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an equivalent in a beauty of another kind, which yet he extracts from some latent intimation of his author; or, where his purpose requires the very same representation, giving it a new form, perhaps a nobler, by the turn of his application.
But all this requires not only the truest judgment, but the most delicate operation of inventive genius. And, where they both meet in a supreme degree, we sometimes find an admired original, not only excelled by his imitator, but almost discredited. Of which, if there were no other, the sixth book of Virgil, I mean taking it in the light of an imitation, is an immortal instance.
Thus much I could not forbear saying on the merit of successful imitation. As to the necessity of the thing, hear the apology of a great Poet, for himself. “All that is left us, “ says this original writer, is to recommend of our productions by the imitation of the an“ cients : and it will be found true, that, in “ every age, the highest character for sense “ and learning has been obtained by those who " have been the most indebted to them. For, “ to say truth, whatever is very good sense, “ must have been common sense in all times;
“ and what we call learning is but the know“ ledge of our predecessors. Therefore they “ who say our thoughts are not our own, be“ cause they resemble the ancients, may as ( well say, our faces are not our own, because “ they are like our fathers : and indeed it is “ very unreasonable, that people should expect “ us to be scholars, and yet be angry to find • us sod.”
He adds, “ I fairly confess, that I have
served myself all I could by reading:” where the good sense of the practice, is as conspicuous, as the ingenuity, so becoming the greatness of his character, in confessing it. For, when a writer, who, as we have seen, is driven by so many powerful motives to the imitation of preceding models, revolts against them all, and determines, at any rate, to be original, nom thing can be expected but an aukward straining in everything. Improper method, forced conceits, and affected expression, are the cer-' tain issue of such obstinacy. The business is to be unlike; and this he may very possibly be, but at the expence of graceful ease and true beauty. For he puts himself, at best, into a convulsed, unnatural state ;) and it is
well, if he be not forced, beside his purpose, to leave common sense, as well as his model, behind him. ' Like one who would break loose from an impediment, which holds him fast; the very endeavour to get clear of it throws him into uneasy attitudes, and violent contorsions; and, if he gain his liberty at last, it is by an effort, which carries him much further than the point he would wish to stop at.
And, that the reader may not suspect me of asserting this without experience, let me exemplify what has been here said in the case of a very eminent person, who, with all the advantages of art and nature that could be required to adorn the true poet, was ruined by this single error. The person I mean was Sir WILLIAM D'AVENANT; whose Gondibert will remain a perpetual monument of the mischiefs, which must ever arise from this affectation of originality in lettered and polite poets,
- The great author, when he projected his plan of an heroic poem, was so far from intending to steer his course by example, that he sets out, in his preface, with upbraiding the followers of Homer, as a base and timorous crew of coasters, who would not adventure to launch forth on the vast ocean of invention, For, speaking of this poet, he observes, “ that, " as sea marks are chiefly used to coasters, “ and serve not those who have the ambition “ of discoverers, that love to sail in untried « seas ; so he hath rather proved a gdide for « those, whose satisfied wit will not venture “ beyond the track of others; than to them, “ who affect a new and remote way of thinking; « who esteem it a deficiency and meanness of “ mind, to stay and depend upon the authority 6 of examples
: And, afterwards, he professedly makes his own merit to consist in “ an endeavour to lead “ truth through unfrequented and new ways, « and from the most remote shades; by repre“ senting nature, though not in an affected, 65 yet'in an unusual dressf. These were the principles he went upon : let us now attend to the success of his endeavours.
The METHOD of his work is defective in many respects. To instance in the two following. Observing the large compass of the
• Pref. to GONDIBERT, p. 2. Lond. 1651, 4ta. f Ibid. p. 30.
ancient epic, for which he saw no cause in nature, and which, he supposed, had been followed merely from a blind deference to the authority of the first model, he resolved to construct an heroic poem on the narrower and, as he conceived, juster plan of the dramatic poets. And, because it was their practice, for the purpose of raising the passions by a close -accelerated plot, and for the convenience of representation, to conclude their subject in five acts, he affects to restrain himself within the same limits. The event was, that, cutting himself off, by this means, from the opportunity of digressive ornaments, which contribute so much to the pomp of the epic poetry; and, what is more essential, from the advantage of the most gradual and circumstantiated narration, which gives an air of truth and reality to the fable, he failed in accomplishing the proper end of this poem, ADMIRATION ; produced by a grandeur of design and variety of important incidents, and sustained by all the energy and minute particularity of description.
2. It was essential to the ancient epos to raise and exalt the fable by the intervention of supernatural agency. This, again, the poet mistook for the prejudice of the affected imitatars of Homer, « who had so often led them