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truth of what he asserts. And the author who would persuade that we should bear the ills of life patiently, merely because Solomon felt the same, has a better argument than Lucretius 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 foliloquy : 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 book; and his women and their attendants in the second: with these the sacred history mentions him to have conversed ; as likewise 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 intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus—" I presume this poetical liberty may be very justly allowed me on so solemn an occasion.
In my description I have endeavoured to keep to the notions and manners of the Jewish nation at the time when Solomon lived: and, where I allude to the customs of the Greeks, I believe I 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 several of
the 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 fublimest 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 aftronomy 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 fame habits which they wore, but in such as make them 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 Tasso have thewn their discretion, where Paul Veronese and Ariosto are to answer for their extravagances. It is the excess, not the thing itself, that is blameable. · I would say one word of the measure in which this and most Poems of the age are written. Heroic with continued rhyme, as Donne and his contemporaries used it, carrying the sense of one verse moft 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 firit line, which must always rhyme 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 composes, 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 Stanza, which allows a greater variety, and still preserves the dignity of the verse, as Spenser 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 inquiring in order to be better informed, without presuming 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 fhort digressive panegyrick 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 belt Poet, or the greatest Scholar that ever wrote. .
And now as to the publishing of this piece, though I have in a literal sense observed Horace's “ Nonum “ 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 aside much longer than the term prescribed ; but in the meantime 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 public 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 thefe, and some other circumstances which we had as good pass by at present, do justly contribute to make my excuse in this behalf very plausible. Far indeed from designing to print, I had locked up these papers in my fcritoire, there to lie in peace till my executors might have taken them out. What altered this design; or how my 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 submission 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
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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 particular kindness.
* As subscribers to the edition in folio, 1718.