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gical, have no greater elevation, than we should expect from any person of his character and circumstances. Simplicity of style, for which none are disqualified by the meanness of their condition, often enforces a sublime or pathetick sentiment with the happiest effect. Let it be observed further, that poetical language is an imitation of real language improved to a state of perfection; and therefore, that the style of tragedy, though raised above that of common life, will never offend, so long as its elevations are at all consistent with probability. In fact, when the passions are well expressed, and the characters well drawn, a tragick poet needs notfear, that he shall be found fault with for the elegance of his language: though no doubt a great master will always know how to proportion the degree of elegance to the character of the speaker.
The dignity of a tragick hero may be so great as to require an elevation of language equal to the pitch of epick poetry itself. This might be exemplified from many of the speeches of Lear, Othello, Hamlet, and Cato, and of Samson in the Agonistes. But, in general, the epick style is to be distinguished from the tragick, by a more uniform elevation, and more elaborate harmony: because a poet, assuming the character of calm inspiration, and rather relating the feelings of others, than expressing his own, would speak with more composure, steadiness, and art, than could reasonably be expected from those who deliver their thoughts according to the immediate impulse of passion.
The language of comedy is that of common life improved in point of correctness, but not much elevated; both because the speakers are of the middle and lower ranks of mankind, and also because the affairs they are engaged in give little scope to those emotions that exalt the mind, and rouse the imagination. As to the style of farce, which is frequently blended with comedy; it is purposely degraded below that of common life; or rather, it is the ridiculous language of common life made more ridiculous. I have already remarked, that farce is to poetry what caricatura is to painting; as in the last we look for no beauty of attitude or feature, so neither in the first do we expect elegance of diction. Absurdity of thought produces absurdity of words and behaviour: the true farcical character is more extravagantly and more uniformly absurd, than the droll of real life; and his language, in order to be natural, must be exaggerated accordingly. Yet as nothing is esteemed in the fine arts, but what displays the ingenuity of the artist, I should imagine, that, even in a \
farce, one would not receive much pleasur mere incongruity of words or actions; because that may be so easily invented. Studied absurdity cannot be entertaining, unless it be in some degree uncommon.*
We may therefore repeat, and lay it down as a maxim, " That language is natural, when it is "suited to the speaker's condition, character, "and circumstances." And as, for the most part, the images and sentiments of serious poetry are copied from the images and sentiments, not of real, but of improved, nature;t so the language of serious poetry must (as hinted already) be a transcript, not of the real language of nature, which is often dissonant and rude, but of natural language improved as far as may be consistent with probability, and with the supposed character of the speaker. If this be not the case, if the language of poetry be such only as we hear in conversation, or read in history, it will, insteadof delight, bring disappointment: because it will fall short of what we expect from an art which is recommended rather by its pleasurable qualities, than by its intrinsick utility; and to which, in order to render it pleasing, we grant
* Essay on Laughter, chap. 3.
Vol. VI. C
higher privileges, than to any other kind of literary composition, or any other mode of human language.
The next inquiry must therefore be, " How "is the language of nature to be improved?" or rather, "What are those improvements that "peculiarly belong to the language of poetry?"
Natural Language is improved in Poetry by the use of Poetical Words.
One mode of improvement peculiar to poetical diction results from the use of those words, and phrases, which, because they rarely occur in prose, and frequently in verse, are by the grammarian and lexicographer termed poetical. In these some languages abound more than others: but no language I am acquainted with is altogether without them; and perhaps no language can be so, in which any number of good poems have been written. For poetry is better remembered than prose, especially by poetical authors; who will always be apt to imitate the phraseology of those they have been accustomed to read and admire: and thus, in the works of poets, down through- successive generations, certain phrases may have been conveyed, which, though originally perhaps in common use, are now confined to poetical composition. Prose writers are not so apt to imitate one another, at least in words and phrases; both because they do not so well remember one another's phraseology, and also because their language is less artificial, and must not, if they would make it easy and flowing, (without which it cannot be elegant), depart essentially from the style of correct conversation. Poets too, on account of the greater difficulty of their numbers, have, both in the choice and in the arrangement of words, a better claim to indulgence, and stand more in need of a discretionary power.
The language of Homer differs materially from what was written and spoken in Greece in the days of Socrates. It differs in the mode of inflection, it differs in the syntax, it differs even in the words; so that one might read Homer with ease, who could not read Xenophon; orXenophon, without being able to read Homer. Yet I cannot believe that Homer, or the first Greek poet who wrote in his style, would make choice of a dialect quite different from what was intelligible in his own time; for poets have in all ages written with a view to be read, and to be read