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That people live and die, I knew
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 public are his judges: by allowing too much, and condescending too far, he may injure his own cause, and become a kind of felo dese; and, by pleading and asserting too boldly, he may displease the court that sits 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 reasonings 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 dissertation not to be entered into at present. Out of this great treasure, which lies heaped up together in a confused magnificence, above ail' order, I had a mind to collect and digest such observations and apophthegms, as most particularly tend to the proof of that great assertion, laid down in the beginning of the Ecclesiastes, All is vanity. Upon the subject thus chosen, such 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 style and colouring, the “simplex 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 necessary 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 censure; and not solicitous what the poem is called, provided it may be accepted. The chief personage, or character, in the epic is always proportioned to the design of the work, to carry on the narration and the moral. Homer intended to show us, in his Iliad, that dissensions 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 passionate, impatient of any restraint by laws, and arrogant in arms. In his Odyssels, the same Poet endeavours to explain, that the hardest difficulties may be overcome by labour, and our fortune restored after the severest 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, still distinguished and pro:
tected by the favour of the gods. The poet to this end takes off from the vices of Achilles, and adds to the virtues of Ulysses; 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. Tasso's Gierrusalemme 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 Vitgil's Fneis. His Hero comes from a foreign country, settles a colony, and Jays the foundation of a future empire. I instance in these, as the greatost ltalian and French poets in the epic. In our language, Spenser has not contented himself with this submissive manner of imitation: he lanches 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 coinpensate 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 almost three thousand years since? If, in the fair situation where this prince was placed, he was acquainted with sorrow; if, endowed with the greatest perfections of nature, and possessed of all the advantages of external condition, hu could not find happiness: the rest of mankind may safely take the monarch's word for the truth of what he asserts. And the author, who would persuade that we should bear the ills of life patiently, mercly because Solomon felt the same, has a better argument than Lucretius had, when, in his imperious way, he at once convinces and conmands, that we ought to submit to death without repining, because Fpicurus died. The whole poem is a soliloquy : 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 convorsed; as likewise with the angel brought down in the third book, to help him out of his difficultics, or at least to teach hill, how to overconne then”.
Ncc Deus interst uisi dignus vindice nodwo
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 same anachronism several of the finest parts of his oneis must have been omitted. Our countryman Milton 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 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 make them appear most grac, ful. In this case probability must atone for the want of truth. This liberty has indeed been abused by eminent masters in cither science. Raphael and Tasso have shown 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 whick 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 nost 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 of the sense at the end of every first line, which must always rhyme to the next following; and consequently 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 clic. 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. Phillips, had he lived, would have excelled), or running the thought into alternate and stanza, which allows a greater variety, and still preserve the dignity of the verse, as Spenser and Fairfax have done; if either of these, I say, be a proper reinedy for my poetical complaint, or if any other inay be found, I dare not determine ; I an only inquiring in order to be better informed, without pro sun.ing to direct the judoment of others. And, while I am speaking of the verse itself, I give all just praise to unany of my friends now living, who have in epic carried the harmony of their numbers as far as the nature of this incasure will perinit. But, othee unore : he, that writes in rhytics, 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 nay verses a zeal for the honour of my country: and I had rather be thought a good Fnglishman, than the best 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 Nounn 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 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 fron designing to print, I had locked up these papers in my scritoire, there to lie in peace till Iny executors might have taken them out. What altered this design, or how my scritoire came to be unlocked before my coslin was nailed, is the question. The true reason I take to be the best: inany 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 subuission 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 so riotis 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 lib’ riy of inentioning 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 vily ought to be angry with ine: for I disobey thoir positive order, whilst I make even this sunall acknowledgment of their particular kindness.
Solomox, seeking happiness from knowledge, convenes the learned men of his kingdom; requires them to explain to him the various operations and effects of Nature; discourses of vegetables, animals, and man; proposes some questions concerning the origin and situation of the ha-, bitable Earth; proceeds to examine the system of the visible Heaven; doubts if there may not be a plurality of worlds; inquires into the nature of spirits and angels; and wishes to be inore fully informed as to the attributes of the Supreme Being. He is imperfectly answered by the rabbins and doctors; blames his own curiosity; and concludes, that, as to human science, All is vanity.
Ye sons of men, with just regard attend,
Of my pursuing verse, ideal shade,
“Whence does it happen, that the plant, which well We name the Sensitive, should move and feel? Whence know her leaves to answer her cominand. And with quick horrour fly the neighbouring hand? “Along the sunny bank, or watery mead, Ten thousand stalks the various blossoms spread a Peaceful and lowly in their native soil, They neither know to spin, nor care to toil; Yet with confess'd magnificence deride Our vile attire, and impotence of pride. The cowslip smiles, in brighter yellow dress'd Than that which veils the nubile virgin's breast: A fairer red stands blushing in the rose Than that which on the bridegroom's vestment - flows. Take but the humblest lily of the field; And, if our pride will to our reason yield, It must, by sure comparison, be shown That on the regal seat great David's son, Array'd in all his robes and types of power, Shines with less glory than that simple flower. “Of fishes next, my friends, I would inquire: How the mute race engender, or respire, From the small fry that glide on Jordan's stream, Unmark'd, a multitude without a name, To that Leviathan, who o'er the seas Immense rolls onward his impetuous ways, And mocks the wind, and in the tempest plays? How they in warlike bands march greatly forth From freezing waters and the colder north, To southern climes directing their career, Their station changing with th' inverted year? How all with careful knowledge are enducd, To choose their proper bed, and wave, and food; To guard their spawn, and educate their brood “Of birds, how each, according to her kind, Proper materials for her nest can find, And build a frame, which deepest thought in man Would or annend or imitate in vain? How in small flights they know to try their young, And teach the callow child her parent's song 2 Why these frequent the plain, and those the wood? Why every land has her specific brood? Where the tall crane, or winding swallow, goes, Fearful of gathering winds and falling snows; If into rocks, or hollow trees, they creep, In temporary death confin'd to sleep; Or, conscious of the coming evil, fly To milder regions, and a southern sky? “Of beasts and creeping insects shall we trace The wondrous nature, and the various race; Or wild or tame, or friend to man or foe, Of us what they, or what of them we know * “Tell me, ye studious, who pretend to see Far into Nature's bosom, whence the bee Was first inform'd her venturous flight to steer Through trackless paths, and an abyss of air? Whence she avoids the slimy marsh, and knows The fertile hills, where sweeter herbage grows, And honey-making flowers their opening buds disclose? How from the thicken'd mist, and setting sun, Finds she the labour of her day is done? Who taught her against winds and rains to strive, To bring her burthen to the certain hive; And through the liquid fields again to pass, Duteous, and hearkening to the sounding brass * “And, O thou sluggard, tell me why the ant, "Midst summer's plenty, thinks of winter's want,"
By constant journies careful to prepare
“By what immediate cause they are inclin'd, In many acts, 'tis hard, Iown, to find. I see in others, or I think I see, That strict their principles and ours agree. Evil like us they shun, and covet good; Abhor the poison, and receive the food. Like us they love or hate; like us they know To joy the friend, or grapple with the foe. With seeming thought their action they intend; And use the means proportion'd to the end. Then vainly the .. avers, That’reason guides our deed, and instinct theirs. How can we justly different causes frame, When the effects entirely are the same? Instinct and reason how can we divide : 'Tis the fool's ignorance, and the pedant's pride. “With the same folly, sure, man vaunts his sway, If the brute beast refuses to obey. For tell ine, when the empty boaster's word Proclaims himself the universal lord, Does he not tremble, lest the lion's paw Should join his plea against the fancy'd law? Would not the learned coward leave the chair, lf in the schools or porches should appear The fierce hyena, or the foaming bear? “The combatant too late the field declines, When now the sword is girled to ...is loins. When the swift vessel flies before the wind, Too late the sailor views the land behind. And 'tis too late now back again to bring Inquiry, rais'd and towering on the wing: Forward she strives, averse to be withheld From nobler objects, and a larger field. “Consider with me this cthereal space, Yielding to earth and sea the middle place. Anxious I ask you, how the pensile ball Should never strive to rise, nor fear to fall 2 When I reflect how the revolving Sun Does round our globe his crooked journies run, I doubt of many lands, if they contain Or herd of beast, or colony of man; If any nation pass their destin'd days Beneath the neighbouring Sun's directer rays; If any suffer on the polar coast The rage of Arctos and eternal frost. “May not the pleasure of Omnipotence To each of these some secret good dispense? Those who amidst the torrid regions live, May they not gales unknown to us receive? See daily showers rejoice the thirsty earth, And bless the flowery buds' succeeding birth May they not pity us, condemn'd to bear The various heaven of an obliquor sphere; While by fix’d laws, and with a just return, They feel twelve hours that shade, for twelve that burn; And praise the neighbouring Sun, whose constant flame Enlightens them with seasons still the same 2 And may not those, whose distant lot is cast North boyond Tartary's extended waste; Where through the plains of one coutinual lay Six shining nonths pursue their even way, And six succeeding urge their dusky flight, Obscur'd with vapours, and o'erwhelm'd in night: May not, I ask, the natives of these climes (As annals may inform succeeding times) To our quotidian change of heaven prefer Their own vicissitude, and qual share of day and night, disparted through the year?