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to future reflexions. This secondary or derivative image, is that alone which Criticism considers under the Idea of IMITATION,
And here the difficulty, we are about to examine, commences. For the poet, in his quick researches through all his stores and materials of beauty, meeting every where, in his progress, these reflected forms; and deriving from them his stock of imagery, as well as from the real subsisting objects of nature, the reader is often at a loss (for the poet himself is not always aware of it) to discern the original from the copy; to know, with certainty, if the sentiment, or image, presented to him, be directly taken from the life, or be itself, a lively transcript, only, of some former copy. And this difficulty is the greater, because the original, as well as the copy, is always at hand for the poet to turn to, and we can rarely be certain, since both were equally in his power, which of the two he chose to make the object of his own imitation. For it is not enough to say here, as in the case of reflexions, that the latter is always the weaker, and of course betrays itself by the degree of faintness, which, of necessity, attends a copy. This, indeed, hath been said by one, to whose judgment a peculiar deference is owing. QUIC
QUID ALTÉRI SIMILE EST, NECESSE EST MINUS SIT EO, QUOD IMITATUR. But it holds only of strict and scrupulous imitations. And of such alone, I think, it was intended; for the explanation follows, ut umbra corpore, & imago facie, &: actus histrionum veris affectibus ; that is, where the artist confines himself to the single view of taking a faithful and exact transcript. And even this can be allowed only, when the copyist is of inferior, or at most but of equal, talents. Nay, it is not certainly to be relied upon even then; as may appear from what we are told of an inferior painter's [Andrea del Sarto's] copying a portrait of the divine Raphael. The story is well known. But, as an aphorism, brought to determine the merits of imitation, in general, nothing can be falser or more delusive. For, 1. Besides the supposed original, the object itself, as was observed, is before the poet, and he may catch from thence, and infuse into his piece, the same glow of real life, which animated the first copy. %. He may also take in circumstances, omitted or overlooked before in the common object, and so give new and additional vigour to his imitation. Or, 3. He may possess a stronger, and more plastic
genius, and therefore be enabled to touch, with more force of expression, even those particulars, which he professedly imitates.
On all these accounts, the difficulty of distinguishing betwixt original, and secondary, imitations is apparent. And it is of importance, that this difficulty be seen in its full light. Because, if the similarity, observed in two or more writers, may, for the most part, and with the highest probability, be accounted for from general principles, it is superfluous at least, if not unfair, to have recourse to the particular charge of imitation.
Now to see how far the same common principles of nature will go towards effecting the similarity, here spoken of, it is necessary to consider very distinctly
I. THE MATTER ; and
II. THE MANNER, of all poetical imitation.
· I. In all that range of natural objects, over which the restless imagination of the poet expatiates, there is no subject of picture or
imitation, that is not reducible to one or other of the three following classes. 1. The material world, or that vast compages of corporeal forms, of which this universe is compounded. 2. The internal workings and movements of his own mind, under which I comprehend the manners, sentiments, and passions. 3. Those internal operations, that are made objective to sense by the outward signs of gesture, attitude, or action. Besides these I know of no source, whence the artist can derive a single sentiment or image. There needs no new distinction in favour of Homer's gods, Milton's angels, or Shakespear's witches; it being clear, that these are only human characters, diversified by such attributes and manners, as superstition, religion, or even wayward fancy, had assigned to each.
1. The material universe, or what the painters call still life, is the object of that species of poetical imitation, we call descriptive. This beauteous arrangement of natural objects, which arrests the attention on all sides, makes a necessary and forceable impression on the human mind. We are so constituted, as to have a quick perception of beauty in the forms, combinations, and aspects of things about us; which the philosopher may amuse himself in explaining from remote and insufficient considerations; but consciousness and common feeling will never suffer us to doubt of its being entirely natural. Accordingly we may observe, that it operates universally on all men; more especially the young and unexperienced; who are not less transported by the novelty, than beauty of material objects. But its impressions are strongest on those, whom náture hath touched with a ray of that celestial fire, which we call true genius. Here the workings of this instinctive sense are so powerful, that, to judge from its effects, one should conclude, it perfectly intranced and bore away the mind, as in a fit of rapture. Whenever the form of natural beauty presents itself, though but casually, to the mind of the poet ; busied it may be, and intent on the investigation of quite other objects; his imagination takes fire, and it is with difficulty that he restrains himself from quitting his proper pursuit, and stopping a while to survey and delineate the enchanting image. This is the character of what we call a luxuriant fancy, which all the rigour of art can hardly keep down; and we give the highest praise of judgment to those few, who have been able to discipline and confine it within due limits.