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not detract from the interest, and debase the dignity of the poem, whatever the genius of the poet may be. I know, that in this attempt I have prejudices to encounter; prejudices, which, having entwined themselves about our hearts in the dearest and most enchanting period of life, still retain a mighty power, and subjugate almost reason itself. But if there be a truthjin character, if there be a standard in nature, to which taste and judgment ought to bow, to this truth and , standard I appeal, and, in despite of the dear, est prejudices, hope to make it appear, that, inasmuch as the ancient epic poem depends upon its celestial machinery, this machinery is a puerile and miserable ally, having no consistency, no dignity of character, 'serving to no great or good end, exhibiting no sub. lime or moral lesson, beneath human nature, and, having in itself no excellence or elevation, can administer no aid, reflect no lustre on the poem, which adopts it.
I shall examine this machinery of the an, cient epic in these two views,
1. Whether it contributes to the moral, or morals, of the story.
II. Whether it contributes to raise the imagination, and to exalt and excite in a higher and more interesting degree the passions, in which the epic peculiarly delights.
I. If it be admitted, that instruction, and moral instruction, should be a principal object of the sublimer epic, this end is not only not promoted, but absolutely perverted, by the introduction of the heathen deities, and the important part, which is assigned to them in the ancient poem. Whether moral instruction be a principal end, or not, yet
it is certainly required of poetry in general, and much more of the graver and severer poetry, that it have a decent regard to moral, that it do not corrupt, if it do not improve. We turn away from the Pierre of Otway and the Horneck of Wycherley, with as much aversion as from Catiline and Clodius; and, though all the art of Orway (which must be acknowledged to be great), be exerted to interest us in the fortunes of his
hero, yet the feeble and transient sympathy, which he can awake, cannot overcome the fixed abhorrence, which the villany of the character has aroused. It is the happiest talent of a poet, to insinuate instruction with out appearing to intend instruction; the heart is taken by surprise, it is met in its native innocence, and the most virtuous emotions are excited, and the most exalted, lessons are impressed. Of this talent Shakspeare is a rich example, and, in the exercise of this noble talent, he has made a rich atonement for his occasional playfulness and wantonnéss. I will not say, that in him the impressive moral of the stage has surpassed that of the pulpit; from me this concession would not be expected, nor perhaps be credited; but this I will say, that in representing the vanity of all human grandeur and power, especially when mixed with crime, and when, at the close of life, the mind is looking back on the scene that has been passed, I could wish even from the pulpit to exhibit the delicacy and power, with
which he has insinuated the lesson of innocent moderation, and content, in the
pathetic soliloquy of the care-worn monarch, Henry IV,
O Sleep, O gentle Sleep,
Then, after some lines of the sublimest conception, in which, with the most splendid imagery, is contrasted his own elevated rank with the lowliest situations in life, he closes with this affecting apostrophe, where in, without the form of one moral precept, he reaches that moral conviction, which som lomon, with all his graver wisdom, perhaps, shall fail to attain.
Canst thou, O partial Sleep, give thy repose
The preceding character of Henry, as por
trayed by Shakspeare;s suggests this addi. tional line, in which the dignity of the moral lies,
A crown embitter'd with the sense of crime,
The example of Shakspeare, in a walk of poetry not greatly different from the epic, is alone sufficient to support me in this absolute position, that the genius of the graver poetry should never be opposed to the interests of virtue; and, though we read not an epic poem with the same view as a book of ethics, yet that the sentiments obtruded by the former should, at least, not be contrary to those, which are inculcated by the latter.
But the divinities of Greece and Rome defy all moral, and their character of divinity operates directly to the subverting of all moral. Folly and wickedness in human agents may be exhibited by the poet, or historian, with the highest moral utility, and without detracting from the dignity of the work; but not so where deity, and the only deity,