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case of Monimia and Belvidera, in Otway's two tragedies, The Orphan, and Venice preserved.
I had an early opportunity to unfold a curious doctrine, That fable operates on our passions, by representing its events as passing in our sight, and by deluding us into a conviction of reality *. Hence, in epic and dramatic compositions, it is of importance to employ means of every fort that may promote the delusion, such as the borrowing from history some noted event, with the addition of circumstances that may answer the author's purpose: the principal facts are known to be true; and we are disposed to extend our belief to every circumstance. But in chusing a subject that makes a figure in history, greater precaution is neceslary than where the whole is a fiction. In the latter cafe there is full scope for invention: the author is under no restraint other than that the characters and incidents be just copies of nature. But where the story is founded on truth, no circumstances must be added, but such as connect naturally with what are known to be true; history may be supplied, but must not be contradicted: further, the subject chosen must be distant in time, or at least in place; for the familiarity of persons and events nearly connected with us, ought by all means to be avoided. Familiarity ought more especially to be avoided in an epic poem, the peculiar character of
* Chap. 2. part i.scct. 6.
which is dignity and elevation: modern manner* make but a poor figure in such a poem *.
After Voltaire, no writer, it is probable, will think of rearing an epic poem upon a recent event in the history of his own country. But an event of this kind is perhaps not altogether unqualified for tragedy: it was admitted in Greece; and Shakefpear has employ'd it successfully in several of his pieces. One advantage it possesse* above fiction, that of more readily engaging our belief, which tends above any other particular to raise our sympathy. The scene of comedy is generally laid at home: familiarity is no objection; and we are peculiarly sensible of the ridicule of our own manners.
After a proper subject is chosen, the dividing it into parts requires some art. The conclusion of a book in an epic poem, or of an act in a play, cannot be altogether arbitrary; nor be intended for so slight a purpose as to make the parts of equal length. The supposed pause at the end of every book, and the real pause at the end of every act, ought always to coincide with some paule 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, though the action relents, if it hs not actually suspended for some time. This rule Is also applicable to an epic poem: though therej 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 the Paradise Loft, ends without any regular close, perfect or imperfect: it breaks Oif abruptly, where Satan, seated on his throne, is prepared to make a speech to the convocated host of the fall'n 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 fame 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 Loft, nor at the end of the eleventh.
* I would not from this observation be thought to undervalue modern manners. The roughness, plainness, and impetuosity of ancient manners, may show better in an epic poem, without be. ing better fitted for society. But without regard to this circuraftance, it is the familiarity of modern manners that unqualifies them for a lofty subject. The dignity of our present manners, will be Vetttr tnderljood in future ages, wheti they have become ancient.
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 in every respect 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 After carrying on together epic and dramatic compositions, I proceed to handle them separately, and to mention circumstances peculiar to each, beginning with the epic kind. In a theatrical entertainment, whieh 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 not place for this objection in an epic poem; and Boileau *, with many other critics, declares strongly for this fort of machinery in an epic poem. But waving authority, which is apt to impose upon the judgement, 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 two things are constantly jumbled together in the reasoning. The former is founded on a natural principle f * but can the latter claim the fame authority? so far from it, that nothing can be more unnatu
• En general il y a beaucoup de discours et peu d'action fur It scene Françoise. Quelqu'un disoit en sortant d'une piece de Déni» le Tiran, Je n'ai rien vu, mais j'ai entendu force paroles. Voilt ce qu'on peut dire en sortant des pieces Francoises. Racine et Corneille avec tout leur génie ne font eux mêmes que des parleurs, et leur successeur est le premier qui à l'imitation des Anglois ait •se mettre quelquefois la scene en représentation. Communément tout se passe en beaux dialogues bien agencés, bien ronflans, où l'on voit d'abord que le premier foin de chaque interlocuteur est toujours celui de briller. Presque tout s'énonce en maximes générales. Quelque agités qu'ils puissent être, ils songent toujours plus au public qu'a eux-mêmes; une sentence leur coûte moins qu'un sentiment; les pieces de Racine et de Molière exceptées, le je est fresque aulïï scrupuleusement banni de la scene Françoise que dei écrits de Port-Royal; et les passions humaines, aussi modestes que l'humilité Chrétienne, n'y parlent jamais que par on. Il y a encore une certaine dignité maniérée dans le geste et dans le propos, qui ne permet jamais à la passion de parler exactement son langage, ni s l'auteur de revêtir son personage, et de se transporter au lieu de la scene, mais le tient toujours enchainé fur le théâtre, et fous les yeux des spectateurs. Aussi les situations les plus rives ne lui font-elles jamais oublier un bel arrangement de phrases, ni des attitudes élégantes; et si le desespoir lui plonge un poignard dans le cœur, non content «"observer la décence en tombant comme Polixcne, il ne