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may be allowed to rise above the usual appearances of nature, by combining things which are not commonly affociated : but he must admit nothing which contradicts common sense and experience, or of which a real archetype cannot even be supposed to exit. The boldest flights of poetic fiction must not pass the boundaries of nature and probability. It is upon this principle that Dr. Johnson defines poetry, " the art of uniting pleasure with truth, " by calling imagination to the help of reason." Perfect and DISTINCT
CONCEPTION a second character of thought in good writing—is the basis of perspicuity. A writer, whose feeble mind produces only halfformed embrios of thought, or whose impetuchty will not permit him to separate his ideas from one another before he clothes them in language, must be obscure. The image reflected from the mirror cannot be more perfect than the original object. He who does not himself clearly understand his own meaning, can have no right to expect that his reader will understand it. Those writers are most liable to this fault, whose ambition or vanity outruns their genius. Affecting a degree of novelty and originality, which they are not able to attain ; they finik into the profound, and become unintelligible.
To juftness and clearness, must be added VARIETY, of conception. It is this quality chiefly, which raises a writer of true genius above one of mean, or moderate abilities. The field of nature lies equally open to all men: but it is only the man whose powers are vigoroas and commanding, who can combine them with that di. versity which is neeeffary to produce a strong impression upon the imagination. To discern, not only the obvious properties of things, but their more hidden qualities and relations ; to perceive resemblances which are no monly perceived ; to combine images, or sentiments, which are not commonly combined ; to exhibit, in description,
persons and things with all the interesting varieties of form or action of which they are capable, are the offices of genius; and it is only in the degree in which these marks of genius appear in any literary production, that it can be pronounced excellent.
Perfectly consistent with that variety, which cha. racterizes genius, is another essential quality of thought in good writing, UNITY OF DESIGN. In every piece, the writer should have one leading design; every part should have some relation to the rest ; and all should unite to produce one regular whole.
Denique sit quidvis fimplex duntaxat et unum. A thought may be just; a description may be beautiful ; a fentiment may be pathetic; and yet, not naturally arising from the subject, it may be nothing better than a censurable excrescence.
Sed nunc non erat his locus.
Whatever has no tendency to illustrate the fobjedt, interrupts the reader's attention, and weakens the general effect. This rule muft not, however, be understood to preclude, especially in long works, such incidental excursions, as, having some relation to the main fubject, afford the reader an agreeable relief, without destroying the unity of the piece. Episodes of this kind may be compared to the ivy twining about the oak; which, without concealing the form, or leffening the grandeur of the main object, gratifies the eye with a fense of variety,
To complete the merit of any literary work as far as thought is concerned, it is necessary to add to every other excellence that of UTILITY. In writing, as in life, this ultimate end should never be forgotten. Whatever tends to enlighten the understanding, to enlarge the conceptions, to impress the heart with right feelings, or to
afford innocent and rational amusement, may be pronounced useful. All beyond this is either trifling or pernicious. No strength of genius, or vivacity of wit, can dignify folly, or excuse immorality.
Beside these essential properties of the Thoughts which are common to all good writing, there are others, which occur only in certain connections, according to the nature of the subject, or the genius and inclination of the wri. ter, and which may therefore be called INCIDENTAL.. From these, which are very numerous, we shall select, as a fpecimen, Sublimity, Beauty, and Novelty.
Those conceptions, expressed in writing, which are adapted to excite in the mind of the reader that kind of emotion, which arises from the conteinplation of grand and noble objects in nature, are said to be SUBLIME. The emotion of fublimity is doubtless first produced by means of the powers of vision. Whatever is lofty, vaft, or profound, whilft it fills the eye, expands the imagination, and dilates the heart, and thus becomes a source of pleasure.
Who that, from Alpine heights, his lab'ring eye
From the fimilarity between the emotions, excited by greatness in objects of sight, and by certain other objects which affect the rest of the senses; and from the analogy which these bear to several other feelings excited by different causes, the term Sublimity is applied to various other subjects, as dignity of rank, extent of power, and eminence of merit. Hence those writers who most suc
cessfully exhibit objects or characters of this kind before the imagination of their readers, are said to be sublime.
In like manner, because certain objects of fight are dif-. tinguished by characters of beauty, and ate adapted to ex. cite emotions of comp'acence, those writers who represent their fair forms, whether natural or moral, with the msit lively colouring, are said to excel in the BEAUTIFUL.
Moreover, since there is in human nature a principle of curiosity, which leads us to contemplate unusual objects with the pleasing emotion which is called wonder, No. velty becomes another source of pleasure in works of tafle, which affords ample scope for the display of genius, to those who are indued by nature with an imagination, which can “ body forth the forms of things unknown;" whence their pen
Turns them to thape, and gives to airy nothing
In reading works of tafte, it is the business of criticism, to remark in what manner any of these properties of thought, or others of the incidental kind, such as Pathos, Resemblance, Contrast, Congruity, and the like, are exemplified, or violated.
AFTER the Thoughts themselves, the next object of criticism is the method in which they are disposed.
Nothing is more inconsistent with good sense and true taste, than the contempt with which fome affect to treat that methodical arrangement, which Horace fu) happily styles lucidus ordo. Every kind of writing is certainly i!luminated by an accurate difpofition of its several parts. Method is so far from being an absolute proof of ftupidity, that it is no very questionable indication of ftrength of mind, and compass of thought. The first conceptions, which accidental association may raise in the
mind, are not likely to come forth spontaneously in that order, which is most natural, and best suited to form a regular piece. It is only by the exercise of much attention and accurate judgment, that a writer can give his work the beauty of regularity amidst variety; and without this, the detached parts, however excellent, are but the members of a disjointed ftatue*. The reader, therefore, who wishes to form an accurate judgment concerning the merit of any literary 'production, will inquire, whether the author's general arrangement be such as best suits his design ; whether there be no confusion in tlie disposition of particular parts; no redundancies or unnecessary repetitions ; in fine, wbether every sentiment be not only just, but pertinent, and in its proper place.
The last, but not the least extensive field of criticism is EXPRESSION.
Here the firit quality to be considered is Purity: This consists in such a choice of words, and such a gram. matical construction of sentences, as is consonant to the analogy of the language, and to the general usage of accurate writers. Purity in the choice of words requires that, except in works of science, where new terns are wanted, no words be admitted but such as are established by good authority; that words be used in the sense which is commonly annexed to them, and that all heterogeneous mixtures of foreign or antiquated words be avoid. ed. In the present state of modern languages, parti. cularly the English, itability and uniformity are of more consequence than enlargement. It is not in the power of fashion to juftify the affectation of introducing foreign words and phrases to express even that, which cannot be fo concisely expressed in the vernacular tongue. With
* Neque enim, quamquam fusis omnibus membris, ftatua fit, nisi collocetur, QUINTIL.