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cide with some pause in the action. In this respect, a dramatic or epic poem ought to resemble a sentence or period in language, divided into members that are distinguished from each other by proper pauses; or it ought to resemble a piece of music, having a full close at the end, preceded by imperfect closes that contribute to the melody. Every act in a dramatic poem ought therefore to close with some incident that makes a pause in the action ; for otherwise there can be no pretext for interrupting the representation : it would be absurd to break off in the very heat of action; against which every one would exclaim: the absurdity still remains where the action relents, if it be not actually suspended for some time. This rule is also applicable to an epic poem; though in it a deviation from the rule is less remarkable; because it is in the reader's power to hide the absurdity, by proceeding instantly to another book. The first book of Paradise Lost ends without any close, perfect or imperfect: it breaks off abruptly, where Satan, seated on his throne, is prepared to harangue the convocated host of the fallen angels; and the second book begins with the speech. Milton seems to have copied the Æneid, of which the two first books are divided much in the same manner. Neither is there any proper pause at the end of the fifth book of the Æneid. There is no proper pause at the end of the seventh book of Paradise Lost, nor at the end of the eleventh. In the Iliad little attention is given to this rule.
This branch of the subject shall be closed with a general rule, That action being the fundamental part of every composition, whether epic or dramatic, the sentiments and tone of language ought to be subservient to the action, so as to appear natural and
proper for the occasion. The application of this rule to our modern plays, would reduce the bulk of them to a skeleton.
After carrying on together epic and dramatic compositions, I shall mention circumstances peculiar to
each; beginning with the epic kind. In a theatrical entertainment, which employs both the eye and the ear, it would be a gross absurdity to introduce upon the stage superior beings in a visible shape. There is no place for such objection in an epic poem; and Boileau,* with many other critics, declares strongly for that sort of machinery in an epic poem. But waiving authority, which is apt to impose upon the judgment, let us draw what light we can from reason. I begin with a preliminary remark, That this matter. is but indistinctly handled by critics; the poetical privilege of animating insensible objects for enlivening a description, is very different from what is termed machinery, where deities, angels, devils, or other supernatural powers, are introduced as real personages, mixing in the action, and contributing to the catastrophe; and yet these are constantly jumbled together in the reasoning. The former is founded on a natural principle; but, can the latter claim the same authority? far from it; nothing is more unnatural. Its effects, at the same time, are deplorable. First, It gives an air of fiction to the whole, and prevents that impression of reality which is requisite to interest our affections, and to move our passions. This of itself is sufficient to explode machinery, whatever entertainment it may afford to readers of a fantastic taste or irregular imagination. And, next, were it possible, by disguising the fiction, to delude us into a notion of reality, which I think can hardly be, an insuperable objection would still remain, that the aim or end of an epic poem can never be attained in any perfection, where machinery is introduced; for an evident reason, that virtuous emotions cannot be raised successfully but by the actions of those who are endued with passions and affections like our own, that is, by human actions; and as for moral instruction, it is clear, that none can be drawn from beings who act not upon the same princi
* Third part of his Art of Poetry.
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ELEMENTS OF CRITICISM.
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situation can never be intricate, nor the reader ever in
tion necessarily so
I have tried serious reasonings upon this subject;
As the offence was public, I take this opportunity to
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appearances, drawing near; being informed that there are several ingenious persons who intend to show their talents on so happy an occasion, and being willing, as much as in me lies, to prevent that effusion of nonsense which we have good cause to apprehend, I do hereby strictly require every person who shall write on this subject, to remember that he is a Christian, and not to sacrifice his catechism to his poetry. In order to it, I do expect of him, in the first place, to make his own poem, without depending upon Phæbus for any part of it, or calling out for aid upon any of the muses by
I do likewise positively forbid the sending of Mercury with any particular message, or dispatch, relating to the peace; and shall by no means suffer Minerva to take upon her the shape of any plenipotentiary concerned in this great work. I do further declare, that I shall not allow the destinies to have had a hand in the deaths of the several thousands who have been slain in the late war; being of opinion, that all such deaths may be well accounted for by the Christian system of powder and ball. I do therefore strictly forbid the fates to cut the thread of man's life upon any pretence whatsoever, unless it be for the sake of the rhyme. And whereas, I have good reason to fear, that Neptune will have a great deal of business on his hands, in several poems which we may now suppose are upon the anvil, I do also prohibit his
appearance, unless it be done in metaphor, simile, or any very short allusion: and that even here he may not be permitted to enter, but with great caution and circumspection. I desire that the same rule may be extended to his whole fraternity of heathen gods; it being my design to condemn every poem to the flames in which Jupiter thunders, or exercises any other act of authority which does not belong to him. In short, I expect that no Pagan agent shall be introduced, or any fact related, which a man cannot give credit to with a good conscience. Provided always, that nothing herein contained shall extend, or be construed to ex