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and by the precepts or examples it inculcates, this service may rather be'accepted, than required by us: if it pleased ONLY, by its ingenious fictions, and harmonious structure, it would discharge its office, and answer its end.
In this sense, the famous saying of Eratosthenes, quoted above that the poets aim is to please, not to instruct -- is to be understood ; nor does it appear, what reason Strabo could have to take offence at it; however it might be misapplied, as he tells us it was, by that writer. For, though the poets, no doubt (and especially the poet, whose honour the great Geographer would assert, in his criticism on Eratosthenes) frequently instruct us by a true and faithful representation of things; yet even this instructive air is only assumed for the sake of pleasing ; which, as the human mind is constituted, they could not so well do, if they did not instruct at all, that is, if truth were wholly neglected by them. So that pleasure is still the ultimate end and scope of the poet's art; and instruction itself is, in his hands, only one of the means, by which he would effect itb.
b See STRABO, I. i. p. 15. Par. 1620.
.. I am the larger on this head to shew that it
is not a mere verbal dispute, as it is commonly thought, whether poems should be written in verse, or no. Men may include, or not include, the idea of metre in their complex idea of what they call a Poem. What I contend. for, is, that metre, as an instrument of pleasing, is essential to every work of poetic art, and would therefore enter into such idea, if men judged of poetry according to its confessed nature and end.
. Whence it may seem a little strange, that my Lord Bacon should speak of poesy as a part of learning in measure of words for the MOST PART restrained; when his own notion, as we have seen above, was, that the essence of poetry consisted in submitting the shews of things to the desires of the mind. For these shews of things could only be exhibited to the .mind through the medium of words : and it is just as natural for the mind to desire that these words should be harmonious, as that the images, conveyed in them, should be illustrious ; there being a capacity in the mind of being delighted through its organ, the ear, as well as through its power, or faculty of imagination. And the wonder is the greater, because the great philosopher himself was aware
of the agreement and consort which poetry hath with music, as well as with man's nature and pleasure, that is, with the pleasure which naturally results from gratifying the imagination. So that, to be consistent with himself, hé should, methinks, have said that poesy was a part of learning in measure of words ALWAYS restrained ; such poesy, as, through the idleness or negligence of writers, is not so restrained, not agreeing to his own idea of this part of learning
These reflexions will afford a proper solution of that question, which has been agitated by the critics, “ Whether a work of fiction " and imagination (such as that of the arch“bishop of Cambray, for instance) conducted, "in other respects, according to the rules of “ the epic poem, but written in prose, may ► deserve the name of Poem, or not.” For, though it be frivolous indeed to dispute about names, yet from what has been said it appears, that if metre be not incongruous to the nature of an epic composition, and it afford a pleasure which is not to be found in mere prose, metre is, for that reason, essential to this mode of POETRY. 19 writing; which is only saying in other words, that an epic composition, to give all the pleasure which it is capable of giving, must be written in verse.
e Ady. OF LEARNING, val. i. p. 50. Dr. Birch's Ed, 1765.
But, secondly, this conclusion, I think, extends farther than to such works as aspire to the name of epic. For instance, what are we to think of those novels or romances, as they
are called, that is, fables constructed on some · private and familiar subject, which have been
so current, of late, through all Europe? As
However, such as they are, these novelties have been generally well received : Some, for the real merit of their execution ; Others, for their amusing subjects; All of them, for the gratification they afford, or promise at least, to a vitiated, palled, and sickly imagination that last disease of learned minds, and sure prognostic of expiring Letters. But whatever may be the temporary success of these things (for they vanish as fast as they are produced, and are produced as soon as they are conceived), good sense will acknowledge no work of art but such as is composed according to the laws of its kind. These kinds, as arbitrary things as we account them (for I neither forget nor dispute what our best philosophy teaches concerning kinds and sorts), have yet so far their foundation in nature and the reason of things, that it will not be allowed us to multiply, or vary them, at pleasure. We may, indeed, mix and confound them, if we will (for there is a sort of literary luxury, which would engross all pleasures at once, even such as are contradictory to each other), Jor, in our rage for incessant, gratification, we may take up with half-formed pleasures, such as come first to hand, and may be administered by any body: But true taste requires chaste, severe,