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prodigious against such exactness of similitude, when the slightest trace of the pencil forms a sensible difference: But poets, who do not convey ideas with the same precision and distinctness, cannot be justly liable to this imputation, even where the general image represented happens to be the same. Virgil, one would think, on a very affecting occasion, might have given the following representation of his hero, Multa gemens largoque humectat flumine
vultum ; without any suspicion of communicating with Homer, who had said, in like manner, of his,
"Isato daxpuxéwv, úse reporum penávudpG.
But had two painters, in presenting this image, agreed in the same particularities of posture, inclination of the head, air of the face, &c. no one could doubt a moment, that the one was stolen from the other. Which single observation, if attended to, will greatly abate the prejudice, usually entertained on this subject. We think it incredible, amidst the infinite diversity of the poet's materials, that any two should accord in the choice of the very same ; more especially when described with the same circumstances. But we forget, that the same materials are left in common to all poets, and that the very circumstances, alledged, can be, in words, but very generally and imperfectly delineated. .
- 3, Of the calmer sentiments, which come within the province of poetry, and, breaking forth into outward act, furnish matter to description, the most remarkable in their operations are those of religion. It is certain, that the principal of those rites and ceremonies, of those outward acts of homage, which have prevailed in different ages and countries, and constituted the public religion of mankind, had their rise in our common nature, and were the genuine product of the workings of the human mindn. For it is the mere illusion of this inveterate error concerning imitation, in general, which hath misled some great names to imagine them traductive from each other. But the occasion does not require us to take the matter so deep. The office of poetry, in describing the solemnity of her religious ritual, is to look no farther, than the established modes of the age and country, whose manners it would represent. If these should be the same at different times in two religions, or the
1 Duy. LEG, Vol. ii. par. 1. p. 355, ed. 174 .
religion itself continue unchanged, it necessarily follows, that the representations of them by different writers will agree to the minutest resemblance. · Not only the general rite or ceremony will be the same; but the very peculiarities of its performance, which are prescribed by rule, remain unaltered. Thus, if religious sentiments usually express themselves, in all men, by a certain posture of the body, direction of the hantis, turn of the countenance, &c. these signs are uniformly and faithfully pictured in all devotional pourtraits. So again, if by the genius of any particular religion, to which the poet is carefully to adhere, the practice of sucrifices, auguries, omens, lustrations, &c. be required in its established ceremonial, the draught of this diversity of superstitions, and of their minutest particulars, will have a necessary place in any work, professing to delineate such religion; whatever resemblance its descriptions may be foreseen to have to those of any other.
The reader will proceed to apply these remarks, where he sees fit. For it may scarcely seem worth while to take notice of the insinuation, which a polite writer, but no very able critic, hath thrown out against the entire use of religious description in poetry. I say the entire use ; for so I understand him, when he says, “ the religion of the gentiles had been 66 woven into the contexture of all the ancient “ poetry with a very agreeable mixture, which “ made the moderns affect to give that of “ Christianity a place also in their poems o.” He seems not to have conceived, that the visible effects of religious opinions and dispositions, constitute a principal part of what is most' striking in the sublimer poetry. The narrative species delights in, or rather cannot subsist without, these solemn pictures of the religious ritual ; and the theatre is never more moved, than when its awful scenery is exhibited in the dramatic. Or, if he meant this censure, of the intervention of superior agents, and what we call machinery, the observation (though it be seconded by one, whose profession should have taught him much better P) is not more to the purpose. For the pomp of the epic muse demands to be furnished with a
o Sir William Temple's Works, vol. i. p. 245. ed. 1740. fol.
p“ La machine du merveilleux, l'intervention d'un pou. * voir céleste, la nature des episodes, tout ce qui depend “ de la tyrannie de la coutume, & de cet instinct qui on “ nomme goût; voilà sur quoi il y a mille opinions, & " point de régles génirales." M. DE VOLTAIRE, Essaye sur la poësie Epique, chap. i.
train of these celestial personages. Intending, as she doth, to astonish the imagination with whatever is most august within the compass of human thought, it is not possible for her to accomplish this great end, but by the ministry of supernatural intelligences, PER AM-/ BAGES ET MINISTERIA DEORUM.
Or, the proof of these two points may be given more precisely thus: “ The relation of " man to the deity, being as essential to his 6 nature, as that which he bears to his fellow“ citizens, religion becomes as necessary a 5 part of a serious and sublime narration of “ human life, as civil actions. And as the “ sublime nature of it requires even virtues "and vices to be personified, much more is it “ necessary, that supernatural agency should “ bear a part in it. For, whatever some sects “may think of religion's being a divine phi“ losophy in the mind, the poet must ex“hibit man's addresses to Heaven in cere6 monies, and Heaven's intervention by visible “agency."
So that the intermixture of religion, in every point of view, is not only agreeable, but necessary to the very genius of, at least, the highest class of poetry. Ancients and moderns