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ton, goes yet further: 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 inven. tion 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 de. scriptions 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 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 shewed 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 most commonly into another, was found too dissolute and wild, and came very often too near prose. 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 rhyme to the next following, and, conse. quently, produces too frequent an identity in the sound, 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 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 short digressive 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 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 EngJish poetry requires; all these, 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 de. signing 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 how my 'scritoire came to be un. locked 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 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 in the beginning of my book,* these two only ought to be angry with me; for I disobey their positive order, whilst I make even this small acknowledgment of their particular kindness.
The folio edition of 1718, to which is prefixed a most numerous list of honourable and celebrated names as subscribers.
TEXTS CHIEFLY ALLUDED TO IN THIS BOOK.
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem, Eccles. chap. i. ver. 1.
Vanity of vanities, (saith the Preacher) vanity of vanities; all is vanity, ver. 2.
I communed with mine own heart, saying, 'Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem : yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge, ver. 16.
He spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes, 1 Kings, chap. iv. ver. 33.
I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him, Eccles. chap. iii. ver. 14.
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time : also he hath set the world in their heart; so that no man can find out the work that God maketh