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ESSAY ON EPIC POETRY.
Ep. I. v. 187 AT.
Say ye! whose curious philofophic eye
Searches the depth where Nature's secrets lie;
Ye, who can tell how her capricious fit
Directs the flow and ebb of human wit,
And why, obedient to her quick command,
Spring-tides of Genius now enrich her fav'rite land,
Now sink, by her to different climes assign'd,
And only leave some worthless weeds behind!
Say! why in Greece, unrival’d and alone,
The sovereign Poet grac'd his Epic throne?
Why did the realm that echoed his renown,
Produce no kindred heir to claim his crown?
If, as the liberal mind delights to think,
Fancy's rich flow'rs their vital ellence drink
From Liberty's pure streams, that largely roll
Their quick’ning virtue thro? the Poet's foul;
Why, in the period when this Friend of Earth
Made Greece the model of heroic worth,
And saw her votaries act, beneath her sway,
Scenes more sublime than Fiction can display,
Why did the Epic Mufe's filent lyre
Shrink from those feats that summon'd all her fire ?
Or if, as courtly Theorists maintain,
The Muses revel in a Monarch's reign;
Why, when young Ammon's foul, athirst for
Call'd every Art to celebrate his name;
When ready Painting, at his sovereign nod,
With aweful thunder arm'd this mimie God!
Why did coy Poefy, tho' fondly wood,
Refuse that dearer smile for which he sued,
And see him shed, in martial Honor's bloom,
The 'tear of envy on Achilles' tomb?
In vain would Reason those nice questions, hayley.
Which the fine play of mental powers involve:
In Bards of ancient time, with genius fraught,
What mind can trace how thought engenderd
How little hints awak'd the large design,
And subtle Fancy ipun her variegated line?
Yet Sober Critics, of no vulgar note,
But such as I.earning's sons are proud to quote,
The progress of Homeric verse explain,
As if their souls had lodg'd in Homer's brain.
Laughs not the spirit of poetic frame,
However stightly warm'd by Fancy's flame,
When grave Bolu by System's studied laws
The Grecian Bard's idenl picture draws,
And wisely tells us, that his Song arose
As the good Parson's quiet sermon grows;
Who, while his ealy thoughts no pressure find
From hosts of images that croud the mind,
First calmly settles on some moral text,
from one division to the next?
Nor, if poetic minds more slowly drudge
Thro' the cold comments of this Gallic judge,
Will their indignant spirit less deride
That fubtle Pedant's more presumptive pride,
Whose bloated page, with arrogance replete,
Imputes to VIRGIL his own dark conceit; *)
And from the tortur'd Poet dares to draw
That latent sense, which HORACE never faw;
Which, if on solid proof more strongly built,
Must brand the injur'd Bard with impious guilt.
While such Dictators their vain efforts waste
In the dark visions of diftemper's Taste,
*) Dr. WARBUTON, in his Differtation on the Vich
Book of the Aeneid, refuted by the ingenious Author
Pof Critical Observations etc. Lond. 1770. 8.
hayley. , Let us that pleasing, happier light pursue,
Which beams benignant from the milder few,
Who, justly conscious of the doubts that start
In all nice questions on each finer Art,
With modeít doubt aslign each likely cause,
But dare to dietate no decisive laws.
'Tis faid by one, who, with this candid claim,
Has gain d no fading wreath of critic fame,
Who, fondly list'ning to her various rhyme,
Has mark'd the Muse's step thro' many a clime;
That, where the settled Rules of Writing spread,
Where Learning's code of Critic Law is read,
Tho' other treasures deck th' enlighten'd shore,
The germs of Fancy ripen there no more.
Are critics then, that bold, imperious tribe !
The Guards of Genius, who his path prescribe;
Are they like Visirs in an Eastern court,
Who fap the very power they should support?
Whofe fpecious wiles the royal mind unnerve,
And sink the monarch they pretend to serve.
No! of their value higher far I deem;
And prize their useful toil with fond esteem.
When Lowth's firm fpirit leds him to explore
The hallow'd confines of Hebraic lore;
Whem his free pages, luminous and bold,
The glorious end of Poesy unfold,
Allert her powers, her dignity defend,
And speak her, as she is, fair Freedom's friend;
When thus he shines his mitred Peers above,
I view his warmth with reverential love;
Proud, if my verse may catch reflected light
From the rich splendor of a mind so bright,
Blest be the names, to no vain system tied,
Who render Learning's blaze an useful guide,
A friendly beacon, rais d on high to teach
The wand'ring bark to thun the shallow beach.
But o! ye noble, and aspiring few,
Whose ardent fouls poetic fame pursue,
Ye, on whom (iniling Heaven, perfection's lource,
Seems to bestaw unlimitable force,
The inborn vigor of your souls defend, ,
Nor lean too fondly on the firmest friend!
Genius may fink on Criticism's breast,
By weak dependance on her truth opprest
Sleep on her lap, and stretch his lifelets length
Shorn by her foothing hand of all his strength.
Thou wilt not, MASON! thou, whose generous
Must feel that Freedom is the soul of Art,
Thou wilt not hold me arrogant or vain,
If I advise the young poetic train
To deem infallible no Critic's word;
Not e'en the di&tates of thy Attic HURD:
No! not the Stagyrite's unquestion'd page,
The Sire of Critics, fan&tified by age!
'The noblest minds, with solid reason blest,
Who feel that faculty above the rest,
Who argue on those arts they never try,
Exalt that Reason they so oft apply,
Till in its pride, with tyrannous controul,
It crush the kindred talents of the soul;
And hence, in every Art, will systems rise,
Which Fancy must survey with angry eyes;
And at the lightning of her scornful smile,
In frequent ruin finks the labor'd pile.
S. Th. I. S. 58. Im ersten Theile der kleinen Lessingischen Schriften (Berl. 1753. 12.), und in der nach seinem Tode von seinem Bruder herausgegebenen Ver: mischten Schriften, stehen einige didaktische Fragmente, von welchen das über die Regeln der Wissenschaften zum Vergnügen, besonders der Poesie und TonEunst, wor: aus ich hier eine Stelle mittheile, zur gegenwärtigen Gats tung gehört. L. felbft sagt von diesen Fragmenten, daß er fie entweder nicht ganz zu Stande gebracht, oder sie nicht ganz dem Lefer mitzutheilen für gut befunden habe. Es find aber, wie rein Bruder Fehr richtig urtheilt, zu schöne Nudes ra, als daß Leser ohne Vorurtheil nicht mehr dabei zu denken finden sollten, als bei manchem neuern völlig ausges arbeiteten Gebdude. Man wird mit Vergnügen darin die Opißische manier, und merklich veredelt, wieder finden, und es bedauren, daß ein Dichter, der dazu so viel Geschick und Beruf batte, nicht mehr in dieser, von uns Deutschen noch allzu wenig bearbeiteten Dichtungsart geliefert hat.
Ueber die Regeln der Wissenschaften zum Vers gnügen; besonders der Poesie und Tona
Der du, für dich und uns, der Tone Kräfte kennst,
Der Kunst und der Natur ihr wahres Amt ernennst,
Maaß, Gleichheit, Ordnung, Werth im Reich der
Dentst, wo man sonst nur fühlt, und mit der Seele