple of Minerva at Athens ; as that Aristotle's should make a perfect Judge of Wit, without the study of Homer and Virgil. These therefore he prin
one, and the Constantine, an epic poem, of the other, were despicable performances, which induced the great Condé to say, “ Je sçais bon gré, à l'Abbé D'Aubignac d'avoir suivi les règles d'Aristote, mais je ne pardonne pas aur règles d'Aristote d'avoir fait faire une si mauvaise tragedie à l'Abbé D'Aubignac.
Warton. Ver. 119. Know well each ANCIENT's proper character ;] When Perault impotently attempted to ridicule the first stanza of the first Olympic of Pindar, he was ignorant that the poet, in beginning with the praises of water, alluded to the philosophy of Thales, who taught that water was the principle of all things; and which philosophy, Empedocles the Sicilian, a contemporary of Pindar, and a subject of Hiero, to whom Pindar wrote, had adopted in his
Without all these at once before your eyes,
COMMENTARY. cipally recommends to complete the Critic in his art. But as the latter of these Poets has, by superficial judges, been considered rather as a copier of Homer, than an original from nature, our Author obviates that common error, and shews it to have arisen (as often error does) from a truth, viz. that Homer and Nature were the same ; that the ambitious young Poet, though he scorned to stoop at any thing short of Nature, when he came to understand this great truth, had the prudence to contemplate Nature in the place where she was seen to most advantage, collected in all her charms in the clear mirror of Homer. Hence it would follow, that though Virgil studied Nature, yet the vulgar reader would believe him to be a copier of Homer; and though he copied Homer, yet the judicious reader would see him to be an imitator of Nature: the finest praise which any one, who came after Homer, could receive.
beautiful poem. Homer and the Greek tragedians have been likewise censured, the former for protracting the Niad after the death of Hector; and the latter, for continuing the Ajax and Phenissæ, after the deaths of their respective heroes. But the censurers did not consider the importance of burial among the ancients; and that the action of the Iliad would have been imperfect, without a description of the funeral rites of Hector and Patroclus; as the two tragedies, without those of Polynices and Eteocles; for the ancients esteemed a deprivation of sepulture to be a more severe calamity than death itself. It is observable, that this circumstance did not occur to Pope, when he endeavoured to justify this conduct of Homer, by only saying, that as the anger of Achilles does not die with Hector, but persecutes his very remains, the poet still keeps up to his subject, by describing the many effects of his anger, till it is fully satisfied; and that for this reason, the two last books of the Iliad may be thought not to be excrescences, but essential to the poem.
Warton. VARIATIONS. Ver. 123. Cavil you may, but never criticise.] The author, after
Be Homer's works your study and delight,
When first young Maro in his boundless mind A work toutlast immortal Rome design'd,
Ver. 130. When first young Maro, &c.] Virg. Eclog. vi.
“ Cum canerem reges et prælia, Cynthius aurem
Vellit." It is a tradition preserved by Servius, that Virgil began with writing a poem of the Alban and Roman affairs ; which he found above his years, and descended, first to imitate Theocritus on rural subjects, and afterwards to copy Homer in Heroic poetry. P.
“ That Virgil, not only in his general plan, but in most of the subordinate parts, was a close copyist of Homer, is undeniable, whatever be thought of the supposition, that he set out with a design of drawing from the sources of nature, and was diverted from it by the discovery that “Nature and Homer were the same.” The
VARIATIONS this verse, originally inserted the following, which he has however omitted in all the editions :
Zoilus, had these been known, without a name
When first young Maro sung of Kings and Wars,
Perhaps he seem'd above the Critic's law,
modern idolatry of Shakspeare has elevated him to the same degree of authority among us; and critics have not been wanting, who have confidently drawn from his characters the proofs and illustrations of their theories on the human mind. But what can be more unworthy of the true critic and philosopher, than such an implicit reliance on any man, how exalted soever his genius, especially on those who lived in the infancy of their art? If an epic poem be a representation of nature in a course of heroic action, it must be susceptible of as much variety as nature herself: and surely it is more desirable that a poet of original genius should give full scope to his inventive powers, under the restriction of such laws only as are founded on nature, than that he should fetter himself with rules derived from the practice of a predecessor. When Pope praises the ancient rules for composition, on the ground that they were “ discovered, not devised," and were only “nature methodized,” he gives a just notion of what they ought to be. · But when he supposes Virgil to have properly “checked in his bold design of drawing from Nature's fountains," and in consequence, to have confined his work within rules as strict,
“ As if the Stagyrite o'erlook'd each line;" how can he avoid the force of his own ridicule, where a little further, in this very piece, he laughs at Dennis for
"Concluding all were desp'rate sots and fools
Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules ?" Such are the inconsistencies of a writer who sometimes utters notions derived from reading and education ; sometimes, the suggestions of native good sense!”—Dr. Aikin's Letters to his Son.
Warton. Ver. 138. As if the Stagyrite] According to a fine precept in
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem ;
Some beauties yet no precepts can declare,
COMMENTARY. Ver. 141. Some beauties yet no precepts can declare, &c.] Our author, in these two general directions for studying Nature and her Commentators, having considered Poetry as it is, or may be reduced to Rule; lest this should be mistaken as sufficient to attain PERFECTION either in writing or judging, he proceeds [from ver. 140 to 201.] to point up to those sublimer beauties which Rules will never reach, nor enable us either to execute or taste: beauties, which rise so high above all precept as not even to be described by it: but being entirely the gift of Heaven, Art and Reason have no further share in them than just to regulate their operations. These Sublimities of Poetry (like the Mysteries of Religion, some of which are above Reason, and some contrary to it) may be divided into two sorts, such as are above Rules, and such as are contrary to them.
the fourteenth section of Longinus, who exhorts us, when we aim at any thing elevated and sublime, to ask ourselves while we are composing," how would Homer, or Plato, or Demosthenes, have exerted and expressed themselves on this subject? And still more, if we should continue to ask ourselves ; what would Homer or Demosthenes, if they had been present, and had heard this passage, have thought of it, and how would they have been affected by it?"
Warton. Ver. 141. Some beauties yet no precepis] Pope in this passage seems to have remembered one of the essays of Bacon, of which he is known to have been remarkably fond. “ There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. A man cannot tell whether Apelles, or Albert Durer, were the more trifler : whereof the one would make a personage by geometrical proportions; the other, by taking the best parts out of divers faces to make one excellent. Such personages, I think, would please nobody but the painter that made them. Not but I think, a painter may make a better face than ever was ; but he must do it by a