« הקודםהמשך »
may be justified 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 feveral of the finest parts of his Æneis must have been omitted. Our countryman Milton goes yet farther. He takes up many of his material images some 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 objection, that some names of countries, terms of art, and notions in natural philosophy are otherwise expressed, than can be warranted by the geography or astronomy of Solomon's time. Poets are allowed the same liberty in their descriptions and comparisons, as painters in their draperies and ornaments : their personages may be dressed, not exactly in the same habits which they wore, but in such as appear most graceful. In this case probability must atone for the want of truth.
This liberty has indeed been abused by eminent masters in either science. Raphael and Taffo have shewed their discretion, where Paul Veronese and Ari
ofto are to answer for their extravagancies. It is the excess, not the thing itself, that is blame. able.
I would say one word of the measure, in which this, and most poems of the age are written. He. roic with continued rhime, as Donne and his contemporaries used it, carrying the sense of one verse most commonly into another, was found too diffolute and wild, and came very often too near profe. As Davenant and Waller corrected, and Dryden perfected it; it is too confined : it cuts off the sense at the end of every first line, which must always rhime to the next following; and consequently, produces too frequent an identity in the found, and brings every couplet to the point of an epigram. It is indeed too broken and weak, to convey the sentiments and represent the images proper for Epic. And, as it tires the writer while he com. poses, it must do the same to the reader while he repeats ; especially in a poem of any considerable length.
If striking out into blank verse, as Milton did (and in this kind Mr. Philips, had he lived, would have excelled) or running the thought into Alternate and Scanza, which allows a greater variety, and still preserves the
dignity of the verse, as Spencer and Fairfax have done ; if either of these, I say, be a proper remedy for my poetical complaint, or if any other may be found, I dare not determine: I am only enquiring, in order to be better informed ; without prefuming to direct the judgment of others,
And while I am speaking of the verse itself, I give all just praise to many of my friends
now living; who have in Epic carried the harmony of their numbers as far, as the nature of this measure will permit. But once more : he that writes in rhymes, dances in fetters : and as his chain is more extended, he may certainly take larger steps.
I need make no apology for the short digreffive Panegyric upon Great Britain, in the First Book: I am glad to have it observed, that there : appears throughout all my verses a zeal for the honour of my country, and I had rather be thought a good Englishman, than the best poet, or greatest
that ever wrote. And now as to the publishing of this piece, though I have in a literal sense observed Horace's
prematur in Annum; yet have I by no means obeyed our poetical lawgiver, according to the spirit of the precept. The poem has indeed been written and laid afide much longer
than the term prescribed ; but in the mean time I had little leisure, and less inclination to revise or print it. The frequent interruptions I have met with in my private studies, and great variety of publick life in which I have been employed ; my thoughts (such as they are) having generally been expressed in foreign language, and even formed by a habitude very different from what the beauty and elegance of English Poetry requires : all there, and some other circumstances which we had as good pass by at present, do juftly contribute to make my excuse in this behalf very plausible. Far indeed from designing to print I had locked up these papers in my scritoire, there to lie in 'peace 'till my executors might have taken them out. What altered this design, or
scritoire came to be unlocked before my coffin was nailed, is the question. The true reason I take to be the best : many of my friends of the first quality, finest learning, and greatest understanding, have wrested the key from my hands by a very kind and irresistible violence: and the poem is published, not without my consent indeed, but a little against my opinion; and with an implicit fubmiffion to the partiality of their judgment. As I give up here the fruits of many of my vacant hours to their
amusement and pleasure ; I shall always think myself happy, if I may dedicate my most serious endeavours to their interest and service. And I am proud to finish this preface by saying, that the violence of many enemies, whom I never justly offended, is abundantly recompensed by the goodness of more friends, whom I can never sufficiently oblige. And if I here assume the liberty of mentioning my Lord Harley and Lord Bathurst as the authors of this amicable confederacy, among all those whose names do me great honour at the beginning of my book, * these two only ought to be angry with me; for I disobey their positive order, whilft I make even this small acknowledgment of their parti-. cular kindness.
As subscribers to the edition in folio, 1718.