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peace be to the manes of his Arthurs. I will only say that it was not for this noble knight that I drew the plan of an epic poem on King Arthur, in my preface to the translation of Juvenal. The guardian angels of kingdoms were machines too ponderous for him to manage; and therefore he rejected them, as Dares did the whirlbats of Eryx, when they were thrown before him by Entellus. Yet from that preface he plainly took his hint: for he began immediately upon the story, tho' he had the baseness not to acknowledge his benefactor but, instead of it, to traduce me in a libeL
I shall say the less of Mr. Collier, because in many things he has taxM me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and expressions of mine which can be truly argued of obscenity, profaneness, of immorality; and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph: if he be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to be otherwise, he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to draw my pen in the defense of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for a good one. Yet it were not difficult to prove that in many places he has perverted my meaning by his glosses, and interpreted my words into blasphemy and bawdry, of which they were not guilty. Besides that, he is too much given to horseplay in his raillery, and comes to battle like a dictator from the plow. I will not say: "The zeal of God's house has eaten him up;" but I am sure it has devour'd some part of his good manners and civility. It might also be doubted whether it were altogether zeal which prompted him to this rough manner of proceeding: perhaps it became not one of his function to rake into the rubbish of ancient and modern plays; a divine might have employ'd his pains to better purpose than in the nastiness of Plautus and Aristophanes; whose examples, as they excuse not me, so it might be possibly suppos'd that he read them not without some pleasure. They who have written commentaries on those poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and Martial, have explain'd some vices which, without their interpretation, had been unknown to modern times. Neither has he judg"d impartially betwixt the former age and us.
There is more bawdry in one play of Fletcher's, call'd The Custom of the Country, than in all ours together. Yet this has been often acted on the stage in my remembrance. Are the times so much more reform'd now than they were five and twenty years ago? If they are, I congratulate the amendment of our morals. But I am not to prejudice the cause of my fellow poets, tho' I abandon my own defense: they have some of them answer'd for themselves, and neither they nor I can think Mr. Collier so formidable an enemy that we should shun him. He has lost ground at the latter end of the day, by pursuing his point too far, like the Prince of Conde at the battle of Seneffe: from immoral plays to no plays, ab abusu ad usum, non valet consequential* But being a party, I am not to erect myself into a judge. As for the rest of those who have written against me, they are such scoundrels that they deserve not the least notice to be taken
of them. B and M are only distinguish'd from the
crowd by being remember'd to their infamy:
Dcmetri, teque Tigelli"
Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.
M " The argument from abuse to use is not valid."
,T " You, Demetrius and Tigellius, I bid lament among the chairs of your scholars." Blackmore bad once been a schoolmaster.—Noyes.
BY HENRY FIELDING (1742)
The Comic Epic In Prose
AS IT is possible the mere English reader may have a difJ\ ferent idea of romance with the author of these little volumes; and may consequently expect a kind of entertainment, not to be found, nor which was even intended, in the following pages; it may not be improper to premise a few words concerning this kind of writing, which I do not remember to have seen hitherto attempted in our language.
The EPIC, as well as the DRAMA, is divided into tragedy and comedy. HOMER, who was the father of this species of poetry, gave us the pattern of both these, tho' that of the latter kind is entirely lost; which Aristotle tells us, bore the same relation to comedy which his Iliad bears to tragedy. And perhaps, that we have no more instances of it among the writers of antiquity, is owing to the loss of this great pattern, which, had it survived, would have fojnd its imitators equally with the other poems of this great original.
And farther, as this poetry may be tragic or comic, I will not scruple to say it may be likewise either in verse or prose: for tho' it wants one particular, which the critic enumerates in the constituent parts of an epic poem, namely, metre; yet, when any kind of writing contains all its other parts, such
Henry Fielding, dramatist, novelist, and judge, was born near Glastonbury, Somersetshire, April 2a, 1707, and died at Lisbon, October 8, 1754. Though seldom spoken of as an essayist, Fielding scattered through his novels a large number of detached or detachable discussions which are essentially essays, of which the preface to "Joseph Andrews," on the Comic Epic in Prose," is a favorable specimen. The novel which it introduces was begun as a parody on Richardson's "Pamela," and the preface gives Fielding's conception of this form of fiction.
as fable, action, characters, sentiments, and diction, and is deficient in metre only, it seems, I think, reasonable to refer it to the epic; at least, as no critic hath thought proper to range it under any other head, nor to assign it a particular name to itself.
Thus the Telemachus of the archbishop of Cambray appears to me of the epic kind, as well as the Odyssey of Homer; indeed, it is much fairer and more reasonable to give it a name common with that species from which it differs only in a single instance, than to confound it with those which it resembles in no other. Such are those voluminous works, commonly called Romances, namely Clelia, Cleopatra, Astrasa, Cassandra, the Grand Cyrus, and innumerable others which contain, as I apprehend, very little instruction or entertainment.
Now, a comic romance is a comic epic-poem in prose; differing from comedy, as the serious epic from tragedy: its action being more extended and comprehensive; containing a much larger circle of incidents, and introducing a greater variety of characters. It differs from the serious romance in its fable and action, in this: that as in the one these are grave and solemn, so in the other they are light and ridiculous; it differs in its characters, by introducing persons of inferiour rank, and consequently of inferiour manners, whereas the grave romance sets the highest before us; lastly in its sentiments and diction; by preserving the ludicrous instead of ♦lie sublime. In the diction I think, burlesque itself may be sometimes admitted; of which many instances will occur in this work, as in the description of the battles, and some other places not necessary to be pointed out to the classical reader; for whose entertainment those parodies or burlesque imitations are chiefly calculated.
But tho' we have sometimes admitted this in our diction, we have carefully excluded it from our sentiments and characters; for there it is never properly introduced, unless in writings of the burlesque kind, which this is not intended to be. Indeed, no two species of writing can differ more widely than the comic and the burlesque: for as the latter is ever the exhibition of what is monstrous and unnatural, and where our delight, if we examine it, arises from the surprising absurdity, as in appropriating the manners of the highest to the lowest, or i converso; so in the former, we should ever confine ourselves strictly to nature, from the just imitation of which, will flow all the pleasure we can this way convey to a sensible reader. And perhaps, there is one reason, why a comic writer should of all others be the least excused for deviating from nature, since it may not be always so easy for a serious poet to meet with the great and the admirable; but life everywhere furnishes an accurate observer with the ridiculous.
I have hinted this little, concerning burlesque; because I have often heard that name given to performances, which have been truly of the comic kind, from the author's having sometimes admitted it in his diction only; which as it is the dress of poetry, doth like the dress of men establish characters, (the one of the whole poem, and the other of the whole man), in vulgar opinion, beyond any of their greater excellences: but surely, a certain drollery in style, where characters and sentiments are perfectly natural, no more constitutes the burlesque, than an empty pomp and dignity of words, where everything else is mean and low, can entitle any performance to the appellation of the true sublime.
And I apprehend, my Lord Shaftesbury's opinion of mere burlesque agrees with mine, when he asserts, "There is no such thing to be found in the writings of the antients." But perhaps I have less abhorrence than he professes for it: and that not because I have had some little success on the stage this way; but rather as it contributes more to exquisite mirth and laughter than any other; and these are probably more wholesome physic for the mind, and conduce better to purge away spleen, melancholy, and ill affections, than is generally imagined. Nay, I will appeal to common observation, whether the same companies are not found more full of goodhumour and benevolence, after they have been sweetened for two or three hours with entertainments of this kind, than soured by a tragedy or a grave lecture.
But to illustrate all this by another science, in which, perhaps, we shall see the distinction more clearly and plainly: let us examine the works of a comic history-painter, with those performances which the Italians call Caricatura, where