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tend, to several of the female poets in this nation, who shall still be left in full possession of their gods and goddesses, in the same manner as if this paper
had never been written."*
The marvellous is indeed so much promoted by machinery, that it is not wonderful to find it embraced by the plurality of writers, and, perhaps, of readers. If indulged at all, it is generally indulged to excess. Homer introduces his deities with no greater ceremony than as mortals; and Virgil has still less moderation; a pilot spent with watching, cannot fall asleep and drop into the sea by natural means. The ridiculous in such fictions must appear even through the thickest veil of gravity and solemnity.
Angels and devils serve equally with heathen deities as materials for figurative language; perhaps better among Christians, because we believe in them, and not in heathen deities. But every one is sensible, as well as Boileau, that the invisible powers in
our creed make a much worse figure as actors in a modern poem, than the invisible powers in the heathen creed did in ancient poems; the cause of which is not far to seek. The heathen deities, in the opinion of their votaries, were beings elevated one step only above mankind, subject to the same passions, and directed by the same motives; therefore not altogether improper to mix with men in an important action. In our creed, superior beings are placed at such a mighty distance from us, and are of a nature so different, that with no propriety can we appear with them upon the same stage: man, a creature much inferior, loses all dignity in the
comparison. Agepends on the mentice ale lude
There can be no doubt that an historical
admits the embellishment of allegory, as well as of metaphor, simile, or other figure. Moral truth, in particular, is finely illustrated in the allegorical manner: it amuses the fancy to find abstract terms, by a sort of magic,
* Spectator, No. 523.
metamorphosed into active beings: and it is highly pleasing to discover a general proposition in a pictured event. But allegorical beings should be confined within their own sphere, and never be admitted to mix in the principal action, nor to co-operate in retarding or advancing the catastrophe. This would have a still worse effect than invisible powers; and I am ready to assign the reason. The impression of real existence, essential to an epic poem, is inconsistent with that figurative existence which is essential to an allegory; and, therefore, no means can more effectually prevent the impression of reality, than to introduce allegorical co-operating with those whom we conceive to be really existing. The love-episode in the Henriade, * insufferable by the discordant mixture of allegory with real life, is copied from that of Rinaldo and Armida, in the Gierusalemme Liberata, which hath no merit to entitle it to be copied. An allegorical object, such as Fame in the Æneid, and the Temple of Love in the Henriade, may find place in a description ; but to introduce Discord as a real personage, imploring the assistance of Love, as another real personage, to enervate the courage of the hero, is making these figurative beings act beyond their sphere, and creating a strange jumble of truth and fiction. The allegory of Sin and Death in the Paradise Lost, is, I presume, not generally relished, though it is not entirely of the same nature with what I have been condemning: in a work comprehending the achievements of superior beings, there is more room for fancy than where it is confined to human actions.
What is the true notion of an episode? or how is it to be distinguished from the principal action ? Every incident that promotes or retards the catastrophe, must be part of the principal action. This clears the nature of an episode; which may be defined, “An incident connected with the principal action, but contributing neither to advance nor to retard it.” The descent of Æneas into hell doth not advance nor retard the catastrophe, and therefore is an episode. The story of Nisus and Euryalus, producing an alteration in the affairs of the contending parties, is a part of the principal ac. tion. The family-scene in the sixth book of the Iliad is of the same nature; for by Hector's retiring from the field of battle to visit his wife, the Grecians had opportunity to breathe, and even to turn upon the Trojans. The unavoidable effect of an episode, according to this definition, must be, to break the unity of action; and therefore it ought never to be indulged, unless to unbend the mind after the fatigue of a long narration. An episode, when such is its purpose, requires the following conditions: it ought to be well connected with the principal action: it ought to be lively and interesting : it ought to be short: and a time ought to be chosen when the principal action relents.*
* Canto 9.
In the following beautiful episode, which closes the second book of Fingal, all these conditions are united:
Comal was the son of Albion; the chief of a hundred bills. His deer drank of a thousand streams; and a thousand rocks replied to the voice of his dogs. His face was the mildness of youth; but his hand the death of heroes. One was his love, and fair was she ! the daughter of mighty Conloch. She appeared like a sunbeam among women, and her hair was like the wing of
raven. Her soul was fixed on Comal, and she was his companion in the chase. Often met their eyes of love, and happy were their words in secret. But Gormal loved the maid, the chief of gloomy Ardven. He watched her lone steps on the heath, the foe of unhappy Comal.
One day, tired of the chase, when the mist had concealed their friends, Comal and the daughter of Conloch met in the cave of Ronan. It was the wonted haunt of Comal. Its sides were hung with his arms; a hundred shields of thongs were there, a hundred helms of sounding steel. Rest here, said he, my love Galvina, thou light of the cave of Ronan: a deer appears on Mora's brow; I go, but soon will return. I fear, said she, dark Gormal my foe: I will rest here; but soon return, my love.
* Homer's description of the shield of Achilles is properly in. troduced at a time when the action relents, and the reader can bear an interruption. But the author of Telemachus describes the shield of that young hero in the heat of battle; a very im. proper time for an interruption.
this the tendency of a spisode to givesh from the masse for
or lustilateix, mihter
speed in the ticao namo
He went to the deer of Mora. The daughter of Conloch, to try his love, clothed her white side with his armor, and strode from the cave of Ronan. Thinking her his foe, his heart beat high, and his color changed. He drew the bow: the arrow flew : Galvina fell in blood. He ran to the cave with hasty steps, and called the daughter of Conloch. Where art thou, my love? but no answer. -He marked, at length, her heaving heart beating against the mortal arrow. O Conloch's daughter, is it thou ? he sunk upon her breast.
The hunters found the hapless pair. Many and silent were his steps round the dark dwelling of his love. The fleet of the ocean came; he fought, and the strangers fell: he searched for death over the field; but who could kill the mighty Comal? Throwing away his shield, an arrow found his manly breast. He sleeps with his Galvina : their green tombs are seen by the mariner, when he bounds on the waves of the north.
Next, upon the peculiarities of a dramatic poem. And the first I shall mention is a double plot; one of which must resemble an episode in an epic poem; for it would distract the spectator, instead of entertaining him, if he were forced to attend, at the same time, to two capital plots equally interesting. And even supposing it an under-plot like an episode, it seldom hath a good effect in tragedy, of which simplicity is a chief property; for an interesting subject that engages our affections, occupies our whole attention, and leaves no room for any separate concern. Variety is more tolerable in comedy, which pretends only to amuse, without totally occupying the mind. But even there, to make a double plot agreeable, is no slight effort of art: the under-plot ought not to vary greatly in its tone from the principal; for discordant emotions are unpleasant when jumbled together; which, by the way, is an insuperable objection to tragi-comedy. Upon that account, the Provoked Husband deserves censure; all the scenes that bring the family of the Wrongheads into action, being ludicrous and farcical, are in a very different tone from the principal scenes, displaying severe and bitter expostulations between Lord Townley and his lady. The same objection touches not the double plot of the Careless Husband; the different subjects being sweetly connected, and having only so much variety as to resemble shades of colors harmoniously
mixed. But this is not all. The under-plot ought to be connected with that which is principal, so much at least as to employ the same persons: the under-plot ought to occupy the intervals or pauses of the principal action; and both ought to be concluded together. This is the case of the Merry Wives of Windsor.
Violent action ought never to be represented on the stage. While the dialogue goes on, a thousand particulars concur to delude us into an impression of reality ; genuine sentiments, passionate language, and persuasive gesture: the spectator, once engaged, is willing to be deceived, loses sight of himself, and without scruple enjoys the spectacle as a reality. From this absent state, he is roused by violent action : he awakes as from a pleasing dream, and, gathering his senses about him, finds all to be a fiction.
The French critics join with Horace in excluding blood from the stage; but, overlooking the most substantial objection, they urge only, that it is barbarous, and shocking to a polite audience. The Greeks had no notion of such delicacy, or rather effeminacy: witness the murder of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes, passing behind the scene as represented by Sophocles : her voice is heard calling out for mercy, bitter expostulations on his part, loud shrieks upon her being stabbed, and then a deep silence. I appeal to every person of feeling, whether this scene be not more horrible than if the deed had been committed in sight of the spectators upon a sudden gust of passion. If Corneille, in representing the affair between Horatius and his sister, upon which murder ensues behind the scene, had no other view but to remove from the spectators a shocking action, he was guilty of a capital mistake; for murder in cold blood, which in some measure was the case as represented, is more shocking to a polite audience, even where the conclusive stab is not seen, than the same act performed in their presence by violent and unpremeditated passion, as suddenly repented