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LORD MARQUIS OF NORMANBY,
EARL OF MULGRAVE,
AND KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF TIIE
A heroic poem, truly such, is undoubtedly the greatest work which the soul of man is capable to perform. The design of it is to form the mind to heroic virtue by example. It is conveyed 'in verse, that it may delight, while it instructs : the action of it is always one, entire, and great. The least and most trivial episodes, or underactions, thich are interwoven in it, are parts either necessary or convenient to carry on the main design; either so necessary, that without them the poem must be imperfect, or so convenient, that no others can be imagined more
suitable to the place in which they are. There is nothing to be left void in a firm building; even the cavities ought not to be filled with rubbish, (which is of a perishable kind, destructive to the strength), but with brick or stone, though of less pieces, yet of the same nature, and fitted to the crannies. Even the least portions of them must be of the epic kind: all things must be grave, majestical, and sublime; nothing of a foreign nature, like the trifling novels, which Ariosto and others have inserted in their poems; by which the reader is misled into another sort of pleasure, opposite to that which is designed in an epic poem. One raises the soul, and hardens it to virtue; the other softens it again, and unbends it into vice. One conduces to the poet's aim, the completing of his work, which he is driving on, labouring and hastening in every line; the other slackens his pace, diverts him from his way, and locks him up like a knight errant in an enchanted castle, when he should be pursuing his first adventure. Statius, as Bossu has well observed, was ambitious of trying his strength with his master Virgil, as Virgil had before tried his with Homer. The Grecian gave the two Romans an example, in the games which were celebrated at the funerals of Patroclus. Virgil imitated the invention of Homer, but changed the sports. But both the Greek and Latin poet took their occasions from the subject; though, to confess the truth, they were both ornamental, or, at best, convenient parts of it, rather than of necessity arising from it. Statius—who, through his whole poem, is noted for want of conduct and judgement-instead of staying, as he might have done, for the death of Capaneus, Hippomedon, Tydeus, or some other of his seven champions (who are heroes all alike), or more properly for the tragical end of the two brothers, whose exequies the next successor had leisure to perform when the siege was raised, and in the interval betwixt the poet's first action and his second went out of his way, as it were on prepense malice, to commit a fault. For he took his opportunity to kill a royal infant by the means of a serpent (that author of all evil), to make way for those funeral honours which he intended for him. Now, if this innocent had been of any relation to his Thebaïs-if he had either farthered or hindered the taking of the town—the poet might have found some sorry excuse at least, for detaining the reader from the promised siege. On these terms, this Capaneus of a poet engaged his two immortal predecessors; and his success was answerable to his enterprise.
If this æconomy must be observed in the minutest parts of an epic poem, which, to a common reader, seem to be detached from the body, and almost independent of it ; what soul, though sent into the world with great advantages of nature, cultivated with the liberal arts and sciences, conversant with histories of the dead, and enriched with observations on the living, can be sufficient to inform the whole body of so great a work? I touch here but transiently, without any strict method, on some few of those many rules of imitating nature, which Aristotle drew from Homer's Iliads and Odysseys, and which he fitted to the drama; furnishing himself also with observations from the practice of the theatre, when it flourished under Æschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles : for the original of the stage was from the epic poem. Narration, doubtless, preceded acting, and gave laws to it: what at first was told artfully, was, in process of time, represented gracefully to the sight and hearing. Those episodes of Homer, which were proper for the stage, the poets amplified each into an action : out of his limbs they formed their bodies : what he had contracted, they enlarged: out of one Hercules, were made infinity of pygmies, yet all endued with human souls; for from him, their great creator, they have each of them the divinæ particulam auræ. They flowed from him at first, and are at last resolved into him. Nor were they only animated by him, but their measure and symmetry was owing to him. His one, entire, and great action was copied by them according to the proportions of the drama. If he finished his orb within the year, it sufficed to teach them,