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TT is hard for a man to speak of himself with any I tolerable satisfaction or success: he can be no more pleased in blaming himself, than in reading a satire made on him by another : and though he may justly desire, that a friend should praise him : yet if he makes his own panegyric, he will get very few to read it. It is harder for him to speak of his own writings. An author is in the condition of a Culprit: the public are his judges: by allowing too much, and condescending too far, he may injure his own cause, and become a kind of Felo de fe ; and by pleading and as. serting too boldly, he may displease the court that Gits upon him : his apology may only heighten his accusation. I would avoid these extremes: and though, I grant, it would not be very civil to trouble the reader with a long preface, before he enters upon an in. different poem; I would say something to persuade him to take it as it is, or to excuse it for not being better.
The noble images and reflections, the profound reasonings upon human actions, and excellent precepts for the government of life, which are found in the PROVERBS, ECCLESIASTES, and other books commonly attributed to SOLOMON, afford subjects for finer poems in every kind, than have, I think, as yet appeared in the GREEK, LATIN, or any modera
language: how far they were verse in their original, is a differtation not to be entered into at present.
Out of this great treasure, which lies heap'd up together in a confused magnificence, above all order, I had a mind to collect and digest such observations and apophthegms, as most particularly tend to the proof of that great affertion, laid down in the beginning of the ECCLESIASTES, ALL IS VANITY.
Upon the subject thus chosen, such various images present themselves to a writer's mind, that he must find it easier to judge, what should be rejected, than what ought to be received. The difficulty lies in drawing, and disposing; or (as the painters term it) in grouping such a multitude of different objects, preserving still the justice and conformity of style and colouring, the fimplex duntaxat et unum, which HORACE prescribes, as requisite to make the whole picture beautiful and perfect...
As precept, however true in theory, or useful in practice, would be but dry and tedious in verse, espe. cially if the recital .be long; I found it necessary to form some story, and give a kind of body to the poem. Under what species it may be comprehended, whether Didascalic, or Heroic, I leave to the judge ment of the critics; desiring them to be favourable in their censure ; and not follicitous what the poem is called, provided it may be accepted.
The chief personage or character in the Epic, is always proportioned to the design of the work, to carry on the narration, and the moral. Homer in. tended to show us in his ILIAD, that diffentions amongst great men obftruc the execution of the noblest
enterprizes, and tend to the ruin of a state or king. dom. His ACHILLES therefore is haughty, and paffionate, impatient of any restraint by laws, and arro. gant in arms. In his ODYSSEYs the same poet endeavours to explain, that the hardest difficulties may be overcome by labour, and our fortune restored after the severest afflictions. ULYSSES therefore is valiant, virtuous, and patient. VIRGIL's design was to tell us; how from a small colony established by the TROJANS in ITALY, the ROMAN empire rose, and from what ancient families AUGUSTUS (who was his prince and patron) descended. His hero therefore was to fight his way to the throne, still diftinguished and protected by the favour of the Gods. The poet to this end takes · off from the vices of ACHILLES, and adds to the vira tues of ULYSSES; from both perfecting a character proper for his work in the person of Æneas.
As VIRGIL copy'd alter HOMER, other Epic poets have copied after them both. Tasso's Gierusalemme Liberata is directly Troy Town facked; with this difference only, that the two chief characters in HOMER which the LATIN poet had join’d in one, the ITALIAN has separated in his GODFREY and RINALDO; but he makes them both carry on his work with very great success. RONSARD's FRANCIADE, (incompa, rably good as far as it goes) is again VIRGIL'S Æ. Nels. His hero comes from a foreign country, settles a colony and lays the foundation of a future empire. I instance in these, as the greatest ITALIAN and FRENCH poets in the Epic. In our language Spenser has not contented himself with this submissive manner of imi. tation : he launches out into very flowery paths, which
still seem to conduct him into one great road. His Fairy Queen (had it been finished) must have ended in the account, which every knight was to give of his adventures, and in the accumulated praises of his he. roine GLORIANA. The whole would have been an Heroic poem, but in another cast and figure, than any that ever had been written before; Yet it is observable that every hero (as far as we can judge by the books still remaining) bears his distinguished character, and represents fome particular virtue con ducive to the whole design. • To bring this to our present subject. The pleasures of life do not compensate the miseries i age steals upon us unawares: and death, as the only cure of our ills, ought to be expected, but not feared. This instruction is to be illustrated by the action of some great person. Who therefore more proper for the business, than SOLOMON himself ? and why may he not be fupposed now to repeat what, we take it for granted, he acted almost three thousand years since ? if in the fair fituation where this prince was placed, he was acquainted with sorrow; if endowed with the greatest perfections of nature, and poffeffed of all the advantages of external condition, he could not find happie nefs; the rest of mankind may fafely take the monarch's word for the truth of what he afferts. And the author who would perfuade, that we should bear the ills of life patiently, merely because SOLOMON felt the same, has a better argument, than LUCRE. Tius had ; when in his imperious way, he at once convinces and commands, that we ought to submit to death without repining, because EPICURUS died. The whole poem is a soliloquy: SOLOMON is the person that speaks : he is at once the hero and the author ; but he tells us very often what others say to him. Those chiefly introduced are his rabbies and philosophers in the first booky and his women and their attendants in the second : with these the facred history mention him to have conversed ; aslikewise with the angel brought down in the third book; to help him out of his difficulties, or at least to teach him how to overcome them.
Nec Deus interfit nisi dignus vindice nodus. I presume this poetical liberty may be very juftly ale. lowed me on fo folemn an occasion..
In my description I have endeavoured to keep to the notions and manners of the J&wish nation, at the time when Solomon lived : and where I allude to the customs of the Greeks, I believe I may be juftified by the strictest Chronology ; though a poet is not obliged to the rules that confine an historian. VIRGIL has anticipated two hundred years; or the TROJAN Hero and CARTHAGINIAN Queen could not have been brought together : and without the fame Anachronism several of the finest parts of his Æneis must have been omitted. Our countryman MILTON goes yet further. He takes up many of his material images fome thousands of years after the fall of man: nor could he otherwise have written, or we read one of the sublimest pieces of invention that was ever yet produced. This likewise takes off the objec. tion, that some names of countries, terms of art, and notions in natural philosophy are otherwise expreffed, than can be warranted by the Geography or Astronomy