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tive and fertile genius would reduce his folios to a few pages. Yet the authour who imitates his predecessors only by furnishing himself with thoughts and elegancies out of the same general magazine of literature, can with little more propriety be reproached as a plagiary, than the architect can be censured as a mean copier of Angelo or Wren, because he digs his marble from the same quarry, squares his stones by the same art, and unites them in the columns of the same orders.
Many subjects fall under the consideration of an authour, which, being limited by nature, can admit only of slight and accidental diversities. All definitions of the same thing must be nearly the same; and descriptions, which are definitions of a more lax and fanciful kind, must always have in some degree that resemblance to each other which they all have to their object. Different poets describing the spring or the sea would mention the zephyrs and the flowers, the billows and the rocks; reflecting on human life, they would, without any communication of opinions, lament the deceitfulness of hope, the fugacity of pleasure, the fragility of beauty, and the frequency of calamity; and for palliatives of these incurable miseries, they would concur in recommending kindness, temperance, caution, and fortitude.
When therefore there are found in Virgil and Horace two similar passages
Hæ tibi erunt artes-
Lenis in hostem.--HOR.
Less pleas'd to triumph than to spare :it is surely not necessary to suppose, with a late critick, that one is copied from the other, since neither Virgil nor Horace can be supposed ignorant of the common duties of humanity and! virtue of moderation in siceASS.
Cicero and Ovid have on very different occasions remarked how little of the honour of a victory belongs to the general, when his soldiers and his fortune have made their deductions; yet why should Ovid be suspected to have owed to Tully an observation which perhaps occurs to every man that sees or hears of military glories?
Tully observes of Achilles, that had not Homer written, his valour had been without praise.
Nisi Ilias illa extitisset, idem tumulus qui corpus ejus contexerat, nomen ejus obruisset. Unless the Iliad had been published, his name had been lost in the tomb that
covered his body. Horace tells us, with more energy, that there were brave men before the wars of Troy, but they were lost in oblivion for want of a poet:
Vicere fortes ante Agamemnona
Nucte, carent quia vale sacro.
Before great Agamemnon reign'd,
Reign'd kings as great as he, and brave,
In the small compass of a grave :
No bard had they to make all time their own.-FRANCIS. Tully inquires, in the same oration, why, but for fame, we disturb a short life with so many fatigues ?
Quid est quod in hoc tam exiguo vita curriculo et tam brevi, tantis nos in laboribus
Why in so small a circuit of life should we employ ourselves in so many fatigues?
Quid brevi fortes jaculamur avo
At things beyond the mark of life ?-Francis. when our life is of so short duration, why we form such numerous designs ? But Horace, as well as Tully, might discover that records are needful to preserve the memory sactions, and that no records were so durable as poems.
either of them might find out that life is short, and that we consume it in unnecessary labour.
There are other flowers of fiction so widely scattered and so easily cropped, that it is scarcely just to tax the use of them as an act by which any particular writer is despoiled of his garland; for they may be said to have been planted by the ancients in the open road of poetry for the accommodation of their successors, and to be the right of every one that has art to pluck them without injuring their colours or their fragrance. The passage of Orpheus to hell, with the recovery and second loss of Eurydice, have been described after Boetius by Pope, in such a manner as might justly leave him suspected of imitation, were not the images such as they might both have derived from more ancient writers.
Quæ sontes agitant metu
Velox præcipitat rotu.
And the pale spectres dance!
Tandem, vincimur, arbiter
Emtam carmine, conjugem.
To hear the poet's prayer ;
Heu, noctis prope terminos
Vidit, perdidit, occidit.
When Orpheus, her unhappy lord,
But soon, top soon, the lover turns his eyes :
Again she falls, agaiq she dies, she dies ! No writer can be fully convicted of imitation, except there is a concurrence of more resemblance than can be imagined to have happened by chance; as where the same ideas are conjoined without any natural series or necessary coherence, or where not only the thought but the words are copied. Thus it can scarcely be doubted, that in the first of the following passages Pope remembered Ovid, and that in the second he copied Crashaw:
Sæpe pater diait, studium quid inutile tentas?
Mæonides nullas ipse reliquit opes—
Et quod conabar scribere, versus erat.-Ovid.
I left no calling for this idle trade ;
This plain floor,
Conceits, or thoughts not immediately impressed by sensible objects, or necessarily arising from the coalition or comparison of common sentiments, may be with great justice suspected whenever they are found a second time. Thus Waller probably owed to Grotius an elegant compliment :
Here lies the learned Savil's heir,
Unica lur sæcli, genitoris gloria, nemo
Quem puerum, nemo credidit esse senem. -Grot.
And Prior was indebted for a pretty illustration to Alleyne's poetical history of Henry the Seventh.
For nought but light itself, itself can shew,
For what light is, 'tis only light that shews.—Prior. And with yet more certainty may the same writer be censured, for endeavouring the clandestine appropriation of a thought which he borrowed, surely without thinking himself disgraced, from an epigram of Plato:
Τη Παφίη το κάτοπτρον, επεί τοίη μεν οράσθαι
Venus, take my votive glass,
As not every instance of similitude can be considered as a proof of imitation, so not every imitation ought to be stigmatized as plagiarism. The adoption of a noble sentiment, or the insertion of a borrowed ornament, may sometimes display so much judgment as will almost compensate for invention : and an inferiour genius may, without
any imputation of servility, pursue the path of the ancients, provided he declines to tread in their footsteps.
N° 144. SATURDAY, August 3, 1751.
It is impossible to mingle in conversation without observing the difficulty with which a new name makes its