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teresting. This depends in a great measure upon the choice of it. But it depends much more upon the skilful management of the poet. He must fo frame his plan, as to comprehend many affecting incidents. He must sometimes dazzle with valiant achievements; sometimes he must be awful and august; often tender and pathetic ; and he must fometimes give us gentle and pleasing scenes of love, friendship, and affection.
To render the subject interesting, much also depends upon the dangers and obstacles, which must be encoun. tered. It is by the management of these, that the poet must roufe attention, and hold his reader in sufpense and agitation.
It is generally supposed by critics, that an epic poem should conclude fuccessfully; as an unhappy conclusion depresses the mind. Indeed it is on the prosperous fide, that epic poets generally conclude. But two authors of great name, Milton and Lucan, hold the contrary course. The one concludes with the subversion of Roman liberty ; and the other with the expulsion of man from Paradise.
No precise boundaries can be fixed for the duration of the epic action. The action of the Illiad lafts, according to Bossu, only forty seven days. - The action of the Odyssey extends to eight years and a half; and that of the Æneid includes about fix years.
The personages in an epic poem should be proper and well supported. They should display the features of human nature ; and may admit different degrees of virtue, and even vice; though the principal characters should be fuch, as will raise admiration and love. Poetic characters are of two forts, general and particular. General characters are such, as are wise, brave, and virtuous, without any farther distinction. Particular characters express the species of bravery, of wisdom, and of virtue, for which any one is remarkable. In this discrimination of characters Homer excels. Tasso approaches the nearest to him in this respect ; and Virgil is the most deficient.
Among epic poets it is the practice to select some personage, as the hero of the tale. This renders the unity of the subject more perfect, and contributes highly to the interest and perfection of this species of writing. It has been asked, Who then is the hero of Paradise Lost? The devil, say some critics, who affect to be pleasant against Milton. But they mistake his inten. tion by supposing that, whoever is triumphant in the close, must be the hero of the poem. For Adam is Milton's hero ; that is, the capital and most interesting figure in his poem.
In epic poetry there are beside human characters gods and supernatural beings. This forms, what is called the machinery of epic poetry ; and the French fappose this essential to the nature of an epic poem.
They hold that in every epic composition the main aco tion is necessarily carried on by the intervention of gods. But there seems to be no solid reason for their opinion. Lucan has no gods, nor supernatural agents. The author of Leonidas also has no machinery.
But, though machinery is not absolutely necessary to the epic plan, it ought not to be totally excluded from it. The marvelous has a great charm for most readers. It leads to sublime description, and fills the imagination. At the same time it becomes a poet to be temperate in the use of supernatural machinery ; and fo to employ the religious faith or superstition of his country, as to give an air of probability to events, most contrary to the common course of nature..
With regard to the allegorical personages, Fame, Discord, Love, and the like, they form the worst kind of machinery. In description they may sometimes be allowed; but they should never bear any part in the action of the poem. As they are only mere names of general ideas, they ought not to be considered, as perfons; and cannot mingle with human actors without an intolerable confusion of shadows with realities.
In the narration of the poet it is of little consequence, whether he relate the whole story in his own character, or introduce one of his personages, to relate a part of the action, that pa’sed before the poem opens. Homer follows one method in his Iliad, and the other in his Odyssey. It is to be observed however that, if the narrative be given by any of the actors, it gives the poet greater liberty of spreading out such parts of the subject, as he inclines to dwell upon in person, and of comprising the rest within a short recital. When the fubject is of great extent, and comprehends the tranf. actions of several years, as in the Odyssey and Æneid; this method seems preferable. But, when the subject is of finaller compass and shorter duration, as in the Iliad and Jerusalem ; the poet may without disadvantage relate the whole in his own perfon.
What is of most importance in the narration is, that it be perspicuous, animated, and enriched with every poetic beauty. No sort of composition requires more strength, dignity, and fire, than an epic poem. It is the region, in which we look for every thing sublime in description, tender in sentiment, and bold or lively in expression. The ornaments of epic poetry are grave and chaste. Nothing loose, ludicrous, or affected, finds place there. All the objects, it presents, ought to be great, tender, or pleasing. Descriptions of disgusting or shocking objects are to be avoided. Hence the fable of the Harpies in the Æneid, and the allegory of Sin and Death in Paradise Lost, should have been omitted.
HOMER's ILIAD AND. ODYSSEY.
I HE father of epic poetry is Homer ; and, in order to relish him, we must divest ourselves of modern ideas of dignity and refinement, and transport' our imagination almost three thousand years back in the history of mankind. The reader is to expect a picture of the antient world. The two great characters of Homer's poetry are fire and simplicity. But, to have a clear idea of his merit, let us consider the Iliad under the three heads of the subject or action, the characters, and the narration.
The subject of the Iliad is happily chofen. For no subject could be more splendid, than the Trojan war. A great confederacy of the Grecian states and ten years siege of Troy must have spread far abroad the renown of many military exploits, and given an extensive interest to the heroes, who were concerned in them. Upon these traditions Homer grounded his poem ; and, as he lived two or three centuries after the Trojan war, he had full liberty to intermingle fable with history. He chose not however the whole Trojan war for his subject; but with great judgment selected the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, which includes the most interesting period of the war. He has thus given greater unity to his poem. He has gained one hero, or principal character, that is, Achilles ; and