« PreviousContinue »
Te fequor, O Graiæ gentis Decus! inque tais nunc
S OMER is universally allowed to have
had the greatest In-vention of any writer whatever. The praise of judgment Virgil has justly contested with him, and others may have their pretensions as to particular excellencies; but his In
vention remains yet unrival'd. Nor is it a wonder if he has ever been acknowledg’d the greatest of poets, who most excell'd in that which is the very foundation of poetry. It is the Invention that in dit: ferent degrees distinguishes all great Genius's : The utmost stretch of human ftudy, learning and induAtry, which mafter every thing besides, can never at tain to this. It furnishes Art with all her materials, and without it, Judgment itself can at belt but fal wisely: For Art is only like a prudent fteward that lives on managing the riches of Nature. · Whatever praises may be given to works of Judgment, there is not even a single beauty in them to which the Invention must not contribute. As in the most regular gardens, Art can only reduce the beauties of Nature to more regularity, and such a figure, which the common eye may better take in, and is therefore more entertained with. And perhaps the reason why common Criticks are inclined to prefer a judicious and methodi
cal genius to a great and fruitful one, is, because they find it easier for themselves to pursue their obfervations through an uniform and bounded walk of Art, than to comprehend the vast and various extent of Nature.
Our author's work is a wild paradise, where if we cannot fee all the beauties so diftinctly as in an order'd Garden, it is only because the number of them is infinitely greater. 'Tis like a copious nursery which contains the feeds and first productions of every kind, out of which thofe who follow'd him have but selected fome particular plants, each according to his fancy, to cultivate and beautify. If some things are too luxuriant, it is owing to the richness of the foil; and if others are not arriv'd to perfection or maturity, it is only because they are over-run and opprest by those of a stronger nature.
It is to the strength of this amazing invention we are to attribute that unequall'd fire and rapture, which is so forcible in Homer, that no man of a true poetical spirit is master of himself while he reads him. What he writes, is of the most animated nature imaginable ; every thing moves, every thing lives, and is put in action. If a council be call’d, or a battle fought, you are not coldly inform'd of what was said or done as from a third person; the reader is hurry'd out of himfelf by the force of the Poet's imagination, and turns in one place to a hearer, in another to a spectator. The course of his verses resembles that of the army he describes,
They pour along like a fire that fweeps ihe whole earth before it. 'Tis however remarkable that his fancy, which is every where vigorous, is not discover'd immediately at the beginning of his poem in its fulleit splendor: It grows in the progress both upon himself and others, and becomes on fire like a chariot wheel, by its own rapidity. Exact dispofirion, just thought, correct elo
cution, polish'd numbers, may have been found in a thousand; but this poetical fire, this Vivida vis animi, in a very few. Even in works where all those are im. perfect or neglected, this can over power criticism, and make us admire even while we disapprove. Nay, where this appears, though attended with absurdities, it brightens all the rubbish about it, 'till we fee nothing but its own splendor. This Fire is discern'd in Virgil, but discern'd as through a glass, reflected from Homer, more shining than fierce, but every where equal and constant : In Lucan and Statius, it burits out in sudden, short, and interrupted falhes: In Milton it glows like a furnace kept up to an uncommon ardor by the force of art : In Shakespear, it strikes before we are aware, like an accidental fire from heaven : But in Homer, and in him only, it burns every where clearly, and every where irresistibly.
I shall here endeavour to fhow, how this vaft Invention exerts itself in a manner superior to that of any poet, through all the main constituent parts of his work, as it is the great and peculiar characteristic which diftin. guishes him from all other authors.
This strong and ruling faculty was like a powerful Kar, which in the violence of its course, drew all things within its vortex. It seem'd not enough to have taken in the whole circle of arts, and the whole compass of nature, to supply his maxims and reflections“; all the inward passions and affections of mankind, to furnish his characters; and all the Outward forms and images of things for his descriptions; but wanting yet an ampler sphere to expaciate in, he open'd a new and boundless walk for his imagination, and created a world for himself in the invention of Fuble. That which Aristotle calls the Soul of poetry, was first breath'd into it by Homer. I shall begin with considering him in this part, as it is naturally the first, and I speak of it both as it means the defign of a poem, and as it is taken for fiction.