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And the same may be observed of historical facts, as of religious traditions. For not unfrequently, where the subject is taken from authentic history, the authority of a preceding poet is so prevalent, as to render any account of the matter improbable, which is not fashioned and regulated after his ideas, A succeeding writer is neither at liberty to relate matters of fact, which no one thinks credible, nor to feign afresh for himself. In this case, again, all that the most original genius has to do, is to imitate. We have been told that the second book of the AENEIS was translated from Pisandera. Another thinks, it was taken from the LITTLE ILIADb. Or, why confine him to either of these, when METRODORUS, SYAGRUS, HEGESIANAX, ARATUS, and others, wrote poems on the taking of Trovė But granting the poet (as is most likely to have had these originals before him, what shall we infer from it? Only this, that he took his principal facts and circumstances (as we see he was obliged to do for the sake of probability) from these writers. And why should this be thought a greater crime in him, than
a Macrobius, V. Saturnal.
in POLYGNOTUS; who, in his famous picture on this subject, was under the necessity, and for the same reason, of collecting his subjectmatter from several poetsc?
It follows, from these considerations, that we cannot justify ourselves in thinking so hardly, as we commonly do, of the class of imitators; which is, now, by the concurrence of various circumstances, become the necessary character of almost all poets. Nor let it be any concern to the true poet, that it is so. For imitations, when real and confessed, may still have their merit; nay, I presume to add, sometimes a greater merit, than the very originals on which they are formed: And, with the reader's leave (though I am hastening to a conclusion of this long discourse), I will detain him, one moment, with the reasons of this opinion.
After all the praises that are deservedly given to the novelty of a subject, or the beauty of design, the supreme merit of poetry, and that which more especially immortalizes the writers of it, lies in the execution. It is thus that
... Mem, de l'Acad. des Inscript. &c. tom. vi. p. 445.
the poets of the Augustan age have not so properly excelled, as discredited, all the productions of their predecessors; and that those of the age of Louis XIV th not only obscure, but will in process of time obliterate, the fame and memory of the elder French writers. Or, to see the effect of masterly execution in single instances, hence it is, that Lucilius not only yields to Horace, but would be almost forgotten by us, if it had not been for the honour his imitator has done him. And nobody needs be told the advantage which Pope is likely to have over all our older satirists, excellent as some of them are, and more entitled than he to the honour of being inventors. We have here, then, an established fact. The first essays of genius, though ever so original, are overlooked; while the later productions of men, who had never risen to such distinction but by means of the very originals they disgrace, obtain the applause and admiration of all ages.
The solution of this fact, so notorious, and, at the same time, so contrary, in appearance, to the honours which men are disposed to pay to original invention, will open the mystery of that matter we are now considering ,
• The faculties, or, as we may almost term them, the magic powers, which ope the palace of eternity to great writers, are a confirmed judgment, and ready invention..
· Now the first is seen to most advantage, in selecting, out of all preceding stores, the particulars that are most suited to the nature of a poet's work, and the ends of poetry. When true genius has exhausted, as it were, the various manners, in which a work of art may be conducted, and the various topics which may be employed to adorn it, judgment is in its province, or rather sovereignty, when it determines which of all these is to be preferred, and which neglected. In this sense, as well as others, it will be most true, Quòd artis pars magna contineatur imitatione..
· Nay, by means of this discernment, the very topic or method, which had no effect, or perhaps an illi one, under one management, or in one situation, shall charm every reader, in another. And by force of judging right, the copier shall almost lose his title, and become an inventor: - Tantum de medio sumptis accedit honoris, . But imitation, though it give most room to the display of judgment, does not exclude the exercise of the other faculty, invention. Nay, it requires the most dextrous, perhaps the most difficult, exertion of this faculty. For consider how the case stands. When we speak of an imitator, we do not speak, as the poet says, of
A barren-spirited fellow, one who feeds
On abject orts, and imitationsbut of one, who, in aiming to be like, con
be equal to his original. To attain to this equality, it is not enough that he select the best of those stores which are ready prepared to his hand (for thus he would be rather a skilful borrower, than a successful imitator); but, in taking something from others, he must add much of his own: he must improve the expression, where it is defective or barely passable: he must throw fresh lights of fancy on a common image : he must strike out new hints from a vulgar sentiment. Thus, he will complete his original, where he finds it imperfect: he will supply its omissions : he will emulate, or rather surpass, its highest beauties. Or, in despair of this last, we shall find him taking a different route; giving us