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I insist the more on this strong influence of external beauty, because it leads, I think, to a clear view of the subject before us, so far as it respects descriptive poetry. These living forms are, without any change, presented to observation in every age and country. There needs but opening the eyes, and these forms necessarily imprint themselves on the fancy; and the love of imitation, which naturally accompanies and keeps pace with this sense of beauty in the poet, is continually urging him to translate them into description. These descriptions will, indeed, have different degrees of colouring, according to the force of genius in the imitator ; but the outlines are the same in all ; in the weak, faint sketches of an ordinary, Gothic designer, as in the living pictures of Homer.
An instance will explain my meaning, Amidst all that diversity of natural objects, which the poet delights to paint, nothing is so taking to his imagination, as rural scenery; which is, always, the first passion of good poets, and the only one that seems, in any degree, to animate and inspirit bad ones. Now let us take a description of such a scene; suppose that which Aelian hath left us of the Grecian TEMPE, given from the life and without the heightenings of poetic ornament; and we shall see how little the imagination of the most fanciful poets hath ever done towards improving upon it. Aelian's description is given in these words.
“ The Thessalian TEMPE is a place situate “ between Olympus and Ossa ; which are 6 mountains of an exceeding great height; and “ look, as if they once had been joined, buť « were afterwards separated from each other, " by some god, for the sake of opening in the “ midst that large plain, which stretches in “ length to about five miles, and in breadth a 6 hundred paces, or, in some parts, more. “ Through the middle of this plain runs the « Peneus, into which several lesser currents "empty themselves, and, by the confluence
of their waters, swell it into a river of great “ size. This vale is abundantly furnished s with all manner of arbours and resting “ places; not such as the arts of human in“ dustry contrive, but which the bounty of “ spontaneous nature, ambitious, as it were, “ to make a shew of all her beauties, provided “for the supply of this fair residence, in the “ very original structure and formation of the " thick, that, like the generous and leafy vine, “ it crawls up the trunks of tall trees, and “ twining its foliage round their arms and “ branches, becomes almost incorporated with “ them. The flowering smilaxe also is there “ in great abundance; which running up the “ acclivities of the hills, and spreading the ( close texture of its leaves and tendrils on all “ sides, perfectly covers and shades them ; so “ that no part of the bare rock is seen ; but “ the whole is hung with the verdure of a - thick, inwoven herbage, presenting the most “ agreeable spectacle to the eye. Along the « level of the plain, there are frequent tufts of “ trees, and long continued ranges of arching “ bowers, affording the most' grateful shelter “ from the heats of summer; which are fur“ ther relieved by the frequent streams of clear “ and fresh water, continually winding through “ it. The tradition goes, that these waters are “ peculiarly good for bathing, and have many “ other medicinal virtues. In the thickets and “ bushes of this dale are numberless singing “birds, every where fluttering about, whose “ warblings take the ear of passengers, and
place. For there is plenty of ivy shooting “ forth in it, which flourishes and grows 'so
e Botavists give it the name of oriental bind weed. It is said to be a very rambling plant, which climbs up trees, and rises to a great height in the Levant, where it partiz cularly fourishes
“cheat the labours of their way through it. “On the banks of the Peneus, on either side, “ are dispersed irregularly those resting places, 66 before spoken of; while the river itself glides «s through the middle of the lawn, with a soft " and quiet lapse; over-hung with the shades ¢ of trees, planted on its borders, whose in« termingled branches keep off the rays of the “ sun, and furnish the opportunity of a cool “ and temperate navigation upon it. The “ worship of the gods, and the perpetual fra“ grancy of sacrifices and burning odours, fur“ther consecrate the place, &c.” [Var, Hist, lib. III. c. 1.]
Now this picture, which Aelian took from nature, and which any one, if he hath not seen the several parts of it subsisting together, may easily compound for himself out of that stock of rural images which are reposited in the memory, is, in fact, the substance of all those luscious and luxuriant paintings, which poetry hath ever been able to feign. For what more. is there in the Elysiums, the Arcadias, the Edens, of ancient and modern fame? And the common object of all these pictures being continually present to the eye, what way is there of avoiding the most exact agreement of representation in them. Or how
from any similarity in the materials, of which they are formed, shall we infer an imitation ?
This agreeable scenery is, for an obvious reason, the most frequent object of deseription. Though sometimes it chuses to itself a dark and sombrous imagery; which nature, again, holds out to imitation ; or fancy, which hath a wondrous quickness and facility in opposing its ideas, readily suggests. We have an instance in the picture of that horrid and detested vale which Tamora describes in Titus ANDRONICUS. It is a perfect contrast to Aelian's, and may be called an Anti-tempe. Or, to see this opposition of images in the strongest light, the reader may turn to L'Allegro and Il Penseroso of Milton; where he hath artfully made, throughout the two poems, the same kind of subjects excite the two passions of mirth and melancholy.
When the reader is got into this train, he will easily extend the same observation to other instances of natural description; and can hardly avoid, after a few trials, coming to this short conclusion, “ that of all the various deli“ neations in the poets, of the HEAVENS, in 56 their vicissitude of times and seasons; of
the EARTH, in its diversity of mountuins,