« AnteriorContinuar »
tament is full. - The whole book of Psalms is a collection of sacred odes.
Among the composers of the sacred books, there is an evident diversity of style. Of the sacred poets, the most eminent are the author of the book of Job, David, and Isaiah. In the compositions of David there is å great variety of manner. In the soft and tender he excels; and in his Psalms are many losty passages. But in strength of description he yields to Job; in sublimity, to Isaiah. Without exception, Isaiah is the most sublime of all poets. Dr. Lowth comparës Isaiah to Homer, Jeremiah to Simonides, and Ezekiel to Eschylus. Among the minor prophets, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Habakkuk, and especially Nahum, are distinguished for poetical spirit. In the prophecies of Daniel and Jonah there is no poetry.
The book of Job is extremely ancient; the author uncertain ; and it is remarkable, that it has no connexion with the affairs or manners of the Hebrews. It is the most descriptive of all the sacred poems. A peculiar glow of fancy and strength of description, characterize the author; and no writer abounds so much in metaphors. He renders visible, whatever he treats. The scene is laid in the land of Uz., or Idumea, which is a part of Arabia ; and the imagery employed, differs from that which is peculiar to the Hebrews.
EPIC POETRY. Of all poetical works, the epic poem is the most dignified. To contrive a story which is entertaining, important, and instructive; to enrich
it with happy incidents; to enliven it by a vari ety of characters and descriptions; and to maintain a uniform propriety of sentiment, and a due elevation of style, are the highest efforts of poetical gevius.
An epic poem is the recital of some illustrious enterprise in a poetical form. Epic poetry is of a moral nature, and tends to the promotion of virtue. With this view, it acts by extending our ideas of perfection, and exciting admiration. Now this is accomplished only by proper representations of heroic deeds and virtuous characters. Valour, truth, justice, fidelity, friendship, piety, and magnanimity, are objects, which the epic muse presents to our minds, in the most splended and honourable colours.
Epic composition is distinguished from history by its poetical form, and its liberty of fiction. It is a more calm composition than tragedy. It requires a grave, equal, and supported dignity. On some occasions it demands the pathetic and the violent; and it embraces a greater compass of time and action, than dramatic writing admits.
The action or subject of an epic poem, must have three properties. It must be one; it must be great; it must be interesting. One action or enterprise must constitute its subject. Aristotle insists on unity, as essential to epic poetry ; because independent facts never affect so deeply, as a tale that is one and connected. Virgil has chosen for his subject the establishment of Æneas in Italy; and the anger of Achilles, with its consequences, is the subject of the Iliad.
It is not, however, to be understood, that epic unity excludes all episodes. On the contrary, critics consider them as great ornaments of epic poetry. They diversify the subject, and relieve the reader by shifting the scene. Thus Hector's visit to Andromache in the Iliad, and Erminia's adventure with the shepherd, in the seventh book of the Jerusalem, afford us a well judged, and pleasing retreat from camps and battles.
Secondly, the subject of an epic poem must be so great and splendid, as to fix attention, and to justify the magnificent apparatus the poet bestows on it. The subject should also be of ancient date. Both Lucan and Voltaire bave transgressed this rule. By confining himself too strictly to historical truth, the former does not please; and the latter has improperly mingled well known events with fictitious. Hence they exhibit not that greatness, which the epic requires.
The third requisite in an epic subject is, that it be interesting. This depends in a great measure upon the choice of it. But it depends much more upon the skilful management of the poet. He must so frame his plan, as to comprehend many affecting incidents. He must sometimes dazzle with valiant achievements; sometimes he must be awful and august; often tender and pathetic; and he must sometimes give us gentle and pleasing scenes of love, friendship, and affection.
To render the subject interesting, much also depends upon the dangers and obstacles which must be encountered. It is by the management of these, that the poet must rouse attention, and hold his reader in suspense and agitation.
It is generally supposed by critics, that an epic poem should conclude successfully; as an unhappy conclusion depresses the mind. Indeed,
it is on the prosperous side, that epic poets generally conclude. But two authors of great name, Milton and Lucan, hold the contrary course. The one concludes with the subversion of Roman liberty; and the other with the expulsion of man from Paradise.
No precise boundaries can be fixed for the duration of the epic action. The action of the Iliad lasts, according to Bossi, only forty seven days. . The action of the Odyssey extends to eight years and a half; and that of the Ænied includes about six
years. The personages in an epic poem, should be proper and well supported. They should display the features of human nature ; and may admit different degrees of virtue, and even vice; though the principal characters should be such as will raise admiration and love. Poetic characters are of two sorts, general and particular. General characters, are such, as are wise, brave, and vir. tuous, without any further distinction. Particular characters express the species of bravery, of wisdom, and of virtue, for which any one is remark. able. In this discrimination of characters, Homer excels. Tasso approaches the nearest to him in this respect; and Virgil is the most deficient.
Among epic poets it is the practice to select some personage as the hero of the tale. This renders the unity of the subject more perfect, and contributes highly to the interest and perfec- . tion of this species of writing. It has been asked, who then is the hero of Pardise Lost? The devil, say some critics, who affect to be pleasant against Milton. But they mistake his intention, by sopposing, that whoever is triumphant in the
close, must be the hero of the poem. For Adam is Milton's hero; that is, the capital and most interesting figure in his poem.
In epic poetry, there are beside human characters, gods, and supernatural beings. This forms what is called the machinery of epic poetry; and the French suppose this essential to the pature of an epic poem. They hold, that in every epic composition, the main action is necessarily carried on by the intervention of gods. But there seems to be no solid reason for their opinion, Lucan has no gods, nor supenatural agents. The author of Leonidas also has no machinery.
But though machinery is not absolutely necessary to the epic plan, it ought not to be totally excluded from it. The marvellous has a great charm for most readers. It leads to sublime description, and fills the imagination. At the same time it becomes a poet to be temperate in the use of supernatural machinery; and so to employ the religious faith or superstition of his country, as to give an air of probability to events, most contrary to the common course of nature.
With regard to the allegorical personages, fame, discord, love, and the like, they form the worst kind of machinery. In description they may sometimes be allowed; but they should never bear any part in the action of the poem. As they are only mere names of general ideas, they ought not to be copsidered as persons; and cannot mingle with human actors, without an intolerable confusion of shadows with realities.
In the narration of the poet, it is of little consequence, whether he relate the whole story in his own character, or introduce one of his pela