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there wants not probability for the figure, because
Yet before I leave this subject, I cannot but take notice how disingenuous our adversaries appear : all that is dull, insipid, languishing, and without sinews in a poem, they call an imitation of Nature; they only offend our most equitable judges who think beyond them; and lively images and elocution are never to be forgiven.
What fustian, as they call it, have I heard these gentlemen find out in Mr. Cowley's Odes? I
, acknowledge myself unworthy to defend so excellent an author, neither have I room to do it here ; only in general I will say, that nothing can appear more beautiful to me than the strength of those images which they condemn.
Imaging is, in itself, the very height and life of poetry. It is, as Longinus describes it, a discourse, which by a kind of enthusiasm, or extraordinary emotion of the soul, makes it seem to us that we behold those things which the poet paints, so as to be pleased with them, and to admire them.
If poetry be imitation, that part of it must needs be best, which describes most lively our actions and passions, our virtues and our vices, our follies and our humours; for neither is comedy without its part of imaging; and they who do it best, are certainly the most excellent in their kind. This is too plainly proved to be denied; but how are poetical fictions, how are hippocentaurs and chimeras, or how are angels and immaterial substances to be imaged, which, some of them, are things quite out of nature; others, such whereof we can have no notion? This is the last refuge of our adversaries, and more than any of them have yet had the wit to object against us. The answer is easy to the first part of it. The fiction of some beings which are not in nature, (second notions, as the logicians call them,) has been founded on the conjunction of two natures, which have a real separate being. So hippocentaurs were imaged by joining the natures of a man and horse together; as Lucretius tells
us, who has used this word of image oftener than any of the poets :
Nam certè ex vivo centauri non fit imago,
The same reason may also be alledged for chimeras and the rest ; and poets may be allowed the like liberty for describing things which really exist not, if they are founded on popular belief. Of this nature are fairies, pigmies, and the extraordinary effects of magick; for it is still an imitation, though of other men's fancies; and thus are Shakspeare's Tempest, his MIDSUMMER's Night's DREAM, and Ben Jonson's MASK OF WITCHES, to be defended. For immaterial substances, we are authorized by Scripture in their description; and herein the text accommodates itself to vulgar apprehension, in giving angels the likeness of beautiful young men. Thus, after the Pagan divinity, has Homer drawn his gods with human faces ; and thus we have notions of things above us, by describing them like other beings more within our knowledge.
I wish I could produce any one example of excellent imaging in all this poem. Perhaps I cannot; but that which comes nearest it is in these four lines, which have been sufficiently canvassed by my well-natured censors :
Seraph and cherub, careless of their charge,
Unguarded leave the passes of the sky,
And all dissolu'd in hallelujahs lie. I have heard (says one of them) of anchovies dissolved in sauce, but never of an angel in hallelujahs : a mighty witticism ! (if you will pardon a new word,)-but there is some difference between a laugher and a critick. He might have burlesqued Virgil too, from whom I took the image: Invadunt urbem somno vinoque sepultam. A city's being buried is just as proper an occasion, as an angel's being dissolved in ease, and songs of triumph. Mr. Cowley lies as open too in many places :
Where their vast courts the mother-waters keep, &c. For if the mass of waters be the mothers, then their daughters, the little streams, are bound in all good manners to make court'sy to them, and ask them blessing. How easy it is to turn into ridicule the best descriptions, when once a man is in the humour of laughing, till he wheezes at his own dull jest ; but an image which is strongly and beautifully set before the eyes of the reader will still be poetry, when the merry fit is over, and last when the other is forgotten.
I promised to say somewhat of Poetick Licence, but have in part anticipated my discourse already. Poetick Licence I take to be the liberty which poets have assumed to themselves in all ages, of speaking things in verse which are beyond the
3 Davidels. Book I.
severity of prose. It is that particular character which distinguishes and sets the bounds betwixt oratio soluta and poetry. This, as to what regards the thought or imagination of a poet, consists in fiction : but then those thoughts must be expressed; and here arise two other branches of it; for if this licence be included in a single word, it admits of tropes; if in a sentence or proposition, of figures; both which are of a much larger extent, and more forcibly to be used in verse than prose.
This is that birthright which is derived to us from our great forefathers, even from Homer down to Ben; and they who would deny it to us, have, in plain terms, the fox's quarrel to the grapes,--they cannot reach it.
How far these liberties are to be extended I will not pretend to determine here, since Horace does not ; but it is certain that they are to be varied according to the language and age in which an author writes. That which would be allowed to a Grecian poet, Martial tells you, would not be suffered in a Roman ; and it is evident that the English does more nearly follow the strictness of the latter, than the freedoms of the former. Connection of epithets, or the conjunction of two words in one, are frequent and elegant in the Greek, which yet Sir Philip Sydney and the translator of Du Bartast have unluckily attempted in the English ; though this, I confess, is not so
+ Joshua Sylvester.