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If a painter should wish to unite a horse's neck to a human head, and spread a variety of plumage over limbs [of different animals) taken from every part [of nature]," so that what is a beautiful woman in the upper part terminates unsightly in an ugly fish below; could you, my friends, refrain from
1 All that our poet says here may be referred, in general, to three heads, the fable, the manners, and the diction. We should take notice that this piece particularly regards epic and dramatic poetry, and that our author only occasionally mentions any other kind.
The most important precept for the composition of a poem is unity and simplicity of design. There should be only one action, to which all the incidents ought to refer; and this point of perfection, every regular work requires. To show the necessity of this rule, Horace compares an irregular poem to pictures formed by a wild assortment of many parts entirely unlike each other. Every part, considered in itself, may have its proper, natural perfection, while their union produces nothing but what is monstrous and ridiculous. FRAN.
The critic's rules must be taken either, 1. from the general standing laws of composition; or, 2. from the peculiar ones, appropriated to the kind. Now the direction to be fetched from the former of these sources will of course precede, as well on account of its superior dignity, as that the mind itself delights to descend from universals to the consideration of particulars. Agreeably to this rule of nature, the poet, having to correct, in the Roman drama, these three points, 1. a misconduct in the disposi' tion; 2. an abuse of language; and, 3. a disregard of the peculiar characters and colorings of its different species, hath chosen to do this on principles of universal nature; which, while they include the case of the drama, at the same time extend to poetic composition at large. These prefatory, universal observations being delivered, he then proceeds, with advantage, to the second source of this art, viz., the consideration of the laws and rules peculiar to the kind. HURD.
2 But Orelli more rightly treats “collatis membris" as the ablative absolute,
laughter, were you admitted to such a sight? Believe, ye Pisos, the book will be perfectly like such a picture, the ideas of which, like a sick man's dreams, are all vain and fictitious : so that neither head nor foot can correspond to any one form. “Poets and painters [you will say] have ever had equal authority for attempting any thing." We are conscious of this, and this privilege we demand and allow in turn : but not to such a degree, that the tame should associate with the savage ; nor that serpents should be coupled with birds, lambs with tigers.
In pompous introductions, and such as promise a great deal, it generally happens that one or two verses of purple patch-work, that may make a great show, are tagged on; as when the grove and the altar of Diana and the meandering of a current hastening through pleasant fields, or the river Rhine, or the rainbow is described. But here there was no room for these [fine things]: perhaps, too, you know how to draw a cypress :* but what is that to the purpose, if he, who is painted for the given price, is [to be represented as] swimming hopeless out of a shipwreck! A large vase at first was
3 These preparatory observations, concerning the laws of poetic composition at large, have been thought to glance more particulaly at the epic poetry which was not improper: for, 1. the drama which he was about to criticise, had its rise and origin from the epos. Thus we are told by the great critic, that Homer was the first who invented dramatic imitations μόνος-ότι μιμήσεις δραματικάς εποίησε. 2. The several censures, here pointed at the epic, would bear still more directly against the tragic poem; it being more glaringly inconsistent with the genius of the drama to admit of foreign and digressive ornaments, than of the extended, episodical epopæia. For both these reasons, it was altogether pertinent to the poet's purpose, in a criticism on the drama, to expose the vicious practice of the epic models. Though, to preserve the unity of his piece, and for a further reason (see note on v. 1), he hath artfully done this under the cover of general criticism. HURD.
4 Boughs of cypress were carried in funeral processions, and placed before the houses of the great, upon particular occasions of sorrow, Et non plebeios luctus testata cupressus. Lucan. From hence, perbaps, this tree was usually drawn in votive tablets; in pictures carried by beggars, to excite charity; and in those used by lawyers in courts of justice, to raise the compassion of the judges. by representing the distresses of their clients. A painter might, by frequent practice, excel in drawing a tree for which there was such demand; and he therefore absurdly determines to show his skill upon all occasions, even by painting it in the middle of the ocean, and making it overshadow the storm. The commentators understand this passage in a different manner. FRAN.
designed: why, as the wheel revolves, turns out a little pitcher !
The great majority of us poets, father, and youths worthy
A statuary about the Æmilian school shall of himself, with singular skill, both express the nails, and imitate in brass the flexible hair ; unhappy yet in the main, because he knows not how to finish a complete piece. I would no more choose to be such a one as this, had I a mind to compose any thing, than to live with a distorted nose, [though] remarkable for black eyes and jetty hair.
Ye who write, make choice of a subject suitable to your abilities; and revolve in your thoughts a considerable time what your strength' declines, and what it is able to support. Neither elegance of style, nor a perspicuous disposition, shall desert the man, by whom the subject matter is chosen judiciously.
5 The word prodigialiter apparently refers to that fictitious monster under which the poet allusively shadows out the idea of absurd and inconsistent composition. The application, however, differs in this, that, whereas the monster, there painted, was intended to expose the extravagance of putting together incongruous parts, withoi c any reference to a whole, this prodigy is designed to characterize a whole, but deformed hy the ill-judged position of its parts. The former is like a monster, whose several members as of right belonging to different animals, could by no disposition be made to constitute one consistent animal. The other, like a landscape which hath no objects absolutely irrelative, or irreducible to a whole, but which a wrong position of the parts only renders prodigions. Send the boar to the woods, and the dolphin to the waves; and the painter might show them both on the same canvas.
Each is a violation of the law of unity, and a real monster: the one, because it contains an assemblage of natural incoherent parts; the other, because its parts, though in themselves coherent, are misplaced and disjointed. HURD.
6 "Unus" =" præter cæteros," "melius quam reliqui omnes." OREI U. The reading before Bentley was "imus."
? Literally, "shoulders," a phrase derived from wrestlers.
This, or I am mistaken, will constitute the merit and beauty of arrangement, that the poet just now say what ought just now to be said, put off most of his thoughts, and waive them for the present.
In the choice of his words, too, the author of the projected poem must be delicate and cautious, he must embrace one and reject another: you will express yourself eminently well, if a dexterous combination should give an air of novelty to a wellknown word. If it happen to be necessary to explain some abstruse subjects by new invented terms; it will follow that you must frame words never heard of by the old-fashioned Cethegi : and the license will be granted, if modestly used : and new and lately-formed words will have authority, if they descend from a Greek source, with a slight deviation. But why should the Romans grant to Plutus and Cæcilius a privilege denied to Virgil and Varius? Why should I be envied, if I have it in my power to acquire a few words, when the language of Cato and Ennius has enriched our native tongue, and produced new names of things ? It has been, and ever will be, allowable to coin a word marked with the stamp in present request. As leaves in the woods are changed with the fleeting years; the earliest fall off first: in this manner words perish with old age, and those lately invented flourish and thrive, like men in the time of youth. We, and our works, are doomed to death: whether Neptune,' admitted into the continent, defends our fleet from the north winds, a kingly work; or the lake, for a long time unfertile and fit for oars, now maintains its neighboring cities and feels the heavy plow; or the river, taught to run in a more convenient
8 Cinctutis. Having the tunic tightened by the cinctus, or wearing the cinctus instead of the tunic, as appears to have been the custom of the ancient Romans. This was a vest which passed round the waist, and extended down to the feet. That it was an ancient vesture may appear from its being used by the Luperci. Comp. Ovid. Fast. v. 101. As it did not embarrass the motion of the arms, even after the tunic became part of the dress, it was sometimes substituted for it by those who had occasion to use much bodily exertion. Hence cinctutis is supposed by some to have a meaning here similar to that of succinctus, "active, industrious.” Others explain the word as referring to that arrangement of the toga called "cinctus Gabinus." M'CAUL.
9 Agrippa opened a communication between the Lucrine and Avernian Lakes in 717, and built a magnificent haven there, which he named Portius Julius, in honor of Augustus, who was at that time only called Julius Octavianus. SAN.
channel, has changed its course which was so destructive to the fruits. Mortal works must perish : much less can the honor and elegance of language be long-lived. Mauy words shall revive," which now have fallen off; and many which are now in esteem shall fall off, if it be the will of custom, in whose power is the decision and right and standard of language.
Homer has instructed us in what measure the achievements" of kings, and chiefs, and direful war might be written.
Plaintive strains originally were appropriated to the unequal numbers [of the elegiac]:18 afterward [love and] successful desires were included. Yet what author first published humble" elegies, the critics dispute, and the controversy still waits the determination of a judge.
10 The Scholiast informs us, that Agrippa opened a canal to receive the waters of the Tiber, which had overflowed the country.
11 This revival of old words is one of those niceties in composition, not to be attempted by any but great masters. It may be done two ways: 1. by restoring such terms as are grown entirely obsolete; or 2. by selecting out of those which have still a currency, and are not quite laid aside, such as are most forcible and expressive. These choice words, among such as are still in use, I take to be those which are employed by the old writers in some peculiarly strong and energetic sense, yet so as with good advantage to be copied by the moderns, without appearing barbarous or affected. (See Hor. lib. ii. ep. ii. v. 115.) The other use of old terms, i. e. when become obsolete, he says, must be made parcè, more sparingly. HURD.
12 The purport of these lines (from v. 73 to 86), and their connection with what follows, hath not been fully seen. They would express this general proposition, “That the several kinds of poetry essentially differ from each other, as may be gathered, not solely from their different subjects, but their different measures; which good sense, and an attention to the peculiar natures of each, instructed the great inventors and masters of them to employ. The use made of this proposition is to infer. “That therefore the like attention should be had to the different species of the same kind of poetry (v. 89, etc.), as in the case of tragedy and comedy (to which the application is made), whose peculiar differences and correspondences, as resulting from the natures of each, should, in agreement to the universal law of decorum, be exactly known and diligently observed by the poet.” HURD.
13 Elegy was at first only a lamentation for the death of a person beloved, and probably arose frem the death of Adonis. It was afterward applied to the joys and griefs of lovers. TORR.
14 The pentameter, which Horace calls “exiguum,” because it has a foot less than the hexameter. For the same reason he says, “ versibus impariter junctis." DAC.
the f the and near sit ime had