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TT is hard for a man to speak of himself with any to
lerable satisfaction or success: he can be 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 panegyrick, 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 publick are his judges: by allowing too much, and condescending too far, he may injure his own cause, and become a kind of felo de se; and, by pleading and asserting too boldly, he may displease the court that fits 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 indifferent 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 reaJonings 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 modern 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 heaped 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 Ecclefiaftes, ALL IS VANITY.
Upon the subject thus chofen, fuch 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 ftyle and colouring, the “ fimplex duntaxat & 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, especially if the recital be long, I found it neceffary 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 judgment of the critics, desiring them to be favourable in their cenfure ; and not solicitous what the poem is called, provided it may be accepted.
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The chief personage, or character, in the Epic is always proportioned to the defign of the work, to carry on the narration and the moral. Homer intended to faew us, in his Iliad, that diffenfions amongst great men obstruct the execution of the noblest enterprizes, and tend to the ruin of a state or kingdom. His Achilles therefore is haughty and paffionate, impatient of any restraint by laws, and arrogant in arms. In his Odysses, the fame Poet endeavours to explain, that the hardest difficulties may be overcome by labour, and our fortune restored after the feverest 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, ftill distinguished and protected by the favour of the gods. The Poet to this end takes off from the vices of Achilles, and adds to the virtues of Ulyffes ; from both perfecting a character proper for his work in the person of Æneas.
As Virgil copied after Homer, other Epic Poets have copied after them both. Taffo’s Gierusalemme Liberata is directly Troy Town Sacked ; with this difference only, that the two chief characters in Homer, which the Latin Poet had joined 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 (incomparably good as far as it goes) is again Virgil's Æneis. 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 imitation : 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 heroine 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 some particular virtue conducive to the whole design.
To bring this to our present subject. The pleasures of life do not compensate the miseries : 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 supposed now to repeat what, we take it for granted, he acted almoft three thousand years since ? If, in the fair situation where this prince was placed, he was acquainted with forrow; if, endowed with the greatest perfections of nature, and possessed of all the advantages of external condition, he could not find happiness; the rest of mankind may safely take the monarch’s word for the
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